AN: Title is from the hugely appropriate song: Natalie Imbruglia's "That Day". This is not a song fic, but if you know the song, listen to it after reading this. Just strikes a chord I think. Maybe that's conceited. Maybe I don't care.
Ross betaed. :D Everyone, after me, "Thanks Ross"
He'd dreamed that night, and woken with a dull throb at the back of his head that was too deep to rub at and too niggling to leave alone. It was the kind of pain that felt like hitting it on the wall might make it go away. He didn't, he had other plans for the day.
He glanced at the rough shinobi calendar on his wall out of habit but didn't really take in the figures. He didn't need to. He knew what day it was, and the thickness in his throat and the weight rested on his chest made him unwilling to move. The dream hadn't helped. Dreams never helped. He always had to wake up.
Something else that wouldn't help was that the day would be spent with his team. His team that were so much like that team. The ones that had raised him and taught him everything he needed to know about life. And then, later on, everything he needed to know about death.
Kakashi left his house early, needing to talk to his friends. He spotted his guard quickly, but of course this was that day and they were only being careful. He quickened his step. They were only being careful.
Team seven found their Sensei by the memorial and approached with stealth. They'd quickly learned that Kakashi could be found on any given morning visiting his deceased friend's memorial, even when he was supposed to be teaching them; but they had never known him to be quite so late before. It was well past noon, and they had mission planning to do. Instead of giving up on his ever appearing, Sakura had talked the boys into going looking for their missing Sensei.
Sakura dropped onto a tree branch just outside the ring of grass that encircled the cenotaph, aware of Naruto dropping into a concealed position on her left in the bushes and sure that Sasuke was on her right, though she couldn't place him precisely. Sakura resisted the urge to jump as Sasuke appeared at her side and she turned to smile at him instead, which he completely ignored. She lent forwards on the branch, trying to get a better look at her sensei as Naruto appeared on the branch above them. She had chosen the best vantage point as always - not as safe as Sasuke's or as close as Naruto's, but the one best suited for finding out what their Sensei was doing. Kakashi was kneeling at the base of the broad stone, his shoulders hunched and his face completely hidden from where they were sitting, on his left. Naruto looked over as Sasuke stood up as if to march out onto the field where the memorial stood. Sakura caught the bottom of his shirt and pulled him down to the branch again. He glanced down, confused at her actions, but looked more closely when he saw the expression on her face. She hadn't even looked up when she had stopped him.
"What?" He hissed, suddenly prepared for a trap he might have missed. Sakura's eyes were still transfixed on Kakashi.
"There's… he's got…" she gestured vaguely to her own cheek before looking up at Sasuke. "He's crying." she managed eventually, and all three turned back to look at the water-darkened material of Kakashi's facemask.
"He is." Naruto hissed, his voice sounding vaguely horrified. He was stood on the grass and marching forwards before either of the other genin had gotten over their shock.
"Naruto!" Sakura hissed. "Don't you think he'd rather be alone!?" The blond boy looked back at her, aghast.
"It's… It's Sensei." he said as if that explained all of his thinking. Maybe it did. "If being alone was going to help, surely he'd be done by now." Naruto added, and Sakura had to concede that one.
"Just don't…" But Naruto was already too far away to hear her stage-whisper and Sasuke was stepping down onto the ground on her right. Sakura looked up with a wince as Naruto launched himself towards Kakashi with a whoop, obviously trying to break him out of his thoughts. Kakashi's movements were faster than any of them could follow, and Naruto suddenly found himself flat on his back on the stone plinth, Kakashi's kunai at his throat and all four limbs pinned beneath him. He waited awkwardly for Kakashi to laugh at him, scowl at how easily he was caught or… well, acknowledge him at all. His sensei's eyes were blank in a way he had never seen before.
"Naruto, don't move." Sasuke spoke softly from somewhere over Kakashi's left shoulder. Naruto's eyes flared slightly, realising what Sasuke had. Kakashi had no idea who he had pinned to the ground.
"Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura's voice was equally soft, from the right this time. The unmasked eye turned to look up towards her in slow motion. Sakura fought with the instinct to run at the look in that dark eye, but even as Sasuke took the initiative while the tall Ninja was distracted to try and disarm him, Kakashi stood up and stepped away from Naruto - turning his back on all three of them. Sasuke stumbled to a halt, all of his momentum suddenly useless. The three genin shared uneasy glances.
"Kakashi-sensei?" Sakura repeated, stepping up to join Sasuke, barely an arm's reach from their immobile Sensei. He turned around suddenly, and all three resisted the urge to flinch back.
"What's this? Weren't we supposed to meet at the bridge?" he asked, his voice strangely jovial given the last few minutes and the water stains on his facemask. There was a moment's confused pause.
"Hey, you don't get to brush that off so easily!" Naruto yelled, jumping up from the ground to point his finger angrily at Kakashi's chest. Kakashi stared at the end of that finger until he dropped it back to his side, uncertain.
"Hmm?" the Jounin asked, the picture of innocence.
"Sensei, you were…" Sakura started.
"Totally FREAKING OUT!" Naruto finished for her. It wasn't quite how Sakura was going to put it. "You were going to kill me!" Naruto kept yelling, his hands on his hips. Kakashi looked vaguely into the distance and Naruto tensed, his hands itching for something to protect himself with.
"The western training field. Now." was all Kakashi said before moving at some speed westwards.
The training was desperate - frenzied - with Kakashi encouraging them to use some of their most powerful techniques against him and in turn exposing the Sharingan and pulling out techniques he hadn't touched in a long time. He was walking all over them in truth, but he was impressed when Sasuke - both Sharingan wide open - started throwing his copied techniques back at him. Narutos… several of them… were popping up all over the place and Sakura was using all of her best moves just to keep clear of the fire, wind, wave and fury that was flying from the two Sharingan user's hands. Naruto scored a good kick to Kakashi's left side as he hesitated after a particularly strenuous move against Sakura who was still skirting the fight. He rolled forwards, fending off the follow up taijutsu from Naruto (all three of him) and took a good shot at Sakura who just happened to be crossing his line of sight again as he stood.
Sakura had paused in the tree-line and had a defence in place long before either of the two kunai reached her, but Sasuke stepped in front of her and deflected the shot anyway. Sakura blushed prettily and Sasuke returned the kunai in kind as Kakashi deflected two copies of Naruto. The real Naruto was behind Sakura and had been ready to step in if Sasuke hadn't reached the knives. Kakashi growled.
"This isn't teamwork." He shouted as he dodged Sasuke's knives and destroyed the two Naruto clones in balls of fire. "What happens to your teamwork when things get rough?" He demanded again, and disappeared into a camouflage technique. It wouldn't hide him from Sasuke, but it would give him a minute. He was bleeding chakra though the Sharingan, and the effort was taking its toll. He looked more closely, making use of the stillness as he concealed himself in the branches of a tree that looked too small to hold his weight.
Sakura had stopped across the clearing and was bleeding on her leg somewhere, blood rolling lazily down her knee. She knelt down on the grass to wipe it away roughly, kunai still in hand, concentration not dropped in the slightest. He hadn't gotten a hit in, and so she must have stumbled at some point. Sasuke was bleeding from his hairline, staining the cloth of his forehead protector and there was a nasty burn on his arm, which hadn't seemed to hinder his techniques at all. The team were going to be hurting tomorrow. It was a good job he wasn't planning on being awake to see it. Naruto was so scraped and battered it looked like he hadn't even tried to avoid or deflect any of the attacks, he was sopping wet from the wave attack earlier and dripping water wherever he went, but he was still up with at least five clones in the small clearing they were working in. The boy's stamina was quite unbelievable.
Kakashi was aware of nothing more than a shift in the flow of air across his back, but he could tell when Sasuke appeared behind him, and he ducked and kicked upwards at Sasuke's chin before the boy could put his jutsu into practice. The Uchiha swerved the blow, and pinched his hands in front of his mouth. Kakashi knew the fireball technique well by now, and ducked backwards, dropping into the clearing a little clumsily. He hadn't checked his landing before he'd jumped, trusting his well trained ability to land on most surfaces without injury. Five clones and a real Naruto all piled ontop of him, taking him to the ground with sheer weight and willpower.
