3rd of March, 62 f.K. (foundation of Konoha)
Kakashi was at the Memorial Stone when he got the news, waiting for a reasonable amount of time to pass before he went to meet up with his little team. He'd already finished updating his fallen friends on what had happened to him since yesterday - a few observations on his team, the strange dream he had last night, and the usual silent vows to do better by his living comrades than he had by his dead ones.
He'd then started thinking about what he would be teaching his genin today and followed a few tangential thoughts into a meditative tranquility of thinking about nothing at all. This pleasant haze was pierced by the arrival of Tenzo, who said without waiting for a greeting, "Kakashi! Haven't you heard? The Hokage is dead!"
Kakashi's first and embarrassing response had been a blunt denial, thankfully silent. His mind pushed back against the words, reflexively denying them. He'd known the Hokage for his entire life. It was like someone had told him the moon had gone missing: He didn't look up to check just in case; he knew they were lying.
Then sense returned and he knew that Tenzo wouldn't lie about such a thing; if he said it, it was true.
Stroke in the night, Tenzo explained after Kakashi's blunt, "How?" Happened too fast for the ANBU guards outside his house to get the real medic-nin in time. Painless as any ninja's death could be.
Tenzo's eyes slid away even as he spoke.
Kakashi's one visible eye narrowed slightly. Tenzo could lie without a single visible tell on any day of the week. He wanted Kakashi to ask.
"Who were the ANBU on guard?"
"Tiger, Bear, and Snake."
They all joined up after Kakashi left. He shouldn't know who they were.
He knew anyway.
He closed his eyes. Tiny amounts of adrenaline left his heart beating faster and an ache in his chest. "It's Root."
Kakashi showed up to the team meeting two hours late, said, "The Hokage is dead. You have the day off." and then flickered away without allowing himself to register their expressions. He spent the day collecting information and gossip, and was the eighth person in the village to know that Danzo had been appointed interim Hokage, until the replacement could be voted in. Kakashi learned this from Inuzuka Tsume at four in the afternoon, right as the Council let out from the decision. She snarled it to him on her way to the nearest exit.
Kakashi did not allow himself the reaction he dearly wanted to have; instead he went home and started trying to predict the future. He took these things as facts he knew without a doubt:
One: Danzo would not be giving up the hat unless it was pried out of his cold dead fingers.
Two: He would always act toward the greater good of Konoha.
Three: He would not acknowledge any pre-existing boundaries if they interfered with this greater good.
Four: Danzo would not be caught.
The optimist's scenario was that Danzo would lead the village well, raise Academy standards, change a few minor laws and rules, covertly get his hands on the Byakugan and the Sharingan bloodlines, and raise an army of emotionless red- and white-eyed children to die for the village.
The pessimist's scenario included a lot more gore, death, and brainwashing than the former's, but ran along the same basic lines. The point being that neither were acceptable outcomes.
Kakashi wasted a half hour trying to think of what he could do to protect Sasuke from Danzo's madness and Naruto from Danzo's brainwashing. He could perhaps protect one of them. Possibly. But he was eventually forced to admit that he had no way to protect both.
Danzo would have either Sasuke or Naruto. Kakashi... would have to choose.
Danzo would approach Naruto with kindness and acknowledgment, instantly earning the boy's trust. He'd offer special training and Naruto would accept. With even the faintest praise and encouragement, he'd drive himself into the ground for Danzo. He'd accept dangerous missions. Danzo would tell him it was wrong to mourn enemy ninja, to care about anyone who did not hail from Konoha for at least two generations. Naruto wouldn't accept it at first but eventually would come to accept it as a personal truth. He was, in Kakashi's opinion, far too manipulable.
The boy Kakashi had known would be obliterated.
On the other hand, Danzo would offer Sasuke power - plain and simple. He'd play on his arrogance. Danzo would instill some sort of kill-switch under false pretenses (always had to, with the unstable ones) and allow Sasuke to improve only so much that he didn't get frustrated. When he was able to father children, Danzo would introduce him to whatever kind of girl Sasuke turned out to like (many, many of those girls) and tell Sasuke this was how he would revive his clan. Perhaps Sasuke would even forget about killing his brother for a little while.
And when the first child developed red eyes (Danzo would make sure this happened young), Sasuke would die.
