Rin had nearly finished setting Kakashi's leg when they arrived. In one silent flicker of movement, three masked and cloaked Anbu appeared in formation right before the eyes of the reunited pair. Two of the Anbu were in poor shape. Barely standing, they looked as if the mere weight of their tattered cloaks might bear them to the ground at any moment. Their sorry state contrasted sharply to the one in between them. His plain black cloak was not only intact; it appeared untouched even by the dust that swirled around them as they landed. This one's very stance gave the unmistakable impression of thinly veiled power. Indeed, disguised though he was, this person needed no introduction.
"Yondaime sensei!" Rin fairly cried. She suddenly felt remarkably like an accident-prone child does when his parents finally come home to dig him out of the unholy disaster he's gotten himself into.
"Sensei!" Kakashi echoed, not quite managing to mask his own profound relief with dignified indifference.
The Yondaime Hokage lifted off his borrowed mask with one hand and greeted them with his ever-so-familiar grin. "I am so glad you two made it." He said warmly, and then sent off his two Anbu guards with a quick hand-signal. "But it looks like, as usual, I have to scold you, Kakashi-kun, for pushing yourself too hard." He shook his blond head, feigning disappointment.
Kakashi looked away with an embarrassed "hmph." It wasn't fair that with a single comment, his sensei could still reduce him to the level of a chastised child.
"Now," said their Hokage, with disconcerting gravity, "We three need to talk." He took a step towards them and, to the horror of his two disciples, he staggered slightly. Certainly, their sensei was a clumsy person by nature but neither of them missed the look of pain that had flickered across his cheerful face.
"Sensei!" they both exclaimed. Rin was on her feet instantaneously and Kakashi struggled to follow.
"No!" The Yondaime said sharply, and they paused, "Rin, see to Kakashi first."
It was clearly an order; the two sat back down. Then, a little stiffly, their sensei came over and joined them. He began with a sigh and his students saw in his ever confidant features signs of exhaustion that, to their recollection, he'd never worn before.
"You guys might've guessed it already, but the trap we were caught in was sprung on both sides. My group was attacked before we even reached our destination." He paused and frowned in regret, "It was a difficult battle…They were very well prepared." He looked down, "Those two with me…they were the only other survivors."
Rin gasped and Kakashi's eye widened in shock. There had been hundreds of shinobi in the Hokage's retinue.
"But what about your…" Rin began, but the Yondaime cut her off with a nod. "She's gone." A tear was visible in the corner of his eye.
"And…the baby?" Rin could not help but ask, though she could hardly bear to hear the response she expected.
But the Yondaime answered with a smile that held so much sadness yet so much love that it seemed his heart must be breaking. "She left him with me." He said softly, and undid the clasp of his cloak. There, nestled gently in the crook of his other arm was a tiny baby boy with brilliant blond hair. The Hokage looked tenderly down on the child and cupped his had around his small face. He looked like he was trying to transmit a lifetime of love and compassion to the child in a single moment. "His name is Naruto." He said.
The Yondaime's gaze lasted several minutes. There was an air of finality about him, as though he knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that a moment like this would never come again.
At last, Kakashi's still-ragged voice broke the silence. "Yondaime-sensei," he said regretfully. "The Kyubii…do you have a plan?"
The Yondaime's eyes came unfocused for a moment, as if he were seeing through time rather than space. "A plan…" he said wistfully, almost painfully. Then he broke off his reverie abruptly, wrapped the child deftly in his cloak and set it down carefully between the three of them. "Yes, I have a plan!" he said passionately. The spark was back in his eye and his voice as he clasped the shoulders of his two pupils with a strong grip and looked them each in the eye. "And I need your help."
"You're going to what??" Rin exclaimed in unmasked disbelief.
"I'm going to seal it." The Yondaime repeated as he crouched over his inkstone, making preparations for the drawing of the seal. Kakashi had dragged his partially healed body over to his sensei's side, keeping his sharingan eye open in order to catch everything the Yondaime did. Rin was hovering anxiously over the two of them, holding the sleeping baby. "It is the only option," he said decisively, yet gravely. "Even at full strength, I would not be able to destroy the Kyubi alone. So it must be sealed safely away. In fact, this creature has probably been sealed dozens of times, over many generations, before it was intentionally released through the death of its bearer. That's just how it is with monsters like that." He finished with the ink and readied the water and his finest brush.
"But…why does it have to be a baby…?" she asked in an almost pleading tone as she looked at the child whose eyes smiled in his sleep.
