In Rockland

Chapter One

. ... .

He is sleeping in the cafe when Namikaze Minato burns his way into his life.

Sumatran blend coffee, fresh and boiling hot and attacking his lower face, is what wakes him. A strangled yell of "fuck", his fist meeting a wide blue eye, and the drip-drop sound of liquid hitting paper complete the event in four seconds flat. This last thing is what registers with Kakashi. He ignores the culprit, who is simultaneously swearing in pain and apologizing while waving a hefty butterfly-patterned mug around. Hand hovering over his agonizingly seared mouth and jaw, Kakashi only has eyes for his coffee-soaked Icha Icha. Icha Icha, which is no longer lying open on his chest but has landed on the floor in exactly the right spot as to receive the no-cream, two-sugars, grande Sumatran blend run off.

When he turns his gaze to the idiot who has just destroyed his precious soft-core porn, there is a squeak and suddenly a lot fewer expletives and noticeably more apologies.

. ... .

After two minutes of staring stonily at the blond and listening to him babble, Kakashi stands, fending off anxious napkin-blotting all the while. He leaves Icha Icha where it lies because he can't bear to look at it like that, all skewed, stained pages and violated, sopping binding. The idiot is still yammering on; he follows Kakashi to the front of the cafe and on to the counter without pause for breath.

"Uhwee, do you 'aff any 'andages 'ack dere" comes out sounding retarded as he tries to move his swollen, stinging mouth as little as possible. He tries again, enunciating slowly and carefully. "Marie, do you have bandages?" The 'v' sound is especially painful as teeth scrape against oversensitive lips, almost drawing a wince from him.

The barrister grimaces in sympathy and makes to reach over the counter in touch-the-burned-skin impulse before Idiot, which Kakashi has decided is probably a better moniker for the guy than whatever name he may or may not have, jumps in with, "Wait, what? You're bandaging burns? I don't think you're supposed to do that - "

Kakashi cuts him off with a glare. "Shut up," he says clearly. Without bothering to wait for Idiot's response, he turns to Marie again with his signature closed-eyes smile.

The subsequent cursing and hissing are what gets him his bandages.

. ... .

"Jeez, don't do it like that!" The cloth roll is snatched away from his hands as he awkwardly tries yet again to wrap his lower face. The two of them are sitting at a little table in the back, and Idiot has been icing his eye and watching Kakashi try to apply the bandages for the last ten minutes. The man has spent most of it apologizing in fits, but apparently he has moved on to invading Kakashi's space and shamelessly interfering where he is not welcome.

Kakashi tries to make this clear with a lidded stare. Idiot, surprisingly enough, blows it off.

"I swear," he chatters while his hands make quick movements, "it's almost painful watching you do this. I mean, it's a dumb idea in the first place, but you don't have to go about it in the most stiff-upper-lip way possible. Huzzah for asking for help 'cos asking for help's a good thing. Not that you did. Not that you're not an adult. I mean, I'm not saying you're dumb or anything, but it's my fault anyway so it's not a big deal at all to ask for help even if you are one of those anti-asking-for-help guys. And - done!" A beaming smile is sent Kakashi's way.

Kakashi quirks an eyebrow and raises his hand to his face to feel not-tight-but-not-loose cloth fitting the contours of his cheeks, nose, and jaw. He opens his mouth, thankful for the numbing ointment that makes this action not be the height of moronhood, and finds that the bandages move with just enough leeway that eating isn't going to be a problem. Reluctantly impressed, he takes Idiot's measure in a slightly more generous state of mind.

Blue eyes, one with fantastic bruises blooming eagerly around it, sit above a well-shaped and very mobile mouth. Obnoxiously yellow hair spikes all over the place, and if it wasn't for the easy confidence in the set of the man's button-down bedecked shoulders, Kakashi might think him to be completely not worth his time. But he is sprawled in his chair with easy grace, letting Kakashi look at him and his small, easy smile without showing discomfort, and he is actually quiet the whole time. His entire manner is that of artless easiness.

Finally, Kakashi cocks his head to the side. The man makes a motion with his hands, as if to ask Well?

When he drawls out, "Of course you're a blond," his tone is only slightly impeded by the bandages.

