Summary: Kakashi has a strange recurring dream. And it makes him brush the edges of sanity. Maybe it even takes him beyond. Oneshot

Rating: T

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto (the character, the series or the franchise) and I make no money from this.

A/N: After reading A Ninja Called Kakashi by KariTBB (.net/s/6324605/1/A_ninja_called_Hatake_Kakashi), I was a bit in a strange mood. Her Kakashi who stood helplessly at a bus-stop, looking like a bum and not knowing at all how to deal with the real world (well, that's my impression, and it was a very sad one instead of a comical one) hit some chord inside me. I just took it and went with it, and this is the result.


Kakashi wakes up and blinks. He's a bit disoriented at first, not the sign of a very good ninja. Ninja are supposed to be awake and aware within a split-second. But seeing that he's in his bed in Konoha that's understandable. At home in Konoha, he can let down his guard more than he usually does. So it's only logical that he sleeps deeper and lets his mind shut down further to get a better rest.

He sighs and gets up, stretching. His dream has been weird, as always. Not weird as in terms of flying noodle bowls that sing "99 ninjas on the wall" and try to make him bathe in their ramen goodness because he is a toad and toads need ramen too. At least that is what Naruto's last weird dream was.

Kakashi's dream is weird because it so mundane. It doesn't make him wake up drenched in sweat when he's either had to relive his latest failure in saving a team mate or when he's been reading too much porn the evening before. Of course, Kakashi has those dreams, too, but not as often as that weird one.

It is weird not because of irrational content or bloody memories or perverted imagery, but because of the complete absence of all such things. In short, it is downright boring. In fact, it is so boring that he sometimes falls asleep inside his dream from sheer boredom.

He's never heard of someone falling asleep inside their dreams.

Absently, he scratches his mask where his morning growth starts to itch. Seeing that he is always wearing a mask, he doesn't really need to shave because nobody's going to see his face. He does it anyway because he started once a long time ago, and now his skin itches abominably whenever the hairs starts growing in again. He's tried several times to leave them alone until the itchy stage is over, but he always capitulated on the second or third day at the most.

With a sigh, he scratches his chin again and heads towards his bathroom. He doesn't really need the mirror there, and his kunai are easily sharp enough to double as razors. But he has his routine that he tries to stick to as religiously as possible. When he is at home, he shaves in front of the mirror in his bathroom with the razor that is his only memento of Minato-sensei. It had been a gift for Kakashi's fifteenth birthday, two weeks before his sensei killed himself by sealing the Fox. Kakashi has been using it ever since, and the small blade is almost as familiar to his hands as his regular weapons.

Skin smooth again, Kakashi undresses the rest of the way - not that there is much to undress seeing as he prefers sleeping in a pair of pyjama pants and his mask and nothing else - and steps under the shower. He lets the hot water pound on his neck and shoulders as he tries to shake off the last remnants of his strange dream.

Over the years, he has realized that the dream doesn't consist of endless variations of one and the same boring scene. Instead, it is episodic. As if the dream was part of a bigger world that he is allowed to glimpse occasionally. A boring world, mind you, but it is a world nonetheless. Even the people in his dream tell him so.

According to the people in his dream he doesn't even know half of what he is supposed to, both about his world and his own person. They call him Hideo Saitou, for example, because that is apparently the name on his birth certificate there.

He has gotten used to that, too. Sometimes, it is even a relief to visit his dream's boredom, especially when he's just come off a bad mission.

Lathering his hands, he shampoos his hair without shutting off the shower. The water is hot and soothing but helps wake him up.

One of the most interesting things about his dream is that its internal logic is completely rational, even when viewed after waking up. And it is a lot more detailed than any typical dream.

The setting is an insane asylum in a world where chakra has made way for technology. Everyone there is a civilian, and ninja are only remembered in movies. Very inaccurate movies at that. Kakashi, too, is incapable of using chakra, and his physical strength and endurance aren't much better than at good civilian levels. He doesn't much like his skills being restrained like that, but at least he can still throw a mean kunai.

