Thank you for reviewing! Well… I can hardly believe it, but this is the end. But I have three versions of the end! Because one plot bunny took up residence in my brain after 635 and wouldn't go away, even when we found out Kishi was just trolling and it was genjutsu, but I couldn't bear to end what was supposed to be a HAPPY fic in character death. So, there are three endings. Take your pick:
Ending one: the ending to manga chapter 635 (Kakashi and Obito stabbing each other) was not genjutsu. (My first real attempt at) Character death (obviously). (It got drawn out a little. I think because I didn't want to kill Kakashi. My poor muse couldn't take it; she's crying now…)
Ending two: the Allied Forces win the war, Kakashi and Naruto both survive, but Obito and StillEvil!Sasuke were both killed. Complete angst warning.
Ending three: Allied Forces win the war, Kakashi and Naruto both survive, but no angst and all fluff. Complete I-still-can't-write-fluff warning.
Feel free to pick whichever way you want it to end :D Well… this has really been fun, you all! Thank you EVERYBODY who has reviewed, favorited, or followed! For the last time- I hope you enjoy!
Obito was dead, and Kakashi was dying.
Brain matter was splattered all over his fist, his Chidori having pierced straight through Obito's head and melted the one organ not even his half-Zetsu body could live without. His old friend was even more unrecognizable now than he was before, gaping, bloodied hole for a face and a body that was only half-human lying dead in a world that wasn't even its own.
A world that Kakashi would die in, too- because he was dying, and he didn't have the strength to get home.
He fell from his knees to his back, sprawled across the only other human form in this vast landscape. But Obito was covered in blood and icy, icy cold, so much so he didn't even feel human anymore. Kakashi latched onto his arm, holding onto whatever he could while he waited for the end to come and the pain to stop, because god it hurt and he knew nothing was getting him out of it this time.
But Obito was waiting for him now, this time for sure, and even though he would've screamed with the agony if he weren't choking on his own blood, that knowledge gave him the relief to stay sane through the torture and just wait until his body gave out.
Kakashi didn't want to die here. He didn't want to die with Obito here where no one would ever find them, bodies lost forever and last breaths taken alone without someone beside him. He'd died alone before once, and that was enough. Selfish or not, he didn't care- he just wanted to die in his own world. His home.
Please, kami-sama, don't let me die here…
He could remember blond hair and blue eyes, and he found himself wanting that sight by him as he died. Naruto didn't deserve the pain of watching someone he cared about die but Kakashi just didn't care. All he wanted was to not die alone. He just wanted someone beside him.
I can not die here…
He couldn't give up now! If he died here- he'd never see his home again. He'd never see Naruto again. One last time, that was all he wanted, one last time- to die in his home, not this cold, lonely other dimension, home.
I will NOT die here…!
Kakashi wrapped his arms around Obito with one last Herculean effort and then he screamed, pouring every last ounce of energy he had into his- Obito's- eye. He sucked the dying flickers of strength from the body beside him and used them, too, pulling forth on everything there was and throwing it towards one last desperate wish.
TAKE US HOME!
Naruto had the luck to be watching when the kamui vortex opened up for what would be the last time.
What started out as a heart-stopping relief grew into disbelief and amazement as he saw one grey head and the back of one very familiar ninja be dropped back into this world, because he was bleeding and slouching and shaking but alive, Kakashi was alive and that was the last piece of the puzzle, everything was finally all okay again and nothing could ruin this, nothing.
He saw Kakashi sway and collapse, right into a stunned Minato's arms, and then Naruto was running over the battlefield and calling his name, so thrilled he could've jumped for joy. "Niisan! Niisan!"
But the closer he got, the more he realized something was wrong. Kakashi was clutching something,someone tight to his chest, and he wouldn't let go, no matter how hard Minato was pulling at his arms. Naruto skidded to a stop beside them and dropped down to his knees, and he felt bile rise in his throat and almost had to turn away and be sick.
Obito's face was gone. Melted or blasted off; it now looked like some macabre, hideous, grotesque version of the original orange mask he had worn as Tobi.
Naruto was pulled out of his horror by the sound of desperate sobs, of an agony deeper than he had ever heard before, and he blinked to find Kakashi shaking his head and crying and resisting every single attempt Minato made to take the body away from him. The distraught jounin clung on tight, even when Naruto added his own strength to the efforts and tried to separate the two.
"Niisan," he whispered, voice shaking and not sounding at all like himself. "Kakashi-niisan, it's okay now. You're back. It's just me, it's okay, you can let him go now."
But Kakashi shook his head and clung on harder, sobbing as Minato tried to pry trembling fingers off Obito's cold, limp arms.
Somewhere in the chaos, Sasuke dropped down on the jounin's other side. Without a word, he began to help, stoic, pale features blank as he tried to shift Obito's ruined body off of Kakashi's. Naruto focused on helping his father unlock Kakashi's arms from their death grip on the body.
