"So, what'd you get us, Captain?"
Kakashi looked up from the sheaf of papers and raised an eyebrow. "You're still on medical leave, Genma," he said.
"Discharged as of forty minutes and thirty six seconds ago," Genma said, rummaging through his hip pouch and pulling out a crumpled wad of papers stamped with official looking seals. "See?"
Kakashi could smell the faint whiff of chakra that marked the hospital's seals as genuine. "You know how angry Ito was when you and Raidou faked your papers last time," he said absently as he moved away from the mission desk, flicking through the papers casually. Quick assassination in Grass of some minor lording the daimyo wanted gone, requesting it done the usual way. His mouth twisted. Another quick stab and run then, with the heart and head packed along so the daimyo could parade it around the capital or hang it up on his wall or do whatever he wanted to do with the remains of a dead man. Kakashi wasn't paid to think about that.
"I don't even want to think about it," Genma chewed on his senbon fiercely, the end bobbing up and down like a leaf blown by the wind. "I still haven't recovered from the last 'medical evaluation' he gave me."
"Good. Means the lesson's sticking." Kakashi cleared his throat and tucked the papers away in a pouch, a soft curl of chakra sealing it shut. "A quick A-Rank," he said. "In and out, we've got four days."
"Shodai's balls, don't tell me it's another-" Genma cut his sentence short at Kakashi's hard look. He shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Didn't think I was getting out so early for another support mission," he muttered, senbon rising and falling with every word.
"A mission's a mission," Kakashi said, suddenly feeling very tired. "Tomorrow at 0600, we'll meet at the Northeast Alcove. Pack the usual."
"Yeah, alright. See you tomorrow morning, then, Captain." Genma slouched away, looking much more despondent. Kakashi watched the other man's back disappear behind a corner before he rubbed at his uncovered eye, the sealed papers pressing insistently at his hip. Memorial first, he decided, his eye watering a little, still irritated from the poison gas from the last mission. Obito, Rin and Sensei were waiting for him.
The stone was cool against his cheek, sharp cuts of kanji digging into his skin uncomfortably. It was a distinctly familiar sensation. "I've got another one," Kakashi said quietly. "Grass. Do you remember the courier mission we had there, delivering messages to the frontline? You tripped over a pod of carnivorous vines and Sensei lost a good chunk of hair trying to rescue you." He licked his lips and the sweaty fabric of his mask caught at his tongue. "This one makes a hundred and twenty six." A hundred and twenty six hearts he'd held in his hand and crushed, a hundred and twenty six chests he'd ripped apart with his fists.
Some days, he wondered if Obito had given this gift out of spite. Every single target still lived in his mind, trapped by the cruel accuracy of the Sharingan. When closed his eye, he could see their pale faces, close enough that he could feel a phantom breath. Those were the days he stayed away from the Memorial, too angry and bitter to be polite to the dead. But his guilt drew him back and his old, broken promise, shattered edges still sharp enough to draw blood.
"I don't think this is exactly what you had in mind when you gave up your eye," Kakashi said, tracing NOHARA RIN with a fingertip, the name weathered by wind and rain and his trembling touch. "I should go. The team's waiting for me," he said distantly. And so was Hantarou's noble head, waiting to be parted from his body with a quick stroke of his ninjato.
He unfolded his long, lanky limbs with a grimace and stood up, his ankle creaking in protest. Kakashi gave the horizon a quick glance and the clouds that hovered at the edges confirmed his ankle's suspicions. Rain in a few hours. He adjusted the weight of the pack and pulled down his mask, fastening it with a string of chakra. His shock of pale hair disappeared under a heavy black hood and Hatake Kakashi disappeared, ANBU Hound standing in his place. A quick seal and the bogeyman melted into the shadows, with only a slight breeze marking his passage.
"He's summering in a villa about ten miles from here, with his three wives and four children." Kakashi unrolled the scroll on the ground, revealing schematics for an expansive compound that housed fifty samurai guards, twenty odd servants and the Grass lordling's family. "He's expecting something, considering that he's gone and hired the Kakeru brothers, formerly of Kiri."
Raidou whistled through his teeth, impressed. "On the Bingo books for all the major five countries," he said, leaning back on his haunches. "Genjutsu and taijutsu combo, real nasty."
