14 in 15 minutes
Kakashi froze the moment he felt the blade tipped against his throat, and could feel from the sliver of a cut in the cloth that covered his neck the coldness radiating from the meticulously sharpened katana. His mind went into a frenzy of calculations – the time is would take his opponent to drag the weapon across his neck, the pressure and speed needed to effectively slice through flesh and artery, the chances of his survival if he went with the flow, sustaining some damage but keeping him alive long enough for him to dispatch the enemy.
He frowned slowly, not quite daring to blink, and he didn't even have to concentrate on keeping his body to still – in a low crouch, with one hand braced on the earth, the other in the act of curling a finger around the loop of a kunai, muscles in his legs bunched and ready to propel him away from the ground, his Sharingan spinning steadily in his left eye – instinct hardly let him breathe.
"You disappoint me, Hatake Kakashi. I expected more out of the infamous Copy Ninja and former Hound of ANBU."
Kakashi forced himself to speak, though his mental alarms were still screeching about that highly life threatening weapon still positioned against his bare skin. He couldn't see the bastard who had somehow managed to get behind his back, but from the angle and tilt of the sword, which he could feel, he assumed the other was standing with his anterior turned slightly to Kakashi's left.
But he didn't need calculations anymore.
"I'm thinking I did pretty well," Kakashi replied in a light tone, "considering, well, this." Carefully, as not to upset the blade, he nodded ever so slightly to the surrounding scenery.
A dozen or so masked ANBU were strewn across the barren training field (Arena 44; strictly off-limits to even the standard Jounin) in varying states of immobility. Some were totally knocked cold, others were suffering in the grasps of an illusion, and still others would need medical help to straighten out a few bones here and there.
Kakashi himself sported a long slash across his shoulder blades, and although it was shallow, he could feel the blood oozing out of the wound and soaking his ripped clothes. Sweat made his chair cling to his face in spite of the raised hitai-ate, and he had to work to bring his ragged breaths back into control.
He did his best to ignore his severely compromising physical state.
"14 ANBU, in what, 15 minutes? Not bad, huh?" he murmured.
Both Kakashi and the ANBU who stood behind him knew otherwise. And as the fact sunk in deeper, Kakashi almost grimaced, which had nothing to do with the throbbing pain in his back.
Because other than the one ANBU who had him at mercy, there were at least another dozen left, looking on from the branches of the trees or perched on boulders, all surrounding Kakashi. Well, fuck.
14 ANBU in 15 minutes? Just who did he think he was kidding? And most of these, he was sure, were fledgling ANBU kids, who he doubted would even know the difference between Jounin and ANBU. Really, peace could be as deadly a thing as war.
Kakashi was the living proof of that statement.
14 down in 15 minutes. Five years ago, he would have beaten double the number in the same time frame. Seven years ago, there would have been double the number of corpses in half the time. Years ago…when he had still been a part of the ANBU. The very same organisation that now wanted him to rejoin their ranks.
"Seeing as you no longer have any students to look after," they had said. He could hear the silent voices beneath their words, because he thought about it every night himself. Your students abandoned you for teachers who knew more than just the basics and the assassination techniques, and since you wouldn't teach them the latter anyways, they turned to others, which says enough about the fact that you can do nothing more than work in the shadows.
In ANBU. As the Hound.
14 downed opponents in 15 minutes. A far cry from the skills of the Hound, whose name was still spoken on hushed lips as a legend in its own right. A legend in the shadows, just as Yondaime and the Sannin were legends in the light.
A legend that would not accept 14 in 15 minutes.
"Fuck," Kakashi breathed.
The blade withdrew and Kakashi heard the soft click as it was restored in its sheath, but he did not move. The silent and unmoving group of gathered ANBU shifted, and one by one, they disappeared, taking along their fallen comrades, until it was just Kakashi and the bastard left.
"We expect you – no, we expect Agent Hound – at Headquarters tomorrow at 0500 exact."
Kakashi made no reply, his mismatched eyes staring at a cluster of dying weeds half a metre away, but not seeing them.
"You had your chance to try and live in the outside world. Look where that brought you. What did it bring other than pain, guilt, and regret? It's time you returned to where you belong and stop trying to act like someone you aren't."
Something was dropped onto the dirt beside Kakashi as the ANBU disappeared in a thin puff of cloud. Kakashi slowly focused his eyes onto the object, knowing fully well what he would find.
The abstract visage of a hound glared up at him. The harsh lines painted on the porcelain mask were familiar and foreign at the same time. It mocked him silently, taunting him with words that echoed in the back of his head. Kakashi gritted his teeth and raised a fist, clenched so tight it shook. With an angry cry, he brought it down, but instead of cracking the mask, it dug into the dry earth beside it with a dull thud.
"Fuck," he snarled again, knowing that the only one that deserved to be cursed was himself.
A rigid tension pervaded in the ANBU headquarters at five o'clock in the morning the next day. Young fledglings froze in place, rendered immobile by the sheer pressure emanating from the lone figure that walked down the dim hallway. Older members smiled grimly behind their masks, recognising the well worn armour the Hound wore, speaking of his years of service in the shadows. He spoke to none as he headed to the commander's office, his posture deceivingly casual while not showing a moment of defencelessness.
The air felt frigid.
A legend had returned.