Kakashi tried. He tried to set aside his emotions and think objectively. Who truly needed to be saved? Naruto, for the sacrifice of his father and the debt Kakashi owed Sensei.
Sasuke, for the deaths of his entire family (Sakumo...) and the responsibility Kakashi owed a cousin of Obito.
He couldn't choose; he flipped a coin and didn't look at the result. He tipped a book off the shelf, thinking that if it landed open he'd go one way, closed he'd go the other - and he never assigned a name to either way. He tipped another book. The third one he threw across the room.
The shelf came crashing down. His table splintered down the middle. The couch flipped and slid into the front door, the wall developed eight new foot-sized holes. His entire arsenal of kunai wound up clustered in imaginary targets on the plaster. Kakashi finally paused with four shuriken between his fingers, drawn back to throw at the door to his bedroom.
He'd been reviewing his facts and their conclusions, searching for a loophole methodically even as the greater part of his brain was overwhelmed with mindless fury at the unfairness of the world.
At some point in his wondering, he'd had this thought: that he wished rogue jounin and their androgynous apprentices were still the only thing he had to worry about threatening his genin.
The thought was... unthinkable. It occurred to him in a bone-deep sense, his gut telling his head that it had a solution he wouldn't like. He put his apartment back in order mechanically, waiting for it to come to him. It did, and then he wanted to throw up.
Nowhere in Konoha was safe for Team Seven.
Nowhere in Konoha.
Naruto would be easiest to convince. All Kakashi had to do with him was ask, he was quite sure. Naruto could be stubborn but he'd recognized Kakashi as a superior easily enough. He wouldn't be stubborn without a reason.
Then again, Kakashi thought to himself dully, Naruto had been given a very good reason today.
How could he have forgotten? Naruto could count his precious people on one hand and have enough fingers left over to insult you with. He'd lost the first of them today, and Kakashi had taken all of two seconds and nine words to tell him so.
He watched Naruto scrub away tears onto an already soaked jacket sleeve. In the boy's other hand was a picture of a younger Naruto and the Third. Naruto had a devious, delighted grin on his face as he sat on the Hokage's shoulders, hands fisted in the man's hair, the wide hat slightly askew on his head. And the Third... was looking up at the boy with more love in his gaze than Kakashi could even imagine.
Kakashi was going to just leave and get Sasuke first instead. Then Naruto grunted in betrayed anger and threw the photo, frame and all, across the room. His eyes widened in fear the moment it left his hand. It hit the wall and fell, bouncing once to land upside down.
The boy was next to it immediately, picked it up as though it was made of gold. He looked once to make sure the glass wasn't cracked, and then cradled it to his chest and hugged it there. The crying began anew.
If Kakashi left Naruto right now, Minato would claw his way out of the Death god's stomach for the sole purpose of slitting his student's throat.
Kakashi let himself into the boy's apartment through the window he'd been spying through. Naruto didn't notice a thing until Kakashi called his name softly.
The boy looked up, and his face began to twist into that betrayed fury again. His whiskers looked a little darker, his pupils a little sharp.
Thinking fast or not really thinking at all, Kakashi hooked two fingers into his mask and pulled it down so that Naruto could be absolutely sure of the sincerity on his sensei's face as he knelt down to the boy's level and let out, "I am sorry for your loss."
Naruto sniffled a bit but was obviously unwilling to continue crying in front of his teacher. He loosed his grip on the picture frame slightly until it looked like he was just crossing his arms, and tried to hide the frame in his jacket. "What do you want?"
The first iteration of Kakashi's plan had included lying to Sasuke and Naruto about a mission, if only to get them out of the village quickly. That had been discarded quickly once he followed it to the logical conclusion that it would damage their trust for him in ways he didn't have time to fix. Whereas telling the truth might make an impression upon the boys, showing that he trusted them, and make them more compliant in the long run.
"With the Hokage's untimely death, some people have come to power who... do not have your best interests in mind. One person, specifically, the interim Hokage Danzo Shimura."
Naruto frowned, replying, "I met him earlier. He seemed okay."
Kakashi's eye narrowed. "Where?" he demanded.
"I was in Gramps' office. Remembering him. An old guy with an eyepatch came in. He was nice to me, and he even knew about the Wave mission; he said I did good." Another sniffle, more forceful. "Then he said he was taking up the hat for a little while. Keeping it warm for me."