After the inevitable rejoinder of "Well, graybeard, at least my hair doesn't frighten small children" and "A few dumb kids have gotten their eye poked out - sue me" there comes: "So let me buy you a coffee. I mean, it's the least I can do."

"...Idiot, did you actually just offer to buy me coffee? Don't make me laugh - it'd hurt."

"I'm sure it always hurts for your sulky highness to crack a smile. Fine, no coffee. I don't know, how do you feel about pizza? Yummy, greasy pizza makes everything better."

"Do you ever stop talking?"

"No to the pizza. Got it. How about - "

"You leave me alone?"

" - I replace your book?"

Kakashi's lazy gaze, which has been wandering the cafe as he plays blase like it is his job, snaps to the blond.

"...That would be considerate of you, Idiot. I approve." But there is a decided lack of bite to the words.

"Tightly-wound burn victim. What were you reading, anyway?"

"That was possibly the most terrible pun I've heard in the past decade." Without pausing for Idiot to play at faux-injured, he says, "I was reading Icha Icha by Ji - "

"Jiraiya. Yeah, I know it. Don't see what the huge deal is - have you read any of his other stuff? Swallowed a Fly nearly broke my heart."

(This idiot will break Kakashi's heart one day.)

"Screw that. Jiraiya's brilliant but there's no way he did better than Icha Icha - "

. ... .

They end up talking for a couple of hours. Idiot almost ends up late to some meeting, only noticing the time when a college student at one of the tables against the wall swears and starts scrambling to pack his books. It is funny, actually, because the student snaps "Fuck off, I'm late for class" at a pretty girl who, Kakashi would bet, is posed to ask his number.

"Another one who's too dumb to ever get laid," he comments to Idiot, except that Idiot is patting himself down -

For a smart phone, which he slides out of its protective leather sheath. And then his eyes widen.

Kakashi wants to grin. Mindful of his face, something that managed to slip his attention about a total of twelve times over the course of their conversation, he doesn't. "How long?"

"Twenty-two minutes."

He snorts. "Idiot."

"Fuck off. Meet here tomorrow at three?"

"Sounds good. Bring my book."

This time it is Idiot's turn to snort. "Condescending dick with entitlement issues. Just because I mutilated your face doesn't mean - "

"Oh, but it does. And my dick has reason to be condescending and entitled. It knows its worth."

An irritated flush climbs its way onto the man's tan skin. "You look like a wannabe-ninja with those bandages. Don't get purse-hit by any frightened old ladies - "

"I'll show you a frightened old lady - "

"Yeah, your mom - "

Completely forgetting his injuries for the thirteenth time, Kakashi bursts out laughing.

. ... .

When he reaches his empty flat a few hours later, Kakashi realizes that he spent the most enjoyable two hours of the past year talking with a yellow-headed moron who burned his face off and met his petty, disillusioned genius with petty, sneakily diabolical genius and he never even asked the guy's name.

His fingers twitch, but he doesn't palm his face.

Fifteen minutes after that, staring into his mold-covered refrigerator, Kakashi realizes that he spent the most enjoyable two hours of the past year talking with a yellow-headed moron. He is abruptly and entirely terrified.

He doesn't go to the cafe the next day.

. ... .

Or the next day.

. ... .

Or the day after that.

. ... .

A week passes.

. ... .

After eleven days - though Kakashi is certainly not counting - he deems it safe to venture to his favorite hang out. He is tired of beating himself up in the cemetery, tired of sitting in his dank little apartment with only Mr. Ukki for company. It is making him a wee bit suicidal again, and if he wants to stay on top of things and find a real job, that is the last thing he needs. At twenty-two, this is his life. At twenty-two, he has already fucked up big-time, is the proud owner of Dead Best Friend #1, and he is determined to live for as long as possible on the small fortune that whole fiasco left him with. He is shoring his strength and biding his time for nothing - he doesn't bother to try to tell himself that he will eventually live his life, that he will eventually be a person the way Obito was.

