[ The title is a line from Tennyson's poem 'Lady of Shalott'.

So, here's what happened: I wake up on my day off, and it's cold and raining. As I lay in bed pondering whether or not I should just stay there for the day I get the idea for this story. ...and I start crying. Yeah, seriously, I am THAT pathetic. What's even better is that I didn't realize it was Sept 15th until I dragged my ass out of my warm bed and sat down at my computer.

I can't seem to do anything the normal way. Birthday fics are supposed to be happy, right? NOT WHEN I WRITE THEM, APPARENTLY! *facepalm* Happy Birthday, Kakashi! I hope you like broken-hearted tears with your cake, cause that's what I got you this year! *flops* Why am I so hopeless... ;_;

This story has been translated into Chinese. The link is on my profile. ]

Out Flew the Web and Floated Wide

Kakashi was excited. He'd never show it or admit it, of course, but underneath his stoic gaze and steady hands as he took the vest and certificate from the Hokage his heart was hammering in his chest. Chuunin at six years old. He'd done it! He'd actually done it! Only one thing could make the day better, and he raced home with pride and hope turning cartwheels in his stomach.

Surely now all of his hard work would pay off. It had to! He wasn't a measly Genin anymore, he had some rank and he could start putting it to use. Admittedly, it wasn't much of a rank at the moment, but it was a start. Clutched in his hand was proof that the village accepted him and acknowledged his strength.

Since the day he graduated the Academy he'd put even more effort into achieving perfection, into being the ideal shinobi. A shining example. Someone people wanted to look at. Someone people had to look at. With a slip of paper and a green vest he was one huge step closer to his goal.

Absently Kakashi reached up to scratch at his mask. Maybe now he could take it off. It was a thrilling prospect, and all he needed was one thing. Just one little thing he hadn't seen in months. If he could get his father to smile just a tiny bit, then he could toss the mask into the rubbish bin forever.

He'd donned the mask while he was in the Academy so the teachers wouldn't see his father's face and give him extra attention, so he wouldn't be treated differently in class, so he could say without doubt that he'd accomplished everything in his own right. Oddly enough, Sakumo had been amused by the idea. He had even agreed to treat Kakashi like a friend instead of like a son when they were out in public together.

But then something had gone terribly wrong soon after he'd graduated, and he'd had to keep the mask on. Sakumo's mission had failed. It had been abandoned to save the team, and suddenly Kakashi wasn't wearing his mask to avoid attention...he was wearing it so people would look at him.

The villagers had turned their backs, shunning the once great hero. It had only taken one person to glance at Kakashi, scowl, then turn away in disgust while they were shopping for dinner. Kakashi had been furious at the treatment, but Sakumo simply apologized to him and sent him home. Kakashi put his mask back on the next day because he couldn't bear the thought of seeing that painful look in his father's eyes again.

He'd figured it would get better after a while, but it didn't. No one spoke a word to Sakumo. No one even bothered to look at him, and if they did happen to let their eyes wander in his direction the meaning in them was clear. They wanted him to disappear. They wanted him to simply fade away, and it was working. It was working and Kakashi couldn't do anything about it!

How could he fight against nothing?! How could he shield himself and Sakumo against nothing?! How could he get people to look at the tall strong man standing right in front of them?! How could he get them to acknowledge the existence of the man that had spent his life protecting them?! How could he get them to stop acting like his father was dead, like he had never lived in the first place?!

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Kakashi gripped his Chuunin vest tighter and darted over the rooftops towards home. The whole village had seen him that day. They'd been forced to hear his name called out with the ring of victory behind it. He was promoted. He was Hatake Kakashi, and he could finally get his father to smile again because in his hands was irrefutable proof that all of Konoha was looking at him!

Sakumo would have to say something when he walked through the door. He would have to say something! Kakashi wasn't going to back down until he heard his father's voice. He hadn't heard it in weeks, he couldn't take it anymore. It would be obligatory and lifeless, but it would be better than the nothing that was consuming him. He would force the man to take that step forward, and then drag him the rest of the way out because his son wasn't a little Genin anymore, damn it!