Naruto may very well have been the first person in the village to know for certain who would wear the hat. Unexpected.
"Whatever he may have seemed," Kakashi began, "he is a skilled ninja and an even better liar. He knows that you contain the Nine Tails, and after the Wave mission he knows that you have access to its power." Kakashi moved a little closer and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. He knew how powerful touch could be. "Naruto, he would do his very best to turn you into a living weapon... and he is very good at it."
"But then I'd get stronger, wouldn't I?" Naruto shrugged him off and stepped back a little, glaring. "And I wouldn't do anything bad for him."
A smarter child, a less naive one at least, would see what Kakashi was trying to imply. "You would become unimaginably strong," Kakashi admitted, gathering the boy's attention. "but it would come at the cost of your nindo, your mind, your soul - everything you are. Danzo's operatives abandon all emotion and human ties. They are as monstrous as any demon; more so, because at least a demon acts to preserve itself. A Root operative would slit his own throat because Danzo told him to."
Naruto cried out in anger, "I would never do that!"
Kakashi was so close to convincing him of the truly extreme danger facing them. He'd tried the gentle approach; now he pulled his trump.
He said quietly, "A Root operative would kill his Hokage because Danzo told him to."
Naruto's jaw clicked shut. Kakashi saw the instant when it dawned on him, because his normally expressive face went entirely blank. He stared into the middle distance for a long few moments, and then met Kakashi's eye again.
Rather than asking how Kakashi knew, if Kakashi was sure - as the jounin thought he would - Naruto said, "Danzo is the Hokage now. That's treason."
Had Kakashi misjudged him? It was possible, but that wasn't a threat in Naruto's expression. Kakashi tested him with: "I think treason against a traitor doesn't count."
"How are you going to prove it?"
Kakashi was pleasantly surprised by this turn of events, until he remembered Mizuki and the circumstances of Naruto's graduation. Perhaps it was not so surprising that Naruto reacted to treason so much more seriously than he did most anything else.
"I can't," Kakashi admitted, shrugging a little helplessly. A breeze from the open window reminded him he still had his mask off, but he didn't bring it back up. "Danzo is more careful than I am capable of countering. I can't catch him, I can't prove a damn thing. And if I breathe a word of this to anyone, I'll be dead before the sun sets on the day."
"So, then, what are we going to do?"
"I am still a loyal shinobi of the Leaf. If it was only myself I had to protect, I would simply stay quiet and... endure." Kakashi sighed heavily, one hand rising to the Leaf insignia on his headband. "All men die; not even Danzo can outwit death. But there are some things I cannot stand for and some things I will go to any lengths to protect. I will not allow harm to befall my team when I could have prevented it.... Even if the actions I must take are otherwise inconceivable."
Naruto had remained uncharacteristically solemn for the entire conversation. His brow knotted together in thought. Finally he responded, "I don't know what you're trying to say."
Kakashi put his mask back on because he knew Naruto had a respect for the dramatic. "First, we're going to leave so you can get stronger - strong enough to protect yourself. Then, we're going to come back and kill the Hokage."
Naruto's face went blank again before a faint look of confusion made its way in. "But we can't leave Konoha. That would make us rogue-nin."
"Naruto." Kakashi made his one visible eye express every ounce of his intensity. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes." Naruto answered without hesitation.
Kakashi smiled. Even in this untenable situation, warmth pooled in his heart - curled up with fear, because what if he failed again? "Then trust that I have a plan. I can't explain everything tonight. We need to start moving soon. It's - hell, it's almost nine already." One of the gate guards changed at ten, and Kakashi was not absolutely confident in his ability to get his two students past the fresh replacement. "We still have to get Sasuke."
Naruto nodded. "And then Sakura. They're in danger too, right? 'Cuz we're a team."
"Actually, Sakura will be fine. Danzo has no reason to care about her. He'll want the Uchiha bloodline, but there's nothing special about Sakura."
He had spoken without thinking, spoken as if to an equally logical mind. He blamed it on Naruto's unusual seriousness. He had forgotten a key piece of Naruto's nindo - and his own, as well: Never leave a teammate behind. Kakashi was so focused on the danger he had managed to forget the bonds of teammates.
"She is special!" Naruto roared. He jumped up; the frame in his jacket fell out and thumped against his bare foot. He didn't seem to notice. "Of course she's coming with! What if Danzo tries to - I don't know - tries to brainwash her like you said he would to me?! We can't just leave her!"
