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Bloodstained Hands in a World of White

Chapter Text

Same Song, Different Verse

Pain was the first thing to register in Kakashi’s mind, slowly sinking and settling over him like the dawn of a new day. His body ached dully all over, he realized faintly, but it was a familiar ache. His muscles felt weighted down and lifeless, as if yesterday he had been in a day-long sparring contest with Gai, and yet -- he couldn’t recall any such competition. As a matter of fact, the last time he had seen Gai was quite some time ago. The boisterous Eternal Rival of Kakashi’s had taken his precious, youthful team on a long mission outside the Land of Fire. Gai was gone, and had been, so why…?

Gone. That word stirred something in the depths of Kakashi’s mind. Something else was gone, something important, and the fact niggled at his mind like a steady stream against a large boulder. Gone. But what?

Perhaps he should have been asking what wasn’t gone. It was certainly an easier question to answer. His teammates, for one - well, no, Asuma had been killed, hadn’t he? Well, then, there was his squad - no, Sasuke had fled from the village, and Naruto and Sakura had moved on to better teachers. His home, then - but he had only ever thought of Sakumo, Rin, Obito, and Minato-sensei as his home, outside the Leaf Village, at least.

Wait, the Leaf Village?

Konoha… gone...

Pain flared in his skull, pounding like a flurry of fists. The stream against the boulder of his memory became a waterfall, raging, pushing, and his forgetfulness seemed just about to give.

Konoha, gone, pain. Gone. Pain. Konoha. Pain. Pain. Pein.

The waterfall shattered the boulder into thousands of pieces. Memory rushed back to him. Gai, gone on a mission. Pein, attacking the village, destroying it. The Akamichi boy, sprinting to Tsunade. A Pein’s last attack. His Kamui. Chakra that he didn’t have draining his very life energy. A blue, blue sky - and then a campfire. Sakumo. Father.

Nothing seemed to make sense. He had certainly died. The conversation with his father was still fresh in his mind, and dying was not something simply forgotten.

So, the question begged to be answered: how the hell was he conscious?

Well, only one way to find out.

Kakashi squinted one eye open and immediately mourned the action. His skull throbbed more insistently, especially behind his left eye, and he could only assume its cause was his abuse of the Kamui Sharingan. Taking a deep breath, he forced his eye open again to assess his surroundings.

He found himself in a small room that he didn’t recognize, on a standard bed that seemed lacking any personality. Slowly, the Jonin eased himself up into a sitting position. As soon as he sat up, searing pain flooded him unexpectedly, forcing him to stop and grip onto the edges of the bed, entirely blinded as he withheld through the torrent of pain rattling around in his skull. Very slowly, that pain began to ebb away. Eventually, after long, agonizing minutes, the hammering in his mind and muscles began to fade to the background, to a more manageable throbbing. With his wits finally about him, Kakashi focused on taking in more information. The room he awoke in was sparsely decorated, holding little more than bare necessities, well-kept but infrequently used. When he tried to stretch out his chakra, he could not sense any nearby chakra signatures in the nearby area, and so assumed that he was alone in the apartment. Perhaps he was in a spare part of a complex? But, what part of the Village hadn’t been destroyed since Pein’s attack?

Carefully, the Hatake slipped off the bed, feet silently hitting the floor. Only then did he seem to register that something was quite wrong. Everything’s proportioning was off, as if he had shrunk a foot or so since his last time conscious. That couldn’t be right. No matter what odd thing had happened that must have brought him back from death, or perhaps the brink of death, it shouldn’t have changed his physique. Curiously, Kakashi finally took a look at his hands, and they were small. No longer were they the hands of a man, but of a child. His body looked similarly, and he was even dressed in the outfit he used to parade around in when he was pushing thirteen.

A chill ran down his spine, and goosebumps prickled along his arms. Surely he was dreaming again, and within seconds he would find himself at Obito’s tomb, as an avenger, and moments after that, at Rin’s demise, as a murderer. Then, if the pain from Rin’s death was not enough to awaken him, he would be lucky enough to dream until he saw Minato-sensei’s face once more, hours before his death, while the ANBU Hound strolled around the village as a useless tool when he was needed most.

But, then, when had he ever been aware that he was dreaming?

His dreams often raged violently and terribly, but rarely did he make active choices in them. He only lived through them, over and over, blind to the cycle of destruction he was causing himself until he woke with a dying name on his lips and chakra flaring dangerously enough to summon alarmed ANBU to his home.

Bile rose in his throat as his mind whirled, searching desperately for answers, but it could come up with none. He wondered if he was going to throw up, even though he couldn’t recall the last time he had eaten anything. Kakashi stumbled his way to the bathroom for precautious’ sake and froze when he caught sight of himself in the mirror. The world seemed to tip on its side. Hesitantly, his trembling hand rose to his face, touching the soft, smooth, unscarred skin of his left eye. Two bleak, frightened eyes of matching color stared back at him in the mirror. His hair was pulled down between his hitai-ate in the way that might have been considered baby bangs. His body was so, so small.

I must have finally lost my mind, he thought faintly. No jutsu existed for time-travelling. He knew this. He had dug through the secret archives more times than he could count during his time as ANBU, and not even a forbidden jutsu could manage this. Not to mention, he didn’t have the chakra reserves for this theoretical jutsu. If he had somehow stumbled across a technique this powerful, using it would have killed him, he was sure.

Though, he had already died at the hands of Pein. Was it possible he had messed with the time-space continuum, by distorting it before dying immediately after? Rin and Obito were the last things on his mind before he faded out, and, if he could dare assume he had somehow ended up in his past, it would make sense -- as little sense as it could make -- that he landed in the short period he had them as more than memories.

Kakashi had too many questions and no answers whatsoever. Gripping onto the sink, he took in deep, steadying breaths, and reigned himself in like the shinobi that he was. This… ordeal would not break him. Whether he was in a coma-induced nightmare or hell itself, he would fight to return to his home, to Konoha. Even if she had been burned to the ground, he had family that needed him. The village needed him. Obito, Rin, Minato-sensei… They were dead. He had come to terms with this long ago. He had to get back to those who were still alive. Steeling his resolve, Kakashi turned away from the mirror and exited the bathroom.

The apartment was familiar to him now that he had begun to piece together this puzzle. It was his first apartment. He had fled here after his father’s suicide, having been unable to reside in the Hatake Compound, where disgrace polluted the air.

Kakashi wondered, if he, somehow - theoretically, of course - was in the past again, was his father - theoretically - still waiting in the afterlife, unable to move on?

He forced the thought from his mind to deal with later. He had more pressing matters to attend to, such as the exact date. Standing in the center of his little bedroom, Kakashi bit his thumb and called, “Kuchiyose no Jutsu!” A puff of smoke billowed up from the floor, and the Hatake waited patiently for it to dissipate. His beloved pug Pakkun stood, looking bored and unfazed.

“What is it, Boss?” The dog gruffed.

“Pakkun, report,” he ordered, trying to sound as nonchalant as he always was, despite the terror trying to claw its way up his throat.

“Report?” The pug stared curiously at him. “There’s nothing to report.”

Kakashi squatted, arms resting on his knees, to be more eye-level with his ninken. “Tell me about today,” he encouraged. “What’s it like outside?”

For a moment, it didn’t seem as if Pakkun was going to respond and only stare at him quizzically. Kakashi was beginning to wonder if the pug was growing too much like him when Pakkun harrumphed, giving in. “You could go out and check for yourself,” he muttered. “Warm, I guess. It’s spring. Aren’t you supposed to be at training with your team?”

Ah, he supposed he was. But how to tell his sweet, wrinkly ninken that, if he saw Obito, Rin, and Minato-sensei, alive and happy and normal, he might just faint? Or pour half-formed apologies and nonsensical begs for forgiveness from his mouth? What about that he may or may not be from the future? Instead, he opted for, “Maa, it’s fine. I have a reasonable excuse.” He scratched behind Pakkun’s ear, both to soothe the canine and soothe himself. “That’s all. Thank you, Pakkun.”

“No problem, Boss.” Pakkun eyed him warily for another long moment before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Sighing, Kakashi stood. Assuming he was a Chunin, and that it was springtime, he had roughly four to seven months before the Kannabi Bridge mission -- before everything went to hell. The Hatake softly cursed and sat down on the edge of his bed, staring at his hands, not yet stained by the blood of his comrades. Was this truly his reality now? Or was it some terrible, twisted, other dimension that resulted from the Kamui and the thought of his late comrades as he died? He needed answers, but first he needed to process, to plan. Not to mention that he felt as if he could sleep until the moon rose, if the ever-persistent, dull throbbing behind his eye and the ache throughout his body was anything to go by.

He was definitely not going to training today. Forget keeping up appearances. He can tell his team that he came down with a sickness. For the teenaged Kakashi to miss training, after all, he must be half-dead, and hopefully that would be enough to stave off Rin and Minato-sensei for a few days while he got his bearings.

Yes, that seemed like a good enough excuse. It would have to do. For now, he was going to sleep, and maybe, when he woke, this nightmare would be over. He would open his eyes to his precious students keeping vigil at his hospital bedside, and then he would listen to at least three different lectures from Sakura and Tsunade about chakra exhaustion, and Gai would weep with joy for his Eternal Rival. As much of a pain as it was to withstand the Hokage’s -- and his former student’s -- rage, and Gai’s youthful tears, and Naruto’s loud excitement, right now he would give just about anything to see them.

A soft knocking interrupted his thoughts. Kakashi started, jumping to his feet. Had he been that absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn’t sensed another chakra signature approaching?

His stomach dropped to his feet when he recognized the signature - one that he had not felt in years, decades. Instinctively, he squashed his own chakra to nothing, although he was sure it was pointless. No one on his team was that dense, to be ignorant of a chakra signature disappearing completely when it had clearly been there moments before, but he had to try. To hope.

The knocking stopped, and Kakashi held his breath. Please, he thought, not now (not ever). Go away.

The chakra signature slowly withdrew. After eternally long seconds, Kakashi allowed himself to breathe. That had been close. Too close. He needed-- He needed to--

A soft breeze blew through his apartment. He whirled around, reaching for a kunai that he didn’t have. The windows were still closed, locked, and trapped, and yet his sensei did not become the Yondaime for no reason. Feeling as if his throat were going to close up on him, Kakashi stared up into the spitting image of Uzumaki Naruto.

“Kakashi,” Minato greeted, worry clear and unabashed on his face and in his voice. “Did you forget about training today? That’s not like you. Is… is everything alright?”

Oh, Sensei, Kakashi thought faintly, I can’t remember the last time anything has ever been alright.

Chapter Text

Nostalgia and Nightmares

Unlike what he’d thought originally, Kakashi didn’t have to worry much about spilling apologies from his lips the first time he laid eyes on Minato-sensei. Nor did he have to concern himself with clutching onto the man like a forlorn child, clinging tight and never letting go. No, it seemed that instinct was ingrained too deeply into his bones for any of the melodramatic scenarios that he had daydreamed of, back when he still allowed his mind to wander to such useless endeavors (more for the sake of keeping him sane than anything else).

Kakashi instantly dropped to one knee, head bowed low. His lips began to form the words Hokage-sama, but they never got the chance. Dizziness rushed through him, and the irritating throbbing behind his left eye surged to life with a new anger, pounding at his skull. His left hand gripped the side of face that felt aflame, his body going rigid with tension, but he managed not to utter a sound at his discomfort.

Luckily - if Kakashi could count it as luck - the wave of pain smoothly covered his ANBU instincts. Unluckily, it also brought his very concerned, very alive sensei inches from his face. “Kakashi?” Minato questioned, hands hovering near Kakashi’s shoulders, ready to steady him if needed while also giving the Chunin as much personal space as he could. “Kakashi, what’s wrong?”

“My apologies, Sensei,” Kakashi managed, slowly getting his bearings around him once more. He weakly tried to open his left eye, hesitantly pulling his hand an inch away, testing the pain level. Although it was still near unbearable, it was fading steadily. He set his hand on the ground and locked eyes with the to-be Yondaime Hokage. “I-”

Before he could get out another word, Minato was placing a hand on his forehead, checking for fever. “Are you sick?” The man questioned. Kakashi had nearly forgotten how much of a mother hen his sensei could be, when his precious people were in need. “Your chakra levels are low. Were you training by yourself again?”

Kakashi gently pushed Minato’s hand away, and the Namikaze allowed it. He didn’t think his mental state could handle everything that had happened within the past twenty-four hours, and his sensei’s concerned touch was pushing the line too far. “You could say that,” he replied, slowly easing himself back up to his feet. Minato mimicked his movements, although he didn’t quite give Kakashi the personal space that he would have liked. “I’ve been… feeling ill today,” he continued, staring off somewhere to the side. Instinct mingled with leftover pain kept his left eye closed. “I would have told you that I didn’t think I could have made it to training today, but I only woke up a few minutes ago.” It wasn’t technically a lie. If anything, Kakashi thought he was being quite honest.

One look at his sensei’s face had him wondering if honesty was the best way to go about it. Minato stared at him with thinly disguised worry, and his sensei glanced at his closed left eye more than once, but considering Kakashi felt as if he was looking at and speaking to a ghost, he figured he must not look too well off either. For the umpteenth time, he was thankful for his mask to hide whatever expression might have slipped. His chakra was also carefully monitored, as to not give away his distress that he was trying, with great difficulty, to keep a lid on.

