Title: Poker Face
Description: Everyone knows that the war is killing them. For Genma, Asuma and Kakashi, it's easier to pretend that everything is blissfully normal despite trembling hands, clenched fists and blood marring once clean souls.
Pairings: None intended.
Rating: T
Warnings: Some angst and Kakashi Gaiden spoilers

Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto (which I don't, sadly), the Kakashi gaiden would've been aired instead of hideous fillers, KakaSaku innuendos would be overwhelming, and Hayate would be resurrected to frolic with Genma. And maybe Raidou as well...

These scars, they will not fade away

No one cares to talk about it


Blood smelled like salt and metal. As it stained his arm guards, red streaks multiplying steadily, he concluded that the scarlet scars indeed gave off the aroma of kunais and sodium chloride. It fit together perfectly with the nin world, how the crimson liquid marred weapons and skin. The nin world was filled to the brim with metallic substances such as shuriken, hitai and katana and also caused many salt-ridden tears to fall. Blood, as it flaked in his silver locks, was the essence of life. It was ironic to him that once it spilled, the immediate thought was death. It was a morbid, morose topic to ponder, but when he was the cause of scarlet staining blades of grass, it was hard not to dwell upon it.

He was concerned, only slightly, at how quickly he became used to the feel of his katana slitting open jugular and throat. It was fast and merciful, but felt so slow and masochistic. As the gleaming blade, already bathed in red, dug into skin and muscle, he could feel his humanity start to ebb away, being replaced with something much darker. He used to flinch as his victim's blood sprayed upon his face, the sticky liquid caking onto his eyelashes and mask, but as months passed by, he found himself not even blinking, not even thinking as scarlet embedded itself into his fingernails. He found himself not panicking when blood stains wouldn't scrub off his skin as easily as they once had.

He wasn't the only one who discovered how easy, acceptable, it had become to take another's life away. It wasn't supposed to be so second nature. It was evil, dirty, messy and frightening. He had seen things that no teen should – corpses strewn across barren ground, blood marring a young child's face and other things that still have him waking up screaming on those lonely nights. Men that were once strong and capable, he'd seen fall to the depths of their mind, letting the ANBU counterpart take over. It was a scary thing, seeing your friends lose themselves either behind the porcelain mask or behind the luger.

He didn't know when he would snap as well. He was pretty sure his comrades had a pool going for their silent but deadly captain. Some days were tougher than others – days when his complexion was sallow and his hands trembled. Other times he was fine – the definition regarding that he wasn't about to go ape-shit on his comrades and he could be semi-normal in public. It was hard to keep it together some days, cracks forming along his heart more fragile than the day before. Some days he felt he was on the brink of shattering, throwing away everything and succumbing to the porcelain mask. Somehow, in some impossible way, he kept sane. Sure, there was a crack in his mirror from a self-degrading night and the bathroom tiles were still stained with bloody grout. The kunai embedded in the wall next to the mirror still reflected his infallibility and the bathtub was still used on occasion as a bed (perhaps it would let the pain gurgle away down the drain). Despite his eccentricities that some cringed in fear at, he maintained his conscience through all the blood, all the death and all the murder.

"Oi, Kakashi! In or out?"

Kakashi let his mismatched eyes leave the shot glass he'd been staring at for over twenty minutes to meet Genma's annoyed gaze. The caramel-haired special jounin and fellow ANBU nibbled on his senbon with impatience, his teeth making a clinking sound whenever they made contact with the metallic weapon. When Genma didn't get an immediate response out of his silver-haired captain, his eyebrow rose and he snuck a coded glance at Asuma, asking, Is this the day he finally loses it?

Asuma sucked on his cigarette and glanced at Kakashi who was staring but not seeing Genma from across the table. The dead look that glazed his eyes was disconcerting to say the least and the chain-smoker wasn't sure if Kakashi would come back to them this time. Asuma had seen plenty of good-hearted men crumble and he didn't want that for his friend. Kakashi had too much to lose, even if the copy-nin himself didn't know it. Carefully, Asuma put out his cigarette and caught Kakashi's eye, having the dead stare turned on to him. The wind-manipulator forced himself to smile heartily.

"What's the matter, Hatake? Can't use that sharingan of yours to see if you have a bad hand?"

Keep it normal. Keep it casual.

Kakashi continued to stare into Asuma's chocolate eyes, his sharingan spinning lazily and his grey eye still flat with emotion. Genma watched the transaction, nibbling on his senbon continuously as nervousness settled into the pits of his stomach. Asuma kept his gaze steady, silently challenging his captain to break if he dared. The bar was suddenly silent in their little corner of the universe, the clinks of glasses and rowdy laughter drowned out by the intensity of a dire situation where things could turn ugly quick.

Flicking his senbon to the side, trying to keep the facade of 'normal', Genma quipped, "Cat got your tongue or something? C'mon Kakashi you can't keep us hanging forever."

Asuma kept on with his and Kakashi's staring contest he'd reluctantly insinuated, even as he raised his beer to let the cool liquid burn his throat and numb his stomach.

Kakashi couldn't see Asuma. He couldn't see Genma. He wanted to, dammit he was trying to, but the faces of all the names he'd stolen kept getting in the way. Obito's dead rotting face was taking over his mind along with Rin's twisted features and sensei's blank eyes. He wasn't aware of how his fists were clenched under the table, on his lap. Kakashi never noticed the exchange of coded gestures Asuma and Genma shared. He only stared at Asuma's eyes, those chocolate irises that were too warm to have seen so much cruelty, and hoped to the god he didn't believe in that he'd keep it together.