"That takes some serious ryou," Genma considered, looking up from the rolls of bandages he was rearranging. "Isn't he just supposed to be some minor lord or something?"
"A minor lord suspected of leading a coup in planning," Kakashi said quietly. "Grass's daimyo wants him to be made an example of."
"Well, if he's sending us after him, he must really have it in for him," Raidou said sardonically but his face was serious, considering the problem before them with a critical eye. "So what's the plan, boss?"
"Tenzou, I want you to cover the the place with your seeds, subdue the samurai and the servants and keep an eye out for any back up. Worse comes to worse, I want the entire place sealed." Kakashi nodded at the silent figure sitting to his right, a huddled black-cloaked figure with a grinning Cat mask.
"Of course, Captain."
"You over-exert yourself again, don't count on me dragging your sorry ass all the way back to Konoha," Genma sniped, snapping his medkit closed and slinging it over his shoulder. "Getting as bad as the Captain about draining yourself high and dry."
"It was just once," Tenzou muttered and if it had come from anyone else Kakashi would have thought it sounded petulant.
"Chances are, they'll have the entire place under a low-level genjutsu to alert intruders. Intel says they're under heavy guard here-" Kakashi tapped a small, unassuming looking room in a northwest corner, which was conveniently located near a river and quick escape. "I can layer another genjutsu over the top before dispelling it, but it only gives us maybe ten minutes, tops. You'll have to be in position and cover the entire place before the missing nin realize that security's been compromised. Genma, Raidou, you'll be dealing with the Kakeru brothers."
"You're so good to us," Raidou said dryly and ran a hand through his short crop of brown hair. "Like New Year's come early, look at all the presents Captain's giving to us, Genma."
"Just got my ass out of the hospital," Genma moaned and his mouth twitched, as if it were chewing on an invisible senbon. "Don't wanna see Ito's ugly mug for another month at least."
"Ito-sensei probably feels the same way," Tenzou said in a quiet, unassuming voice. "Judging by the way he nearly had a heart attack over your bed last week."
"Look at that," Raidou grinned, elbowing Genma in the ribs. "Our little rookie's growing up, making fun of his senpai like that."
"Mission," Kakashi said and the cheerful mood in the air quickly deflated with the one word. He swallowed hard, Obito's eye stinging under his forehead protector. "After I deal with the mark and the secondary targets, the missing nin will be the next priority. Make sure to lead them away, out of the compound preferably."
"Yes, Captain," Genma said soberly, Raidou chiming in a beat later.
"Scorched earth," Kakashi said heavily and pulled his hood up. "When the primary objectives have been achieved, there are to be no surviving witnesses. Tenzou, you know what to do."
"By the Shodai," Raidou breathed as he tugged his Tiger mask over his face. "How much gold did the daimyo fork over for this?"
"Too much," Tenzou said hollowly as he stood up silently, a lithe black shadow. Kakashi silently agreed. WIth a twist of chakra he released the genjutsu in the clearing and signalled his team with a subtle gesture: move out.
Four black ghosts melted away in the gloomy forest light.
When he opened Obito's eye, everything came alive. Colors became stronger and the pale yellow grass around him glowed with vibrant life, soft tendrils of blue weaving through the strands. He blinked and the thin web of chakra over the beautiful country villa came into view, a dome of blue so pale that it looked almost ghostly. In the back of his head, Kakashi kept a careful eye on his chakra reserves, already dipping with every second.
The seals came automatically, chakra flooding his fingers with a familiar burn and he wove the strands carefully, gently, until he had a net that glowed in his hands, as bright as Minato-sensei's eyes. A quick breath and it drifted away from him, borne by a gentle evening breeze, before settling itself over the dome of chakra with a loving caress. Kakashi cut the thread that bound him to his creation and closed Obito's eye and the world suddenly darkened, mundane and ordinary.
Kakashi signalled at Tenzou with a twitch of his fingers and the dark wraith at his side unfurled into the sky. Six long tense minutes passed as Kakashi kept watch, Raidou and Genma waiting obediently at his side, chakra tightly leashed. They were too well trained to betray tension but Kakashi could smell it anyway, a heavy musk of fear and anticipation.
Finally, the signal came.
Tenzou's chakra flared once, twice- all clear and ready. Kakashi breathed out silently and flicked a finger at the two behind him. Time to go hunting. Genma's hand ghosted lightly over Kakashi's shoulder before he followed Raidou, his cloak fluttering in the wind.
