Of Hatake Kakashi, and the things that can make a human being, or break them utterly.
(Originally published 2/24/2005)
Yeesh, I creep myself out sometimes. Nothing to say about this one. Set sometime after Tsunade comes to Konoha, no other real spoilers to speak of. So, uh, enjoy, if that's really the word.
Foolishly, Tsunade let him go home after he'd made his report.
She had never seen quite such an empty expression on Kakashi's face for as long as she'd known him, and she'd known him since he was a little boy, been present for some of the more painful tragedies of his short life. He was the Fourth's boy, and the Fourth had been Jiraiya's boy, and thus while Tsunade would admit to not really knowing him very well/, she felt a certain grandmotherly affection for him. And one of the things she /did know about him, had learned well over the years, was that he was the type who wouldn't let himself grieve until he was alone.
She wanted to give him that much, so she patched him up herself right there in the office instead of sending him to the hospital, and then she told him he was free to go.
She thought later that she should have seen something terrible in the making for what it was, there on that dreary rainy afternoon. But then, as she had always said, she was a healer of the body, not accustomed to examining anything else too closely. The mind, all too often in the world of the shinobi, had to fend for itself or perish.
She supposed later that a father and mother and a mentor, two whole units and who knew how many comrades-in-arms were more than enough mortal blows to fell one single mind. She should have realized -- after all, two precious people had nearly been enough to destroy her.
But by then it was far, far too late, and she could only sit at her desk and stare out her window and wish that there was a way to turn back time.
It would solve so many problems.
Gai passed Kakashi in the hall that day, walking out of Godaime-sama's office. He raised a hand in greeting, but Kakashi continued past him without so much as a glance, the look in his single visible eye making it obvious that his mind was somewhere else entirely. Gai thought nothing of it, at the time -- Kakashi had always been the serious, brooding sort, and if there was something wrong enough that Gai himself needed to know about it, he would probably find out in due time. Conversely, if he didn't, then his eternal rival would obviously have just been nursing one of his many private troubles; and as much as Gai would have liked to lend a caring yet manly hand in support, he knew from long experience that Kakashi preferred to work out his problems alone.
If the situation wasn't extraordinarily dire then Gai certainly didn't want to butt in where his presence was unappreciated, so he just turned and kept walking, and silently wished Kakashi well.
He thought later that he should have noticed this was no ordinary bout of melancholy, no typical surge of guilt over the late Uchiha friend. But he was accustomed to giving Kakashi his privacy. Among the seasoned band of warriors that were the Konoha Jounin, it was implicitly understood that sometimes one just needed to be alone, and some people needed more aloneness than others.
But by the time he understood, it was far, far too late, and he could do nothing but go about his business, keep training up his own team as best he was able and pray that he never met the same fate.
For after all, he and Kakashi really weren't all that different, when it got down to it.
Kakashi wondered if it could be considered a blessing, of sorts, that two of his three students had left behind no families to mourn them.
They'd still been just a bunch of stupid kids, really. Obviously he hadn't taught them well enough. There was something he'd missed, some jutsu, some strategy, that could have gotten them out of this -- hell, there always was -- and it had slipped his mind and they were dead because they had a really shitty teacher.
He shouldn't have even passed them in the first place, then none of this would have happened, they would have gone on to some other sensei and he would have gone on with his life and he'd never have known what he was missing but at least they'd be /alive/.
He should have gotten there faster. Why did he freeze up for those precious few seconds after he'd realized they had gone off on their own, seconds could have made all the difference, who knows, they might have been only around the next corner but in the time he wasted just standing there in shock and horror they'd already been separated by the enemy to meet their separate painful fucking deaths and he could have saved them, he could have at least saved one of them, for fuck's sake.
He should have started CPR on Sasuke, if he hadn't left him for dead and gone off in hope of finding the others then Sasuke might be here now, his body hadn't been breathing but he'd still been warm, there might still have been something alive in there and he'd left it for the sake of fucking priorities because, you know, it was really likely that one of the other two was alive, sure it was. By the time he'd found the remains of the others (don'tthinkaboutitdon'tthinkaboutitdon'tthinkaboutit) the possibly-alive Sasuke he'd left out there was definitely dead.