Not that they give him weapons, of course. After all, he is a patient in this asylum.

Maybe, he thinks, this is an expression of a deeply buried wish not to have the kind of responsibility and pressure he experiences throughout his waking life. Because the doctors and the nurses there care for him, and they are very happy already when he can tell them what happened the last time he dreamed of them.

Sometimes, they also ask about what things in the waking world are like. Details about Konoha. About the Elemental Countries. About shinobi and chakra and what is currently happening. Even though it's only a dream, he does them the favor because it makes them smile. The short, red-haired nurse with the curvaceous figure is especially beautiful when the dimples in her cheeks grow broader and her eyes light up in humor.

Of course he is well aware that it could be a ploy of some enemy-nin to extract information from him. So he never tells them anything beyond what every half-blind Konoha citizen can see. Like that Konoha is ruled by the Hokage. And that shinobi are capable of manipulating chakra. Or that there are five major countries and several minor ones.

The rest of his stories, he fills with the most outrageous lies he can think of. Sometimes, he also inserts various medical personal of his dream into them, to make them even more juicy. His tale of how he had a mission to rescue Keiko, the red-haired nurse, from an attack of rabid but well-meaning dogs, was an instant hit. Even if there's always the indulgent, playing-along-because-he's-insane look in their eyes.

Kakashi doesn't mind. He knows his sanity is up for debate, both when he is awake and when he is asleep.

Dipping his head back under the shower, Kakashi washes out the suds. He keeps both his eyes closed as water streams across his face, sluicing off the rest of the shampoo. Five minutes later, his hair is somewhat dry, and he is trying to clean up all the hairs that he has shed during the shower. If his hair was anything but white, that task would be a lot easier.

His dream has an interesting explanation for his somewhat unusual hair color: according to the medics there, he is an albino. And for some reason, the doctors seem to think that his Sharingan is his real eye, and that his grey one is fake. After all, red eyes are common in albinos because they lack the necessary pigmentation.

Interestingly enough, things do indeed work that way in the dream world. Since there is no chakra, and thus no chakra drain, he can keep his left eye open indefinitely without any repercussions. Stereo vision still evades him, but this time it is his right eye that's not working. Medicine in the dream world isn't advanced enough to transplant whole eyeballs, and so he has to make do with a fake one. He has obviously chosen one with a grey iris.

It is a bit of a challenge to keep up with which side he's blind on at any given moment, but Kakashi is a shinobi. And compared to getting used to being blind on one eye in the first place, this is child's play. He hides it beneath a patch of cloth, anyway.

Another side-effect from his albinism is a severely weakened immune system, according to the dream-world medics. He has to wear a surgical mask at all times to minimize the chance of infection. Kakashi absolutely doesn't mind, and has to smile at how his dream picks up so many things from the real world and changes them only minimally to fit into dreamworld logic.

For example his nin-dogs. Of course they can't talk in the dream, and they aren't his specifically. They belong to the mental institution, part of the animal therapy group they offer. That doesn't matter though. Kakashi is still their leader, and they follow his every command. Down, sit, stay, fetch, heel, track, bark, guard. He has trained them to be obedient and docile.

The only thing he hasn't taught them is 'bite'. For one, he doesn't have his chakra that would protect his body during training. For another, it would make the medics too nervous because they think him a mentally unstable patient of theirs. He could probably improvise with a couple of towels and sneaking out at night, but he doesn't want to. He doesn't have any need for attack dogs in his dream, because he is only there to relax and be bored. Not to bring real-world work issues into it.

Finally having cleaned his shower stall to his preference, Kakashi gets started on the harrowing work of trying to choose what to wear today. Should he wear his black jounin pants No.1, his black jounin pants No.2 or his black jounin pants No.3?

Grabbing the next best pair of the identical pants filling his dresser, he snorts to himself. It's so much easier when there's nothing to get confused about. His last pair of blue uniform pants had been trashed on one of his recent mission, and he hasn't gotten around yet to buying new ones.

