Beta-ed by Lil Miss MorningStar. Thanks for all the help on this chapter. XD

Sorry for the wait. Between exams, jobs (I got a new job. Yay me! Well it's my first job), my boyfriend and re-writes, this chapter is terribly late and I apologise profusely.

The pain of a new day

Chapter 19

It was late and Kakashi had taken first watch. Not that a watch was needed but the genin needed the practise. They'd travelled through the trees that day only to land in a clearing and start some hellish training by anyone's standards. So much so that Kakashi would be surprised if any of them actually woke up for their designated watch.

But he allowed himself a small smile despite the fact that it didn't appear that he was getting much sleep tonight. His genin were going to rock those chunin exams. The progress they'd made even from when he'd first gotten them as his team was incredible. It was hard to believe that they, aside from Itachi, had remained as chunin throughout their ninja career. What had stopped Izumo and Kotetsu?

Hadn't he heard them saying one night, well he was pretty sure they had been drinking that night having just come off a shift with Tsunade but still, that they were aiming for jonin? Why hadn't they made jonin already?

Would they make the same career choices this time around? It was hard to imagine that they would.

Did training in the genin years really make all that much difference?

Well just look at Danzou's preferred training candidates. He always took on children. Young and impressionable.

Speaking of Danzou, the man would probably try his luck with Naru. Would he get that far? Kakashi had placed all his assumptions and made his conclusions on the fact that Minato would not allow that to happen.

Danzou wouldn't be foolish enough to try anything. The man did have a good judge of when something was a lost cause such that he hadn't tried to train Naruto till Sandaime was out of the way. He just didn't count on Tsunade and Jiraiya's interference when it came to Naruto's training and ninja career.

However, Danzou might not be all that interested in Naru. After all, no one knew that the boy was really a Jinchuriki as well. Was it wise to keep that a secret? What if Naru threw a fit and no one could stop him? What if Naru hurt someone?

Kakashi rubbed at his uncovered eye.

These were concerns he'd been battling with for some time now and it felt like he was going around in circles. He needed to stop repeating his own thoughts. Gaara and Kakashi had discussed this. They knew what they were doing. They had a plan and now he had to stick to it.

But that didn't make it any easier.

The fire they'd lit earlier was burning low now, just a smouldering ring of wooden husks. It was enough to cast a warm glow on the four lumps of sleeping genin and Kakashi tried to use them once again to distract his thoughts.

Naru was not coming home with him anymore. He wasn't going to see those bi-coloured eyes sparkle with a special kind of happiness they showed only to Kakashi.

Naru, no matter how much he wanted it, was not his son.

Naru was Naruto and no amount of Sasuke's chakra was going to change that. He had no right to keep the boy. He had no right to call him a Hatake. Minato-sensei deserved better than that, and so did Naruto.

So he wasn't going to fight the Morino Protocol. He had planned on its activation. He and Gaara had to stop their past from becoming this world's future and that was all there was to it. Naru was safer with Minato-sensei, happier. Things had to change and Kakashi was going to have to be the one to do it. But that meant going right to where it was the most dangerous, a place where Naru could not follow.

"Sensei?"

Itachi was standing behind him, features carefully blank as he waited for Kakashi's acknowledgement.

"Everything is alright Itachi. You should go back to sleep." Kakashi replied quietly.

There was no reply at first, no movement to indicate that the young Uchiha had obeyed. Kakashi knew that something more, something important was bugging Itachi and with Itachi's mind, it could be anything.

"But, I have to know, is Sasuke going to kill everyone?" Itachi whispered, his tone hoarse as though the very idea pained him.

Kakashi sighed and turned to the Uchiha before gesturing for him to come closer. Itachi hesitated for a moment before he took a slow steady step in Kakashi's direction. Was he questioning whether he wanted to know that answer to that? Was he questioning whether Kakashi would tell him the truth? It was hard to be sure.

Kakashi might have been a genius himself but Itachi was on a whole other level. The boy always had been. Yet they were both tools for their village, masters of their profession, a profession that dealt primarily in death and deception.

"Sasuke is special. He has a unique potential to grow very powerful." Kakashi stated carefully. "But as all powerful things, he needs to have a motivation, to be 'unlocked' in a sense. You with me so far?"

Itachi nodded, eyes far too serious for his age, "Yes. Power cannot be fully utilised if it is not fully understood."

"Not quite but close. Think of it like the children at the Academy. See, they all know what chakra is, and they all have the potential to both have and use chakra. But not all of them do. It's one thing to have chakra, to understand what it is, but it's a whole other matter to find it and use it." Kakashi explained. "In this way, Sasuke is the same. He has genius, he has talent, he has power. He just needs to find it and understand it. He needs to have the motivation needed to go through the journey required to obtain this power, to unlock it. And like all power, it comes at a price." Kakashi paused as he looked to the sky, away from Itachi. "In time you'd have come to understand this on your own. You, in my past, created the circumstances needed for Sasuke to access this power. But, you, like me, and perhaps all protégée, could not predict the one thing we will never truly understand."

"What?" Itachi whispered, gaze intent upon Kakashi.

"The strength of human emotions." Kakashi replied. "Sure we can predict the reaction that someone will have, but not really the depth. We don't understand them enough." Kakashi paused yet again, as he considered another thought. "However, perhaps you did."

"What do you mean?"

"It was rumoured that you had mastered your Sharingan to such an extent that you could see the emotion that affected a person in their current circumstances. That you could see into the very soul of the other person and could understand everything that made them who they are." Kakashi murmured. "I'm not sure how accurate this is because, you see Itachi, you never stayed in Konoha. Your path and your choices took you out of the village and away from Sasuke." Kakashi looked to the Uchiha, watching as his features remained as blank as ever. "And the night you left was the night you began your greatest lie. It was the night you created the circumstances that unlocked Sasuke's power."

"It was a lie that Sasuke could never find it within his heart to forgive." Kakashi sighed. "And it was your desire for him to never learn the truth, but you underestimated your enemy's understanding of the situation, of your situation. You underestimated your enemy's abilities. Oh, you tried your very best, and it was pretty darn great, for Sasuke to never learn the truth, but it wasn't enough." Itachi had planned for Sasuke finding out the truth which was why he gave Naruto Shisui's eye. He just hadn't planned on Kabuto and his Impure Reincarnation Jutsu.

"My enemy, it was Tobi, wasn't it?" Itachi asked, looking to the ground.

"It was." Kakashi affirmed. Among others. "Hard to believe that you weren't good enough, isn't it? With all your genius and all your power, how could you ever fail? Especially knowing that Obito was the one behind the mask. It's a question I've asked myself many times. And I've been no closer to an answer than what you are now." Kakashi continued. "But then I remember that the line between genius and insanity is a very thin one. And perhaps a non-existent one."

"And Sasuke?" Itachi turned back to Kakashi, eyes demanding an answer even as his face remained blank.

"Sasuke? Well for him it was always about you. Everything was always Itachi. Everything he did, every thought he had, it was always with you in mind. It was perhaps his greatest strength, and his greatest weakness. As is the case for all Uchiha. I know all about your curse of hatred, how it's linked to those eyes of yours. I don't envy the Uchiha clan there. In fact I pity you." Kakashi looked to the sky again. "But you don't want my pity. A proud clan doesn't ever want pity. Is it perhaps true then, that the Uchiha have been running towards their own destruction for far too long already? That their death is inevitable?"