Kakashi cautiously expanded his senses and felt Tenzou's chakra coiled up on the roof, a tiny blip. Genma and Raidou were moving through the compound easily- ah, there were the missing-nin, lounging idly by the northwest corridor. It was time.
He slithered through the grass with practiced ease, the grass swaying slightly in time with the wind. A seal and a burst of chakra and he slipped through an open window, neatly sidestepping a bound servant girl who lay collapsed on the floor, immobilized by a pale fleck of wood bound to her forehead. She looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes, the front of her dress damp with urine.
It was better for Tenzou to have one less to control. Kakashi bent down and palmed a kunai and neatly slit her throat. Strands of her dark brown hair, sticky with blood, clung to his kunai and he wiped it methodically on her sleeve. It was cut to her chin, like-
He was wasting time. Kakashi stepped into the shadows, gripping his weapon tight, and followed the map in his head. Left, right, past the courtyard and the main gardens...Chakra flared, bright and hard in the distance and he heard an enraged shout and the clang of steel on steel.
Raidou and Genma were entertaining the guests. Kakashi grunted and sped up, not bothering with the civilians littering the house like broken dolls. He'd dealt with a good quarter of them and there was the more important objective to think of.
The back of his neck prickled. The air thickened and seemed to grow heavier, killing intent and swirling mist bound into a growing fog. For renowned silent Kiri killers, they were annoyingly loud. He clicked his tongue as he approached the northwest corridor, pockmarked with scattered kunai and shuriken and blooms of ash.
The ordinary looking rice-paper door fairly pulsed with seals; even without Obito's eye, he could see the masterful ink edging the wooden frame, protecting and guarding. A perfect prison. From a hip pouch, he pulled out a packet of seals he'd made up a few missions ago. Just a few tweaks and what would keep intruders out, would keep the Grass lord inside. He drew a finger down the middle of the seal and the paper lit up, the edges glowing a dim blue. One for every cardinal point.
Kakashi stepped back and activated the network with a hand seal. The dim hallways suddenly lit up with a flare of chakra and he stepped inside the room.
"Don't worry Chiyo-chan," the mark said soothingly, cradling a child in robes of the finest silk. "The bodyguards will take care of everything, we'll be just fine-"
Kakashi pulled away from the shadows and into the light. "Tonight, judgement has been passed upon you and your family," he said dully and opened Obito's eye.
"No- no-" Every panicked breath, every drop of sweat, every shout was burned into his sight. The mark pushed his child behind him and she stumbled towards the trembling mass of wives and wailing babies in the back of the room.
"It's no use," Kakashi said. Ox, Rabbit, Monkey. The air sang with the scream of a thousand chirping birds and the smell of sharp ozone almost covered the heavy stench of fear. The mark stepped forward, his foot rising up from the ground.
The mark's foot still hovered in the air as Kakashi cradled the mark's shoulder with one arm, the other plunged into the man's chest. Blood dripped over his dark cloak and splattered his mask. He could feel it seep into his facemask.
Gently, he pulled his arm out and settled the man down on the ground. Blood pooled onto the floor and soaked the rich blue robes, fit for a daimyo.
"Lay down your tanto," Kakashi said as he unsheathed his ninjato, still crouched on the ground.
The woman standing behind him swayed on her feet, the little chakra she had spiking wildly. "You- you cannot harm- the children-"
With one swift motion, he rose from the ground and plunged it into the woman's ribs, angled just right to hit her lungs. With a choked sigh, she collapsed onto the floor, an eerie parallel to her husband. Behind her, a child started wailing.
With a deep, shuddering breath he called upon his chakra and fed it into Obito's eye with a fierce burst, weaving a thick genjutsu that settled over the women and children, giving them a final rest. The girl's cry cut off. There was nothing but silence now.
Kakashi's head started pounding and Obito's eye sucked hungrily at his chakra, feeding greedily. He wavered a little and then shook his head. In the distance, he could feel Genma and Raidou swirling and clashing and Tenzou high above them all, a watchful presence. He had to complete the mission, had to lead his team out of this bloody mess.
He knelt down on the floor and began his work.
Genma's shoulder twitched and Kakashi was well-versed enough in Genma's own, unique body language to read What took you so long?
