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Steps We Take

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The feeling is a jolt, the flash of a lance, a gut feeling honed by a decade in ANBU into something more – something’s wrong.  Kakashi is already moving when he hears the loud scream of, “Sakura!” and it is only because of those precious few seconds that he gets there in time.  That slight whistle in the wind, the two flickering chakra signatures practically screaming panicpanicpanic and one other that felt fundamentally and utterly wrong

He sees the pink blur falling rapidly through the air, and there is no hesitation when he leaps forward, arms carefully positioned (always protect the neck, Kakashi, Sensei had said) and when Kakashi lands on the ground, genin-sized burden heavy in his arms, he’s thinking no, not again, don’t tell me I’m not too late

She’s alive, pulse thumping underneath his thumb.  Breathing, too, in weak bursts of air.  Kakashi is not a medic nin, but he – like most shinobi above a certain level – have had some medical training, a little more so than most because of the sporadic lessons Rin (don’t think about her now) had forced upon him.  It is enough for him to come to the conclusion that there is nothing immediately life threatening about his student’s condition, and it is reassurance enough for sag with miniscule relief.

Footsteps, heavy against the ground.  “Kakashi-sensei!”  Naruto cries, his eyes wide with barely restrained worry, his breathes coming out in short bursts.  “What happened to Sakura?”

Sasuke follows behind him, just a little more restrained in his movement.  For all his earlier complaints, it seems that there still exists some human concern within him, for Kakashi can see the fear in the slight tremble of his hands.  He stares down at Sakura’s limp body with an expression too blank to not be forced.

“I was hoping that you two could help me figure that out,” he says casually, gently laying Sakura down on the grass, thumb still pressed on her wrist.  “Did either of you see anything out of the ordinary?”

His team was supposed to be climbing trees and training their chakra control, an easier feat for Sakura, who had mastered her tree even before he left the immediate vicinity.  There really should have been no danger – tree climbing required little enough chakra that it was extremely difficult to get chakra exhaustion from it, requiring either a shinobi with insanely small chakra reserves, or impossibly low intelligence – of which Sakura was neither.  Those who couldn’t make it up their trees, like Naruto and Sasuke, wouldn’t have opportunity to fall more than a few feet.

Naruto shakes his head frantically.  “S-She was waving to us from the top when she just –“

“Her chakra levels were normal,” Sasuke cuts in.  “No one else was here.  The only chakra signature in the vicinity was yours.”

Kakashi narrows his eyes, already mentally reviewing the possibilities for Sakura’s sudden collapse.  Evidently, she had been unconscious before the fall, which meant that something – or someone – had deliberately timed the attack to cause the maximum amount of damage.  Zabuza and his helper were possibly culprits, but this wasn’t their style.  Besides, why target Sakura?  Logically, her loss would be the least damaging for their team, though he supposed that the missing-nin would know nothing about Naruto and Sasuke. 

Distraction, maybe?  But it didn’t fit, Sakura didn’t play a role in the original battle, unlike Naruto and Sasuke – and her condition would only further infuriate the remainder of the team.

His musings are interrupted as Sakura’s wrist jerks under his grip, her eyes flashing wide open in undisguised shock, her chakra signature suddenly, inexplicably different – still recognizable as hers, with that same tinge of pink, but undeniably more.

Sakura.”  Her eyes flash toward his, and then narrow.  Suspicions arise within Kakashi at the unfamiliar strength in her green eyes, which told of experience that the twelve year old genin did not have. 

She doesn’t reply, her hands already up, fingers formed into a familiar seal.  “Kai,” she whispers.  Nothing happens, but what did Sakura expect?  Fully aware that he should not be expending any more chakra, Kakashi lifted up his headband and opened Obito’s Sharingan.  No genjutsu, though the look at Sakura confirmed what he had already suspected. 

“Who are you?” He asks pleasantly, hand deceptively loose around her wrist.  “What did you do to my student?”  Naruto and Sasuke both jerk at that, and just a moment later, Kakashi hears the whispered, “Shut up, dobe.”

Sakura – or whoever it is in her body – had been staring at Naruto and Sasuke in ill-disguised shock, but quickly glances over with a look of resignation.  “I am Haruno Sakura,” she says calmly, even as her left hand subtly flashes through a series of signals that Kakashi knows, and the cold pit in his stomach seems to double in size, because this was something she could not know.  Only a few dozen shinobi in the village were privy to the secret, and a twelve year old genin – or, for that matter, an enemy shinobi from another village – was not one of them. 

Unprecedented situation, she signs, and Kakashi, in his decades of service, has never seen it used before.  For good reason - it was for circumstances that were deemed impossible, only existing because shinobi knew to plan for every situation.  Resurrections, alternate universes, time travel –

His eyes narrow.  “…But not our Haruno Sakura, correct?”

Kakashi knows that he has guessed right when she pauses in surprise.  “Ne, Kakashi-sensei, I can’t slip anything past you, can I?”

“Lucky guess.”  He relaxes slightly, extending a hand to help her up.  “So, how far from the future are you?  Or is that off-limits?  I have to admit, I don’t have any experience with time travel.”

“Me neither,” she says ruefully, “but I doubt it matters much now.  There’s no use hiding anything – you already know that I’m from the future and I haven’t been wiped out by a time paradox yet.  Ten years.  I’m a jounin now.”

“Impressive.”  There’s no sarcasm in it, because making jounin before age twenty-two – especially as the average daughter of two career genin, with nothing on her side but excellent chakra control and some book smarts.  Most shinobi in Sakura’s position joined the Chuunin Corps, and took up a desk position somewhere. 

“What the hell!”  Naruto shouts, pointing a finger angrily at Sakura, his face flushed bright red.  “W-What are you saying, Sakura-chan?  How can you be from the future, you look just like you did ten minutes ago!”

“You idiot –“Sasuke hisses at him incredulously. 