Jock-strap with cup, even if it seems unnecessary when he plans just to do some light training. He knows one too many feisty kunoichi who doesn't hesitate to go for cheap shots when they think he's being a pervert. And training accidents and emergency missions are always a possibility. No, he'd rather be safe than sorry, and he got used to the cup's constant presence a long time ago.

He is so used to it that he even demanded one in his dream. The nurses looked at him strangely, but they eventually managed to get a hold of one. Two dreams later he didn't even flinch when Takeru managed to knee him in a very uncomfortable place, and they haven't said anything ever since.

Takeru isn't one of the medics or the attendants, but a patient like Kakashi is. Normally, Takeru is a very nice guy about five years younger than Kakashi. However, he has a nasty temper that, while not short, regularly explodes into serious bouts of physical violence. Kakashi thinks Takeru is a bit of a mixture between Tenzou and Sakura. Tenzou's amiable and friendly nature until something sets him off, and then he reacts like Sakura by punching things indiscriminately. It is a pity though that he has none of their intelligence or maturity. All in all, Takeru's mental level is about the same as Team 7's was when Kakashi met them the first time.

When Takeru has one of his episodes and he is close enough, Kakashi helps restrain the younger man. Although he completely lacks chakra and a large part of his physical strength, Kakashi still knows how to subdue violent civilians without harming them. There are orderlies who could also do the job, but they need to be called first, and then they don't have the ease and the experience Kakashi has.

At least there is some way that he can make use of his ninja education in his dreams, beyond resisting the dream-psychologists' inexperienced attempts at interrogation.

There are other patients in the asylum. Kakashi has met all of them at one point or another, and has gotten an interesting overview of the ways human psyche can be ill or fractured. Some of them are in the long-term ward like he is. Others are in the high-security ward because they are a danger to themselves and those around them.

The high-security ward is a tame reflection of Konoha's prison, with guards and barbed wire and three different locks to go through to get to the hard cases. The inmates remind him a bit of shinobi that have gone round the bend. As an ANBU he has hunted down enough of them to recognize the gleam in their eyes when they think of how to kill him best while making amiable conversation.

Many years ago, when the dreams first started after Minato-sensei's death, Kakashi was in the high-security ward himself. Isolation cells, straitjackets, padded restraints, enough drugs to knock out an elephant. Kakashi was a tad violent because he didn't know it was only a dream. Kakashi thought he had been captured by enemies, and tried to escape to his best efforts. He landed several guards in hospital and nearly killed one of them before he could be subdued - he had never seen Tranq Guns before, and without chakra he was an easy victim to them.

In real life, he submitted himself to a full physical and psychological evaluation to make sure that he hadn't been compromised by an insidious genjutsu. But even Inoichi Yamanaka's mind walk couldn't dig up any traces of foreign influence, although everyone agreed that such lucid and coherent dreams were quite strange.

Under the guidance of the Interrogation Department, he used the next two months to strategically sound out his dream and what its hidden purpose might be.

Once he showed interest in the dream world, the dream people around him were more than happy to tell him about their imaginary country of Japan on their imaginary Asian continent, of a government so strange he couldn't quite comprehend it, of a society that consisted only of civilians. They also told him of how he had been brought into their care because he is a Yakuza-trained child assassin who lost his mind after a car accident killed his adoptive family.

Apparently, he hadn't only hit his head during the car crash, but also tried to blow his brains out afterwards with a gun to his temple - they looked at him a bit strangely when he demanded an explanation of what a 'gun' was. The suicide attempt had cost him his right eye, and it was a miracle that his left recovered at all. (1)

After a coma of five weeks, he had woken up but not become lucid. According to them, his mind had somehow snapped and gotten stuck in a fantasy world of ninjas and super powers. And although he had been capable of interacting with his environment, mostly by being aggressive and uncooperative, he hadn't shown any sign of comprehending his situation or remembering his past.

