Something creaks softly and Tenzou jerks upright, eyes wide in the dimness. The room’s only window is cracked, letting in a cold trickle of air and splashes of inconsistent moonlight. There’s movement where Tenzou remembers the door being and he reaches instinctively for the kunai he always carries, expecting a midnight test before remembering that he’s a thousand miles from anywhere in a tiny village on Tsuchi no Kuni’s southeast border, not a cell deep under Konoha’s foundations, that he’s not in ROOT anymore. Pale light glows on white hair and Tenzou blinks again, is that-?
“Taicho?” he can’t think of any reason for Kakashi to be here.
“You’re alive… Not- I thought you were dead…” The words are slurred and Kakashi’s voice almost breaks.
Before Tenzou can figure out how he’s supposed to respond to that, Kakashi lets go of the doorframe and takes a hesitant half step forward. Half step, because he loses his balance and collapses. Tenzou’s heart is beating too fast for a totally different reason now, he can see the dark gleam of fresh blood on Kakashi’s outstretched hand. He jumps off the futon, nearly falling himself as the blankets catch around his feet, and scrambles the few steps to crouch beside Kakashi.
“Kakashi-senpai?” Tenzo asks uncertainly.
He can smell alcohol and isn’t sure if Kakashi used it on his wounds or drank it. Kakashi twitches slightly and rolls over, his head hitting the splintery wood floor with a soft thump.
“‘M sorry,” Kakashi says in a cracked whisper, “‘M sorry, I’m sorr-”
Tenzou has no idea what generally accepted procedure is for situations like this, but guesses that laying on the futon has got to be better than the floor. Carefully, he tucks himself under Kakashi’s arm, trying not to touch any of his injuries. If he does, Kakashi gives no sign. Tenzou braces his feet, hauling the older boy upright, and is sharply reminded of the somewhat unsteady line of stitches running up his own leg. Gritting his teeth, he makes his way back across the room to the messy pile of blankets against the opposite wall. Kakashi’s not as heavy as he had been expecting, but Tenzou still nearly drops him and when they finally reach the futon and he tries to lay Kakashi down, they overbalance and fall. For a few moments, Tenzou sits very still with his eyes closed and breathes, counting inhale, hold, exhale. Kakashi’s body is a limp weight across his legs.
Wind hisses through the cracked pane of glass and Tenzou shivers. The movement seems to rouse Kakashi.
“I’m sorry, “ He says again, twisting so he’s staring up at Tenzou, “You- I failed-” Kakashi takes a shaky breath, fingers twisted in Tenzou’s shirt so hard his knuckles are as pale as his hair.
“Shhhh.” Tenzou whispers, repeating words he’d heard a woman speak while he’d been hiding on her roof waiting for his target to leave the building across the street. “Shhh, It’s okay, you’ll be okay.”
Nothing is okay, but Tenzou thinks this is what you’re supposed to do when people are crying. Not that Kakashi is crying, he wouldn’t, but Tenzou recognizes the shudder that runs through his body with every breath a little too well. Kakashi stares blankly up at him, both eyes wide and unfocused. The Sharingan gleams the same color as his bloody fingers, tomoe spinning sluggishly and Tenzou can almost see the chakra draining into it. Chakra exhaustion is more familiar than anything else else in this situation and Tenzou latches on to that fact. Very, very cautiously, he lays one hand over the left side of Kakashi’s face, covering the Sharingan. His eyelashes tickle Tenzou’s palm and the fingers knotted in Tenzou’s shirt relax just a little as Kakashi adjusts his grip.
“”M glad you’re not dead.” he says.
Without moving his hand, Tenzou curls himself around Kakashi. He smells metal, alcohol, blood, faintly charred fabric, ozone tang from the Chidori. Tenzou dosen’t know who Kakashi was looking at, saying ‘i’m glad you’re not dead’ it wasn’t him, but right now Kakashi’s here, holding onto him, and Tenzou accepts it. He’s too tired and he hurts too much to care about protocol, mostly he just doesn't want to be alone. Tenzou tucks his head against Kakashi’s shoulder, blinking slowly until his eyes drift shut and between one breath and another, they’re both asleep.