The Namikaze seemed to be searching for the right words to say. Kakashi’s stomach twisted itself in knots as the silence dragged on, but he did not break Minato’s stare. He had always been a stubborn brat and had to at least try to keep himself acting somewhat normal. Finally, his sensei broke the silence. “You’ll go to the hospital if you don’t get better soon?” Minato asked, although Kakashi knew it to be an order. He nodded, even though his sensei knew as well as anybody that Kakashi had a particular loathing for the hospital. “You can be dismissed from training for today, then. Let me know if you’re not feeling like yourself by tomorrow.”

“Yes, Sensei. Is that all?”

Minato frowned but did not question his impatience. “Yes. Get some rest... That’s an order, Kakashi,” he added as an afterthought. With how lousy he was feeling, Kakashi knew the order was unnecessary. Minato, however, did not. It just went to show how much his teacher cared for his well being.

“Yes, Sensei.”

His sensei nodded, temporarily satisfied, and shunshined from the room. As soon as he was gone, Kakashi let out a tremendous, trembling sigh and collapsed on his bed. His reeling mind didn’t have the chance to keep him awake and worrying before he was soundly asleep.

へのへのもへじ

“Kakashi!” Came a familiar cry. The cave was collapsing around them, and he knew that Iwa-nin were lurking nearby, ready to end their lives. Kakashi watched, in horrifying slow motion, as Obito whirled around, intent to throw him from the path of the inevitable boulder barreling towards him. He couldn’t let that happen, not again. Finding strength he didn’t know he had, Kakashi released a blast of pure chakra, lighting flickering dangerously from his palm, forcing Obito to stay back. His teammate watched in horror as the boulder impacted, crushing Kakashi almost wholly. Blearily, as pain and chakra exhaustion consumed him, he could only smile, relieved that his teammate was safe.

He opened his eyes again, and still, he couldn’t move. Chakra exhaustion burned through his nervous system, tempting him to slip back into unconsciousness, but adrenaline and fear kept him awake. Pein fired his missile, on a collision course with Choji Akimichi, one of the Rookie Nine and carrying S-rank level intelligence for Tsunade. Kakashi’s life, in comparison, was meaningless. He was a tool for the Village, and an old shinobi at that. It had been a miracle - or a curse - that he hadn’t died yet. Silently, the Hatake asked Naruto for forgiveness, and activated his Kamui. The missile disappeared, and it took with it the last of his energy. Knowing he was facing death, however, did not bother Kakashi as much as it probably should have. Staring at the blue, peaceful sky, he thought of Rin and closed his eyes once more.

“Ka...ka...shi…”

He didn’t want to look at her, but this time, his eyes would not close. They were frozen wide in terror and disbelief, watching blood slip from Rin’s mouth.

“Kaka...shi…”

The Chidori chirped deafeningly, and yet, nothing was louder than Rin’s dying whisper. The hole in her chest gushed blood, coating his hand, his arm, his torso. No, no, he moaned, pain erupting through every nerve, tears streaming from his eyes. I’m sorry, Rin, Obito, forgive me.

“Kakashi…”

He tried to pull his arm free, but it was lodged firmly through Rin’s heart. Her face contorted into rage, and her soft whisper grew to a scream.

“Kakashi! Kakashi! Kakashi!”

Kakashi shot awake in a panic, gasping for breath and covered in a cold sweat. His hands were trembling, and, for a long moment, he was disoriented. This wasn’t his room, or his apartment. Where were his pictures of his team? Or Mr. Ukki? Even his body felt wrong. But then, suddenly, Kakashi remembered where he was. When he was.

“Kakashi!”

His eyes widened at the sound of the sweet, sing-song way his name was called. No… It couldn’t be. Throwing himself from the bed, he rushed to the front door, ignoring the way his skull flared painfully and how he stumbled. Panting, he slowed as the front door came into sight.

“Kakashi, I know you’re in there. You didn’t show up for training today. Minato-sensei said you weren’t feeling well, so I thought I should bring over something for you to eat…”

“Why do you even bother?” Came a loud, familiarly obnoxious voice. Dread rose in Kakashi’s chest, threatening to consume him. “You know he’s not even going to answer the door.”

Unbeknownst to his teammates, the Hatake was only a few feet from the door. He could sense their chakra, weaker than he last remembered it, but still there, strong and steady. The wound in his heart begged him to open the door, to wrap them both in his too-small arms and beg for their forgiveness. Yet, he couldn’t find the strength in him to move, paralyzed by fear. The darkness within him too easily reminded him that he was the reason for both of their deaths. If anything, he should push them away. He should push them far, far away, and then maybe then they would be safe from the destruction that he caused everywhere he went.

Obito and Rin were freshly fallen snow, and Kakashi was soaked in their blood, trying to keep it from dripping from his fingers with every breath.

“See?” Obito broke through his thoughts. “I told you he wasn’t going to answer.”

“Hush!” Rin scolded. Kakashi silently approached the door, using every ounce of restraint that he had finely honed during his decades as a shinobi. “Kakashi, please, talk to us.”

His voice came through low and hoarse, like a hiss. “Go away.”

Unfortunately, his acknowledgement of their presence only encouraged Rin. “Kakashi!” She exclaimed. The happiness in her voice tore at his soul like savage claws, and everytime she said his name his resolve crumbled a little more. “I brought some miso soup, since I know it’s your favorite… It has eggplant, too! I-”

Go away. I don’t want to see you.”

“Oh. Alright…” Rin trailed off, and Kakashi could hear the dejection in her voice. Of course, if Rin was upset, Obito felt the need to jump to her defense.

“Why do you have to say that, Bakakashi?” Obito shouted. “You’re always so mean, and Rin was just trying to do something nice for you-!”

The voices hushed momentarily. Kakashi swallowed, his mouth dry and a lump in his throat. The silence seemed to drag on forever, but it was only a few seconds later that Rin spoke up once more, quiet and yet still so kind. “I’ll leave the miso soup here, then. I hope you feel better soon, Kakashi. I really do.”

Kakashi could hear Obito’s huff and could easily envision the scowl that adorned the Uchiha’s face. However, he made no move to open the door or even attempt to appease them, as much as he wanted to apologize for his behavior. They should hate him. They should run as far from him as they could, because he was poison. He didn’t deserve their kindness. He deserved exactly what he suffered through every day with the memory of their deaths and the guilt weighing on his shoulders.

The Hatake waited until he could no longer hear their footfalls or sense their chakra before he opened the front door. As Rin had said, miso soup was sitting at his feet, covered neatly in plastic wrap to keep it warm and from spilling. Carefully, as if touching it might cause reality around him to shatter, Kakashi picked up the bowl. Warmth seeped into his hands. For a moment, he merely stood in his doorway, holding a bowl of miso soup with eggplant. Then something clicked, and within seconds, the front door was slammed shut, the miso soup was tucked away in his refrigerator, and Kakashi was escaping out his bedroom window.

His feet carried him far from his little apartment. It was the first time he had left his home since he had woken up in his teenage body, and seeing the Village as it used to be, before the Kyuubi attack, was like another suckerpunch to the gut. He had forgotten how different everything was, how much it all had changed. Running across the rooftops, keeping his chakra tucked close, he wondered what the Village would look like after Pein’s attack. It pained him to know he wasn’t there to see it, or to help rebuild.

Even the Memorial Stone was not the same. Kakashi didn’t have to read any of the names to know that simple fact, even as he stood in front of it and his eyes scanned the names. He had memorized them all long ago and sometimes pondered their stories. Did they die like Obito did, saving a teammate who was worse than trash? Or did they die like Rin did? Or Minato? He had never learned their stories, but he hoped that Obito gave them good company, at least. But, now, all those people were still alive. They could still be saved.

Kakashi took a step forward, fingers tentatively reaching out to brush the stone. It greedily sucked the warmth from his fingers, but he didn’t mind. He traced the empty spot where Uchiha Obito used to be written, and his resolve hardened. Not again, he thought. Never again. No matter what it takes.

He stood until the sun sank and rose again, the coming dawn breaking over the horizon a cue that he should get going now. His joints were stiff and achy, painful from having stood so still for so long. He hadn’t moved much at all, if only to look elsewhere when the guilt grew too much or he needed to shift his weight from one foot to the other. With a sigh, Kakashi stepped back from the Memorial Stone and stretched, hearing the satisfying sound of his popping bones. Soon he would need to head to the training grounds. His chakra was still too low for his liking, steadily replenishing but taking its sweet time, and his left eye was still closed and occasionally pulsed with pain, but he couldn’t hide from his team forever. And he didn’t even have his beloved Icha Icha to hide behind, since Jiraiya wouldn’t be publishing it for a few years now.

Sighing, Kakashi gave one last glance at the Memorial Stone. Then, he shunshined back to his apartment to get ready. Five minutes later, he was sitting on a tree branch overlooking their designated training area and waiting to relive his nightmares.

Never again. No matter what it takes.

Chapter Text

Cookie Crumbs Leave a Trail

Considering he was waiting for his team since dawn and they didn’t meet until mid-morning, Kakashi had time to think and mentally prepare. He didn’t dare attempt to predict how he might react, seeing all of them together again. So long as he didn’t flee on sight or call Minato-sensei “Hokage-sama” again, he didn’t think their reunion would go too poorly. He had a lot more practice keeping his emotions bottled up, and he had already been incredibly skilled at feigning apathy when he was this age. Additionally, besides his sick day yesterday, his teammates saw today as just another day. If only they knew how different everything was.

However, what he was more concerned about was their training. Although his chakra reserves were still low, Kakashi had noticed that his well of reserves was significantly larger than they had been when he was actually thirteen. It wasn’t quite on par with when he was fighting Pein, but it was nothing to laugh at, either. At thirteen, he had been able to use the Chidori comfortably two or three times a day while leaving room for other jutsu. Now, he estimated he could use the Chidori about five times daily, while also leaving enough to spare for the other jutsu he had in his arsenal. Although, that was another issue entirely. He no longer had Obito’s Sharingan, but he still remembered his copied jutsu and would have to use them sparingly. His teammates and sensei would notice if he revealed how much he knew.

Obito’s Sharingan… Yet a third problem. Kakashi touched the cool metal of his hitai-ate, pulled down over his left eye. It was habit more than need this time. There was no drain on his chakra without the Sharingan, which had been the only reason he kept it covered. But he’d grown so accustomed to the leather over his eye that having both eyes readily available was off balancing. To open his left eye in a battle situation was in direct relationship to a flare in his killing intent. As much as he could try to reign it in, he couldn’t suppress it entirely. Minato-sensei especially would notice. For now, he would just have to keep his eye closed. He had a temporary excuse, but he would need to come up with a better reason soon, or learn how to function with two eyes once again. Kakashi didn’t need to think on that too long to know that the latter option wasn’t really an option. He had been operating on mostly one eye for over half his life. That habit was one too cemented to break.

For today, at least, Kakashi didn’t need to worry about his eye or his chakra levels. He would focus on keeping his emotions in check and his true skill level hidden. All there was left to do now was wait.

Kakashi closed his eyes and leaned against the trunk of the tree, letting one leg dangle from his branch. He dozed for a couple hours until he felt a familiar chakra signature approaching. Minato-sensei, he identified easily, choosing not to move from his perch.

“Kakashi?” His sensei walked beneath the tree, staring up into the branches. Silently, Kakashi mused that, even though his chakra was low and his presence wasn’t obvious, he should have expected his sensei to easily detect him. Much better than his Genin team, back when he first became their sensei. “I wasn’t expecting you here so early. Are you feeling better?”

The teen cracked open his right eye, peering down at the Namikaze. “Good morning, Sensei,” he drawled, not moving from his comfortable position. “I’m well enough to train.”

“Your eye,” Minato commented. Kakashi didn’t need to be looking at him to know he was concerned. It leaked into his voice and his chakra. “Why is it covered up?”

“Ah, well, it’s been bothering me,” he replied. “Acting up yesterday. So I decided to cover it.”

“That blind spot will give you some trouble during training.”

“Maa… I don’t think it will really be a problem.” Kakashi’s single, visible eye crinkled up in the smile that he used after he had been dismissed from the ANBU Black Ops. Perhaps falling on his old habits was the wrong move, because Minato was staring oddly at him. However, his sensei decided not to press that particular issue.

Minato told him, “Your chakra’s still low, Kakashi. Are you sure⎼?”

Kakashi waved his concerned sensei off. “Yes, Sensei. I know my own abilities.” He carefully didn’t mention that he had been awake for over twelve hours. During his time in ANBU, he had been awake, on high alert no less, for much longer. In this period of his life, however, the most difficult mission he had taken was a lousy B-rank. Minato didn’t know he had the ability.

Briefly, Kakashi wondered if he still had the ability. His body was small, comparatively weak and untrained. He would have to work his way back up to his regular training regime. Most likely, his current body wasn’t able to withstand his skill level. He frowned at the idea of it. It took many years to hone his body and chakra level to that of a decade-old ANBU veteran and Jonin worthy of the Bingo Book, and he was loathe to start the process over from scratch.

To make matters worse, Kakashi knew he shouldn’t be thirteen, but that was a problem he was reluctant to even broach. Being thirteen should mean that he was a Jonin, and if he was a Jonin, Obito should be dead. But it was springtime, and his birthday wasn’t until September. Unless the Kamui had distorted the timeline more than Kakashi originally anticipated, he should be twelve. But he knew his body well, and he made leaps and bounds of progress in a single year, especially around this age. His body was nearly ready for ANBU, but that didn’t correlate with the timeline at all. If he was analyzing this correctly, he was a year off.

Comparing and contrasting dates was taking a toll on Kakashi’s mind. He needed solid answers, and who better than his Sensei, leaning against the foot of the tree, waiting for the rest of their team?

“Sensei,” Kakashi said, and Minato acknowledged it. He continued, “Do you remember how old I am?”