Kakashi shrugged in response. The containment scrolls were safely stowed away in his pack; the daimyo would have his proof soon enough.
"What's this, another one?" one of the brothers sneered, batting away Kakashi's kunai with almost insulting ease. "Like cockroaches, the way you seem to pop up everywhere."
Kakashi twisted around and spat a fireball at the missing-nin, ducking down just in time as Raidou aimed a well-timed kick at the ninja's head. The force of the blow nearly knocked his hood back and he shot Raidou a dirty look. "Now you're just starting to bore me," Kakeru said, sighing a little as he bent backwards at almost a ninety degree angle to avoid the attack. Kakashi narrowed an eye at the shadow the fireball briefly illuminated.
Clone substitution, he signalled towards Genma and slipped into the earth.
He reappeared a few yards behind Kakeru and his awkwardly shaped shadow, dampening down on his chakra as tightly as possible. His clone, Raidou and Genma easily worked in tandem to contain the Kakeru but from behind, it became clear how the man toyed with them, sidling away from every punch and ninjutsu like he had all the time in the world. Like his opponents just weren't fast enough to keep up with him.
Kakashi held back an irritated sigh. Like they were just a fraction too slow. He let his clone explode in a storm of lighting. Kakeru flinched as he flared his chakra and snapped the threads of genjutsu that wound irritatingly around him and his team.
The missing-nin shuddered as Kakashi's chakra washed over him and Raidou went in for the kill, his kick landing solidly on the man's chest. Genma darted around him and followed it up with a shower of senbon that riddled his torso. Kakeru's shadow shivered as it rose up from the ground and clutched his body protectively. It morphed into a slim, lithe figure, streaked with his brother's blood.
"How dare you-"
Kakashi could almost see Genma's eye roll as he palmed a kunai and went for the throat. Or at least tried to. His body stiffened and the kunai dropped from his grasp; Raidou's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed onto the ground.
Well. This was proving interesting. Kakashi opened Obito's eye for the third time.
Genjutsu Kakeru laid his brother down on the ground and snarled at him. "You fucking scum, I'll make you pay for this. For my brother." Kakashi tilted his head and Obito's eye swirled almost lazily as he dismissed the genjutsu. His chakra levels sank even lower and he could feel the icy burn in his feet, which meant that he hadn't much left before he was going to burn through his reserves.
Kakeru was weaving his illusions with his voice- well, that was irritating. Long-range sound based genjutsu. Now it was a battle of stamina- how much longer would Kakeru try to distract him against how many more illusions Kakashi could to afford dispel with the Sharingan while trying to kill him. He didn't very much like the odds. No more ninjutsu. He was down to his ninjato, thirteen kunai, fifteen shuriken and smoke bombs he couldn't afford to use, not if he wanted to maintain visual contact.
"You're not- how did you recognize it?" Another one. Kakashi dispelled it with another burst of chakra and stalked closer towards the target, unsheathing his ninjato. A quick step and-
Damn, he was fast. Kakashi bared his teeth, blood dripping from his blade. He'd managed to scratch Kakeru's cheek. They circled each other a long moment before they clashed again, steel ringing on steel. A quick twist and Kakashi sent his last remaining kunai flying, which Kakeru easily dodged.
"I didn't think Konoha's ANBU were such disappointing fighters," he smiled cruelly, his filed teeth gleaming in the moonlight. Kakashi ignored him and surged forward, beating him back with a furious rush of strikes and right into Genma's waiting embrace.
Genma pulled out a kunai from his arm with a grunt and held it to Kakeru's neck. "Hound never misses," he said darkly.
Kakashi was close enough to see the throbbing artery pulse in the missing-nin's throat, a thin sheen of sweat soaking his grimy bandages. He reeled backwards a little unsteadily and closed Obito's eye, ignoring the dizzying rush of pain as the world crumpled and darkened. Chakra buzzed in his head, angry sparks of fire that burst and exploded. "Kill him," he said hoarsely.
Kakeru's arm snapped out and he gripped Kakashi's wrist. Everything exploded.
"Please," Rin wept. "Please, Kakashi. You have to kill me."