Kakashi runs. He’s all too aware of the weight on his back, the shock that runs through his legs every time his feet touch down, the sporadic tremble that warns of imminent chakra exhaustion, but also of Tenzou’s arms banded loosely across his chest, head dropped against his shoulder, blood spiked hair against the side of his face-
The masks, Monkey and Bear, tied to his belt clatter against each other with every jump-
His heart doesn't seem to be working properly, but Kakashi keeps talking, forcing words past spasming lungs and the splashes of grey that dart across his vision. Out loud, to Tenzou as though the unconscious boy might still be able to hear him-
-Stay alive- C’mon Tenzou, don’t die- Please-
To himself, silent, bitter, terrified-
-He’s going to die- (too)- And it will be your fault, All your fault, always- (just like they were-) You let him get hurt, should have been you- Failure, failure, failure-
And he’s running and he can’t breathe and his heart is going to beat its way out of his chest-
Then Tenzou’s arms tighten around him, just a little, and Kakashi can feel the warmth of Tenzou’s hands through his sweat and rain soaked shirt.
Alive, he’s alive-
And Kakashi still has a chance, so he runs.
From somewhere high in the dark trees, an owl cries, soft and ghostly. Kakashi tilts his head slightly, tracking its flight. Between the interlaced branches of the canopy, the moon gleams, narrow and sharp as a blade, too new to cast much light into the forest below. In the deep quiet that follows the owls passage Kakashi can pick out the tiny sounds of Tenzou’s soft breathing. He listens, trying to keep that sound separate from the steady return of scurrying night animals and the lonely, piping chirp of a single cricket. Tenzou stirs, shifting beneath the camouflaging blackness of his ANBU cloak, one arm wrapping around Kakashi’s waist.
Kakashi stills, almost unwilling to breathe, afraid if he moves he’ll disrupt the precariously balanced instant in which he’s not thinking, because maybe it’s okay to accept the gentleness of the contact if Tenzou’s asleep and won’t know he’s touching Kakashi-
-There’s blood on his hands, thick and black, dripping down between his fingers, and wide, dark, empty eyes-
His hand trembles and it’s only a trick of the faint moonlight, darkness fluttering off his palms to leave them white and bare. And he shouldn’t be doing this, doesn't deserve the warm, comforting pressure of Tenzou’s body pressed up against him. Kakashi hesitates, he doesn't want to pull away, wants to stay behind the fragile barrier of Tenzou’s arm where they ghosts can’t reach him-
-wants- he reminds himself sharply, - doesn’t get, hasn’t earned the right, his squad, his responsibility must have missed something, should have seen-
- tiny bodies with wide dark eyes, his fault-
They whirl behind his blood red eye, and Kakashi recoils, jerking away from Tenzou, who twitches in his sleep, one hand brushing across Kakashi’s wrist. He freezes, but Tenzou only frowns, mumbles something unintelligible, and relaxes once more. Kakashi drags his fingernail viciously across his skin, leaving red, stinging lines that banish the soft brush of Tenzou’s fingers, the weight of his arm.
Kakashi pads across the tiny hollow to sit with his back against a tree and his arms folded tightly around drawn up knees.
He spends the rest of the night watching the blood dripping slowly off his hands and drowning in ghosts.
Twenty plus years of training to suppress his reactions and maintain a perfect blank mask keep Yamato’s steps even and measured despite the tremors running up and down inside his skin, despite the way he wants to fall to his knees and shake, despite how he needs to move faster, to run. There are a thousand other things he should be doing right now, reports to give, damage to assess, new orders to obtain, clean up- and Yamato is taking precious minutes away from the village because he needs them. He almost glances over his shoulder, expecting any one of a progression of faces and masks telling him that it is his duty and responsibility and highest honor to be one of the pillars that support the village.
He doesn’t turn, because when someone mentioned in passing that the Copy Nin, Hatake Kakashi, had been killed in Pein’s assault the world tilted. Yamato has seen Kakashi injured, stitching up wounds he won’t allow anyone else to touch, seen him drunk and half conscious and shaking with chakra exhaustion, has carried Kakashi the rest of the way home when he passed out from blood loss. Intellectually, Yamato knows that Kakashi is just as mortal as the rest of them, but he’s always been there, and in a corner of Yamato’s mind where a child called Kinoe still reaches for the hand that lifts him to his feet, Yamato thought he always would be.
