A/N: My apologies for starting a new story when I have so many others in need of an update. But this idea wouldn't let me go, so there was nothing to do but write it. If you like the premise, please review and let me know!
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
Chapter 1: The Mission
Kakashi woke with a gasp. He was clammy with sweat. A familiar face danced at the edge of his memory, fading quickly now that he was awake, but not quickly enough.
Obito… The face of Kakashi's deceased teammate smiled at him, undeterred by the blood dripping from an empty eye socket. Kakashi's gorge rose, and he felt like throwing up. Or crying.
Instead he kicked off his sheets and stood up, grabbing a water bottle he kept within reach for nights like these. He wondered why Obito had appeared in his nightmare, when it was Rin's bloody corpse that most often haunted his dreams.
Oh, yeah… the massacre. Small wonder Kakashi had relived Obito's death that night, when almost all of Obito's relatives had been slaughtered the night before. Kakashi was no longer an ANBU Captain, so he wasn't part of the search party attempting to track down Uchiha Itachi and bring the murderer to justice.
I'm glad to have no part of it, Kakashi reflected as he pulled on his uniform. Itachi was not the kind of shinobi who would leave a trail. He would disappear like a ghost, no matter how talented the trackers sent to find him.
No, Itachi was gone, and it was up to the shinobi who remained to make sure Konoha didn't collapse after the loss of its most prominent clan, and the majority of its police force.
I almost envy the dead, thought Kakashi, who always felt a bid morbid in the mornings. They go on alone, saddling the living with their problems.
He didn't know whom he meant specifically: Obito, Rin… maybe even his father or Minato-sensei. All of them, most likely. In any case, it didn't matter. Another day was approaching, and Kakashi had to meet it. The prospect of more sleep held no appeal – sleep would only bring fresh nightmares.
Kakashi vaulted out his open window, taking to the rooftops of Konoha. His target was the Hokage's Tower, standing proudly in the center of the village. It was still dark, and would be for many hours yet, but that didn't matter. On today of all days, the Hokage would still be hard at work.
Save me from the troubles of a Kage… Kakashi mused, pushing chakra through his legs as he flew from roof to roof. The old man was probably locked in a round of emergency meetings with clan heads and village advisors, figuring out what to do now that the Uchiha had been slaughtered.
At least when I wake up, MY nightmares end!
Kakashi gained access to the Tower with little trouble – the ANBU stationed outside were actually his former teammates, and they weren't about to bar their captain's way, even if he didn't technically hold that title anymore. Two chuunin stood outside the door to the Hokage's study, many floors above the ground. Kakashi didn't know them – they must be newly promoted. It was interesting that ANBU weren't acting as the Hokage's immediate guards, considering the recent threat to village security…
"He's meeting with Danzou," said the chuunin on the left, giving Kakashi a respectful nod. There were few shinobi who didn't know the famed Copy-nin, if not by sight, then certainly by reputation.
"Then I'll wait," Kakashi replied, glad his mask hid his grimace when he heard the name of the Hokage's guest.
Danzou… should have guessed that old buzzard would be around. Nothing draws his attention faster than fresh corpses…
As it turned out, Kakashi didn't have to wait very long. He had just started flipping through Jiraiya's latest volume when the door swung open. Danzou paused when he saw Kakashi, his un-bandaged eye narrowing.
That was all that really needed to be said. Kakashi's time as a Root operative was perhaps his third-worst regret, after killing Rin and losing Obito to the landslide. Danzou had been overjoyed to secure Kakashi's services following the war with Iwa, but that whole episode with Kinoe-turned-Tenzou had pushed Kakashi back to the proper path.
He now served Sarutobi more faithfully than he'd ever served Danzou, but he still respected the old war hawk's ruthlessness. Danzou was a powerful opponent, and utterly devoted to Konoha – but only the Konoha he wanted. A good man to have at your side… but not necessarily at your back.
Kakashi had to wonder, though, whether Danzou knew anything more about the Uchiha Massacre than most of the jounin did. Danzou would have been keeping a close eye on the Military Police, especially when Fugaku and his cronies began taking a hard line on Uchiha superiority. In fact, the recent slaughter solved many of Danzou's problems rather neatly.
There's no such thing as coincidence…
As a shinobi trained to look 'underneath the underneath,' Kakashi suspected that there was much he didn't know about the Uchiha Massacre. As a shinobi who'd recently gotten out of ANBU, however, he knew as much as he ever wanted to. Let the Hokage and his councilors keep their dark secrets; Kakashi was satisfied just following orders. He had enough ghosts riding on his shoulders.
The Third Hokage was waiting for Kakashi, and raised his head when the Copy-nin entered the study.
"Ah… I wondered when you would be arriving. Most jounin appeared last night, as soon as they heard the warning bells."
Kakashi shrugged. "I went to the compound to look for myself. I didn't receive a summons, so I thought you had all the help you needed." There was also the fact that he didn't want to be anywhere near that madhouse that the Tower would have been last night.