Sasuke's scream froze his efforts. Because Sasuke was not supposed to sound like that, was not supposed to sound shocked and disbelieving and worried; Sasuke was always the one who held it together no matter what and remained indifferent and unaffected by everything. If Sasuke sounded like that, then something was very, very wrong.
Naruto turned back to face him to see him staring down in disbelief, mouth slightly open and black eyes wide. He bellowed Sakura's name again, still without raising his head, and Naruto felt like time was almost in slow motion as he looked down himself to see just what was making Sasuke look like that.
Then he saw the gaping hole in Kakashi's stomach.
So, so many people were screaming. He wished they would stop; this wasn't a very nice way to go. But at least he was home; if there were other people here, then he had made it home, and that was really all he'd wanted.
But, still, all this screaming was driving him crazy. There was someone yelling Sakura's name, over and over again, and some other familiar voice that kept repeating his name in some kind of panicked mantra, and that was weird, and then someone else was just screaming. Not words, not any recognizable sounds, just a pure, tortured scream.
Someone tried to rip Obito from him again, harder than before, and this time no matter how tight he clung it didn't work. His body went flying away from his, the sudden weight disappearing and the disgusting, squelchy remains Obito's head had been reduced to no longer blocking his vision. He blinked as bright sunlight suddenly flooded his eyesight, wanting something beside a white glare to be the last thing he saw before-
Oh… that was nice.
He smiled weakly up at Minato. But that wasn't the Minato he remembered; his Minato was always smiling, but this one was distraught and panicked and horrified, and his beautiful blue eyes were overtaken by the black of Edo-tensei.
Kakashi opened his mouth to tell the man to at least smile for him; hallucination or not, he couldn't think of anything he wanted to see more. But the moment he tried to talk, he started to cough, and then the agony ripped through his nonexistent gut, and he was lost in a red haze.
Sakura arrived just as Kakashi let out a pale, unearthly yell, a blood-curdling screech that echoed across the smoking field in one of the most tortured sounds Naruto had ever heard. He didn't let it stop him, he couldn't; he just pointed at the horrible, black wound and screamed for her to do something, to heal him, to fix him, get that horrible, agonized look off her face and just save him! But Sakura wasn't moving, she was just kneeling and staring, and she didn't react even when he grabbed her hands and thrust them over Kakashi.
Sakura's eyes raised to meet his. They were wide and her lip was trembling like she was about to cry, and why was she looking like that she'd healed Kakashi before, she'd healed them all before, why was she looking like that now?! She shouldn't be looking like that now, because if she kept staring at him like that then she was going to make him think that this was something she couldn't fix.
It was Sasuke who took Sakura's shaking hands and moved them back. Naruto looked from the medic to to him, eyes wide in disbelief because this was not happening, and Sasuke just shook his head.
"She can't help him, Naruto."
Sasuke's voice, Sasuke's face, it was all just slightly off, like he almost couldn't believe what was happening. But Naruto shook that off quickly and turned back to Sakura, because Sasuke just didn't know what he was talking about, he was being stupid as usual and misunderstanding because that wasn't what Sakura was saying; of course she could help Kakashi. He wasn't going to die; that wasn't how it worked, god damn it!
But when he opened his mouth to tell Sakura to act and prove Sasuke wrong, the look on her face made the words die before they reached his mouth.
Sakura was staring back down at Kakashi. Her hand was clutched tightly over her mouth, like she was trying to hold in a sob, and she didn't look like she was about to cry anymore, she was crying, wet tears silently brimming over one by one to drip down and seep under her hand.
"She can't help him, Naruto."
Sasuke repeating himself didn't help any, not at all.
"Then go get someone!" he screamed, grabbing her by the shoulders and trying to shake her out of it, because the longer she just sat there the longer Kakashi was bleeding, and he couldn't just keep bleeding forever, but he wasn't going to die! "Tsunade, Orochimaru! Someone, ANYONE!"
No one moved.
Sakura's horrorstruck eyes raised to meet his, then, and she just barely shook her head.
He knew then.
When Kakashi could think again, he realized it didn't hurt so much anymore. He had less time left now; last time he'd died, the less pain he felt the faster his time was running out. But he was ready to die this time, and he knew what was waiting for him, so that wasn't as scary anymore.
It took more effort than it should have to open his eyes, but he did, anyway. He didn't want his last memories alive to be of nothing but darkness.
The first thing he realized was that Minato was still there, but his eyes were still black, so he definitely wasn't dead yet. He still looked painfully sad, though, and he didn't understand for a second until he finally realized whatever cruel gods of fate there were had brought Minato back just in time for the rest of his team to die. And Minato had always cared about him, more than he should have, probably, even after Obito (not really) and Rin had died because of him.
