He’s covered in blood not his own, lingering on the edge of chakra exhaustion. This mission in the Land of Rain has been arduous. He isn’t allowed to use any abilities that can be linked back to him, or to Konoha. The mission must be completed anonymously, or he’ll be denounced and declared a missing-nin.
He’s systematically scouring the halls for any stragglers. All of the bandits must be eliminated.
“Ara ara,” speaks a voice behind him. “What a mess!”
Kakashi is moving before the person has even finished their sentence, aiming for a killing blow.
“Oh, how mean, shinobi-san! Tobi could have been seriously hurt.” The man speaks without a trace of pain, and shows no sign of being injured. Kakashi’s blade offers no resistance when he pulls it away.
Tall, robe could hide any number of weapons, wearing a mask to protect his identity, easily identifiable? Not wearing any known clan insignia, Kakashi notes as he slides back, immediately going on the offense, and flashes through the seals of a doton jutsu. The stone of the hallway cracks and rises up in two massive slabs to slam the man between them.
He phases through it, intangible as a ghost.
“Ara ara, so violent~” the man whines. “Tobi was just trying to help shinobi-san hunt the rest of the mean men.”
Kakashi eyes him warily, adjusts his grip on his tantō, then makes a decision. “Ahhh, my apologies for my unforgivable rudeness, stranger-san. It’s just so scary here with all these... mean men,” he says, mirroring the other’s lighthearted tone. The man is quite possibly extremely dangerous. Best to play along.
“Tobi isn’t a stranger! Tobi is Tobi!” the man, Tobi, protests.
Kakashi nods politely. “It’s nice to meet you, Tobi. You may call me… Shiro. But how do I know you aren’t one of these terribly scary bandits?”
Tobi draws up and folds his arms in a childish display of affront. “Hmph. Tobi isn’t a child stealing bandit.” He pauses, tilting his head, and his voice takes on a darker tone. “Tobi was sent to take care of them.” The sudden weightiness disappears, and he hits a fist against his palm, wriggling in place. “Ah! But Shiro-chan seems to be doing so well! Tobi can tell Shiro-chan that the bandit leader is hiding in the west wing behind a hidden door with the children. And then Tobi can get dango!”
Tobi laughs, the sound echoing off the walls of the compound, and Kakashi fights the sudden urge to dodge an attack. The laughter is loud, with a slightly creepy edge to it. “Ne, ne, Shiro-chan? Do you want Tobi to show you the way?”
Kakashi goes still, studying the other’s body language. It could be a trap. If it is— “Maa, you don’t have to go to any trouble on my account.”
“Nooo, Shiro-chan is the one who is helping Tobi! Tobi would be so ungrateful if Tobi didn’t help Shiro-chan finish Tobi’s mission.”
Kakashi nods warily. “Well. If it isn’t an imposition, then by all means lead the way.”
The man skips down the hall, humming as he goes. “Ne, ne, Shiro-chan, what a pretty mask! But why are you wearing it? Are you ashamed of your face? Or do you just really like dogs?”
“Ah, this mask? It makes me look more mysterious,” Kakashi responds dryly, tapping the ANBU mask.
“Ah! Sugoi,” Tobi enthuses. “Shiro-chan is so cool.”
Tobi keeps up a litany of incessant, inane chatter all the way to the secret door. He breezes inside and trips, dodging a flying kunai, then proceeds to bumble his way around every single one of his opponents’ attacks.
Kakashi takes the opening when he sees it, and removes the bandit leader’s head from his shoulders.
When it is finished, Tobi crouches by the children, tied up together in the corner. “Ah, you’re all so cute!” he sighs. “Everything will be okay now. Who wants to see a magic trick?”
The three children eye him mistrustfully as he slices through their bonds. The oldest of them, a little girl with curly black hair, nods silently. To her delight, he walks up the wall, across the ceiling, his robes falling around his head, and down the other. “Magic!” Tobi cheers, and the children giggle. “Now Tobi has to go, so I’ll leave you with Shiro-chan here. He’ll get you back home.”
