Mark of Genius – Hatake Kakashi. Eight dogs that crowded his house of two. A disgraced name turned on its head. A Rivalry that clung to him like a burr. An anbu title taken from a dead man. Three kids who grew up drenched in peace. A mask, because it keeps his nose warm.
Because as far as character-fascinations go, Kakashi tops them all.
Note: This is more of a collection of scenes (based on what we know of Kakashi's life) than an actual story, and it focuses on the times that aren't shown (mostly pre-canon). It might be AU, since I haven't read up to Rin's story in the manga. It may or may not end on a nice note. This is Kakashi, after all.
This has been gathering dust on my laptop for a while because I didn't really know where it was going (which is a first). But I brought it back up and edited it since I thought it deserved a post. I actually have a lot of half-written character tributes resting around. Maybe I'll go back and find them and finish them someday.
(If you can spot the Graham Greene quote below I'll love you forever.)
Dogs' noses are usually cold (and wet). Kind of icky, but the old wives' tale says that it's how you know they're healthy.
Read on. And review, that's always a plus.
Genius - A person of exceptional ability who epitomizes the extent of human achievement.
When he returned home on the evening of his sixth birthday, Kakashi never expected to see animals crowding his sitting room.
Dogs. Large ones and small ones, sitting back on their haunches and watching him enter.
He would have drawn one of his blunted practice kunai if Sakumo hadn't come up behind him and put a calming hand on his shoulder. "These are my ninken, Kakashi. They won't hurt you. One day you'll sign a contract with them."
Kakashi looked defiantly into the eyes of the eight animals that approached him from their various perches. He looked back at his father. "Otou-san, I don't want these ones. I want to have really big summons. Like Minato-sensei's giant toads."
He'd never seen his father's dogs before, though he'd heard of their skill. But in the shinobi world, evoking fear in an opponent was essential. The dogs didn't look scary at all. The largest of them was the size of a kid, and Kakashi could almost match its height if he stood up stiffly and counted his spiky hair.
His father chuckled, "I'm sure you wouldn't know the first thing to do with a giant toad, Kakashi. These dogs are clever and loyal and they'll fight well for you."
"I'm not so sure," one of the dogs – a small pug – suddenly remarked, causing Kakashi to stumble backwards in surprise. "We said we'd come see your litter. Didn't mention anything about a contract."
"Ah… you don't have to agree anytime soon," Sakumo said sheepishly. "Maybe once he's a chunin. I just wanted to introduce you." He put his hands on his son's small shoulders and urged him forward. "Pakkun, this is my son, Kakashi. I assure you that he's quite the budding shinobi."
Kakashi's heart swelled with pride despite his reluctance. "I'm at the top of my class," he told them earnestly.
"Does your runt have a skin condition?" The pug asked, eyeing his blue mask.
"No I don't!" he replied, scandalized. "I just like it!" He pulled it further up over his face. "It keeps my nose warm."
"…and that's what he says," Sakumo sighed, patting the boy's shoulder. "Train with him sometime, will you? It's good for a shinobi to get to know his summons before making the contract."
Pakkun sighed. "When I agreed to sign one with you, I didn't know I'd be bound to your entire legacy. This is just troublesome."
Kakashi's uptight pride came crashing down. "Fine then!" He huffed, crossing his arms. "I didn't want a stupid dog anyway!"
Years later, it was Minato who first told Kakashi what had happened. After training, he pulled his student away behind a tree where Rin and Obito had no chance of overhearing, and looked down with all the seriousness his kind eyes could hold.
"Kakashi," he said slowly. "Your father returned from his mission today."
The boy brightened. It wasn't anything overt – not that his mask didn't succeed in seeping away half its intensity – but the only wall that held it back was one of false propriety, of a kid who wanted to act five times his age. It was still an innocent gesture. "Did it work? Did otou-san stop the war?"
Kakashi's smile seeped away when Minato-sensei shook his head.
(He'd just wanted another thing to be proud of.)
Iwa declared war on Obito's tenth birthday. At the moment the news was delivered, Kakashi was sitting in the training grounds with his idiot teammates.
Rin was average. She was unremarkable, truly beyond plain. Neither powerful enough to explain why she had been placed on his team, nor pretty enough to explain the crashing extent of Obito's infatuation with her.