At that, the Namikaze lifted his head to stare at the Hatake in a tree. “Do I remember how⎼ Kakashi, are you sure you’re feeling well enough to train?”

“Yes, Sensei. I’m only testing your memory. Do you?”

“Of course,” Minato said. Kakashi forced the rising anticipation down, appearing calm and aloof as he waited for the answer. “You’re twelve.”

Twelve? That couldn’t be right. Kakashi looked down at his hands and thought that definitely couldn’t be right. “I could’ve sworn I was thirteen,” he mused to himself. To Minato, he asked, “And my rank?”

“Chunin... Kakashi⎼”

“Oh, look. Rin’s here.”

Thankfully, the arrival of another team member was enough to throw his sensei off his trail, for now, at least. Kakashi watched Nohara Rin walk up to their sensei, and pain blossomed in an old, familiar wound. She smiled kindly at Minato. “Is Kakashi not here yet?” She asked. In response, Minato graced her smile with his own and pointed upwards. Rin’s eyes followed the direction of her sensei’s motion, and when she noticed Kakashi sitting in the tree, she turned her dazzling, innocent expression to him. Fresh pain welled up inside him, and he looked away without greeting her.

Rin asked about his eye, but Kakashi only gave her what he had told Minato-sensei. He didn’t see the two of them exchange worried glances, but, thankfully, the two of them soon began in some trivial discussion about Kushina ⎼ Minato was always more than willing to gush about his girlfriend ⎼ as they waited for Obito. Kakashi didn’t mind in the slightest. Waiting for the Uchiha gave him more time to think on his current situation.

At thirteen, he had been a Jonin and quite soon after that he was gifted Obito’s Sharingan. Did that explain the pounding in his head, that refused to leave him alone? Was his body remembering a bloodline that he didn’t have? He also couldn’t grasp why he was, by date, twelve, but by physique, thirteen. Why would the Kamui send him into the wrong body for the particular period he was in? Why would he have more chakra than he did at either twelve or thirteen? Why would the Kamui send him back in time at all?

Kakashi scrubbed at his visible eye, sighing softly. He didn’t know enough about the Sharingan and its capabilities, that was certain. The ideal person to ask would be a Uchiha, but Itachi was still too young to be but a babe, and the Uchiha weren’t exactly on friendly terms with the rest of the Konoha shinobi. That only left…

“Sorry I’m late!”

Speak of the devil.

Kakashi turned his head to watch as Uchiha Obito hurried into the clearing, stumbled, and barely managed to catch himself. The boyish grin stretched across his face as he readjusted those damn goggles of his. As his teammate launched into an explanation of why he was late ⎼ something to do with old ladies, cats, and groceries ⎼ Kakashi thought back to a time when those goggles rested above a newly engraved name on the Memorial Stone. He gritted his teeth and swore it would never happen again, not so long as he was breathing.

“Uh, Kakashi?”

The Hatake blinked, realizing he was being spoken to. He shoved his thoughts and emotions into a tiny box, locked it, and hid it away in the corner of his mind. “Yes?” He drawled, looking to Obito and appearing his apathetic self.

Obito flustered at being addressed, or perhaps it had to do with what he had to say. “Are you not, uh, gonna rant at me or anything?”

Kakashi briefly wondered if he was that much of a brat when he was younger. Thinking back to his father, trapped in the afterlife for almost three decades, he concluded that he was and that Obito’s reaction was justified. He jumped down from the tree branch, landing beside his teammates. “I’ll let you off the hook today,” he said dryly. “I missed training yesterday, after all.”

The Uchiha was not at all secretive when he stared at Kakashi’s covered eye. “Does it, uh, does it have anything to do with your eye?”

Kakashi chose not to grace that with a response. He didn’t like repeating himself, after all, and he’d already explained it to Minato and Rin. Instead of acknowledging Obito any further, he turned to Minato. “Can we begin training now, Sensei? We’ve waited long enough.” He ignored Obito’s spluttering in the background while Minato nodded, clapping his hands together.

“Very well!” His sensei began. “Today we’re going to be working on ninjutsu. First, I have something for all of you.” Minato handed out litmus paper, and Kakashi took one with a bored look in his eye. Obito and Rin, on the other hand, were quite excited. Briefly, Kakashi thought back to his own students, and his heart panged mournfully. Oblivious to his genius student’s turmoil, their sensei continued, “Now, does anyone know what this is?”

Rin answered excitedly. “It’s chakra induction paper! It’ll tell us our affinity towards the five elemental chakra natures.”

Minato smiled, nodding pleasantly. “Good job, Rin. You’re absolutely correct. This paper is special. When you put even a little bit of your chakra into it, it’ll react in a particular way, revealing your chakra nature.” He held one paper between two fingers. Obito and Rin waited with bated breath; Kakashi wished he was elsewhere. Minato’s paper cleanly split in two.

“Now,” Minato continued, “what does this mean my chakra nature is?”

“Wind,” Rin answered again, and she was given another nod.

“Good, Rin. Now I want the three of you to exert chakra into these papers, one at a time. Obito, you first.”

It was common knowledge that the Uchiha clan was of a fire nature, but Kakashi didn’t want to rain on his teammate’s parade when Obito’s paper lit and burned to a crisp. Rin was next. Kakashi forced himself not to cringe when her paper crumbled into dust. (Earth was weak to lightning.) He already knew his own chakra nature, but he let the paper wrinkle around his fingers anyway, and Minato was content.

“Now that we all know our chakra natures, can anyone tell me their strengths and weaknesses?”

Again, Rin piped up to Minato’s question. “The chakra wheel goes Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth, and Water. The preceding chakra nature is its weakness. The following chakra nature is what it’s strong against. For example, Fire is weak against Water, but strong against Wind.”

Minato spoke again, but by this time Kakashi grew tired of the teachings he knew by heart and zoned out, mostly. He half-focused on his immediate surroundings and half-listened to Minato’s lengthy explanations, complete with Obito’s oblivious questions and Rin’s gentle explanations. It reminded him of himself, in the future, explaining concepts to his own Genin team. As much as he missed his companions, Kakashi genuinely thought that he could listen to Team Minato chatter away until the sun sank.

Truth be told, Kakashi had known he had missed his teammates. He had worried about how he would react when he was reunited with his team. Never did he imagine that he would feel so right. It was as if he had returned home after a long time away. Well, Kakashi supposed, he had returned home, after being gone for almost two decades. Surely he had the right to bask.

“Kakashi?” Rin’s voice drew him from his thoughts. “Did you hear what I said?”

“Hm?” He responded, carefully ignoring the worried glances his teammates shared. Even Obito looked mildly concerned. Kakashi supposed he wasn’t acting very much his twelve-year-old self, but he wasn’t twelve. He was thirty. To borrow the Nara catchphrase, it was troublesome to pretend to be twelve again. (Truthfully, the thought disturbed him a bit. If Naruto ever found out, he would become equal to Jiraiya in perv status.)

“Minato-sensei thought we should work on our ninjutsu. I wanted to check your eye before we got started.”

“Mm. If you want.”

Rin approached. Obito lingered by Minato. His sensei looked the most worried, but Kakashi didn’t want to tell him again that he was fine. Instead, he would let Rin’s medical examinations prove it to his team.

“Lift your headband, please,” she said. Kakashi obliged. He used his left hand in the familiar action of pulling up his headband, revealing his left eye⎼

Pain exploded behind his forehead. Chakra overwhelmed his eyes, bringing one into blindness and the other into more than perfect clarity. Kakashi made a choked, pained sound that he didn’t recognize from his own vocal cords. The agony was overwhelming.

⎼and promptly passed out.

Chapter Text

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Kakashi knew he was in the hospital before he was even fully conscious. The sterile scent and quiet but persistent hum of the overhead lights were enough to cue him in. He wondered what he was in for this time, and then remembered – chakra exhaustion. Although he had been sure he had died when fighting Pein, Tsunade was a miracle worker. Perhaps his discussion with Sakumo had been a dream.

Now was not the time to think on that, however. There was another chakra signature in the room with him, and it was familiar enough to drag him from the sleepy, dark corners of his mind and into reality, if only however briefly.

Kakashi cracked open an eye. The fuzzy hospital light was much too bright, and his eye closed again instinctively, while he released the softest sigh. While he waited to completely wake up, he decided to tally his injuries. Considering how much chakra he had used up, he didn’t feel all that terrible. He still felt bad, yes, but not as bad off as he might have been expecting, surviving death’s grasp once more.

“Kakashi?”

In response, the Hatake mustered up his energy and squinted open his right eye once more. A blurry yellow figure leaned over his hospital bed, blocking the too-bright lights, and for that he was thankful. He couldn’t quite make out the details of the blond’s face, but he didn’t need to. He could recognize his own student (although, he was half-expecting Maito Gai to be the one to greet him first. No doubt the boisterous man was asked to leave so he could get some rest).

“Good morning, Naruto,” he rasped. His voice didn’t sound quite right, but he chalked it up to underuse. Who knew how long he had been out, after the fight he had with the Peins? He wondered how the Village was doing in the aftermath. Leave it to the Number One Knucklehead Ninja to save the day. He couldn’t be more proud of his student.

“Naruto?” Naruto repeated, and Kakashi wondered why he was saying his own name. “Kakashi, it’s me. Can you see me alright? The nurse said you did a number on your eyes, but you should be okay. Why were you channeling that much chakra to them to begin with?”

“Maa, it was necessary, at the time. Pein was going to… Well.” He cleared his throat. Something was wrong with it, and it didn’t sound like the deep timber of his voice when he was parched. If anything, it was higher-pitched.

“Pain? Kakashi, why didn’t you tell me you were in that much pain?”

Something was definitely wrong, but his body was too exhausted to put a finger on it. “Ah, well, you see…” He began, as his eye slipped closed. The rest of his answer was mumbled, and within moments the Copy Nin was asleep again, dragged under by painkillers and exhaustion.

Namikaze Minato frowned at his young, slumbering student. He stared at the Hatake boy, as if his covered face would give him any answers, but after a long moment he realized the fruitlessness of it. Sighing, he flopped down into the plastic chair and snagged Kakashi’s chart from the bedside table, scanning it over for the umpteenth time since his student had collapsed at the training grounds yesterday. Kakashi’s body showed enough damage to his chakra system to have killed a grown man, and the crux of it centered at his left eye. The report also suggested that his body was overcompensating for that same left eye, channeling much more chakra than should have been needed, which explained the pain his student had no doubt been in – and perhaps still was. The results were migraines and temporary vision loss, and an unnecessary drain on his chakra. Other scribblings noted medical terms and observations that Minato couldn’t begin to understand.

The Jonin sensei sighed, setting the clipboard back down. He supposed he had answers, but he didn’t have an explanation. How did Kakashi sustain such damage to his chakra network? Minato would have known if Kakashi ended up in the hospital on the brink of death, but he also knew his genius student was smarter than to push himself that far in personal training. He could only assume that the somehow brand-new but entirely-healed scars on his chakra system were born of necessity, but that led him nowhere. In no situation did Kakashi need to push his body past its limit. Not to mention that the boy was a Chunin, and, from what he gathered from the nurses and doctor, Kakashi was harboring S-rank worthy injuries. The Hatake was a prodigy, that much was true, but he wasn’t that strong. Facing any S-rank ninja in a life or death battle would have killed the boy, and Kakashi was clearly alive, if not worse for wear. Although, according to the medic’s reports, Kakashi should definitely not be alive. As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, there was also the problem of Kakashi’s left eye.

Minato solemnly watched his student sleeping peacefully. Kakashi had been fine three days ago – his moody, apathetic, rule-adoring self. Then, two days ago, he suddenly came down with a sickness and missed training altogether. Yesterday he actually collapsed, and that was only after he was acting strangely. Kakashi was always aloof, keeping everyone at an arm’s length after Sakumo’s death, but the Kakashi he saw yesterday was not the Kakashi he knew. His precious student looked exhausted, mentally and physically, as if he had lived through lifetimes’ worth of sorrow. Yes, this Genin team was gearing up for war, and Sakumo’s death was tragic, but it didn’t add up to the kind of pain that he glimpsed. Nothing added up. Why did his body have such extensive chakra damage? Where did he get the habit of channeling chakra to his left eye? Who was this new Hatake Kakashi?

Minato scrubbed at his eyes, sighing. There was no use turning these thoughts over in his mind endlessly. He would simply have to ask the boy outright, when he woke up – assuming Kakashi recognized him for him, and not this Naruto. Standing up, Minato stole one last, long glance at his sleeping student before he left, turning off the lights and shutting the door quietly behind him. He would tell Obito and Rin that they could visit Kakashi tomorrow if they liked. For now, he needed to get home and have a long talk with Kushina.

The Namikaze left the hospital. As soon as his spike of blond hair disappeared from the hospital's view, the window of Kakashi’s darkened hospital room opened. A lone, small figure slipped out and disappeared into the night.

へのへのもへじ

Kakashi didn’t know where to go. His thoughts were thick and sluggish from pain medication, but at the very least his brain wasn’t trying to explode from his skull. His memory was jumbled, and trying to pick his memories apart and sort through them was proving to be impossible. He had thought that he’d seen Naruto at his hospital room, but had it been Minato? Hadn’t Minato died years ago? Hadn’t he himself died?

Nothing was the same – the Village, the Memorial Stone, his team, his own apartment. He needed a dash of familiarity, just to get his thoughts in order. He needed to not be found.

There was only one real option.

