Yo. I don't own Naruto.

Premise: Kakashi doesn't follow Obito.

Notes: Three-shot. If that's a thing. Also, Burn Limits chap 2 is coming whenever I stop with the fiddly editing.


there are many ways

He turns his back on the chuunin, in that wood of oversized bamboo.

You're wrong. For a moment, as he sees Obito turn away, as the phrase echoes around his suddenly empty mind, it could have been directed to either of them.

Right now, neither of them are ninja, as Kakashi would define the term, and it is that sudden lurch in his reality that tightens in Kakashi's gut and straightens his spine. The two of them are knotted swirls of emotions and beliefs and confusions and Kakashi cannot live like that.

They were sixteen hours from the bridge when Rin was taken. He makes the distance in twelve, moving faster and less obtrusively without the two chuunin at his heels. He encounters two patrols. The first time, he submerges himself in a high-running drainage ditch, murky water filling his nostrils and his ears, trusting his breath to hold out until the three men and two women pass by. The second time, the two ninja catch him almost by surprise, and he has to kill them both.

He hasn't relaxed since leaving Konoha, so he's on guard when they appear in front of him, but it hardly helps. The fight isn't clean, and the slicing pain of a kunai grazing the outside of his thigh grabs him and spins him around, flinging him undeniably back into this moment. The final crunch of steel through bone as he pins the second man to a tree and pushes with all his strength focuses him in a way he hasn't realized he hasn't been since Obito left him.

The pain is somewhere on the low end of the range between 'can't ignore' and 'can't think'. Kakashi pulls the bandages too tight when the thought of who gave them to him begins to overwhelm his focus, pushing the pain for an instant over the far edge.

It's dark, of course, by the time he reaches the bridge, with three hours before sunrise. It takes another two hours for him to realize the lines are too tight for him to slip through unnoticed.

He falls back, in the last hour of fading darkness, as far as he can get before the sun shows up over the trees. Sleep is fitful.

He has a scroll with enough chemicals sealed into explosive calligraphy to take out half of Konoha's eastern wall. Even without the two identical scrolls carried by Obito and Rin, he can ruin the bridge in less than a second. Assuming he can get close enough to plant the explosives without getting caught.

He spends the waning afternoon hours discarding impossible options. This is not a one-man mission. That was why there had been three of them.

And then the thought spins itself out of the cobwebs of desperation. Kakashi has always been good at justifying.

He cuts carefully through the scroll, separating individual characters from each other, placing each carefully with its fellows, the calculations stacking precisely upon each other in his mind. He leaves just enough in the scroll to destroy the bridge supports, if he puts it in just the right place. The rest of the seals will make small bangs, little divots in the ground, but not enough to truly wreck anything more solid than flesh.

They won't have to. He doesn't have time for full reconnaissance, so he trusts that the camp guards will not be original in their positioning, and flips through the memories of what he had seen last night, comparing it frame by frame against defensive manuals and tactical reports. He makes his best guess, and when night falls again, he knows where the slips of paper will go.

They are drawn off, the way he had hoped, but they are hardly foolish enough to break ranks for the distant explosions. A back up squad is sent; the perimeter guards are ever more alert. The camp is alive with lights. He slips into the water upstream from the bridge, the papers wrapped carefully in heat-sealed plastic. They have a net across the river; the bridge is strategic enough for the expense.

He gurgles a suiton jutsu into the water. The fake current keeps him in place against the tug of real flowing water, stopping him from hitting the net and setting off the alarms. He has only a few seconds, however. His breath is failing. One, two, three and four slips of explosives mat themselves against the netting. He curls up, arms around his head, and sets them off.

It blasts him through, head over heels, uncontrollable and tangled in the anchorless mesh of rope. They thunder down the river, tossed to the surface for a gasping breath, the spray falling on his head from the fountains blown high into the night air.

His ears ring and he cannot see anything; even if the night were not dark and the water not full of swirled up sediment, his vision would be blurred from the concussion. He wonders if he has gone permanently deaf and blind.

He calls up suiton again, a spinning tower of water to push him down, away from the danger of the surface. In the depths, his vision clears enough to see the faint dots of light from the torches cast upon the river.