Sarutobi smiled wearily. "I did indeed… and perhaps more than I wanted. You saw Danzou, I presume."
"As you might expect, he's requested full authority in dismantling what's left of the Military Police. The Uchiha were always the backbone of that group, and now that they're gone…"
Kakashi's mouth twisted. "As long as he doesn't crow too loudly. Danzou may be overjoyed that the Uchiha aren't around to make trouble, but there are many shinobi on the police force who were close to the Uchiha. Danzou will cause a lot of anti-Council sentiment if he's not careful."
Sarutobi sighed. "I believe I can trust him to be diplomatic."
Even if you can't trust him for anything else, Kakashi added silently.
"Enough of Danzou," the Hokage declared, eyes narrowing with new resolve. "As you haven't been briefed, you may not have heard yet. There was one survivor."
That certainly captured Kakashi's attention. He hadn't thought Itachi was the kind to leave loose ends. "Who?"
"Uchiha Sasuke. Itachi's little brother."
"Damn. That… complicates things."
"You were always one for understatement. My heart rejoices that someone escaped this carnage, but I fear that life for young Sasuke will be the purest torture for many years yet. No one, no matter what age, can suffer such trauma without lasting scars."
Kakashi's fists tightened at his sides, and he spoke in a low voice that promised danger. "You know Danzou will try to collect him. The last Uchiha, at his most emotionally vulnerable… he won't be able to stop himself. That's how he operates. It's how he got me," Kakashi recalled, unable to hide his bitterness and self-loathing.
"I don't think we have to worry about Danzou recruiting young Sasuke," Sarutobi said, an unfathomable expression crossing his face.
"Call it a hunch. There are too many risks involved, especially now that Sasuke is so visible. Not that I intend to be lax, of course… it wouldn't be the first time Danzou has surprised me with what he's capable of." Sarutobi's nod to Kakashi was half reminder, half apology.
Kakashi bowed his head. "I was the only one responsible for my folly, Hokage-sama… but about Sasuke. How do you intend to keep him safe? The sharingan is now an endangered ability. Even assuming Danzou doesn't try to recruit him for Root, he'll be a walking target. Kidnappers could name their price for a pair of Uchiha eyes, and any other shinobi village would pay it twice over. Sasuke is a real player now, in a game he's far too young to understand."
Sarutobi chuckled, a dry sound that had little to do with humor. "Careful, Kakashi… if you continue to speak my own thoughts back to me, I won't have any choice but to make you my successor."
Kakashi visibly shuddered. As far as nightmares went, that one was near the top of his list.
"Jiraiya is watching him for the moment," Sarutobi went on. "I summoned him immediately as soon as word of the massacre reached me. Thankfully, he was already in Fire Country, so he got here yesterday morning."
Kakashi was glad to hear it. The Toad Sannin was devoted to the Third Hokage, and had no connections to Danzou or his war-mongering faction. He was also arguably the strongest shinobi currently living in the village – although Kakashi had his suspicions about Danzou's true strength – so there was no one better suited to protect Sasuke.
"This is only a temporary measure, of course," Sarutobi said, taking a moment to light his pipe. "Jiraiya is by far our most effective gatherer of intelligence, and the village can't afford to lose him indefinitely. To that end, I've been thinking about which shinobi to assign to look after Sasuke."
Kakashi suddenly felt a sensation he recognized as that of being just about to walk into an ambush. It felt like a dozen kunai were streaking through the air straight for his heart. "Hokage-sama," he began desperately, but the Hokage rode right over his instinctive protest.
"It has to be you, Kakashi. You're clearly the right person for the job."
"And why is that?" Kakashi demanded, suddenly angry. "Because I have Obito's sharingan?"
Sarutobi held his gaze with unwavering calm. "Not only that. You have more experience in ANBU than any shinobi currently serving. Your skills make you the perfect bodyguard, and aside from Jiraiya there are few shinobi even close to your level. If anyone can ensure Sasuke's safety it's you, Kakashi. Finally, you're one of the few shinobi whom I know I can trust. Konoha is a rotting cesspool full of secrets, and contrary to popular belief, they're not all mine. What if I accidentally assign an undercover Root agent to protect Sasuke, and Danzou orders that agent to eliminate the last Uchiha? No… it has to be you."
"Damn it, I am not the one to deal with a traumatized child!" Kakashi yelled, driven to his breaking point. He still broke down into uncontrollable sobs at the War Memorial, and woke in the middle of the night from nightmares more often than not. What did the Hokage expect him to say to this child?
It took a lot to drive the Third Hokage to open annoyance, but it seemed Kakashi had managed it. "You're not supposed to be his psychotherapist!" Sarutobi snapped. "Just keep him alive!"
The anger suddenly leaked out of him, leaving the Hokage looking almost deflated. "Kakashi… please. I need you to do this."
Just like that Kakashi's rage vanished, replaced by shame. This was the man who came out of retirement to save a village from self-destructing after the Kyuubi's attack. This was the man who'd given him a second chance after he'd joined Root. The debt Kakashi owed to this man personally, and the duty he owed him as his Hokage… both told him what he needed to do.
