Work Header

to destroy the darkness that lingers in the earth

Work Text:

Kakashi hasn’t spoken a word since they left.

It’s okay – it’s okay. They travel slow, having long cast off their normal clothes and wearing that of civilians. A year ago, two years ago… Rin would have rejoiced at seeing Kakashi’s face. She would have teased her teammate for his unwillingness to show when there’s nothing to hide, and laughed at how Obito would have sulked if he hadn’t seen it himself.

Now, when he gazes at her with empty eyes, she tries not to cry and wraps a scarf around his lower face instead.

His hair hangs loose and limp around his head, gelled down and dyed black, and hers is chopped up past her chin, matching his color. An eyepatch hides his distinctive Sharingan eye, and careful makeup hides her familial markings.

Until they find Lady Tsunade, if she agrees to protect them, they cannot be found.

Rin tries not to think of her aunt, returning home from a mission to an achingly empty house and not even a note to explain what happens, and keeps walking.

They’re siblings, that’s their cover. Kakashi is her mute brother Gekko, to anyone who asks, and her name is Mito and they’re traveling together to go live with their uncle. “Our parents died,” she tells the lady at the hotel front desk, conjuring up the appropriate amount of tears to prick at her eyes, Kakashi squeezing her hand and twining their fingers together. “Gekko-nii… he, he saw it. That’s why…”

It’s a story that always gets them cooed over, gets them sympathy. Sweets pressed into their hands, discounts on rooms or food, caravans spontaneously finding room for extra travelers, hugs and cheek pinches and all the civilian care they need.

When it’s just the two of them, Kakashi’s single visible eye curves into the slightest of smiles, and he signs a simple “Thank you.” Rin squeezes him so tight she can feel his bones crack, and he returns it.

They chase rumors. Whispers. Ghosts and dust and dreams.

Kakashi steps up, here – he lets Rin sleep, let her take a break from handling So Much, and he slips into bars, into gambling dens, ears peeled for even a single whisper of the Slug Sage, of the Princess and her poor luck. When there’s rumors she’s in town, or even in a town within an hour by running, he investigates.

Rin does too much, he thinks. Too much that he cannot bear to handle right now. He sees her look in the mirror every day and plaster a smile on, force herself to stay cheery and okay as she pushes through, forces herself to pretend like she isn’t doing most of the work because Kakashi can barely cope with being human let alone being functional, so if there’s something like this that he can do… well.

Kakashi will take it on, and hunt down the princess for her.

It’s sheer coincidence when they find her, because what else would it be, with their brand of luck?

Rin is asleep in the inn – she had been the one to keep watch last night, no matter how much Kakashi had insisted he could – and he is skulking about the town. His hair keeps falling into his eyes, and he blows it away in irritation. Kakashi wishes he could have used a genjutsu instead, but that takes constant, consistent chakra, and deeply increases their chances of getting caught. Still, he wants his old hair back, and he knows Rin hates looking in the mirror and not seeing herself as well.

A girl catches his eye.

He’s not sure why at first – instinct, perhaps? – but something about her strikes him as familiar. She’s plain looking. Brown hair, dressed in a simple yukata. She’s not even walking fast, and he frowns underneath his scarf, unsure why he feels drawn to her, until he reaches out to sense her chakra.


 She feels like Rin, feels like a medic nin, and Kakashi shoves his hands into his pockets and ambles after her, doing his best to seem as inconspicuous as possible. A medic nin… Of course, it’s quite possible she has absolutely nothing to do with Lady Tsunade. Extremely possible.

But it’s also possible that she does have some sort of connection, and Kakashi would be a fool to pass that up.

For a few blocks, she meanders. She checks out a few stalls, buys a few things. Kakashi gets a small bag of apples to keep up appearances, paying a bit too much for them because he’s unwilling to open his mouth and haggle, but still keeps on her tail. Always a bit behind her, seemingly attempting to just be heading in the same direction, putting people in between them and trying to appear busy with looking around and-

The girl makes deliberate eye contact with him and turns into a side street. He follows, and she continues to walk, not looking back at him as he very visibly trails her. It’s not until the sounds of the market start to fade that she turns, propping her hands on her hips and glaring at him. “Why are you following me?” she demands.

She’s confident, if she’s willing to pull him away from witnesses like this. Kakashi doesn’t hesitate, flicking his fingers rapidly - it's Konohan sign. If she doesn't know it... "Looking for Tsunade," he tells her.

The girl crosses her arm, glare firmly in place. “Why?” she asks, and that cinches it. This is his best bet.

"I need help," because Kakashi’s not above admitting that, especially not now, and the glare falls from her face.

She visibly hesitates, wavering. “She… She can’t do blood,” the girl warns, looking Kakashi up and down with a medic’s eye, before her gaze sticks to his eyepatch. “I don’t know if she can help your sight…” It falls to his scarf. “Or your voice…”

He shakes his head. "It's not that. Come with me?" She’s already shaking her head in a negative before his fingers finish twitching.

“I’m not stupid,” she says. “We can go get Lady Tsunade, and then we can go… wherever you need me to go. I’m not letting you ambush me.”

Kakashi considers this. It could be a trap, but if it is, it’s one that Konoha has set – and… given no one else knows they’re searching for Lady Tsunade, it would be awful odd if Danzo was intelligent enough to bait the trap with a medic nin.

(And if it is a trap, well. He can fight.)

"Fine," he tells her. "Lead the way."

He shouldn’t be surprised when Lady Tsunade is tipsy at a bar that the girl leads him to – Shizune, she offers her name as, who he knows is an old friend of Rin’s, and doesn’t seem offended when Kakashi doesn’t give his own – but… he is still a touch surprised. Drunk people make him kind of uncomfortable. It’s not a great place for him to be.

“Lady Tsunade,” Shizune is addressing her, as he hangs a bit behind her. “Someone needs your help.” The princess doesn’t move from where her cheek rests on the counter, eyes sliding over to Kakashi fidgeting nervously behind Shizune, and the girl sighs. “Lady Tsunade,” she tries again, “He knows Konohan Sign.”

That seems to wake her up, and she sits up, pressing a healing hand to her temple, eyes suddenly sharp as her gaze bores into Kakashi. “Did sensei send you?”

That- what? The question throws him for a loop, and he shakes his head. "No, no," he flickers, and then has to stop, hands trembling a bit. It’s a make or break moment, and his hands shake and he can’t. Sign. Can’t talk and can’t breathe and all of a sudden the girl is in his face, hands on his shoulders and he shrinks back and she inhales slowly, and exhales slowly. Inhales slowly, and exhales slowly and he starts to do the same, to breathe breathe slowly, and she smiles softly at him.

Rin. She’s like Rin, and he wishes she were here to explain this. “Are you okay?” Shizune asks, and even Lady Tsunade can’t quite hide her concern, sliding off her stool.

He nods, even if that’s a blatant lie, and he manages to downplay his trembling enough to flicker them properly, eye wide. "Will you come? Please?" Kakashi holds his breath, hoping beyond all hope that they’ll… just… please!

The two exchange a look, one tossed between those who have long known and understood each other, and Lady Tsunade nods. “We’ll come,” she says.

There’s a knock on the door, and Rin stirs. She sits up, blanket falling around her as she rubs at her eyes, and Kakashi peeks his head in. He manages to meet her eyes, but that's all he can do before Lady Tsunade shoves him over and barges through the door. Rin stares. Lady Tsunade stares. “Well,” she says, after a second. “I thought someone was dying in here, the way the kid was going on.”

“Lady Tsunade!” cries out another voice, familiar and yet not, and a girl races into the room behind her, bumping into the princess’s back. Everything about her is… It…

“Shizune!?” Rin blurts, completely thrown off guard (even though she really shouldn’t be, oops), and the other girl starts and then meets her eyes.

“Do I…?” Shizune asks, confused, clearly not recognizing her, but Rin is already licking her palms to furiously scrub off the make-up on one cheek, to start to reveal the purple underneath. Comprehension dawns. “Rin!?”

Kakashi goes to hover, to shift behind her – there’s no threat here, nothing he feels he needs to shield her from, but she knows he needs a shield from people – and Rin does her best not to tear up, rubbing at damp eyes. “Yes. Kakashi,” she says, gesturing behind him.

Shizune stares at them both, utterly gobsmacked. Rin can’t blame her. They’re hardly the most likely people to show up out of nowhere, though Rin honestly doesn’t know what people would. Lady Tsunade folds her arms and frowns at them. “Nohara Rin,” she says, filling in the blank spots. “Hatake Kakashi. What are you two doing here? Without the rest of your team?”

They had graduated at nine, Shizune, Obito, and Rin. Finished together. Shizune had been the only thing tying Lady Tsunade to Konoha – everyone had known it by that point – and they all knew she’d be leaving almost the moment that the Academy finished. Lady Tsunade was sympathetic. Shizune got a few days past, enough to learn who got teams, who didn’t, everything.

Rin had hugged her, squeezed her tight. Obito had turned red but Shizune hugged him all the same. “You two will be great teammates,” Shizune had told them. “With Namikaze Minato as your teacher! That’s so cool!”

She had laughed. “And you have Lady Tsunade,” she had teased.

Obito had grumbled. “I don’t wanna be with Bakashi,” he had said. “He’s so- so-!”

Shizune had laughed then, too. “I bet you’ll be friends,” she had said. “If you guys ever hear of us nearby when you’re out on a mission or something, come and say hi, okay? I’ll try to convince Lady Tsunade to let me drop by to visit.” Also unspoken was that she would never agree – that it would be up to Rin and Obito, and to chance, for them to ever meet again.

“Good-bye, Shizune,” Rin had said, and Shizune shook her head.

“See you later,” she told her instead. “There’s gonna be a later.”

“See you later,” said Rin, dutifully, and here she sits now – over four years but under five, staring up at the girl who had once been a dear friend, in disguise and on the run from her own home with Kakashi at her back.

“See you later,” Obito had said – but there had been no later for Obito, and Rin tries not to cry.

“We… were looking for you,” Rin says, and can see the way Lady Tsunade tenses up. “Not- Not to bring you back, we…”

"Help," Kakashi flickers, his single visible eye fixed on them both.

Slowly, Lady Tsunade untenses, and she sighs and sits on the floor. Shizune does as well. “Start from the beginning,” says the princess, and they do.

It spills out of them – they don’t need to talk about the war, everyone knows how it was, because it’s ended in the time Kakashi and Rin have been travelling and Kakashi can’t help the deep well of guilt for it. Instead, Rin talks about Obito’s death, and she cries and Kakashi holds her, wraps his arms around her. It’s not easy affection – it’s hard-fought, that they’ve gotten to this point, able to touch and hold one another – but it is simple.