But there were other sounds, too, other sounds and things that didn't make any sense. He could hear a constantly sobbed out Sensei… by his right side, someone who kept crying the word into his hand and was clutching his arm so tight it probably should've hurt. And there was someone on his other side holding that hand, too, but looser, not like they thought if they could just hold him tight enough he wouldn't leave.
He tried to tilt his head up enough to see, and Minato noticed, because his sensei shifted forward so his head was in his lap and he was propped up enough to look at what was touching him and crying and talking.
Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke.
So, Sasuke… you finally came home.
All the effort it took to smile was worth it.
Sakura was sitting next to the once lost member of Team Seven. She was the one grasping his arm so tightly and muttering Sensei over and over again, mournful and longing and so filled with pain he wanted to say he was sorry. Sorry for what she was feeling right now, because surely it was his fault, sorry for neglecting her when she was younger and not managing to hold Team Seven together longer and not giving her the attention she wanted as she got easier, because if ever there was a time for last words, it was now. He wanted to tell her to not feel guilty about this, because he knew her well enough by now to know she would blame herself for not being strong enough to heal him, and he wanted to say it was okay, he didn't mind not being able to be fixed.
But the ability to speak was beyond him, by this point.
Sasuke looked like he wasn't quite sure what he should be feeling. He wasn't crying like Sakura or distraught like Minato; he seemed almost confused. Gone was his usual cold, bland appearance; he was feeling something, and that was written plainly on his face, but it almost seemed like he didn't understand what was happening. Kakashi decided that if he had any last words for Sasuke, they would be for him to never leave them again, and perhaps a welcome home. But Sasuke had never wanted to hear what he had to say, so maybe it was a good thing he couldn't speak.
The grip on his other hand tightened then, so strong it surely wasn't healthy. Kakashi wanted to laugh at the thought, because surely his last concern now should be what was healthy. He managed what sounded like a weak, dying croak, even to his own ears, and thought idly it probably would be easier if the blood-soaked mask wasn't in his way. But if speaking was too hard, then moving certainly was out of the question. Kakashi looked back up at Minato, just thinking really hard at him what he wanted, hoping he would understand.
Minato always had been able to read him like an open book, and it seemed death hadn't changed that. He closed his black eyes and nodded, slowly bringing one hand up to remove the cloth he suddenly didn't want to die with.
No, it wasn't easier to breathe or talk at all, but he was glad it was down all the same.
He heard a break in all the sad sounds around him, the silence drawing him to look back at his team. Sakura wasn't crying anymore, but she looked like she still wanted to, and Sasuke looked even worse, like he was finally starting to understand now. He realized with a vague sense of amusement this was the first time Sakura had seen his face when he'd had any say in the matter, and the first time Sasuke had seen it ever.
Something about that was very sad, and he found himself wishing he had pulled his mask down for them more often. Perhaps Sakura would've appreciated the trust it showed, and Sasuke, well…
But the one member of Team Seven he had pulled his mask down for was here, too.
Naruto had never looked like this before. Not after Sasuke had left, not after Jiraiya died, not when the Raikage ordered Sasuke's death- never before had Kakashi seen Naruto like this.
He was sobbing, but silently. His whole body was shaking and his eyes were shut tight and tears were streaming down his face, but he wasn't even making a sound. He looked like he wanted to scream but didn't have the strength to yell, like he wanted to help somehow but there was nothing left for him to do.
His silent agony made Kakashi want to speak, say something to him to make him realize that it was going to be okay, that it wasn't all bad and at least the war was won, right? At least Sasuke had come back, right? Just because he was dying, that didn't mean-
Except I don't want to die this time.
The realization made him gasp, and it hurt. Heavily ironic, for him to live more than half his life not caring if he lived or died but now, now that the moment was finally here, he wanted to live.
Because it hadn't mattered what happened to him when his whole family was waiting for him on the other side.
But now they were all here. His second family was back together again, after three long years they were finally here again, and Sakura and Naruto had never left in the first place, and he was such an idiot all this time to think he still felt like he missed the dead ones more than he cared about the living. Because he didn't; he hadn't for a long time now, not since Naruto had first accused him so long ago of just abandoning him, called him Kakashi-niisan, and forced him to stop shirking responsibility and pay attention to those left behind.
And now that that he had finally managed to understand consciously what he had figured out subconsciously so long ago, he had to die.
But I don't want to! I don't want to leave yet, I want to watch Sakura finally have us all back as her boys again and be happy, I want to watch Sasuke come home again and stay, I want to watch Naruto become Hokage! I want to watch that all happen; I can't die yet!
It was far too late for any of that, though.
He felt Minato's arm that was still around his neck, supporting him, squeeze his shoulder, and he wondered desperately if this was how his teacher had felt when he had died. Then he knew it was. He may have died for a worthy cause, but he was leaving behind his only son, a baby only old enough to sleep and cry. At least Kakashi had been able to watch Naruto grow up, even if from a distance or going through the things no father or overprotective niisan wanted to watch him suffer through. Minato hadn't even had that.