"You want another drink, Kakashi? Are you gonna give us the silent treatment until we treat?"

"Man, Hatake. You've gotten more clever and sadistic over the years haven't you? "

Just play along.

Kakashi blinked as another tall glass of sake was slid his way. He turned his stare over to the swirling, foaming amber liquid that offered him the chance to forget. Raising his mismatched eyes, he caught Genma's smirk and understanding eyes that knew not to bring up the evident situation. Slowly, his fists unclenched in his lap, but he couldn't stop them from shaking.

Asuma took in his friend's noticeable change in the expression of his eyes. They were no longer dead, but tired. Oh so very tired. Tired of trying to keep that dreadful facade. Tired of death. Tired of recognizing the smell of blood with a mere whiff of air. Tired of knowing just what did tears taste like. Tired of life in the most pitiful way. The smoker knew the jist of Kakashi's back story, knew of the friends he'd lost, the torture of a constant reminder of a life regretted he suffered. Asuma knew just how close Kakashi was to the darkness of breaking down. It was a very real fate in the elite ANBU's world. Quietly, Asuma gazed down at his hand. It didn't bode well and he would have to bluff his ass off to win just a cent of the pot. He smiled wanly. Well, what an opportunity this presented. Shinobi were probably the best bluffers out there.

Genma saw his chain-smoking friend turn his eyes from Kakashi's withering form to his hand and knew that he was expected to do the same – to keep the facade of normalcy. The senbon-sucker lowered his eyes to his cards, but didn't register if the combination of numbers and suit was beneficial. That heart was just too red to him. That queen of hearts was just too red.

Everyone knew the war was breaking them. If that wasn't it, ANBU was a close second. Combined, the numerous factors were deadly and everyone was aware. The consequences had been acknowledged and the inevitable death (mentally or physically) had been accepted. The many jounin and special jounin who had either joined the front lines or ANBU weren't kept in the dark about how they were going to bleed, going to scream, going to face darkness and, eventually, going to break. Even the strongest had cracks in themselves. No one was safe from the epidemic and Genma and Asuma knew that Kakashi had been suffering the subtle symptoms for years now. They wouldn't say anything about it. Neither would Kakashi.

It was always easier to pretend that everything was fine.

It was easier to chomp down on a senbon and let the metallic needle scrape your enamels.

It was easier to take a drag from a cigarette and imagine that it's the blackened lungs that are killing you.

It was easier to hide behind fantasized text and watch the world from a distance.

It was hazy and bleared, but Kakashi could make out the bar surrounding him once more, not the blood stained battlefield where dreams and promises were stripped away. Genma was looking at him with an irritated expression, clearly not liking to have to wait for his answer. The copy-nin knew better than to think the furrowed eyebrows and thrumming fingers were sincere, but he didn't say a word. Asuma was looking at him as well with a more passive gleam in his chocolate brown eyes. Kakashi let an inaudible sigh escape his lips, thanking whoever was watching him for letting him keep his composure for one more day. The exhale of air was heard, however, by the two other occupants at the table who had their own thank-you's being obliged.

Kakashi brought his hands up to rest on the wooden table rather than on his lap, fingering the cards that he held between them.

Asuma and Genma pretended to be ignorant of the silver-haired ANBU's trembling hands that couldn't hold the cards still.

The silver-haired ninja could feel his sharingan pulse and his lips start to chap, but didn't mind in the slightest. In a way, a strange and perhaps masochistic way, it was better to feel reminders that you were still alive, even when you sometimes desperately wished you were six feet under. Kakashi pretended not to notice Genma's frown and Asuma's slumped shoulders. Post-traumatic stress.. Fuck, the war wasn't even over yet.

He tried to keep his hands steady, but knew it was fruitless – the digits were blissfully numb and he was just too tired.

Genma tried hard not to ask the damned question. It was perched precariously upon his lips, waiting to spring forward and point out the obvious. He couldn't ask because he already knew the answer and it would just make it harder to believe Kakashi was. But he's not. Genma swallowed his inquiries, letting the window dressing remain intact. The special jounin's hands were gripping his cards too tight, bending the weak paper unmercifully, but couldn't loosen his hold, lest the bomb go off. If he let go, he'd have to admit that this wasn't a friendly card game where everyone was just peachy.

Don't point it out. Just play the game.

Kakashi didn't look at his cards, merely laying them down upon the table and proceeding to lean back with his arms crossed upon his chest, trying inadvertently to hide his jittering hands. In or out? The question seemed much more than a simple 'good hand or bad hand' inquiry. He knew it. Genma knew it. Asuma knew it. Kakashi let his sharingan eye close while the other grey iris reverted back to lazily watching his comrades, reverting back to normalcy (the loosest form of the definition). He observed the two ANBU for a minute before slouching back a little further into his seat, inwardly daring his drinking buddies to call him out on this one.

"I'm in."

It was, by far, the biggest bluff of the night.


A/N: This whole oneshot was written out in 'HOLY CRAP IT'S ESCAPING MY BRAIN!' mode.

The lyrics in the beginning are from Paramore's Emergency. The song sorta fits with the premise of this angst-y little oneshot. There's not much to explain for this one. It is was it is. I refuse to believe that Kakashi was all hunky-dory during his ANBU years and I can imagine friends and others not wanting to point out the 'obvious': that one of your own is about to snap.

Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed and please review! It makes the muses sing!

- - H. 92