He lets Rin talk, even if some of it is words he should say, because he can’t say anything, not right now.

She talks about how there had been words – words about Minato-sensei being promoted, and how the idea of Kakashi becoming ANBU, rising in the ranks was on the table. From the surface, it was good. A chance to become one of Minato-sensei’s guards, to stand by his side and watch over him in that way, and the idea did soothe the ache within Kakashi to watch over those precious few that he so cared for.

But… it would still mean he would be in ANBU, would have to go through trials, would have to run ANBU missions and be on a team and- “My uncle was in ANBU,” Rin says quietly. Kakashi’s arms are around her waist and she grips his hand tightly.

He’s never met her uncle. He’s been buried for years.

Lady Tsunade seems sympathetic, but not quite certain where they’re going. “He couldn’t say no?” she asks. “He’s your teacher.” There’s… some anger in her voice, and some horror in Shizune’s, and Kakashi can’t bear to think of what thoughts go through their head, what thoughts they think of Minato-sensei (even if he’s wondered, sometimes, he loves his teacher fiercely but Minato-sensei has never said what he thinks of his father, of what he did, and he wonders so fiercely whether it’s village and mission or team first with Minato-sensei but he’s terrified to ask). He ducks his head, buries his face in the crook of Rin’s shoulder, nose pressing to her skin, and tries to breathe.

Rin squeezes his hand again. “I think Minato-sensei would let him say no,” she says, and there’s a wealth in that he doesn’t think the other two understand, and he shudders just. A little. “But…” She pauses. “Shimura Danzo approached Kakashi. Do you… know ROOT?” Kakashi peeks up.

Lady Tsunade pauses. Her face… shifts slightly. “Yes,” she says. “I know ROOT.”

“We think… Minato-sensei would’ve let him say no,” Rin says again, quietly. “But… I don’t think Shimura would have. And since… since Minato-sensei isn’t Hokage yet…”

Shimura Danzo outranks Minato-sensei. Plain and simple. One day, when he’s Hokage, he can destroy ROOT if he wants to – but right now, he can’t. And the Sandaime has supported ROOT, had it for so long…

If they went to Minato-sensei, there would have been two real options. If he had… if it was team before village, family before his position, he would go to the Hokage – fight it. And then maybe he would never be made Hokage, or maybe something would go slightly wrong on one of his missions, and it would all end up the same, anyway.

(Kato Dan had argued and disagreed with Danzo. Kakashi wonders if Lady Tsunade knows that.)

Or… there’s the second option. He would say listen to Shimura, or I can’t do anything, or I’m so sorry, Kakashi, and Kakashi gets swallowed up and eaten alive and never comes out until he’s choking on his blood like his father did, once upon a time, and Rin or Gai or Minato-sensei finds him like that, bleeding out on the floor.

Kakashi is so terrified that Minato-sensei would be the second option.

Rin reaches up with her other hand, pats his limp black locks, and Lady Tsunade watches them both. Meets Rin’s damp gaze, and Kakashi’s single, scared eye. “So you ran,” she says, “And came to me for shelter?”

“Yes,” Rin says, and she nods slightly. “We… We’re technically missing-nin, now, I guess, but…”

Kakashi glances over at Shizune. He doesn’t know her, not like Rin does, but there’s horror written on her face, horror and sympathy and her eyes are damp as well. They have help in that corner. Even if Lady Tsunade says no, he doesn’t think she’ll turn them in. He never… really thought she would, but it’s still comforting to know.

Lady Tsunade sighs, rubbing at her forehead. “I need a drink,” she grumbles, but they definitely don’t have any alcohol to give her and they stay silent. “Does anyone know where you are?” she asks. “Did you leave a note, tell anyone, anything?”

Rin shakes her head. “No,” she says. “No one knows. We just… left.”

She doesn’t continue, and so Kakashi finally feels like he has something to contribute, pulling one hand out a little, freeing it from Rin’s grasp, to flicker quickly. “We were on leave. Probably had a few days head start before someone noticed.”

He stops, curling his hand back around Rin’s stomach, and the entire room sits in stillness for a moment. Lady Tsunade looks… Kakashi isn’t really sure of the expression on her face, but she definitely doesn’t look happy. “You know you’re asking me to commit treason?” she asks.

Rin tenses, even further than she’s been this whole time. Kakashi squeezes her, gently, his hands pressing into her belly just slightly. “…We know,” she says.

“Hell,” Lady Tsunade says, and she shakes her head. “Why not. Welcome aboard.”

She looks completely unprepared for both of them to burst into tears.

Lady Tsunade makes both of them get rid of their disguises. Kakashi protests, at first, and Rin had sided with him because even if she hated it she didn’t want to make Lady Tsunade even more of a target, but she had superior logic on her side. “Look,” she had said flatly. “You both go missing from Konoha and coincidentally, around the same time, I get two kids the same age with hack dye jobs? Everyone’s going to know it’s you.”

So they take it off.

The dye washes out with some special shampoo that Tsunade makes for them – they help each other, Rin burying her hands in Kakashi’s hair and scrubbing furiously, and Kakashi during hers in turn with shaky hands, and they’re soon rid of them. It feels… good, to look in the mirror and see her brown locks, and to glance over and see Kakashi’s grey hair sticking up wildly.

She reaches over and ruffles it, that first day with their true hair and his eye goes wide and she giggles and they’re leaning into each other, clutching and holding and crying again, because even if it’s not over with, it’s safe, and she can breathe.

They don’t wear their headbands – they took them along, of course, but they remained tucked in their bags. Kakashi keeps his eyepatch on. He doesn’t readopt his mask, which is surprising, but he keeps at the scarves – there’s the simple one Rin had wrapped around him at the beginning, because if he wanted to hide his face he should, but they both brought every scrap of money they had with them so he gets another one, red, and it’s so cute when he puts it on that Rin can’t help it, leaning in to press a kiss to his cheek through the fabric.

He looks at her, eye bright and crinkled into a smile, and leans in to do the same, bussing a scarf-covered kiss across her own cheek.

Shizune helps Rin cut her hair from the messy chop to a more proper boycut – it’s strange to have it so short, but she doesn’t mind it. Kakashi has more hair than her at this point. They sit quietly, a familiar presence returned after so long, and Shizune speaks up quietly. “Are you two…?” she asks, not finishing it.

Rin laughs. “No,” she says. Once upon a time, she had greatly admired Kakashi – she could’ve called what she thought of him a crush, if she wanted, but she wouldn’t have at the time. Now, she knows him. He knows her. They’ve cried into each other and held each other, curling up at night and intertwining legs and knees, so close their noses could brush just to feel each other’s air, heartbeats, to know that the other is there and not going anywhere.

They hold hands when they walk and lean into each other’s warmth and he turns towards her to eat, to hide his face from others – only she gets to see him in the morning, now, before it happens, before she wraps a scarf around his face to help shield him.

“Oh,” Shizune says, not sounding too surprised. “Well, that’s good, then.”

Rin can’t glance back at her because Shizune is working on her hair, but she snorts a little. It feels freeing, to be able to talk about this, laugh a little at this. “Why is it good?” she asks.

Shizune drops the scissors. Rin looks back this time, and her friend’s face is red. “Um, I didn’t mean- It-“

Rin takes pity on her. “I know what you mean,” she says, and she honestly might, if it wasn’t just a slip of the tongue. (She’s not sure.) “You’re fine, ‘zune.” It’s an old nickname but it slips from her lips as though it hasn’t been years – Shizune smiles, trembling but-

She lunges forward, wrapping her arms around Rin, shaking, shaking. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” she says, and she sniffles. “We never… never heard anything, never knew, and I always wondered about you and Obito…”

There was no later for Obito, but there is for Rin, so she wraps her arms around her friend and squeezes her and pretends there’s not an open wound, not a gaping hole where there should be a third person, pushing up his goggles and giving a grin and worming into a hug with a red but pleased face.

“I thought about… you, too,” she says, and it’s the truth, even if it feels a little hollow with everything she’s lost, and she squeezes tighter.

Lady Tsunade starts teaching Rin. It’s- It’s humbling, seeing how much more Shizune knows than her, what travelling alongside the greatest healer in all of existence has done, but Lady Tsunade is impressed by Rin’s work. “Your control is perfect,” she says. “You utilize simple techniques in very effective ways.” She considers Rin, for a moment, and then, very deliberately: “What’s the most advanced technique you’ve done?”

Kakashi, hanging by the doorframe, in a mood that means he’s unwilling to let Rin out of his sight, stiffens. Rin’s eyes flicker in his direction. “An… eye transplant,” she says quietly, and Lady Tsunade’s eyebrows go up.

“Kid,” she says, turning slightly. “You’ve got an eye under that?”

Oh. Huh. They hadn’t… actually told her, and Kakashi nods and lifts up his eyepatch – a spinning Sharingan peers out from it, and Rin’s breath catches in her throat. Obito…

Lady Tsunade doesn’t comment on its obvious source, on the way it makes the two chunin tremble. “You can’t deactivate it?” she asks, and Kakashi shakes his head, and after a moment, replaces his eyepatch. “A consistent drain on your chakra, I bet, huh?” He nods.

She mutters to herself, quietly, clearly thinking through something, but she waves them off after a moment. “Later,” she says.

It’s two days of thinking – or at least, Rin thinks Lady Tsunade is thinking? It’s hard to tell. The woman still gets drunk and still gambles and gets up every morning without a hangover because she’s a healer, and there doesn’t really seem to be a concern about burning through the money.

Shizune grimaces, when Rin asks. “She never wins,” she says. “She’s got… a lot, so I think it’s okay, but I hope she’ll stop…” It’s only been four years on the road, after all, four years of being away from Konoha and mourning and chasing away memories by drinking and gambling.

It’s just Lady Tsunade and three thirteen-year-olds and the latter really don’t know what to do about it, so they don’t do anything.


It’s two days of thinking before Lady Tsunade brings it up again. “Kakashi,” she says, and the boy turns in her direction. “Come here.” When he dutifully does, she plucks off his eyepatch, pressing her hands to his face to turn it this way and that, examining his Sharingan. “It’s a good transplant,” she declares, which the medic nins at the hospital had also said, but it still makes Rin relieved.

If Lady Tsunade says it, then it’s fine. It’s okay.

She gives Kakashi back his patch and then surveys him. “Have you had a Hyuuga look at your chakra?” she asks.

Kakashi puts it back on and stares at her slowly before shaking his head. It hadn’t occurred to him, or he would’ve – hadn’t occurred to Rin, either. Probably not Minato-sensei either.

Lady Tsunade nods thoughtfully like she expected the answer. “I’d like to see how well it integrated with your chakra system,” she says, all business. “You might be able to deactivate it by having them cut off the chakra there.”