It didn't hurt at all anymore. He couldn't feel a thing below his nonexistent stomach and the rest of him no longer even ached. He fought the numbness this time, trying to breathe deeper and catch onto something that he could keep hold of, to stop himself from slipping away. But there was nothing, nothing at all here to keep him grounded, and his breath caught in his throat because this was it. He was dying and he couldn't stop it.
His vision started to fade, the intricacies of shapes and patterns disappearing while colors drained away, leaving a bleached an imperfect world. He could still see pink and white to one side, then nothing but orange on the other, and that orange was what he focused on. He couldn't die silently, damn it, he wouldn't! He may have lived his life not saying the things that needed to be said most, that Naruto, above all others, deserved to hear, and Pein killing him hadn't changed that.
But now he finally understood just what Naruto had done for him, and Naruto needed to hear it.
It was a hoarse, dying whisper, not at all like the usual lazily quiet voice laced with boredom, but it made Naruto freeze anyway.
He hadn't expected to hear Kakashi speak again; thought he was gone already, his body unconscious for the last time while his heart struggled to beat on until it just couldn't anymore. But that was Kakashi, no doubt, and the man had always had his way of surprising them, anyway.
He raised his head to see Kakashi looking right at him. He was definitely awake and aware, both his eyes, one grey and one a soft, unfamiliar brown watching him. A trail of blood ran from the corner of his mouth across his bare, pale cheek, but he was smiling. Looking at him with a weak, tiny smile like he wasn't dying.
It hurt too much to speak, but Kakashi continued anyway. His ruined chest heaved as he struggled to get the words out, coughing and sputtering, bubbles of blood gurgling up but going ignored by the jounin entirely. "Naruto. For… making me understa… . I've been a… alone since Sensei died." He turned his head a little, brushing his cheek up against Minato's leg, and the man holding him bowed his head and shut his eyes, gripping his shoulder even tighter than before. "You made me… not alone. Gave me… a reason- to want to… live. To… be… happy."
Naruto was sobbing so hard he couldn't talk. Some tiny part of him wanted to scream at Kakashi to shut up; to tell the idiot that was he going to be fine and to stop talking like this, that he could say whatever he wanted to later, but the rest of him bitterly reminded that other part that there wasn't going to be any later.
Not this time.
"Thank you for letting me be your niisan."
The words took Naruto's breath away.
Somehow, even though he was still shaking and crying and could barely even breathe he managed to speak, clinging onto Kakashi's hand and refusing to let go as the words forced themselves out between tortured sobs. "Don't stop. Don't stop! Don't do this now! Please, don't! You can't! You can't leave me like this; don't stop being my niisan! You can't leave me like this!"
Kakashi's mouth opened again, but no words came out. He tried again, still failed, then appeared to give up. He looked almost frustrated with his inability to talk and sad; he didn't look like the Kakashi his clone had found after Pein, calm and peaceful like he'd accepted it. He looked like a man who didn't want to die, but even as Naruto watched, Kakashi seemed to stop fighting it. His breaths came even easier now, shorter and shallower and with longer distance in-between. His features were no longer twisted in frustration as he tried to hold on longer but relaxed, dull with a sadness that was still acceptance.
His mouth opened again. No sound came out, but it formed the words anyway.
I love you.
Something in his eyes shifted. Like a light turning off, they went from staring at him to staring through him, half-turned up in a smile to relaxing down, erasing all the signs of the way only Hatake Kakashi could smile. The expression was still on his mouth, though, the corners still turned upwards, lips still forming the last word he hadn't managed to say but that Naruto had still heard anyway.
While Kakashi stared through him and smiled, Naruto picked up the cold hand he still clung to so tightly and clutched it to his heart. His beat on while Kakashi's did not; he could feel that now. No pulse beat on cheerfully, languidly slow but always constant and steady in his wrist, not even when a tear dropped onto the skin.
The weeks after the war's end passed slowly.
There were a few pleasant events, reasons to smile instead of look down and be sad. The war was over, for one. They had beaten Madara and Obito and were alive. No more Tsuki no Me. The world not coming to an end was always something to be glad about.
Konoha had a new Hokage- that was another thing to celebrate. Tsunade wasn't dead, but there was something about being ripped in half that had put a damper on her skills. She was in no condition to be Hokage anymore, regardless of the fact that she'd somehow stitched herself back up together again.
Nevertheless, at the official ceremony crowning Naruto as their new Hokage, Tsunade had handed him the hat and robes and made sure to say that he wasn't being given the title simply because the village was in need of one. He deserved it more than anyone, and not one of the villagers had disagreed.
Nevertheless, achieving his lifelong dream hadn't made Naruto smile.
He rarely smiled, anymore.
Those left of the Rookie Eleven murmured to themselves after the ceremony, when he declined the opportunity to go out and celebrate and simply returned home alone. Some said it was too soon after Sasuke, that they should just wait and give him time. Others said that they were worried about him, but it was Sakura who kept her silence and merely remembered.