He should never, ever, ever have passed them. Hell, he wasn't fucking qualified to be a /Jounin/, a guy like him should never be allowed to work on a team, all he ever did was fail them.
Sakura's eyes had stared up at him so accusingly from that gutted body--
--and he knew she knew. He could have done better.
Naruto had just wanted someone next to him in his last moments, didn't care he was practically hugging his /murderer/, Kakashi supposed he couldn't blame him and he had felt like the lowest scum in the world as he had hoisted the boy into his lap and let him bleed all over Kakashi's uniform and he had left with a smile, the only one who left with a smile, and there was one less monster and one less ray of hope in the world.
He could have done better. He could have done more/. He was fucking /Hatake Kakashi/, the famous fucking Copy Ninja, half the population of the world's Hidden Villages knew his name and yet he couldn't be bothered to use some of that vaunted talent to keep his fucking /team alive.
He hated, hated, hated Hatake Kakashi.
He realized after a while that he was standing at the memorial, had no idea how he'd gotten there, or where that peculiar wetness on his cheeks was coming from. He wiped it away before it could soak into his mask and he stood there for a while, and begged forgiveness of Obito and Rin and the Fourth and Father and everyone else he could think of because he had failed /again/.
He walked to the bridge, and he had never, ever wished more in his life to hear Sakura and Naruto shouting at him for being late.
He found himself feeling a little bit cold after a while, and looked up.
Oh. It was raining.
Well, that suited him just fine.
Kakashi sat down, leaned back against the bridge railing, and listlessly watched the raindrops pound against the river water until he couldn't feel his toes.
At some point, he went home.
Gai went to see Kakashi later, because, well, that was what Gai did. Kakashi became an emotional wreck, Gai showed up to help clean up the mess, Kakashi rebuffed him, Gai stayed anyway: it was a pattern that had persisted between them for years, one which Gai personally chose not to question too much. He hated to butt in where he wasn't wanted, but despite what Kakashi always said, the other man usually seemed to welcome him at such times.
In this case, Gai had not seen Kakashi for four days, which was long enough for him to start to worry about his friend's state of mind. On the first day, he hadn't thought much about it. Kakashi was like that sometimes. On the second day, Godaime-sama had handed down notices about the impending funeral services to all her staff, and then he had recognized Kakashi's grief for what it was and hesitated to intrude himself on it. If something so utterly devastating had happened to /him/, he doubted that he would have been at all consolable, or particularly good company for quite some time.
However, once the day of the funerals had come and gone and Kakashi had still not, as far as Gai knew, been seen outside his apartment, he decided a short visit was warranted. He knew Kakashi would have done the same for him. Eternal rivals, as well as comrades-in-arms, had to look out for each other.
These were the thoughts that brought him to Kakashi's door that day, and he knocked once for politeness's sake before letting himself in, bracing for the scene of whatever Kakashi might have done to himself this time. Gai was an optimist in most things, but with Kakashi, he tried not to get his hopes up too much.
Kakashi sat on his bed for a long time, after he got home.
If he concentrated hard enough, he could hear -- no, imagine -- he could imagine their voices, and that was what he was doing right now, crouched on his futon dripping with all his soaked clothes still on.
Sakura would tell him to take them off, get changed, or else he'd catch a cold and they'd have to take care of him and it would be annoying. He knew exactly how she would sound.
He would drip on Sasuke, accidentally-on-purpose, and watch the quiet young man try not to smile even as he made some curt remark.
Naruto would laugh. Probably that would start an argument. It would be noisy and involve many threats of bodily harm. He could picture in his mind and his ears exactly how it would go.
"Kakashi-sensei..." Sakura would sigh, and ask him to make the boys stop acting like idiots. Or possibly she'd just reprimand them herself, and then it would turn into a knock-down drag-out fight and he'd sit back and try not to laugh.
It was how they showed that they loved each other, he'd thought, in the past.
He would never forget the way Naruto's voice had sounded.
"Least now... Nine-Tails'll... be gone forever... right?"