"The Uchiha die. That is the only conclusion that your words point to." Itachi muttered with a small frown.

"Take my words as you will Itachi. I know your thoughts on your own clan better than you do. Sasuke will be fine, so long as he has you. You're the only thing he cares about because his bond to you is his Curse. It's his activation. He will always be bound to you just as you are bound to him." Kakashi moved to stand.

"You did not answer my question." Itachi pointed out.

"Because you already know the answer Itachi. You just wanted me to confirm your thoughts, or perhaps deny them. You're doing that irrational thing that all humans do when it comes to the people they love." Kakashi smiled softly. "It doesn't get easier, and your desire to be wrong, for your own thoughts and conclusions to be horribly inaccurate, that doesn't diminish either. No, it grows stronger with every passing mission, with every affirmation that you were once again correct and that once again you were correct in your conclusion that there was nothing you could have done. It doesn't get easier. It doesn't get better. But you learn to survive, to move on because it's all you have left."

.0.0.0.

Naru clutched at Kushina's hand as he followed her. For some reason the small boy, who was indeed small for his age, followed Kushina around everywhere. Only Minato or Naruto could pull his attention in any other direction.

Naru was currently stubbornly ignoring Sasuke. Kushina sighed softly as Sasuke's lower lip trembled at another rebuffed attempt at a greeting. Naruto frowned as well but he was too young to understand anything more than that Sasuke was upset and that so was Naru. For the blond toddler, he was upset because his two best friends just didn't want to seem to get along and he couldn't understand why not.

Mikoto shook her head before plastering a smile on her face and bending down to Sasuke and Naruto's level. "Hey boys, why don't you guys go play in the other room. I'm sure Naru will join you in a moment."

At three the toddlers never lingered on a single emotion or thought for long. The word 'play' seemed to be the trick needed to get their minds off of Naru's less than cheerful manner as the two pouting toddlers giggled happily. Naruto grinned widely, reminding Kushina so much of his goofy father before he grabbed Sasuke's hand and dashed off to the other room that was home to all his toys, giggling mischievously the whole way there.

"You know Kushina, I'm starting to think that maybe there's something more to Naru that Kakashi wasn't telling us." Mikoto whispered, glancing in concern to the small three year old still near Kushina's leg. "I've been thinking about it and something Itachi mentioned made me realise that Kakashi never let Naru and Sasuke meet. Ever."

"And then when they did, by accident, Naru lost it." Kushina finished with her own frown.

"Kakashi, from what you've told me and from what I've learnt and heard, didn't want another team due to a previous bad experience. He also doesn't like Uchiha, or rather one particular one." Mikoto mused, eyes drifting towards the room where Sasuke and Naruto were playing. Kushina knew that they had precious moments left to them because the two toddlers needed constant supervision and even this small conversation was taking a chance. "Could it be that Sasuke was his student, and that something happened?" Mikoto turned wide concerned eyes back to her best friend. "What if Sasuke died on a mission and Itachi couldn't forgive Kakashi for it? Itachi would certainly have the power to create the future that Kakashi is trying to prevent. It would have to be someone extremely powerful because Kakashi wouldn't lose lightly."

"I don't know Mikoto. Kakashi likes Itachi. He requested Itachi for his team." Kushina frowned.

"But what if he only did that so that he could have a hand in Itachi's training from the beginning?" Mikoto's tone was strained. She didn't like where this was going, even if it was only speculation.

"Kaka doesn't like three Uchiha." Naru's small voice suddenly interrupted and both women jumped. They had been keeping their voices low and were stunned that Naru had both heard and understood them. Naruto and Sasuke were still years behind hearing AND following a conversation. It was one thing to be in hearing distance but it was another thing entirely for the toddlers to actually follow what was being said. "He doesn't like the Old Bastard Uchiha. The Dead Last Moron Uchiha he kind of gets angry at but he also gets really sad when he talks about him. But he absolutely hates the Maniac Insane Mass Murdering Heartless Retarded Uchiha."

"Wow, what a mouth full." Mikoto stuttered.

"Do any of these Uchiha have names?" Kushina asked, her mind whirling into possibilities and possibly warning Minato of that last one.

"Those aren't their names?" Naru frowned in confusion and Kushina understood immediately. She'd wondered why Kakashi hadn't put up more of a fuss when it came to handing Naru over, why he wasn't overly concerned about Naru leaking information that Kakashi didn't seem all that free in giving. Kakashi had once again shown the genius that he was and he'd created a way of talking about his past and their future in a way that made Naru completely useless as a source of information. Not that Kushina had been planning on using him as such.

Naru didn't actually understand the difference between the two worlds. There was no 'past future' and 'future' for him. It was all the 'present'.

But that didn't mean the danger was any less significant. From what Naru did know, Kushina could deduce that there were three very problematic Uchiha to be dealt with. She could guess who the Dead Last Moron Uchiha was. Only because Kakashi got upset when he talked about him and there was only one enemy that would do that to Kakashi.

Obito.

Obito had already been taken care of, so that left two Uchiha. Obito had resurrected the real Madara Uchiha. Madara Uchiha could very well be the Old Bastard Uchiha.

But that still left the last Uchiha.

Mikoto had a point. But Kushina couldn't help but wonder, if Itachi was such a prodigy, then perhaps Sasuke had something in the way of genius as well. It was in the genes after all.

So which one was the Maniac Insane Mass Murdering Heartless Retarded Uchiha?

Kakashi kept Naru far away from Sasuke, yet he kept Itachi close by.

It could really be either one of them. After all, keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

Glancing down to the boy still clinging to her leg, Kushina couldn't help but wonder who he really was.

He'd been with them for two days now and in those two days she'd never once seen him without a mask. She'd thought that perhaps when he was bathing, but the boy could bath himself and refused any and all help. He even locked the door. It was unnerving to her, as a mother to Naruto, to see a child very close to being the same age do things that she constantly had to help Naruto with all on his own.

He even wore the blasted thing while he slept. And if she wasn't mistaken she was pretty darn sure that he used chakra to keep the mask in place.

Perhaps he really was Kakashi's biological child. Kakashi could have easily had a child that grew up, joined the war and then ended up as the unfortunate ninja experiment that she was currently presented with. She, along with Minato, Sarutobi and Jiraiya were really the only people who knew the truth about Naru.

She had to be told because she was now going to be raising the boy.

At first, she'd damn near castrated Minato for allowing the Morino Protocol to even be processed and approved. But Minato had looked at her with the most haunted gaze . . . and he'd said the one thing that had made Kushina freeze. "I think he might be Naruto, I think he might be our son."

What had she supposed to have done after hearing something like that and knowing the origins of the boy and his circumstances?

Her heart went out to Kakashi but after that 'what if' had been presented to her, she just couldn't let go of Naru. To think that she'd held him in her arms, comforted him as he'd cried. And all that time he could have been the very child that had been within her at the time.

Kushina bent down and scooped the toddler up into her arms, already walking to where she could hear Naruto and Sasuke giggling far too mischievously.