His eye goes wide. He hesitates, brow furrowing. “If they do that, can I reactivate it?”

She considers. Shrugs. “Hell if I know, kid. I’ve never met anyone else with an implanted Sharingan.” When Kakashi still looks unsure, enough that Rin is about to get up and go over to hold him, she ruffles his hair with a grin. “Not like there’s any Hyuuga around here,” Lady Tsunade says, and flicks Kakashi’s forehead. He lifts a hand to touch it, surprised. “Brat.”

It takes a moment, but hesitantly, his visible eye curves upwards in a smile. “Okay,” he tells her. “I’ll think about it.”

He doesn't like the idea, and doesn't think he ever will opt for it, but he... he has an option, and that's something to think about.

They’re with Lady Tsunade for several weeks before Minato-sensei finally finds them. Even if Kakashi’s on high alert perhaps not all the time, but most of it, his teacher is one of the greatest shinobi in the world. He can still sneak up on Kakashi, and he does.

“Kakashi,” Minato-sensei says from behind him, in the middle of the market, and Kakashi whips around to stare at him with one wide eye.

He looks – tired. Exhausted. But he’s still his sensei, still Minato-sensei, staring at Kakashi with wonder in his eyes, a weary hope.

Kakashi takes a small step back, and he can see something in his teacher visibly break.

Minato-sensei closes his eyes, just for a fraction of a moment, and when he reopens them his gaze is steady. “I just want to talk,” he says, and he doesn’t move. There’s not much room in between them – if someone wanted t, they could step through, duck in the middle of their conversation. It’s a respectable distance for signing, and Kakashi wonders if it’s a coincidence, or if he’s been watching them, and he feels ill, feels concerned.

But… it’s Minato-sensei. The man has been there for Kakashi since he was five years old, has been there even when his father’s body was cooling on the floor and the blood rose in his ears and Kakashi had felt a mix of guilt of hatred of horror of sorrow, and let him press his face into his stomach and refuse to shed a single tear.

He had let Kakashi beat on his chest and cry and wail about how he should’ve come, how if he came then Obito would still be alive, and then told Kakashi it wasn't his fault when two seconds later, he turned around and blamed himself.

Kakashi will give his teacher a chance.

“Minato-sensei,” he signs, and when his teacher’s brow furrows a little in confusion at his lack of words, he feels a little better. No spying. “If I had said no to joining ANBU, would you have let me?”

Once again, he shatters his teacher.

Minato-sensei’s eyes dampen, breath hitching, and his expression looks like… like someone else has died, like someone else on their team has fallen. “Kakashi,” he says, and he chokes on it. It takes him a few moments to try to clear his throat, to try to form more words, and Kakashi waits, tense but hopeful, hands poised in front of him. “Of… Of course I would have,” he says, voice hollow, grief written in every line of his body. “Is that why you left? You… you thought I wouldn’t?”

Kakashi can’t let him think that for a moment longer, and he shakes his head immediately. “No.” He pauses, tries to figure out the words, fingers twitching, but shakes his head again. “No, but I can’t explain. Come with me? Rin can.”

He forces himself to relax, to show that he does trust his teacher, and after a moment, Minato-sensei relaxes, too. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”

Rin explains everything.

She explains everything about Danzo, about the veiled threats and about their line of thinking, of disguising themselves and coming here and Minato-sensei’s face gets darker and darker with every word that comes out of her mouth.

When she’s done, he growls, low and hard. “He steps way over the line,” he says, and he folds his arms behind his back and thinks. “Why Lord Hokage has not gotten rid of him, I do not understand…”

Lady Tsunade laughs. “Sarutobi-sensei is far too forgiving of those he cares for,” she says, and there’s a note of bitterness in it that sounds like experience. Kakashi wonders at that, that he is Sarutobi-sensei, because he cannot ever imagine Minato-sensei turning into Namikaze-sensei, what that means for them.

“I will not let this stand,” Minato-sensei says. “I will speak with him immediately-“

“No!” bursts out both of his students, Rin verbally and Kakashi with a full-body twitch. “No,” Rin continues, and she and Kakashi share a glance. They know their theories, know their thoughts, how wildly they’ve compounded upon each other until it seems like it’s self-evident, as if it’s factual and not their own speculation. “Minato-sensei, he won’t let you be Hokage if you’d stand in his way.”

It’s the way she says it, so firmly and without any source of doubt, that makes Minato-sensei consider her. “You think he would try to kill me?”

Rin sends a nervous glance at Lady Tsunade and Shizune, watching her with wariness and wide eyes respectively, and then looks to Kakashi. He gives her a nod. She will say what he cannot, for both of them, and she swallows and then squares her shoulders. Rin meets Lady Tsunade’s gaze. “Lady Tsunade,” she says, oh-so-soft, oh-so-gentle. “Kato Dan… He did not agree with Danzo, right?”

Grief shudders across her face in waves, instantaneous. The kind of grief that curls deep within your core, strikes and marks you for all time – the kind of grief that Kakashi feels when he thinks of Obito, of his father, nestled deep within and all-consuming. Shizune gasps, eyes welling up in tears, and Lady Tsunade glances away.

They give her a few moments. A few moments of dealing with that grief, of shouldering it for the conversation – Shizune has already reached the conclusion that Kakashi and Rin have, crying softly, and Minato-sensei is closest so he sets a gentle hand on her shoulder and gives it a squeeze. (He is always kind to them. Always.) It takes Lady Tsunade a few more moments to be able to speak.

“You… think Shimura was behind it,” she murmurs, and she opens her eyes, staring at the floor vacantly, wheels turning in her head and mind in memories past.

“It seems like a very strange coincidence,” Rin says. “Given how strong he was – and so quickly it happened after he was appointed successor.”

Rin had been horrified, when Kakashi had shared his theories – shared part of why he didn’t want to go to Minato-sensei. But it makes a strange amount of sense, too. “There were supposed to be more on his mission,” Lady Tsunade says, very quietly. “But they were injured and it pushed forward anyway.”

They’re all quiet for a moment, contemplating this, this change, this shift.

“Orochimaru,” Minato-sensei says suddenly, and Lady Tsunade flinches. This is a recent wound – one that Rin and Kakashi have heard of happening after they left. Of Orochimaru being a traitor to the village and driven out. “He was conducting experiments, and it was clear that he was working with someone else in the village – Lord Hokage confronted him, but did not defeat him, and told me he handled the in-village connections.” He closes his eyes, pained. “I believed him. And even if I did not, can I tell the Hokage I think he is lying?”

All shinobi lie – it is in their nature. But a Hokage should not lie to his successor about the safety of the village.

“Jiraiya,” Tsunade murmurs. “He would have known that Jiraiya would not stay in the village and would go chasing after Orochimaru.” Kakashi and Rin have not heard anything of the sage, but Minato-sensei inclines his head – her assessment of her teammates nature is true.

That is three Hokage candidates down, three disgraced or gone or dead, and there is a sinking feeling in Kakashi’s chest.

No one is looking at him and so he smacks his hand on the wooden floor to get their attention and then shifts his hand through the signs. “Minato-sensei, you said experiments. They were working together?”

Minato-sensei nods. “There was no way he could have accomplished that alone.”

“So Orochimaru wouldn’t have stopped Danzo from doing what he wanted if he became Hokage.”

The dawning realization on the others is grim. Gruesome. “He’d kill any next Hokage,” says Shizune, very softly. “If he can.”

There is no one who would turn a blind eye in the same way that Sarutobi Hiruzen has – no one who would let him get away with the same, that would allow him such freedom to go whatever he wishes. Any next Hokage would stand in his way, unless he himself was the next Hokage.

“Minato-sensei,” says Rin, and there are tears in her eyes. “Please be careful.”

Kakashi is unused to being frightened for such a powerful man, and Minato-sensei regards them with seriousness. “I will,” he says. “I will.”

They’re all quiet for a few days, moving in worlds of their own, processing and adapting and thinking – it’s a few days later when Shizune speaks with her, when the other girl sits down beside her.

She looks… nervous and upset, both at once, and Rin reaches out without thinking to lace their hands together, as natural as breathing. Shizune lets out a shuddering sigh and wilts. “Do you think it’s true?” she asks, and she doesn’t look at Rin. “That Shimura Danzo killed my uncle?”

History – and the ninja world – seems to forget her, sometimes. Everyone who knows of Kato Dan knows of his fiancé and the pain his death caused her, of Lady Tsunade who began running from her nightmares and loss and may never go back. Everyone who knows of Lady Tsunade also knows of her apprentice, of the child that follows her and cleans up after her loss and is likely the second-best medic in all the nations.

Few put the two together, remember that Shizune mourns for Kato Dan and will continue to mourn, right alongside her teacher. “I think so,” Rin says quietly. “It makes sense, doesn’t it? Too much sense.” And maybe that’s something to be wary of in and of itself, but Rin doesn’t think there’s a player-behind-a-player with Danzo – who would it be? That’s an even more frightening thought.

Shizune doesn’t say anything. She sucks in a ragged gasp and turns her head to press her forehead, eyes into Rin’s shoulder. Rin reaches up with her other hand to gently pet her head and murmurs soothing words as Shizune cries.

A ninja dying in the line of duty? A tragedy. Unfortunate. Something to be expected, but still hits hard.

A ninja dying because their comrade set them up to fall? That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t leave you.

Kakashi doesn’t expect Shizune to approach him. They live in a simple state of not friends but not enemies, simple allies who don’t spend much time together and yet she approaches them. “Kakashi,” she says – and without nervousness, for which he is glad, because he knows she was friends with Obito and is friends with Rin and while Kakashi doesn’t exactly crave friends, he doesn’t not want there to be any animosity or fear between them. “Would you be willing to train with me?”

(He misses Gai, abruptly, a heartfelt swell that makes him almost emotional, because Gai is a friend and he wants to train with him now so badly, with that easy partnership they have that doesn’t require him to deal with any heavy emotions.)

He tips his head to the side, shifting his hands minutely. “Are you sure? Why?”

It is not that he doubts her – for he does not. The fact that she is Lady Tsunade’s right hand means a great deal. But Kakashi is Kakashi, and he has not actually seen Shizune fight.

But she nods, resolutely. “Yes,” she says. She wavers, considering, though Kakashi will not demand an explanation from her. “Even if Shimura doesn’t come after Lady Tsunade,” Shizune says, words slow and considering, “Lady Tsunade might go after him. I want to be ready.”

He can read between the lines. It’s easy enough to focus on medical only and not on the actual fighting when you fight alongside Lady Tsunade, who few could even pose a challenge for, and particularly when there is nothing that threatens you. He can imagine how simple it’s been, to focus on her medical jutsu – which has, truly, meant she is very impressive with it, but means that when it comes to fight…

Kakashi nods.