Hopping down to the street that led to their small house, he was glad the neighborhood was fairly vacant due to the Chuunin Exam festivities. He was hoping he wouldn't have to resort to shouting in order to get a verbal reaction from Sakumo, but there was that chance. Steeling his nerves, he trotted up to the front door and froze.

Why did the house smell like that? His heart felt like it cavitated for a moment, shrinking in on itself and dragging the rest of his chest along with it. That couldn't be right, the house shouldn't smell like that. His heart abruptly exploded into action, making spots dance behind his eyes while the back of his neck and his scalp tingled. It had to be from him, from his fight with Gai.

Kakashi knew his hand was trembling when he opened the door, but he couldn't bring himself to pay attention long enough to try to get it to stop. He could feel himself gasping for air, gagging on the scent of blood, but he couldn't calm his breathing down. He couldn't think. It was like he was being held underwater. Everything was silent and time was fracturing.

He didn't remember how he got from the front door to the hallway, or when he'd taken off his sandals. All he knew was that his body didn't seem to be his own anymore, and no matter how much it hurt to breathe it felt like the rest of him was completely numb. He could feel the blood squishing between his toes, cold and thick as it soaked into his trousers, but he couldn't remember getting from the hallway to the living room where he knelt next to his father's body.

Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that his Chuunin vest was ruined on the floor next to him, along with his certificate. But none of that mattered, it was all useless now. His plan had failed. He was too late. He had won the battle and lost the war.

He couldn't even bring himself to care about Shinobi Rule #25 as his eyes burned and his cheeks got crusty and wet. He just wished he could breathe, because his chest was hurting a lot. His head was also starting to feel kind of light and hot while the rest of him was cold enough to make him shiver.

It must have been a lot chillier outside than he realized, because his hand was shaking violently when he reached out to pluck weakly at Sakumo's shirt sleeve. Had he closed the front door? He couldn't remember. He didn't want to check. He didn't want to take his eyes off his father's face.

It was supposed to be peaceful and serene, wasn't it? That little wrinkle between his eyebrows was still there. That bit of painful tension that hadn't gone away since he'd come back from that awful mission. Kakashi didn't like it. He hadn't liked it from the first moment it had shown up, so it only made sense that he try to smooth it out.

He just wished his hands would stop shaking. It was difficult trying to smooth out that little wrinkle by sliding his fingers over Sakumo's forehead and eyebrows when his hands were shaking so much. He wished he would stop crying, too. It was hard to see when there was so much water in his eyes, and he had to smooth that little wrinkle out. He didn't really care about being cold or the fact that he still couldn't seem to breathe, but the shivering was making his hands shake more and the pain in his chest was making his eyes sting.

Kakashi had no idea how long he knelt there carefully stroking his father's forehead. It could have been days, or it could have been a few minutes. He was dimly aware of it feeling like it was dark, but he honestly couldn't recall seeing any kind of light in the house as soon as he'd opened the front door. The notion of time never would have occurred to him if two warm hands hadn't suddenly wrapped around his wrists and stopped him from trying to smooth out that little wrinkle.

But now he was being lifted off the floor, and the weight pulling at his knees made him wonder if his legs were still attached. He couldn't feel his feet. There were warm arms around him, carrying him, holding him, but he didn't care because he didn't mind being cold as long as he could... Why was he being taken away? The wrinkle was still there.

He had to crane his neck to keep Sakumo's face in view as long as he could, but soon the walls were blocking everything. He never took his eyes off the doorway, though, and as another wall made an obstacle of itself, he had to blink a few times to clear his vision enough to recognize the doorway to the washroom. Not that it mattered where he was, because as soon as he could feel his feet again he was going to walk back to the living room.