.0.0.0.

Minato frowned as he observed Naru once again pick at the food on his plate. It was the second night and he had yet to see the small boy eat anything other than the ramen Kakashi had bought him, and even then he hadn't actually seen the boy eat.

He knew what the problem was, but he wasn't sure what to do about it. He hadn't failed to notice how Naru's face had twitched slightly when he'd heard Kushina say that dinner was a family affair and as such everyone ate together.

Naru didn't want to remove his mask but he couldn't eat unless he did so.

Minato sighed before pulling out a storage scroll, ignoring the look Kushina was giving him about bringing a work related object to the table. Stretching over, Minato snatched up the toddler's plate and sealed it into the scroll before tossing the scroll to the boy. He wasn't surprised when Naru caught it reflexively.

"Eat it later, kay." Minato stated with a smile. Naru regarded him silently before nodding slowly, holding the scroll close to his chest.

Minato had yet to tell the boy that he wouldn't be going back to Kakashi. As such the child slept on the couch, believing his stay to be a temporary one. Minato had known that if he'd made up the spare bedroom into something more suited for a toddler then Naru would have known instantly that there was more going on.

The idea was to get him used to the idea slowly, to try and introduce his new living arrangements in stages.

As such Minato just knew that the question Naru had just opened his mouth to ask would be related to Kakashi and when the older ninja was getting back. "How long is Kaka's mission again?"

"Three to four weeks." Minato replied quietly, not meeting Naru's gaze.

"But why so long?" This was the first time Naru had continued the conversation when other times he'd merely nodded and continued with whatever it had been that he was doing.

"Because that was the time allocated for the mission. It has distance and efficiency factored into the time allocation." Minato explained. He'd long since come to the conclusion that talking to Naru was definitely not like talking to Naruto or Sasuke.

"Is it a hard mission?" Naru's gaze had narrowed slightly.

"Well it's more about experience for his genin team than anything else." Kushina answered with a warm smile.

"I see. So it's for Iruka and Itachi's benefit?" Naru muttered. "Well I guess if it's for them then I'm ohkay with it. Kotetsu and Izumo certainly need the help so, I can't really complain about that. I wonder what Tenzou is doing. Haven't seen him in a while."

Naru had petered off into a world of his own thoughts, talking out loud and muttering under his breath for the most part.

Minato listened with a heavy heart as Naru continued to mutter to himself, speaking of making plans for what to do with Kakashi when the older ninja returned and what he and how he was going to prank Kakashi's team. Minato didn't know what he was going to do when Naru learnt that he wasn't going home with Kakashi when he came back from his mission.

Most of those on the council, having never met Naru themselves, had made the assumption that Naru was like most three year old toddlers, disregarding the fact that this was supposed to be 'Kakashi's son'. Minato had listened silently as they'd speculated that at Naru's age, his attachment to Kakashi could easily be over ridden as his mind was young, mouldable. Minato had grown angry at that one but his instincts as a ninja had allowed him to remain calm. As a parent however . . .

What truly sickened him was that most of the council members were parents to toddlers themselves, all the children having been born roughly the same time. Certainly in the same year. It was often joked about over the occasional get together at the Shinobi bar that the children would all be together in the Academy, preferably in the same class as well where they could then form ties early.

Naru was a rather interesting factor that had been thrown into the mix. He was an unknown, a wild card that was both mentally and physically different. Most, when they got to meet him, would come to realise exactly what they had done when they had placed the Morino Protocol upon Kakashi.

Minato just prayed that Danzou stayed away. He really didn't want to deal with Kakashi's aftermath should the old War Hawk try anything with Naru. Minato just knew that Kakashi would find out about it.

.0.0.0.

"How is the boy adjusting?"

Minato regarded the aged ninja before him silently before sighing heavily. "He hasn't yet been told that he won't be going back to Kakashi. So he's passive for now. In fact there hasn't so much has been a temper tantrum. I'm starting to doubt whether there was ever a problem in the first place. However, those grocery store reports speak for themselves. The damage he caused was . . ."

"As is expected from the Hatake line." Sarutobi sighed. "I was quite surprised when no one suggested training him, like they did when it came to Kakashi. The boy is three now, which is roughly the same age as Kakashi when he began his ninja training."

The two were standing on the roof of the Hokage Tower. A surprisingly peaceful and private spot that was practical as it wasn't too far from the Hokage's office itself. It suited the two Hokage just fine when it came to the reason they were both meeting at all.

"I wouldn't allow it. We're not going to turn more children into mere weapons. Itachi, Tenzou and Kakashi are all bad enough as it is." Minato paused with a deep frown before continuing very softly. "It doesn't exactly help that Naru has the reflexes of a ninja."

"Remnants of a life he no longer fully remembers. He must have made one fine ninja before his untimely death." Sarutobi smiled softly. "War is an endlessly cruel practise. So heartless."

"Speaking of . . . I've been getting reports." Minato leaned on the railing, facing the village rather than the Sandaime. "The other villages continue to grow more and more restless. It seems that they simply will not accept Kakashi. They cannot move past it. Especially after the Hyuga Incident."

"What do you plan to do? A Fourth War so soon cannot be sustained by any of the villages. We only barely won the last war and we had Orochimaru with us at the time." Sarutobi stated, eyes growing darker with the mention of both war and his traitorous student.

"No, there cannot be war now. Even four years after the last one ended, we do not have the resources nor the ninja for it. The other villages know this." Minato agreed. "They cannot sustain a war themselves." Minato sighed heavily, "On their own. But if they banded together, formed alliances. Konoha would fall."

"Is Suna not in an alliance with us? Surely they would come to our aid?" Sarutobi's tone showed how little he truly believed his own words.

"At the cost of their own ninja and resources? I think not. They are struggling the most out of the five Great Nations. They will not stand with us. Our alliance is too new, too alien. In fact, it would not surprise me if they broke the alliance and stood against us as well. They have no reason to remain loyal to Konoha." Minato stated distantly.

"So then, how do we placate the other villages, for now?" Sarutobi posed the question they'd both been dancing around for some time. "Because nothing short of handing over Kakashi will stop this all permanently."

"We find out something from Kakashi, something with enough importance that it will keep them all too occupied within their own villages to focus their attention on Konoha. For this however, we'll have to trick Kakashi. He's adamant about not influencing the future by telling us how it should be." Minato mused, one hand moving to his lips absently. A nervous habit that Sarutobi had always teased him about before. "We're going to have to further break him. Taking away Naru, as if that wasn't enough." The blond shook his head angrily. This next step, it was far too cruel. But it was needed.

"I gather you already know how to do this." Sarutobi guessed.

"I do. Something Jiraiya-sensei and I discovered a while back. Kakashi cannot, absolutely cannot, hold alcohol. He never drinks it for this reason." Minato explained, rubbing at his eyes. "I wish Jiraiya was here now. But he's still on that mission with younger Kakashi, Tenzou and the others. I wonder how they're doing. I haven't received a report yet but they only left two weeks ago."

"They'll need to return for provisions. When they do, the older Kakashi will have returned from his own mission with his genin. Perhaps that will be the opportune time."