Even after Kakashi was pulled out of ANBU, he was still around, appearing now and then perched on the roof in the middle of the night or leaning against a tree with a book in hand. Yamato has spent nine years trying to create a narrative in which Kakashi is not the center piece- and he got good at it, but it took only three words, ‘Hatake Kakashi’s dead’ for him to forget what his next line should be.
Beneath Yamato’s feet, the ground is slick with water, ashes and mud. Ducking under the still faintly smoking beams of what used to be someone’s house, he nearly falls. The charred wood breaks off in his hand.
By the time Yamato reaches the edge of the village where tents are already set up to serve as a temporary hospital, his boots are caked with mud, his throat and eyes stinging from the dust and ash that hangs close and stifling over Konoha’s ruins. Yamato follows the brusque directions of a tall woman he’s pretty sure is a medic until he reaches the tent she’d described. He pushes aside the heavy canvas tent flap and lets it fall closed behind him leaving only the muted glow of the light that manages to slip in around the door and through a jagged tear high on the wall.
Kakashi is sitting on the edge of a folding cot, examining the fingers of one hand as he turns it over and over in his lap. He dosen’t look up and after a stretched thin minute of silence, Yamato steps forward.
Beneath the bandages taped across Kakashi’s back, Yamato sees the tiny movements as his ribs expand and contract over each breath. Then Kakashi does glance up, his one visible eye wide and very dark and Yamato almost collapses under a sudden surety that he’s not actually there. Before he can reconsider, or consider at all really, what he is about to do, Yamato reaches out, wrapping his arms around Kakashi’s waist, feeling muscle and bone and the heat of bare skin under his hands. Yamato smells ash and blood, dogs and ozone, and feels the world click back into place.
Momentarily, Kakashi relaxes into Yamato’s hug, one hand coming up to clutch reflexively at the back of his jacket, then he pulls away, all tightly wound ease and crinkled eye smiles.
“Maa, Tenzou,” he says, “I didn’t know you cared.”
“Yamato.” Yamato says tightly, automatically.
He wants all at once to shake Kakashi. Instead, Yamato gets to his feet, ignoring the way his burned hand sticks to the gauze. Of course he cares, he’s always cared -Kinoe, Tenzou, Yamato- and it seems he always will.
As he turns away, Yamato feels the feather light brush of Kakashi’s fingers across the inside of his wrist.
The earth is slick with mud, ash, and blood. Yamato’s hand throbs, exhausted tremors run up and down his legs, the dust in the air sends sharp tear tracks down his face, but the ground under his feet is somehow more stable than it was only a minute ago.
Yamato half opens his eyes, blinking groggily. The early morning sun slips gently through the curtains to feather across the dust motes that hang in the air above Yamato’s work bench. He’s not quite sure why he’s awake at first, feeling too comfortably blank to worry about it. For a few moments he just sits, head pillowed on his arms, eyes half open, enjoying the unhurried feeling of being conscious without having been hurled violently into awareness by nightmares. Yamato listens, trying to figure out what woke him, and has almost concluded that it was nothing after all, when he hears the quiet tap of someone knocking on the door.
By now, Yamato is awake enough to be mildly curious. Very few people know where he lives and the hesitancy in the knock belongs to none of them. Not Sakura, who announces her presence with two sharp raps and always warns him before she shows up anyway, not Sai, who isn’t even in Konoha and for whom even seven years out of Root, knocking is still an afterthought, a perfunctory tap of knuckles on the door frame with his hand already on handle. Certainly not Naruto, who if his knocking is not answered in a timely manner, supplements it with a cheerful shout of ‘Yamato-taichou!’. It’s not Sasuke either, who never knocks and once sat on the front porch for three hours until Yamato came out to water his roses and discovered him there. He gets to his feet slowly, stretching out the stiffness in his shoulders, the price he pays for sleep most nights. Then, still rubbing at the deep dent the table’s edge left in his arm, pads down the hall to open the front door. The door creaks a little as it swings open, and Yamato remembers that he’d been going to pick up oil on his way back from work yesterday. He’ll have to do it tomorrow. He shades his eyes against the sun and then stops, mouth half open to say something, he doesn't remember what, to the person standing on the front porch.