The Hatake compound looked as it used to. Old and rickety, the building boasted of a proud clan long dead. Graffiti marred the front doors, disgracing Sakumo even after his (cowardly, a voice said) honorable death. In his own timeline, Kakashi had gone back eventually to clean and restore it to something of its former glory, but that was long after Minato’s death. At this time, the building looked haunted and pitiful.

But it was home.

Kakashi slid open the doors and instinctually left his sandals by the door. Ghosts of the past embraced him as he walked inside, flickers of memories of happier times, when he was a happy child with at least one parent, but those thoughts quickly faded as his eye adjusted to the gloom. The darkness that surrounded and consumed this building was thicker than fog. No moonlight reached this place. The windows were boarded and covered, every door closed. Maybe it was a hallucination, but Kakashi thought he could smell old, dried blood from the room that had taken him most of his life to enter – and his father’s life.

Again, Kakashi wondered if Sakumo’s spirit was unable to find rest. He had forgiven his father, but did that transfer to his timeline? Was the White Fang still trapped on the border of the afterlife?

Kakashi sank to the dusty floor in the open space, knees finding solace in an old pillow before a low table. The thought of his family home in such disrepair filled him with anger. His father deserved better than this shabby shrine to the past. He needed to clean it. He needed not to be alone.

A little blood and a large swell of smoke later, eight ninken sat at his feet: Pakkun, Bull, Urushi, Shiba, Bisuke, Akino, Uhei, and Guruko. The canines seemed ready for battle, and Kakashi hazily reflected that he had rarely called upon them for anything more when he was at this age. Only when he was at his lowest did he call them for company, and even rarer did he summon all eight. The ninken very quickly realized, however, that they were not in a battle – and they realized soon after that where, exactly, they were.

Even though he was not the loudest ninken of the bunch, Pakkun was the first to speak up. “Kakashi?” The pug ventured. “Why are we in the Hatake compound?”

“I wanted to clean it,” came the reply. The dogs glanced at each other, and Guruko padded forward to sniff cautiously at his pant leg. A soft whine emitted from her throat, a gentle sound that he rarely ever heard from his ninken. They had the capability to tear his enemies in pieces, and their soft side was reserved for him alone. Even still, his ninken were more prone to teasing chatter rather than such forward concern.

Guruko lifted her head, and he looked into her dark eyes with one of his own. “Are you alright, Kakashi?”

Rather than reply, Kakashi reached out to pet her. The other ninken took this as their signal to all crowd around him. He did his best to pet them all, his mind happily blank all the while. The pain killers were really taking their toll on his ability to stay awake, especially when he was finally at ease with his pack. Somehow, he soon found himself rearranged: laying down against Bull’s side, with his ninken strewn about his stretching legs, although Pakkun was settled on his lap. He had never addressed Guruko’s question, but Kakashi thought that his dogs hadn’t forgotten about it. Even still, he would do his best to avoid any of those questions, as he didn’t want to make his precious ninken worry more than they already might be.

Alas, as if sensing that his mind had returned from the darkness, his ninken began to speak.

“Kakashi, why were you at the hospital?” Pakkun asked, his voice a low rumble.

Shiba lifted his head from Kakashi’s shin to voice his piece. “And why aren’t you still at the hospital?”

Kakashi squinted his eye in an attempt at a reassuring smile. “You know how much I dislike hospitals, Shiba,” he answered. “I’m alright.”

His answer didn’t seem to satisfy any of his ninken. Even Bull growled low in his throat, and the boy sighed, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling. None of them needed to speak aloud for Kakashi to know their thoughts: “You’re never alright if you visit this place.”

Because he trusted his ninken, Kakashi tried to elaborate as vaguely as possible. “I needed a familiar place.”

The ninja dogs all looked to each other, speaking in that silent way that only they could understand. It seemed they were preparing another question. Pakkun shifted on Kakashi’s stomach, his squishy little paws pressing down lightly as he adjusted his positioning. The pug stared up at his boss, eyes squinted. “You’ve been acting off since the other day,” he commented, and Kakashi shrugged in response, letting his eye close. He understood his ninken’s concern, but he couldn’t tell them what was truly going on. He couldn’t tell anyone. This was a burden that he had to bear on his own, even if he had no idea what was going on with the timeline, or his very body.

Pakkun asked, “Does the name Pein mean anything to you?”

Kakashi startled, sitting up suddenly. Some of his ninken whined at being disturbed, but they all quieted quickly, focused on his answer. Kakashi’s mouth felt dry.

“How–?” He started, staring at Pakkun with shock. He swallowed, and tried again. “How do you know that name?”

“You remember the future, don’t you?”

“I– Y-yes, I do. How could you possibly–”

Pakkun set his paw on Kakashi’s chest. There was no force behind it, but Kakashi relaxed into Bull’s side nonetheless. The sudden movement had sent a dizzying rush through him, but he hadn’t realized it from the pounding of his blood in his ears until he relaxed once more. His ninken also remembered the future? How was that possible?

“I don’t have any more answers than you do, Kakashi,” Pakkun continued. The other ninken remained silent, save for small sounds and nods of agreement, and let their pack leader speak. “We all felt when our bond was broken. Your chakra was gone, entirely. We knew you died.” A few whined softly at that. Kakashi felt another piece of his heart break. He and his ninken were family, pack, bonded through something much stronger than blood. In an attempt to soothe them, or himself, he began petting them all again.

Pakkun continued, laying his head on Kakashi’s belly, “We heard that you had been fighting one of the Akatsuki. One of Tsunade’s slugs found you.” Briefly, Kakashi remembered that time worked differently in the world of summons, and he wondered how long they were without him before he woke up as a twelve- or thirteen-year-old. “The next thing we knew, the bond was back, but different. Then you summoned me, looking like you had just started puberty.”

Kakashi scoffed, but let the pug speak. “We all played along, at first, because we weren’t sure. But now…” Pakkun looked to the rest of his pack, and they nodded.

“Now we know that you remember, too,” Bisuke said. “We think it has something to do with your chakra. It’s not the same as when you were this age.”

"Yeah," Akino agreed. "It feels more like it used to."

Kakashi nodded, but words were escaping him. The knowledge that he wasn’t completely alone in this was more relieving than he could put into words. His ninken were the closest thing that he had to family. When he had come back to this world, he had thought that he’d lost the relationship he had built with them throughout the years. Although he did rely on them when he was a teenager, it wasn’t until he was truly, completely alone did his ninken become more precious to him than life itself. More than once they saved him from the darkness inside his own mind, and they knew him better than any human did – even Maito Gai, who was the closest thing to a best friend that he had. Reuniting with Team Minato had felt like coming home, but that home was much like this old Hatake compound – a home that he had long left. His ninken here with him gave him hope again, to continue on for the sake of a better future.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Kakashi admitted with a hollow laugh. From his vest pocket he pulled his papers from the hospital, while his other hand continued to pet the nearest canine. He scanned the paper, saying, “My chakra network says that I should be dead. I did die, fighting Pein, but I never… I never got to the other side. Instead, I was at a campfire. Father was there, waiting for me.”

His ninken shifted, surprised to hear that. “Sakumo?” Uhei asked, and Kakashi nodded.

“We talked, for a long time. He wanted to hear my story, and I told him. I told him everything he missed. By the time I was finished, it felt like… like something was pulling me back. I tried to fight it, but he told me to go, and I did. Then, I woke up in this body, in my old apartment. Minato-sensei found me and asked why I wasn’t at training.” Another empty huff of a laugh escaped from him. Everything seemed to be catching up to him at once, spilling out now that he had someone to tell. “My eye – my left eye – it’s been killing me since I woke up here. At first I thought it was because I burnt it out using the Kamui. The doctors say I’m channeling unneeded chakra towards it, but it’s not of my own volition. I haven’t been at full chakra since I woke up, either, and it’s still draining me.”

Akino chimed in again. “You don’t have Obito’s Sharingan anymore?”

“No,” Kakashi said, shaking his head. “It’s my eye. Rin – I went to training yesterday. She asked to see it before we got started. When I opened it, I just… passed out. Then I woke up in the hospital. I came here right after.”

The ninken were quiet, soaking in the information. Kakashi settled himself further into Bull’s warm fur. The warmth of all his beloved pack pressed against him was soothing, grounding. He didn’t realize how much he had missed them until this moment, when he could spill his worries into their listening ears, knowing they would always be there to help him, whether he was battling an enemy or his own mind.

“You must have some theories by now, Kakashi,” Pakkun prodded. The pug knew him well.

“I do.” Kakashi cleared his throat, rolling up the medical sheet and returning it to his vest pocket. His hands then settled back on his dogs, thumbing gently over their soft fur. “Nothing concrete, though. I used the Kamui right before I died. It distorts space, and I thought that it might have distorted time, too. Rin and Obito were the last things I can remember thinking of.”

Urushi pointed out, “Space and time are two different things, you know.”

“I know, but I don’t have anything better.”

“Is your eye still bothering you?” Guruko asked, easily changing the subject. Kakashi pondered the question for a moment before giving a small nod. The pain was still there, but faint and faraway. His tiredness was the most noticeable at the moment, and he blamed it on his slow-replenishing chakra.

“The painkillers from the hospital are helping, though,” he offered, “but my chakra is still low.”

“Sleep, then, you brat,” Pakkun grumbled. “We’ll talk – and clean – in the morning.”

Kakashi knew better than to protest. None of the ninken moved from their spots draped over his legs, or stomach, and he was more than fine to sleep on the floor. He sighed softly, leaning his head back against Bull, and let his eyes close. Surrounded again by his pack, Kakashi drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of home.

Chapter Text

To Fix a Broken Thing, First You Need All Its Pieces

The Hatake compound was clean, inside and out. The graffiti was scrubbed away, the floors were swept, the windows repaired, counters washed. Everything was as it once was.

The process had taken quite a long time, but with his ninken helping him, Kakashi was able to get everything done by late afternoon. He had surprised himself earlier by how easily he entered the room where his father committed seppuku. The flashes of memory were real, but after he’d forgiven his father, they were less painful than ever. And he may have imagined the faint smell of blood, but by the time he had finished cleaning, he could not smell it over the harsh scent of cleaners.

When all was finished, he began preparing a meal in the kitchen with items that his dogs had brought him, since Kakashi was doing all he could to remain at the Hatake compound rather than head back out into the village. Technically, he was supposed to be at the hospital, and he didn’t want one of his teammates dragging him back there. No one would think to look for him here, at least not for another day or two.

Kakashi looked to his ninken. They were strewn out on the floor, lazing around after their hard work earlier today. It had certainly felt like a battle with the dirt ingrained into the floorboards.

All things considered, Kakashi felt better than he had yesterday, mentally and physically. To have his ninken around him again took a heavy burden off his mind. A dreamless, full sleep restored some of his chakra, though he still felt drained. His hitai-ate remained pulled down over his left eye, since using that eye seemed to be too much for now, although he was not sure why. It was that eye that was draining his chakra religiously. He could feel the buildup of it, throbbing painfully with every pulse of his heart. The pain was manageable, but what would happen if his chakra continued to be sent to his eye with no outlet? Surely it would blind him. Unfortunately, releasing the chakra seemed to be impossible at the moment. The last time he even opened his left eye he passed out.

In other words, whatever the hell was going on with his chakra was a problem for later.

After Kakashi served the meals to his dogs, he sat down with his own on the plush cushion in the living room, where the low table was. The other cushion adjacent to his own had long been put away in some closet (he didn’t want to look at the empty spot).

As he and his ninken ate, they discussed what they had put off last night ⎼ theorizing how, exactly, Kakashi came to be in this particular timeline.

The discussion lasted until the sun sank, their empty dishes long disregarded, to be cleaned later. Finally, they came to a hesitant conclusion after establishing what they knew for fact. They knew the Kamui distorted time and space and that Kakashi used it as he died. His chakra managed to return to the past with him, and somehow his body advanced in age because of it. Most likely because his chakra system had been accustomed to a body with the Sharingan, his current body had changed to meet the standard requirements of his advanced chakra system ⎼ his thirteen-year-old body had a Sharingan.

The only problem was that he didn’t have a Sharingan.

Again, whatever the hell was going on with his chakra was a problem for later.

As for time travel, the only theory they could best surmise was that Kakashi’s Will of Fire had distorted the Kamui and brought him back, merging his former chakra system with his younger self, thus resulting in the not-quite-right body he currently had. Thus resulting in whatever the hell was going on with his chakra.

Kakashi really didn’t want to think about it.

The plan of action was, for the time, to prepare his team for what was to come, and to train himself up. They needed to be ready for Kannabi Bridge. What had happened in the past could never happen again. That Kakashi was sure of. In order to do that, their teamwork needed to be solid. In the months to come, he would need to fix his relationship with Obito and establish with Rin that he wasn’t someone to be involved with romantically.

He had a lot to do, and so very little time to do it.

へのへのもへじ

Minato didn’t find him until the next day, and Kakashi had to admit that he was still impressed that his sensei managed to track him down at all. Minato should have thought that the Hatake compound was off-limits to the boy. Maybe that actually was what his sensei thought and the Namikaze had merely ran out of other places to check. After all, Kakashi had technically been missing for two days, now. Not that they had training until tomorrow, but disappearing from the hospital when in critical condition is not often taken lightly. Rin was likely scared half to death. Obito might be a bit worried, even, let alone his mother hen of a sensei.

He had still been asleep when Minato hesitantly approached the compound. Having sensed the chakra, his ninken woke him with nudging noses and quiet murmurs, as to not startle him into battle-ready awakeness. While Kakashi got his bearings about him, his sensei snooped about the cleaned building, both suspicious and worried. Kakashi couldn’t blame him.