Sakura, however, just laughs.  “…I am from the future, Naruto, I’m just… in my younger body right now…”  She trails off thoughtfully. 

“Then, where’s our Sakura?”  Naruto demands hotly.  “What did you do to her?”

“Nothing,” she says, without even the slightest bit of exasperation, “She’s safe.”  Ten years of dealing with Naruto must have made her immune, Kakashi thinks with amusement. 

“But –“

“Naruto,” Kakashi interrupts.  “We can’t continue this here.”  He turns to Sakura. “We’re in Wave, right now,” he informs her.  “Our mission is to –“

“-protect Tazuna the bridge builder,” she finishes, wincing.  “…I remember this.  When we get back to the house, there’s some things I need to tell all of you.  They’re important.”

As the four of them make their way back to their temporary base of operations, Kakashi finds himself noticing the slight change in gait that Sakura must have acquired in the next decade, the way she instinctively scanned her surroundings every few seconds, the vague tensing of her fingers – moved a centimeter closer to a kunai pouch that wasn’t present – when a squirrel had made its way up a tree.  And it is this, more than anything else, that convinces him. 

Tsunami greets them with a wide smile, even as her son sends them another baleful look as they pass him, muttering resentfully under his breathe.  Naruto tenses next to him, and Kakashi wonders briefly if today would be the day when he would let loose - and then the blonde takes a deep breath and turns away.  There’s a slight quirk to Sakura’s lips that says that she knows something that everyone else doesn’t, and – knowing what he does – she probably does.

“How did you get here?”  Kakashi asks later, after he had sent Naruto and Sasuke away.  Sakura had been willing to talk freely about the future to him, but he knew that there were some things that she wouldn’t want her teammates to know.  Kami knows he wouldn’t want Rin and Obito in the same room, if his own chunin team had been in the situation.

“Experimental technique from an enemy shinobi,” Sakura says.  “From what she had been shouting, it was probably some kind of de-aging jutsu.  A member of my team used one of his techniques at the same time, and the two… well, it got weird.”

“Will you be able to get back?”

“It… shouldn’t be a problem, actually.  The other member of my team, the one who used the jutsu – he was sent back with me.  He has some experience with space-time jutsu.” 

“Huh.”  Space-time manipulation wasn’t exactly a broad area of study, and Kakashi could count the number of people he knew with the slightest inclination toward the ability on one hand.  “Anyone I know?” 

“Um.  It’s complicated,” Sakura says, and there’s something in her expression that tells Kakashi that there’s a lot more to it.  “He’s… a friend.  You’ll see when we find him.”

That wasn’t ominous at all, Kakashi thought.  “Any idea where to find him, then?  He’s probably in his past body like you, right?”

Sakura froze.  “That… might be a problem, actually.  I have no idea where he could be,” she admits, “and even if I did… it wouldn’t be a good idea to look for him there.  I… I think he’ll come to find me.  Just keep an eye out, I guess.”

“Distinctive features?”

“…You’ll know.”  Sakura sighs.  “Sorry, Kakashi-sensei… I know I would tell you all I can about the future – this probably isn’t even my past, so it’s not like it would affect me – but trust me, you don’t want to know yet.”

“I would think that I can decide what I want to know,” he says casually, and yes, there is an undercurrent of annoyance, because even if this future Sakura was supposedly the same rank as himself… Kakashi had worked under a rigid chain of command for too long to easily be told what to do by a twelve year old genin.  “But… I’ll hold you to that, then.”

Sakura sags in relief, and Kakashi can’t help but wonder who the mystery teammate is – oh Kami, not an illegitimate child of his?  It would make sense if he was one of Sakura’s genin…  (Or not - maybe he should cut down on the Icha Icha…).  “…Do you want me to tell you about the future, Kakashi-sensei?  There might be things you don’t want to know.”

Kakashi closes his eye.  “…Important people die in the next decade.”  It’s not a question, but the fact that Sakura has to school her expression - “That is my answer then.  You should know me well enough to know that I won’t allow my discomfort to be placed before the life of a comrade’s.  If your information saves just one more life…”

“I understand, Kakashi-sensei… I shouldn’t have asked, I’m sorry.  I keep expecting everyone to be completely different… But I guess that none of us really changed, not where it matters,” she says with a laugh.  “Well, to start with, when I’m from, the current Hokage is the Rokudaime.  The village is at peace with the other nations, though there might be some conflicts arising in the next few years.  The Fourth Shinobi War… ended a few years ago.”

“Which villages were we up against?”  Kakashi asks, heart already sinking at the mention of ‘war.’  The Third Shinobi War had taken almost everything from him.

“None.  The five villages were united against a greater enemy.”

He blinks.  Impossible, is his first thought, before it is wiped out by the sudden, terrifying realization – how powerful must that enemy be?  “Who –“

“It’s complicated,” she says, grimacing. 

“Then simplify it,” he says shortly.  “If there exists an enemy with that much destructive power, the village will need as much time to prepare as it can get.”

“Uchiha Madara,” Sakura says finally. 

“He is alive?” 

“No.  Not right now, not exactly… I told you it was complicated.”  Sakura meets his eyes then.  “I promise you, Kakashi-sensei, you won’t have to worry about it.  The Fourth Shinobi War won’t happen.  Not with my team mate and I in this time.”

Kakashi sighs in resignation.  “Well, seeing as you’re a future version of one of my cute little students… I can’t in good conscience leave you to Ibiki-san’s tender mercies and force the information out of you,” he says casually.  “Well.  Lead the way then, Sakura.” 

 “By the way… you’re not just a normal jounin, are you?  The Hokage’s code isn’t something just anyone is authorized to know.”

“…You noticed, huh?”  Sakura grins.  “Well, I’m the one and only apprentice to the Godaime, Senju Tsunade. I’m in charge of the Medical Corps and one of the Hokage’s closest advisors.  Not to mention…”  Her grin turned evil.  “…seeing how the Rokudaime is my sensei, it would make sense for me to be entrusted with that knowledge.”

