Chapter 16: Saying Goodbye to the Trees
Alternate Title: The End
Kakashi woke up to the irritating noise of a heart monitor. He cracked open his eyes and twitched his hand, intent on ripping off the miscellaneous devices and escaping, but someone pushed down his arm before he could get far.
"None of that, now," said a soft, familiar voice.
"Oh, I'm still dreaming," he mumbled back. Dreams with Minato-sensei were generally the nicest, except when they took a turn for the 'being murdered by Nine-Tails.' His vision was still blurry, so he blinked a few times, waiting for the blurs to crystalize. "So, what—"
Kakashi jerked upright, remembering that he wasn't in his Konoha anymore. This wasn't a dream, was it?
Minato smiled at him, confirming the truth. He looked tired but otherwise fine. "You're awake."
"And you're an idiot."
"How many times have I warned you not to tamper with active seals!? And then you go offer yourself as a marker, nearly frying what's left of your brain!"
Kakashi laughed sheepishly. "It was a calculated risk. If I hadn't done that, Rin would've escaped."
Reluctantly, Minato conceded the point. "Still, you scared me half to death! You're so reckless, Kakashi."
"Well, you know me, reckless—"
The door slammed open. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura came tumbling in, pushing the other out of the way. To Kakashi's surprise, they were all wearing chuunin vests. Naruto's eyes were full of tears, Sasuke was studiously pretending not to care while shooting anxious glances in Kakashi's direction, and Sakura… was strangely subdued. She wasn't even smiling.
Why was that more terrifying than comforting?
Before Kakashi could consider that further, Naruto took a flying leap onto the bed, crushing Kakashi and cutting off his flow of air. Sasuke inched onto the foot of bed, doing his best to look bored while also holding Kakashi's ankle in a death grip, as if to keep him from disappearing. Sakura nudged Naruto aside (accidentally elbowing both of them in the process) and sat by this head, eyes downcast as she bunched her fist up in the sheets.
"You're okay! You're not dead! I was so worried!" bawled Naruto, sniffling. "Dad told me you were being stupid and reckless and also a hero!" He threw his arms around Kakashi's neck, increasing his oxygen deprivation.
"Yes, that's nice, Naruto," Kakashi managed to say. "I can't really… breathe."
Naruto ignored him and sniffled louder.
"You didn't die," mumbled Sasuke. "Good. That would've been pathetic, and…" He trailed off into vaguely intelligible mumblings that sounded something like "we would've missed you."
No, it couldn't be. Kakashi was probably imagining that. A Sasuke from any world would never say that.
"I'm glad that you can still teach me," said Sakura, voice soft, and for once, she sounded like she meant it.
He was… probably imagining that too. There was no way his team would be this attached to him, not after all the trouble he put them through. Dammit, it was just dust! Irritation from the hospital environment. It made his eyes a little itchy, that was all.
"Ah, well… I couldn't leave you brats alone," said Kakashi, smiling. "Though it looks like you'll be leaving me soon. Congrats on your promotions to chuunin!" Considering how downright scary his team was, they deserved it.
Naruto puffed up with pride. "We're the first team since the Sannin to all make it to chuunin together!"
"I told the proctors I'd murder them if they didn't promote me," said Sakura, matter-of-fact.
Sasuke grunted, which in Uchiha-speak meant 'I agreed to help her because she terrifies me.'
Naruto's rambling excitement came to a sudden stop as his ears caught up with his mouth. "Wait, leave you? Why would we do that?"
"Most teams break up once they reach chuunin," explained Kakashi, managing to adjust his position so he could breathe. His world's Team 7, of course, had broken up for other reasons. "I wouldn't be surprised if you each got apprenticeship offers."
Surprisingly, it was Sasuke who spoke up. "Do you have more to teach us?" he said gruffly.
"Then it's settled," finished Sakura.
There was a sudden click and a flash of light, and the four of them turned to the other person in the room who'd they'd all forgotten about.
"Aww," Minato said, holding up the camera. "You all look so cute! Now we have a commemorative photo for the occasion, marking the first time Kakashi passed out with his own genin team."
"Dad!" wailed Naruto. "We're ninja! We can't be cute!"
"Whatever you say, Naruto."
Dogpiled by his strange, crazy, and adorable other Team 7, Kakashi couldn't help but feel content. This wasn't his world, but this was still his team. He was glad that there was a mask covering his face, or else his team would see his undeniably sappy expression.
He batted Sakura's hand, which was slowly moving to his face, away. "No eye theft, Sakura."
