Title: Backslide.
Word Count: 483
Summery: Some time after Team 7, but long before Pein, Kakashi got back into ANBU.
Notes: I sketched this out forever ago, forgot about it completely, and stumbled across it today. Originally, I had plans to take it further, but after reading it again, I think it works pretty well as is.

Some time after Team 7, but long before Pein, Kakashi got back into ANBU. It was logical, really. He was a one man show--always had been. And wrapping his skills back up in the black and bone was the only way to keep a real edge on them.

Black Ops training had always been the best.

It wasn't quite like he remembered, but close enough that he could just slip back in, hard white mask over soft black cloth and Icha Icha stored safely in his weapons chest, gathering dust.

Seven missions in he lost nine teammates and remembered why he quit.

Eight more missions and he dragged every teammate back, cursing and bleeding but alive. It was enough to keep going.

Almost enough.

It was strange to feel old at twenty-nine, but how could he be anything else when everyone else was so damn young? Kids in armour with wide eyes and fast hands, barely out of their teens and far too awed by a copy-cat ninja who wasn't quite used to finding his years finally matching his skill set.

He'd been the youngest student--graduate--genin--chuunin--jounin--ANBU--teacher--

No. Minato had been younger.

Almost the youngest teacher, and now he's kissing thirty. It's bizarre. Unsettling. Like the reaper at his side has suddenly gotten a whole lot closer without ever quite moving.

Ninja die young.

Smartasses live forever.

(Unless they have red eyes.)

This time, when they want to make him a captain, he refuses. When Tsunade orders him, he volunteers for every solo mission going and spends more time out of the village than he has in years.

The scenery's a little pretty, but every blue-eyed boy reminds him of Naruto, every whip-smart girl is Sakura's twin, and every hard-eyed man with grief in his scent and purpose in his step--

Is his own reflection.

Kakashi doesn't believe in fate, but he has some kind of faith in the universal nature of irony. He stops looking at boys, twitches his gaze away from the girls, and meets every hard-eyed man with his feet set square because he always (never) faces himself in the mirror.

And he kills, because that's what the armour means.

It's good for his reputation. Teacher doesn't mean much to shinobi with a plan to break bones and rape women and do whatever else bad men do. (He's never quite grown out of hero fairytales, even if they come bound up in orange covers and no one's ever read them out loud.) But wraith in black and bone means death from a hand that crackles and screams before it strikes, breaking the air with ozone and birdsong, and a world newly furnished with dead bodies is a world that might, one day, be absent of bad men.

People start to whisper his name again. Sometimes they forget to add failure on the end.