A knife struck Sakura hard in the shoulder, before Naruto had even realised he was holding onto little more than a rough log.
"Sakura!" the blond boy shouted, even as another log rolled away with Kakashi's two knives embedded in it. Naruto sighed in relief, and Kakashi's lips twisted upwards roughly.
"So you are learning something." he marvelled. Naruto took advantage of his distraction to take him down to the ground with an expulsion of air and a pile of clones - Kakashi stopped counting after five and Naruto's first shout of triumph. Apparently he didn't trust him to stay where he was because they kept piling on after that. God, he was getting old. He sighed to himself - in so far as he could with such a mass of Naruto on top of him. He lay still, too tired to think of a way to get out of Naruto's grip. Well… he could think of at least six ways, but just this once… he let Naruto have a little victory.
"Umm… Sensei?" He realised he had closed his eyes and opened just his right - not enough room to manouvre to pull the forehead protector down. Besides, he'd had enough time playing. It was time to put his plan into effect. Naruto was looking through a gap in the pile of clones, his face barely visible behind orange coats and water dripping from the ends of his hair.
"Are you feeling better now?" He couldn't restrain the hoarse laugh, it bit at his throat and he stopped, not wanting to choke on it.
"Yes Naruto." He answered honestly.
"Can I get off you now?"
"If you don't mind." The clones all disappeared except one - Kakashi could see it over by Sakura and Sasuke. He'd obviously scared them into taking no chances. The real Naruto sat on his chest and Kakashi wondered when he'd filled out so much from the scrawny kid that had been presented to him when he first met Team Seven. Rolling onto his side, Naruto fell off him ungracefully and Sasuke snorted in derision. He did grudgingly congratulate him from the other side of the field though, as the last clone disappeared, and Kakashi smiled a little more comfortably. That was going to make this easier.
"Naruto." He called the boy over.
Sasuke froze. There was a knife at his throat and he had no idea how it had got there. He looked up to check and did a double take. The Kakashi talking to Naruto was a shadow clone, and somehow the real one had moved without him even noticing, even with his Sharingan wide open. He hadn't appeared in his usual puff of smoke either, it had been a completely different jutsu. The clone Kakashi called Sakura over and she went without glancing back at Sasuke. Then there was a disorientating moment when he watched a black haired head appear in front of his and walk off towards the other three. The knife touched his skin as he took a breath to shout.
"Wait." A quiet breath touched his ear. "I want you to watch this." Sasuke's image strolled over to the group, and stopped half a step back from the others, slouching with his hands in his pockets and a scowl on his face. Kakashi had made a caricature out of his movements, and neither Naruto nor Sakura seemed to have noticed. What kind of chakra did this man possess, to have had full use of his Sharingan constantly for almost an hour, and still be able to control two clones independently - one in conversation, and one a perfect image of another ninja. Well, almost perfect.
"I don't stand like that." He grumbled quietly, straightening subconsciously. Kakashi's blade slid to the bottom of his throat at the movement, and he gulped. "Kakashi?" He asked, desperate to distract his teacher from the knife he was holding to his student's throat.
"Why are there ANBU watching us today?" He asked semi-casually. He'd only noticed their observers in the last few minutes of the struggle against their teacher, but he could make it sound like he'd known for longer.
"They're here to make sure I don't kill you. At least not too seriously. Don't tell them you've seen them though, they'll be offended."
"And they'll know you can see them too." Sasuke pointed out warily. "Because you have a Sharingan."
"That too." He agreed amiably. The knife didn't move.
"Why are you being watched today?"
"Because today I'm not safe to be around." Kakashi said quietly, under his breath. Sasuke heard, and shuddered to the core of his being. Someone as dangerous as his Sensei not safe to be around. It didn't bear thinking about. He wasn't even sure he could take him down if he was really trying. Well… standing here with a knife at his throat helped him to see that that possibility. "Never mind that now. Watch them." Kakashi instructed, pointing to the centre of the clearing, as his clone stopped talking and looked up as if startled by something. Behind Sasuke, Kakashi tensed and threw two blades, the other still not leaving his student's throat.