She pouted. Minato took another picture and practically cooed.
Once Team 7 was forced out of the room by the nurses for starting a fight, Minato filled Kakashi in on the aftermath of the Suna Invasion. Rin had been captured and covered in seals, and she was currently enjoying a stay in T&I. They hadn't had much success in getting anything out of her, but they had time. Most of the Akatsuki were also captured, rehabilitated (in the case of Kisame) or dead. After that was cleaned up, the Kage had discussed the promotions: Team 7 aside, the rank of chuunin was also given to Temari, Gaara, and Tenten.
For such a mess, there were surprisingly little casualties on their side. Asuma had broken his leg, Gai was suffering from burns—though the dreaded rainbow suit was still intact—and Kurenai had gotten impaled in the shoulder, but all three would make a full recovery. Everyone else had minor injuries. As things went, it wasn't so bad. Especially since Suna had born the brunt of the damage.
Soon, even Minato left, dragged away by Hokage business. The second he walked out of the hospital room, Kakashi took the opportunity to escape. It was child's play to duck out the window and slip into the village proper. As he ambled through the undamaged streets of Konoha, Kakashi sighed. This was Konoha as it had been before Pein, before the Chuunin Exam Invasion. Not bad, not bad at all.
"I see you're being as reckless as always, Hatake-senpai," said Itachi, appearing behind him. "You have escaped from the hospital room despite the warnings of the nurses."
Kakashi shrugged, pretending like she hadn't caused him to jump a foot in the air. "Honestly, though, what'd they expect?"
Itachi didn't say anything to that. Instead, she studied him with her usual placid expression. After a moment, she finally spoke.
"It is good that you've recovered. You were instrumental in defeating Nohara, and you saved my own life multiple times. Thank you."
He blinked. "I, uh…" Kakashi hadn't expected that. At all. "Well, you… I was only returning the favor," he said weakly. "You watched my back too. I would've been impaled a few times if you hadn't stepped in." Despite being a reminder of this dimension's cruel nature, Itachi wasn't so bad. Maybe.
She gave a slight nod. "I confess that thanking you was not my only motive for seeking you. The Hokage has requested that I bring you to him."
Relieved that they were back in familiar territory, Kakashi nodded back. "Lead the way!"
Kakashi followed Itachi back at Minato's house, where his sensei and the Sannin were sitting around the coffee table, drinking tea. Well, Jiraiya and Minato were drinking tea, but Tsunade was enjoying an early glass of sake.
"Thank you, Itachi. Both of you, sit." Minato gestured to the empty chairs. "Do you want any tea?"
Itachi politely declined, and Kakashi shook his head as he lounged back on the plush seat. Part of him wanted to put his feet on the coffee table, but he decided that the risk wasn't worth it.
I swear to God, though, if Minato called me here to talk about that 'relationship' I'm not in—
"Now that we're all here, I think it's time you told us the truth, Kakashi." Minato smiled. "What the hell is going on?"
"I… what?" said Kakashi.
"Don't play dumb." His smile grew brighter. "Since we've jumped from colossal mess to colossal mess, I haven't gotten the chance to interrogate you about it. And since everything you've done was for Konoha, I gave you the benefit of doubt. But now it's time to cough up the truth."
Kakashi slowly turned to Itachi. He understood why the Sannin were there, but why was she still here?
Minato understood his expression immediately. "I mean, I could send her out, but that'd be a bit mean. She's the one who's compiled all the irregularities in your behavior, and it's only fair she knows why."
What a lovely reminder of Itachi's authorized stalking.
Kakashi was quiet for a little bit as he mused it over. It'd been a good run, but now… he didn't really have a choice but to tell the truth. "It's a bit of a long story."
Minato leaned back. "We have time."
He took a deep breath. "I'm still Kakashi, but I'm not your Kakashi. Best I can tell, I'm actually from an alternate universe that's five years in the future, and my soul got swapped with that of your Kakashi's."
All four of them stared.
"What the fuck?" said Tsunade finally. Jiraiya was rubbing his head, Minato's expression was frozen in place, and Itachi was gazing into the distance.
Kakashi raised a hesitant thumbs-up. "Yup. Remember when I fainted and ended up in the hospital—"
"You faint a lot, brat. You have to be more specific," Tsunade grumbled.
"—a few months ago, when I inexplicably fell out of a tree after stabbing myself?" finished Kakashi, ignoring the Sannin's interruption.
"Yes." Minato frowned, his brow furrowed with concentration.
"That's when it happened." Kakashi shrugged. "I have no idea why."
