Chapter 5


Minato came after breakfast.

Jiraiya was relieved that breakfast had gone off without a hitch, easier than yesterday. Kakashi had woken right away and seemed calm. He didn't need any help to get dressed, and he was talking like normal, in an adult fashion. In fact, Kakashi had helped make the omelets and rice they'd eaten for breakfast.

Minato opened the door and announced his entrance. "I'm here."

Jiraiya dropped the pan he was washing and glanced at Kakashi. Kakashi stood on a stool in order to be at a comparable height to the sink, so he could rinse and dry the dishes.

"We're in here," Jiraiya called. "Just a second."

Kakashi put down his dishrag and hopped off the stool, running to meet his sensei.

Jiraiya pulled off his rubber gloves and joined them in the living room. He got there in time to see Kakashi bow.

"Good morning," Kakashi said.

Minato exchanged bows, looking bemused. "Good morning."

"Ojichan and I were finishing the dishes," Kakashi said.

"He's good at helping," Jiraiya said.

Minato smiled. "That's nice."

"I helped with the dishes all the time," Kakashi said. "Father taught me to do the dishes by myself."

"How are you feeling this morning?" Minato asked.

"Fine," Kakashi said. He looked to Jiraiya. "I'm fine."

Jiraiya hesitated.

Kakashi crossed the two steps to Jiraiya's side and squeezed Jiraiya's hand. "Ojichan is nervous that Tsunade might still take me away."

"No," Jiraiya protested.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow at him in an oddly adult way, looking at Jiraiya with a piercing gaze.

Jiraiya shifted uncomfortably. "Well…maybe. But it's nothing for you to worry about, Kakashi-kun."

"I'm not worried," Kakashi said. 'I'm staying even if they tell me to go."

Jiraiya flushed slightly and looked to Minato. "I'm, ah, counting on you to keep Kakashi company while I straighten this out. There's supposed to be a meeting this morning in Sarutobi-sensei's office. I just haven't gotten the word of it yet. I'm waiting to be summoned."

"Guess who's coming?" Minato asked brightly.

Kakashi looked at his teacher quizzically. "Who?"

"Kushina!" Minato grinned and spread his hands. "She's meeting with her team right now, but she's going to be here in about an hour."

Kakashi lit up. "Will Kushina-san make lunch?"

Minato laughed. "I bet she might." He ruffled Kakashi's hair.

"Good." Kakashi smiled. "Ojichan's cooking is good, but Kushina-san's is better."

"Outclassed by a woman," Jiraiya said, clutching his chest and appearing comically wounded.

"Don't let her catch you saying that," Minato said. "She's not any woman, she's Red Hot Habanero Kushina."

Jiraiya broke out the shogi set and allowed Minato and Kakashi to play at the kitchen table. Both of them seemed to enjoy it. Kakashi was holding his own in fine form when Kushina arrived.

She kissed Jiraiya's cheek. "Oh, Jiraiya-sensei, Sarutobi says he's ready for you now. I just swung by there to report about my team's D-Rank mission."

Jiraiya kissed her cheek in return. "Thanks, Kushina-chan!" He hugged Kakashi. "Okay, I guess I'll be going."

Kakashi nodded, absorbed in plotting his next move against Minato.

xXx

When Jiraiya arrived, Tsunade and Orochimaru were already there.

"You're late," Orochimaru said.

"I'm not late," Jiraiya retorted. "I've got responsibilities."

Sarutobi said, "Tsunade was just filling me in on how the visit went." He gestured with his pipe. "Please, join us."

"Although Kakashi-kun's affect was noticeably flat, he has entered the anger stage," Tsunade said. "This is evident by the way he derides his father. Saying things like, 'He was a prick', or 'He was a traitor', is a way of making himself feel better about the situation. As long as he remains entrenched in anger, he can't feel the pain waiting to come out."

Jiraiya nodded slowly. "He shocked Mino-kun by coming up with that stuff. Minato's never heard Kakashi speak ill of his father."

"We need allow Kakashi room for this anger," Tsunade said. "By expressing himself, he will be able to move on to the other stages of grief, and then to healing."

"Some people never exit the anger stage of grief, isn't that true?" Orochimaru said skeptically.

"That is simply because no one has allowed them free enough expression," Tsunade said. "Bottling it up inside is what causes a person to get stuck."

"How do you know Kakashi-kun wants to get over his father's death?" Orochimaru asked. "He was suicidal, wasn't he?"

"In the beginning," Jiraiya said defensively. "For like a day. Not even a day! He just needed to know I was here for him."

"Oh, yes. Jiraiya is here. Comforting," Orochimaru drawled.

"To a small child, having a known relative would be," Tsunade said, for once moving in to stop Orochimaru before he got on a roll.

"So I get to keep him?" Jiraiya asked.

"I'm not finished giving my report," Tsunade said.

