The painful but inevitable conclusion.
Kakashi forced himself to close his left eye and shut out the sight of Rin being eaten from the inside out. When he looked back at her with only his own vision, she was staring at him, the sadness in her gaze masking fear.
Then he realized why: she knew he'd seen what was happening to her. It occurred to him that just a day ago, he wouldn't have understood this. He had never understood the currents of emotion behind Rin's eyes until now.
He was missing something important, though. Even after everything he'd finally realized, Kakashi was sure he was missing something important. He just couldn't think of it now. That wasn't surprising, because he couldn't think of anything but Rin's face--
--and the terrible shape of the chakra inside her. He wished he could stop thinking about that.
Her hands slid beneath his vest and poked at the thin fabric of his shirt. He flinched back. "It shouldn't hurt," she murmured, glancing up at him, but he could tell that she knew he wasn't recoiling in pain.
In fact, it took him a moment to realize that the pain of his broken ribs was gone. She'd healed it with just a touch--nothing new for her, but he hadn't even needed to take off his shirt.
"Rin--" He found himself choking on his words. There were too many things he wanted to tell her, and all of them were being drowned by rising fear.
She laid one hand briefly over his mouth and smiled at him. "It's okay." Then she blinked, and he realized she was blinking back tears, and he knew it wasn't okay. "Where's the other ANBU?" she asked.
He stared at her.
"The one you came here with," she said. "The Uchiha."
For one more heartbeat, he still didn't understand. Then he did. He also knew what he'd been missing.
"We need to get out of here," Kakashi said. "Now." He grabbed Rin's hand and pulled her back towards the forest.
"Kakashi!" But she followed him.
"I'll explain everything when we're somewhere safe," he said. "For now we need to get away from Shinzui. The ANBU."
"Where's your mask?" she asked suddenly as she followed him into the trees.
He gave her a puzzled stare and reached up to check to be sure that his mask was still there.
"Your ANBU mask," she clarified.
It struck him then that he must have left it back where he'd killed the first of the missing-nin. He felt a little naked without it, but it wasn't very important now. "It doesn't matter," he said.
And they ran, or at least fled through the leaves at inhuman speeds. Kakashi found himself struggling to keep up with Rin. He couldn't afford to keep the Sharingan closed any longer, and so he had to open it and see the dark chakra inside her. He could have just looked away from her--but he found himself afraid to do that.
He couldn't quite pinpoint the moment when he couldn't hold it in any longer. "Why?" he blurted out.
"Why what?" She sounded terribly nervous. He could see dark, wiry threads uncoiling inside her.
"What did you do to yourself?"
She stumbled on the branches. For a moment he thought she was falling, but no, she was merely leaping to the ground in a clearing. He followed her down. "I'm not really sure," she admitted.
He spread his hands in mute bewilderment. She stared at him, equal parts fear and longing in her eyes. "I did it for you," she said.
He shook his head.
"I couldn't keep watching you like that," she said. "I didn't know how to save you."
"Save me?" He felt as if she were speaking a foreign language. "From what?"
"I'm not sure," she said sadly. "Yourself. Your ghosts. It sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?"
"Nothing you say sounds stupid," he said. Then he realized that that sounded really stupid.
She gave him a fragile smile. "I thought maybe if I was powerful enough, I wouldn't have to watch you destroy yourself."
He couldn't help but look at that terrible chakra, no matter how he tried to stop. "I won't do anything like that. Come on, let's go home."
She paused, gave him a hard look. She looked almost like she might laugh. "You don't really think we can go back to Konoha, do you? The other ANBU was sent to kill me, wasn't he?"
Kakashi could only nod.
"What makes you think the ones back in Konoha haven't been warned to do the same?"
He couldn't think of a good answer to that. So he said instead, "We'll just keep moving. I don't care as long as I'm with you."
Then she did laugh. There were tears in the sound. "You mean it, too. I love you, you know."