There was another moment of silence as everyone digested that piece of information. Then, Minato looked up with a… sheepish expression on his face?
"I… think I might know why it happened," mumbled Minato. "That night was my anniversary, and… I kind of got really drunk. I was missing her, and I thought that it might be a good idea to mess with some space-time jutsu to see if I could bring an alternative Kushina back."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" said Jiraiya, speaking the thought on everyone's mind.
"I know it was a horrible idea, but I was really drunk, okay? The next day, nothing happened, so I thought I'd failed. I guess I didn't fail completely," said Minato, scratching his cheek with a pained smile.
"Minato, you could've gotten yourself, the whole village—"
"Sensei," Kakashi interrupted, cutting off Jiraiya's lecture. Besides the ever-present refrain of what the fuck, Kakashi was also considering the implications of Minato's confession, and the pieces were slowly falling into place. "Did you base your seal on the hiraishin?"
"I think so." Minato glanced at him. "Why?"
"Because I'm the only one in my world that has an active copy of the seal." Kakashi reached into his weapons pouch and pulled special three-pronged kunai—even the alternate version of himself always kept it on him. In his world, Kakashi maintained the seal despite Minato's passing, desperately clinging to the memento like a stuffed animal. "Tada."
"Only active copy?" Minato frowned. "What do you mean? The seals are tied to my chakra, so as long as I'm…" He blinked. "Oh. I'm... not Hokage, am I?" he said slowly.
"Ah… you were." Kakashi grimaced. "But now you're dead. It happened during the Nine Tails attack."
Minato nodded, resigned but not surprised. "So Kushina survives in your world?"
This is going to be awkward. "No, she's dead too."
Jiraiya spoke up. "Did the Sandaime become Hokage again after the attack, then?"
"Yes, but he's also dead," replied Kakashi. "It's Tsunade now."
The woman in question flinched, hand going to her necklace. "No fucking way." She poured herself another glass of alcohol and downed it. "I need to be much drunker to have this conversation."
"Her, and not Jiraiya?" said Itachi quietly, speaking up for the first time.
"No, uh... he's dead too," Kakashi said.
Jiraiya winced and held out his empty teacup. "Princess, pour me a glass."
Kakashi could recognize the signs of an impending existential crisis, so he politely glanced at the woman sitting next to him instead. "And so are you, Itachi. Dead, I mean. You're, um, also a guy."
Itachi looked at him with a blank, uncomprehending expression. "Oh."
"What the fuck," agreed Tsunade.
"Sorry, Kakashi," Minato gave a weak grimace that was the failed caricature of a smile, "but, your world sounds awful."
"Yeah, it sucks." He smiled. "It's not all bad, though. I still have my Team 7: Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, though they're all older and a bit… different." And boy, he really did miss them. Knowing them, though, they'd probably saved the world or destroyed it during his absence.
"Different?" asked Itachi. Before Kakashi even answered, she looked like she regretted opening her mouth.
"Yeah. Tsunade-sama, Sakura's your apprentice."
"No fucking way," she said again, shaking her head slowly in abject horror.
Kakashi continued, "But don't worry! Sure, she has a bit of a temper, but she's serious, dedicated, intelligent, and not…" he trailed off. "Yeah. And Naruto's, well, pretty much the same, but he's a bit more…" Lonely? Unfairly hated by the village until he single-handedly saved it? No, he probably shouldn't finish that thought, either. "And Sasuke's a missing-nin who abandoned Konoha for Orochimaru after being cursed by him, and he's also incredibly unstable thanks to Itachi massacring every Uchiha besides him when he was six."
Slowly, Itachi stood up, reached over for the sake bottle, and began guzzling it down. Once the bottle became half empty, she brought it close to her body, cradling it like a tiny Sasuke. Minato, Jiraiya and Tsunade were all glaring at the bottle with various degrees of longing and desperation.
After traumatizing them into silence for the third time this conversation, Kakashi had to admit that a big part of him was enjoying this.
Take that! How does it feel, huh? How does it feel to be mindfucked by an alternate dimension?
"I don't think I want to know more about your world," said Minato finally.
"Too bad, sensei. You asked for it!" Kakashi grinned. "Now, get comfortable. As I said, it's a long story…"
After Kakashi forcibly enlightened them about his world, leaving them in various states of agony, he had one more request to make. Minato—who looked like a light breeze away from face-planting on the floor—granted it with only a mumbled "Be careful."