Minato didn't reply for a full minute as he processed their next course of action. "Every time I think about what I have to do to Kakashi I just want to give the hat back to you. But then I remember that if I don't do something, others will suffer because of my reluctance. Chibi Kakashi will be targeted, Naru will be targeted once the other nations learn of his identity, Konoha as a whole will be targeted. All those even remotely close to Kakashi will suffer the most, the genin, Tenzou . . . I hate myself for what I'm going to do to Kakashi, but it has to be done. The only downside to the plan is that it's unpredictable. Kakashi will talk but I have no idea as to what he'll say."

"It is a course of action that must be taken. I'd have done the same had I been in your place. The only difference between you and me, is that Kakashi was never my student, merely my Shinobi and that makes a world of difference. Kakashi is lucky to have you because I'd have asked Kakashi to die for Konoha the moment he landed here. Naru, the child, would have become an S-rank secret and that would have been the end of it. But I'm not the one calling the shots. You are. And if I didn't think you were capable, Minato, I'd never have made you my successor." Sarutobi placed a hand on the stunned blonde's shoulder. The Sandaime had never been so open about his opinion before, always leaving Minato to draw his own conclusions. "You will do what is best for Konoha."

Then the old man was walking away, leaving a gaping blond behind him. The Yondaime Hokage had known there were sacrifices that had to be made, but he'd never truly grasped the extent till that moment. Then again, words were far from actions. After all, the Sandaime had to have known there was something wrong with Orochimaru but his personal feelings for the ninja had gotten in the way. Was Minato falling into the same trap? After all, Orochimaru had turned out to be very dangerous.

Closing his eyes, Minato could only hope that he was indeed, doing the right thing.

.0.0.0.

Kakashi grinned evilly at his unsuspecting students, only they couldn't even see it so they didn't know to flinch in terror. It took half the fun away but it was still rather entertaining for the jonin in that they blindly trusted him and would do anything he told them to.

It was a heady feeling. One that made him giddy with the prospect of all the fun he could have before they got smart and called him out on it. Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura would have been that for him, had Orochimaru not happened and ruined everything. He could tell them to wear pink tutus for balance and stealth practice and they'd do it. Even Itachi.

Although the young Uchiha would probably know it was all for the fun of it. He'd also probably not say anything about it either.

Currently the four were trying to catch their breath, having just gone through a training drill that would make even Kakashi sweat a little. Nothing that a little sleep wouldn't cure though. So far, they had managed to figure out everyone's elemental affinity. Kakashi had even managed to start them all off in a jutsu on that affinity.

Just as Kakashi had suspected, Itachi was a water style and fire style user, Izumo had a water chakra affinity and Kotetsu had an earth chakra affinity. However, Iruka did not have an affinity. Rather his chakra had yet to develop one. There were other options such as Yin and Yang, Genjutsu or Kenjutsu. But Kakashi knew that the young Umino was upset over not having his own nature affinity.

There wasn't much he could do about it for now. All Kakashi could do was teach Iruka neutral jutsu and wait for the boy to develop his affinity. Perhaps he could be trained in medical nin jutsu. He wasn't so sure though. Iruka was as average as a Shinobi got when it came to just about everything. The only thing Iruka was remotely better at than anyone on the team other than Itachi was trap setting.

Then there was the high emotional toll that came with being a medic nin. Iruka wouldn't be able to handle that, would he? Kakashi didn't want to negatively influence the boy's life so he didn't dare mention the position. Iruka would try, he would succeed. But it would cost him, psychologically, it would destroy the boy.

Brushing all thoughts of medic nins and chakra affinities aside, Kakashi moved back to his previous train of thought.

"There is this little place that my sensei's sensei once took me too." Kakashi began, his tone as bored as ever.

Only Itachi had the presence of mind, and the sharpness to actually narrow his gaze at the mention of Jiraiya.

"It's a type of taijutsu training." Kakashi continued and he wasn't lying. Somewhat. Heck there had been many occasions where he had relied on the teachings of the women Jiraiya had taken to him that one time Minato-sensei had gotten sick. Minato-sensei never asked Jiraiya to substitute ever again. Yet the fact still remained, that joke had actually saved Kakashi's skin more than a few times.

"And I've decided to leave you four in their tender care for the next five days. After that it's back to training." Kakashi stated cheerfully. "It's just across those trees."

"But Hatake-sensei, the only thing in this area worth going to is a geisha–"

"I'm so glad you know so much about your surroundings Itachi." Kakashi stated loudly and cutting the Uchiha off. "It's kind of creepy but it makes for a very good ninja, even if said ninja is only a genin and a nine year old one at that. Still, ANBU would love you. You'd be the go-to Rookie for all the grunt work." Kakashi continued airily, ignoring Itachi's blank stare.

"What's the place that's around here Itachi?" Kotetsu asked suspiciously. But Itachi didn't reply since Kakashi was still yammering on about nothing and Itachi was pretending to listen. He'd gotten the hint. His sensei didn't want him to say anything until it was too late to do anything about it. But why on earth would Hatake-sensei think that learning from geisha would actually be beneficial?

Then again, Jiraiya of the Sannin was known for his less than appropriate teaching methods. However, he was the sannin with a pupil currently wearing the Hokage's hat so perhaps there was merit to this training after all.

.0.0.0.

"Sensei?" Kotetsu huffed as he forced his body through one of the many dances the geisha were teaching the four genin.

"Yes Kotetsu?" Kakashi hummed, not paying the boy any mind as he read his Icha Icha book.

"Have I mentioned how much a hate you?" Kotetsu spat out venomously.

"Hm hm. Several times." Kakashi replied turning the page. "In the last ten minutes."

"I'm sure this is very beneficial to our ninja training Kotetsu." Iruka stated yet again, but Kakashi could see the doubt in the boy's eyes.

Itachi was the only one that had yet to say something.

"You're just saying that because you two have this creepy bond." Izumo grumbled.

Kakashi ignored them all for the most part. He knew that his ninken would be back soon but they still had mission time left. Since the ninken couldn't write, Pakkun would just relay the details to Kakashi and Kakashi would be the one writing up the report. Just as well, considering Minato-sensei knew Kakashi's handwriting better than anyone else.

"You are not paying attention, Hagane." The geisha who had graciously agreed to teach Kotetsu smacked the boy's head and the young genin's attention quickly reverted back to the dance he was trying to perfect.

All jokes aside, a dance and a kata were very similar. They were just used for different purposes. When mastered, a kata could for all intents and purposes be used as a dance and vice versa. The brats really shouldn't complain. It was improving their taijutsu and they were getting great flexibility from the training. Perhaps they'd even come to find the activity fun. Kakashi certainly liked it. It had a sense of fluidity to it that afforded one a sense of freedom that a kata did not.

"After practise today I believe we'll visit the small hot springs. You four could use the relaxation. You take this all way too seriously." Kakashi hummed. And they deserved it. They had been working hard and would continue to do so for the remainder of their time under Kakashi's care.