Kakashi blanches.  “Why would I –“

“Someone made you promise to be Hokage,” she says sunnily.  “Duh.  But don’t worry, Kakashi-sensei!  You look good in Hokage robes.  And… as much as I can tell, you’re happy.”

Sakura takes the advantage of his shock to run out of the room.  He lets her go.  Why would he be Hokage?  It wasn’t a question of ability or possibility – Kakashi had known for years that the Sandaime had been looking toward him as a potential candidate for the office.  He knew it, just as he knew he would never agree to the post.

It was, after all, the office of Hokage that Obito had set his eyes upon, the culmination of every grandiose future plan his old teammate had possessed.  It seemed wrong to him that, after everything Obito had gave for him – his life, his eye – Kakashi would take his dream as well.  If the village hung in the balance, he supposed he would accept the position – and immediately pass it on to someone more suitable, more deserving, because all he was, was a thief.

And… as much as I can tell, you’re happy. 

When was the last time he was happy?  Not just content, as he was watching his cute little team bicker, tussle, and make up.  It had to be before Sensei and Kushina-san died, before Rin had met her end at the end of his Chidori, before Obito – that idiot, that damn idiot – had smiled through the blood and said, Kakashi, take my eye

He sits down and thinks.  He thinks for a long time.

Chapter Text

Naruto had glanced at Sakura five times in the past minute.  Sasuke watches with a kind of a wry amusement, because if this is the blonde’s idea of subtlety, he didn’t want to know how he acted when he wanted to be obvious. 

It takes ten minutes for Naruto to finally break and blurt out, “So – Sakura-chan, you’re really from the future?”

Though their sensei hadn’t actually forbid them from asking about the future, it felt like an unspoken rule to not to.  That was how logic held, after all – that, and that was how it went in the science fiction manga he had inadvertently became a fan of (not that he would admit it to anyone, least of all Uzumaki Naruto.)

“Yeah, I really am,” Sakura says. 

“Then – am I Hokage?”  Excitement in his eyes, Naruto leans in even closer to their resident time traveler.  “At least give me a hint, Sakura-chan!”  Typical, Sasuke thinks with a scowl.

To his surprise, Sakura answers.  “You’re not,” she says, but even before Naruto’s expression could make the shift, she continues, “but I guess I should say, ‘not yet.’  You’re twenty-two – plenty of time.  And you’re a hero of the village.”

Naruto blinked, his voice going humid.  “I-I’m a hero of the village?”  He squeaks.  “The villagers… like me?”

She nods.  “I think there’s at least five kids named after you by now.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the villagers haven’t already set up a Naruto Day.”

Despite the fact that Sakura was obviously exaggerating (or even making everything up) for his benefit, Naruto didn’t seem to notice, his eyes getting slightly wet. 

Sasuke sighs.  In truth, it was difficult to resist interrogating the future Sakura himself.  It was stunning how much his teammate had changed, from a vapid, annoying fan girl with no actual investment in the shinobi life… to an obvious adult, who held herself with a confidence and assured manner that made Sasuke acutely aware of the fact that, despite how she looked, she was not a pre-adolescent genin.

And… as a jounin, she must be strong.  Would she teach him?  As much as he despised the younger Sakura’s crush on him, it was a way to get her assistance – not that there was any that she could give.  But the current Sakura seemed to have abandoned that crush, for she didn’t look at him with anything more than a faint amusement, and as glad as he was that that was over… it also meant that she had little to no reason to train him.

“Are you strong?”  He asks curtly.  “Show me.”

“Oi!  Don’t be so rude,” Sakura admonishes.  “Not even a ‘please’?”  Sasuke ‘hmphs’, turning away slightly.  He might be interested, but he wasn’t desperate – he had his pride.

“Please, Sakura-chan!”  Naruto jumps in, practically begging.  For once, he’s grateful for the blonde’s interruption.  “Show us a cool technique!  All Kakashi-sensei’s been showing us are boring stuff.”

She visibly reconsiders it.  “You can’t tell anyone what I show you, alright?”

Naruto nods eagerly, while Sasuke makes a sound of vague agreement.  “Alright, see this tree over here?”  Sakura points at one of the larger oaks in the forest, with a diameter of at least eight feet.  They both nod.  “Now, I’m going to use a fourth of my usual strength, because I don’t want to cause too much damage.  But look –“

She reaches out to the tree and taps it.  For a brief second, Sasuke is disappointed, but what did he expect anyways?  Did he really think that-

And then, reality catches up.  A loud ‘fwoom’ sound of breaking wood splits the air and Sasuke pushes an arm over his eyes to avoid flying wood bits.  When the dust clears, he warily opens his eyes – and blinks in shock, even as Naruto yells in excitement next to him.

Half the tree’s trunk was gone, broken down into dust and small pieces of wood and bark.  Where Sakura’s finger had met the trunk was a huge crater, which extended almost to the other side of tree – and was that a glimpse of the forest on the other side?

“Wahoo!  That was so cool!”  Naruto cheers, running to the trunk and peering into the hole curiously. 

“Be careful,” Sakura cautions.  “The hit should have landed right in the middle, so the tree shouldn’t fall over… but don’t get hurt.”  The blonde gives her a thumbs up and a bright grin.

Sasuke stares mutely at the remainder of the tree.  That strength… If he had that kind of power – “Teach me,” Sasuke demands, whirling around to meet Sakura with the full force of his stare.  “I need – I need you to teach me how to do this.  Please,” he adds, remembering her earlier words.

Sakura meets his look unflinchingly.  “Why do you need it, Sasuke?”  He says nothing, unwilling to tell his personal secret of – of that man, when she adds, “It won’t help you much against Itachi, you know.”

He sucks in a breath out of shock.  “You know,” Sasuke says accusingly.  “You know about – that man –“

“I know about your brother, if that’s what you mean,” she says in a tone that tells him that she knows exactly who he’s referring to.