The more the dream people told Kakashi, and through him the Interrogation Department, the more it became obvious that this was a lot more long-term than they had anticipated, and probably not designed to gather information for a foreign spy. If it was a jutsu at all. Until today, Kakashi hasn't quite eliminated the possibility of the dreams starting thanks to a technique, but he generally goes with the assumption that he simply cracked after the Kyuubi.

In any case, he will only ever give away academy-level information, and he will immediately inform the Interrogation Department should the dreams take a new course. Everyone is happy with that.

Around the time that Kakashi left ANBU, his dream self was transferred from high-security to the long-term ward he still is in today. Apparently his psychiatrists thought he was stable enough to be let out from behind the bars, even if he was still clinically insane in their opinion. After all, he refused to accept that Konoha and the ninja world are a figment of his imagination.

He thinks it's interesting how dream doctors are trying to convince him that his reality is just a dream. He talked to Ibiki about it once. The man's theory of it being Kakashi's version of escapism sounded pretty convincing. With the kind of life ninja, especially ANBU, lead, it is no wonder his subconscious would like to pretend that reality is just a dream. As long as those fantasies are just restricted to Kakashi's sleep and not his waking hours, Ibiki thinks they are actually healthy.

Kakashi chuckles slightly as he pulls the masked undershirt over his head. His hair is still wet, so the fabric that comes to rest across his mouth and nose is slightly damp. He breathes the combined scent of his shampoo plus laundry detergent for a few seconds, and then banishes it to the back of his mind. He depends a lot on his sense of smell, so he can't let himself be irritated by his own scents.

Sharingan eye still closed, he pulls on the long shirt that will hide his ANBU tattoo.

It features in his dream, too. The tattoo, not the shirt. Apparently, it is the mark of the Yakuza group that had trained him from childhood on, and whose grasp he slipped by turning into a mental basket-case. But they have invested money in him, and they aren't happy to see it go down the drain the way it has. According to his doctors, they are still watching him in case he ever shows signs of improvement.

Of course the doctors haven't told him so outright. But Kakashi is intelligent, and he collected information about the Yakuza. It wasn't that hard to come to that kind of conclusion, because the Yakuza groups are the closest thing his dream world has to hidden villages. And if there is one thing Kakashi understands, it is the way a hidden village works.

Kakashi makes sure to stay off their radar, refusing to touch any guns, and refusing to show his shinobi skills in bladed weaponry or stealth and deception. The most he does is use a bit of taijutsu occasionally, but not enough to stand out in any way.

He does this because it is his dream and his spot to relax. Being recruited by dream Yakuza would make things far too troublesome, if he might borrow the expression.

His green flak jacket goes on over his shirt, and he pulls up the zipper. Patting down his scroll pockets, he makes sure that he's got a few bills on him - coins make too much noise when he moves - and some energy bars. Not the most tasty, but healthy. Designed especially for a ninja's needs.

Sure, he does have the skill to cook himself a perfectly fine lunch. He considers himself quite a good chef, actually. But he had kitchen duty the last three times in his dream, so he thinks he's earned himself a bit of a break from cooking all the time. The ration bar version is faster anyway, and should he really be in the mood for a whole meal he's got enough money on him to eat out.

Weapons are next. Two belt pouches filled with shuriken, wire, and explosion tags. A kunai holster tied to his thigh. Basic first aid equipment, i.e. sewing kit, disinfectant, sterile wound padding, medical tape. The bandages go around his shins, serving in their secondary function of hiding the senbon bracers he has attached there. There are a couple more weapons already integrated in his clothes, like the garrote wire inside the hem of his shirt or the slender blade sheath sewn down the spine of his jacket. Or the small metal boxes of poison hidden inside the webbing of his belt.

The latter ones, he doesn't think he needs just for training inside Konoha's walls. But he has made sure to outfit all his clothes with such hidden weaponry stashes, and it would be more of a hassle trying not to take them. The antidotes, soldier pills, and his scrolls though stay at home. That would really be overkill for a light bout of training.