The geisha did not recognise Kakashi because he had to be under a henge for any interaction he had outside of his team, as per Minato-sensei's request but Kakashi had been a ninja long enough and had travelled with Jiraiya enough times to know how to get what he wanted. The geisha took their profession very seriously and they were not in a habit of teaching just anyone. In fact they began learning from the youngest of ages, perfecting and mastering a way of life. As a ninja, Kakashi could appreciate the dedication they had. And he would have to impress upon the three brats under his tutelage the honour that it was to be even considered to be taught the way of the geisha even if only for a few days.

This was something that not many ninja would get the chance to do or even consider so it was an advantage in battle. And any advantage was a welcomed one. Chances were, if Kotetsu and Izumo were really all that concerned about their dignity, they'd surprise their enemy so much that they'd manage to kill them before they got the chance to mock the genin over the fact that they were dancing like geishas rather than fighting like ninja. To Kakashi, that beat any hit to his dignity.

Dignity meant nothing in the face of victory. Because to a ninja a victory was more than simply winning the battle, no, it was winning one's life and the chance to have another day.

All that aside though, watching this was fricken hilarious. Especially watching little Itachi. The poor boy could almost pass for a girl.

.0.0.0.

"How long has he been there?" Minato asked Kushina quietly as he observed Naru. The boy was sitting by the window, watching, just watching.

"The whole day. Not even Naruto could get him to move away." Kushina replied, her tone conveying her concern.

"Has he eaten?"

"He did. But he hasn't done anything else. Minato, this isn't healthy for a child. He's three. He needs to run around and have fun, not sit waiting for a ninja to come home. That's not the life a child should have." Kushina placed a hand on Minato's cheek. "Perhaps we should tell him."

"I can't. Not yet." Minato moved away from Kushina's touch, almost turning away from her completely. "He's a child. He's young. He'll adjust. He just needs to be distracted. Maybe we should plan a get together with all the other ninja and their children."

Kushina frowned. Minato had been the one to allow this. He had been the one to pull Naru away from Kakashi. Someone had to tell the boy sometime. He was wrong on so many levels to allow the child to harbour false hope for an outcome that was never going to happen.

"Whatever you say dear." Kushina knew that Minato was wrong, but she also knew that he needed time. It wasn't easy being the reason a family was pulled apart. Minato needed time to forgive himself before he could move forward, only to tell a small boy he was never going home again and only to have that same child hate him for it.

So yes, Minato needed time, just as much as Kakashi and Naru did.

.0.0.0.

"Orochimaru sure has been busy." Jiraiya sighed. The small ANBU to his left shifted and Jiraiya glanced at him. "At ease Hound. We'll look after you."

Large eyes turned to Jiraiya, the only feature of the boy visible through the two holes in the ANBU mask. Jiraiya smirked at him. "It's a pain but you've grown on us. Don't you agree, Captain Wolf?"

And of course he just had to add Kakashi to the teasing.

"My personal feelings do not affect the outcome of the mission nor the health or the peace of mind of my teammate." Wolf replied curtly.

"Always so professional. I'm starting to like the other you better Captain Wolf." Jiraiya mock sighed and he was almost sure he saw the Chibi roll his eyes.

"Captain Wolf's counterpart is no less professional, Jiraiya-san. I've worked with him on a few occasions since his arrival. He is efficient in the deadliest of ways and he doesn't act anything less than proficient, expecting the same from his subordinates. That being said, he also knows the strengths and weaknesses of those around him far better than they themselves know and he can utilise them to his advantage before one even realises he has even needed to at all."

"And that is why we have a Nara on the squad. Always so clued up on current events, which in turn means we're clued up as well." Jiraiya smiled. "Now what can you tell me of the lab in front of us?"

"There appears to be over 200 test subjects housed within the underground caverns and tunnels. There are about 50 guards and doctors in charge of the facility and since Orochimaru was sighted in the area several days ago it will be some time before he'll visit again and therefore know of the lab's destruction, as per mission requirements."

"Testing appears to be to create some sort of water creature and human hybrid. Testing has as of yet been unsuccessful." The Aburame teammate continued.

"And we're here to make sure that it never is successful. My only problem now is to decide about those test subjects. We have no idea what Orochimaru has done to them. Do we try to reverse the process or do we just eliminate everyone? Are they a threat? Are they even going to survive? The death rate thus far seems to be a consistent 20 plus per day. Whatever they're doing in there, it doesn't appear to be working." Jiraiya mused out loud.

Previous labs that they had gone to had been nothing more than storage facilities and as such places that Orochimaru did not visit. The Sannin would not know of their invasion until he was left with only a few of his labs and by that time it would be too late. All the research had been placed into storage scrolls. All of which Jiraiya refused to let anyone but himself hold onto. He just could not afford to let some of the stuff they found get into the wrong hands.

This was the first place they had come to that had test subjects within it. The first time they had to make the decision of whether or not to kill the victims of Orochimaru's sick obsession.

"Ask them." Hound interrupted suddenly.

"What's that Hound?" Jiraiya asked.

"Take out the guards and the doctors running the experiment and then assess the condition of the victims remaining. If they appear to have a chance at survival, then assess their state of mind. If their state of mind shows signs of being harmful to those in society, then termination. If otherwise, ask them what they want. Konoha might be able to help them. Princess Tsunade, perhaps, might consider it. If the Sandaime asked, then perhaps she would." Hound explained, eyes not meeting those above him in rank.

"But some might not seek help. Some might wish to die all the same." Wolf finished. "Understood Hound. Your suggestions have been taken into consideration. We should begin the operation and take out the guards and medic nin running the experiment. Permission to proceed?" Wolf turned to Jiraiya who's features grew serious before he nodded.

"Let's get this over with. This is a long mission and we still have a long way to go. It's only going to get harder."

Four ANBU and one Sannin moved through the darkness that night provided and into the shadows of the entrance of one of many of Orochimaru's labs.

.0.0.0.

"He's a little strange, isn't he?" Inoichi stated as he, like every other ninja parent in the room, watched Naru Hatake.

"He's been at the window the whole time, it isn't healthy." Chouza agreed.

"His behaviour indicates that he's done this before. Waited for Hatake that is." Shikaku murmured gruffly. "His behaviour is also not indicative of that of a typical Morino Protocol victim."

"So you think we made a mistake?" Chouza asked with a frown.

"Ninja do not make mistakes. They just have ulterior motives. So now, who is the one with the ulterior motive?" Shikaku replied, tilting his head to the side slightly in consideration. "Hatake didn't fight to keep the child, didn't even try to defend his case. It's almost like he was counting on this outcome, like he wanted it."

"No parent wants their child to be taken away." Minato sighed as he joined the conversation.

"True, but when has Hatake ever been normal?" Inoichi pointed out with a raised brow.

"Despite his intelligence and skill as a ninja, Kakashi is still a parent just as all of you are. His effectiveness as a killer has got nothing to do with his ability to be a parents just as the same can be said of all of you. Especially the Yondaime."

Every ninja in the room turned shocked gazes towards the three year old toddler that was regarding them in turn with the coldness of a Shinobi years into his profession. For a moment it seemed as though nothing was moving, not even the air around them. They were frozen, locked in the bi-coloured gaze of a child that should not have been able to both hear and understand their words.

Then the boy blinked and returned to watching the window and the atmosphere almost felt like nothing had happened, almost. There was a lingering coldness in the air, a stunned disbelief.