"Naruto, she's got parents and a life here. If we leave Danzo won't have a reason to bother her - " Aside from this powerful crush the Nine-Tails' container harbored for her " - and, since she'll be perfectly safe here, I can't put her in danger out there when it's completely unnecessary." Kakashi tried logic, which had been so persuasive just a few moments before.
He saw Kushina in the set of Naruto's jaw and Minato in the shape of his shoulders as his arms folded. He saw that Naruto would not be swayed. If came to leaving her and surviving or staying and dying, Naruto would damn well stay.
Kakashi's eyes closed as he sent a prayer up to the heavens, for patience and strength. "Okay, we'll get Sakura. After Sasuke."
"Swear?" Naruto squinted suspiciously at him.
Kakashi felt a little offended, considering Naruto had just sworn that he trusted Kakashi. "Yes! Now start packing. A change of clothes - no ramen! - yes, all your weapons, uh, what the hell kind of hat is that? Are those teeth?"
The village was unusually subdued, the air heavy with palpable mourning. The only ninjas traveling over the rooftops were the ones going about necessary duties; the rest stayed home or walked to the bars to share their grief in silence.
The Hokage had been so beloved.
Kakashi had Naruto store his pack behind an A/C unit on his apartment building's roof to avoid the questioning should they be seen. Then he led Naruto on a far more winding route to the Uchiha district; not over the roofs but instead bouncing between walls over alleys. Anyone looking over the village from a higher vantage point wouldn't be able to track them easily.
They made it to Sasuke's house, where the lights were still on, without incident.
"Stay here. I'm going to do a sweep around the area." Kakashi ordered Naruto into a tree.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "We haven't even done anything bad yet, sensei. I don't think there are any enemies in Konoha."
Yet, went unsaid. They'd have an enemy in every ninja of the Leaf soon.
Kakashi had been gone for a solid fifteen minutes and Naruto was beginning to get antsy in the tree, wondering what could be taking so long. Three times he talked himself out of going to look for his teacher, each time remembering the forceful look Kakashi had given him right before leaving.
His sensei was leaving the village to protect him. The least Naruto could do was show he was grateful for it; wouldn't make Kakashi regret it.
Kakashi returned with Sasuke already in tow, the boy looking a little disgruntled but otherwise as impassive as ever.
"Idiot," Sasuke muttered in greeting, which Naruto returned with a purposefully sunny, "Bastard."
Sasuke was also carrying his pack, Naruto saw. He looked questioningly at Kakashi, tilting his head towards it.
"We're running out of time. Naruto, go get your pack and meet us at Sakura's."
Kakashi watched Naruto bounce around a corner just below rooftop-level, a tiny thread of concern worming its way through his conviction. They weren't yet in enemy territory... but they soon would be where no one could go off alone.
Kakashi glanced back at Sasuke to gauge his reaction. The boy had been worryingly easy to convince in leaving the village for the time being. He reflected that Sasuke actually had even fewer precious people than Naruto, for all that he could have had as many friends as he wanted. He was already isolated, unattached to the village, except by abstract loyalty and the promise of training to get stronger.
"Let's go," Kakashi commanded, leading Sasuke to Sakura's house with her emotional connections. Hopefully Naruto wouldn't insist on staying if they gave Sakura the chance to come and she refused.
"When we go in, stay beside me and don't say anything." Kakashi instructed. Sad to say it, but Sasuke's presence undeniably increased the odds that Sakura would come with; him opening his mouth at the wrong time would not.
"Hn." Sasuke grunted, which was neither a yes nor a no.
"Sasuke. That is an order."
He was aware that Sasuke shot him a strange look, almost frowning, almost respectful.
"Yes sir," Sasuke answered, his tone making it evident that he was surprised to see Kakashi's lazy facade fall away.
Then they arrived. Sakura's window was closed, curtains drawn shut; Kakashi dropped to the ground to pick up a few pebbles and toss them, automatically forming a friend signal even though she wouldn't know that.
Sakura opened the window a few moments later and leaned out, whispering, "Ino?" into the gathering night. She jerked back with an aborted sound of surprise when Kakashi stuck himself to the wall outside her window and leaned into view. "What are you doing here, Kakashi-sensei? Sasuke!"