He has no experience in teaching. In training another. What would Gai do?

Kakashi is impressed when Shizune comes back for more.

Rin isn’t sure when her two best friends became friends as well, but she isn’t disappointed. She’s glad that Kakashi has someone else to lean on – glad that Shizune has another person.

Sure, they seem to spend a lot of their time beating the crap out of each other and running at top speeds that Rin doesn’t even want to try touching, but they seem happy with it. It means that Rin spends more time with Lady Tsunade, and by herself.

Both, she is okay with.

She… can’t remember the last time she had any sort of privacy, alone time. After Obito… Kakashi stuck to her like glue and she stuck to him, both of them desperate to not lose each other – and then they ran together, and they’ve been together like this ever since.

It’s. It’s good to feel the glue start to come undone, to feel them heal, to feel everything start to shift a bit. A weight off her shoulders – a weight off of his.

So she walks with Tsunade, and is content.

“Lady Tsunade,” she asks quietly. “Do you think it’s safe to ask Minato-sensei to give a letter to my aunt?”

Lady Tsunade thinks for a moment and then shakes her head, reaching out to ruffle Rin’s hair. “Sorry, kid,” she says. “I don’t think so. If he does something like that, he has to officially acknowledge that yeah, you two have run away from the village and he’s completely okay with that. Maybe when he’s hokage.”

It… makes sense, but every time she thinks of Minato-sensei becoming hokage she feels a choking in her throat, a terrified closing up because what if Shimura does come after him? What if he dies? Rin doesn’t know if she’ll be able to handle another death – well. She will live, she will move on, she will handle it, but if Shimura can get to even Minato-sensei it means that nothing is safe, nowhere is safe, and Rin doesn’t know if she can run far enough to get out of his reach.

(And Minato-sensei dying might break Kakashi completely.)

It probably shows on her face, her pain and her terror, and Lady Tsunade stops walking. Rin turns to her, surprised. “Listen.” Lady Tsunade looks… pained, as well, and Rin thinks everything about this topic must also be difficult for her, so hard to handle. “Your teacher knows to look after himself – he’ll be okay. Shimura won’t assassinate him, he wants plausible deniability, he wants it to seem like just another accident.” She doesn’t deny that Shimura will probably go over Minato-sensei, which does make Rin feel a little better.

“You need to trust him.”

Rin remembers wondering if Minato-sensei would accept Kakashi’s no, if it would be okay if her teammate never joined ANBU. She remembers feeling guilty about even wondering that – still feels a bit guilty about it, but does also think it’s a reasonable worry.

To trust Minato-sensei – yes, she can still do that, she thinks. He’s letting them free like this. He held her close, squeezed her tight before he left, bundled her up in his arms and breathed into her shoulder. “I’m sorry I let you down,” he had said, and Rin hadn’t been able to reply, choked up and throat and eyes thick with tears, and then the moment had passed.

She hopes he knows that they do trust him – that even if they worried, they wavered, they truly do.

“Okay,” Rin says, softly, and hopes that she gets to see him again and tell him that.

Tsunade watches the kids.

They sleep, bundled up together. At first, it was just Rin and Kakashi, curled around each other so tightly she thought nothing could ever come between them. Shizune joined them slowly, Rin in the middle – Kakashi curled on tight to her and Shizune close enough to touch Rin, but not yet touching.

Now, they’ve abandoned all sense of distance. Rin is in the middle – she usually is, but not always, not anymore. Kakashi presses against from behind, one arm curving around over her stomach, their calves crossing, and he breathes into the small of her back. Shizune and Rin face each other – Shizune curves one arm over Rin as well, right next to Kakashi’s in the other direction, pressing skin-to-skin with him, and Rin presses her face into Shizune’s collarbone, tucked underneath her chin.

A pile of children fitting like puzzle pieces into each other, linking and locking and unable to separate one from the pack without waking the others.

Tsunade never had that with her team.

She… she cares for them, she still does – for both Jiraiya and Orochimaru, though they are both awful people in different ways, for Sarutobi-sensei, who is awful in a third. Tsunade is awful, too, in a fourth way. A team made up of powerful but terrible people. Some who inflict their wounds on the world. Some who reject the world that rejected them. Some who care too little about others in the world, and some who care far too much.

Tsunade drinks.

Dan had been a changing force in her life – one who helped her. He was a good man, far too good for her, and yet he saw her. Past her terrible outsides to the good within to the even more terrible beyond that and loved every single part of it.

It’s difficult, to not put him on a pedestal. He’s long gone, long buried, and it’s hard to remember his flaws when she hasn’t had to deal with them for so long.

Because he was flawed – all people are.

They were both stubborn to a fault. She still is – they argued and butted heads frequently, but never severely. He had a tendency to overwork, and neither of them were particularly tidy, and his cooking was the absolute worst though hers has never been much better.

Tsunade takes another drink.

To think that all this time, all along – it was never just a mistake. That it was a planned accident, a planned incident, that everything was so very intentional… from her leaving to her teammates disgrace, to probably countless deaths along the way that none of them have even thought about.

(She wonders if Kakashi has thought of his father – has thought that once upon a time, his father was the best of the best in Konoha, and fell so abruptly. If it hasn’t occurred to him, she’s not going to bring it up.)

There is nothing more that she wants to do than to go to Konoha right now and wring his neck. Kill him and have it be over with, done, nothing for any of them to worry about ever again. But Sarutobi-sensei is still Hokage, and while he is lenient towards her (bah, lenient, what a word) and allows her to leave the village and travel like this, she knows that he will not take so kindly to her killing an old friend.

And why? Why does he still care? There is no way that Sarutobi-sensei cannot know, cannot suspect – not when two children put it together while running for their lives, and if any of them had been a little less blind, a little less trusting in the Hokage, they probably could’ve easily seen the same.

If Sarutobi-sensei is blind to Shimura Danzo, he is willfully blind, and Tsunade will never forgive him for that.



She has three children to look after, now. Three traumatized child soldiers who cling to each other like they’re the only things keeping each other safe and sane (and probably are), and Tsunade never really wanted to sign up for this, for this strange mix of babysitting and teaching and motherhood, but here she is.

She drinks, and hopes this is as crazy as it gets.

Word comes through the grapevine of the Yellow Flash’s impending appointment of Hokage – something that all four of them already knew, but now it’s official, now it’s well and truly happening, and it keeps them all up.

None of them say a word as Lady Tsunade’s route slowly takes them closer and closer to Konoha – no one discusses whether they’re actually going to attend.

Shizune… knows, intellectually, that nothing will happen on that day. That it’s supposed to look like an accident. And she’s not even close to the man, to the Yellow Flash, but he is their best bet for bringing justice. He is a good man, too, one who does not deserve such a death in the same way her Uncle did not, and she knows how much it would hurt Rin and Kakashi to lose him.

So she hopes and she prays at every shrine they happen to pass.

None of them sleep as much as they did before – Rin slips out the door and goes for walks, and Kakashi purposefully trains with her as much as she can stand so that they both slip into exhausted sleep at the end of the day. It means that Kakashi starts sleeping in the middle, more and more, because Rin needs to be able to get up without waking the others, and it’s surprisingly comfortable.

Shizune sometimes – often – feels like she’s the strongest, the least likely to shake to pieces, and she lets Kakashi press his face to her back and relaxes. It’s a difficult task to bear, the strongest. She can do it. She can be it.

She’s been the strongest for Lady Tsunade for so long, and now she can be for Kakashi and Rin.

It’s one night when Rin is gone, when she has slipped out to walk around the town, and when Lady Tsunade is still at the bar – because they feel safe here, because Lady Tsunade has a slug with each of them just in case – when Kakashi jerks awake with a cry.

Kakashi and Rin both have nightmares – Shizune has witnessed them before. But she’s never been the only one here for it, and she can feel Kakashi shake against her back and she turns around wrapping her arms around him, and breathes, in and out, deep and solid. Gradually, his breathing slows, still wet and ragged, and she runs a gentle hand over his back out of lack of anything else to do.

She doesn’t know how to help.

So Shizune bites her lip, sinks her teeth down but not hard enough to draw blood, and considers. “Kakashi,” she whispers, quiet and soft even though it’s only the two of them. “What… was that about?” She realizes, abruptly, that it might be too much – they exist in the weird state of codependency where they cling to each other in their sleep for comfort and yet hardly speak of true issues. “You don’t have to answer…”

Kakashi is quiet for a moment, breathing hard, puffs hitting her throat. He doesn’t wear his mask to bed, not anymore, and though it had been odd to see him without it at first, she doesn’t make a big deal. Shizune thinks he isn’t going to answer, still for so long, and then he whispers audibly. “Obito,” he says, verbally, and then his hand shifts to tap out the words on her stomach. She’s stayed in practice with both Konoha code and Konoha sign, and she’s glad for it.

“His death,” he taps out quickly, the press of fingers and chakra swift, and she nods. Shizune could’ve guessed it, when he said the name, but she’s glad he feels good enough to continue.

“I’m sorry,” she says, because what else can she say? And she holds him close.

All Shizune can do is be strong, even if sometimes she feels like she’s crumbling, too.

They linger in the closest town to Konoha – they are but an hours run away, but they all know universally that they cannot go.

Minato-sensei is not Hokage yet, and like Lady Tsunade had pointed out… they are technically breaking the law, acting like this. When he is Hokage, he can let them roam free if he wishes (which Rin doesn’t think Minato-sensei actually wants, but he will respect their wishes, she has to trust), but for now they cannot, so they wait.

The Hokage must know they’re here, must know they linger just outside – it’s not as if Lady Tsunade could hide her presence, nor that she even tries – but he sends no one, says nothing.

Minato-sensei doesn’t come, either. Rin knows it makes sense, that he must be tied up in work and preparing, and that any approach their direction would be extremely public and noted by all and thus a very public statement – which, given the Hokage has not given any official note towards their existence outside of Konoha, would be behind his back which is not a good look for the future Hokage – but…

That doesn’t stop Kushina from sneaking in.

They’re all in their room in the inn, getting ready for night, when there’s an ANBU at the window. No one moves.

Rin, Kakashi, and Shizune are on the floor, Shizune pausing with her brush in one hand and Rin’s hair in the other, Rin pausing with her hands ready to untie Kakashi’s scarf, Kakashi’s hands stilling to stop himself from reaching for a Kunai.

Lady Tsunade leans against the wall, drink in hand, narrows her eyes at the ANBU, and they’re all frozen.

It could be from the Hokage. Could be from Minato-sensei. Could be from Shimura.

And then the ANBU moves, very slow, very telegraphed, and pulls off her mask.

It’s Kushina.