The child opened the front door just as Minato raised a hand to knock. The Namikaze spluttered briefly, caught off guard, but he quickly composed himself.

“Kakashi,” he greeted stiffly.

Kakashi’s response was much warmer. He gave his sensei a one-eyed smile, the other covered by his hitai-ate for the time being. “Minato-sensei,” he replied. “Would you like to come in?”

Maybe the wrong thing to say, judging by Minato’s blatant surprise. But Kakashi had a knack for failure, and the habit was a hard one to break. He stepped aside to allow his sensei into the home, guiding him further inside once he’d respectfully removed his shoes. At the low table, Minato kneeled on the sole cushion. Kakashi would sit on the floor, then. He was loathe to retrieve the spare cushion from its hiding place.

“Tea, Sensei?”

“Um, sure, Kakashi.”

As Kakashi prepared the tea, his ninken came strolling out into the room. Another mistake on Kakashi’s part, given the surprised expression that was appearing on Minato’s face more and more.

He handed his sensei the steaming tea and took a seat across from him with his own glass. The ninken laid nearby, save for Pakkun, who laid pressed again Kakashi’s thigh.

“Thank you,” Minato started, and Kakashi nodded. “I… wasn’t expecting to find you here. I’m still a bit shocked by it, if I’m honest.”

“I can’t blame you, Sensei. I’m sure I would be shocked too.” A wry smile curled on Kakashi’s lips, hidden by the mask. The irony was lost on Minato, but not on Pakkun, who snorted. Minato glanced at the pug briefly before returning his piercing blue gaze to Kakashi, who was once again reminded that he would not see Naruto again for some time. He ignored the ache in his chest in favor of the conversation.

“I don’t remember you having so many summons, either.”

Kakashi shrugged. “Maa… I haven’t really needed them in battle. We’ve managed everything just fine on our own,” he lied.

“Still,” Minato said, then paused. “Eight is a lot. Especially all at once.”

The Hatake had no response to that. He raised an eyebrow, but gave no verbal reply. His sensei sighed and let it go, setting his cup down on the table.

“Kakashi, you’ve been acting strangely these past few days. You’re not yourself. What’s going on? You know you can talk to me, about anything.”

There was the familiar worrying that he had been expecting. Kakashi curled his eye in a smile and said, “Maybe I’m more myself than ever, Sensei.”

Frustration briefly wrote itself across the blond’s face before it vanished. “You’re not. Please, you don’t have to pretend around me. I’m only trying to look out for you. First you miss training, and when you do show up you faint as soon as you open your eye. Then you vanish from the hospital, only to reappear at your old home. Not to mention that it looks as if you’ve seen a lifetime of war! Something happened last week that I’m missing, and I'm just trying to fill in the missing pieces.”

Kakashi looked away with a soft sigh. His sensei was so genuine, so caring. It made him want to tell him everything, to spill all his worries and fears onto the Namikaze and beg for help. He missed Minato’s advice. But he reminded himself that he couldn’t speak a word of his predicament to anyone. This knowledge was for him – and for his ninken – alone. He shouldered it alone. The future was not Minato’s burden, not yet.

“Kakashi, please,” his sensei tried again. “Give me something to go off of here.”

“I’ve… come to a recent realization,” Kakashi said. Minato perked at the new information. Clearly, he hadn’t really been expecting his pleas to work, but it was with good graces that he absorbed everything Kakashi was willing to spill. “I don’t want to continue down the path that I’ve set myself on,” the Hatake remarked quietly. His lone gray eye bore into Minato’s, and the Namikaze had to suppress a shudder. He had never seen his student look so dead inside, as if all emotion and feeling had been sucked into a vacuum.

Kakashi continued, “I want to change, to be better. I’m growing up, Sensei, and maybe it’s happening a little fast, but it all… hit me at once, I guess. I don’t want to fight with Obito any longer, and I want Rin to stop looking at me like she does. I don’t want to act as if I’m better than either of them. In skill, I’ve got them beat, but when it comes down to what matters…” He trailed off, looked away. Minato waited patiently for Kakashi to work up whatever it was that he needed to look him in the eyes and resume speaking. “I want to fix our teamwork. I want to fix our team. I want to fix, well, me. I guess I’m just not sure how to start.”

The both of them were quiet for a long couple minutes. Kakashi pet Pakkun while Minato processed what he had just learned.

“Kakashi,” the Namikaze began, “some of your problems I might not be able to help you with, unfortunately. I can’t change Obito’s or Rin’s mind. They’re going to see you as they have been, until you prove it differently to them. But I can give you advice.”

At this, Kakashi looked up. The look in his eye was a mix of hope and hopelessness, as if he wanted to believe but despair was too familiar to let go of easily. Such a defeated look had Minato’s heart swelling with love, and Minato realized just how desperately he wanted to help his student. Kakashi went to him for advice, but it typically pertained to jutsu work. Never did he ask for life advice, and, in this one crucial point in time, when Kakashi for some reason chose to make himself vulnerable, Minato was not going to lead him astray.

“I think the answer is simpler than you believe, Kakashi,” Minato continued. “You need to get to know Obito and Rin for who they really are, not for who you’ve perceived them to be. You look at them ⎼ and at your father ⎼ through the lens of the rulebook and judge them accordingly. But life is more than just rules and regulations. Take Obito, for example.”

Minato wrapped his hands around his cup, letting it warm his cool fingers. “He’s late just about every day. According to the rulebook, he is a worthless shinobi. But I don’t scold him for being late, because I look outside the rulebook. I see a young man doing everything in his power to help those in need, and isn’t that what shinobi do? We protect the village. Is Obito carrying an old woman’s groceries not doing the same thing? Maybe not in the way you might think, but… To be honest, I almost think his work is more important than mine.” He laughed breathily, and Kakashi furrowed his eyebrows. “We protect the village from outside attacks that may never come, from threats that are looming. Obito works to resolve the immediate threats and unhappiness in this place. Without people like him, people like us would have no village to protect.”

Kakashi looked down at his tea, thinking. He had never heard this side of the story. He had Obito’s side, briefly, before the boy was taken from this world, and then he had the side that he would make up, standing in front of the Memorial Stone. He had never asked his sensei’s opinion about their clutsiest member.

“Does that make sense, Kakashi?”

Kakashi gave a small nod in response. Had he the mind of his twelve-year-old self, he would have snarled and said that Obito was looking at him through a bias, too, but Kakashi knew now that Obito only saw what Kakashi presented. Kakashi put forth a cold, shallow form of who he was, and Obito didn’t want to look underneath the underneath. Who would? Rin, he supposed, but she was always too kind for her own good.

“So, you’re telling me I need to be friends with them,” Kakashi drawled, looking up at his sensei.

“You’re already friends, Kakashi,” Minato responded. “I’m asking you to reevaluate them. They’re worth your time, and there’s more to them than you know.”

From nowhere, defensiveness boiled up and spilled over inside him. These were his comrades! He knew everything about them, inside and out. His thoughts were so often on them over the years. There was nothing that he did not have memorized. “I already know them, Sensei,” he replied, fingers tightening on the teacup. “They’re my teammates.”

Minato offered Kakashi a small smile. “Why does Obito wear those goggles?” He asked. Kakashi’s rising anger ground to a screeching halt. “What about Rin’s bracelet?”

For that, Kakashi had no answer. He looked away, a blush heating his cheeks. He was thankful for the mask to hide his shame.

His sensei didn’t hold an accusing tone, though, only a gentle, kind one. “When you can tell me those, Kakashi, then you’ll really know your teammates. And maybe they’ll know you a little better, too.” Minato stood, then, and Kakashi rose with him, both their cups on the table still. “I’ll get going now. I didn’t mean to intrude for long. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Kakashi nodded, not quite responding. He followed his sensei to the door, holding it open as Minato stepped out into the warm sunlight of Konoha. “Sensei,” Kakashi said before Minato walked away. The blond halfway turned, a question in his eyes. Kakashi shifted, uncomfortable with the undivided attention, and mumbled out, “Thank you.”

Minato beamed, looking so much like Naruto in that moment that Kakashi wondered which timeline he was actually in. “Anytime, Kakashi. I’ll see you at training tomorrow. Also, it might not hurt to get to know your other classmates, while you're at it.”

Kakashi raised a hand to wave, and Minato was gone. He closed the door and sighed heavily, leaning against it and sliding to the floor. His ninken pooled around him, making sure he was alright while also wanting to satiate their own curiosity.

“Help me, Pakkun,” the Hatake moaned. “This is so much worse than I could have ever imagined.”

Pakkun set a paw on Kakashi’s chest. “Boss?" He asked. Kakashi held his head in his heads and let out a pitiful wail.

“I need to make friends! Again!”

Chapter Text

Alone in a Sea of Familiar Strangers

Kakashi could only hide in the Hatake compound for so long. After Minato took his leave, the boy gathered his wits and took his sensei’s advice to heart. He had a very limited view of who Nohara Rin and Uchiha Obito actually were. After their deaths, he’d twisted his perceptions of them unconsciously. The same had happened with Namikaze Minato and even Hatake Sakumo, his own father. Unlike Sakumo, though, his teammates were raised high on a pedestal. He needed to remind himself that they were just as human as he. They were better, yes, but they were still people ⎼ kids at that. Kakashi was a Chunin, but Obito and Rin were still Genin. He needed to reel back in his judgement of them and start over with a blank slate. Who, really, were his teammates? How had he been this blind, for so long?

The Hatake sighed and stretched. He needed to get some training in. Lazing around, as delightful as it sounded, was not what he could afford. Kannabi Bridge was approaching. At the moment, it loomed over him like a monster in the distance, casting a long shadow, but Kakashi knew that time ran much faster when he absolutely did not want it to. Not one minute could be let to waste if it were possible.

Although he could head to the common training grounds, Kakashi didn’t want to be disturbed. He hadn’t yet had a chance to practice in this body again, and he needed to relearn many ingrained skills. He’d shrunk quite a bit overnight, and he wasn’t as foolish to believe that it would just come naturally. If he had to guess, every move he made would be off balance. He did not even have the gradual improvement and adjustment that he’d had when growing older, the time in between growth spurts to adjust his technique. He had it all, and then it was all gone, in the long, slow blink of a Kamui eye.

Hence, Kakashi headed into the backyard of the Hatake compound, where a private training ground stood. Grass and weeds had overtaken the area, but Kakashi didn’t mind. After a week or two of good training, the place would be level and dusty, as most training grounds were.

Before anything, he began his kata, which took a frustrating amount of time to correct. Luckily, he was not labeled a genius by his peers and elders for namesake alone. He recalled how he performed when he was a teenager and mimicked it, but his added years of experience revealed many minor flaws in his technique ⎼ and that he refused to stand for. Refining his kata until he was satisfied took the most time. Truly, it was not that long, but to Kakashi, it felt like an eternity.

After he was meagerly satisfied with his kata, he began on taijutsu. As much as he wanted to hone his ninjutsu and genjutsu, Kakashi didn’t want to risk fainting as soon as he opened his left eye. His chakra felt as if it were balancing precariously on a cliff edge, and if he made the wrong move, it would topple over and self-destruct. Although he knew how unlikely it was, he hoped that, if he allowed his chakra to replenish to its maximum, then the situation would resolve itself. Until that did or didn’t work, he would deal with the throbbing, dull pain in his hidden eye and sharpen his taijutsu.

Like he suspected, his beginning attacks against the wooden pole were majorly flawed. His swing was wider than it needed to be, his kicks overshot, and he could only imagine the number of blind spots that his poor form was broadcasting. Kakashi resolved to fix as many of these problems as he could before training tomorrow. It wouldn’t do to show up and fight like an unsteady Academy student, in addition to how strange he had already been acting. Unfortunately, it was difficult to perfect a taijutsu unless he was in a spar. He didn’t know where his blind spots were until they were exploited. But who to spar with? His ninken?

“Well well, if it isn’t Hatake Kakashi!” A young, booming, but achingly familiar voice echoed out over the clearing. Kakashi relaxed from his stance, stuck his hands in his pockets, and turned to look at the ninja clad in green-spandex, standing on top of the Hatake compound as if it were a playground.

Maito Gai leapt from the roof and trotted over to him, looking like a happy, green pup. “I wasn’t expecting to find you here, my rival!” He exclaimed.

“Gai, what are you doing here?” Kakashi drawled, feigning boredom. In reality, this was perfect. Gai always challenged him when they crossed paths. “You do know these are private grounds, don’t you?”

“Ah, but you see! I was running my laps around the village when I saw Minato-sensei leaving this direction! How strange, I thought, because I knew your family home was nearby. So I decided to investigate and, behold! My rival, in the middle of rigorous, youthful training!”

Kakashi huffed, trying to hide the smile that threatened to pull across his lips. He had forgotten how much he had missed the bundle of energy, determination, and loyalty that was Maito Gai. Truly, the Hatake never noticed how much he missed his best friend until Gai was back in the village, chasing after him for another challenge. The ordeal, though infamous, was actually quite rare. In the score of years since they’d become friends, only recently had they broken the one hundred mark. It was to be expected, though ⎼ the Blue Beast and Copy Ninja were two of Konoha’s best Jonin. Rarely were they in the village at the same time.

“Actually…” Kakashi turned to face Gai, his hands still in his pockets. “I was about to start working on my taijutsu.”

“Taijutsu! The splendor of youth! I would offer to spar with you, but I’m afraid with your covered eye I would be at too much of an advantage. Another day, my rival!”

Not what he wanted to hear, but Kakashi could spin it to his benefit. He feigned disbelief. “I must have misheard… Surely Maito Gai isn’t backing down from a challenge?”