Which is why Kakashi was in the bowels of Konoha, sitting in front of a heavily sealed Rin. A delicate array of ink covered every inch of her and the room, a chakra straight-jacket that kept her immobilized. More seals covered her arms and eye, preventing her from using her stolen abilities.
"Hello, Rin," he said softly.
Now that they weren't fighting, Kakashi took the time to examine her. So this is what an adult version of his teammate looked like. Her face was still heart-shaped—though half of it was pale and scarred, and her purple marking was only on the other half. She was tall and slender, muscled and angular in a way that preteen Rin hadn't been.
"Kakashi," she rasped. The seals around her throat were glowing. "Come to gloat?"
"No, just to talk." Kakashi sat down in front of her, legs crossed. "You see, I'm not your Kakashi."
Rin stared at him and didn't respond.
He'd gotten permission from Minato to do this, but Kakashi still hesitated. This was probably stupid, but… he had to try. If his world's version of Tobi could come back to his senses, then maybe this Rin could too. Slowly, Kakashi began to talk. He kept the actionable details to a minimum, briefly going over how Obito had sacrificed himself in that cave, how his version of Rin had died because of him.
"You're being manipulated, you know," said Kakashi. He gave a smile. "What you're doing won't work. You should give up when you can."
She stared at him for a long, long time.
"Wow," said Rin finally. "You're more fucking crazy than I am."
Kakashi laughed. "You're probably right." He stood up with a groan, stretching his arms. "Well, it was nice talking to you! The next time we speak, you won't be talking to the same Kakashi. Try to keep that in mind."
Zetsu hadn't showed up during the invasion, which meant that it was still out there. Kakashi had warned Minato about it, but he wouldn't be surprised if it caused trouble… or maybe even broke Rin out of prison. Crazier things had happened.
Speaking of which... this world's version of Kakashi's also in for a real mindfuck when he returns. For some reason, that made him grin. I might always be doomed to suffer, but at least now, I don't have to do it alone.
It took a week for Jiraiya, Kakashi, and Minato to reverse engineer the seal. After sleepless nights of squabbling, ink-stained fingers, and near explosions, they finally had a version that was more likely to send Kakashi back, as opposed to tearing his soul into shreds.
That meant today was his last day in this Konoha and his last chance to wreak havoc.
Kakashi dropped by Genma's apartment and left a smiley face on his fridge, along with a note to improve his security. He ate dango with Tenzo and Sai, reminding the former that no matter what he said, he'd never be Tsunade and Jiraiya's kid. Kakashi also left Tenzo with the bill as a little added bonus. After that, he appeared in Asuma and Kurenai's hospital room and lectured them on the importance of marriage until Asuma threw a bed stand at his head. Once he finished a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors with Gai, Kakashi even went to his favorite tree behind the memorial stone, the one that had been burned down in his world. He was going to miss that tree.
Finally, he appeared in Training Ground Three, where Team 7 was waiting for him.
"You're… on time?" said Naruto, starting with a shout and trailing off into a disturbed shudder.
"Are we sure that it's Kakashi-sensei and not an imposter?" Sasuke took out a kunai and glared.
Sakura frowned at her teacher with an equal amount of suspicion. "We can stab him to make sure."
Kakashi cleared his throat. "No stabbing, please."
Sasuke attacked anyway with a fireball, and Kakashi casually sidestepped Sasuke's attempt and tripped him. Sakura and Naruto were right behind him, so Kakashi kicked her into a tree, dodged Naruto's sloppy rasengan, and threw him into Sasuke.
"Now that that's over with…" He crouched down. "Are you ready to listen?"
"Yes, sensei," they mumbled in unison.
"Wonderful!" Kakashi looked at them fondly. As much as he appreciated his older team… it was nice having a bunch of little ducklings. Even if they were chuunin, and technically ranked higher than two of their counterparts. He cleared his throat. "Look, kiddos. Things are going to be a little different after today. I'm going to be relying on your help, okay? Try not to terrorize me too much."
Seriously, I pity other-Kakashi. He's going to suffer. So. Much.
"What are you talking about?" said Naruto, frowning. He glanced at Sasuke and Sakura, whose faces were also scrunched up in confusion.
"You'll see." Kakashi ruffled their hair and smirked at their squawks. "I'll miss you kids."
"Wait a minute—"
Kakashi waved and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
They were back in Konoha's underground, far away from anything that could be destroyed. Jiraiya and Minato had finished the sealing array, and Kakashi stood in the center of the delicate patterns of ink. After drawing a spiral on Kakashi's hand, Minato pressed his hands to the floor, prepared to activate the seal, but he hesitated.