She remembered his words when Team Seven had met again at the Five Kage Summit and fought. She remembered Kakashi trying to order Naruto back, telling him that he still had his dreams to live for, and to die fighting Sasuke would be a waste.
And Naruto had not let Kakashi fight him. He had held Kakashi back and walked forward himself, saying that if he couldn't even save one friend, then how could he become Hokage?
Unlike some, Naruto always meant what he said.
And now, he was Hokage, but they still hadn't managed to save Sasuke.
The others all assumed that Naruto's new, cold manner, his sulky depression and indifferent shrugs, they were all just a phase as he recovered the loss of his best friend.
But Sakura wasn't so sure it was temporary.
However, while the rest of the village called their new Hokage the hero that had won the war, the rest of the world mourned. And Konoha was not excluded from that, either.
The initial elation when Madara and the Jyuubi were sealed and Obito, killed, quickly faded when the Allied Forces realized just how many lives it had taken to kill one insane man, put another back to rest, and seal away a beast. Over half of the greatest army ever forged in this land's history was dead.
The alliance that had been formed was quickly forgotten, inter-village divisions and platoons disbanding as they all flocked back to their Kage, seeking out loved ones in a desperation and hope that they would find more than a body. No one cared, now, about peace talks or treaties or bothering to stay around to see the future of their new alliance- not when they had homes to get back and loved ones to bury. The Kage made plans to speak again about holding their alliance together, but only after three months had passed, when the world could have had at least a chance at trying to fix itself and their dead had been buried.
The processions home were long and horrific. Stretcher after stretcher after stretcher were carried down beaten paths, each and every body covered by a simple white sheet. Underneath was their village's headband, not the new symbol of the Allied Forces, and by their sides were teammates and loved ones- most of them, too, wearing the symbol of their village and not the Allied Forces. Konoha was no exception to this, and genin and civilians stood by, aghast and horrified, as the weary ninja returned home with more dead, it seemed, than those alive.
There was one mass funeral days after, attended by every single man who was well, and many who weren't, ninja walking right out of the hospital in droves- no one with the heart to stop them. The memorial stone was marked with so many new names they almost ran out of space, and for weeks after the site could almost never be found deserted, no matter what time of day.
But time passed, and the acute pain of death, if not the memories, faded.
Konoha began to recover again, still being rebuilt from Pein's invasion. Families with holes in them began to stop mourning and start living again, the suffering of war being forgotten in the past even if the loved ones gone never would be. Their Sixth Hokage began to smile again, and if he picked up a habit of replying to wise or prodding comments with a simple 'Hn' or training more than was healthy, it went unnoticed.
Of course, Sakura and Kakashi noticed, but they never said anything.
What remained of Team Seven didn't meet up much anymore. Naruto and Sakura were both busy, and easy as it would have been to make time in their schedules to meet up once a week, they didn't. The once hopeful memories of what might have been were too painful now, for both of them. Sakura swore she didn't blame Naruto, but that didn't mean it was easy for her to eat lunch or talk with the same hands that had cut Sasuke's throat. Kakashi, on the other hand, simply avoided them both like he avoided everybody nowadays, and on the few occasions Sakura tried to check up on him, he never answered his door. Nowadays, Team Seven only ever came together by complete accident, in Yamato's room in the coma ward at the hospital. And those meetings were usually cut short, one member of the team backing out as silently as they had come when they saw they weren't alone.
The wood user wasn't going to wake up again. They sometimes felt guilty about keeping him alive when there was truly no hope left, but giving the actual order to kill him was something none of them could handle.
Sai was dead. One of the many taken down in the fight to seal the Jyuubi. He was the first member of ROOT to have his name written on the memorial stone.
But even a full year later, Naruto was still not found in his bed in the mornings. If there was an emergency and the Hokage was needed, the ANBU knew where he was.
The sun rose on the familiar sight of two men standing before the memorial stone thirteen months after the war had officially ended. One, the strongest ninja in the village, the other, technically a civilian. Kakashi had retired the moment the government in Konoha had put itself back together enough to locate his file and put it back in the old archives. The injuries he'd sustained against Obito were severe, and he was no longer fit for field work- a lot of his generation weren't, anymore. Now he walked with a slight limp, Konoha headband that Naruto had insisted he keep cocked firmly over his now blind left eye.
When the council had asked Kakashi if he wanted Obito's remaining Sharingan transplanted in it's stead, he had just turned around and walked out.
Naruto knew, despite being half blind and one leg stiff and barely able to bend, the once-Copy Ninja still would've served Konoha until his rank as a jounin was forcibly stripped away. But that was before the war. Now, it seemed even the will to fight had left him.
Right along with with Obito's eye and his best friend's betrayal.