Obito was … Obito.
"Hey, where's my birthday present, Kakashi?" He demanded with a hopeless smile that arched across his face. "Aren't you gonna get me anything?"
Kakashi didn't match his gaze, simply continuing to lay with his back to the tree and look up into the clouds.
He would have gotten something for the sake of a pointless courtesy, but the war was brewing like a skeletal presence at the horizon and the only missions that paid well were ranked high for jonin. If he had enough money he would rent his own apartment and tear his smoldering reputation away from his before it was irretrievably shredded to pieces by the village.
"Leave him alone, Obito," Rin admonished. "It's ok if he doesn't get you a present." Despite that, she gave Kakashi a questioning look.
"No time," he finally muttered, shrugging shoulders that were already starting to stiffen. "I'm just waiting for Minato-sensei to get back so we can accompany him to the warfront."
"Yeah, I'll crush those Iwa-nin!" Obito posed dramatically. "I'm gonna learn to be fast like sensei, and they're all slow and heavy with their doton jutsu and they'll never see me coming!"
Rin giggled, "calm down, Obito. Kakashi-kun may get called, but we probably won't. Not unless we make chunin in the exams next week. We need to practice if we want to help him and sensei."
"Whaat?" Obito drooped and gave her a mournful look. "'Helping' is your job, Rin, you're a medic. I'm on offense."
"Unlikely," Kakashi muttered without turning to look at them. "If they actually call you out, you'll both be on support duty." They were facts that he stated and he didn't know why the idiot got all red-faced and tight-fisted. It was a quality of the weak, of the ones he'd once long left behind and was now fated to work with.
"Hey, Kakashi-kun?" Rin asked while the Uchiha boy seethed. "Is it true that you didn't go home yesterday? I heard rumors that…" she trailed off, biting her lip, not willing to probe any further.
"Yeah," Obito spoke up, hands clasped behind his head. One had to admire how quickly he got over things. "Some of the clan police were out looking for you."
Kakashi stood up. Brushed off his standard-issue shirt. Turned towards the house that mocked him from a distance. "Doesn't matter. I had to go back eventually."
He remained the prodigy they told him he was.
Everyone else let themselves free, free to enjoy what the world laid at their feet before they were shoved headfirst into war and distorted until they fit its mould. Everyone else played instead of trained and let their skills slip to pieces because the better they were, the earlier they'd be unleashed kunai-first at what they'd been signed up for and forced to see for themselves that the world wasn't black and white, it was black and grey.
Kakashi leapt into this distortion willingly because he had a fragmented reputation to pull together and only the trackcapturekill of a merciless A-rank could wipe at the disgrace that tainted his name.
Gai found him sitting on a bench two weeks later, book in hand. It was something picked up off Minato-sensei's shelves. It occupied his mind.
"Hatake Kakashi!" The boy greeted, hands braced challengingly on his hips. "I have been told that you are a true prodigy, a genius of birth."
Kakashi looked up. Nodded briefly. Looked back down to the lines of kanji.
The boy tried again with renewed effort, "my name is Maito Gai, and I strive to be a genius of hard work!"
"Oh. That's nice."
He was persistent like a sticky burr and for days he followed Kakashi around and repeatedly challenged him. Kakashi hid his face in Minato's book and wondered if this was how his sensei had felt back when there were kunoichi chasing him everywhere, before they'd all been discouraged by Kushina-san's iron fists. It looked strangely similar.
"Fight me!" Gai yelled into his face a few days later at the training grounds, eyes burning with his self-proclaimed Youth.
"Fine," Kakashi lowered his book. "Will you go away after I win?"
"I shall never go away!" Gai promised. "You are to be my Eternal Rival!"
"…will you go away if you win?"
"Dear Rival, you mistake the meaning of the word 'Eternal'. It means enduring, un-ending, resilient, everlasting-"
"I know what the stupid word means. I just don't have time for a rivalry. I'm going to be a jonin soon."
Gai's smile was blinding. "I shall follow you to the ends of the world, such is the power of our friendship!"
He didn't remember agreeing to be friends. But he was frankly tired of evading the boy and hiding behind his book and figured that a good, pounding defeat would send him away.