"Has he been able to hear every conversation that's been this distance from him?" Minato muttered, eyes showing a distress that no other feature on his face did. "Because if that is so, then he knows everything about Kakashi and I've avoided telling him up till now. But if he has heard, then why does he continue to wait? I don't understand." The blond sighed, thoughts trailing off into a world of their own "I need to talk to Kakashi. Perhaps I should recall him and his team?"

"Daddy!"

Minato turned to the doorway of the room in time to see a blur of blond before he found himself with a bundle of squirming toddler. "Make Naru come play." Naruto giggled as he hardly sat still within Minato's arms.

"Oh, and how am I going to do that?" Minato chuckled.

"You're Daddy and Daddy can do anything." Naruto yelled confidently. The toddler had yet to comprehend that Minato was the Hokage. It would be even longer before Naruto understood what was meant by being the Hokage. Yet that didn't stop Naruto from deciding that Minato was the greatest person ever, who could do anything.

Minato couldn't deny his son anything. Despite his new revelations about Naru, a boy he was starting to realise he was wholly unprepared for when it came to raising, he set Naruto back on the ground with a bright smile and a slight nudge in the direction of the room where all the other children were playing before walking over to where Naru was sitting.

"Hey Naru, why don't you go spend some time with the other kids? I'm sure you'd get along with them. Naruto has been asking about you." Minato stated carefully with a soft smile. Naru blinked and Minato realised just how distant the toddler's gaze had been up till now.

"You mean I must go play?" Naru questioned, his tone conveying confusion.

"Yes. I know you have other friends. Kakashi told me about the Sand Siblings." This part was stated much more quietly than before so as not to be overheard. Naru's eyes began to sparkle for a moment but it didn't last long.

"It's too bad they can't come huh." Naru muttered. "Oh well. I guess I can go play for a little while. But you'll tell me if Kaka comes back right, you'll tell me the moment he's back, right?"

This side of Naru was the side Minato had grown to expect from the toddler and it showed that Naru had no knowledge of the fact that he wasn't going back to Kakashi. So then, what had that earlier statement been all about? Did Kakashi know? Minato couldn't ask the jonin because he wasn't in the village. Which came back to the issue of whether or not to recall the team early. There was no doubt that Kakashi needed the time away but Minato was beginning to need Kakashi's help.

. . . though, that was something he truly did not want to admit.

Yet this wasn't about his pride. This was about Naru and what was best for him. Would Kakashi even know? It was hard to know for certain because Naru was a mystery. No one knew how he'd been created and asking wouldn't help because that would only advertise a fact about the boy that they had covered up. But as far as Minato could understand, not even Kakashi knew how Naru had been created and he'd been there when it had happened.

"I'll tell you." Minato promised. And he would. But it wasn't going to be the meeting Naru seemed to be imagining.

"Kay." Minato could hear the smile in Naru's tone just before the boy rushed out of the room and to where Naruto had disappeared to earlier. It was almost as though Naru had even been away of what he'd stated earlier. Was that possible?

He'd just have to wait for Kakashi to come back. That was all there was to it. Besides, Kakashi had expressed a desire to talk to be him before the Morino Protocol had been activated and interrupted. So perhaps he had wanted to talk to Minato about Naru.

.0.0.0.

By the time Kakashi and his team returned to Konoha, the four genin were honestly and truly quite sick of the silver haired Jonin. There was only so much time one could spend in his presence before the urge to blow up at him became too strong and one gave in, including a young Itachi Uchiha. Not that the small genin did give into the urge. But that didn't mean he didn't entertain thoughts of the idea.

That being said, the moment the village walls came into view, all four quite happily and gleefully sprinted straight for them yelling the whole way there something that sounded a lot like "FREEDOM!" But they were screaming so manically, one couldn't be too sure.

Yes, even the ever stoic Itachi Uchiha.

His parents blamed it on Kakashi, but mostly they blamed it on Kakashi's forced interaction with Iruka. They didn't seem to really notice, or rather care, that Iruka appeared to be the one that was running the fastest and perhaps the loudest.

.0.0.0.

"The mission went well I presume?" Minato asked with a strained smile as Kakashi stood in front of him, four genin mysteriously absent.

"I wouldn't know. I was reading." Kakashi replied, turning a page of his blasted Icha Icha as he did so.

He wasn't about to tell Minato that he hadn't been on the mission. The brats wouldn't get the mission experience recorded on their files and that wouldn't help them when it came to entering into the chunin exams. They'd worked so hard during the mission because of the chunin exams and he wasn't about to let it go to waste.

"Kakashi." Minato sighed.

"It did. We got the objective." Kakashi replied, lowering the book to regard Minato with his visible eye.

It was silent for a moment and Kakashi sensed that the blond wanted to talk about something else. He didn't prompt Minato, merely waited for him to sort through his thoughts and organise his words. He didn't even raise his book as he waited, watching Minato instead.

"In your absence a few things have built up that I would like to talk to you about. Firstly, you wanted to talk to me before I sent you on that mission." Minato began, tone leaning more to the Hokage side of himself than a Sensei addressing his prize pupil.

"Yes. You are a seal master and you are married to one of the only surviving Uzumaki. It was my thoughts to seal away Naru's past life, his memories, so that he may grow up normally, have a chance at a normal childhood." Kakashi explained. "It would stop his episodes."

"And it would further strengthen the Morino Protocol, making it seem that Naru got better while under my care and that it really was all your fault." Minato finished.

"I know." Kakashi's gaze remained steady as did his tone. After all he was a ninja and ninja were trained experts at deception.

"I'll look into it. It will mean Inoichi's involvement." Minato nodded once, sticking with the Shinobi state of mind. "Furthermore, Naru Hatake needs to be discussed. His behaviour patterns while in my care have been troubling."

"He is struggling to adjust. He wasn't created with any normal means and as such he won't react normally. It is my belief that if his memories are sealed, if his mind is altered to be that of a regular toddler his age, then the eccentricities that surround him and his behaviour will greatly decrease." Kakashi responded, tilting his head to the side slightly as he thought it over. "He will continue to struggle because the problem is core deep. But he won't remember the life he had before. He won't remember my past, and I believe that it will help him. He'll just have the poorest chakra control in the Academy program. But he'll have the greatest reflexes, and he'll learn faster. The seal could be designed to leave that which he has already learned, allowing it to trickle through as he grows."

"I see. I'll have to five it some serious thought. Placing a seal upon someone's mind is very dangerous." Minato looked away, towards the window of the Hokage's office. "Not something I'd recommend. Yet it does seem to be what is best for Naru. So at the very least, I'll look into the possibility."

"Understood." Kakashi straighten his posture before continuing. "Anything else you wanted to talk about?"

"Yes." Minato turned back to Kakashi, but he was hesitating. Why was that?

Kakashi raised a brow to prompt the blond to continue.

"I wanted to know if you'd meet me for drinks later tonight, or sometime this week. We could talk about your team. You could tell me if you think they'll be ready in time for the chunin exams." Minato stated carefully.

"That's it?" Kakashi questioned.

"We could talk about other things if you wanted." Minato shrugged.