Blood pooling in his hands and throbbing in his hand, that was Rin's heart, Rin's heart beating and pulsing in his hand and Obito would never forgive him, he killed her, he killed Rin-
Father looked up at him, dark eyes so empty and cold and Kakashi turned away, calling him a traitor, an embarrassment, a disappointment towards the village. "I hate you," he said and Father sank down on the floor, tanto deep in his stomach and blood dripping from Kakashi's hands. Dead, by Kakashi's hand. Dead, dead, he killed his Father-
"Promise me, Kakashi," Obito looked up at him with half a smile, the other half buried under two tons of rubble. "Promise me you'll protect Rin and the village." And Kakashi nodded and promised and then punched his clenched fist through Rin's chest with Obito's eye-
"You'll take care of Naruto, right, Kakashi-kun?" And of course, of course he would, Naruto was sensei's kid, of course he was gonna look after him. And Kakashi had nodded and promised and then thrown him away and watched the entire village hate little Naruto, watched the entire village shun and despise sensei's son, Kushina-san's son-
"You- you cannot harm- the children-" And Kakashi went and slit the throats of three women, two girl-childs, one toddler boy and a baby so fragile, smelling of powder and milk. He killed them and then sealed their cold little bodies away in scrolls so they could be hung on a stone wall and their eyes pecked out by crows.
Kakashi looked down at his bloody red hands, so bright and slippery, smelled death on his skin, oozing out of every pore. A killing machine, a tool, who'd killed all of his friends and let them die and-
A steady hand gripped his shoulder and pulled him close and Kakashi stiffened. "Come here," a voice beckoned and Kakashi obeyed unthinkingly. "Open your eyes."
He touched his face- he hadn't realized they were closed. With tentative fingers he covered his left side and opened his right. "The other one, too." A gentle hand pulled his hand away from his face and Kakashi blinked.
He was standing in front of the Memorial.
He blinked again and touched his face. No mask, no scar and no-
"Obito's eye," he breathed in sharply.
"Well, it's not exactly ours is it?" Kakashi turned sharply towards the voice and staggered back, disoriented. This was no reflection, a figure on a flat surface, his every move a copy. That was- that was him, sort-of-him. A clone. A sloppy one in a flak-vest and long hair and crows' feet.
"Yo," Hatake Kakashi said.
Kakashi formed shaky fingers into a seal and flared his chakra, searching for the tenuous link between the clone and him. There wasn't one. "Disperse," he snarled. The clone, irritatingly, didn't.
"That's kind of rude," the Other Kakashi said reprovingly, slouching and shoving his hands into his pocket.
"Is this- some kind of genjutsu-" Kakashi flared his chakra again, but he couldn't feel the confusion in his chakra flow. He pinched at the web between his thumb and finger but the Memorial stayed constant and so did the clone-not-clone.
"Well," the Other Kakashi said. "I think it started out as one."
"Kakeru," Kakashi growled, hackles rising as he remembered- RinandObitoandSenseiand-
"Yes, Kakeru," the Other Kakashi said agreeably. "Well, when I thought I died, I thought I was going to see Rin and Obito and everyone. Is this supposed to be hell?"
"Hell. Maybe it is," the Other Kakashi mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I always did hate myself the most. Maybe I'm condemned to spend the rest of my afterlife with myself."
Kakashi sniffed, the scents clearer and headier without the mask and the Other smelled- rightandwrong. Like him and not him. And sad. That, at least, was familiar.
"Who are you?" he asked guardedly, shifting his weight to settle into a taijutsu stance.
"I'm you," the Other said. "I thought that was kind of obvious."
Kakashi narrowed his eyes and changed tacks. "How old are you," he asked carefully.
"Ah." The Other looked vaguely uncomfortable, hunching over a bit- Kakashi looked disdainfully at all the tells the Other was projecting. "Well. I. Thirty."
Kakashi reeled. Thirty. "I live to be thirty?" he blurted out.
"Well, yes," the Other said. "But just barely. Sort of. I don't know. Maybe I'm the one in a genjutsu?"
"You don't sound convinced," Kakashi said and leaned back on a tree, which suddenly and conveniently appeared the minute he thought it would be nice to lean on one. He looked at it suspiciously for a moment.
"Well," the Other said embarrassedly, a faint tinge of red on his cheeks. "My last memories are of me stupidly sacrificing my life for someone else's in a great and tragic battle."
"ANBU, right?" Kakashi asked tiredly. ANBU until he died- not bad, but, he couldn't imagine another decade of assassinations without wanting to choke himself.