It did the opposite.
The day after, he returned breathless from training to find Hatake Sakumo with a tanto cut cleanly across his stomach, staining the kotatsu red with his insides.
Kakashi knew it had been coming, so he pulled the blade – his blade – out and cleaned it and clenched it tightly in his small hands while the others who investigated walked through his house in their rain-sodden shoes. They took away Sakumo's body in a flurry of meaningless sympathy (the house had never been so loud before) and left him in its silence.
Minato and Kushina were among the last to arrive, rushing back from their paired mission to see him still slumped against the wall with the tanto held protectively in his fingers. His blood ran down the metal but he couldn't feel it, couldn't feel anything beyond the sinking inside his stomach as his own merciless words played over and over in his mind like a record not broken but smashed to pieces.
"It's because of you that they didn't give me that mission, otou-san. They think I'll betray the village like you did. I'm going to the training grounds. I'll eat dinner at Asuma's house so I'll be back late. It's not like you'll get anything other than takeout, anyway."
His father had been Kushina-san's jonin-sensei and Minato-sensei's idol.
(They cried enough for three.)
Years later, the mission that Yondaime-sama had sent him on ended in a cave at the borders of Mizu that echoed with dripping water and the flow of the Minami River outside. Kakashi hid there, shivering in the dim light, trying to strain the water out of his clothes.
The Kiri-nin were only minutes outside. Their heavy footsteps thudded across the stone and cemented the fear on Rin's face beside him but her hands didn't tremble as she bound his broken wrist.
Their teammates had left them and headed back to Konoha to report the completion of their mission. The two of them sat huddled against the far wall of the cave, and above them the flow of the Minami River was a steady constant. If he closed his eyes and imagined wet grass in place of the stone beneath him, he could pretend that it was the Nakano River of Konoha he heard.
"So?" Kakashi wondered aloud.
Rin's lips were pressed into a tight line that highlighted every faint worry-line of her face. "Well, they won't find us as long as we're here, and Minato-sensei won't give up on us. He'll send someone to distract the Kiri-nin long enough for us to escape. We just need to wait."
"Then don't waste your chakra on my arm," he drew back. "If our teammates don't make it back in time for sensei to think about such a decision, we'll have to figure something out on our own. Listen," his lurched forward with his good hand, curling it around her arm. "They've made camp at least half a kilometer away, if they came this far to scout. I can distract them for ten minutes, if you could just run-"
"Kakashi-kun!" She hissed. "I can't allow that. We'll both-"
"I'm making a back-up plan," he interrupted. "Just nod, Rin."
But she shook her head and her hand quivered as she forcefully took his wrist again and restarted her healing, "remember what Obito said, Kakashi-kun? You won't leave your teammates behind. I won't either."
The drip drip drip of the water in the cave deafened him, tore out his eardrums until Rin's words sounded like she'd said them through layers of water. He remembered the sound his wrist made when the Kiri bandit-nin broke it, the suddenly wrenching snap-crack and the lurch of the following pain down his arm that was so different from Rin's calming touch. From the way her soft fingers skated over his skin.
Kakashi gave her a sideways glance, "you know what else he said? He said to protect you. You can focus on that part, and I'll take care of the other."
Drip drip drip. One final surge of chakra as bone knitted to bone. Then her mouth was covering his through his mask and his wrist lay limp but fully healed at his waist.
He sat with his back to the stone and she swung her other knee across his outstretched legs until she was right before him, hands firm against his chest. Gently biting his clothed lip. Tangling her fingers into his damp shirt.
Kakashi reached out slowly to curl his hand around the back of her leg and pull her closer in the quiet cave. She was lined with lean muscle and some still-present softness (because she was still fifteen after all) and her slight curves hadn't been completely hardened by training. When she pulled back, he kept his hand loose, undemanding, wondering what she wanted to do. She was the one who loved him, after all.
(It didn't have to go the other way.)
She seemed unperturbed and he conceded, copying what he'd seen on a recon mission in a red-light district. Before long Rin's fingers made their way to the left side of his face and he stiffened but she only eased up his hitai-ite. Not touching the blue cloth underneath.