“Do I kill him?”  He demands.  “Do I –“ Get revenge?  Avenge the clan?  Stop the memories, of the screams and tears and blood –

“I can’t tell you,” she says.

“You told him about the villagers,” Sasuke growls.  “Why can’t you tell me about – that man?”

“That’s something you’ll have to find out on your own.  But.”  Sakura gives him a look.  “What I can tell you is… things are not what they seen.  Like Kakashi-sensei said.  Look underneath the underneath.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I know you loved your brother,” she says.  “You’ve told me in my time that you might have been one of the only people who had ever understood him.  Do you think he would be the kind of person to kill his family for power?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Sasuke says shortly.  “He… He still killed everyone.”

“Then why did he leave you alive?”

He couldn’t help but grit his teeth.  “He thought I was weak –“

“There were babies, children younger than you,” Sakura says.  “I’ve seen the medical reports from the medic-nin in charge of the autopsies.  There were Uchiha on the compound weaker than you, who he still killed.  What your brother wanted was for you to get stronger, to –“

“-to pose a challenge to him,” Sasuke interrupts.  “He wanted a worthy opponent.  He wanted me to have the same eyes he had –“

“Maybe,” she says, annoyingly casually.  “…Maybe not.  Maybe there was another reason.  But do you think it’s worth it, to get the power you need to beat him?  That’s what he wants, you know – for you to throw away everything for revenge, so that you can fight him.  Are you going to do what he wants you to do?”

He’s quiet, at a loss for words.

“It’s just a thought,” Sakura says, smiling. 


Chie hadn’t known what to think when the strange shinobi had asked her for directions. 

She was an old woman, a widow for a decade now, and in the entirety of her long life, she had never ventured out much farther than her merchant village on the outskirts of Fire Country.  It was rare to see shinobi in this part of the land, so far from any of their villages.  And here one was.

If there was one thing she learned about shinobi, it was to be respectful to them.  Regardless of the circumstances, it was very dangerous to enrage a trained killer.

“I apologize, shinobi-san…”  She replies, voice wavering, shifting the weight of her bags slightly to ease the ache of her hands.  “I am not very knowledgeable about locations so far from this village…”

“Eh, it’s fine!”  He announces cheerfully.  “Wave is by water, right?  So if Tobi just keeps going south… he’ll make it eventually!  Thanks obaa-san!”

Honestly, if she hadn’t known for sure he was shinobi – and what else could he be, with the strange outfit and knife pouches strapped all over his body? – Chie wouldn’t have pegged this unusually cheery man for a killer.   More than anything, he seemed like a child – or a brain damaged adult.

“If that’s all, shinobi-san…”  She says slowly.  Chie took the same route home for her weekly trip for groceries, but it had only been in the last few years or so that they have become increasingly difficult.  The weight of her bags had become painful, and she fought to urge to put them down.

“One more thing, obaa-san…”  Despite the fact that the man was wearing a mask, she got the feeling that he was grinning.  “…Can Tobi help you carry your bags home?”

Chapter Text


"What I'm saying is, Zabuza and Haku don't have to be our enemies.  They're working for Gato for money, and if they find out that he sent mercenaries to kill them..."

"The problem here," Kakashi says after a moment of thought, "is that they have no reason to believe us.  We have no evidence, and the only interaction we have had with them had been... violent."

Sakura scrunches her face in thought.  "...This might sound strange, but I think they might believe us if Naruto is the one to talk to them."

"Naruto?"  Kakashi asks blankly.  The blonde would not be his first pick for peacebroker.  "Why Naruto?"

"He has this... skill,"  she explains delicately.  "Under the right circumstances, he can convince pretty much anyone out of everything.  It's pretty unbelievable - there was a man, Pein... he destroyed the village and killed pretty much half of the population -"

"He what?"  

"- and then Naruto went off to talk to him face to face.  Somehow, he got Pein to sacrifice his life in order to resurrect everyone he killed, as well as get his right hand woman to pledge the allegiance of both herself and the entirety of the village of Amegakure."

"Resurrection?  That's possible?"  Kakashi asks, grabbing on to what seemed the most unbelievable.  "I know of Edo Tensei, but to bring the deceased back to true life...?"

"I've seen Edo Tensei too.  What Pein did wasn't it - no black sclera or disintegrating skin.  But you have to possess the Rinnegan and sacrifice your own life to do it,"  Sakura adds quickly, and he wonders if his desperate hope was that obvious.  "Or have the Rinnegan and be incredibly, stupidly stubborn," she amends.  

"The Rinnegan exists?"  He asks again, suddenly aware of the common thread within all his questions.  "...I see that the shinobi world undergoes some pretty big changes in the next decade, then."

"No kidding,"  Sakura groans.  "It's all Naruto, I swear.  My life would never have been so weird if I hadn't been put on a team with him."  The words themselves do nothing to dampen the sheer fond nostalgia within her tone.

A hint of horrible suspicion rears its head.  "In the future, are you and Naruto....?"  He trails off, unsure of how to word the question.  He wasn't necessarily interested in the love life of his future students, but the knowledge would be useful in understanding this future Sakura's motivations (as well as any... conflict within the team in the near future, he thinks, remembering a similar dynamic on his own team.)

"...In a relationship...?"  Kakashi nods slightly.  "Oh, no."  She laughs a little.  "No, there's nothing there.  He's like a brother to me - a seriously overpowered brother who can be really stupid at times.  Besides, I'm too busy running the hospital to add even more obligations.  Maybe in a few years, when we finally finish rebuilding the village."

He accepts the information with another nod (if things had been different, would Rin and Obito have become the same?) and changes the topic.  "I might not have any particular desire to keep Zabuza and his subordinate alive, but I would rather not fight two dangerous missing nin while protecting a genin team.  As long as Naruto won't be at any danger, I suppose it wouldn't hurt."

The unspoken question there is, why does she have such an investment in the survival of two missing nin, especially when Team 7 had gotten out of the engagement relatively unscathed?  