"No," the Other said quietly. "It's complicated, but the village is attacked and threatens the safety of one of- of my teammates. So I save him."
"Not ANBU?" Not Genma or Raidou or Tenzou...
"I quit," the Other said. "A long, long time ago."
"Quit," Kakashi echoed. Life without ANBU- he could barely imagine it. Life outside the special housing, outside of HQ, outside the constant missions and assassinations and stays in the hospital, staring at the water-damaged tiles.
"How old are you?" The Other asked keenly, rocking back on his heels.
"Twenty," Kakashi said.
"Ah," said the Other.
There was a long, long silence.
"Ah?" Kakashi finally prodded, unable to stand it any longer. Despite the fact that this was some cleverly constructed genjutsu, the Other was too interesting not to probe.
"I think I'd like to sit," the Other announced and settled down into a comfortable armchair. He waved a hand in front of him and a matching armchair popped into existence. "Care to join me?"
Kakashi shrugged and moved away from the tree and to the chair, deliberately ignoring how it disappeared as he moved.
"So, here's my theory," the Other said, leaning back in his chair, eyes closed. The scar was still there. Kakashi discreetly touched his own and found the jagged scar that bisected his left eye, a solid reminder of what-had-been. It was a quiet relief.
"I know I'm real. Relatively sure, anyway. I'm in the middle of fighting Pein, or one of Pein, or well, actually it's two of him. Things go awfully, I end up being sort of killed with a nail, which is very pathetic, I bet Obito is laughing his ass off at that, and then I use Kamui to save the Akimichi boy. I'm dead out of chakra, I know I'm going to die." The Other opened his eyes and his dark eyes pierce Kakashi's own.
"You, twenty year old ANBU Hound Hatake Kakashi were trapped in a nasty self-fulfilling genjutsu while emotionally compromised and mildly chakra exhausted." Kakashi stiffened.
"Me. Thirty years old, dying, dead, on the way to death. You. Twenty years old, mind extremely vulnerable."
"This doesn't make any sense," Kakashi protested, trying to wrap his mind around the frighteningly disturbed logic the Other was using. "What kind of genjutsu makes up a me that doesn't even look like me and then have him talk about- I don't even know what he's talking about. Is this supposed to make me insane?"
Hatake Kakashi looked at Hatake Kakashi. "What if I told you that I developed Mangekyou enough so that I could use it to transport objects through space and time and other dimensions. And that it was the last thing I did before dying."
Kakashi instinctively touched his left eye but he found nothing but the jagged scar. "This doesn't make any sense," he said again, his voice very, very quiet.
"Like the science fiction manga Kushina-san hid under the bed," the Other agreed. "Because if we didn't know any better, we could theoretically be talking about time travel here."
"Fuck," Kakashi said sourly.
"Let's say I believe you," Kakashi said haltingly. "And that this isn't some kind of crazed figment of my imagination."
"Well, that's entirely possible. Maybe we're figments of each other's imaginations," the Other drawled.
"You talk too much," Kakashi snapped.
"And you don't talk nearly enough," the Other countered.
Kakashi shut his eyes and counted to ten and tried not to think about throttling his older, annoying future self who might also be hallucination. "Just- shut up. Let me think."
Mercifully, the Other stayed silent. "What's- it like. Being. Thirty," Kakashi said, struggling to find the right words. "After- after ANBU- after now."
"I quit ANBU at twenty," the Other said.
"Now?" Kakashi jerked, gripping the armrest tightly.
"Sort of. Kakeru was involved then too." The Other shrugged. "The genjutsu was nasty, I was wrung out from the mission and I'd been running a string of them because..."
"Because Obito died that month," Kakashi continued in a low voice.
"Yes," the Other said, subdued. "You know how it is." He grinned, the edges all bitter and sharp. "Nearly got the team killed and scarred our little kouhai Tenzou for life. Ended up in the hospital for weeks and by the time psych evals were over, they asked me if I wanted to do another one ofthose. I didn't. So I quit."
"Quit ANBU," Kakashi said again, tentatively prodding the concept with a cautious thought.
"I know," the Other grimaced, rubbing his face ruefully. "It was hard and awful and for a while I almost re-enlisted."
"But?" Kakashi probed.
The Other signed painedly. "Then Gai decided that I was his hip cool rival and after that." The Other shrugged.