“Ah, thank you for your assistance, Tobi-san,” Kakashi says.
“No problemo!” Kakashi turns to check over the children, and when he looks up again, Tobi is gone.
It’s entirely possible that he misjudged him, Kakashi thinks, as he leads the children to a nearby village. Tobi was surprisingly helpful, and most shinobi are a little strange. Silently, he apologizes to Tobi for thinking him creepy, and wishes him well.
Kakashi doesn’t expect to meet Tobi again, but an undercover surveillance mission to the Land of Rivers brings them face to face.
“Oh, ouch!” Kakashi says, rubbing his face with the hand not clutching his camera. “I’m so sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Ara ara, my apologies! Tobi is so clumsy. Tobi wasn’t looking where Tobi was going.” Tobi leans back suddenly and claps his hands. “Ah!” he exclaims. “You seem familiar.”
“I’m Sukea, a traveling photographer,” Kakashi introduces himself. “You might have seen me taking photos for the magazine I work for.”
Tobi gasps. “Oh, how cool! Tobi is Tobi! It’s good to meet you!”
Kakashi laughs, the soft, shy sound he practiced in a mirror, hiding his mouth behind his hand. “It’s good to meet you as well, Tobi-san.”
“What kind of things do you photograph, Sukea-chan?”
“Oh, anything that looks interesting. In fact, might I take a photo of you?”
Tobi brings his hands up to his mask and giggles. “Only if I can get you dango as an apology,” he says, tilting his head against his shoulder coyly.
“Dango and a photo op? How could I refuse?” Kakashi titters, holding his hand up to his mouth to hide his smile and looking sideways at Tobi. “Lead the way.”
Tobi cheers and grabs him by the hand, tugging him through the late afternoon crowds to a busy little shop on a side street.
“Two mitarashi dango, please!” he chirps, and the exhausted looking saleswoman accepts his money and bellows the order at an angry-looking man behind her.
When the dango arrives, it is sweet and sticky and burns Kakashi’s tongue, fresh from the steamer. He watches with curiosity and rather a lot of amusement as Tobi inhales his portion without ever showing what’s behind the mask hiding his face.
“Ah, Sukea-chan, you have a little…” Tobi reaches out and swipes a bit of the sweet soy sauce from the corner of Kakashi’s mouth, then lifts his mask again, slowly, to lick the thumb of his glove. He gets a glimpse of tanned skin and a scar traveling across Tobi’s bottom lip and down right side of the man’s chin before the mask is back in place as though it had never left.
That glimpse was a deliberate tease. Kakashi would know. His entire face burns with the force of his blush.
Tobi giggles and leans in. “Hey, Sukea-chan,” he starts, but then his head snaps up and he peers out over the crowd.
Kakashi goes still, relaxing his muscles to move, and counts exits.
“Oh no,” Tobi groans. “My senpais are looking for me. We’ve gotta go!”
Kakashi isn’t expecting Tobi to grab him by the hand and yank him out of the shop, tugging him down the street through the crowds of people.
“Why are we running?” Kakashi demands.
“My senpais are scary! If they find me, they’ll make me do work!” Tobi wails.
Kakashi stifles a laugh. That’s understandable.
In his efforts to avoid these mysterious pursuers, Tobi drags Kakashi from the dango shop to a kitschy cafe decorated in pink and red heart-shaped everything, where he buys Kakashi a strawberry flavored boba tea, apologizing for his presumption all the while. Kakashi takes a photo of the artfully presented tea and the frilly doily beneath, then sips at it, letting Tobi chatter about the town and its inhabitants. He’s halfway done when Tobi jolts upright and grabs him by the arm again, dragging him off, crying about keeping Sukea-chan from the scary people.
They take refuge in a movie theater showing a romantic comedy, and Tobi hisses flustered apologies until someone tosses a half-finished paper bucket of popcorn at them. They leave as the couple is professing their love for one another.