He hadn't had an answer for that.
And Naruto, Naruto had just clutched weakly at his pant leg, smiled around the hole gouged in his chest.
In the end, all that Konoha's young outcast really wanted was not to be alone.
He rose from his futon.
"I'll never be Hokage now..."
Stripped off his vest, his pants, got himself out of the wet clothes, tried not to shake too much.
"Sensei! Oh, god, sensei, it /hurts! Sensei!!/"
Off went the hitai-ate, off went the mask last of all.
"Didn't you say you'd protect us until you died!? I can't leave here while my brother still lives...!"
He stumbled over to his closet, and shakily pulled on new clothes, and listened to them.
They deserved that much.
Three days later, Gai let himself in to find a pristine apartment save for the clothes scattered over the bed, and Kakashi in the bathroom, huddled in a corner with his hands clutched over his sluggishly bleeding face. He was staring at the tile floor, and made no response when Gai spoke.
With some difficulty, Gai pried Kakashi's hands away, made a valiant attempt at not throwing up, and took Kakashi to the hospital.
That eye was Kakashi's eye, you see, and he didn't want to be Kakashi anymore.
Besides, Obito thought it was fair punishment.
Tsunade was a little surprised when the hospital staff asked for her personally, but she was always happy to help with emergencies, so she came in as soon as she got the message.
It wasn't quite the kind of emergency she had been expecting.
They had stopped the bleeding, strapped him to the bed just in case -- he seemed to be asleep now, perhaps they'd sedated him -- and left him in the hospital room with Gai to watch over him. The latter sat slumped in a chair next to the bed with his face in his hands, and he gave her a single wordless, despairing glance as she entered, his expression looking rather sick. She pursed her lips and went to go examine the mess Kakashi had made.
Just look at it clinically. Don't get emotional. You're here to do a job.
Part of the reason she had first run from her responsibilities in Konoha all those years ago was because she had such trouble making herself not care about things.
He hadn't quite managed to claw it out, she saw as she undid the loose bandages -- don't throw up, don't faint, it's just an eyeball in a face, there's no one at all attached to it and certainly not anybody you know -- and reached down, using a healer's gentle touch to prod slightly at it with her chakra, judging whether it could be salvaged. Eyes were one of the trickier parts of the body for a healer to manage, but she was at the very top of her field.
After a moment, she somehow managed to speak.
"...Fortunately--" (/fortunately he was using his hands, fortunately he didn't use a knife, fortunately he didn't stab through the eyeball, fortunately he didn't penetrate his brain--/) "Fortunately the damage doesn't seem irreversible. Sight for this eye will undoubtedly be poorer than it was before (/because he tried to CLAW OUT HIS EYE with his OWN HANDS, why did I not notice, why didn't I REALIZE/) but given proper treatment and time to heal up, it should still be usable."
She thought she had done well, because her voice wasn't shaking too much.
"That is... good to hear," Gai choked out, without looking up at her.
The gouges, however, those would definitely scar.
She reached down again and gathered her chakra to begin a healing technique. Instead of thinking about who was under her hands at the moment, she tried to make a mental catalogue of the various medical volumes related to eyesight she had lying around the office. To treat Ka -- this patient properly, she'd definitely want to do some reading, refresh her memory about jutsus for healing and strengthening of the eye. Sight was even more important a sense for a shinobi than it was for everyone else, and she could not in good conscience send Kakas -- her patient out into the field again if she hadn't done everything possible to help keep him physically fit for the job.
Assuming, of course, he was still mentally fit for the job.
She would have to call a committee, she supposed. They'd do a psychological examination and a panel of his peers among the Jounin would determine if he was still fit to serve. It might be a hard decision. Or it... might not be.
She supposed they would see when it happened.
Or maybe the decision had already been made for her, because as she finished his Sharingan blinked open, half-lidded, and she realized he had been awake the whole time. Gai looked over at him with an apprehensive expression, but Kakashi only looked up at Tsunade, reaching over to clutch her arm before she could move away.
"Godaime-sama," he murmured, expression as blank as it had been when she'd thought him asleep.