Jiraiya looked at the floor, disheartened. That's a no, then.

"Kakashi-kun experienced a blackout that he later denied as 'sleepwalking'," Tsunade said. "This suggests to me that Kakashi is experiencing a common reaction to trauma in children, called 'intrusive imagery'. Intrusive imagery is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder. Children can get it; unfortunately, the flow of disturbed children through our hospital shows that. Therefore, Kakashi-kun is experiencing a battery of symptoms that may include flashbacks, lost time, intrusive imagery, and regression." She nodded. "I'd also expect him to have lots of nightmares."

"What do I do?" Jiraiya asked. He hurt to think that he could do nothing.

"Watch him," Tsunade said. "I need you to monitor him for these signs. If they become severe, we may need to hospitalize him and place him on medication. It is also imperative that at some point, Kakashi discusses what he's seen, and his thoughts and feelings in reaction to it."

Jiraiya paced. That wasn't an outright denial of his right to keep Kakashi. She wanted his help. But he had to know. "Well?" He didn't know why Tsunade was dragging this out so long. "What's the verdict? Do I get to keep him or not, Tsunade-chan?"

Tsunade glared at him. "I'm getting to that. Let me explain the situation first."

"Please do," Sarutobi said, gesturing. He lit his pipe and began smoking, looking thoughtful and worried. "Finish your analysis for me."

"Kakashi-kun has created a suitable cover," Tsunade said. "A reason why he's going to stay with Jiraiya other than the fact that his father is dead."

"What does this mean?" Sarutobi asked. "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Oh, it's a good thing," Tsunade said. "For his stage in development, it's a remarkably advanced protection technique. Not only has he avoided going into denial about his father's death, he's funneled all of his anxiety into taking care of Jiraiya; something that makes it easy for him to manage his feelings, since in reality Jiraiya is taking care of him. I'd say it's a successful bonding technique. Transference can be very powerful as a method of building bonds with children. Most children go through this with their parents. There comes a time when it is healthiest to sever all ties of transference with one's parents, but that is a stage of development Kakashi has not reached yet. That happens sometime in adolescent years, between the ages of thirteen and sixteen. Generally speaking, that is."

"So I get to keep him," Jiraiya said. He wanted to make sure he had this right.

"You're a far better parent than I'd taken you for," Tsunade said wryly.

"So that's a yes." Jiraiya wanted her to come out and say it.

"Yes," Tsunade said, narrowing her eyes at him.

Jiraiya pumped his fist in the air. "Yes!"

"I suppose your youthful enthusiasm, as distasteful as it is to an adult, may be endearing to a child," Orochimaru drawled. "Perhaps."

"Make sure you give Kakashi enough stuff to do," Tsunade said. "He's going to need to feel useful to keep his cover up. So letting him in on a few household chores and perhaps teaching him how to cook some things with you as a team will make him feel needed. And don't be afraid to share some emotional insights with him, as long as they're small enough. Things like, 'I feel sad today', for instance. Or 'that made me feel better, thank you'."

Jiraiya nodded slowly. "I'll try to keep that in mind. And for him? What do I do for him?"

"Just stay yourself," Tsunade said. "As Orochimaru said, unenthusiastic though he was, being yourself seems to be exactly what Kakashi needs right now."

Jiraiya smirked. "Hear that, Snake Face? Tsunade sides with me today."

Tsunade rolled her eyes.

Orochimaru looked away, not deigning to comment.

xXx

Jiraiya came back to find Kakashi sitting silently on the sofa between Minato and Kushina. His head was bowed.

"What's up?" Jiraiya asked quietly.

Minato held Kakashi's hand. "He's been like this. Maybe for…half an hour?" He looked to Kushina.

"Twenty minutes," Kushina said. She held Kakashi's other hand. "He's been alright. We got him to sit and watch TV with us, and we were talking about ordinary things. When he would get to be back on missions, those sorts of things. Then he just…" She shrugged helplessly.

"Drifted off," Minato said. "It was like he'd heard a noise, or had a sudden thought…and then we couldn't reach him."

"Well, we're here," Kushina said. "I guess that's all we can do."

Kakashi gave no sign he could hear them.

Jiraiya scooped Kakashi up and sat down on the couch in Kakashi's place, forcing Minato and Kushina to scoot a little farther apart. He set Kakashi in his lap and gently cupped Kakashi's chin, directing Kakashi to look at him. "Hey, Kashi-kun. It's Ojisan. How are you feeling?"

Kakashi looked at Jiraiya blankly. His gray eyes were unfocused. Then, his gaze slowly slid away.

Jiraiya tried not to be scared. He swallowed a lump in his throat. He removed his hand and just cradled Kakashi against him.

The TV mumbled in the background, unnoticed by anyone.

They waited in silence. After a few minutes, Minato turned the TV up and changed the channel, bright-eyed.