Rin bursts into instant tears, rocketing away from her companions and straight into the woman’s arms, who steps off the windowsill to catch her. Kakashi is barely a beat behind – he pauses to send a ripple of chakra out, enough to disrupt an illusion if she has one, but there is nothing. He lunges forward, pauses just outside, and then Kushina snakes another arm out to haul him in and they both press their faces into her.

She’s warm and kind and it’s almost as good as seeing her aunt and Rin can’t help her tears.

Even if Konoha is a sign of danger, a sign that not everything can be trusted even if it seems like home, she misses her village fiercely, and misses the people within. Asuma, Kurenai, Gai, Hayate, Yugao… the list goes on and Kushina is absolutely one of them and Rin is so glad to be in her arms, to be held like this.

She makes soothing noises until Rin manages to look up, and there are tears on Kushina’s face too, but also a large grin a mile wide. “What a warm welcome!” Kushina manages, and Rin laughs a teary laugh.

“We make a really great welcoming committee,” she says, and then she dives right back in.

When tears are shed, when everything has been wrung out of Kushina and Rin that will possibly come out and Kakashi’s breathing has evened out, they all plop down in a circle. Lady Tsunade still looks wary until Kushina waves her off. “Just a social visit, a social visit!” she says with a laugh.

Lady Tsunade rolls her eyes but plops down as well. “Damn Uzumakis,” she says, and when Kushina laughs again at that she offers her a glass of sake.

Kushina downs it easily and then grins, brilliant and sparkling, at the three of them. “So! How’s it been, on the open road? Learned a lot? Seen anything cool?”

Rin is more than willing to tell her about all her advances in medical jutsu, so Kakashi lets her – it’s easy. They relax into the conversation as if there has not been parting, as if it has not been too long since they last talked.

Kushina is very adept – she reels Shizune into the conversation as well, showing a surprising knowledge of medical jutsu as she does so, and soon the two girls are both leaning in and leaning into each other, talking animatedly. Kakashi is a little impressed – Kushina catches his eye and winks at him, and he relaxes as well.

So she noticed, in that brief moment she was in the window – or maybe Minato-sensei had noticed, and passed it along.

It’s fairly obvious, but if they’re not going to do anything, not going to say anything, then he won’t either.

Kushina does look a little surprised when Shizune says that Kakashi’s been doing training with her, though, and looks at him. “And how’s that going?” she asks. “I never pegged you as a teacher, but you never do anything by halves, do you?”

He shrugs, considers his words, and then flicks his hand through the signals. “I’ve been channeling Gai,” he informs her, and Kushina laughs so loud and long that the innkeeper comes up about ten minutes later to ask them to please keep it down.

There’s red over the edge of his scarf, which he unfortunately can’t hide, and that inspires another round of teasing until finally Kakashi fake hides behind Rin which sends Kushina’s eyebrows flying. He’s more playful, now – can feel that relaxing in him, and it makes her smile softly.

Rin does – thankfully – turn the conversation around before she can push forward with it even more. “Anything new with you?”

She beams brightly at them and leans in. “We’re trying for a baby!” she says, and Kakashi’s mind goes completely blank because what. “I’m waiting for this whole thing to blow over before I propose,” she says, as if taking down someone as powerful as Shimura Danzo is easy. “But we’ll be doing that like right after he’s Hokage so we’re trying for a baby now!”

That. Makes sense, Kakashi guesses, though he’s never honestly thought that long about it. A baby won’t affect her physically for a bit, long enough that they should be able to take down Danzo in the meantime, and he’s always known that Minato-sensei and Kushina wanted kids. But. Still. Them as parents…

Rin nods, because of course she wasn’t basically raised by Minato-sensei and this isn’t turning her world upside down. “Any luck?” she asks, just to be polite, because obviously they would know if they did – or maybe not, because Kushina likes to draw these things out.

Kushina shakes her head. “I’ll let you know as soon as we are!” But she turns her gaze on Kakashi, and it’s directed at him when she says this. “You two will be great older siblings, I’m sure. A good big older brother. A good big older sister.”

Kakashi’s heart is going to pound out of his chest. An older brother. He nods.

Kushina slips out in the quiet hours of dawn, after keeping them up all night talking – it’s been a good night. A night that reminds them there is a light at the end of this tunnel, that maybe they can mesh their love for those that remain at home with also staying separate, that they can be safe but wander if they like-

Because… Rin and Kakashi don’t know if they ever want to stay in Konoha again.

“Come the day after he’s inaugurated, okay?” Kushina makes them promise.

It’s in one week’s time, exactly. They nod. They promise.

Rin disappears three days later.

They should have known better.

Should have known better to think that they were safe, that a slug on each their shoulders would ensure Lady Tsunade could make it in time, that keeping up with their training would be enough, that Shimura Danzo wouldn’t come after them without some way to make it look like an accident, that Shimura Danzo would wait until after he dealt with Minato-sensei out of fear for what Minato-sensei would do if he harmed one of his students first-

Rin is gone.

Kakashi is choking on air and Shizune is in tears and Lady Tsunade sent a message off to Minato-sensei with a slug but there’s no time to wait, no time at all, not when Rin could already be- could already be-

Lady Tsunade is talking to a slug on her hand, grim, and there’s an expression on her face that he can’t quite read. When she looks up, there’s nothing but determination. “He didn’t notice my summon,” she says. “We can track her.”

She stands up, and Kakashi rockets to his feet and Shizune joins him shakily. “Let’s go, kids.”

It’s a blur.

Shizune isn’t ashamed to admit it – it’s all a blur.

There’s nothing but terror and sorrow and shame that Rin is gone. Maybe if she had slipped out with her, decided to take a walk that evening as well, Rin would still be here. Maybe if she had insisted she sleep in the middle that night. Maybe if she had bothered Rin to train with them even more than normal or held her hand one more time or done- done something, done anything-

Then maybe Rin would be here.

She runs and she cries and she doesn’t know how far she runs nor how far she cries, but there’s enemy, enemy shinobi and Rin walking through them like a corpse possessed. It’s a blur, it’s a blur, it’s a terrifying blur. “I’ve got her,” she manages to yell, and Kakashi nods because there’s trust, there’s trust between them and god Shizune won’t let him down.

Won’t let Rin down.

Won’t let herself down, because she doesn’t know what she’ll do without Rin.

Rin won’t stop walking and her eyes are wide, wide and panicked, and Shizune hits her with three paralysis needles and she drops and that’s when she starts screaming. There’s chakra whipping around her, harsh and animalistic, and Shizune doesn’t know what to compare it to.

But Shizune runs to her sides, drops to her knees, doesn’t dare to reach out because of the strange, corrosive chakra covering her friend. “Rin!” she cries out, because she doesn’t know what to do. “Please, please, how can I-“ How can I help, how can I stop this, how can I make you stop screaming please please please-

Rin thrashes on the ground and she screams and when her eyes open they’re a demonic red. Oh, thinks Shizune weakly, because she realizes now and has no idea how she can do this. A demon. Oh.

She reaches up with two harsh hands and curls them in Shizune’s top, seeming to not notice the way the fabric burns. “Kill me,” she says, wide and harsh. “It’s- It’s going to make me d-destroy Konoha, Shizune, you have to-“

“No!” Shizune says, immediately, and she reaches up with both hands and curls them around Rin’s wrists. It burns her and she cries out but she holds on and she doesn’t care. “I can’t- Don’t ask me to do that! I can’t do that!”

Rin looks pained and fierce and angry. “Please!” she begs. “You have to!”

“I won’t!” Shizune says, and she kisses her.

It’s not even slightly how she imagined her first kiss would go.

Fourteen years old and holding her crush of far too long on a battlefield while Kakashi and Lady Tsunade kill the shinobi that surround them, as Rin begs to be killed and Shizune kisses her even though she can feel it burning, can feel the chakra peeling away at her skin and at her face. She can barely feel Rin’s lips through the pain, only knows for sure that they’re touching because her eyes are open wide as Rin’s grow equally wide.

And then she’s being pulled away.

The enemy are dead, she realizes suddenly, and Lady Tsunade is holding her, has pulled her away and runs a green hand, while Kushina and the Yellow Flash are there, kneeling next to Rin and drawing, writing, dealing with the seal that must keep the demon inside while Rin screams.

There’s blood splattered on Lady Tsunade and she’s trembling and Shizune’s eyes grow wide. “Lady Tsunade,” she breathes, because she doesn’t understand.

Her teacher’s lips twitch, just slightly, as if she’s trying to smile but can’t quite bring herself to, not yet. “I’ve been working on it,” she says, even though she’s still trembling like she’s going to collapse, and the two sink to the ground together, their legs giving way beneath them. “When… you thought I was out drinking.”

Shizune turns to glance at the corpses – she doesn’t know if all of them are dead, even. Lady Tsunade had dealt with them all without blood, but the ones that Kakashi dealt with… not so much. “A little bit,” Lady Tsunade says. “I can see… a little bit. For Dan.” For preparing to fight for him, she does not say, for preparing to have to kill and get more blood on her hands for his sake, she does not say, but Shizune understands it all the same.

“For Uncle,” she says, and then she watches as Rin’s thrashing dies, as her cries fall quiet, as her movements slowly come to a halt.

“She’s okay,” Kushina says wearily. “But she’s got a really nasty seal on her.”

The Yellow Flash shakes his head, hands still writing frantically, applying layer of ink after layer of ink to Rin’s stomach and heart, her dress pulled completely open to allow for such, but it’s not as if anyone here would care. Shizune swallows, heart in her throat, as Lady Tsunade runs her green glowing hand over her face again, healing slowly but surely.

“I don’t know who could’ve done something like this,” the Yellow Flash says.

“I think I do,” says Uchiha Obito, as he steps out of the trees.


Shizune is done.

She’s so so fucking done, she’s so done with all of these with this team, and while everyone else freezes, she shoots to her feet and marches over and punches him in the face. He goes down immediately. “Do you know how much they cried!?” she demands, because she heard their nightmares, heard them cry, sees it in every single move they make and-

Shizune falls to her knees beside him. “Do you know how much you made me cry!?” she demands, and she grabs him and then Kakashi is there right beside her as well, grabbing at him and yanking at him and there’s a later for Obito.

Obito is alive.

Obito is alive, and he holds Kakashi’s hand in one hand and an unconscious Rin’s in the other (who is fine, who is stabilized, Minato-sensei and Kushina promised she was fine) and he tells them all everything – about Madara about weird plant things about basically being half-plant himself at this point, about how he wanted to come home sooner but couldn’t, about how one of them let him out just in time to see this.

He looks strange – does, indeed, look half-plant and almost feral, his hair a ragged mess, one half covered in scars, but it’s still Obito and Kakashi can’t let go of his hand. Can’t even dream about letting him go at this point. He’s terrified that if he does let go, that if he does release him, he’ll vanish into nothing and this will all be an awful, gut-wrenching dream that will haunt him for far too long.

