Thirty-Six Seconds

R. Winters

Disclaimer: With the key of imagination, I can unlock the door to another dimension. A dimension of sound, of sight, of mind. A land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas... A place where I, too, can own Naruto... The Twilight Zone. (Which I also don't own.)

This is an old story that I wrote back in March and, apparently, forgot about. I really like it, though, so I thought I'd share it with all of you. This is probably my shortest story to date... I hope you enjoy it!

As his single dark eye landed on the crushed form of his teammate he froze. In eight years of service, the teen hadn't frozen once.

He hadn't froze the first time he'd killed a man, when he was six and a half, and he hadn't frozen the first time he'd been seriously injured, ending up hospitalized for close to two weeks after his teacher had dragged him back to the village.

Somewhere to his left Rin screamed Obito's name. Kakashi could only stare.

It wasn't his dying teammate he was thinking about. Obito's words to him before they'd split company floated vindictively through his mind and the teen's hands curled into fists at his sides.

"I believe the White Fang was a real hero."

He'd avoided thinking about his father as anything but a traitor for years, and the other boy's words had cut him deep.

He knew how Obito had meant them—probably as something encouraging or optimistic, as fit the ever-optimistic Uchiha's personality. But Kakashi only heard the accusation.

The White Fang was a hero and you turned your back on him.

He had been seven years old when his father had fallen into disgrace.

The war had just started and skilled shinobi were sent to the frontlines as often as possible. Kakashi had been considered too young to accompany his teacher on many of the dangerous missions he undertook, so the boy had been patched into other teams whenever his teacher was forced to leave him behind.

He'd been too young to resent the treatment, and accepted it without complaint, eager to learn everything his new teammates would teach him. And they taught him a lot—including their opinions of his father.

At first he'd tried to deny it, but doing so seemed to lose him the little respect any of his temporary teammates offered him to begin with. They made derisive comments about his name and told him placatingly that he didn't know any better.

It had irritated him enough that after a time he'd stopped saying anything in his father's defense. In response, he'd been tolerated.

As the war dragged on his father's stability declined, and Kakashi started avoiding him, some part of his mind beginning to embrace the things he heard over and over again. He took more missions and as a result heard more talk.

He'd asked his teacher once what, exactly, his father had done to start the war, but the man had frowned at him coldly.

"It wasn't your father's fault, Kakashi. Sakumo-sama was assigned a difficult mission. No one else could have done any better."

His disapproval had startled the boy enough that he never brought his father up in his teacher's presence again.

It was shortly after his eighth birthday—almost two months since the start of the Iwa-Konoha war—that Kakashi first voiced his own disapproval of his father's actions.

"Damn Sakumo!" One of his teammates had snapped, shooting a kunai through an enemy-nin's head. He'd turned his attention to Kakashi when the coast was clear and snarled, "You'd better not be thinking about running out on this mission brat! Only a coward forsakes his duty!"

His eyes had narrowed and he'd spoken before he could stop himself, "I'm not my father!"

The teen had looked startled for a moment, then smiled, and motioned him forward to continue with the mission.

It became easier to think of his father as a traitor after that, and he slowly began to resent being forced to live with the man. Going home to a house he had to share with someone who had betrayed their village.

He never told his father of his slowly growing feelings, but he thought it must have shown whenever their paths met. His behavior became stiff and impersonal, and his eyes must have shone with his disapproval.

Three months after the war had started, his father finally confronted him about it. He hadn't had missions in all of that time and his weakness showed through clearly. His skin was pale and he had bags under his eyes, his cheeks were sallow from not getting enough to eat and his hands shook unless he had them clenched at his side. His dark eyes were haunted with demons of his own.

"I'm sorry, Kakashi," was all that he said, as the boy suffered himself to bring him his evening meal.

Kakashi hadn't even looked at him, setting the bowl of congee down by the door and turning away quickly. Without even looking back, the boy had uttered, "I hate you," and left.

That was the last time he'd ever seen the man alive.

Late that night something had caused him to wake up, and when he'd gone to investigate he'd found his father slumped on his office floor, bleeding everywhere.

He'd been horrified—he'd never had someone close to him die before. Not that he could remember, at least. Teammates had died, occasionally, but he hadn't been particularly close to them.

The only way he'd been able to live with himself afterwards was to remember what the man was.

His father had been a traitor, so it was okay that he was dead.

He'd betrayed his village, so it was okay that the last thing he'd said was that he hated him.

He'd gotten them into this war, so it was okay that Kakashi had run away, and not gotten help as quickly as he should have.

He was a hero and Kakashi had betrayed him and it was his fault his father was dead.

"Kakashi!" Rin's shrill voice broke him out of his inner thoughts, and Kakashi saw Obito in front of him again.

"I believe the White Fang was a real hero."

He'd been frozen for thirty-six seconds.

The thirteen-year-old surged forward, emotions running rampant for the first time in years.

He couldn't let another hero die because of him.

In the end, Kakashi stored up another demon deep in his mind and told himself that it wasn't his fault.