Her fingers ran over the raised scar, and stopped at the base of his red eye. For some reason, she smiled, "it has three tomoe now, since we escaped the bandits. They're spinning. Are you channeling chakra?"
"I'm not. It just does that sometimes."
Drip. Drip. Drip.
She quietly pulled the hitai-ite back down over his eye.
(Maybe it felt like he could still see from it.)
"Kakashi-kun," the heated whisper against his ear drowned out the drip and flow of water and the drone of his thoughts. "Will you take off your mask? I've known you for almost ten years but I haven't ever seen your face."
"No," he said blankly.
Rin sighed, but didn't remove her hands. "Why do you wear it?" She asked quietly.
"I'm allergic to the wind," Kakashi told her.
Dripdripdrip. The Minami River's rush above the cave intensified as the water was allowed to flow once again. The Kiri-nin had left their scouting position above. They were alone.
"Is that all you'll tell me?" She lamented softly, lips moving against the shell of his ear. "You've become good at making excuses. I don't believe that for a second." Her hands ran down his sides. "You won't ever take it off?"
"Well … not until it gets darker." Kakashi shot a brief glance at the small opening in the stone above that let in a stream of the world outside. "It's already late evening."
Rin leaned her forehead against his and he could hear her breath skittering across his masked face. "That's fine. Ten minutes is nothing compared to the five years it's already been."
Soon, borrowing Minato-sensei's books had become routine. Reading was a source of escape (from Rin's warm mouth and heated touch now that she was dead and unlikely to even be remembered by many others than him), and sensei's books were good. He had nice taste, if a little simplistic. The stories were filled with unrealistic grandeur, but they were only unrealistic to those trapped in the ranks of mediocrity. That type of grandeur was how Namikaze Minato lived. The overpowered characters with reputations that touched every corner of their fictional lands resembled his sensei almost exactly, more than even the authors who had created them could have imagined.
So when he flipped idly through the Hokage's personal collection and found a new addition, he was more than slightly excited. Kakashi slipped it out by its bright orange cover and sat with his back to the wooden bookshelf, content to stay and read until the Hokage returned from his meeting.
After reading the first chapter, he slowly closed the book and laid it in his lap.
Two deep breathes.
He'd never asked to discover this new side to his sensei. He didn't want to know if this was the stuff their exalted Hokage read in between his more innocuous material. He wondered what Kushina-san would think.
… If anything she'd read it through with pleasure. Kushina-san was weird.
With a quiet sigh, he opened the book and turned to the next page.
When the Yondaime Hokage arrived to see his only student with Icha Icha Paradise lying open in his lap, he stilled. Kakashi looked up, eyes still caught in the haze of printed words.
"K-Kakashi, you shouldn't read that!" Minato floundered, breezing over in a huff of official robes and pulling the book away. "This is just … something Jiraiya-sensei gave me."
Kakashi gave him a blank look. "It's good. Creative. Probably not physically possible to do it in such an angle, but that's what smut is for, right?"
Minato colored. "I … haven't read it."
"Sure. Could you pass it back?" His student held out a hand still bandaged from his last mission. "You took it away at an interesting part. She was about to come. I can't just stop reading there."
"Sensei, I'm sixteen. You know, sometimes Kushina-san talks rather loudly to her friends. If you think I haven't-"
Minato reddened again and quickly pushed the book back into his hands.
He made a name for himself in anbu with a single order hastily shouted across the tunnel-winds of a blazing storm, standing on his tree drenched with rain and sweat, cracked clay mask barely clinging to his face, and yelling with all the air in his lungs:
Oi, where are you fools going?! Get back here, we have to rescue that stupid kid! Why the hell did he join anbu if he was going to get himself captured like that, anyway? Maa, what's with those looks? You've been on my team for two weeks, now. Did you think I was joking when I said you'd all come back alive whether you wanted to or not?
They'd practically stamped those words onto his forehead.
Operative one-twenty-four? Yeah, that's the new one. He'll take his teammates through the depths of hell and drag em right back home with him. You got put on his team? Lucky, I'll take him over my shitty taichou any day. At least you'll stay alive, yeah?
"Anbu division captain at sixteen, eh one-twenty-four?" Wolf remarked to him one day, standing with his signature slouch in the pristine anbu briefing room.