That did the trick. He watched his best friend’s face heat to the shade of a cherry before he exploded on another youthful rant. “O-of course not!” Gai exclaimed, hurrying to defend his honor. “But I will not fight you when you are not at your best, my rival. It would be unfair!”

Kakashi shrugged, turning back to his wooden post. “Ah, well, it would be unfair, but not to me,” he hummed. “I could fight you with both my eyes closed if I wanted. But, I suppose some things are too daunting even for you, Gai. What a shame.”

He could practically hear the steam rushing from Gai’s ears. “Very well!” Gai cried. “I accept your challenge, rival!”

Feeling victoriously smug, Kakashi turned back to Gai. “Same rules?” He asked, out of habit. Gai’s face immediately morphed into confusion.

“Same rules?” Gai questioned. “Uh, Kakashi, you have never accepted one of my challenges before.”

Kakashi blanched. That was right. He hadn’t paid Gai any mind until after Obito and Rin’s deaths. Clearing his throat and scrambling for a coverup, he said, “Well, we’ll lay down some rules then.” He almost winced, having failed to explain away why he would have thought that they had pre-established rules, but Gai didn’t seem to notice, so he steamrolled on. “No ninjutsu or genjutsu. We go on until one of us concedes, gets pinned, or can’t go on. Sound fair?”

Gai fistpumped the air. “Delightful!” He shouted to the sky. “I cannot wait to test my strength against the prodigy!”

Again, Kakashi suppressed a wince. Gai had not called him a prodigy in a long, long time. Occasionally he bragged of Kakashi’s genius to others, but the Blue Beast knew that Kakashi was a quiet person who did not like boasting. Gai came to respect that throughout their years of rivalry and friendship, but the Hatake was again reminded that he was not in the same time. The boisterous child before him was not the Blue Beast of the Leaf, nor his best friend, or even his self-proclaimed Eternal Rival. Right now they were nothing but former classmates and fellow shinobi.

Kakashi thought he would have started to get used to the pangs in his heart when he thought of what he had lost from the future. He was wrong.

“Are you going to keep yelling or fight me?” He asked, pulling one hand from his pocket. He lifted two fingers to his mask, and Gai instantaneously sobered.

Gai mimicked his sign of friendship. “My apologies. Let us begin.”

Both shinobi stood stock still for three long seconds. In tandem, they said, “Hai!” and charged.

They met blow for blow in the middle, fists flying, meeting, missing, in a beautiful exchange of controlled violence. Kakashi knew that, originally, he was stronger than Gai, could beat him flat in a minute of battle. Now, though, either something else was different about Gai or he had overestimated his fighting abilities in this body.

Kakashi overreached a swing, leaving him wide open, and Gai landed a blow square on his shoulder. The force of it sent him flying backwards, but he flipped midair, landing crouched. His skull ⎼ his eye ⎼ throbbed painfully from the quick movements. Kakashi had no time to recover, though, because Gai was on him again, rearing back another blow. He barely had the time to cross his arms in a block, holding onto his footing as he absorbed the fierce blow. Throwing his arms to the side, he off balanced Gai and lunged.

Midair, Gai twisted, dodging his hit, but Kakashi pressed on the offensive. The Genin hardly had his feet under him before Kakashi was on him again, letting lose blow after blow, not letting his opponent regain his balance.

Gai realized his disadvantage and let himself fall, swiping his feet underneath Kakashi’s and backflipping a safe distance away. Kakashi dodged but remained where he was, letting Gai take the offensive next.

“I knew you would be an excellent match for me, Kakashi!” Maito panted. “The springs of youth are⎼”

Kakashi cut him off. “Attack me or I’m leaving.”

Gai flustered, made no comment that this was Kakashi’s own home, and followed Hatake’s advice. He launched himself at Kakashi, who was ready. He swiftly dodged the first few punches, buying time. He scanned Gai’s movements until he found his weak spot, and immediately he exploited it.

Kakashi ducked underneath hard-hitting swing and rammed his elbow into Gai’s diaphragm, feeling the bones of his ulna and radius tuck under Gai’s ribs. Maito gagged, the air rushing out of him, and before he could even fall to his knees Kakashi was behind him. His lanky arms locked around Gai’s neck, and Maito choked, struggling fruitlessly. Eventually, he sagged, defeated, and Kakashi dropped him like a ragdoll.

“Not bad.” Hatake walked around to face Gai. He crouched down, watching his former ⎼ or maybe to-be best friend rub at his throat and cough. Gai looked up at him from his hands and knees. Defeat was not evident on his face. Only determination and fire lived there, and Kakashi felt warmth blossom in his chest. This was the Maito Gai that he knew. “You lasted longer than I expected.”

Seemingly, Gai did not know how to respond to that, or perhaps he couldn’t quite form words yet. Knowing that the battle was well over, though, Kakashi extended two curled fingers to him in the sign of friendship. Gai’s mouth dropped open, and he mimicked a gaping fish for a moment before he scrambled to do the same. Their fingers interlocked, and Kakashi stood, pulling Gai up with him.

“That was indeed an excellent battle,” Gai agreed. “I must ask, Kakashi, why did you change your mind? You've rejected every one of my youthful challenges so far.”

The Hatake looked away and shrugged. “Ah, well, you see…” He trailed off. After a few moments, he returned his gaze to Gai and nodded. “Yeah, that about sums it up.”

Gai blanched. “Kakashi!” He roared. “That was not an explanation at all!”

A soft but genuine chuckle rose up in Kakashi’s throat, and the sound caught both of them off guard. For a moment they froze, standing there and staring at each other in shock. Then Gai burst into laughter, and Kakashi joined him in a more subdued manner. The two children stood there in the overgrown grass of a dying clan’s shadow, laughing for no real reason.

Kakashi allowed himself to think that, maybe, remaking his bonds with his friends wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

へのへのもへじ

Somewhere along the lines, Kakashi had invited Gai inside for something to eat, and he gladly accepted. Once inside, Gai was thoroughly whumped by his more excitable ninken, who all remembered him as he used to be. He laughed and pet them all, exclaiming that he thought they were all so very precious, and he shouldn’t have been surprised that Kakashi was able to summon eight. While Gai was distracted, the Hatake prepared a meal.

“Here you are.” Kakashi carried over a bowl of curry, Gai’s made especially spicy.

“Thank you very much!” Gai exclaimed, taking the bowl as Kakashi sat down opposite him. They both murmured a quick thanks and began to eat. At this age, Kakashi remembered that Gai would definitely try to peek under his mask, so he made sure to take quick bites whenever the other wasn’t looking.

They ate in comfortable silence for a while. However, Kakashi soon felt the need to ask, for the sake of asking.

“Gai,” he started. Gai looked up at him, managing a “Yes?” through his mouthful of food, and Kakashi found the nerve to continue. Might as well get it over with immediately, as he knew his best friend could be kind of dense. “So… What do you think about time travel?”

Gai swallowed his mouthful and actually seemed to ponder the question. “What about it?”

“Well, say when you get old⎼” Seeing the protest begin to form, Kakashi quickly raised his hands and corrected himself. “⎼Older. Still in the, uh, ‘springtime of youth,’ but you’ve, uh, lived a pretty full life up to that point.” Gai nodded, following so far. “Say you have the opportunity to go back to when you were a kid, do it all over. Fix your mistakes. Maybe help a lot of people. Would you do it?”

Maito took a lot longer to answer that time around. Gai poked at his food, furry eyebrows scrunched in thought. Eventually, he looked up. “No,” he answered. “No, I wouldn’t.” Kakashi motioned for him to elaborate, and he did. “Well, I don’t think it would be fair,” Gai continued, “unless everyone gets a second chance like I would. And… everyone makes mistakes. If I went back and undid all of that, I wouldn’t even be me.”

Kakashi tried not to let the uneasiness show. He didn’t want to further explain on that piece, so he steamrolled ahead. “You didn’t have a choice,” he interjected. “Somehow, it happened. You wake up a kid, but you remember everything that happened… or that’s going to happen. You know you made a lot of mistakes. This is your chance to change it. Do you try to go back to the future you know or change the past?”

Gai shook his head. “It’s the same thing, Kakashi,” he said, picking at his food. “I would try to get back to my own time. Why do you ask?”

Kakashi let out the softest sigh. “No reason,” he murmured, returning his attention to the curry. “It was just ⎼ a dream I had.”

“An interesting dream.”

“You could say that.”

There was a moment of silence between them, but neither resumed eating. Gai looked like he was working up the courage to ask something, and Kakashi waited patiently until he was ready.

“Kakashi…”

“Yes?”

“What was your dream like? Of the future?”

A soft, wistful smile curled onto Kakashi’s lips. His visible eye crinkled up into the smile that Gai could see. “It was a good one,” he said, “for the most part. The war was over. We lost a lot of good people, but the village had moved on and rebuilt, became stronger. You and me…” He chuckled. “We were Jonin sensei, with our own Genin team. We watched them grow up before our eyes, becoming Chunin and Jonin of their own. It was… good.”

Gai beamed. “See!” He exclaimed, and Kakashi was taken aback by his excitement. The Genin barrelled on, saying, “If I had all that, why would I ever want to undo that? Sure, I’m sure it wasn’t all good, but that’s youth! That’s life! It sounds incredible, Kakashi.”

Kakashi felt his throat tighten, and something irritating pricked at his eyes. “Yeah,” he replied softly. “Yeah, it does.”

Shortly after, Gai excused himself for the night, once again thanking him for the spar and the meal. Kakashi saw him out, dismissed his ninken, and quietly cleaned, tidying up the house until the sun sank below the horizon. As shadows of the empty home grew longer, the Hatake sat himself down in his old room, staring out the window at the village that wasn’t quite his.

Sudden, unbridled grief smashed into Kakashi like a wave, and he broke.

Chapter Text

Miserable At Best

Kakashi woke up feeling like his bones were made of lead. His head throbbed, and his mouth felt dry. He supposed it was to be expected, considering he didn’t even remember falling asleep last night, but he also figured that he’s felt worse over the years. Sighing, Kakashi heaved himself up from the floor. Apparently, he had also fallen asleep against his bed rather than on it.

Twisting sharply both directions wielded many satisfying pops from his spine. Kakashi cracked his fingers and his neck, gave his limbs a good shake, and stretched. Instinctively, he created a mental checklist to start out the day: get some water, something to eat, clean himself up, and get ready to train with his team.

A simple to-do list, but Kakashi felt weary down to his bones.

That was nothing new.

He started his day.

へのへのもへじ

Today, Minato was at the training grounds first, and Kakashi arrived second. Rin followed soon after, and they made amiable chatter for a half hour or so, until Obito finally joined them. The Uchiha was, again, surprised and suspicious that Kakashi didn’t scold him for being so late, but, admittedly, Kakashi didn’t have the energy. It was taking all of him to be here with the ghosts of his past and put on a somewhat normal demeanor. He couldn’t muster the energy to pretend to be angry ⎼ not when it should be his team who should be angry, furious at what a disappointment he was.

Training passed uneventfully. No one mentioned Kakashi’s escape from the hospital or his covered eye, and for that, he was grateful. Either the universe was giving him a little slack, or Minato was more perceptive than Kakashi had given him credit for, because they discussed strategy and battle planning that day. For the most part, he didn’t comment on any of his teammates’ or his sensei’s plans, except for when he was goaded. He couldn’t let them know he already lived through a war ⎼ or, two wars, if he counted the war on the Akatsuki ⎼ by suggesting strategies beyond his experience. Luckily, they all assumed he already knew everything (which he did) because he was a genius, and so he could space out for the better part of the morning.

Unfortunately, Kakashi’s daydreams typically led him to dwelling on his many, many mistakes.

He felt tired.

Obito’s grumbling stomach urged him back to reality. Zoning in on the conversation among his team took more effort than he liked to admit.

“Alright, let’s break for lunch,” Minato suggested. A hawk flew overhead, its cry echoing throughout the training grounds, and Kakashi and Minato both looked up while Rin and Obito chatted away. Sighing, Minato stood. “Actually, I have some business to attend to, so that’ll be all for today. Good work, team! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

With a smile so genuine that it hurt Kakashi to look at, Minato vanished.

Immediately, Rin was on him, persistent in her endeavors to woo him ⎼ or, at least, to get him sociable. “Kakashi!” She said. He gazed at her with an empty eye, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she barrelled on, only a little shy as she told him, “Obito and I were going to head to the new barbeque place that’s opened up, and I was wondering if… if you’d like to join us?”

Obito audibly groaned in the background, exclaiming, “Rin!” Once more, she didn’t seem to notice.

Kakashi was initially going to reject her offer, but he thought to what Minato had told him. He didn’t know his teammates like he thought he did, and what better way to get to know them over some barbeque? Forcing his visible eye into a crinkled version of a smile, he said, “Well, I’ve got nothing else to do.”

Rin squealed with delight. She snagged his hand and Obito’s, dragging them both to their feet, on either side of her. “Yay! We haven’t eaten together as a team in forever. Ooh, this is going to be so fun!”

Kakashi ignored the side-eye glare that Obito gave him. He was too tired to care.

He slipped his hand from Rin’s, and at the same time she let go of Obito’s. They walked together out of the training grounds. Any attempt at conversation with Kakashi fell flat ⎼ or would have, if his teammates had been anyone else. Even though he answered with only a nod or a distant “yeah,” Rin and Obito talked themselves away, about things Kakashi knew nothing about. The latest news in the village, the flower shop, the hottest gossip… It was all so domestic. Everything that Kakashi was not.

