Chapter edited 28/01/2010.

1. Escape

Blood dripped off the silvery edge of the katana slowly. He reversed the grip and watched as the red life-giving liquid slipped down the blade, sheathing its sharp brilliance and soaking the leather wrapped hilt. Eventually, the hilt gave and blood droplets flowed downward, soaking the gloved hand that was tightly gripping it. The wolf wondered idly at how much soap would have to be spent trying to get the stains off. He decided it would be easier to get them to issue him a new blade.

Not that it mattered of course. The rest of him was splattered with the red stuff and other, more odoriferous, bodily fluids. And this was not the first time. His armor was tinged a permanent shade of rust even when it was freshly scrubbed. Years of ill-tended bloodstains had taken their toll. There was no cleaning agent that would suffice to remove the marks now. Nor, he supposed, would the odor ever truly leave.

He knew the stench of blood clung to him and permeated the area, but his usually sensitive nose failed to react. After fourteen years as a shinobi, he was inured to such. It was odd really. Shinobi were supposed, according to a scroll he had read as a young child, to possess the keenest sight, the most acute sense of smell, and the sharpest hearing. Yet, the 'best' ninjas he knew, the most proficient and experienced ones, were those who had learned not to see, smell, hear, or ever truly experience.

Either that or they were completely insane.

You see it was easier to kill, to take a life not because it was justified, but simply because you were ordered to, without your senses. Most of the ANBU learned to switch them off early on. Those who did not, went mad, died or left (or did all three sometimes) early on.

Though, there were the few lucky ones who managed to perform their jobs without having to amputate such an integral part of their humanity. These fortunate individuals were rarely affected while on a job. Instead, they relived every aspect of their kills in dreamscape; from the coppery tang of blood pervading the scene, to the sound of a sharpened blade as it slid cleanly through a man's guts and the sight of red paint spraying over it all.

Kakashi slept very little at night. He had dealt with it for years now, content with stealing seconds from the Sandman. After all he had never been a particularly deep sleeper; not with his father's face looming in the background.

The past few years had taken their toll on him. Lost teammates, lost sensei, lost sleep, lost sanity. Indeed, somewhere along the way, he had completely, utterly, lost it all.

At six, he had lost his innocence. At ten he had lost the ice protecting his heart, thawing under the influence of Team Seven. At fourteen, he had lost the last, and perhaps the only, person who had truly known him. And at the grand old age of nineteen, he realized he had lost his life – there was no meaning left to it anymore.

The tell-tale sensation of chakra being molded snapped him out of his musing. He narrowed his focus and identified the incoming arrivals via his nin-dogs' senses. A pair of shinobi, both strong, Jounin-level at least. And friendly. He relaxed at the realization and knelt beside the corpse in front of him, methodically stripping the body of any useful items before moving to the equally stiff body beside it. Before his squad mates had fully teleported to the scene, the wolf had relieved most of the dead shinobi of their possessions.

The boar and the cat said nothing as they bent to aid him. The wolf was comfortable with these two, testament to the many missions they had survived. His fingers stumbled for a moment, slipping on the slick surface of the entrails peeking through the dead enemy nin's torn tunic. He had killed her earlier, catching her at the perfect angle with that ruined katana of his.

A hand reached out to him, almost brushing his shoulder. The wolf spun around with deadly grace and pinned the kuniochi to the tree, the edge of his sword already pressed to the other's throat, and froze.

"Shinobi who hurt their friends are lower than trash!" the words of a dead idealist echoed in his ears, bringing with it a strange disorientation that settled into his limbs, miring them in the past.

"Always protect your team," the favorite saying of another dead ninja snapped him back to the present. He dropped the katana and leaned against a nearby ruin, adamantly avoiding the sight of the single bead of blood that was slowly sliding down the cat's throat. The trio did not stir until the remaining member of their squad returned. The four proceeded back in silence, the boar, the cat, the wolf and the weasel. They were the best. The incident would not affect them in the least. They were ANBU.

Later, in the numbingly chill shower, the wolf realized that this was not true. The cat, you see, had just walked in with the boar. The young weasel was already drowning his anguish beside him. The weasel's black hair lay flat on his scalp and his eyes glowed an eerie red, three pinwheels in each of them spinning furiously at the ceiling. His young, soft and yet scarred skin would have shocked many. The wolf did not care.

What made his shaking double was not the freely bleeding gash adorning the weasel's teenage body. It was not the dried blood which had turned the boar's white hair crimson. It was not even the glazed emptiness in their eyes which reflected his own.

The sight of a long line of reddish raised skin that glared at him from the cat's neck turned his stomach. The memory of spinning her around and digging the blade into her neck shamed. The memory of the insatiable bloodlust, that manic irrational desire to kill, to feel his blade sever tendons and watch blood spurt out in a glorious fountain, scared him. For the first time in nearly a decade and a half as a Konoha shinobi, Hatake Kakashi was truly scared.

And so for the first time in his life, he had reason to take the coward's path. He ran away.

At the old age of barely nineteen, after nearly six long years in the ANBU and gaining a place in the bingo books of virtually every other shinobi village, Kakashi retired.

He sheathed his katana and shoved it under the bed, broke his mask, burned his blood-soaked armor and all four sets of the skin-tight uniform. The wolf was no more.

Author's Note: This was begun in 2005 and I've just slowly started updating everything and removing the random fanpanese (ugh), so bear with me. The most glaring inconsistency is probably the Fourth's name - I've changed it to Minato in chapters I've gotten around to editing but you'll see him being called Kazuma Arashi in others. Anyway, hope you enjoy reading this :"D