They stand on the street and Tobi brushes Kakashi off. He does it a little too thoroughly and a few too many times over the backside to truly be “only trying to help.” Tobi pulls them out of the walkway as the movie lets out, and looms over him, meticulously picking bits of popcorn out of Sukea’s scarf.
Tobi’s face is very close to his, and Kakashi prays that his disguise is effective.
Then Tobi yelps and grabs him again, tugging him by the hand through the crowd of villagers browsing the vegetable market.
They end up at the top of a rather tall building right as the sun is setting. Kakashi can’t help but feel like there’s a theme here, especially when Tobi looks out over the village and gasps. “Oh! What a romantic sunset! It would be perfect for a love confession! Ne, Sukea-chan?”
Kakashi feels a bit like he’s being made fun of.
“Ah, yes, it’s very photogenic,” he says, and lifts the camera, lining up the shot. He snaps a photo of Tobi leaning his hip against the rickety metal railing and looking out over the village, the golden sunlight beyond limning him like a halo, showing the blue undertones in his dark hair and glinting faintly off the edge of his mask. It’s a good image.
Tobi looks back as the shutter clicks. He clasps his hands before him and watches Kakashi as he twists the knob, winding to a blank strip of film.
“Ne, ne,” he says, leaning forward excitedly. “You should take a photo of both of us!”
Kakashi shifts in place. “Ah, I don’t really make for a good subject…”
“Oh, no! Sukea-chan is definitely an interesting subject. Come on, let’s get a photo together.” Tobi wraps an arm around his shoulders and leans his head against Kakashi’s. The edge of the mask is smooth and startlingly cold against his left cheek, but Tobi is a warm weight against his side. Kakashi feels oddly flustered as he lifts the camera, turns it, and snaps the shutter.
“Tobi-san?” he asks as he winds the film.
“What is it, Sukea-chan?”
“Why do you keep pulling me away from your senpais?”
“Oh, Tobi’s senpais would kill Sukea-chan! They’re very scary!” Tobi shudders dramatically and pulls Kakashi tighter against his side. “Tobi couldn’t let that happen. Sukea-chan is super cute.”
Kakashi feels his face heating with embarrassment again and frowns, digging more. “Why are your senpais so scary, Tobi-san?”
“Ah! They’re all terrible, dangerous missing-nin. We call ourselves Akatsuki.”
A cold chill overtakes Kakashi. He smiles weakly and rubs at his arms, jostling the camera hanging from his neck. “Ah. They do sound scary.”
Tobi’s hand rubs up and down his arm, a soothing gesture that does nothing to calm Kakashi’s nerves. He reaches slowly for the kunai hidden beneath his baggy sweater. “Oh, but don’t worry. As long as people stay out of Akatsuki’s way, they’ll be safe. It’s time for Tobi to go now, so…” Tobi laughs, and it’s far different from before.
“Be careful out there,” he croons, and terror dances through Kakashi as Tobi abandons his childish pretense entirely to rest his palm on Kakashi’s collarbone, his finger and thumb stroking gently down the sides of his neck, rubbing across his carotid in clear threat. The rough fabric of his glove sends shivers down Kakashi’s spine. He feels lightheaded, and reminds himself to breathe. Tobi’s other hand is still stroking up and down his arm. “We’re not ready yet. But when we are,” Tobi presses his mask against Kakashi’s cheek in a parody of a kiss, the cold porcelain touching the hidden scar under Obito’s eye.
“When we are, your heart is mine. Stay alive until then, Kakashi.”
Tobi releases him and steps back, tilting his head to one side. “Tobi doesn’t want Kakashi to miss the fun, after all!” he chirps, then leaps over the side of the building with a hollered “Later!”
He knows what he’ll find when he looks, but he checks anyway. When Kakashi grips the railing and peers over the edge of the building, Tobi is gone.