"I suppose. Just not tonight. I just got back." Kakashi's posture slowly crouched down into his usual slouch and Minato relaxed. It meant that Kakashi was dismissing any and all nervous ticks on Minato's part.

"The Blunt Kunai then?" Minato offered with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. But Kakashi didn't see it because he'd returned his gaze to his book.

"Hmm, I suppose. If you don't need me anymore I guess I'll leave." Kakashi hummed absently.

"See you around Kakashi." Minato sighed as the jonin shunshined out the room without waiting for a reply. "And just know, that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I've done to you, and I'm sorry for what I'm about to do to you."

.0.0.0.

Kakashi allowed himself a small frown as he walked away from the Hokage's office. It didn't really make a difference to his outward appearance, considering he was wearing a mask. But he allowed himself one all the same. Maybe if a ninja was observant enough, they'd have noticed the slight shift of his features, of the slight difference in shadows on the fabric of his mask and perhaps they'd think it strange considering he was leaving the Hokage's Office, the man who also happened to be his beloved sensei.

The tension between him and his sensei was rising, just as the tension between Konoha and the other Hidden Villages was rising. Minato was beginning to move to the extremes and this was something Kakashi was counting on. Just as he and Gaara had planned, Jiraiya had pushed Minato and had managed to manipulate the young Hokage into acting drastically. Sometimes, knowing those around him well enough to predict every move they'd make no matter the circumstances, really didn't sit well with the silver haired jonin. Just once, he'd like to be wrong. Especially when it came to the plan he and Gaara had created.

But it was too late to turn back now. He had started walking down this path and now he had to see it through.

Had he really estimated that it would be this tough? In all his genius, his knowledge of things to come and in all his skill, had he really thought that it wouldn't affect him as much as it was affecting him now?

Had he really sat down and rationalised that he could handle this crushing ache? Those di-coloured eyes that stared right into his soul. How had he forgotten their power even if they were marred by the light absorbing charcoal, leaving nothing but specks of the once bright blue irises? How had he, when Naruto had had the exact same intensity within his gaze?

It was a gaze that Naru gave him every day, and sometimes Kakashi imagined that those di-coloured eyes were questioning him, blaming him, for allowing Sasuke to win.

. . . For allowing Naruto to die.

It was almost like those eyes were asking him where he had been, why hadn't he done better?

But, now Kakashi wouldn't be seeing those gazes every morning as he poured milk into the boy's cereal. He wouldn't be pouring milk into anyone's cereal but his own, if he even bothered with such things at all. He wouldn't even see those gazes each night as he turned Naru's bedroom light off with a last "Goodnight Naru, sweet dreams."

Kakashi chose to walk to his apartment, instead of jumping from rooftop to rooftop. He had an Icha Icha flipped open in front of his nose, gaze supposedly trained on the words he'd already read a thousand times before. Yet his mind was not on his actions, rather focused on travelling to the vast unknowns of all that which was to come. He had a better idea than most what was possible, but it was only that, a mere possibility. He had a better idea not because he was from the future, because honestly, that future was something that was only remotely possible and by his own actions, but because he was better at being a ninja than most. He knew the people of Konoha and the other Hidden Villages better than they knew themselves. He knew their strategies, their jutsu, their military strength. He knew it all. And largely it was because they'd been fighting the same war for far too long. Fighting that war, and losing it. So he knew exactly how extreme their actions could become when they grew desperate. Even Konoha. Hell, even Minato, the soft hearted man who learned to utilise the Second Hokage's jutsu, famed for killing thousands in a matter of minutes.

Kakashi could predict their movements before they even knew they were desperate enough to fall to such actions.

He was just that much of a tool for his village. Konoha came first, above all others. Konoha would always be his first choice. He knew that Konoha would have to come first because the other villages were growing desperate, by Kakashi's own arrival. No matter the bonds he formed during the Allied Shinobi Nations, Konoha had to come first.

Kakashi's thoughts were cut rather abruptly when a small, solid object collided rather painfully with his legs. He knew that feeling well though. It was something he was already very much used to.

He looked down at the child now bawling at his feet and grew uncomfortable. Where was his mother, his father?

Looking around, Kakashi tried to spot a harassed looking woman or man, tried to spot anyone that might resemble the boy at all. Looking down again, he noticed that the child was still crying, perhaps much harder now that no one was immediately scrapping him off the floor and attending to his scrapes and bumps, most of which would be in his mind anyways, as all children tended to be like. Kakashi took a small step away from the child but his time with Naru and the Sand Siblings would not allow him to leave while the child was still unattended.

Bending down, Kakashi took the small child who couldn't have been more than two years older than Naru and turned him this way and that to see if there was any serious damage done to the boy. The child was so surprised by the silent handling that he stopped crying. Kakashi was a Shinobi before he was a parent and while he treated the child gently, he was still rather abrupt about it.

However as far as he could see, there were no injuries on the boy. In fact there wasn't even a scrap. That was good. But that also meant the child was crying for the sake of crying and that meant a spoilt child. Kakashi hated spoilt children's parents more than the brats themselves.

"I'll thank you to take your hands off of my son." A cold voice stated just behind him.

Kakashi didn't jump in surprise. He merely let go of the child and straightened to his full height so that he could step back again. He didn't bother saying anything. It wouldn't help.

The child's mother rushed forwards and almost snatched her son away in her haste to get him away from the silver haired jonin. She gave her back to the jonin but not before a cold glare was sent to Kakashi and snapped over her shoulder "Those who are under Morino Protocol have no business being near a child. You should feel lucky that I'm not going to report you for this.", before hurrying away. Kakashi was sure that that had been the most polite thing she could think of to say and that had she wished to be more snippy, she could've and probably would've.

Kakashi knew that there were things he could have said, and he knew that the whole incident was hardly his fault, but he said nothing. Rather . . . he walked away, hands in his pockets and eyes straight ahead. He headed home because he couldn't handle being anywhere else. He couldn't handle talking to anyone else, not even his Sensei. Perhaps, not even Gaara.

Hell, he didn't even think Iruka would be able to cheer him up.

He had planned on Morino Protocol, but he hadn't estimated just how far it would reach. He hadn't estimated just how much it would hurt.

As he made his way back home, Kakashi's mind began to wonder once again. Despite his calm and bored outwards appearance, he was anything but on the inside. His brief talk with his old sensei to supposedly hand in his mission details did little to stop the dread that was starting to build up within him. If anything, that little encounter with the lost child and the angry mother only served to further drive in just how deep he was within his own plans. He almost wished he hadn't been able to estimate their reactions this well. However, there had been a moment, when something new had flashed within his sensei's eyes. But it had been gone before he'd been able to truly identify it. It had been when he'd offered Kakashi a drink.

However, that might have been guilt at having taken Naru away from Kakashi because Minato didn't know that this was all according to the plan.

There was no turning back now. The board was set and the die was cast. Even with everything moving exactly as he had planned, going from hailed hero to despised pariah in such a short time, was a bigger change than Kakashi had envisioned. Ever since he had arrived back in Konoha, nearly everyone had been giving him a wide breath, and he could clearly hear the poisonous comments made behind his back. He didn't even bother glancing around to see their faces, see their identities because that made no difference. He could practically feel the distaste rolling off in waves from the civilians and but mostly from the Shinobi because they had a better understanding of just exactly what the Morino Protocol was. They had seen the reason for its existence in one of their own, the namesake of the law and the procedure that followed.