They rarely spoke much, anymore. Naruto was busy as Hokage, and Kakashi- well, he didn't know what Kakashi did anymore. Whatever he was doing, it wasn't hanging around the Hokage Tower. Or Ichiraku. Or anywhere in plain sight. Or even anywhere outside, since Naruto wasn't the only one who barely ever saw him anymore.
Still, there was one place that Naruto could always count on him to be.
Naruto didn't go there to see Kakashi, and Kakashi didn't go there to see him. And when they spoke, it wasn't to each other.
(Of course, they only went to the memorial stone for a lack of any other place to go. Obito's name had been gone for over a year, and Sasuke's was never added in the first place).
"I know I've said this before, Sasuke, but I think I'm really getting close now. We're in meetings once every other day now, and we had one yesterday, and I've swayed over half the council now. I even pulled Niisan into it; got him to stop being such a recluse and pull in some of his old favors. I have a feeling I'll get the two thirds majority I need soon." Naruto sighed quietly at that, looking from the stone without Sasuke's name on it to the grass. "It's… it's almost ten years too late, but Itachi's finally going to be recognized for his sacrifice. They'll add his name to the stone soon, Sasuke. I promise. …I'd do the same for you, but…" he shook his head and laughed bitterly. "I don't think that you'd want me to. Even if you hadn't left… you never really cared much about stuff like this."
Naruto closed his eyes. "…I'd apologize again if I thought you'd care. Something tells me you wouldn't want to hear it, though, even if you were here."
"If I told you that what happened to Sasuke wasn't your fault, would you listen?"
Naruto stiffened at the break in the routine. The closest they got to conversation on mornings like this were joint retellings of what was happening in Konoha now, stories they thought or maybe just hoped that the Sasuke and Obito of their best memories would care about. They didn't talk to each other anymore.
He cleared his throat to retort anyway, because if Kakashi was going to break the status quo, then he might as well. "If I told you that what happened to Obito wasn't your fault, would you listen?"
Kakashi didn't answer him, and Naruto crossed his arms and kept looking at the ground.
Instead of speaking to Sasuke again, though, Naruto found that the only things he could think of to say were to Kakashi. He wanted to chastise his stupid brain, because this was the only time of day that was purely Sasuke's, and it was Kakashi's own fault anyway that they never spoke anymore. But he'd never been that good at controlling his mouth, and being Hokage hadn't done much to change that, so he found the words tumbling out.
"I understand now, Kakashi-niisan."
Naruto wasn't looking at the retired jounin, but he could tell Kakashi was still gazing at the stone and not in his direction, either. The older man didn't even bother to reply for a second or two, or perhaps ten, and just when Naruto thought Kakashi didn't even care what he was talking about he replied.
Barely a reply, that. But Naruto was already used to how Kakashi talked mostly in sighs and grunts. The only people he bothered to have conversations with now were the dead; with the living, it seemed to take so much effort for him to care that he just decided it wasn't worth it. But Kakashi was the one who had started this conversation in the first place, so Naruto wasn't content to let it die just yet.
"Back when Ero-sennin died, I found you here one morning when I came to see him. I said that I understood why you came here every morning, and you didn't even listen to my reasons- just said I was wrong. …Well, I really understand now."
Kakashi just grunted again. But it somehow came off as understanding and in agreement, not skeptical and doubtful, even though the retired jounin's expression didn't change in the slightest and his stance didn't even twitch.
Another silence followed Naruto's one-sided conversation. He didn't know what else he wanted to say to Sasuke, and since this was the most he had gotten Kakashi to say to him in a long while, he decided the other man was in a good mood today and that he shouldn't waste it.
But coming up with something to say was hard. It wasn't like they had anything to catch up on; Kakashi had been temporary Hokage more than once and knew what the job entailed, and while Naruto didn't know exactly what the retired jounin got up to anymore, he doubted Kakashi would answer if he asked. Talking about the old days was a definite no; that was something the former members of Team Seven just didn't do anymore.
Finally, he spoke up about the topic that was weighing on his mind most heavily at the moment. It always was, at this time of the day.
"Do you think they've forgiven us, Niisan?"
He gestured at the stone as he spoke, then slowly let his hand drop worthlessly back to his side. Kakashi had probably already known who he was talking about. They were here, after all. Whenever they spoke here, it was only about two people.
It took a while, but Kakashi surprised him by replying with words this time. His voice was soft but certain, still not the easygoing drawl Naruto sometimes missed but not the indifferent growl that was common now. "I think they did a long time ago. I think they're waiting for us to forgive ourselves, by this point."
Naruto snorted. You know I'm too stubborn for that, Sasuke, he wanted to say, but the words never made it to his mouth.
Kakashi chose to be the one to end the first real meaningful conversation they had had in months. He turned to walk away on the well beaten path, slow tread audible through the light thump of his cane in the dust. It stopped after only a few moments, and Kakashi spoke again. It was probably the most words they had exchanged in a year, by this point.