It speaks to Sakura's experience that she tells him with no further prompting, "My team was pretty traumatized by our fight with Zabuza and Haku.  It would be better if Team 7 could see death firsthand under... different circumstances, especially since Zabuza and Haku are pretty decent people."

She pauses briefly before adding casually, "Besides, the survival of another member of the Seven Swordsman could do wonders for the revolutionaries in Kirigakure.  Since the current Mizukage is under the control of Uchiha Madara, his early deposal can greatly change the sphere of the shinobi world for the better.  And having Zabuza as an ally would mean a possible alliance between Konoha and Kiri."

"...I didn't choose you as advisor just because you were my student, did I?" He asks slowly.

Sakura grins.  "Well, I can't speak for Rokudaime-sama... "



Things had moved very quickly, after the war had ended.  The peace had held, for unfair trade agreements had seemed a paltry excuse to fight and kill people that one had fought alongside for so long.  There had been some grumbling about Konoha – after all, the main offenders had both been Uchiha, had both originated from the village.

That had ended when Tsunade had pointed out, sweet smile on her lips, that as it happens, so had the team that had ended both them and the war, and all four (five? six?) of them were still loyal Konoha shinobi who would definitely fight for the sake of their village.  If, of course, some idiot had thought Konoha was deserving of war.

They reconsidered very quickly after that.

A few months after the war, Senju Tsunade had announced her resignation of the post of Hokage and named Hatake Kakashi as her successor.  It wasn’t the nomination that had surprised most of the shinobi world.  It had been the fact that he accepted.

(Most of, because Team 7 had always had a closer look on the inner working of their sensei, and Sakura had a good idea of Obito’s last words to Kakashi before he faded into dust.)

Sasuke had again left the village in some confusing attempt to find meaning in his life and absolution for his crimes – and was promptly dragged back by a red-faced Naruto, who had announced that if he was going to look for anything, then he better have the two of them by his side, dattebayo!  A week staying in the village had turned into a month, and when a year had passed, Sakura had realized that maybe her teammate was finally done running away from his problems.

Team 7 was used to the unusual.  They had each surpassed the expectations others had placed upon them, and have done the impossible.  They had spent months fighting alongside temporarily resurrected Hokages, against a zombified Uchiha Madara and the goddess Kaguya who had apparently been manipulating his resurrection for her own.  Sometimes, Sakura longed for the days when all she had to worry about was a missing-nin, or a bandit or two.

When Kakashi-sensei had called her in to his office and dismissed all but one of his ANBU from their immediate vicinity to tell her that Uchiha Obito – war criminal, mass murderer, and Kakashi’s best friend – was somehow alive and had apparently been disguising himself as ANBU for the past few months… well, Sakura had barely been surprised.  The remaining ANBU in the office – Obito – had waved at her then, and she could do nothing more than sigh.

“You didn’t tell Naruto or Sasuke yet.  Why me?”  Sakura had asked.  After all, it had been Naruto who had convinced the Uchiha back to the side of the light, and Sasuke who was his only (estranged) family.  Outside of a brief period of teamwork while saving Naruto's life, she barely knew the man.

“Obito insisted,” her sensei had replied mildly.  She raised an eyebrow.

“You’re the only member of Bakashi’s team with enough brains and maturity to be trusted with the information,” Obito had explained curtly.

“What he means is that Naruto would probably announce without the slightest regard to political considerations, from the very top of the Hokage Monument, the survival of – what was it, Obito?  ‘The coolest guy he knew.’”    

“...I thought we agreed to never talk about that.”  Obito had complained, crossing his arms.

“Then, what about Sasuke?”  Sakura had asked.  Her sensei gave her a half-lidded look that conveyed volumes.  “...Never mind.”

Chapter Text

"The bastard who hired Zabuza and Haku is gonna betray them?"  Naruto repeats, shocked.  "Then - of course I'm gonna tell them, dattebayo!  Haku's my friend, and there's no way I'm gonna let him get stabbed in the back like that!"

Kakashi blinks.  "Haku's... your friend?  Naruto, Haku's the hunter-nin who took Zabuza away."

"Duh, Kakashi-sensei, I know that!"  He replies, sounding a bit offended.  "I saw him in the forest and I thought he was a pretty girl at first, but he was actually a pretty guy."

"You... saw him in the forest -  Naruto," Kakashi says, with more than a little concern, "Haku and Zabuza are our enemies.  They're missing-nin, there's no reason why they wouldn't attack and kill everyone on our team."

"Nah, Haku wouldn't do that," the blonde says, shaking his head.  "He's my friend.  We talked about precious people, and how we have to protect them.  He's not a bad guy!"  

Kakashi fights the urge to put a hand to his face, because this kind of optimism... was something not even Minato-sensei and Kushina had.  What were they teaching in the Academy these days?  Not even Obito...

His sheer disbelief at the situation must have been obvious on his face, because Sakura gives him a look of pure sympathy when she sees him.  "I told you so," she says, with a surprising lack of smugness.  "It... takes some getting used to."

"He's still like this in the future?"  He asks.

"He... toned down a little, but... pretty much, yes."

"How did he survive?"  

"Um.  Ungodly amounts of charisma and an insane healing factor," Sakura tells him without irony.  "I told you about Pein, but... Look, reality itself bows down to Naruto.  If he thinks there's some good in someone, there will be."


As it turned out, there had been one thing that Sakura had not considered in her plan, and that had been the fact that if there was one person that the Universe will work against in any given situation... it was Hatake Kakashi.  

His father had killed himself, his best friend had been crushed under tons of rock (saving him), the teammate he had promised to protect had killed herself using him as a medium, and the only family he had ever known sacrificed themselves in the face of a rampaging nine-tailed demon.  All of that, before he had even finished puberty.  For years, he had gotten up in the morning simply out of habit, the only thing stopping him from taking another way out... the constant feeling that Obito was still watching through the dead eye in his head, the knowledge that he would have been furious (Dammit Bakashi, who the hell told you that you could die like that?)