Kakashi can’t breathe. Obito is alive.

The story is something difficult to absorb, difficult to believe, but Kakashi does, every scrap of it – and he can see from everyone’s faces that they all do, that Minato-sensei and Kushina and Lady Tsunade believe every single word. Why would they not?

It’s been months, it feels like years, but Kakashi trusts Obito with his life. Probably trusts Obito more now than he did when the other died because he’s spent so much time obsessively going over every moment, what he could have done differently, what he should have changed and how good the other truly was and-

The other shinobi all exchange looks. “Kakashi,” Minato-sensei says, and even though he’s so focused on Obito, Kakashi has it engrained in him, that instinctive obedience, and he meets his teacher’s eyes. “You’re in charge. Get everyone back to the inn, seal it up – we’ll take care of Madara.”

He hands Kakashi a seal, one of Minato-sensei’s own that he just needs to slap on the door, and Kakashi manages a tight nod. Minato-sensei reaches out, ruffles his hair, and then ruffles Obito’s as well. “Stay safe,” he says, and then he’s gone.

They’re quiet for a moment, the three of them – it’s odd to be left behind like this, but Kakashi, Obito, and Shizune are all capable shinobi. There’s a slug on Shizune’s shoulder. Madara is the threat to deal with right now and all they have to do is somehow carry Rin back to the inn and-

Ah, right.

Kakashi pulls his hand from Obito’s so he can quickly bite his thumb and summon Bull and Pakkun. Bull to carry Rin, and Pakkun to be a quick translator and instructor because the rest of his dogs are not always good with sign. Pakkun is definitely startled by the sight of Obito – but because he’s a professional like that, he doesn’t do much more than nod, and then he’s guiding Shizune to pick Rin up to balance her on Bull’s back.

He gets up to help, but Obito’s hand snakes out, quick as can be, and catches him around the wrist. Kakashi blinks down at him in surprise and Obito looks thoughtful, up at him. “Kakashi,” he says, and it feels so good to hear his name, to hear Obito alive to say his name, to see the way that his face twists in consideration. The scars are his, the empty eye socket on the other side sunken in. His hair is a ragged mass, half of his skin a strange white, odd plant things sprouted from around his neck, just under his robes-

But he’s Obito, and him saying Kakashi’s name is the best thing he’s ever heard.

Obito is hesitating, so strange from the brash boy that Kakashi knew, but they’re different now, aren’t they? Whatever Obito wants to say, he seems resolved when he manages to meet Kakashi’s eye. “…I missed you,” he says.

Kakashi’s throat closes up. It’s a good thing he doesn’t need it to talk. “You, too,” flickers his free hand.

They encounter no problems on the way back to the inn – it makes Kakashi uneasy. Makes him unsure. He feels like something should be going terribly wrong, that it would match all their luck at this point. Rin is okay – Rin is alive, she’s stabilized, she’s going to be fine. Obito is alive. Obito has been returned to them, changed but still Obito, and he’s holding Kakashi’s hand and it’s going to be okay.

Minato-sensei and Kushina and Lady Tsunade are going to kill Madara and stop him from being a threat ever again, and why does everything feel so…

Kakashi doesn’t let himself think that something bad is going to happen. It’s going to be good. It has to be. He refuses to accept anything else, after all that has happened, everything will be good.

They get Rin settled down onto one of the mats and then they just sit, the three of them, the dogs vanishing as they all lean against the same wall, Obito in the middle, hand in Kakashi’s and hand in Shizune’s. They sit there, quiet. There aren’t any words. What words can be said?

Well, at least until Obito breaks the silence.

He snickers, and Kakashi turns to blink at him and so does Shizune, and he grins at her. “Hey, ‘zune,” he says. That’s right, weren’t they close? “I saw that.”

Shizune looks puzzled. She hadn’t been doing anything. “Saw what?”

Obito laughs. “That kiss. You kissed Rin!”

Shizune turns a scarlet red and Kakashi stares at her because he had been kind of preoccupied killing shinobi and attempting to not get any blood on Lady Tsunade while doing it and had completely missed that. He shoves a hand in her face so she can’t miss it. “What?”

She glares at the both of them, color in her cheeks. “She was-“ Shizune cuts herself off, seeming to decide against whatever it was she was going to say. “Shut up!”

Obito doesn’t seem upset, which Kakashi is glad about because he wasn’t stupid enough to not realize that he had a crush on Rin – and had seen how jealous he got of Kakashi when he thought Rin had a crush on him (which he doesn’t know if that was ever actually the case, or if she just admired…?), which was foolish, because if he had actually engaged in conversation like a normal person, Kakashi would have told him flat-out that he was gay.

Then again, Kakashi couldn’t hold normal conversations back then and still can’t, so he really has no room to talk on that front.

“How was it?” Obito asks. “Kissing someone?”

Shizune grimaces. “It… hurt.”

They both stare at her. She somehow turns even redder. “She had a bunch of demon chakra in her! It hurt!”

Obito blanches. “Demon chakra!? Is that what that was!?”

That hurtles into a whole ‘nother explanation, courtesy of Shizune, about how yep, Rin is a jinchuriki now, and that’ll really suck for her to deal with and about how she was being kind of controlled and… Kakashi shakes his head slowly, and Obito says what’s on his mind for him, slumping back against the wall. “Man, I’m so glad they know their seals.”

Kakashi glances at the seal on the door, keeping them safe, and nods. He resolves to learn a little more about sealing, bother Minato-sensei for one of his early books of notes or something, try to learn on his own. After all, Kakashi… doesn’t think he’ll go back, not yet, maybe not ever. There’s something freeing about being out here, about not having to fight, about not having to take missions.

He wonders what Obito will think, when he explains this to him. How different he will find Kakashi – how different Kakashi is.

(He feels different. He wonders, regularly, what his younger self would say if he saw him now.)

Kakashi is just about to move, just about to start shifting his hand through an explanation – though Obito hasn’t asked, not yet – when there’s a stirring. A quiet groan from the mat, and the three watch in rapt attention as Rin’s eyelids flutter.

She opens them, staring confusedly at the ceiling, and then lets her eyes slip to the side to look back at them. The comprehension dawns, slowly. “O… bito?” she asks, and she sits up with a jerk almost to nearly fall over, and Obito is moving fast, so fast, right there to steady and catch her with a hand on either shoulder.

“Obito?” Rin asks again, tears welling up as she reaches up with one hand to cup his cheek. “Is that you?”

He nods, starting to cry from his single eye. Kakashi finds himself doing the same, too. “Yeah. Sorry I’m late, Rin,” he says. “I got a little lost on the road of life.”

She sobs into his shoulder, aching and weary, and he holds her.

It’s late, and it’s dark, but they don’t sleep – won’t sleep, can’t sleep. How can they sleep when the others are fighting?

And how can they sleep when there’s so much to talk about.

Shizune and Rin speak over each other, trying to tell Obito everything – Rin shares about what happened with ROOT, and Kakashi gets hugged tightly by Obito, his one visibly eye so comically wide it would almost be hilarious, but for the way he carefully softens, wrapping his arms around Obito back in turn, holding him like he’s one of the few precious things left in the world.

(Shizune is sure that to Kakashi, he is.)

When Shizune explains about Shimura Danzo, about what they think happened to her uncle, Obito holds her, too, and she buries her face in his shoulder and cries because it’s hard to think about. Even though he died quite a few years ago, now, the fact that his murder might not have been an accident all along…

Obito shares with them the details of his imprisonment, of anything he overlooked when explaining to the higher-ups because it wasn’t relevant to the immediate mission of ‘Let’s Kill Madara’, and they squeeze him tight and hug him fiercely, all three of them, so glad he managed to stay alive, to work his way through all that and come back to them.

He laughs, wetly, and cries again, because tears are never far below the surface. “I- I wanted this so bad,” he confesses, and they all cry because, god, who cares? They deserve to.

Shizune can feel the weight of her kissing Rin hanging over her head – wonders if the other girl remembers it. It’s not the time to talk about it, not now, so she doesn’t think that Rin is avoiding it if she knows, it just…

She remembers the way her face burned, how her skin still feels delicate and new to the touch, and doesn’t regret it.

Rin, on her part, can hear nothing from the demon in her head. It’s dead silent, even though her chakra control is now absolute shit, which she demonstrates with dismay when an attempt at a healing jutsu leaves her hand glowing green so brightly it nearly blinds the lot of them. It’s good that it’s quiet – not so good that this has happened, obviously, but it’s… something they can deal with.

It’s after midnight when the others finally return. Kushina looks fine, maybe a little windswept. The Yellow Flash looks a little battered but ultimately okay. Lady Tsunade hangs between them, unconscious, an arm over either of their shoulders and Shizune is shooting to her feet and cupping her teacher’s face with two careful hands immediately, eyes wide with worried. “What happened?” she demands of the next Hokage. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he says, which isn’t an answer and Shizune is about to growl at him, when Kushina speaks up.

“Madara’s dead,” she says. “Put a chain right around his creepy old neck. Tsunade passed out after the fighting was done.”

“The blood…” Shizune says, and she’s helping them lay her down on a mat, hovering anxiously. “She says she’s been working on being better with it, but-“

It’s a trauma, it’s a phobia. That’s not something you can just magically get over via hard work – deal with it differently, cope with it. Clearly, Lady Tsunade has been dabbling in exposure therapy, in making herself handle it for longer, but that doesn’t just erase the problems and Shizune is surprised she lasted as long as she did.

Adrenaline, most likely. Or sheer determination. With Lady Tsunade, it could be either.

Shizune takes a deep breath, and Rin puts a hand on her back. “Thank you,” she says, and goes to get a cold compress for her teacher’s head, just in case.

Lady Tsunade wakes in the morning – she’s mostly fine, just shaky, and Kushina opts to stick around for one more day to keep an eye out, just in case.

Minato-sensei has to go. Has to deal with becoming the next hokage (so close, so close…) and he gives each of them a hug before they go. Rin squeezes tight, tight, burying herself in her teacher’s chest. “Stay safe, okay?” she asks him quietly, because she’s just gotten one teammate back and she’s worried that means she’ll lose another one. Give and take. Never get to have everything.

“I will,” he says, and then he’s gone.

Shizune is fussing over Lady Tsunade, worried worried worried – and Rin doesn’t blame her! – and even though so much of her aches to spend time with Obito, with her long lost friend that is no longer lost, Kushina will be gone tomorrow and Rin needs to speak with her before she goes.

Besides, Obito looks like he’s okay. Kakashi is helping him figure out how to draw the strange… plant spikes (for lack of a better word) back into his body. If they can’t do it, they’re just going to try cutting them off next, and Rin isn’t sure she wants to be a part of that.