"For what it's worth, I wish you would at least consider forgiving yourself. It's too late for me. It's not for you, Naruto."
Naruto frowned. It was better than the stiff Hokage-sama he was used to. But Kakashi was already breaking most of their well-established habits that morning; he might as well break them all while he was at it.
He listened to Kakashi walk away until the uneven footsteps faded into silence. Then he simply raised his hand, turned, and walked away.
"See you tomorrow, Sasuke."
Naruto groaned at the sing-song voice calling out his name from the hallway. Oh, this was just great. Surely not a humungous waste of time. Because that tone of voice sounded like his visitor had something important to tell him, certainly not something stupid or irrelevant or ridiculous, and he really shouldn't be smiling right now but he couldn't help it.
Naruto raised his head reluctantly just in time to see Kakashi fairly skip into his office, a scroll in one hand, clearly very happy to know he was disrupting his work and probably a little pleased about however he had scammed the guards into letting him in this time. "Yes, Kakashi-niisan?" he asked, fighting to keep his voice level and sound like he wasn't as amused- okay, maybe not quite as amused- as Kakashi was. "Do you need something?"
The jounin dropped the mission's scroll down onto his desk and crossed his arms, pout was so definite it was visible even with the mask. "What is this supposed to be?"
Naruto grinned. He could already tell this was going to be good. "It looks like a mission's scroll," he played along, smile broadening when Kakashi groaned.
"Yes- but open it!"
"Okay." Naruto did as asked, scanned the contents, then looked back up at him. "It's a D-rank mission to clear out the poison ivy from Neko-san's garden."
Kakashi huffed when Naruto refused to make it easy for him. "Why did the people in the mission's room assign it to me?!"
"Probably because they thought it was within your skill set."
Kakashi rubbed a hand over his face irritably. "And when I asked them for another," he continued as if he hadn't even heard what Naruto had said, "they said they were ordered to only give me D-ranks!"
"Hmm… oh, that's right!" Naruto snapped his fingers and smiled broadly. "I did order them to only give you D-ranks."
Kakashi looked positively betrayed. His eye widened and he stared in disbelief, and when Naruto just continued to smile he whined in a spot on impersonation of a three year old. "Why?!"
Naruto pointed at him and shrugged. "That would be because I knew you wouldn't listen to Sakura-chan and would go back to work before you should. So I'm going to wait until she tells me your wrist is perfectly fine before I fully clear you again."
"But it is fine!"
Naruto just looked at him, and the jounin faltered, though his eye smile remained firmly in place. "Well… it doesn't crack anymore when I pick stuff up?"
Kakashi huffed again. "Well, I'm still not doing that." He pointed at the scroll on Naruto's desk like it had said something to personally offend him, continuing to do so even when Naruto rolled his eyes.
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not! I'm allergic to poison ivy."
Naruto sighed heavily. "You're the one who wanted a mission so bad, so- what are you talking about; everybody's allergic to poison ivy."
"But I'm more allergic."
Naruto just smiled, more than used to Kakashi's ludicrous excuses by this point, and leaned back in his chair. "Fine, whatever. I'm sure some genin team will be happy to know they're taking the great Sharingan no Kakashi's rejects. Maybe Shikamaru's team; I'm sure he'll appreciate the excuse to laze in the sun while he makes his team do all the work."
Kakashi's eye crinkled up, pleased. "Thank you. Now, if you'll just dig about in that pile on your desk for an A-rank…"
The look Naruto gave him thoroughly stopped him from asking again; he was beginning to think that the older he got, the better impersonation he did of his father. And that always seemed to work on Kakashi, even when every other option failed. The jounin sighed heavily and moved to lean up against the wall, fingers interlocked behind his head, shoulders- and even his hair, it looked like- slumped in defeat. "Maa…"
Naruto smiled, dropping his pen down onto the desk and decided he could use the distraction. "You know, if you just decided to act your age already, then I'd be able to stop worrying about you taking missions you have no business being on."
"What do you mean, act my age? I'm still young yet. Don't look any different than the day we met, in fact."
Naruto groaned again. "Maybe that's because you keep every inch of your body covered and you were born with a head of grey hair."
"Was not. I was born bald."
Naruto let his head thump down on the papers on his desk and groaned loudly.
"And hey. My hair is not grey; it's silver."
He groaned louder.
A few moments passed before Naruto turned his head to look at Kakashi. "Seriously, Niisan," he continued, voice more sober and sedate before. "Why don't you just retire? Find some nice woman to settle down with, maybe make a few little Copy-Ninjas to run amok. You're only a few months away from forty, you know; keep wasting your time for much longer, and your kids are going to end up pushing your old carcass around before they've even graduated from the Academy."
Kakashi just waved him off, eye smile in place. "What kids? You know me, Naruto. Bachelor for life."
Naruto rolled his eyes again. "Then why don't you just retire and… I don't know, sit out on a porch in a rocking chair or something. Shake your fist at kids and tell them to get off your lawn."
