Author's Note: My first attempt at chaptered fanfiction. I'm not sure how satisfied I am with the first chapter--I don't really like the pacing--but there are two more still to come.
The day after the Fourth died, while the rest of the village was oscillating between shocked mourning and near-jubilatory relief at the defeat of the demon, Kakashi methodically put together a small collection of strong sake and downed it all in the course of about two hours.
He realized, in the moments between his keeling over on the floor and actually falling into unconsciousness, that he didn't really care if he ever woke up. Except--he still had someone to protect. And now he was the only one left to do that job.
Kakashi woke up in a room that smelled of pine needles and earth. He was lying on a pile of blankets, and ther was a cool damp cloth draped over his eyes. Footsteps heralded an approach, and the cloth was removed, but he did not open his eyes.
Rin knew he was awake anyway. "Don't move," she said. "Your head is going to hurt."
He opened his eyes and sat up. His head hurt. And that wasn't even the worst thing. "Rin," he said, willing his voice to remain calm, "my mask."
She just looked at him for a long moment. He resisted the urge to duck his head and hide his face from view. Finally, she held out the folded cloth mask. He was careful not to look too grateful as he took it and fastened it back on. "Are you all right?" he said into the uneasy silence that followed.
She smiled tentatively at him. "You're the one who passed out drunk last night. I had to drag you here."
Her smile made him feel a little more grounded, made the world around him a little more real. He looked off to the side. Sensei, he wanted to say. Instead, he said, "Where is here?" He seemed to be in some kind of shed; he could see trees standing tall through gaps in the boards of the wall.
She canted her head curiously to one side. "That's right," she said, "you've never been here, have you? We're in my yard." She hesitated. "I would have brought you to my room, but this was closer, and it's where I keep the supplies for my healing poultices." She reached out, slid her hand tentatively onto his bare shoulder. He was oddly aware that he was still wearing only the bare basics of his ANBU outfit. "Is your head still hurting? I can get you something for that."
He caught her hand and pushed it gently off his shoulder. "Not much." It did still hurt, but he resolutely ignored it as he straightened up and pulled his hitai-ate down over his left eye. "I'm fine. I need to talk to--whoever's in charge--"
"Sandaime-sama sent word that you're suspended from ANBU until further notice," she said quietly.
He stiffened. "Then I definitely need to talk to him."
"He suspended me from active duty, too."
He stared at the floor of the shed. "How long?"
"Two weeks. It's not that long--"
"The village can't afford to lose an ANBU at a time like this," he said sharply. "We're already--"
"Kakashi," Rin said softly, "you wouldn't help anybody by getting yourself killed right now."
His left eye burned with tears where it was hidden. Why should you cry, Obito, he thought. You've got Sensei back now. "I'm fine," he told her, and he walked out.
He got turned away from the Hokage's office before he even got there. Sandaime had told the young chuunin who was trying to organize the chaos outside not to let Kakashi in to challenge his decision. Kakashi tried staring at him for a while, but nothing came of it.
He went back to his apartment feeling tired and sore, the hangover still humming noisily at the back of his head. When he walked inside without looking, he nearly tripped over a small package on the floor.
Sitting down on his bed, he carefully unwrapped the package. It seemed to be composed more of wrapping than contents, but eventually he pulled off the last layer of plain brown paper and held the Fourth's hitai-ate in his hands. He turned it over a few times, wondering if maybe there was some message hidden there. Finally, he gave up looking and put the gift in his pack instead.
After a moment, he got up and walked back outside.
The Hayashino family grounds were on the very edges of the village, more a part of the forest than anything else. Kakashi realized, vaguely, that he knew surprisingly little about Rin's family, other than that they had a strong connection to the outdoors and had given Konoha some of its best trackers and more than a few hunter-nin. He knew her parents had come out of semi-retirement a few years back to rejoin the underpopulated ANBU, and eventually, they had not come back from a mission. He knew he'd looked away when that happened, not wanting to deal with someone else's grief any more than he did his own. What he didn't know was why he was going back there after leaving Rin earlier in the day.
There was an emptiness surrounding the small house, and he spared himself a moment to wonder why Rin had chosen to stay here. He'd been far too glad to leave his own childhood home when--it didn't matter now. He pushed the thought away and sat down against a tree.
Above him, a pair of hawks circled. He could make out a symbol bound about their heads--it looked like the stylized Konoha design. Summons of some sort, then.