Kakashi's shoulders slumped. "Fine… I'll play babysitter. But only because you said please."
"Thank you, Kakashi. You don't know what this means to me, and to the village."
"Yeah, yeah." Kakashi's mind was already awhirl with plans, now that he knew there was no dodging this mission.
I might be a chronic insomniac and closet pervert, but I'm still a jounin of Konoha, and the safety of Obito's last living relative in Konoha is in my hands. I'll be damned before I let anything happen to him!
"If this is going to be a long-term mission," Kakashi mused, "then I'm going to need a partner. I have to sleep sometime, and even with my ninken I can't lock down a compound or an apartment by myself. No more than two though… we don't want too many random variables."
Kakashi considered his options, forgetting about the Hokage completely as he weighed the advantages and disadvantages of specific shinobi. He would have enjoyed working with Asuma, but the Hokage's son was still off protecting the daimyo as one of the Twelve Guardian Shinobi.
There was Guy, but… Kakashi shuddered. He had a healthy respect for his 'Eternal Rival's' abilities, but he didn't relish the prospect of spending twenty-four hours a day in the spandex-clad jounin's company. Kurenai was a possible choice, but genjutsu was more of a precision tool. Sasuke needed protectors capable of neutralizing enemies before they came close.
Then he thought of Tenzou. The Mokuton user was now in ANBU, having finally won free of Danzou's influence. Kakashi trusted Tenzou as much as he did his yearmates from the Academy, and the Special Jounin's abilities were certainly suited to bodyguard work.
The Hokage coughed gently. "Ah, Kakashi? I've already chosen your partner."
He looked up, startled. "Eh? What's that?"
"I said, I've already decided your partner for the mission. The ANBU guarding the Tower had orders to fetch her as soon as you showed, so she should be here any moment now. She has considerable experience in long-term missions, although more on the infiltration side than protection. I trust her as much as I do you. Most importantly, she may be able to help Sasuke with what he's going through. Tragic as it is, she knows what it is to be betrayed by someone she once loved."
As far as Kakashi was aware, there was only one kunoichi who fit that description.
"Hey there, Cyclops! Long time no see!" Mitarashi Anko burst through the door to the Hokage's study, flashing Kakashi her signature bloodthirsty grin. She had added a tan trenchcoat to her repertoire since the last time he'd seen her, which did a little to preserve her modesty – a very little, considering the skin-tight mesh outfit she wore underneath.
Kakashi turned to the Hokage helplessly, his dismay showing even through his mask. "Why her, of all people?!"
"I'm the most screwed-up shinobi on the roster," Anko answered instead, laughing as if she'd made the funniest joke in the world. "Who better to look after a screwed-up kid?"
The Hokage winced. "I disagree with your phrasing, Anko, but the sentiment is somewhat accurate. You won't belittle his loss, nor will you repulse him with useless pity. You're skilled enough to guard him, yet you can also empathize with him."
"I thought the point was to protect the kid, not traumatize him further," Kakashi said, eyeing Anko skeptically. Maybe that was a little harsh, but he wasn't about to temper his words. Anko had heard much worse in her time, and from people who actually doubted her loyalty to Konoha. It wasn't her loyalty that had Kakashi worried, though.
"Hey!" she protested, shaking a finger at him in mock outrage. "I'm a people person!"
"Says the kunoichi I once saw lick an enemy's blood off the edge of her kunai!"
Anko laughed outright at that. "Still remember that mission, huh? I'm touched! And like I said… I love people! All kinds…" she licked her lips with evident satisfaction.
Sarutobi coughed again, trying to get them back on track. "Kakashi, you're in charge of this mission. It's an indefinite A-rank, and the primary objective is to keep Sasuke alive. The secondary objective is to evaluate his mental state, and to make sure that what he's going through doesn't permanently harm his development as a shinobi. I expect the two of you to work well together, and to keep me informed of any significant developments. Understood?"
Kakashi stopped glaring at Anko long enough to come to attention. "Yes, Hokage-sama. Let me just state, for the record, that I seriously doubt the wisdom of these orders."
"Doubt them all you want, as long as you obey."
Anko laughed and nudged him with deceptive strength. "What, don't tell me you want to look after the little brat on your own? I shudder to think what bad habits he'd pick up from a role model like you… you'd probably turn him into a pervert before he turned ten! No, what little Sasuke needs is a woman's tender heart and nurturing hand."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow, wondering how Anko managed to say that with a straight face. He seriously doubted whether she'd ever 'nurtured' anything in her life, and as for her 'tender heart'… yeah, he'd believe that when he saw it.
"You two are dismissed," the Hokage declared. "Jiraiya is with Sasuke in a secure medical ward in the basement. Anko can take you there, Kakashi."
Anko grabbed Kakashi's arm like an infatuated schoolgirl. "Come on, honey," she crooned in an exaggerated falsetto. "Let's go see our little boy."
Kakashi knew he was going to hate this mission.