Kakashi stood before him with his hands loosely in the pockets of his standard-issue pants, feeling the comforting shape of Icha Icha Paradise inside. "Yes, taichou. They are deciding my rank and name as we speak."
The man tilted his head, "well, I like you. You're a sharp one. So you can take mine, if you like. I wouldn't mind. They're running out of codenames, so if you refuse they might just call you 'Anteater', or something."
A smile tugged at his lips. He'd gotten better at smiling recently, and the idea of being the Anbu Wolf was pleasing because for a moment he could almost remember what it felt like to strive for recognition.
Those faint dreams kept getting replaced with other priorities.
He liked being sent as part of the Hokage's anbu guard. It felt like he was doing something to string their team back together, his and Obito's and Rin's.
He looked up amusedly, "taichou, I though you said that you would never retire from anbu. Changed your mind already?"
"I'm not retiring," he said in a tone that could freeze the sun. "I just got an interesting mission, that's all."
Kakashi's brief elation faded away.
(It dragged yet another set of attachment out with it.)
Anbu operatives had mandatory vacations.
They weren't expected to survive otherwise, especially the ones that had the fortune to score the 'specials'. When an operative was handed on of these, his teammates were usually busy thanking their fate it hadn't been them.
Kakashi took these often, just to spare the other idiots who'd stepped into anbu expecting some sort of foolish exoneration. He didn't like them, but he didn't hate them either. It was better him than some new recruit who might possibly wet his pants over it.
Or worse, Tenzo-kun. That kid wet his pants on a startlingly regular basis.
But he was sent on vacation just like the others, because their Hokage was his sensei and he didn't like seeing his only student working too hard. He liked seeing him sitting at his porch table, maybe gulping down Kushina's cooking. So Kakashi did just that, and the summer sun beat down lazily on his covered arm.
"Hey, why do you wear that mask?" Kushina asked him, head tilted to one side until her cheek rested against her brilliant hair. "I've never seen you without it. Minato says you even wear it at the onsen." The table rocked in a slow rhythm as she swung her legs under it. It was an absentminded physical tic, though not nearly as remarkable as her verbal one.
He shrugged and picked up his chopsticks, "my father gave it to me to protect my identity during the war."
She didn't seem wholly satisfied with the answer (the war had ended years ago), but she preoccupied herself with watching him turn his face away while he brought up his chopsticks.
"It's good," he commented, looking back down at the bowl. "Even better than last time, Kushina-san. And I don't even like ramen."
"Minato doesn't either," Kushina told him in a whisper. "He hates it, actually. So I took it on as a test of my abilities."
"Well, you passed," her lover remarked from the doorway. "I think I'm developing a taste for it.
"See?" She grinned at Kakashi. "If I can make the Yellow Flasher eat ramen, I can do anything."
"'Flash', not 'Flasher'! Yellow 'Flash'!" Minato's exasperated voice echoed through the sun-drenched room. "If you'd been calling me that during battle the Iwa-nin would have lost all respect for me in an instant!"
The first time he was late, it was by ten minutes.
It started with the infuriating feeling of biting his lip and clenching his fingers, watching the clock in desperation while fighting his trained urges with every ounce of effort he could strain from his tired mind because even thinking took effort when he tried so hard not to try.
How the hell had Obito done this so often?
Was it possible to drag someone out of the Shinigami's stomach? To approach that merciless creature and tear it to shreds and wrench his precious people out of its flesh while it took its dying breath? To scrape the pitiful remains of his team back together while it watched with its glasslike black eyes?
(Ten minutes. Ten, dammit!)
He arrived at the gates of Konoha and calmly walked past his anbu subordinates' stunned faces.
"Kurenai, what do little kids like to receive on their birthdays?" He asked one day. He occasionally went out for lunch at Yakiniku-Q with her and Asuma, mainly because they were treating and real food tasted better than ration bars. It was a good time to practice his well-honed skill of third-wheeling.
(He'd developed this skill rather quickly when he realized that no one would ever be able to imitate Rin's warm mouth and heated touch.)
She shrugged and toasted another piece of meat over the grill, "what did you get on your birthdays?"
"My father gave me books. But I don't think this kid will like something like that. He's a rather active boy."