As they reached the village itself, walking through the crowded streets, Kakashi dropped to the back of the group. It wasn’t an unusual action, considering there simply wasn’t enough room for three children to walk side-by-side during the busiest part of the day. So Kakashi followed behind Rin and Obito, watching them talk and laugh and carry on. They were so, so happy. Without him.

He was going to ruin it all.

“Kakashi?”

Kakashi blinked, realizing he’d stopped in the middle of the road. Rin and Obito were both looking back at him, one worried and the other, confused.

“Are you coming?” Rin asked.

Obito chimed in, “Yeah, you can’t just stop in the middle of the road like that, Bakakashi. That’s how you get hit by a cart.”

It was too much. Their happiness, their concern, it was too much. He didn’t deserve any of it. He was the reason for their deaths! All he deserved was to rot in his own misery, to be isolated with his demons, to suffocate in his grief.

“I’m not hungry,” Kakashi lied. “I’ll see you at training tomorrow.”

Before he could be stopped, the Hatake promptly fled the scene with a shunshin.

へのへのもへじ

Rin and Obito looked at each other, and they both already knew what the other was thinking. Something was definitely wrong with their teammate ⎼ something that might be out of their depths. They didn’t know what happened to cause this change, but they did know that Kakashi seemed to transform, overnight. He wasn’t the cold, aloof, but more or less enjoyable member of their team any longer. Instead, he seemed incredibly burdened, but by what? Their plan to pry it out of him at lunch went out the window. Did he figure it out? They knew Kakashi was smart, but they had acted their parts perfectly, even with Obito objecting, loudly. So what had gone wrong?

“We’re going to need to plan bigger,” Rin said. “He’s not just going to open up because we ask.”

“I don’t know if he’d open up at all,” Obito responded, crossing his arms. “He can be so stubborn! It’s obvious that he’s not okay. Does he not trust us or something?”

Nohara pursed her lips, looking away. “I don’t know,” she admitted softly, “but you know Kakashi has always liked to handle things on his own. Maybe he doesn’t want our help?”

“But we’re his team!” Obito threw his hands in the air, exasperated. “If anyone’s going to help him, it’s us!”

“Maybe… maybe we can’t use a frontal approach for this.”

“What?”

“What Sensei talked about at training today,” Rin elaborated. They resumed their walk to the barbeque restaurant, both feeling the empty hole where their third teammate should be. “Sometimes a direct attack is the worst way to go about infiltration, especially when it comes to an enemy that’s already wary.”

Obito frowned. He fiddled with his goggles, and Rin knew that meant he was thinking, hard. “Kakashi is always suspicious, though,” he pointed out, “especially if we talk about anything that, y’know, matters. Unless it’s a mission.”

That gave Rin an idea.

“A mission, hm?” She tapped her chin, thinking. “That could work. But we’d need someone to be bait, someone that wouldn’t immediately raise Kakashi’s suspicions. But who? I don’t know of anyone he’s actually close with.”

“He’s not really the most sociable of people, is he?”

Obito and Rin sighed, at a loss. They pushed open the doors to the barbeque, and a loud voice caught their attention.

“Obito! Rin! Over here!” Maito Gai furiously waved at them to come join him. He was seated with Asuma and Kurenai. The remaining members of Team Minato looked at each other, and grinned. They sat down with their classmates, ordered their lunch, and explained the general situation.

It was quite a surprise to learn that Gai and Kakashi had spent some quality time together the previous day. No one at the table would have believed it, but Gai swore up and down that it was true, and that he was planning on finding Kakashi again later to challenge him to a rematch.

What a pleasant surprise, indeed.

The small group, determined to figure out the source of Kakashi’s unhappiness, began to formulate a plan. They would find out what was wrong and fix it, and then Kakashi could be a friend to all of them. He would be happy ⎼ or, at the very least, not so lonely ⎼ and everything would be good. Everything would be okay.

へのへのもへじ

Meanwhile, Kakashi stood alone at the Memorial Stone.

He felt numb.

And tired.

Chapter Text

Shenanigans with Good Intentions

The strategists: Rin and Kurenai (not including a few, unhelpful, loud suggestions from Obito and Gai).

The actors: Obito, Gai, Rin, and Asuma.

The behind-the-scenes: Kurenai.

It was time to go forward with Plan G, considering Plan A through F all failed, horrendously. Essentially they were variations of the original plan that Rin and Obito had, with minor tweaks: Get Kakashi to open up. They used a mixture of their friend group, as to not arouse suspicion, to corner the Hatake, try to casually mention feelings and such. Needless to say, it took the boys Plan A through D to realize the girls were better at subtly talking than they were, and E and F were handed to Rin and Kurenai. Still, Kakashi avoided them like rotten apples in an orchard.

Somehow, someway, every single time, Kakashi would find a convenient excuse to disappear ⎼ not even very good excuses, but excuses nonetheless ⎼ and vanish before they could get a protest in edgewise. Other times, it seemed they would blink, or get distracted for a second, and he was gone again. Rin and Obito even tried to confront him during training, one-on-one and together. Kakashi acted like he didn’t hear them until Minato called for their attention again.

Hence, Plan G. It was their boldest, riskiest, most daring plan yet, and it had to work, or else they were out of ideas.

Originally, Plan G had been Rin’s first idea. However, she was reluctant to share, having rathered find an alternate way that wasn’t so deceptive. After trying to converse with Kakashi clearly wasn’t getting anywhere, though, Kurenai convinced her that she was a kunoichi, and being deceptive ⎼ even to teammates ⎼ was a part of the job. So, Rin relented, and Plan G was set into action.

Today was execution day.

For a week in advance, they had stalked Kakashi’s movements and daily routines. Or, at least, they tried to. It was simple enough to follow him through the village when he was buying groceries or, oddly enough, gazing almost longingly at bookshelves (but never buying anything). However, sometimes, Kakashi would turn a corner, or pass by a crowd, and he’d be gone without a trace. No one knew if he was that good, and had detected them, or if he was that secluded, and enjoyed his privacy so thoroughly. Most suggested it was a combination of the two.

Either way, they had a general estimate of his whereabouts today. Kakashi should be buying groceries again. He would be in the village, likely finishing with his shopping soon.

“And we’re all clear on the plan?” Rin asked. She was given firm nods by those around her. Even Maito Gai seemed serious, and she didn’t think he had the ability. Then again, this was Kakashi they were dealing with, Gai’s self-proclaimed rival as of the past month. Everyone here ⎼ Asuma, Kurenai, Gai, Obito, and herself ⎼ they all cared about Kakashi deeply. That was why this plan was going to work. Everything was going to be okay. It seemed to be her mantra, as of late.

“Then let’s move out. You all know your positions. Get ready, and, most importantly, make it believable,” Rin said. A chorus of “Hai!” greeted her, and then they scattered into the Forest of Death, except for Gai, who darted for the village at breakneck speed.

へのへのもへじ

Gai sped through the Forest of Death and whizzed across the rooftops of the village, until he reached the marketplace. He paused, looking for the familiar spike of gray hair… Where was he? Where⎼ There! Gai leapt down to the ground and rushed towards his rival, who carried a brown bag of groceries.

Kakashi must have sensed his presence, for he turned before Gai could even get out a word. “Gai?” He asked. “You seem to be in a hurry.”

“Kakashi!” Gai gasped. At least he didn’t entirely have to pretend to be winded. “We need your help, please!”

Kakashi furrowed his singular, visible eye. It was still unnerving, getting used to that one-eyed stare of his, but Gai always knew better than to ask. That same stare was scanning him, now, noting the tears in his green jumpsuit, the flush to his cheeks, the almost panicked look in his eye. That he didn’t have to fake either. Kakashi was so different now it could be frightening, at times, and he worried greatly for his rival.

“What happened?” Kakashi demanded, with the voice of an experienced Jonin. Gai swallowed and swung his arm wide, pointing behind him, to the Forest of Death.

“We were training together, and we were attacked! Kakashi, you have to help. I couldn’t find Minato-sensei a-and you were the first one I saw and ⎼ and please, come with me!”

“Is someone hurt? Who attacked you?”

“It’s Rin!”

The bag dropped to the ground. Groceries spilled out onto the road. Kakashi didn’t seem to notice. His voice was dark, and terrifying, when he said, “Take me to her.”

Gai gulped, nodded, and spun on his heel. Kakashi was right behind him. But Gai couldn’t help but notice that there was something… wrong, with Kakashi’s aura. It was unnerving. It wasn’t quite killing-intent, but it was just as volatile, explosive, dangerous, and it had a tinge of panic to it. Gai supposed Kakashi had every right to be panicked, considering he didn’t know this was just a little performance they had set up, but Kakashi never panicked. Never.

“Gai.”

That tone again. Gai suppressed a shudder. “Yes?”

“Tell me what happened.”

Gai nodded and gathered his thoughts. He remembered what he was told to say. “Rin asked me to train her in taijutsu. I gladly accepted, knowing I could help a fellow shinobi and teammate of my great rival⎼”

Gai.”

“R-Right, sorry.” Gai cleared his throat. “I took her to the Forest of Death to train, and we were attacked. A rogue ninja must have been hiding there. I didn’t see any village markings, so⎼”

Suddenly, Gai had to dodge a punch thrown at his jaw. He spun away, alarmed, and came to a halt on the first tree branches of death’s forest. “K-Kakashi? Why would you⎼”

“You just left her there?” Kakashi shouted. Never before had Gai heard the Hatake raise his voice. He cringed away.

“No, Rin is safe! The ninja is… I ⎼ I don’t know. O-Obito showed up and told me to go get help, s-so I did, and…”

Kakashi swore, and he swore loudly, before taking off into the trees again. Gai fumbled to catch up, kicking off with a burst of extra speed. Kakashi’s glare nearly stopped him in his tracks. At least, this seemed to be more of the Hatake that they knew ⎼ this cold iciness, but where did such hatred in his eyes come from? Surely it couldn’t be directed at Gai?

“Go get real help, Gai,” Kakashi commanded. “If Rin is hurt, she’s going to need a medic, and my skills are average at best. I’ll handle whatever Obito couldn’t.”

Maybe he noticed the stricken look on Gai’s face, because Kakashi’s eye softened, if only for a moment. “I’m just worried. Go. We’ll be alright.”

“Y-Yes, of course. Take care, Rival.” Gai turned, sprinting the opposite direction into the trees. He made sure he was out of sight before he began circling around. There was no real need for a medical ninja, and he wanted to see how their plan played out. Given how strangely Kakashi was acting, Gai was more than worried. He had never seen the Hatake care so vehemently like that, to the extent of lashing out at an ally. Gai could only pray that their plan went smoothly, and that Kakashi would come to terms with the fact that, as much as he would care for his friends during a mission, they wanted to care for him outside missions, too.

He just hoped that taking such drastic measures to show Kakashi that they cared wouldn’t backfire.

へのへのもへじ

From her bird’s nest, hidden high in the trees, Kurenai whispered into her headpiece, “He’s almost here! Rin, how’s the genjutsu holding up?”

“Just dandy!” Came Rin’s static voice. “Asuma looks like one rogue ninja, alright.”

“And Obito?”

Obito said, “Looks like I just got in a fight with that old cat lady.”

“Perfect. Rin?”

“Dead as a doornail!” Rin chirped. “Or, dying as a doornail, I guess.”

“That’ll do.” Kurenai shifted in her spot, bright red eyes watched the white blur approach. “Alright, everyone, places! Plan G is moving into Phase Two in five, four, three, two… Go!”

へのへのもへじ

Kakashi felt like he’d just been hit with his students’ signature attacks all at once. All the energy, the fear, the adrenaline ⎼ it left as soon as it had come. His one working eye processed the scene before him in slow motion, like a Tsukuyomi.

A rogue ninja, much older, much more rugged, stood with a bloody kunai. He looked a little worn down, but like he could still put up a decent fight.

Across from him was Obito ⎼ standing, but barely. The Uchiha was panting heavily, and bleeding. It seemed like the only thing keeping him on his feet was sheer determination. But it was no wonder, seeing as who it was he was protecting.

Rin ⎼ oh, god, Rin. She was on the ground, a puddle of blood around her. If she was breathing at all, she was struggling through each breath. Instincts told him she didn’t have long, and, if Obito continued to fight alone, he would be suffering the same fate quite soon.

Kakashi’s brain kicked back into gear. His teammates, his family, his pack, they were danger! He needed to help, he needed to fight, needed to move.

“Obito!” He called, rushing forward to help. “Rin!”

Obito turned at the sound of his voice, and Kakashi realized his mistake (another mistake, on top of a lifetime of them, and yet it hurt just as much as the rest). When Obito was distracted, the rogue ninja lunged, kunai angled perfectly to strike down his last teammate. Kakashi was too far away to help.

“Obito!” He screamed. “Look out!”

Obito turned just in time to meet the kunai face to blade. The child screeched, and blood erupted from one side of his face. His hands flew up to clutch at what Kakashi could only assume to be his eye, but the action fell short. Obito fell to his knees, and then he collapsed entirely, blood pooling around him. He moaned weakly in pain, once, twice. Rin didn’t look to be breathing.

Silence. From both of them.

The rogue ninja shifted, holding his kunai defensively. Kakashi didn’t notice. He was staring at Obito and Rin’s bodies, their blood staining the grass, staining his hands. He failed them, again. Obito and Rin were dead, because of him, again. He lost his family, again.

At least, this time, he had someone to take it out on besides himself, for a time.

Kakashi felt cold rage burn through him. He turned his eye to the rogue ninja, who briefly seemed to falter, but regained confidence and stood his ground.

“You’re going to wish you had never been born,” Kakashi said, letting the darkness consume him anew.

He reached for his headband.