And then he had finally passed a team, because Sensei's eyes and Rin's smile and Obito's only family - and that little bit of potential, the hope that maybe, this team wouldn't end up like the last Team Seven Kakashi had been a part of.  Except, of course, the first C-rank mission their team was sent on had quickly rocketed in ranks due to the appearance of a damn Swordsman of the Mist and his helper, neither of which would take more than ten minutes to utterly destroy Kakashi's pack of cute little genin.

When Naruto had yelled loudly at the criminal duo, there had been a tense minute of utter silence when there was a chance that this could all be resolved peacefully - and then the Universe realized another opportunity to fuck over Hatake Kakashi.  

Zabuza's derisive laughter had filled the air, and the hunter-nin Haku had said, with some regret, "I'm sorry, Naruto-kun."  After that, there had only been split seconds to meet Zabuza's blow, not enough time to make sure his genin were okay, only to pray that Sakura had things in hand.

 "That was pathetic, Hatake," Zabuza drawls as he leaps away before Kakashi can strike back.  "But that brat of yours was a pretty good liar - almost had Haku fooled.  Too bad he and the girl aren't going to last two minutes."

"You might be surprised," he returns easily, sliding his headband up and exposing his Sharingan eye.  The world comes into startling focus, and he can see the - ah, there.  Kakashi flashes through a series of hand seals and a shadow clone pops into being a distance away from the two of them.  Useful, when he needed those few seconds of surprise and wanted something to switch with.  "Besides, Naruto wasn't lying.  Gato has no plans to pay you and Haku."

"Not even he can be that stupid," the other man returns with a laugh, sending his blade slicing through the space where Kakashi had been mere seconds earlier.  

He swivels on his feet before launching himself at Zabuza's back, the man's fist missing his face by a hair's width, and lands a harsh blow, enhanced with chakra, at the man's shoulder.  "I think you might be overestimating him," he says calmly.  

Zabuza hisses in pain, but shakes off the damage with disturbing ease.  It seemed that only a mortal wound would be taking him down.

This wasn't good.  He had to finish this fight quickly.  Even if Sakura was at jounin level, there was no reason to believe that she could handle Haku by herself with all the disadvantages of a smaller, unfamiliar body - on top of protecting Naruto, who had been swept into the fight as well.  His only consolation was that Sasuke was still guarding Tazuna, his chakra nevertheless flickering with barely hidden worry as he sent constant looks in his teammates' direction.

So.  A distraction, and then... Chidori.  Kakashi narrows his eyes, mentally checks his chakra reserves as well as making sure that - yes, Sakura and Naruto were both still alive, chakra signatures still flickering at the edge of the field - and then a chakra signature, almost monstrously large, moving at unimaginable speed (only sensei could move that fast, he thinks) that slammed into Haku's, whose chakra signature dimmed - he had obviously been knocked unconscious by the blow.

"What the hell was that,"  Zabuza growls, momentarily distracted as he squinted in the direction of his protege's battle.  This was an opportunity to take him down, Kakashi knew, but his students were still in the near vicinity of the unknown.

"It wasn't one of ours.  Momentary truce," he says, knowing full well that it didn't count for much.  They were shinobi, not samurai.  But Zabuza nods with a slight hesitation.  

Melting ice, splatters of blood, and - his students, alive, albeit a bit scratched and bloody.  A few feet away, a cloaked figure crouches, an obviously unconscious - or dead - Haku slung over his shoulder.  A spiraled orange mask with a single dark eyehole and tufts of messy dark hair are the only things that Kakashi can see from his angle.  He casts a quick look at Sakura in hopes of an explanation, but she is also staring at the new arrival, a look of vague confusion on her face.  Naruto is next to her, seemingly unhurt - though the large scratches on his clothing seem to indicate otherwise.  For once, Kakashi is grateful for the existence of the Kyuubi.  

Zabuza grits his teeth.  "You -"

"Don't get mad at Tobi!"  The man yelps, drops Haku to the ground with a thud, and puts both hands up in surrender.  "He just knocked out on his own - it was a good thing that Tobi was there to catch him."

Obvious lies, but Zabuza seems to be reassured by the fact that his apprentice was still breathing.  "Who the hell are you?"  He demands.

"Eh... Tobi's just Tobi, Zabuza-san."

If the man had eyebrows, they would have twitched.  Kakashi watches the two with some amusement, just because the situation was just utterly ridiculous.  So, this is what Sakura had meant, when she had talked about how strange the future was...

"Right.  Why are you here, interfering with this fight, then?  Are you with them -" a vague gesture to Kakashi and his hiti-ate - "or what?"

"Just your friendly neighborhood Tobi, here to help, Zabuza-san!  Tobi saw a humongous crowd of really angry people heading over here with a short fat guy with glasses, so I figured they were probably coming after you guys!  Tobi thinks he wants you guys to beat each other up first."  The man - Tobi - shrugs, and then points to behind them.  "Hey!  Aren't those them?"

That was probably the oldest trick in the book, but Kakashi could hear the distant footsteps of what had to be more than a few dozen people, and resists a groan.  "Gato," Zabuza mutters under his breath.  "...Huh.  Looks like that brat of yours was telling the truth, then, Hatake."  

In a blur of action, Zabuza has Haku slung over a shoulder.  Tobi gives no sign of concern.  Zabuza gives Kakashi a wicked grin - he had been wearing a mask for almost three decades, he knew how to read expressions underneath a mask.  "Can't say I'm too happy about how this shitstorm ended," he says, "and I sure as hell have no desire to see any of you, ever again.  Especially not you."  He nods his head toward the orange-masked maniac.  

"You feeling up to helping my team out with Gato and his men?"  Kakashi asks nonchalantly.  