So, Kushina.

Kushina’s outside the room, leaning against the balcony and gazing out on the view below. It’s just people, moving, masses of people shifting this way and that as if Rin’s whole world had not been fundamentally upset yesterday, for both good and bad. “So,” Kushina says, breaking the quiet as Rin comes up next to her. “A Jinchuriki now, huh?”

Rin nods. It feels strange. “I can’t hear him,” she says. “I could, before, and he was so angry – but I can’t hear him now.”

“They’re always angry,” she says, shaking her head. “Can’t really blame them.”

Rin thinks it over – yes, if she were this huge being of chakra that has been compressed and locked up inside the mind of a human, she thinks she would be angry, too. She can’t really blame them either. “Is there… what should I…” She’s at a loss. They know that Kushina is a jinchuriki, of course, though many do not, but it’s not like they’ve spoken of it, of what that means, of what that entails for her.

“You’ve got a lot more chakra, now,” Kushina says, and Rin nods. “Your control is going to be shit until you get it under control – which sucks because it’s not your extra chakra, and if you use it, it’s usually not too pretty.” Rin thinks of the way she burned Shizune’s face and grimaces. (She’s so glad Lady Tsunade was there to make it not a permanent thing.)

“Don’t tell people,” Kushina continues, which Rin wasn’t really planning on doing, and she grimaces. “And… maybe talk to the sucker, every so often. Meditate and go in for a chat.”

Rin looks at her in surprise. “Do you do that with the fox?” she asks.

Kushina doesn’t quite look at her, staring across the street at nothing. “The fox is on a whole different level,” she says. “But maybe you can talk some sense into yours.”

Kushina leaves the next morning, and Shizune is sorry to see her go. They’re all adults here, all shinobi – have been considered adults since the moment they tied on their headbands – but it makes Shizune feel better, to have another person that a civilian would consider an adult as well.

And besides – it means that once Kushina leaves, Rin is likely going to address the summon in the room with the two of them.

Oh, she doesn’t corner Shizune immediately. Kakashi and Obito have managed to get Obito’s body looking closer to normal, aside from how half of him is pure white, and Rin cuts his hair very neatly, as close to his former haircut as she can manage. It’s still a little wild, but it’s a more natural wild, wild like how Kakashi’s hair sticks straight up versus ‘I was kept in a cave for months by a crazy old man’ kind of wild, and he looks acceptable enough so that Kakashi and Obito can go clothes shopping together, can get him gloves and some actually acceptable clothes to wear and-

They linger by the door, a disgruntled Lady Tsunade preparing to go with them, because they’re not about to let anyone else get kidnapped, and Obito looks back at Rin. “You sure you two won’t come?” he asks.

Rin… pauses. “Well. We… Should…” She can’t quite finish it, darting a glance at Shizune – who had just honestly not wanted to go shopping – and Obito reads so much into that.

(Probably accurately, but it makes Shizune’s face burn.)

He laughs, grabbing Kakashi’s hand and swinging it back and forth. “Have fun!” he croons, smiling brightly, lighting up his scarred face enough it’s like they’re almost nine years old again, and then the other three are gone. Rin presses one of the seals the Yellow Flash left to the door, and sinks down on her knees so they’re facing each other.

“So,” says Rin.

“I’m sorry,” says Shizune, immediately. “I thought- It didn’t-“

Rin’s eyes go a bit wide and then she softens and she’s reaching out, scooting closer so that she can take Shizune’s hands by the wrists, turn them over so they’re palm up in her lap, and lay her hands on top. “Why are you sorry?” she asks.

Shizune feels breathless, feels – hopeful, feels encouraged, but she has to say it anyway. “You were barely conscious, and…” No, you know what, she’s not sorry. “You were asking me to kill you, Rin! Kill you! And I had to show you why I couldn’t and why you should keep fighting and never mind, I’m not sorry!”

They’re quiet for a second, Shizune’s chest heaving and Rin staring at her, a little lost, a little sad. “I’m the one who should be sorry,” she says. “I shouldn’t… I shouldn’t have asked that, I was just…” She leans in and so does Shizune and they’re resting their foreheads against each other. Knees pressing, hands on top of each other, forehead against forehead. “I was scared,” she admits.

“So was I,” says Shizune. “I’m. Still kind of scared.” She tries to make it a joke, even though she’s scared about a lot more things than just her relationship with Rin. “You, um, haven’t given me an answer.”

Rin blinks, once twice, and then smiles. “Of course I like you,” she says. “You didn’t know?”

“I hoped,” says Shizune, and giddiness swirls through her being, sheer delight and joy. “Can- Can I kiss you again?” she asks.

“No,” says Rin. “I’m going to kiss you.”

And she does.

When Tsunade manages to put an end to the ridiculous shopping trip she’s forced to babysit on and drags both the boys home, Obito’s got a wardrobe that puts any of her other kids to shame. (Her kids. Damn them.) He’s so delighted about it that neither her nor Kakashi had been able to nip that in the bud, and she only caved because there’s only so much shopping they can do.

He’s not too fussed about it – he’s anxious to get back, because apparently Rin and Shizune are confessing their undying love to each other in the inn room.

Tsunade does not get involved in the squealing and teasing that occurs when they return.

Instead, she’s more than willing to give both girls a clap on the shoulders and a simple “Congrats,” and she’s good for the day. She’s not too worried about them. All the kids are so entrenched in one another it’s like they’re a single unit – romantic, platonic, whatever it may be, these kids are linked together, conjoined at every inch.

She sees it, now, as they fall asleep. Rin and Obito lie in the middle. Obito on his back, snoring up at the sky, while Kakashi curls up in a ball at his side, face pressed into Obito’s ribs. Rin is twisted, one leg crossed over Obito’s, mostly on her back, but with her head leaning in towards Shizune, who is on her side on the opposite side, their hands linked.

The next night, it’ll be in a different order. Different people plastered to different people. Maybe Kakashi in the middle, attached to Rin like a limpet, Shizune on his opposite side acting as a little spoon to Obito’s big. Maybe Rin and Obito still in the middle, but Shizune and Kakashi swap. Maybe each duo just rolls over, over maybe they’ll managed some sort of circle or pile this time.

She’s not sure.

But she knows they’ll have to fight, when it comes time, and so will she.

For Dan, she thinks. For Shizune. For all of them. Tsunade steels herself. She pricks herself with a needle, watching the blood well up on her fingertip, and tries to breathe.

Minato-sensei becomes Hokage.

It seems like it should’ve happened yesterday – it seems like it should have happened in three months. In a year, in two. Time feels like a meaningless concept when there’s no missions, no job – Rin’s gotten so used, too, to moving around with Lady Tsunade that it seems like staying in one place is the strangest thing she’s ever done.

When Minato-sensei becomes Hokage, Rin and Kakashi and Obito don’t go – they can’t. Not just yet. Shizune and Lady Tsunade attend it, because the three of them together should be able to handle themselves and then eyes will be on Tsunade, will allow the three of them to creep along together so they do.

They slip and slide, technically allowed to be in the village but also riding the edge of the law, of what’s truly considered allowed and what’s not, hand in hand, and then Rin knocks on her own door.

Stay home, Minato-sensei had told her aunt, but given no further details, unable to, unwilling to. Don’t come.

And when the door swings open, Rin knows that she’s listened.

Her aunt stands, framed by the door – same brown hair, same purple cheeks, tall and strong and the younger sister of a mother that Rin can’t remember. “Hey, Auntie,” says Rin, and then she’s scooped up in a hug.

The scene is set.

They wait.

Shizune joins them, after the ceremony is done, bearing whispers and news. “Tonight,” she says. “It will be tonight.”

Minato-sensei has somehow made it where others haven’t, to where he has been elected. No one has made it this far, before. They don’t think that Shimura will kill him immediately, but while none of the higher shinobi have spoken of if there is a Madara and Shimura Danzo connection, there’s a look in their eyes, a thoughtful way they gaze at each other, that makes Rin know they wonder, at least.

Perhaps not all the ills in the shinobi world can be placed upon Danzo – perhaps they can. Even if they weren’t working together, the idea that it’s believable, that Danzo could conceivably have been working with someone willing to kidnap Rin and keep Obito as a hostage and-

They don’t talk about what would have happened, if Shizune had done as Rin asked and if Obito had happened across that scene. When Obito shakes awake in tears over it, they can do nothing but hold him, and wonder at their luck that it did not, that Shizune was so stubborn that she burned her own face off rather than even contemplate it for a single second.

Regardless. Regardless.

It means they need to act soon.

So while Auntie makes them food and they laugh and they talk and they gush about their adventures and what they’ve been doing – and she doesn’t ask, doesn’t ask why Kakashi’s words come through his hands, why they left in the first place, why Obito is even alive, because she’s a shinobi and she knows better than that – they have to consider tonight.

Rin helps her aunt clean up, helps her wash the dishes and gives her a big hug, squeezes her tight. “I missed you,” she says. “So much.”

And then she slips up to her bedroom, where everyone is piling in. They could have split up – her parents’ room stays forever empty, dusty and unfilled, but they’re all on her bed and Rin sits on the floor in her desk chair. “Hey,” she says.

Obito’s head is in Kakashi’s lap, as he runs a hand through his hair, Shizune curiously poking at Rin’s bookshelf, and they all look at her. “I’m going to try to talk to the Sanbi,” she says. “Watch me, just in case?”

And then she goes in.

There’s a lake in her mind.

A lake in her mind, surrounded by a cage, over and under like a dome, and the Three-Tails paddles within.

Rin wades through the water and crouches down in front of the bars. “Hey,” she says.

She’s wet, feels wet, but it’s in an otherworldly way – her clothes drift around her in the water. The demon ignores her. “I know you don’t like me,” she says, because why would it? He? Why would he like her? “But I have a deal for you.”

He stops swimming. It’s a promising sign, as he stills. “I need to help kill a man. He’s one of the ones who helped put you in me, I think. If you help me, if you lend me your chakra, I’ll see if there’s a safe way for you to get out.”

And Rin isn’t lying. If there’s a way to take the Sanbi out of her without killing her, she’ll do it. It’s okay. Because she wonders if the demons truly hate them at all, if they’d truly try to destroy them – or if they do, if it’s a hatred of their own making, if it’s because they have taken them and locked them up like this.

The Sanbi drifts closer. It’s close enough, now, that if she wanted to, she could touch him. She holds her breath, and he stares at her with intelligent eyes. There’s no confusion. He understands every single word, and yet Rin can feel no blossoming anger, no distrust, and she hopes that maybe this demon… this demon doesn’t hate, doesn’t yet hate, and maybe never hate if she can change that path.

“I promise,” she says, and she reaches through the bars to touch his nose.

“You know what we have to do, sensei,” says Tsunade.