He won't. He won't get a normal job or make friends with random civilians - this is just a break, just a hiatus. He knows that if he checks his bank account on file with LEAF he will find that a paycheck has been deposited there twice monthly without falter. He knows that in however-long-it-takes he will be right back at LEAF's door, ready to hack the world for them, reshape the economy on their whim, run tech support on missions for their clients, get another partner or three killed by anticlimactic men with guns who never learned that they weren't supposed to be good shots - just because he doesn't know any other way to live.

He hasn't touched a computer in about a year now.

At least his face has healed up. (At least there are no more reminders of yellow-headed morons who have no right to make him enjoy himself.)

So he goes back to the cafe.

When he asks for his usual green tea mochi, made especially on his behalf by the pastry lady, Marie doesn't immediately trot off. Instead, she leans over the counter, half-eager and half-clandestine.

"You know the guy who spilled coffee on you a while back?"

Kakashi's stomach clenches. God, this is ridiculous. Why is he so scared of some guy who made him laugh? "Ah, yeah."

"Real cutie. If he tosses hot, caffeinated beverages on you again, point him my way. Anyway, he asked me to give you this."

It is a small, red novel, plain and spine unbroken. Its title reads Swallowed a Fly in unassuming navy text.

. ... .

He reads it. Twice. For six straight hours, he reads it. Then he sets it on fire in his bathroom sink.

When Gai comes for his monthly annoy-Kakashi session four days later, Kakashi leaves with him.

. ... .

LEAF gives him his old lab station back, but it is an empty action. The computers have all been updated to the latest versions and the firewalls he built into the system have been messed with and the new desk the monitors sit on doesn't have Obito's nine step plan to rule the world scratched into its surface. In what is probably a wise move, he doesn't share his workspace with a new squad captain - neither is he partnered with a primary squad. He doesn't know who approved these violations of regulations. He doesn't really care.

Other than that, LEAF is pretty much the same - except Rin isn't around either. According to Gai, who is taking a break from field ops to train some brats, she disappeared somewhere in Bangladesh about six months ago. Kakashi finds he doesn't have anything to say to that.

Sometimes he gets the wonderful feeling that his entire life was supposed to be different, that something or someone important was supposed to show up but missed their cue and this is the result. But whatever - he is sick of thinking about what a shit-show it all is.

So he dinks around on the web, crashes a few corrupt corporations, hacks some files that a rival agency won't play nice about and share, performs as eagle eye for a few low-risk missions, and waits for Director Sarutobi to call him into his office and tell him what to do now.

After two weeks of nothing, the summons comes.

. ... .

"Hey, ninja-wannabe. How did you like the book?"

Kakashi stares, completely thrown. "...Idiot. Where's the director?"

Blue eyes widen slightly. The bruise is gone by now, of course. "Um. I am the director. Didn't you - I mean, didn't you know that?"

"...What."

"Wow. This is awkward. I kind of assumed - I mean, you are a hacker, right?"

A slightly wild-eyed stare is the only answer.

"Right. I figured you came back to LEAF because you tracked me down after the whole burning-your-face-off shindig, but I guess this really was just a huge coinkydink, huh? Face is looking good, by the way - glad to see that mummifying it didn't leave you with awful, horrendous scars or anything."

This is Kakashi's brilliant response: "...Coinkydink?"

"Yeah. You know, I accidentally spill coffee on you, we chit-chat, you stand me up, you read Jiraiya's masterpiece, you use your hacker-magic to find me do you can rhapsodize about its brilliance, you rejoin LEAF, I see your file and realize I know you - "

"I did not use my 'hacker-magic' to find you. I didn't want to see you again." His mouth is running away with him, spilling out things that he shouldn't say.

And out of nowhere, Idiot is a completely different person. It is something in the set of his shoulders, maybe. "I've gathered that, Hatake Kakashi. Why did you come back to the agency?"

Kakashi is lost, is blind-sided and still realigning the world, but this is his job and this is his life and this is his personal shit and he gets it together in one second flat. "I felt that the reasons for my hiatus were no longer relevant, sir."

The tilt of Idiot's head changes slightly, distraction flitting over his face. "Did you just call me sir?"

Kakashi eyes him, derailed and completely nonplussed. "Yes, sir."