Zabuza scoffs in derision, and disappears into the mist without a word, Haku over his shoulder.  Well, damn.  Kakashi gazes at the approaching crowd wearily.  Taking down those men wouldn't be a problem, except he had an immensely powerful unknown shinobi - one who hasn't shown any aggression, but still unknown - at close proximity with himself and his little genin - genin who, Kakashi knew, wouldn't take well to seeing the bloodbath.

Except - with his sharp hearing, he picks up the whistle of a blade through the air and a high squeal, followed by loud shouts of fear.  "Let this be a lesson to any other greedy idiot who wants to betray me," Kakashi hears Zabuza say, and then both his and Haku's chakra signatures really do disappear.  

Gato was down, evidently.  His men, however, were not.  "Your leader is dead,"  Kakashi says pleasantly.  "You won't be paid for fighting us.  Why lose your lives for nothing?"

The men exchange furtive looks, and for a moment Kakashi is slightly worried that their greed will prevail over their common sense - when he hears the stampede of a few dozens footsteps coming from the other side of the bridge, and Naruto shouts, "Inari!"

Tazuna's grandson stands at the head of a makeshift army of villagers armed with whatever they could find, which consisted mostly of pitchforks and shovels.  He himself was armed with a crossbow, a fierce look on his face that Kakashi would never have expected just a few days earlier.  "Get away from our village!"  the boy shouts, and as if broken from a spell, Gato's men scatter, pursued by the villagers.

How - right.  Naruto.

Now, Kakashi turns his attention to the strange newcomer.  "So...  Tobi, was it?"

The man nods enthusiastically.  "Eh, yeah, that's Tobi!"  From the corner of Kakashi's eye, he sees Sakura squint at Tobi - and gives a gasp of recognition, before putting a palm to her face.

"So, you know Sakura-chan there, I see,"  he asks.  Tobi gives him a thumbs up.  "Yeah, Tobi's a friend of Sakura-chan.  Though, Tobi looked a bit different the last time she saw him...." He trails off.

"Sakura?"  Kakashi asks her, hoping for an explanation, any explanation, of what the hell was going on.  

"I can't believe you,"  Sakura says instead, staring balefully at the orange-masked man.  "That really was you?  Olé?"

Tobi chuckles, practically emanating embarrassment from every pore, scratching the back of the head with one hand.  "Eh - yeah, Sakura-chan!  Sorry for being late this time!  Tobi was helping an old lady carry her bags!"

Was that - ?  No, it couldn't be...  But that kind of familiarity with a genin who couldn't have met him in the past -

"Sakura,"  Kakashi repeats.  "...Is he your fellow time-traveler?"

"...He is,"  Sakura replies.  There was a brief silence, and then Tobi said, in a completely different, darker tone of voice, "You're kidding me.  You already told him?  If I knew earlier, then I wouldn't have had to play the idiot."

"You didn't have to,"  she points out.  "It wouldn't have made that big of a difference... You know what I think?  You like doing it.  Why else would you go through that whole - whack-a-mole routine with us, way back then?"

"...True," the man - Tobi?  Was that truly his name? - mutters.  "Damn it, Sakura.  I could have had so much opportunity to mess with Kakashi."

"As important as that is," Sakura says dryly, "it isn't as important as us getting back to our own time."

With the distinct feeling that he was missing something - missing a lot of somethings - Kakashi cuts in smoothly, "As glad as I am that you can catch up with your friend, Sakura, I would greatly appreciate an explanation as to who he is and exactly what is going on."

Chapter Text

Sakura looks at Tobi. Tobi looks at Sakura.

Neither seems particularly excited at the prospect of explaining. Given the strange and ridiculous nature of the situation they had all found themselves in, Kakashi can't bring himself to entirely blame them.

"Hey, who's the orange guy?"

...And, to make things even better, Kakashi's other two genin had returned just in time to unload a metaphorical jug of gasoline onto the already roaring fire of terrible miscommunication and misguided priorities.

(He's fond of the kids, really! More than he's probably comfortable with admitting out loud. But something tells him that the added presence of Naruto and Sasuke has and never will make a situation less complicated in their lives.)

Naruto squints up at Tobi, brows furrowed as he stared into the dark hole of the man's mask. "What's that on your face?"

"It's called a fashion statement, kid," Tobi says, matter-of-fact. "All the cool ninja are doing it these days. You haven't heard?"

"Uhm." The boy blinks, genuinely thrown off. "I don't think so?"

"He's messing with you, dobe." Sasuke eyes the newcomer with blatant suspicion, clearly unmollified by Tobi's intervention in his would-be ignominous death by several dozen senbon. At least he had a good level of paranoia, even if he was clearly woefully underequipped in pretty much every other area relating to survival instinct.

Naruto scrunches his face. "You're a weirdo, orange guy."

As far as anyone can tell, Tobi doesn't even blink. "Says the kid wearing a bright orange jumpsuit on a battlefield."

"Stop picking on my teammate," Sakura says with a familiar expression of exasperation. "You know it's actually worse that you're doing it when he's thirteen instead of twenty-two, right?"

"Really," the masked man says blandly, swiveling around slowly to stare her down with a single dark eyehole. "I didn't notice a difference."

...Kakashi doesn't know how he feels about this brief glimpse of Konoha's future shinobi force. There's a few dozen incredulous questions bubbling up inside of him that he knows better than to ask.

"Children, children," he cuts in, waving his hands exaggeratedly, curving his eyes into twin cheerful crescents. "I believe we were trying to have a grown-up discussion here?"

"Here?" Sasuke asks doubtfully, looking over at the pools of blood congealing just a few feet away,

"Now?" Naruto squeaks, looking slightly further at the cheering, roaring crowd of villagers who had caught up to one of Gato's men and were now taking full-advantage of their imbalance in numbers.

...Kakashi would never admit it out loud, but his cute little genin might just have a point.

"Why not?" Tobi says with a shrug. "I've had significantly more sensitive conversations in far worse places. Ever tried to win a philosophical debate while standing on the back of a tailed beast?"