The weapons are the most distinct difference between the real world and his dream. In the real world, he can - and is even encouraged to - arm himself to the teeth. In his dream, the most he can do is sew a garrote into the hem of his pants and try not to sharpen the blunt plastic chopsticks they get during meal time.

On the one hand, it is very unnerving to walk anywhere without any weapons on his body. On the other hand, he wants the dream to be his peaceful personal retreat where he doesn't have any enemies. Where he only looks underneath the underneath because he wants to and not because he has to.

Last but not least, his hitae-ate goes on. And together with his sharingan, the piece of cloth and metal locks away all thoughts of the dream world.

He learned how to compartmentalize a long time ago, and the interrogation department has taught him some more tricks once they realized that his dream wasn't going to go away anytime soon. They taught him how to use it to preserve his mental stability, but also how to shut the dream world away so that he is fully grounded in reality and can be the ninja he needs to be.

The sandals are more of an after-thought as he slips into them with one hand. The other is busy already raising his infamous porn to his face. Kakashi Hatake is awake and ready to start another day.

"Scarecrow's asleep again?" Brown-haired Takeru sticks his head into Hideo's room where Nurse Keiko is currently washing an utterly unresponsive, pale body.

The red-haired nurse smiles at the young man. "You shouldn't call him that. And yes, he is. But if you're lucky, he might wake up as early as tomorrow. And if you're a good boy, he'll even have a story for you."

She doesn't say anything of how none of the doctors know if he's ever going to wake again as soon as he drops into one of his coma spells. Until now, he's always returned - sometimes as early as the next morning, other times the next week or the next month.

Ever since his attempted suicide, Hideo hasn't been able to stay awake for longer than nine or ten hours at a stretch before falling back into his coma. And when he is awake, he seems to be incapable of accepting reality.

That is not because he is lacking intelligence. Contrary to many of the patients here, he comes from the complete opposite end of the IQ spectrum. His rate of information absorption and retention is phenomenal. His sense for tactics and strategy is off the charts. And his knowledge of psychology and medicine is frankly scary.

However, despite his mental maturity which somehow always seems to be at least a few years older than his physical age, he refuses to acknowledge his past. Instead, he has invented a fictional world for himself that gives him control over supernatural powers.

The only thing she doesn't understand is why he has made his world so realistic. She knows that there is much more to it than what he has been telling them. Sometimes when he wakes up, she sees a level of horror and exhaustion and guilt in his eyes that she could never understand.

Maybe that is his way of working through traumatic childhood events. Maybe that is because he has never known anything but cold violence and killing perfection.

Maybe he can't accept a lifestyle without having to be armed to his teeth, because Keiko gets the impression that he treats the short periods he is awake as something of a vacation from his nightmares. Time to relax and recuperate and enjoy the pleasantries of human society. But also time that is finite. Like he can't believe that a whole life might be lived like that.

She looks at the pale, white-haired form lying on the bed, his surgical mask fluttering slightly with every slow breath.

As usual, Hideo's eyes start to move behind his closed lids even though he's still deep in his coma. Nobody knows why, because there is no change in his brain waves to signal a stage of REM sleep. There are hardly any brain waves at all. There shouldn't even be enough impulses to twitch his eyes. And yet, it is hard to discount that something is going on inside his head whenever he lies in his coma.

Takeru sees the movement and his childish face breaks into a vibrant smile. "You see, he's already making up a new story! He's dreaming!"

(1)bullet to the temple: Depending on where exactly the gun is placed, the shot doesn't go into the brain but instead goes horizontally through the eyes. There have been several attempted suicides where the person tried to shoot themselves like that, but survived only to lose an eye.

A/N: Yes, this is confusing. Intentionally so. There are questions that I deliberately left open so that you can speculate what is dream and what is reality. And no, despite the epilogue-like part stating quite a clear message, I don't want to say that Keiko's right. There are too many mysteries winding around Hideo for her to have captured what is real and what is dream. She only tells what is her reality.

So. Did I reach my goal of making you think? Did you enjoy the story?