Then everything went from freezing cold to unbearably hot, and he tried to crawl his way out of the shower. Except something stopped him, pinning him down, and breathing was more difficult than ever. He wanted to go back to the living room. He wanted to go back to his father. Why wasn't that happening? Why didn't he have the strength to get up? Why did it feel like his body was detached?

The heat scalded him again, and Kakashi gasped beneath the weight on his back. His gaze never strayed from the open door, and the fog in the room crept into his head as he lay there. Trying to get up was pointless, and now he had to focus on just keeping his eyes open. He was vaguely aware of being carefully maneuvered onto his back while his clothes were removed, but he didn't bother to dwell on that as long as he could keep the doorway in sight.

He had to get back to the living room, the heat was starting to get more uncomfortable than the cold ever was. It was spiking up the back of his neck and making his face feel way too hot. His stomach lurched, and he found enough energy to roll over onto his knees as he dry heaved in the corner of the shower. He hadn't eaten much before the Exam, and he'd eaten nothing since.

Once he started, unfortunately, he couldn't stop. Everything was crashing into his mind, stirring a wild panic that ate at reality. He could still feel the blood squishing between his toes. He could smell it everywhere, cloying and harsh as it soaked into his skin. He could feel the chill of Sakumo's skin under his fingertips. He could see the handle of the knife sticking out from beneath his father's ribs, his hands clutched tight around the hilt.

Kakashi felt dizzy, his vision blanking out as his stomach continued to try to wrench itself from his body. It was strange that the one thing he had paid no attention to was the one thing his senses now seemed to be wholely focused on.

He could hear.

His agony echoed and bounced off the tile walls, making it louder than it needed to be and spurring on more heaving efforts from his fatigued muscles. Either he would pass out or he would literally throw up his organs. It would be one or the other, and at that point he truly didn't care which it was as long as it all ended.

Not once did he think there was a third option until something slammed hard into his back, jolting his frame and startling him so bad that every inch of him seized up. His fingers scratched at the tile floor as he desperately choked in air. In that brief moment of clear surprise, he was aware of two things: he was being held up off the floor and braced against a larger body, and that the larger body was talking.

It took a minute for his brain to register what the words meant, but by that time a glass of water was being pressed against his lips and he couldn't respond to Minato's soothing babble anyway. He gagged three glasses down, each coming right back up till he finally managed to hold the fourth one in. The distant murmur of other voices drifted in, and that mindless panic gripped him again.

They would find Sakumo like that, and then they would all know! Pushing his body into obedience, Kakashi frantically tried to struggle against Minato's grip around his waist. They couldn't see his father like that! He had to stop them before the whole village found out! Kicking and snarling, he fought against the stronger arms holding him until he was pinned face-down on the floor of the washroom.

He wanted to keep on fighting, but the short burst of adrenaline was already wearing off and his limbs felt heavy and numb. Baring his teeth like a trapped animal and gasping for air, he prepared to gather what little chakra he had left for one last attempt at escape. It might have worked, too, if the jarring blow to the back of his head hadn't scrambled his concentration long enough for Minato to bind him securely in a large towel.

Utterly defeated, because no matter how much he struggled it was too late, he squeezed his eyes shut and screamed. He didn't know why Minato wrapped him up tight so his screaming was muffled by the slightly damp vest the man wore, and he didn't care. He howled and shrieked his fury and anguish till his throat was raw and spots danced behind his eyelids.

It was too late. All of it. Why did breaking one rule have to be this painful?! Why did Sakumo have to be so weak when he was one of the strongest men in the village?! Why couldn't his father find the strength to live for just one more day?! Why did he have to die like that?! Why couldn't that fucking idiot see that his son still needed him even if no one else did?!

The cold was starting to creep back into Kakashi's bones as he fell silent, and his face was burning as fiercely as his throat. He was completely spent. He didn't have the will to resist wherever it was Minato was taking him, and he was too tired to close his eyes. The hallway passed by in a literal blur, and he heard someone speaking but couldn't understand what they were saying.