"...No," Kakashi says slowly, unsure whether to chalk the statement to general nonsensical rambling or take it at its full alarming potential. "No, I don't believe I have."

"Tobi," Sakura hisses.

"Sorry," the masked man says, entirely unapologetically. "It's the brain damage talking."

Then he pauses. "Oh, hell," he says flatly. "It really is the brain damage talking."

Well. Kakashi blinks. If that wasn't an entirely disquieting piece of information that was just dropped in the most casual way possible.

Sakura's brows furrow just slightly in understandable concern. "Are you... doing alright?"

"I have a control seal over my heart that's meant to one day drag me kicking and screaming into committing ritual suicide, not to mention the severe decade-old trauma to the brain that's making it very easy for me act in unpredictable and volatile ways," Tobi says bluntly, and pauses.

His voice goes high-pitched and cheery again. "But other than that I'm doing great, Sakura-chan! How are you?"

"Please," she winces, "please don't talk like that ever again."

"Tobi is sorry, Sakura-chan!" He chirps, before his voice drops back to normal. "...Sorry, force of habit."

Sakura gives Kakashi a long-suffering look, as if he was somehow responsible for her circumstances.

"I can't say that doesn't explain... a lot, actually," she says, and pinches at the bridge of her nose. "Just, please tell me this is a side-effect of being in your past body and you didn't actually have undiagnosed brain damage for the entire time we've known each other."

A beat.

"...I'm so going to lose my medical license for this," Sakura groans, and puts her face in her hands. Naruto pats her awkwardly on the shoulder. "How did I not realize? I should have known no fully functioning adult could get that much entertainment out of insulting Naruto's fashion sense on a daily basis."

"Oh, no," Tobi says casually. "The Juubi fixed all my physical damage on its way out. That's just who I am as a person."

"...You do realize that that makes it so much worse."

"Ahem," Kakashi says pleasantly.

They both turn to look at him, startled, as if they had both forgotten he was still there.

He beams, and it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "Maa, Sakura-chan. I have to say, I'm feeling a bit left out here."

"Hey, me too!" Naruto chimes in, and is immediately categorically ignored.

"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura begins apologetically.

He doesn't wait for her to explain. Something tells him that his student is entirely too good at being responsible and diplomatic to give him a straight answer.

Her companion, however...

"I think, Tobi-san," Kakashi emphasizes, "that you should better introduce yourself."

"What makes you think my identity would mean anything to you?" the masked man asks, inscrutable. "I'm from your future. Would you believe me if I said that you haven't met me yet?"

Kakashi beams even brighter. "Not at all."

It's a bluff, at the heart of it. There's really nothing at all that he's heard that proves that this 'Tobi' is anything more than what he is at face value, a complete stranger from the future with a frankly terrible sense of humor and what sounded like a rather horrifying medical history.

All he has is a feeling. There's something here, underneath the underneath.

(Because, there's something that haunts him about the messy tufts of black hair, something that chills him to the bone about the one eyehole in the man's mask, something about the easy, familiar way the masked man had complained about Kakashi that twists painfully in his gut.

Kakashi knows he's wrong, because he has to be.

He just needs this man to tell him that.)

"...Sakura?" Tobi asks, breaking away from Kakashi's stare. There's something of a plea in his tone.

"You're on your own for this," is all she says, her expression a flat neutral line.

"You're kidding me," the masked man says disbelievingly. "It's me we're talking about here. When have I ever made a good decision in my life?"

Sakura opens her mouth, and shuts it again. "Well," she says apologetically, "I haven't known you for that long, comparably, so -"

"...This is a horrible mistake," Tobi mutters.

"I'm inclined to agree," he offers.

"Shut it, Bakashi."

The smile freezes on Kakashi's face.

"...What did you just call me?"

"Baka Kakashi. I call it when I see it," Tobi snips, entirely oblivious to the emotional turmoil that had just come down on Kakashi like a tidal wave.

"No," he says slowly, and his voice sounds distant even to himself, like he's speaking from a world away. "No one calls me that."

The masked man goes still.


Except, that isn't quite right, is it? Because there was a time when just hearing the word would make him full-body twitch with annoyance, because the person who had come up with that ridiculous insult was somehow even more immature than the moniker itself.

"Not since..."

But that time had ended long ago, around when Kakashi had left that same person behind to die, blinded and alone under several metric tons of rock.

...There's the dull roar of blood in his ears. He can't help but stare at the obscured depth of the masked man's single eye hole, and his thoughts spiral in illogical, impossible directions.


"You have got to be kidding me," the masked man says flatly.

Of all the replies that Kakashi is expecting, this isn't it.


"It's been more than 17 years," the other man groans. "How do you remember that? Why do you remember that?"

Kakashi stares, mouth slightly open.

"And did no one else ever call you that in your life? 'Bakashi' isn't even that creative of an insult, you know. An eight-year-old can come up with that."

The masked man pauses in thought. "Scratch that, an eight-year-old did come up with that."

"Obito," Sakura says, in a tone that brooked no argument. "You're already in a hole. Stop digging."

Looking back, he thinks it takes hearing Sakura say it - say the man's name - to finally ground himself back in reality.

Kakashi looks between the two of them - his pink-haired not-genin of a student, his best friend and teammate back from the dead - and takes in their easy banter, the casual mutual mockery that spoke of years of familiarity.

The cognitive dissonance hits him like a gut punch, and for a moment it feels like there's no air in his lungs.

In the future, Obito is alive. Sakura is a jounin-level diplomatic envoy. And they knew each other. They were friends.

Kakashi lets out a breath, and tries not to feel like he's going insane.

"Obito," he says, and to his credit, sounds only slightly like he's dying. "Obito, it's really you."

"...Yeah," says the masked man, says Obito. There's an odd note in his voice. He straightens up, shifts somehow, and for the first time since his inexplicable appearance, there's finally something like seriousness in the way he holds himself.

"Yeah, Bakashi. It's me."