A shudder. "Oooh, that's weird. I listened to you continuously insult me for an entire afternoon - cut it out."

"That would be inappropriate, sir."

They sit in awkward silence for a moment. When it breaks, there is something serious and quiet and a little sad in the director's smile.

"Yes, well. To business, hm? Since no one told you and you obviously didn't immediately hack the systems upon your return, Sarutobi has retired. Completely of his own prerogative, by the way, which is almost unheard of. I'll leave it to you to do the work and track him down, as I'm sure you'll wish to verify this with him." Here he sighs. Silence gathers for a few beats before: "I'm not going to lie. This is a risky period for LEAF. We're in transition, and there are both inside and outside factions who really don't like me. We need you, Hatake, and not only for your computer and strategy skills."

Kakashi feels the world fade and fall three dimensions down. "You want me back in Dicey."

"In the DISE, yes. I know you haven't been a part of it in a few years, but this is necessary."

"...I. Answer me one thing first."

Blue eyes study him coolly. "Yes?"

"It was really a coincidence?"

A humorless smile appears, so unlike the one Kakashi spent two hours trying not to be infected by that it is remarkable. "Yeah, Kakashi. It really was."

"I accept."

"Right. Report to Morino, then. You know the drill."

"Sir." Kakashi turns to leave.

"Wait."

And turns around again. "Sir?"

"You should know - I was Obito's mentor and sponsor."

. ... .

He doesn't report to Ibiki right away. Instead, he goes to his station and triples the security measures. Satisfied with that, he immediately starts searching for information on Namikaze Minato. It is incredibly off that Kakashi has never heard of him or met him - aside from the fact that he has obviously been in LEAF as a pivotal member for a long time, Obito never even mentioned his name.

It takes a good twelve hours for Kakashi to wade through all the bureaucratic dead ends and what are actually some respectable security configurations. It is maybe one in the afternoon of the next day when he leans back in his chair with a sigh. At least fifteen code names - some of which he's heard of or seen references to before and some not - three dead languages, and six phantoms later, he thinks he has a grasp on what Namikaze Minato is about.

The gist: He joined LEAF at fourteen, during the cold war period with IWA. A prodigy, definitely, getting in at the same age as Kakashi himself. Kakashi can't find his sponsor's name, but Sarutobi trusted the teen enough to use him consistently. Hundreds of missions, the DISE, and six years later, he sponsored Uchiha Obito. After training Obito for three years, Obito was promoted to captain - Kakashi's captain - right at the height of the IWA conflict, when it began turning overt. Without the responsibility of a student, Namikaze disappeared into complete confidential access obscurity. This is where the dead languages enter the picture - two-thirds of his mission reports in the next two years were written semi-alternately in Yola, Polabian, and what Kakashi thinks is a Tataviam dialect. The appreciable challenge of translating the reports doesn't make reading their content any more enjoyable, but to say the least Namikaze was an instrumental part of LEAF's triumph over IWA. When things came to a head a couple of months after Obito died and Kakashi left, he led the operations, and when Sarutobi retired Namikaze became the youngest director in the history of LEAF at the age of twenty-six.

The reports are the worst part of it. Somehow, despite being written in dead languages and code, Kakashi can feel the man in the precise, neat symbols that are carefully devoid of humanity. He really doesn't want to feel he knows Namikaze Minato that well.

Because he knows he doesn't.

You should know - I was Obito's mentor and sponsor.

Obito never mentioned him. Kakashi really shouldn't feel a little betrayed by this, but he does.

He ambushes Morino in the lobby the next morning.


A/N: If you know what I'm referring to with Swallowed a Fly, then you have some idea of why the reference wrote itself in. It is incredibly wrenching and definitely deserves a shout-out.

So this started off as a paltry little one-shot that m'dear Moiya Hatake instituted a challenge for about a week ago on the Yonkaka comm. And then...it wasn't. It just kept going, and then a plot appeared and a backstory that I didn't want to abandon. So - multichap! Yeah, I know that These Are All Things You Don't Understand is still going, but this way I'll have something fresh to keep me writing when I should. Hopefully.

Anyway, I'd love to hear opinions. This is quite different from my usual. An in-your-face AU! Huzzah!