He hits one of the supports of the bridge with a bone shuddering crunch and sticks himself there with chakra limning the inside of his skin. It's the result of good calculations and a healthy dose of luck; he'd thought he'd be able to swim to adjust his course, but the pressure of water above him and the ringing in his skull made that impossible. He fumbles the tags out of his jacket with slow movements and presses them against the stone.

They stick; even with the plastic covering, the extra seals painted on the backs release their stored energy and hold like late autumn burrs. He flicks a last spark of white-hot energy into the maze of ink and lets go, the water whirling him away.

He's out of air before the explosion takes him back up to the surface. His vision has gone white; from the fireball taking up the sky and assaulting over-blown pupils, or from frantic neurons misfiring in a plea for oxygen he wouldn't be able to know, even if he'd had the thought to spare.

The enemy would be scanning for chakra signatures, hunting up and down the banks for signs of the saboteur. Probably racing downstream to lace another net across the only possible escape route. After he gasps enough air and water to send him into convulsions and yet still clear his sight somewhat, Kakashi takes a tight, burning breath, and dives.

He swims for shore hidden in the murky water. Chakra powers each stroke; he moves fast, but it's burning his palms and feet. He has so little control left with his head pounding and his lungs taking up all the space in his mind except for the one repeated order: get to shore.

The little tags had put the camp on high alert and had drawn out the backup. But now the shinobi were rushing inwards after the bridge blew and it became obvious the first explosions were decoys. His dogs should be following them, slipping through the underbrush and masking noise and motion in the chaos. He has to stay underwater now, long enough for them to reach the banks, hoping it won't be long enough for the searchers to light up every stretch with torches and floodlights and blazing chakra.

He crawls out onto the mud and his body takes over. His limbs spasm and he curls around himself in a low mat of reeds, coughing and vomiting and trying to breathe as river water spills from his mouth and drips from his hair.

Then there's a soft nose nudging his cheek and a quiet voice whimpering by his ear. It's Shiba and he's nipping Kakashi's earlobe. Get up. Get up.

He claws his way to hands and knees, peers up over the tops of slimy plants. The lights are coming on fast, but he's managed to come ashore between the floodlights of the bridge and the fires springing up downstream.

It's not a net they've set up, down by the fires. It's two shinobi with their hands raised and the water thundering upwards, a waterfall running against gravity and spreading into the thinnest curtain before it pounds down from a hundred feet on their other side. Shiba whimpers a little again and Kakashi realizes he's started to mimic the dog and shuts the sound off by ceasing to breathe.

They crawl. Gen is waiting just beyond, keeping watch. He pads ahead as Kakashi drops a simple not-here-don't-look suggestion over them three and follows Gen's tail almost blindly. He can barely think with the ringing in his ears and the struggle not to cough and make noise.

It was a fool's plan from the start. The floodlight hits them and he should have known the Iwa-nin would start pulsing chakra in anticipation of genjutsu. He had known. But it was the mission and he hadn't had something so precious as a choice.

A thickset man in an Iwa headband breaks into the beam of light and Gen howls as he lunges. The man catches him in the chest with a blade and Kakashi screams.

The dog is dead before he hits the ground and Kakashi banishes Shiba with a panicked twist and a crack of smoke. The nin is running forward, his sword glistening with Gen's blood. Kakashi doesn't have a lot left, and he can't find his feet, but when the man gets close enough, with his eyes glinting in the harsh electric light and his blade sweeping up, Kakashi rolls forward in a dizzying spiral and thrusts his singing hand up from groin to ribs.

He feels the flesh fry around his fist and Gen's killer drops on top of him. He rolls again, the world spinning wildly and gets enough free that he can wrench his leg out. The momentum takes him to his feet and he runs.

Three steps, four, before the first shuriken impact his back. Five, six, and a kunai whizzes past his ear, the flashbang tag going off just as it passes his head.

He's bleeding from his ears and his nose joins in when it crunches under someone's sandal. No sight but whitecolorswhite, no sound but a high-pitched whine, no smell because he can't breathe, no feeling but pain. The world is nothing but the taste of blood.