"Sakura, we're short on time. You, Sasuke, and Naruto are all in danger in the village now that the Hokage is dead." Kakashi leaned into the room intently. "Do you trust me?"
Sasuke, when faced with this question, had regarded him in silence for a few seconds before finally nodding as if unable to say it aloud. Kakashi had liked his suspicion almost as much as Naruto's instant acceptance.
Sakura blinked and answered, "With what?"
Kakashi's eyebrows rose. "That's actually a good answer. Do you trust me with your life and safety, and those of your teammates?"
Sakura nodded. "Of course."
"I can protect all of you, but we have to leave the village. Go AWOL. We'll be traitors... but I have a plan for how we can come back. We're going to leave so you all can become strong enough to protect yourselves."
Sakura looked between Kakashi and Sasuke with wide eyes as she processed it. Kakashi could see the internal conflict raging. Sakura, more than either of his other students, was both smart enough to know how difficult it would be to return, and also had enough binding her here to want to do so.
"Just - how long will we be gone?" she asked hesitantly.
Kakashi had run these numbers over in his head four times during the planning stage. "No less than three years, no more than five."
She inhaled softly, let loose a quiet "Oh." If she went with them, she'd be fifteen the next time she saw her best friend or her parents again. "I'm in danger here in Konoha?"
"By proxy for the most part. Naruto and Sasuke are the real targets, but someone could want to use you to get to Naruto," Kakashi answered truthfully. Then he added, "There's a chance that nothing could happen to you. They might leave you in peace. I wouldn't even offer to bring you with us, but a team should always be given at least a choice to stick together."
Unexpectedly, with those words Kakashi saw Sakura's resolve harden. Well, he was learning all sorts of things about what made his team tick today.
Naruto arrived at about the same time Sakura finished packing. He had traded his usual orange for darker clothes without even needing to be told. Sakura too had chosen shorts and a tank top rather than her dress; only Sasuke hadn't needed to mix up his wardrobe.
"Let's go," Kakashi said.
A cool breeze throughout the warm night rustled the leaves on the trees, stirring up a roar of sound. In the darkness, an owl of a species native to the area hooted.
A dark shadow darted over the massive wall. It landed on the other side among the bushes at the edge of the treeline and without pause dived farther in. When it stopped, well into cover, a second shadow detached itself from the first, smaller in figure.
"I've got to go back to get Sasuke now. I'll signal again when we're coming over." Kakashi murmured to Sakura and Naruto, thinking idly that he would need to teach them shinobi hand-signs soon. If they were going to be on the run for a long time, they would need to be able to speak to each other silently.
His two students nodded grimly. None of them had liked that they would need to cling to Kakashi to make it over, but the necessity was clear. Kakashi returned with Sasuke a few tense minutes later, who in turn dropped off his teacher's back almost before the man stopped. Sasuke had liked it the least of the three.
"Naruto, how many shadow clones can you make?" Kakashi asked.
Naruto rocked back and forth on his heels in thought. "Don't know really - a lot. I pushed a whole lot into it when I went against Mizuki and it felt like I just went for a really long run, but also like I could've done more, too. At least four hundred."
Kakashi racked his estimation of Naruto's chakra reserves up a little.
"Make as many as you can; have them pair off into fours and henge into myself, Sakura, and Sasuke. You'll be laying false tracks. Hopefully that will give us the head start we need."
"Heh, this'll be great!" Naruto put his hands into the seal, and instantly the forest around them filled with a lot of blond hair and personality.
Kakashi was briefly worried about Naruto's ability to organize himself without shouting orders, but was pleasantly surprised when the clones obediently grabbed each other into pairs and then said pairs joined up to make four. Then, they lined up and from left to right transformed into everyone else.
Without a word, the clone teams dispersed into the night, going every which way. A hundred Team Sevens all leaving a chakra trail for the hunter-nin to track.
"Naruto, can you continue making teams of four as we go?"
"Sure thing. That was nothing, I must have gotten better since Mizuki." Naruto gave his signature cheery grin at the thought.
Soon, Kakashi knew, it would hit the three of them what they had just done. Leaving one's village was not a decision to be taken lightly; nor were its consequences all immediately visible. Kakashi had a plan but no guarantee that it would work - no guarantees at all, in fact, except for one: History was going to repeat.
This team will live.