The Yondaime frowned, as if the question brought an unpleasant taste to his mind. "An adult body cannot adjust to the vast amount of chakra that the Kyubi possesses. And it can't accept another system of chakra flow. The infant body, on the other hand," he cast another fond glance at the child, "is still growing rapidly. If the jutsu is performed correctly…and it WILL be performed correctly, he'll pull through without a scratch." He reached up and ruffled little Naruto's hair. "But I don't envy him the stomachache he'll have afterward!"
It took him a minute more to finish mixing the ink and then he carefully took the baby from Rin's arms. With a deft sweep of a damp cloth he wiped down the surface of the child's belly, where he would inscribe the seal. "Kakashi," he beckoned for his student to come closer, even as he adjusted his grip on the cloak so as to hold the infant in one hand and the brush in the other. "I need you to use your sharingan to memorize this seal as I draw it. Then you'll have to reproduce it exactly on my back and chest." He looked dubiously at the young jounin's broken arm, now neatly splinted and bandaged. "Are you sure you're up for this?" he asked pointedly. "Absolutely." Answered Kakashi, and, to prove his point, he used one finger of this other hand to scribe a difficult kanji in a patch of nearby sand. It was flawless. Nodding in satisfaction the Yondaime readied his brush as Kakashi's eye began to whirl slowly.
The complicated seal took only a few seconds to complete and the eye Kakashi's best friend had given him captured every movement of the brush with minute precision. But even as he watched, Kakashi began to frown. In order for one to reproduce a seal, one must be able to read it's text and what he read in the small running script sent a deep chill through him. As the unique ink disappeared on the infant's stomach, it burned itself forever into Kakashi's perfect memory.
He looked to Rin for confirmation and her stricken expression told him that she had read in the tiny scrawl the same message he had. In unison they turned to stare at their sensei. "This jutsu…" began Rin.
"We can't let you perform this jutsu," Kakashi finished for her.
"Oh?" said the Yondaime with a false smile. "Why ever not?" He focused on re wrapping the baby and making him comfortable in the big bundle of cloak.
"This jutsu will kill you!!" Rin said frantically and grabbed his arm, spinning their sensei around to face them. He still avoided their eyes.
"And you know it." followed Kakashi, with a low voice that carried a great deal more genuine anger than was normal for the young man.
The Yondaime still did not look up and Rin tugged at him pleadingly, "Sensei," she begged.
Finally he sighed away the last of his false good humor.
"It's true," he said grimly, "The only jutsu powerful enough for this will bind me in a life and death battle with the monster, and only then will it seal him."
Rin opened her mouth to object.
"There is no other way," he countered.
As tears filled her eyes he pulled her over into a fatherly hug.
Kakashi, on the other hand, kept his distance. "Sensei," he said in a cold voice, and deliberately took up his teacher's brush in apparent defiance. "I can't allow you to do that."
Yondaime raised a questioning eyebrow. "And you really think you're in any position to stop me?" he asked, and, with a bright flicker, caused the brush to disappear from Kakashi's grasp.
The young man looked chastised but continued earnestly, "Sensei, you are the Hokage. The village needs you, now more than ever."
Rin pulled herself away from his shoulder to give him a tearful nod that carried an unspoken message—we need you
Kakashi swallowed and then looked Yondaime in the eye. "Please let me take your place."
Rin looked stricken and their sensei gave an unreadable stare. Then he broke into a hearty laugh and reached to ruffle his student's blood streaked hair. "Ah Kakashi-kun. Always trying to play the hero."
Under his mask Kakashi was scowling fiercely. "I mean it!" he announced, with obvious indignation.
"I know, I know…" their sensei said, and his free arm took Kakashi by the shoulders and brought him into the embrace. "And the time will come for each of you to be the hero," he said proudly and rested his head on the tops of theirs. "But even if you weren't broken," he gave Kakashi a slight squeeze, "And you weren't near the limit of your chakra," he poked at Rin, "Neither of you is ready to handle this jutsu anyway. No, the jutsu is my part of the mission. What happens after…that can only be left to the two of you. This is our final mission together. I need to know I can count on you." He pulled back and held each of them at arms length.
Both looked profoundly saddened, yet just as deeply determined. "Ryoukai," they said in unison. The Yondaime smiled at his two proteges with genuine pride. "Good," he said and gave them a final nod.
"Now Kakashi," he said, getting back to the task at hand. He returned the brush he had swiped, and began to slip out of his vest. "I'll give you the center of the spiral and you can start duplicating the seal from there. After that we'll talk about what I need you two to do once the jutsu is complete." Kakashi nodded and dipped the brush into the ink. The Yondaime swept the cloth over his visibly bruised back and then marked the spot for the center of the five part seal. "Alright," he said, and held himself perfectly still. Kakashi took a deep breath, knowing that the act of writing the seal would condemn his sensei, his Hokage, his friend, and his only father-figure forever. Then he looked inside himself, and set the brush in motion.