Asuma leaned his elbows on the table with an ear-splitting grin, "Kakashi, does this mean you've actually-"
"He's not my kid."
Kurenai swiped at her lover's arm, and turned back to him with a kind look, "well it's sweet that you're putting so much thought into a present, Kakashi. I don't think I've ever seen you buy someone a gift before."
He decided not to mention that he'd once gotten Kushina an expensive wild flower because it matched her hair. After she'd squealed over it and Minato had wrongly concluded that his student was enamored with his lover (which he followed up with disapproving glares that never quite held the expected amount of negative emotion), Kakashi had been put off gift-giving permanently.
"Just tell me."
She thought leisurely on the topic while she chewed. "Well, if you want to get this boy something he'll truly love, then why not do something with him? You could take him to a festival, or on a trip to Tanzaku. Kids like it when people spend time with them."
He knew that was true. He knew that the boy he had in mind would die to have someone there for him for just a single day. Maybe to read him a story, or take him to a festival and buy him takoyaki. Or to play catch. Simple things that the kid lacked so utterly it shredded Kakashi's consciousness to pieces.
(Maybe to lift him to the top of the Hokage's monument under the last threads of the evening sun and show him the true beauty of the village he yelled about ruling one day.)
"I can't. He doesn't know who I am."
Asuma raised an eyebrow, "oi Kakashi, don't tell us you're turning into some creepy old man-ow!" He might have stopped due to Kurenai's nail digging into his leg.
"Get him something that he'll remember," she suggested. It was clear that she was running out of ideas, because her voice didn't hold the same enthusiasm. She was seconds away from telling him to just buy chocolates and flowers.
Kakashi saw them in a shop window the next day. A slightly unremarkable thing. They were set on a display stand in the corner of a children's store. A set of green goggles that reminded him slightlypainfully of the ones Obito had worn. Not a typical present, but he would remember it. More importantly, they were affordable.
(And he thought that maybe they would look nice against vibrant blond hair.)
"It fits well, doesn't it?" Gai asked, twirling around to flaunt his every angle. "It's … it's so manly!"
Kakashi leaned back against the wall of his apartment and gave him an utterly unimpressed look, "no. No way. Where the hell did you get that? Did you catch an operative and strip him? Should I be prioritizing the rescue of some poor trainee sitting naked outside in the cold? Or even worse, dressed in your tights?"
"No, dear Rival!" The infuriating boy proclaimed. He smoothed down the anbu vest with pride, "I asked Hokage-sama if I could try on the uniform before enlisting, and he graciously agreed!"
"Why?" Kakashi asked blankly. "Why are you wearing an anbu uniform? I thought you wanted to be an jonin-sensei."
Gai's looked at him mournfully, "I did, but I have realized that it is becoming increasingly hard for us to maintain our Rivalry since you entered anbu. And as such, one of us must make this sacrifice for our friendship, and I am willing! I will join anbu now and become a jonin-sensei along with you when you retire!"
"No. No way." Kakashi rubbed his face tiredly. Gai, in anbu? He was strong, but he didn't have the type of distorted strength they looked for. What if they assigned him a special mission? He already had his hands full trying to keep Tenzo-kun safe without the kid knowing.
Gai looked slightly hurt, "do you not trust in my abilities, Kakashi?"
"Not one bit, no."
"Well," he plastered on an expression of his typically stupid bravery. "One of us has to uphold the 'Eternal' part. Either you leave anbu, or I come in."
When Kakashi handed in his resignation papers and applied for jonin-sensei status, he told himself that it was a favor for his exasperating idiot of a friend.
(It was fine. He'd make sure to fail as many poor brats as he could.)
He wanted to fail them too.
He wanted to send the boy spluttering about revenge back to his lonely house and the girl who fixed her hair to her parent's shop and sensei's son far away where he'd be safe from his own dreams but when he saw the two kids hold their chopsticks out reluctant but determined, he figured it might as well be them.
(Somehow it was easier to be a genius when he didn't have to hide under a clay mask.)
The three genin grew up drenched in peace. He wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to do with them.
(They looked at him with wonder anyway.)