"Right now, Kakashi, you can just call me Tsunade," she murmured, her voice shaking a little, squinting to keep the tears away.
That blood-red gaze turned on the ceiling, and he stared at it expressionlessly for a moment. There were still a few crimson flakes on the tips of his fingers that the medics had missed washing off; she watched him rub absently at them.
"Godaime-sama, transfer me back to ANBU."
His voice was a quiet monotone, and Gai and Tsunade could only stare at him for a second after he'd made the request, utterly taken aback. He didn't look away from the ceiling.
"But, but why-- Kakashi--" It occurred abruptly to Tsunade why Kakashi wouldn't want to be a Jounin anymore, and she hastened to reassure him. "You don't have to run any more teams, Kakashi-- I'll just send you on missions with the other Jounin, it's not--"
"No," he murmured, cutting her off. If they'd been in her office (oh, if only they'd been in her office, and he'd be standing there smiling impudently at her and she'd half consider inviting him to drink with her later like she always did and why hadn't she ever done it, dammit), she would have reprimanded him for his disrespect.
But they were in the hospital, and things were different here.
"I'm going to kill myself either way," he murmured blankly, "might as well do it the way that's useful."
Tsunade, all of a sudden, felt very cold.
In the end, Godaime-sama didn't know what to do with him, what to do for him, if there even was anything, and the fact remained that they needed soldiers and he was one of the best ANBU assassins the village had ever had. So he got his way; his Jounin registration was revoked, and she told him to keep the hitai-ate, memento that it was, but he insisted on giving to her because he never intended on wearing it again.
Gai hadn't seen much of Kakashi during the years he'd been in ANBU, but Genma had worked with him extensively during that time, so he asked Genma what it had been like.
He was cold, Genma told Gai. Hardly human. Think he got out of the place because he was afraid of what it was doing to him.
Being ANBU, unlike being Jounin, didn't have any particular psychological requirements.
Gai went home after having that talk and, because it was a special occasion, got very, very drunk.
Kakashi took a lot of missions after that.
If he got tired enough, Sakura would stop screaming for a while.
If he got bloody enough, Sasuke could pretend it was his brother they'd just killed, and be satisfied for a while.
Naruto just liked the adrenaline rush.
Sometimes, late at night while he polished his sword, they were even nice to him.
Once he was released from the hospital and returned to active duty, Tsunade didn't see much of Kakashi anymore. Her orders to the Special Assassination and Tactical Squad were generally passed down through the commander, and individual members rarely came into contact with her. Occasionally she needed to personally present orders to a unit or brief them for a mission, and once or twice Kakashi was called to take part in these events, standing impassive in his white dog mask behind the rest of his team. Some of the other ANBU always had questions for her, wanting to make sure they understood the situation as thoroughly as possible, but Kakashi never spoke; none of his unit mates seemed to expect him to. In fact, she noticed that they tended to keep a careful distance from him at all times. She didn't bother to ask, and didn't really need to, either -- she knew as well as they did how the already legendary reputation of the famous Copy Ninja had grown since rejoining ANBU. Few members of the squad were with it for long, either because they grew tired of doing the village's dirty work, or far more frequently because they were killed in action. Hatake Kakashi was now, as far as she knew, the longest-standing member of ANBU in the entire history of Konoha.
She thought, some days, that he was just waiting patiently for that mission where at last he would fail to come home.
And today, after an hour or so spent staring out her window, she had decided to take a break, and her rambling walk took her haphazardly through Konoha, until she came here and realized that this, actually, was where she had meant to end up.
She stared at the memorial monument for a while, reached down to rub her fingers across a familiar name.
She wished she could find it in her to mourn for Hatake Kakashi. The line between life and death could be such a fragile thing.
It was so very silent here.
"Maybe someday Orochimaru will invent a jutsu to turn back time," she whispered, "and he'll use it because he's an idiot, and none of this will have ever happened."
A breeze ruffled the leaves in the clearing. She wished for a moment that it would rain.
Kakashi just kept standing silently where she'd walked up to him, his white mask shoved off to one side, scarred eyes focused on the monument.
As far as she knew, he still came here every morning.