Footsteps, very soft but still audible to his keen hearing, interrupted his reverie. He leaped to his feet, only to find that Rin was already only a few feet in front of him. He forgot, sometimes, how stealthy she could be.
"Hi," she said.
He lifted a hand in tentative greeting.
"I made dinner for you," she said.
He thought of brushing her off and walking away, but he knew that he couldn't do that. He thought of asking her how she had known he would come back, but he was a little afraid of what the answer might be.
He followed her into her house.
It had been a while since he'd eaten a meal with someone else. Sensei had occasionally made ramen for him, but the last time he'd done that had been months ago. Kakashi was a little surprised to find himself grateful for the company Rin provided. She was a good cook, too, but it didn't occur to him to say so until he was already home.
But home no longer felt like home. He sat on his bed, trying to make himself think the unthinkable. Sensei would never come hammer on the door to wake him up, then laugh at the dazed look on his face. Sensei would never show up out of the blue--just when Kakashi most needed company--and try to feed his latest attempt at ramen to him. Sensei would never know just when he'd allow himself to be hugged.
He couldn't sleep. He paced through his tiny apartment, and then through the village, but he found no peace anywhere. When he finally fell asleep on a bench, it was an exhausted, restless sleep, full of dreams he couldn't remember.
Over the course of the next few weeks, he got used to sleeping like that. He had only vague and clashing memories of his dreams, but his memories of the day started to become like that as well, so after about a week, he began to have trouble telling dream from reality.
He did remember one thing, though. After two weeks, he reported back to ANBU, already behind the red and white dog mask when he got there. The captain of his squad looked at him uneasily, but said nothing.
He slept a little better that night, but not much, and his dreams compensated by getting more vivid. He woke up sure that his hands were soaked in blood, but it was just sweat.
For over a week, he survived like this, although he wasn't really living. Then, finally, the thread that bound him to functionality broke. He was out on a mission (he hardly knew what exactly it was, but he'd done a good job hiding this from the others), and he just about walked right into an enemy ninja.
She stared at him for a moment, not sure how she'd caught an ANBU member so off-guard, and then the blows rained down. He was in bloody tatters by the time he managed to force himself to fight back and kill her. Then he collapsed. He thought for a moment that he wouldn't mind not ever getting up again, but then he closed his eyes and, much to his surprise, saw Rin's smile in the darkness inside his head.
The return to Konoha came to him in brief, bright flashes as he opened his eyes and then shut them again. To his great irritation, the left one was weeping slightly.
He felt his body be handed over into soft hands, and he smelled a familiar scent of earth and not-quite-identifiable flowers, and then he finally blacked out.
That smell was the first thing he sensed when he woke up again, but this time the scent of flowers was stronger. His wounds still ached, but the pain was distant. He lay in that dark, sweet place for several minutes before slowly opening his right eye and taking in his surroundings.
This time, he was actually in Rin's house, as far as he could tell. He could see her out of the corner of his eye, setting up some flowers. They didn't look particularly special, but the smell was lovely.
When she turned her head, he could see her smile in profile. "Kakashi," she said. "You're awake." She was still smiling. "You're going to stay here until you can sleep well again."
He sat up instantly. "You can't do that. Konoha needs me--"
"Konoha needs you alive," she said firmly. "And so do I."
He looked at her oddly, and she looked away.
But as much as he hated to admit it, when he slept again, with the scent of strange flowers filling the room, his dreams were peaceful.
It was another two weeks before she let him move back to his own apartment, and he took his chance to escape as soon as he could. More and more, over the past two weeks, his dreams had been of her, and that troubled him in ways he did not care to investigate further. When he was on his own again, his dreams sank back into blood. At least that was familiar.
But still, he found himself returning to her yard. He avoided going inside with her, unless she made him dinner, but he sat out back and watched her train. He spoke on occasion, although rarely. Once, he asked why she was still training, with their sensei long gone.
She smiled. "There are still reasons for me to fight, and reasons for me to heal."
She was looking at him in a way that made him strangely uncomfortable. "You could ask for harder missions," he said.
She dropped her gaze from his face and said nothing. His curiosity still twitched at the back of his brain, but he did not push the subject.
It was not until several months after his first visit that he thought to ask her about the birds. He still saw them at times, always circling around the area high above.
She sat down next to him and was silent for a while. It wasn't a bad feeling. Eventually, though, she spoke up. "They were my father's summons. They haven't really had anything to do with me since he died."