"How old do you think I am, again?"
Naruto grinned as he went back to the papers littering his desk. He had long since given up hope of getting Kakashi paired off with anyone, like most of the Rookie Nine had managed to do. The few dates he and Sakura had managed to set him up on it had all declined another one, declaring the Copy Nin as creepy and a perverted asshole. When they had accused the jounin of purposefully scaring them off, Kakashi had just gave them an eye crinkle and disappeared with a poof.
"Well, speaking of marriage and whatnot. How are you and the Missus doing now?"
Naruto smiled at that. "As good as always. Though my better half's been asking when you're going to show your face around for dinner again. Misses you, for some reason."
"Must be my charming personality."
Naruto snorted. "Right. I'm sure that's it."
Kakashi shrugged mildly. "Either that, or my stunning good looks."
"Trust me, it's neither."
Kakashi held his hand over his heart and adopted the look of a kicked puppy. "So rude, Naruto…" he murmured, then pushed himself off the wall and sighed. "Well, I'm off to go bride Sakura into telling you I'm fine."
Naruto laughed. "We both know you're too cheap for that."
Kakashi frowned deeply, sticking his hands down into his pockets. "Hmm… maybe I'll flatter Yamato into bribing her for me. He'd always good for that."
"You do realize he's in Bird Country, right?"
The jounin groaned at that. "Come on; just give me a real mission."
"Nope. Sorry. Not happening."
Kakashi sighed, but it seemed to really be in defeat this time. "Fine, fine. I'll just go and waste my life until I'm old and grey, doing nothing but genin grunt work… so sad." He gave another dramatic sigh again, waving over his shoulder as he slouched out of the office. Almost as an afterthought, it seemed, he stopped and called back, "Tell your wife I might show up tonight. At six, I think."
Naruto smirked. "I'll pick up some eggplant on the way home. It'll be ready by eight, Kakashi-niisan."
"Maa… I'm getting too predictable."
Naruto shrugged slightly. "You never were unpredictable in the first place. Not when I got to know you."
"You're still my number one unpredictable ninja, though. After all this time, you still manage to surprise me. And from behind a desk, took; now that takes real talent."
Naruto beamed at Kakashi's version of praise, even as he shooed him away. He was the Hokage; he did have work to do, after all. "See you tonight, Niisan. Now, don't you have something to do? Like, I don't know, filing out that report that was supposed to be turned in last week."
"I don't have any idea what you're talking about."
He laughed. "Just get it done, will you? Iruka-sensei's been hounding me since you're avoiding him now. He knows you listen to me, after all."
"…Fine. But better have dinner ready at nine, then."
Naruto just rolled his eyes, not bothering to deign that last comment with a response. They both knew a proper mission report took ten minutes, if that, but knowing Kakashi, he would probably procrastinate it out to take an extra hour. Which was expected and fine; Naruto was used to Kakashi still being as lazy as they come. He'd be lucky if the report got done at all today.
The older Kakashi got, the more it seemed like Naruto was the responsible one between them. By the way he acted sometimes, it was almost like he was a gigantic kid and Naruto were the parent- a complete opposite from when they had first met, over fifteen years ago. At other times, though, it seemed like he was still that endlessly wise, knowledgeable (and a little silly) sensei that had taught three naive little genins that teammates were the most important thing there was.
Naruto wondered if Kakashi would lose that mysterious ability of his to make him still feel like a little kid sometimes, then decided it didn't matter. That was what he had heard having parents was like, that they always made you feel like you were a kid again no matter how old you got. And even if Kakashi would probably stab him in the back and leave him for dead if he ever dared say it, the jounin was overprotective like a mother, too, still chucking vegetables into his ramen even now that he was twenty-five and Hokage.
He chuckled to himself and decided that, yep, saying that aloud around Kakashi was definitely a bad idea.
Instead, he looked down at the two pictures of Team Seven on his desk- one from back in their genin days, and then a new one, with Sasuke back and Sai and Yamato included. Kakashi's hand was firmly planted in his hair in both of them, and his eye was smiling.
Somehow, he thought, looking at the new picture, against all odds, everything turned out all right. And even though Kakashi was still unbelievably lazy, irresponsible, and a bit of a perverted bastard, he was a member of the very mismatched, awkward, and often, just plain weird family that made up Team Seven. And Naruto knew for a fact that he wouldn't have it any other way.
See? I warned you. Still can't write fluff :D Anyway, I think I'll let you decide who Naruto ended up with. Sakura… Hinata… an extraordinarily whipped Sasuke… your choice :) Well, that's it, you guys! I've loved writing this, I really have- see, you can tell, because I even killed Kakashi for it. *cuddles Kakashi plushie in apology* I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing, and thank you all for sticking with me, all five months it took. I really hope I made it worth it.
Love you guys! See you next time!