Yet somehow, there was pity in some of the faces that looked to him, understanding. Those were the minority however.

How ironic was it, that he, Kakashi Hatake, one of the deadliest ninjas Konoha had ever produced, now stood almost in the exact situation Naruto had had to live in for over twelve years . . . And even more ironically, a very similar situation to his shamed father, the White Fang. The difference however was that Naruto had done nothing worth deserving of his treatment, and his father's actions had been heroic but misunderstood.

Naruto . . . The way he had grown up.

Oh how Kakashi had hated seeing how Naruto had been treated as he was growing up. Always barred from actually helping the boy and only allowed to act when absolutely necessary. Maybe, in hindsight, he should have told those crazy old loons from the council to shove their retarded ideas where the sun didn't shine and taken Naruto in, raising him like a little brother and protecting him from all those fools that couldn't tell right from left.

Maybe that was also part of the reason he had signed up for suicide missions for so long. Not just to run from the pain and the nightmares that would not leave him, but also to vent out his frustrations on being unable to help sensei's son. Not even the few times that he had been assigned to Naruto's secret ANBU guard and had legitimate reason to butcher the monsters that had broken the law and whispered of what Naruto really was, even if Naruto didn't hear them, when he couldn't tell those idiots off for almost dragging their children away from Naruto just because the boy wanted to play. The people that gave Naruto that look, or who said those horrible things to him. Kakashi hadn't been allowed to sooth the hurt away, to clear the pain from those bright blue eyes.

And because of that there would always be a haunting voice in the back of his head whispering words that felt like sweet poison.

You failed them.

And he had, only Kami knew how many times. From his dad, to his team, to Minato-sensei, to Konoha, but most of all, to Naruto. The boy he should have kept safe above else.

And now he might just have to add a new name to that list. Naru's . . . Was he failing the boy if the Morino Protocol served to protect him more than anything else? Was he failing the boy in making sure the village did not blame him for Kakashi's actions like the village had blamed Kakashi for Sakumo's?

Kakashi had been so lost in thought that he had not noticed he had arrived at his apartment. With a heavy heart, he pulled out his keys and opened the door, mentally scoffing at the absurdity of opening a ninja's apartment with keys, and an ANBU ninja at Kage level at that.

The inside of the apartment was just as he had left it, neat and organized aside from the thin layer of dust that spoke of his month long absence. Nothing was physically different, nothing had changed and no one since Kakashi had closed the door had been inside the apartment, yet not even two steps inside and it already felt colder than the Land of Snow, and more foreboding than any of Ibiki's torturing chambers. Resigned to his fate, he stepped all the way inside and closed the door behind him.

Kakashi survived the living room in a bit of a dull haze. So full of life had the room been a mere month ago, and now it felt little better than the day he had walked back into the Hatake Compound after his father's burial. What had once been a tastefully decorated room meant for entertaining people, was now nothing more than a reminder of how truly alone he was in this world.

Perhaps he would take his sensei's offer for drinks after all, just for the company, and perhaps the off chance that there would be stories of Naru.

He shook his head to chase away the ghosts of his past and proceeded to move further in, only to be stopped when his foot nudged something odd on the floor. Looking downwards, he found one of Naru's stuff animals. The bright orange plushie was a dead giveaway, it as Naru's favourite toy. It was a stuff dog with big floppy ears and droopy eyes that he had bought on a whim back in Suna before Naru had even turned a year old. Kakashi had especially liked it because at that stage Naru was beginning to teeth and the soft toy was safe for the toddler to chew. The young boy had taken an intimidate liking to it and went everywhere with it.

Painstakingly and much more slowly than what he needed to, Kakashi bent down to pick it up, wondering why that particular toy got left behind, but just assumed that Naru had simply dropped it before going out to that horrible shopping trip. With a heavy sigh, he made his way to Naru's room, the brightly painted second door on the left, to place the stuffed pup where it belonged.

Another pang of pain coursed through his body when gently placing the toy on top of Naru's bed, yet he was proud of himself for having made it this far. Without Naru there, the room felt empty, dead. The whole apartment even, it felt wrong. Too big for just him. In fact, the stuffed toy belonged with Naru, and not in an empty room collecting dust.

Looking around Kakashi noticed that Naru's room was pristine, a rare tick in the boy's behaviour where everything was packed away and organised to within millimetres of its placement. The bed was made without a single crease and the floor was so shiny Kakashi was sure it was polished. This was the Shinobi in Naru, this was the Sasuke part of the boy that would forever be a part of him.

Naru, who was just as much Naruto as he was Sasuke. Even if Kakashi didn't like to admit it. It was silly really, all he needed to do was look into the boy's eyes and he'd see not just one but both of his students.

Those bright eyes that always lit up whenever Kakashi made his presence known to Naru, the smiles and giggles that accompanied the little boy when he was in his more childish persona, the ever happy greetings of 'Welcome back home Kaka!', the silly talks about random things during meal times, how Naru tended to latch onto Kakashi's pants and try to hide from others... to those rare few times Naru had called him daddy just to watch Kakashi freeze in shock before he'd race off laughing gleefully.

They were gone. There would be no more miss-matched eyes there to greet him in the morning, no more of seeing Naru play with his toys, no more trying to trick the boy into eating more than just ramen, no more hugs, no more squeals, no more laughter, no more reading to him bed time stories... No more Naru.

No more Naru.

All because of a crazy scheme to keep the boy safe. To distance himself from the boy so that Kakashi's enemies would not try to go after the toddler to get at him. The Morino Protocol was just a convenient tool to do just that. It served its purpose, and everything had fallen into place exactly as Kakashi had planned it. But was it worth it? He had done so for the sake of Konoha and for Naru's own safety, but had he unintentionally condemned the boy to a lifetime of loneliness? To a second childhood of misery? Would he find happiness with Minato, Kushina and Naruto?

...but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash.

Kakashi was so distraught that he had not noticed when he had started shaking ever so slightly or when tears had started to fall from his eyes. Was this a cowards way out? To push away his family for their own safety? Was he even worse than trash now? For walking out of Naruto's life again, especially now when the boy actually looked up to him, knew him from the very beginning and in his previous life?

A choked sob escaped his lips before Kakashi realized it, and he soon found himself on his knees because for some unknown reason, they simply would not support his weight anymore. All the pain, the guilt, and the regret that he had been trying so desperately to ignore by convincing himself that this was for the greater good finally came crashing down on him in full force. He reached up and pulled away his headband, a swirling Sharingan now revealed and letting his tears run freely, no longer giving a dam about dignity. No one was going to give a dam about him anyway, and the only person that would have was completely barred from seeing him.

Kakashi couldn't recall a time when he had felt worse than what he did in that moment.

He'd planned on this. But he hadn't expected it to hurt this much.

.0.0.0.

No omake this chapter. The chapter didn't feel like it needed one.

Otherwise, I was thinking of going over the first few chapters and maybe combining some of them so if there's suddenly a shift in chapter placement, don't get alarmed, you're not going crazy. XD