へのへのもへじ

“You’re going to wish you had never been born,” Kakashi said, in a voice that was not his. Something was wrong, Rin thought, very, very wrong. She could feel Obito’s involuntary twitching beside her, something that only happened when he was truly afraid but trying to hide it. Even Asuma seemed unnerved. She wondered what Gai thought, when there was no doubt he was watching their plan unfold into something that very much was not in the plan.

Kurenai’s voice crackled to life in all of their headpieces. “Guys, something isn’t right. I don’t think I like⎼”

At the same time, Asuma blurted their failsafe, “Shogi! Shogi!”

It didn’t stop Kakashi.

へのへのもへじ

Kakashi reached for his headband. The rogue ninja had a voice that seemed eerily familiar, but he was too far gone to recognize much of anything other than bloodlust. That man was going to pay dearly for what he had done to Kakashi, to Minato-sensei, to Konoha, for taking away two of the most precious people the world would ever see.

He lifted his headband. Pain exploded behind his eye, causing him to stumble, but he didn’t drop. He pushed through it, and the inky blackness dotting his left eye became clearer, with an intensity that had been returned to its rightful owner the moment he woke up in this godforsaken past. Maybe Obito’s ghost had once again lent him the power of the Sharingan to get revenge. Hopefully, afterwards, Obito’s ghost would take Kakashi with him before he left for the afterlife.

First, though, he had someone to slaughter.

へのへのもへじ

At Asuma’s terrified cry, Rin and Obito scrambled to their feet. Gai jumped down from the trees, Kurenai doing the same on the opposite side of the clearing. Their efforts didn’t really matter.

When Kakashi lifted his headband, the bloodlust knocked them all to their knees. The killing-intent froze them to the spot, closing their throats in terror ⎼

⎼ except for Kakashi, who was on top of Asuma faster than the eye could see.

⎼ except for Asuma, who shrieked.

Chapter Text

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down

The clearing was filled with the sounds of chirping birds. Kakashi’s hand was holding lightning itself, and he was aiming it straight for Asuma.

Asuma dropped the genjutsu instantly. “Kakashi!” He cried. “It’s me! Stop!”

For a fraction of a second, Kakashi hesitated, trying to register what was going on, trying to stop and think ⎼ but the Chidori was already in motion, propelled by bloodlust and vengeance for his teammates. Memories of Rin flashed through his mind, when she jumped in front of his Lightning Blade and he couldn’t stop it. Now, the same was happening, and he couldn’t stop it. He was going to kill his friend.

Kakashi thought, Why do I fuck everything up? And then the Chidori connected.

The tree trunk shattered, exploding into thousands of splinters, a hole larger than Kakashi himself left gaping in the wood, lightning causing the large tree to shake and tremble. The burnt bark sizzled.

The Chidori died from his palm, and Kakashi dropped to his knees, dazed. He looked at his hand.

There was no blood.

How? He had struck right through Asuma… hadn’t he?

“Asuma!” Rin cried.

Wait, Rin?

Kakashi numbly turned his head. And there was Rin, running towards Asuma. Obito and Kurenai were by her side, and Gai was rushing over from the other side of the clearing. He didn’t understand. Rin and Obito were dead. Asuma was dead. Gai and Kurenai weren’t even here.

“Kakashi.”

Minato set a heavy hand on Kakashi’s shoulder, and he blankly stared up at his sensei, who looked troubled. When had Minato-sensei gotten here?

Teacher and student locked eyes, and Minato startled, before peering closer at Kakashi’s left eye. “Kakashi, what in Kami’s name⎼?” His sensei took a better look at him then, and decided that his questions were better off for a later time. The Namikaze sighed, straightened, and whirled around, crossing his arms. Kakashi didn’t move.

“You all have some explaining to do!” He demanded. “You’re lucky I got here when I did. Asuma, Kakashi could have killed you!”

Asuma looked at the floor. Kakashi didn’t notice.

“And Rin, Obito, why are you covered in blood? Fake blood, I might add. What was all this about?”

“I⎼I promise we’ll explain, Sensei,” Rin stammered, looking past Minato. “But, Kakashi⎼ he, he doesn’t look so…”

Obito shifted to the side, trying to get a better look at his teammate. “Bakakashi?” He tried hesitantly. “Listen, we weren’t trying to be mean, we just thought that…” Obito stopped suddenly when Kakashi turned to look at him.

The shadow of a Sharingan spun lazily in his left eye, which was filled with tears.

“K-Kakashi?”

The Hatake pushed himself to his feet. He looked like a dead man walking, and the faint image of the Sharingan circling in his eye made him look even more ghastly. It was only the tears threatening to fall that kept him looking human. “Stay away from me,” he croaked.

“Kakashi, wait⎼” Rin stepped forward, and Kakashi took a step back. Everyone had their eyes on him, and it was too much. Everything was simply too much.

Kakashi vanished, and Minato turned to look at the rest of the Genin.

“Sensei!” Obito cried. “Aren’t you going to go after him? He⎼”

“He’s like that because of you, you know,” Minato replied sternly, and all their faces fell. The Jonin sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to go after him and make sure he’s okay. But you guys aren’t off the hook, either. I expect all of you to be at my house for dinner tonight. Understand?

The children shuffled their feet, finding the grassy, bloody floor to be much more interesting to look at. “Yes, Sensei,” they all murmured.

“Good. Clean up, and stay out of trouble.”

Minato vanished, and Kakashi’s friends looked at each other, slowly coming to terms with the gravity of the situation. They had messed up, big time. And they all had a feeling that a simple “sorry” wasn’t going to be good enough to get them out of the grave they dug.

へのへのもへじ

Dinner had never been so tense.

“Alright.” Minato folded his hands in front of him, his empty plate pushed to the side for now. “Who’s going to start?”

The Genin shared guilty glances. Rin spoke up first.

“Um, Sensei, will you tell us how Kakashi is, first?” She asked shyly, but clearly concerned for her teammate.

Minato sighed, looking away for a moment. “I can’t do that,” he admitted. “I couldn’t find him.”

“You couldn’t find him?!” Obito exclaimed, standing up so quickly his chair screeched as it dragged across the floor. “Sensei! You’re the Yellow Flash! I know Kakashi is a prodigy, but how could you not find him?”

“Obito, it’s not that simple,” Minato explained calmly. “Kakashi is practically a Jonin. He has the skill-level for it, and he got a head start. He knows how to suppress his chakra signature to almost nothing, and he has his pick of the whole village for a hiding spot. If I had longer, I’m sure I could have found him, but I only had a few hours before I had to come here to meet with you guys.”

Rin spoke quietly. “He doesn’t want to be found.”

Minato sighed. “Yes, that’s the most likely…”

“And we made him feel like that,” she finished in a whisper. Silence reigned in the room. Obito quietly took his seat.

Their sensei continued. “That’s why I need you all to tell me what was going on. I didn’t see the whole thing, and if I can get a big picture it’ll help me when I talk to Kakashi.”

“It’s my fault, Sensei,” Rin began. “I’m the one who came up with the idea.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Rin,” Kurenai said softly. “We all agreed to it and participated equally. We’re all to blame.”

Gai slammed his fist on the table. It banged loudly, rattling some of the dishes. “Kurenai is right!” He exclaimed. “We were doing what we thought was best for my dear rival, but we were mistaken! We did not think of how our plan could have gone wrong, and that is on all of us.”

Minato raised a hand to get the Genin to settle down. “Please, someone, tell me what the plan was.”

“You should know our reasoning first, Sensei,” said Rin. “Lately, Kakashi’s been…”

“Bakakashi has been weird!” Obito finished for her. His classmates nodded quietly in agreement. “He isn’t acting right. I know you see it, too, Sensei, and we wanted to help.”

Rin continued. “Obito and I tried to take Kakashi out for barbeque, to talk to him about it, but he – he got this sad look in his eyes, all of a sudden, and he skipped out. That’s when Asuma, Gai, and Kurenai got involved.”

“Rin and Obito explained the situation,” Kurenai said. “We all wanted to help Kakashi. So at first we tried talking to him. We tag-teamed or went alone, just trying to get him to open up, but he always managed to come up with an excuse and disappear before we could really talk to him.”

“Thing is, he was acting just fine,” Asuma murmured. “Or, I think he thinks he was acting fine. But that’s the thing: we could all tell he was acting. And you know something’s gotta be wrong for Kakashi to have so many off-days.”

The other Genin were mumbling their agreement when Gai shouted over them all. “And so we resorted to Plan H!”

“Idiot,” Obito scoffed. “It was Plan G, not Plan H. We never got to Plan H.”

Minato leaned forward on his elbows, eyeing the students. “And Plan G was what went down in the Forest of Death?”

“Hai,” they replied.

“Now, what kind of plan resulted in Rin and Obito playing dead, Gai and Kurenai hiding in the trees, and Kakashi about to kill Asuma, disguised as some sort of rogue nin?”

“Well, Sensei,” Rin started, “I was trying to think of a better way to get through to Kakashi that we all cared about him, and clearly trying to talk to him wasn’t working. That’s when I realized that he only takes missions so seriously. I know he cares about us, Sensei, I just know it, even if he has trouble showing it. So, I thought that, maybe, if we could show him how much he would do for us if we were on a mission gone wrong, well, we could tell him that we want to do the same for him, even when we’re not on a mission.”

Minato was silent for a long time. The children shifted nervously in their seats, exchanging glances. A long, drawn out sigh from the Jonin brought their gazes back to him.

“I can understand your intentions. But you need to consider all possible aspects of a plan before you set it into motion,” the Namikaze explained. “Kakashi is an excellent ninja. You all know this.” They nodded. “And you know he cares about his teammates, even if he doesn’t show it.” Another round of nods. “And you all know that he already lost someone very close to him.”

“His father…” Obito murmured.

“Yes. Now, I know Hatake Sakumo was not KIA, but Kakashi lost him all the same, and no matter what he says, that’s going to affect him in ways we can’t see.”

“I…” Rin twisted her napkin anxiously in her fingers. “I never thought about that.”

Minato offered her a small, sad smile. “With all this in mind, now how do you think Kakashi is going to react if an enemy ninja is inside Konoha and has just killed his two teammates?”

Once more, the Genin were deathly silent as the information sunk in and processed. Finally, Obito moaned, slamming his head on the edge of the table. “We messed up,” he breathed. “We really, really messed up.”

Suddenly, Gai jumped up in alarm, startling everyone else at the table. “We must find Kakashi!” He exclaimed. “I cannot rest easy knowing my actions could have affected him so negatively!”

“Gai, we wouldn’t even know where to start looking,” Kurenai said. Gai sagged.

“The Memorial Stone.”

Every eye turned to Asuma.

“I’ve seen him there, lately,” the Sarutobi said. “He just stands there like a statue.”

“Or the Hatake compound!” Gai added, renewed with vigor. “I’ve found him there a few times.”

Minato shook his head. “I’ve already checked the compound and his apartment, as well as the training grounds, the Forest of Death, and anywhere else around the village I could think of. But I haven’t looked at the Memorial Stone. Asuma, you said you’ve seen Kakashi there?”

“Uh-huh.” Asuma nodded. Minato scratched at his head in wonder.

“Now why would he be there? His father’s name isn’t on that stone, and as far as I’m aware, there’s no one else that Kakashi’s lost.”

“Um.” Obito stole the focus in the room. “Maybe… maybe he’s there because he doesn’t… want anyone else’s name to go on it?” He suggested quietly. “We… we probably gave him a really big scare today. And Kakashi likes to overthink, a lot.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” Minato agreed. “It is late, though, and it’s been a long day. I want everyone here to go get a good night’s rest, and we’ll find Kakashi in the–“

“No!” Rin snapped. Realizing her actions, she blushed, and repeated herself more calmly. “I-I’m sorry, Sensei, but no. Gai’s right. I won’t be able to get any sleep with this on my conscience. I need to make it right.”

“Me too.” Obito nodded. Kurenai and Asuma also agreed.

“I suppose that settles it, then.” Minato stood, and the children stood with him. “We find Kakashi tonight. I want all of you to split up into different sectors of the village and search. If you do find him, I want you–“ Minato gave each of them small, thin scrolls. “–to send your chakra into these. It’ll let me, and everyone else, know where you are. But, remember, we’re not trying to all gang up on Kakashi at once. It’ll be lucky if he talks to just one of us. So if someone sends the signal, the rest of you go home. Understand?”

“Hai!”

“Then let’s head out.”

へのへのもへじ

The moon was high in the sky, and no one had given word that they had found Kakashi, not even Minato. Eventually, they all gathered together at the training grounds and confirmed that Kakashi was gone without a trace. Every square inch of Konoha had been searched, including the Memorial Stone and the Hatake compound, and nothing even slightly indicated that Kakashi had been there. With this knowledge heavy on his mind, Minato reluctantly dismissed them for the night. Rin and Obito lingered behind with their sensei as the other Genin trudged home, defeated.

“Sensei…” Rin held unshed tears in her eyes. “Do you think Kakashi is okay?”

Minato released a long, heavy sigh. “Honestly, Rin, I don’t know,” he admitted. Watching her expression crumble, he quickly knelt, dragging her into a hug. He could feel her tears falling on his shoulder. “He’ll be okay, though,” he promised her. While he comforted Rin, he watched as Obito lifted his goggles and began to scrub furiously at his eyes. Minato dragged him into the hug, too, and he held his crying students.

“We’ll all be okay.”

Minato could only hope he wasn’t making an empty promise. Yet, when he thought back to that cold, dead look in Kakashi’s eyes… and a Sharingan, he could have sworn he saw… Minato wasn’t sure just how okay they would be.