Her teacher looks old – far too old for his age, exhausted and weary from his years as the Hokage, and he leans back in his chair. “I know what you’re doing,” he says. “I don’t know if you have to.”

Tsunade bares her teeth at him. Kakashi does it on occasion, at night when he has no mask and someone’s making him snappy, and she likes it – it’s animalistic. (Her kids are rubbing off on her, and god damn it she never wanted children but here she is.) “He killed my Dan,” she says.

Sarutobi-sensei frowns. “It’s speculation,” he says. “You don’t know that.”

“Maybe I don’t,” she says. “But do you?”

His silence is telling, and Tsunade turns on her heel.

She’s reached the door when he speaks up. “Tsunade,” he says, and she glances back at him. He looks… pleading. “Do not be cruel. He was… my friend, once.”

Tsunade thinks of her friends. Thinks of Dan and Nawaki, lost, of Sakumo left abandoned, of Orochimaru twisted and Jiraiya forever chasing after him, of the four children that she watches sleep every single night, curled up in each other like they can shield each other from the world, and of Minato and Kushina, with the knife hanging over their heads. Of the man, Shimura Danzo, who seems to have puppeteer strings leading back to each finger.

“I’ll do my best,” she says, because that’s all that Sarutobi-sensei will get from her, and she leaves.

They fight.

It’s difficult – because Kakashi wants to kill as little as possible. This could have been him, he thinks, and slams a pressure point so hard with the base of a kunai that the shinobi crumples.

Rin tears through the shinobi. Her hands are glowing so vivid green it hurts to look at, but she’s pressing them to people’s foreheads and sending them down immediately. Her eyes are red, her teeth sharp, but she’s fully in control.

Shizune’s arms are covered in holders for her needles. Kakashi never knew she had so many. She embeds them in necks, in any vulnerable body parts she can see, using her fists and kunai and anything else she can to reveal some skin on those whose entire body is covered. People drop to her sedatives, fallen and out of the game, and Kakashi leaps over another prone person as he continues.

Obito is in a battle of wills. Because Obito is part-plant, it seems as though he can control plants – not something they’ve thoroughly examined yet, but it’s instinctive enough that it hasn’t been a worry. He fights a child, head to head, who seems to have the same power.

Kakashi doesn’t look at Minato-sensei, at Kushina, because they might be killing and he doesn’t know if he can bear that. Death may have been something he’s inflicted on so many enemies, but these are people who should have never been enemies, are people who have been brainwashed or kidnapped or brought into this by Shimura Danzo when they should have been serving the Hokage, should have been one of Kakashi’s allies, a friendly face in the street, a nod across the missions desk.

He was almost one of them.

So he doesn’t look – he leaps over another fallen shinobi, doesn’t activate his chidori, and aims for another pressure point.

Tsunade puts her fist through Danzo’s head.

Obito has never seen anything cooler in his life.

Even if she immediately passes out.

It’s over.

Kakashi knows there’s fallout – knows that there’s so much stuff for Minato-sensei to deal with. He doesn’t envy him, brand new Hokage and dealing with the death of Danzo, of locking up and investigating the other elders to find out how much they know, of dealing with the masses of children who are brainwashed or confused or still actively trying to kill the Hokage.

All he wants to do is sleep, and he’s not even dealing with that.

But now that Danzo is dead – now that Danzo is dead – he accompanies Obito to visit his family. There are no parents for Obito to see. Nothing but a clan that has never quite accepted him, and Uchiha Fugaku, who looks at Obito, scarred and half-plant, holding the hand of a silent Kakashi with his scarf around his neck, donned in nothing but civilian clothes because he’s retiring.

Fugaku isn’t foolish – he isn’t stupid. His dead relative coming back to life right after Danzo dies? The ROOT members haven’t even been announced to the public as existing, yet, but he’s not stupid.

“Welcome back,” he says. “It is… good your teacher is having such a successful first few days as Hokage.” It’s the closest to support that they’re going to get, of Fugaku throwing his weight in behind Minato-sensei, and Obito beams.

He beams the whole time, scooping up his baby cousins Obito and Shisui and making cooing noises at them, and then laughing when they protest they’re too old for that. He gives Uchiha Mikoto a hug, who is just slightly showing her pregnancy, and promises to visit sometimes for dinner, and yes, of course he’ll drag Kakashi and the rest of his team along.

He keeps his beam on even when they give Fugaku a bow farewell, and doesn’t lose it until they’re on the street, walking back and holding hands, gloved fingers interlaced. “Do you think it was really him?” he asks, looking at Kakashi, who tips his head to the side slightly in question. “Danzo. Do you really think he helped kill Kato Dan, helped Madara…”

It’s a theory. It’s always been a theory, of no solid evidence, of no proof – one that clicked into place so nicely it makes him wonder why others hadn’t thought of it.

Kakashi replies with his free hand. “I don’t know,” he tells Obito. “Does it matter?”

Even if he didn’t – there was still ROOT to consider, still everything in regards to that, and Obito shakes his head. “I guess not,” he says.

The only way it couldn’t be, Kakashi thinks, is if someone else is pulling the strings. If someone else was the man behind the man, behind both Danzo, behind Madara. But who could that ever be? Someone that ancient?

Kakashi doesn’t give it a second thought.

It’s strange, being back in the village.

Shizune left five years ago and has never returned – despite missing those she was close to, she never felt any desire to return. Oh, she wanted to see her friends. See Rin, Obito, Asuma, Kurenai… But being in Konoha, itself?

No. No matter how much her Uncle loved the village, she’s alright not living in it.

But it doesn’t mean it’s not nice to be back, to visit, to see everyone. She gets so many hugs and so does Rin – friends terrified for their fates, friends who wondered what became of them, friends who are still friends after five years. She squeezes them all so tight, and wonders when she’ll see them again.

Still, it’s easy to slip into that easy camaraderie – Obito and Kakashi join them, too, and fall among the same. Gai and Kakashi immediately get into a match of “coolness” and Shizune laughs until she’s almost sick because wait, this is who Kakashi’s been channeling? Gai had graduated young, when she asks, and she scarcely remembers him aside from “bowl cut and shining teeth” so it’s hilarious, seeing it now.

She tries not to let the melancholy hang over her. Of friendship that is in the moment, and perhaps for a lifetime, but will not be here the next day or the next or the next.

Perhaps Rin recognizes her thoughts, or she’s feeling the same, because she reaches out, gives Shizune’s hand a squeeze and a tiny smile. Shizune returns it.

Kurenai spots it and her eyes light up. “Oh! Are you two…?” she giggles, and oops, Shizune finds herself the center of attention once more.

When they leave, two days later amid tears and hugs, there’s another with them. Their five is expanded to six. “This is Tenzo,” Lady Tsunade says with no further explanation, and there’s a young boy with some of the longest brown hair Rin’s ever seen. He can’t be more than ten, maybe even younger, and he doesn’t look them in the eyes.

Obito is studying him and then his eye lights up. “Ah! You’re the kid who could control plants!”

Tenzo nods. Doesn’t say a word. Obito is undeterred and leans in to grin at him. “You’ll have to help me train, then – you’ve got a lot more control than I do.” Tenzo looks startled, and then relaxes a little. Still doesn’t say a word, but nods again.

(He and Kakashi will probably get along well, Rin thinks, and then she stifles that thought before she can laugh.)

They get second hugs, and third hugs, from Auntie and Minato-sensei and Kushina. When Kushina hugs Rin, squeezes her tight, she murmurs, “I’ll look into that thing you asked me about.”

Rin squeezes her back. “Thank you,” she says quietly, because she had promised.

Kushina pulls back with a grin, her very last hug, and then beams at all of them. “You’re gonna have to visit soon, you know,” she says.

Obito, of course, rises to the bait. “Why?” he asks. “I saw plenty of you already.” Shizune giggles, but Kushina’s smile doesn’t waver.

“Because…” she glances at Kakashi. “Drumroll, please.”

He looks at her. She looks at him. Dutifully, he pats his thighs with his hands five times.

“I’m pregnant,” Kushina announces, and her grin is so big it looks painful. “So you’ll have to visit soon, okay?”

They do leave, eventually. Tsunade thinks if she has to witness one more hug she’ll hit somebody, so they’re out – they’ll be back. They… will, even if it’s still painful to visit her village.

Because she finally has a bit of catharsis. She finally feels… a bit more okay with Konoha.

(Maybe she should track down Jiraiya, next, or Orochimaru – but she doesn’t think she wants to bring her kids to them.)

She has them. Has kids.

It never fails to startle her.

Rin and Shizune walk, hand in hand. Shizune is saying something and Rin looks utterly enamored and as Tsunade watches, Rin leans forward to press a kiss to her cheek. Shizune sputters and then kisses her cheek back, and they grin at each other and squeeze each other’s hands visibly, back and forth, for a solid minute or two before managing to continue their conversation.

Kakashi and Obito also hold hands. Obito had one laced with Rin’s at the start of their walking, but it’s too late now – he uses it to aggressively gesture as he speaks, to wave wildly and punctuate his sentences, this loud scarred bomb of a boy… But he makes sure to pause, to stop, to pay attention and let Kakashi shift his free hand through the motions to talk.

And then there’s Tenzo.

He’s dangerous – Minato had warned her. But he’s family, if only family but a soul-scarring traumatic experiment that her awful teammate never should have done, and if Tsunade doesn’t take him in… well, who will?

He walks quietly, and he watches. His eyes are fixed on the older four, chattering, and there’s something like longing in his eyes. Tsunade watches him. Tsunade considers.

She scoops him up and he yelps and she plops him on her shoulders. Tsunade can’t see the look on his face, but she can imagine it’s surprise – her other four kids look back in astonishment. “Tenzo,” she says. “Be ready to hold on.”

He puts his hands on her head immediately, obedient, and Tsunade grins. “Hey, kids,” she says, and has four sets of eyes on her.  “Last one to the next town’s an Iwa shinobi.” And she bolts.

She hears curses from behind her, movement as her kids try to run after her but just a beat behind, and Tenzo tightens his grip on her hair.

Obito yells and Rin laughs – she glances back and Kakashi is the closest, with Shizune barely a beat behind, Shizune grinning and Kakashi’s visible eye crinkled in what’s likely a smile.

There’s a quiet noise.

Tsunade doesn’t quite recognize it at first – it’s not something she’s heard before. But it happens again, from right over her head and oh. Oh.

Tenzo is laughing.

Tenzo laughs as he holds onto her hair – Obito trips with a curse behind because his coordination isn’t always the best, and Rin helps him up. Kakashi and Shizune sprint neck and neck, grinning but determined to catch up.

Dan, she thinks. I hope you’re seeing this.

And Tsunade laughs too, and runs on.