Kakashi thought that this was probably the time when normal people would mutter an apology, but neither of them were normal. They'd seen too much death in their short lives for that. He merely bowed his head slightly. She leaned on him a little, and he tensed, preparing to shake her off--but he stopped himself. He wasn't sure why. "They haven't come to you instead?" he asked after he found his voice again.
"I have my own summons," she said. "Where my father's birds tracked and harried enemies from above, my dogs scent out their trail on the ground." She smiled again. "I like them better, anyway." She fell silent for a long moment. "But I don't mind the birds staying around. They remind me of my parents."
Why are you telling me this? he thought, but he said nothing out loud.
She glanced at him. "You've never said anything to me about your parents," she said quietly.
If she had been anyone else, he would have walked away there and then. Instead he stared at the ground. She waited. After a while, he said, "My mother died when I was still young." Another long silence ensued, and she did not offer to fill it. "My father--" He hesitated, his words catching somewhere behind his mask. He did not know what to say. Finally, Obito's words swam up through his memory. "My father was a hero," he said.
"Did you love them?" she asked suddenly.
He looked away.
"I'm sorry," she said after a moment. "I shouldn't have asked you that."
"It's all right," he said, but he did not answer her question. She looked like she wanted to say something more, but words failed her. They sat there in silence, barely touching, until the sky grew dark.
It was an afternoon like any other, Kakashi quietly watching Rin as she trained for some goal known only to herself. This time, though, Rin had something to tell him.
"You know," she said, "I could teach you something..."
He looked up, startled. "I'm not sure you should do that," he said carefully.
His answers all dried up on his tongue. He was still eager to learn, eager to put more power and potential in his hands, but he wasn't entirely sure of the reason anymore. Lately, when he experimented with new jutsu he'd stripped off enemies the way a looter would strip a corpse, he'd found himself thinking of Rin. His entire reason for continuing to learn was to be able to better protect her. He knew that. But there was something else driving him on, and he did not stop to think about it, because when he did, it frightened him a little.
"You don't have a summon, do you?" Rin asked.
He shook his head, unable to protest her idea any longer.
She crouched beside him and started removing scrolls from her pack. "Do you want the birds or the dogs?"
He tilted his head back. The birds were up there, slowly circling the empty house. They seemed cool and distant, and for a moment he found himself admiring that with a certain wistfulness. It reminded him of something...
...of someone. Of himself, before Obito's death.
"The dogs," he said, and he smiled at Rin.
She blinked in surprise, and then she actually grinned. He'd never seen her really grin before. All he'd seen was her sweet smile. She looked even more beautiful this way.
He pushed the thought away and focused instead on her hands as they unrolled one of the scrolls. That was easier.
She straightened up. "Give me your hand."
He hesitated. He knew he could do this part himself. But he held out his hand anyway. Her hand was soft when she took his in it--calloused from the work of a ninja, but still gentle.
She took out a kunai and lifted it to his hand. She paused a moment, looking up to meet his one-eyed gaze, and smiled. He kept his own expression very serious.
There was the tiniest flash of pain, and then a bit of blood welled up in his hand. He bent down, still feeling her eyes on him, and carefully sketched out the characters of his name on the scroll. Then he sat back, closing his hand into a fist around the blood.
She smiled. "Let's go inside. I'm going to make tea, and bandage your hand."
He sat in the warmth of her kitchen, slowly turning the cup of tea around in his hands, feeling its heat through the light bandages on his right hand. He waited until her back was turned as she rearranged a vase of flowers, and then he pulled down his mask and raised the tea to his mouth.
He was half-finished with it when she sat down next to him. The suddenness of her presence made him start, and a little of the tea spilled onto the table. "I forget how quiet you can be," he murmured, not sure why he was saying this now. It seemed a strange effort to speak, and his head was heavy. He pushed the sudden surge of fatigue away and finished the last of the tea, then turned and pulled his mask back up.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
He gave her an odd look, or tried to. He found he had trouble focusing on her.
"It's just that I put sedative in the tea," she said.
He would have sworn, but he found that the muscles of his mouth and tongue were no longer cooperating. Rin caught him as he slid to the floor. "Muscle relaxants, too," she added.
Kakashi remembered her gently pushing up his hitai-ate to press her lips to his forehead. Then she pulled it back down, sealing the kiss there where she had left it, and darkness cut him off from her.