The coolness of fresh air assaulted him, and he was at least thankful that it was nighttime. He wouldn't have been able to tolerate sunlight. The village passed by in the same haze as the hallway, and he idly noted in surprise that he actually had the strength to start shivering again. At least the smell of blood was starting to fade.

Tucking his chin into the towel, he clenched his chattering teeth and swallowed the urge to vomit. He wasn't sure if he liked the way Minato started prattling about nothing as he rubbed calming circles across his back, but it was a distraction he could somewhat appreciate. The man's voice vibrated pleasantly through his head, and he was okay with letting that steal his focus for now.

It couldn't have been more than a few minutes before a brightly lit apartment virtually materialized around them. Kakashi found himself propped up on the bed while the towel was removed and Minato proceeded to dress him in his pajamas. He did not enjoy being treated like a doll even if he didn't have the energy to protest, but again he could appreciate the fact that Minato had thought to grab some of his own things instead of trying to stuff him into adult-sized clothes.

For what it was worth, he also appreciated not being in a hospital room. Minato slipped him under the colorful quilt on his bed, and Kakashi scrounged up enough power to turn onto his side to face the wall. He didn't want to look at the bright room as Minato rambled on and on about pointless things. It was a pity the blanket wasn't warming him up, his head was starting to throb in time with the clacking of his teeth.

At some point he drifted into a muzzy state of half-awake, his eyes still open and staring blankly ahead as his brain simply shut down. He was roused a bit when Minato lifted him up to pour tea down his aching throat before rubbing harshly at his limbs to try to warm them up. Kakashi blearily noted that it wasn't working, and wished he'd stop shivering because his muscles were cramping up painfully.

When Minato pulled the quilt back, he was expecting to be tossed into the shower again. When the man crawled into bed with him, mumbling something about hoping his kotatsu was returned soon, Kakashi was dimly aware of the fact that he should probably be voicing a complaint about feeling a little awkward and a lot indignant at how his sensei was bundling him into his arms as if he was a kid.

It didn't help that Minato was warm, and his scent was one Kakashi associated with being with someone he trusted. He smelled like fresh leaves and spring rains, and he could feel his eyes burning again with tears because now that he was paying attention he could still catch the scent of his father on his pajamas. Subtle and soft, like forest moss in a hemlock grove.

Why couldn't he just close his eyes and pretend that the day never happened?! That he didn't leave for the Chuunin Exams that morning! That he didn't leave the house at all! Was there something he could have said to save Sakumo?! He just couldn't figure out why his father had left him like that!

And why the hell was Minato rubbing his back and babbling again?! Kakashi didn't want to be comforted like a helpless child! He wanted to be scolded and told to act his damn rank so he could stop fucking crying!

He heard Minato say something about his kotatsu as the door to his apartment opened, and he cringed in relief at the sharp feminine reply. While he wasn't happy with Kushina seeing him in this state, he could at least look forward to getting out of her blasted man's arms!

And then everything went from bad to worse, because when the quilt was lifted his still-freezing body was not removed from beneath it. Instead, he inwardly screamed and thrashed and kicked and cursed because another body snuggled up against his back to snake her arms around him and sandwich him between the two adults in a tangled web of extremely awkward and highly inappropriate. God damn it! Why was that woman five times warmer than Minato?!

She smelled spicy and crisp, like ginger and autumn winds, and he hated her so much because she was warm and comfortable! He hated them both! He hated the fact that he really did feel like he was under a kotatsu, and it was starting to warm him up. He hated that his shivering was calming down because every square inch of him was battered, exhausted and dragging him toward sleep.

He hated that his brain was going fuzzy, and he couldn't hold onto his anger, much less his consciousness. He hated that he was falling asleep in the most humiliating situation possible. He hated that he just wanted to put his mask on and hide his miserable failure from everyone in the whole world! And, above all, he hated the scent of tears that weren't his own as the darkness finally swallowed him up.