He nodded mutely. He didn't know what to feel, so he settled for anger directed at himself. He was almost crying. He should know better than that.
"I shouldn't have done this," she said. "I know that now. I just--I really loved you. I still do." She paused, then added, "I'm sorry."
"You don't need to apologize," he began, but she was looking at something over his shoulder, and she swiftly cut him off by putting her arms around him and clasping her hands together behind his back.
Something moved in the treetops, slipping over from behind him. Whatever it was made a familiar sound, and he thought he could see blue light, but he couldn't think about that, because Rin was in his arms.
She reached up, pulled down his mask, and kissed him hard. He closed his eyes and thought only of her.
Birds shrieked around them. She jerked in his arms, and he tasted blood.
Kakashi held her for a moment longer before letting her collapse. He opened his eyes and saw the last of the dark chakra vanishing along with her own. Then he looked up, to where Shinzui stood, wearing his hawk-faced mask. Blood coated his right hand.
"Are you going to kill me too?" Kakashi asked. He wasn't sure how he could be this calm. He wondered if he'd cry, but there didn't seem to be any tears coming.
"Why would I do that?"
"I was trying to help her escape."
"I don't believe you were, Kakashi-san," Shinzui said. "I think you and I found her just before the missing-nin performed their kinjutsu, and together the three of us fought the two of them...alas, Rin-san did not survive the battle."
Kakashi was silent for a while. Then he said, "And if it's true she fought on our side at the end, her name will go on the memorial, won't it?"
Beneath the hawk mask, Shinzui nodded.
"They'll check the body," Kakashi said. "I'm sure there's a medic nin who'll be able to figure out that we weren't in time to stop the kinjutsu after all. And..." He gestured at the hole burned through her chest where her heart used to be. "They can recognize the effects of Chidori by now."
"It's a pity, then," Shinzui said, walking over to the body (her body) and drawing his sword, "that we were only able to bring back her head intact."
Kakashi forced himself not to look away or flinch back as the blade sliced through her neck. But then Shinzui picked up her head, walked several feet away, and said, "Kakashi-san, please move. Now."
Kakashi took several steps back. This time, he did not look at what was left of Rin's body. He watched Shinzui's hands as they formed seals; he let himself become absorbed in the dissection of the jutsu. /Katon/. One of the simpler, more localized forms of it.
When Shinzui was finished and most of Rin was in ashes, Kakashi knew he'd be able to perform the jutsu himself in the future. It seemed unfair that he could learn it so easily; he wondered if he'd traded something of himself for the privilege.
He hoped he had.
The Hokage told him that she had left everything she owned to him. He was tempted to hate her for that, but he couldn't do it.
Instead he went to her house and walked once through the empty halls of her house. Then he locked the doors and put away the key.
He came back to the Hayashino property every so often, although he never went back inside the house. On one visit, about a month after Rin's death, he found Pakkun and the rest of the nin-dogs waiting for him.
"I didn't summon you," he told them.
"You haven't summoned us in a while," Pakkun said quietly.
"I haven't needed you," he said. He sat down on the ground. Pakkun stared at him skeptically. Finally, he said, "I'll call you when I need to."
Pakkun sighed, and Kakashi could see doubt in his canine face, and grief.
Five months after Rin's death, Kakashi received word that Uchiha Shinzui was dead.
He'd been killed on a mission; his name would go on the memorial. Kakashi was not invited to the funeral, which was a relief. He still did not get along with the Uchiha.
He hadn't expected to ever hear from Shinzui again, actually. He wasn't surprised that the older man had gone off and died without telling him. He was surprised that the photograph he'd seen those five months ago had been left for him.
Kakashi regarded the picture of Shinzui and his smiling friend for a little while, and then he hid it away not far from the key to Rin's house.
Sometimes the dogs were there when he went to the Hayashino grounds. More often they were not.
The birds were always there, circling high above the ground.
Kakashi watched them fly, and he wondered what he would do if he had wings. Maybe he would join them.