The kunai flew towards the group - targeting Naruto and Sakura. Kakashi could feel Sasuke tense forwards in his grip but he didn't make any moves against the knife. Sakura flicked one knife away from herself with her own blade as Naruto moved out of the way of the second faster than Sasuke would have thought him able. But then he hadn't been watching Naruto much recently, all his focus on his own training.
"See how good they're getting. See how well they defend themselves." Kakashi spoke into his ear, and Sasuke could tell that they were invisible to the others because their eyes were searching the trees behind them for the location of their unknown attackers. A third knife flew and both of the other two spotted it, flying for the spot between the shoulder blades of the image of Sasuke. Sakura shouted a warning and Naruto was already on the move, both hesitant, both waiting for Sasuke to make his own move.
"See how much respect they give you. They won't jump in front of your blade. Not until…" When it was obvious that Sasuke wasn't going to move against the blade, they both jumped in, Naturo taking Sasuke to the ground and Sakura knocking the blade away, grunting at the force of the long throw.
"What's wrong with you!" Naruto demanded of Sasuke, his voice loud across the clearing. The clone obligingly disappeared into a cloud of smoke leaving a tag on the ground beneath it. Sakura was facing the wrong way, waiting for any more attacks, and Naruto knew there wasn't any time left - the numbers on the tag a clearly defining warning.
"Sakura!" He shouted. "Get down!" And he threw himself on top of the exploding tag. Sakura ran three paces forwards before diving for the ground, and Kakashi smiled. Yes, they were learning. The difference between 'Get down it's a knife' and 'Get down it's going to explode' and 'Get down and hide'. Simple things, but the distance between a couple of steps could save lives and limbs. Of course, with Naruto laying on the tag, he would take most of the impact anyway. His eyes moved to Naruto who was lying on the ground, his eyes clenched shut, silently counting down.
The tag exploded.
"That," Kakashi's voice was only just louder than the pounding in Sasuke's ears. "That, Sasuke, is why you don't give Naruto ideas about sacrifice."
"NARUTO!" Sakura screamed, and Sasuke was surprised to hear his own voice echoing hers. 'He wouldn't.' His mind sought to assure him. 'However strange he's acting he wouldn't…' But there were ANBU all over, pulling Kakashi's knife from his student's throat and binding him, covering his eyes; one checked Sasuke over quickly before joining the gathering group who were stood around the spot where Naruto had been…
"Until he's strong enough to defend himself, Sasuke," Kakashi called back as the ANBU tried to lead him away. "until he can protect himself, make the right decision, defend and not sacrifice. Until then, Naruto needs to be protected." The smoke cleared to show Naruto lying in a small crater - dusty and unconscious but in one piece - and the ANBU started to lead Kakashi away.
Sasuke turned and chased after them, grabbing Kakashi by the collar and pulling the troupe to a stop - six ANBU to escort a bound and blindfolded Kakashi to wherever it was they would take him. He thought maybe there should be more.
"Who are you?" He demanded, sure that this was not his Sensei. The lessons he had taught them so far had been nothing like this.
"I'm you, Sasuke-kun." The ANBU glanced between each other, but didn't move Kakashi along. "I'm you after Naruto's died for you, and Sakura's died for you, but you're still alive, because you're strong, and you always survive. You've achieved everything you set out to do, but none of that matters, because you weren't strong enough to save them. I'm you, Sasuke, I'm you. For your own sake, don't let yourself become me." And Kakashi turned and walked away, two pairs of hands still guiding his elbows. Sasuke felt sick. He turned back to Sakura and Naruto, kneeling together on the ground, the Kakashi clone nowhere to be seen. Squaring his shoulders, he prepared to beat the ward against exploding tags into Naruto's tiny little head.