"Kakashi…" he said slowly. "You might not be the Kakashi from my world, but you're still my student." Minato gave him a bright smile. "My counterpart would be very proud of you. I know that I am."
Kakashi swallowed, feeling the lump in his throat. How many times had he stayed up at night, wondering about that same thing? It felt like half his insecurities had evaporated with that one comment. "Thanks, sensei."
"Even if you did cause a fucking mess of unseen proportions," added Jiraiya. "You didn't do so bad, kid."
Kakashi gave him a totally-not-watery smile, one that was definitely manly and cool and not at all emotional. "I appreciate that. I think."
"And you should come visit sometime," said Minato brightly. "Maybe next time you can bring your team!"
Kakashi blinked, and Jiraiya was pinning his former student with a similarly incredulous look. "Sensei, uh… how the hell am I supposed to do that?"
Minato winked, giving him a grin that meant nothing but trouble. "You'll see."
Before Kakashi could respond, Minato took in a deep breath, and all the seals glowed with blinding light. After feeling like he was being simultaneously squeezed through a very tiny pipe and stretched thin, everything went black.
When Kakashi opened his eyes, he was holding an ink brush. He slowly turned around, taking stock of where he was. It looked like… an apartment. Not his, but an apartment nonetheless.
"—so I do the squiggle like this?" said a familiar voice. A blonde, teenage knucklehead was staring at a paper, a similar ink brush in hand.
"That's the wrong symbol, Naruto! You'll blow us up!" A tall, non-bandaged Sakura was scolding him, a diamond prominently displayed on her forehead. She also had a brush, paper, and inkwell.
"Naruto?" said Kakashi hesitantly. "Sakura?"
"Didn't we already go over this?" grumbled Sasuke from the couch in the corner. "Yes, despite being much bigger than you remember, that's Naruto. She's Sakura, and she's not related to Danzo. Yes, I'm that man's—not woman's—brother. Do we need to say it to you slowly?"
"No," Kakashi gave him a thoughtful look, "but I'm more concerned by you being here and not running around like a homicidal maniac. What, did the war end without me?"
They all froze.
"K-Kakashi sensei?" Naruto asked, eyes widening. "Is… is that you?"
"Sensei!?" Sakura spilled her inkwell on the table. "Are you our sensei? Where have you been!? What happened?"
Even Sasuke stood up, padding over to the table with his usual grace but a hint of urgency.
"It was crazy!" shouted Naruto, pushing his chair back. "Suddenly, you were all like freaked out and like complaining about dead people and suddenly knew like everything about seals! It was so weird! And hey, when did you get that tattoo?" asked Naruto, pointing at his hand.
Kakashi glanced down at the back of his hand and saw a small spiral, one that definitely hadn't been there before—at least, not in this world.
Oh. So that's what you meant by that, Minato-sensei. He'd have to examine the new tattoo in depth and see what his old teacher had in store for him.
"Well?" said Sakura impatiently. "You're not answering our questions!"
Kakashi gave them a bright smile. Despite it all, he was glad to be home.
"Sorry I'm late! I fell off a tree and landed in a different world."
AN: And so it ends. Wow. Over the last four years I've learned that shorter author's notes are better, but I hope you'll indulge me for the last time. And this is the first time I've ever finished a novel length work... and it feels awesome. My writing's changed a lot, hopefully for the better, and there's a lot of things I would do differently, but it still feels damn good. I did it. It's over. And I couldn't have done it without your support. Whether you're a first-time reader, long-time lurker, or faithful commenter, thank you. For those few who've been there since the beginning, a special thanks for sticking with me. And for those who want a romantic Itachi/Kakashi fanfic, there's an unfinished oneshot posted in the side story Twigs.
Here, I'll increase the Oscar-speech feeling of this note and give a big, wholehearted thanks to all my beta-readers through the ages: Duesal Bladesinger, who first reached out, Igornerd, who helped with the brainstorming, GwendolynStacy and Iaso, who both convinced me to pick this fic back up, as well as SirPoofsalot and MonsterCatMusicGirl for lending me their eyes. They're all awesome. I've made a lot of good friends thanks to this fanfic, and I owe them a lot.
Somehow, despite never seeing a single episode or reading a single chapter, I got sucked into this crazy, awesome fandom. It's been a lot of fun, and I think I'll end this on a high note. I'm retiring my fanfic account; I might post the occasional one-shot, but for now, I think I'll focus on my original work. Again, thank you for all your reading. I hope you enjoyed this wild, wild ride.