He’s thinner than Yamato remembers, so that the sleeveless blue grey turtleneck he’s wearing hangs loose across his shoulders and extra fabric is crumpled against the sharp bones of his wrists where they’re shoved into his pockets. Bruises are ground into the pale skin beneath his eyes and scattered like stray shadows down both arms. He’s not wearing a mask, the fine lines of his face and tiny questioning half smile making him look somehow both younger and older than Yamato knows he is, but-
“Tenzou?” Kakashi asks softly and his voice as worn as his clothes, tattered on the edges like pulling a single loose thread would unravel the whole thing.
His gaze flicks hesitantly across Yamato’s face, and Kakashi shifts his posture ever so slightly, ready to disappear again if he’s not allowed to be here after all.
All Yamato can think is ‘two years, you vanish for two years and now-’ but he must have made some small sound or gesture he’s not aware of because instead of running away, Kakashi steps towards him, stumbling over the doorstep and not bothering to right himself so that he tilts forward against Yamato’s chest. For a moment, Yamato stands frozen. Kakashi’s hands are fisted in the back of his shirt, head tipped forward to hide his face against Yamato’s shoulder.
Then Yamato remembers to breathe and he choses. He can figure out what he feels about this later, can decide if he’s angry some other time when Kakashi isn’t right here, right now, holding onto him with shaking hands and taking short, uneven breaths that shudder painfully through his whole body. Relaxing a little, Yamato folds his arms around him. He can feel the sharp edge of Kakashi’s shoulder blade against his palm as he pulls the other man closer and murmurs,
“Welcome home, Kakashi.” into his tangled silvery hair.
Kakashi doesn’t remember falling asleep, but since he’s waking up, he must have. There’s something soft under him and something else, warm and heavy, across his stomach. Vaguely curious, but safe in the familiar scents of cedar, fresh earth, and dog, not alarmed, Kakashi half opens one eye. He’s met with something that looks sort of like a brown mop. Kakashi lifts one hand to rub at his face and blinks hazily at the thing a few times before the blue sleeve of a tee shirt registers and he realizes what he’s looking at.
Apparently, he and Tenzou hand fallen asleep on the couch last night, and at some point Tenzou slumped sideways to lay with his head on Kakashi’s chest and one arm hanging off the couch. One corner of Kakashi’s mouth tilts in a lazy smile, and still half asleep himself, he drapes an arm over Tenzou’s shoulders. The sun spills through the curtains and Kakashi lets his eyes close and drifts. He’s almost asleep again when Tenzou shudders, making a low, distressed noise in the back of his throat.
Humming softly, Kakashi traces his fingers across Tenzou’s back, along the ridges of old scars and taut muscles until Tenzou relaxes. He stretches a little, arching into the curve of Kakashi’s arm and blinks up at him, eyes soft and dark, catching the sunlight in warm golden highlights.
Tenzou props himself up on one elbow, peering down at Kakashi’s stomach.
“You’re wearing my shirt.” Tenzou sounds almost indignant.
His voice is fuzzy, his face slightly flushed, his hair is sticking up everywhere. Kakashi smiles.
“Yes,” he says with sleepy contentment, warm and comfortably limp all the way to his bones.
“Mmmm.” Tenzou runs his fingers once across worn grey fabric, then pulls his legs onto the couch, curls a little tighter against Kakashi’s side and hides his face against his shoulder.
Kakashi readjusts his arm across Tenzou’s back, holding him closer, then, because the sun is still far too bright and who needs to up at noon anyway, shuts his eyes and buries his face in the blanket thrown over the back of the couch. Tenzou’s hands are tucked against his back, just below his shoulder blades. They are solid and very much real, and Kakashi lets his hand rest, open palmed, against Tenzou’s side. Beneath his fingers, Tenzou’s ribs rise and fall with each slow, even, breath, and Kakashi listens.