Jiraiya stroked Kakashi's hair. "We're here for you, and we're not leaving."

After a moment, Kakashi whimpered and curled up against him.

Jiraiya's stomach contracted in pain at that noise from his nephew. He didn't stop stroking Kakashi's hair. "We're here. I promise."

Kakashi whimpered again. He scrunched up against the crook of Jiraiya's arm, his head against Jiraiya's shoulder, and raised his hand, curling it against his mouth in a primitive shielding gesture.

"Are you awake?" Jiraiya asked gently. "Minato and Kushina are here…"

Kakashi didn't respond.

Jiraiya glanced at Minato and Kushina in return.

"I'm here," Minato volunteered. "And Kushina-chan is, too. We love you, very much, Kakashi-kun."

Kakashi's gaze flickered. He looked from Jiraiya to Minato, giving his sensei a hard stare.

"We won't leave you like he did," Minato said firmly.

Kakashi's eyes widened. He looked up at Jiraiya.

"It's true," Jiraiya said. "We're all here for keeps." He kept stroking Kakashi's hair, slowly and gently.

"Mommy," Kakashi said. His voice was clear, but shaky. "Mommy said she'd be all better. Then she left."

Kushina started crying and hugged Kakashi tightly, leaning on Jiraiya. "Oh, Kashi-kun."

"Mommy said she loved me." Kakashi's voice cracked. "She said 'I love you sweetheart bye-bye, Mommy's going to the hospital for some tests' and then she never came back." He jerked, cringing against Jiraiya. "She never came back!"

Kushina took Kakashi from Jiraiya's arms and held him tightly, cradling him against her chest. Kakashi clung to her. Kushina rocked him, stroking his hair. "This Mommy is never going to leave."

Kakashi trembled. "Mommy?"

"Yes," Kushina said.

Jiraiya was stunned and confused that this is what had come out of Kakashi first. Kakashi had been two years old when his mother died. It was remarkable that Kakashi could remember anything. But maybe he hadn't. Not until this newer trauma triggered his memories of his old one.

Kakashi looked up at Kushina with wide eyes.

Kushina kissed his cheeks. "It's alright, sweetheart. You can cry."

"I can't though," Kakashi blurted. "Daddy said not to cry. He said 'Don't cry. Don't cry. Ninjas don't cry and you'll be a strong ninja someday. So you have to start not crying.'" He bit his lip. "I saw Daddy crying though. Daddy cried a lot. And he said he wouldn't."

Jiraiya wanted to bring Sakumo back from the dead just to strangle him.

"Daddy…" Kakashi closed his eyes and frowned, as if he had a headache. "…is a hypocrite. That's someone who does what they're not supposed to."

Now Jiraiya felt guilty. He was the one who'd called Sakumo a hypocrite. Repeatedly.

Kakashi slumped against Kushina, closing his eyes. "Daddy does all the things he's not supposed to do. Who is going to punish him?"

"Sandaime," Kushina said gently. "Sandaime will punish Sakumo. He is very wise. I am sure Sandaime will do the right thing."

Kakashi seemed soothed by that.

After a few minutes, he muttered, "I'm tired."

"Take a nap, then," Kushina said. "You can go to sleep right here."

Jiraiya was surprised that Kakashi took her up on it. It looked like his nephew just plain passed out. He watched Kakashi, but Kakashi didn't seem to be waking up.

"It's bad, isn't it," Minato mumbled.

Jiraiya slipped an arm around Minato and hugged him. "We'll all get through this together, remember? We will."

Minato nodded, but he still looked upset. He stared at the TV with a troubled expression.

"Would you like some lunch?" Kushina asked. "Kakashi-kun asked me to make him lunch, and I didn't want to leave him to go shopping. I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all." Jiraiya grinned at her. "Whip my poor, humble ingredients into a feast any time you want."

"Would you like some?" Kushina asked. "Kakashi-kun asked for yakitori. I made some beef skewers, too."

Jiraiya realized he was nauseous. "Um…sure. Thanks, Kushina-chan." He kissed her cheek and rose from the sofa. Then he turned and faced Minato. "You ate already, I trust?"

"Yes," Minato said. He glanced at Jiraiya. "Yes, thank you. I'm alright, Sensei."

"Scoot over and join Kushina," Jiraiya advised. "Your lovely wife probably wants to sit next to you without your fat old sensei in the way."

"You're not fat," Minato protested, but he scooted over and snuggled against Kushina.

Jiraiya grinned at them and went into the kitchen to retrieve some food. The grin came easier than it had a moment ago. Bantering with Minato like normal helped. As he raided the refrigerator, he couldn't help but think about how much Sakumo's death was affecting them all. It wasn't just Kakashi they had to worry about. They were all in danger of falling apart.

He'd do whatever he could to keep that from happening.