"Gai," Kakashi considered. It couldn't be that strange taijutsu obsessed chuunin who cried a lot, could it? Or wept tears of manly joy, whatever.
"Yeah, that's him." the Other said.
Kakashi gave him a look.
"Yeah, well, don't judge me," the Other said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I didn't say it was the greatest experience of my life."
"That's it?" Kakashi hazarded. "You became friends with Gai and then you died?" It seemed to be a short and unfulfilling life.
"No," the Other said slowly. "I got- a pack."
"Pack's dead," Kakashi said and the armchair creaked as he gripped it. "They're dead," he said.
"New pack," the Other said gently. "Sort of. I got a genin team you know and they- they changed my life."
"But they're dead," Kakashi said again, desperately. He leaned forward and looked up at Hatake Kakashi, up at himself. "Rin and Obito and Sensei and Father- they're-"
"Pack grows and changes," the Other said and leaned forward, so close that they were nose to nose, breath mingling. "And I failed them."
Kakashi whimpered. "Not again," he whispered hoarsely.
"Again," the Other said and when he blinked, his eyes grew bright and watery and oh the Other was crying. "Dead, traitor, ignored. Threw them away like trash. Couldn't teach them right, didn't teach them, failed my pack."
Kakashi couldn't imagine living with more than Obito's eye and Rin's death and Sensei's scorned legacy. More, he considered. More pack, more failures. Ten more years worth.
"And now you're dead."
"And now I'm dead," the Other said bitterly and turned away, drawing back into himself. The false cheerfulness from earlier fell away and curled up in front of him, Kakashi saw himself, broken and shattered and so tired.
"What was it like, having- have a pack?" Kakashi asked tentatively.
"I taught Uzumaki Naruto, you know. Sensei and Kushina-san's son," Hatake Kakashi said. "Haruno Sakura, civilian girl. Uchiha Sasuke, Obito's nephew."
My pack, Kakashi considered. "Oh."
"They were mine, you know," Hatake Kakashi said. "Mine," and bared his teeth and stared straight down at twenty year old Kakashi who lived for nothing but the next mission and the ghosts that wandered around the Memorial stone. Down at pack-less Kakashi. And Kakashi, twenty year old intimidated Kakashi was struck with a crazy, reckless idea.
"Your pack and my pack," Kakashi said. "Our pack."
"I guess so," Hatake Kakashi said suspiciously, mouth thinning. "But they're also- they're also dead. Our pack is dead. Will be."
"But they're not now, are they," Kakashi said. "They're still alive."
"Well, yes, here with you but-"
Kakashi lunged forward and decided to take a risk. He grabbed the other man's wrist. "Do you trust me?" he asked.
"Do I trust myself?" Hatake's eyebrow quirked. "Strangely, I do."
"Promise me that you'll take care of them," Kakashi said and pressed his thumb over the other man's pulse, heartbeat thrumming. "Take care of the pack."
"I don't understand-"
"Promise me," Kakashi said fiercely, pressing down hard with his thumb. "Promise me that you'll take care of them. That you won't fail them. Not this time."
"I-" Hatake swallowed. "I promise."
"Okay," Kakashi relaxed and pulled away, loosening his grip. "You promised." Taking a deep breath, he willed a tanto into being and the sudden gleam of his father's blade in his hands, whole and unbroken, cemented his choice.
Comprehension dawned on Hatake's face. "No-"
"This is my choice," Kakashi said. "And you promised. Don't break it."
"But Father, he, why are you even doing this? There's no honor or anything. I don't understand," Hatake wondered, face pale.
"Because Pack," Kakashi said simply. "Take care of them for me and Tenzou too." And everyone else who'll become Pack.
"Take care of them," Kakashi said.
"I will. I will, of course I will but-"
The tanto slid into belly and for some strange reason it didn't hurt. There wasn't any pain at all- just a warmth that filled him up and he gripped the handle tight, slick as though it was with his blood and moved it, left to right. "Take care of them," he panted. "Or else."
A cool hand cupped his cheek and his own dark eyes stared at him. "Thank you."
"Don't. Be." Kakashi summoned up a weak grin. "This is me being selfish after all. Second. Chance."
Hatake Kakashi pulled away. "I'll live extra long for you," he promised.
"Don't fuck it up," he muttered and closed his eyes.