Seven years later when he came to stand at Obito's second grave, Sakura was sitting with her back to a tree nearby, knees drawn up to her chest, fingering strands of grass beside her. She'd grown a little taller. The flak jacket she wore no longer made her look like a little kid playing dress-up. Like he'd once looked at thirteen. A kid playing dress-up.
"Sensei?" She called. "You're not going to start standing at this one like you do at the other, right? You're late enough already."
Kakashi turned to give her a knowing smile. "Just this once. I actually prefer the cenotaph. It's peaceful there. No disturbances."
"So I've been reduced to a 'disturbance'?" Sakura raised an eyebrow. "You used to call us your 'cute students'." She stood up and made her way to his side, glancing over at Uchiha Obito's lone name.
Somewhere nearby were the graves of her parents. But she could stand there with him and pretend to not cry if she wanted to. Just like he'd once done.
"Maa, you're all still very cute. How is Sasuke doing?"
"He'll survive"," she told him simply. "He's resilient."
"Will you help him?"
"You know me, Kakashi-sensei. I'll love him until I die."
Kakashi laid a calming hand on her shoulder, "no need to. Just take things as they come. If your old sensei can teach you another lesson, don't hold on too tightly. Leave that for the people like Godaime-sama and Naruto and Obito. We're too discreet to take that path, Sakura."
He'd chased after Sasuke and Naruto, and they'd come out fine in the end. They'd clawed through life somehow and made names for themselves. But maybe it was this subtle pink-haired kid who'd really taken his words and poured over them just like he'd poured over Minato-sensei's.
She was the one he turned to when he was tired of Gai's brashness and Kurenai's well-meaning but ultimately meaningless advice. She was the one who sometime greeted him with a cheeky smile on her face and Icha Icha Paradise in her hand, claiming that she was 'widening her horizons'.
(Through she still punched Naruto with the same exuberance when she caught him reading such material).
And by now, she'd long learned to distinguish his tongue-in-cheek 'pearls of wisdom' from his actual advice.
(Naruto and Sasuke were still busy scratching their heads over 'looking underneath the underneath').
The last person who asked him was a little girl named Saki, who had two red eyes and a father whose blindness did nothing to deter his unbelievable pride.
She spotted him walking thought the streets of Konoha with Anko and Gai (who would both come back alone), headed on his latest mission, and ran up to him.
Kakashi waved his teammates to go on alone and crouched down to match her height. "Maa, you should be at school," he told her.
She shook her head, sending black curls spilling over her small shoulders. "It's ok, my aneki already taught me the history they're learning. She's really smart and she teaches much better than Iruka-sensei. Just like otou-san, except not as strict." She paused, "I came to wait by the gates for oka-san to come back from her mission."
"It'll take a while."
"I'll wait!" Saki declared with all of her unending amounts of inherited determination.
"Alright," he straightened. "You can walk with me to the gates. Maybe if we're late enough we'll see your oka-san before I leave."
Gai and Anko had crashed into his apartment at six in the morning. They'd dragged him out of bed, thrown him in his closet, barked at him to dress, shoved a hastily-made breakfast in his face, and walked him out, all in the hopes that they could start their mission on time for once. Then they'd lost him three times on the way.
Nothing could stand between Hatake Kakashi and his lateness.
But he liked these missions, even if he was lazy about completing them. He'd retired from being on Rokudaime-sama's council (his student had finally figured out how to wear the hat properly) and started taking A-ranks and a few S-ranks simply for the exhilarating fun that he'd missed out on years ago when he was too focused on other things to truly appreciate shinobi life.
"Kakashi-san?" Uchiha Saki inquired in her politest tone when they reached the village gates. "Can I ask you a question?"
He chuckled, "is it something your friends dared you to ask me?"
The other kids saw him come by to the academy sometimes, whenever he felt like paying Iruka a visit. Their innocent gazes would lock on him with awe, knowing that they were witnessing a quiet shinobi legend.
The girl remained silent, through the redness crept onto her face in her embarrassment at being caught out. After a while, he sighed and nodded.
"Um … why do you wear that mask? Gai-san says you've always worn it, since you were little."
Ah. That question.
"I like it. It keeps my nose warm," Kakashi smiled.
(Was it maybe too confusing, what happened at the end?)