Gai appeared later, while Sasuke still had Naruto working on cancelling tags. He smirked to see them still training in the state they were in - dirty and bleeding - and tried to hide the relief at the superficial nature of their injuries. He should have known that Kakashi would never hurt these three. He should have known, but he hadn't, and he didn't really trust ANBU to keep them safe. Their caring for the Demon-Fox's Vessel rated so low they might just kill him themselves to save themselves the work later on. Some days he really hated ANBU.
The three students turned to him when he appeared and all started asking questions at once. He took a seat and enjoyed the sun for a moment while Kakashi's team decided what it was they really wanted to know.
"What happened today, Gai-Sensei?" Sakura finally asked. "Is Kakashi-Sensei alright?" What a hard question to ask. The hardest, he thought.
"Today you fought a demon, and you won. Congratulations." He smiled a little tiredly. The brilliant energy of youth just wasn't enough for him on a day like this. "My eternal and glorious rival is now blissfully unconscious, and will likely stay that way for a few days. His chakra use today was excessive."
"We didn't win." Sasuke scowled. "Kakashi-sensei didn't want to hurt us, he could have done if he wanted." Gai thought it was the only time he'd heard Sasuke use the honorific with anyone.
"This is the only day of the year I will not fight with him." Gai answered that quietly, seriously. Perhaps it was the only time they'd ever heard him speak so seriously, because their eyes were glued to him, taking in every word. "Every year we try and make him take the day off. We've tried bribes, tried locking him up, tried ANBU guards. We've tried setting up his fights with volunteer jounin - but word is getting around and no one volunteers twice. This was the first year he's had students to care for on this day, and we were expecting to have to sew you back together afterwards. There was a medical team on standby. They are now busy with the group of ANBU that escorted Kakashi-san to a holding cell." Naruto's eyes widened.
"Kakashi-sensei fought with the ANBU?"
"After fighting with us?" Sasuke added, vaguely shocked.
"Kakashi only ever has one aim on today's date. To totally exhaust his chakra supply and ensure a full days undisturbed rest tomorrow."
"What's tomorrow?" Naruto asked bluntly. Gai looked confused for a second, as if he had expected them to know.
"Tomorrow is the day the Copy-nin Hatake was born. The day he learned the price of true friendship."
"But Kakashi-Sensei's birthday is in September." Sakura contradicted.
"Not his birthday, Sakura." Sasuke pointed out. "The day he was given the Sharingan."
"The day his best friend died for his sake." Gai confimed.
Sasuke looked at Naruto, and thought about sacrifice.
In the quiet of the medically-supervised holding area, Gai stood in the doorway of Kakashi's cell. This was almost ritual for him now, this visit. When he had first become Kakashi's rival, he had made it his responsibility to beat the Copy-nin into insensibility on this night once a year. He had always made sure that he could check on his rival before having his own wounds treated. Ostensibly to make sure he was securely restrained - that's what he told the guards. Mostly because he needed to be sure his rival could rest comfortably for the next day without being disturbed. He didn't know what might happen should Kakashi not be able to sleep through the day of his best friend's death. He didn't want to ask what would make the ninja work this hard to avoid a whole day, for an anniversary over a decade past.
Kakashi had asked him to stop stepping forwards, asked him to keep away on this day; after one anniversary had left the Green Beast of Konoha in the hospital for over a week afterwards. "Don't do it if you can't finish the job." Kakashi had said to him, standing beside the white-sheeted bed, voice still sharp-edged after that day. 'Don't let me get too close, don't let me hurt you too.' Gai had heard the unspoken words without the other ninja needing to say them.
ANBU were always lenient. He was one of theirs after all, however long it had been since he'd donned that mask, and they all had problems, the ANBU. He would be released once he could prove that he was calm and under control again. He would wander home and Gai would generally meet him half way to make sure he got all the way there, and he would sleep that night in dreamless slumber. As if nothing had happened. He would be fine for the rest of the year, and no one would know that anything was wrong. Until next year.
Crossing his arms and leaning back against the wall, Gai wondered how long this routine would last. Whether Kakashi would ever find a way to forgive himself for the things that had happened out of his control. Watching his still form breathe, Gai could only hope that for tonight at least, Kakashi would be at peace from those he had left behind.