Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or Harry Potter; they belong to Masashi Kishimoto and J K Rowling respectively.
I am making no profit from this story, it is only for entertainment.
Thank you to all those who reviewed, favourited and followed this story.
We finally made it to the end! Over five years and with so much support, I can finally say that I have completed this story. I kept the promise I made in the beginning to finish this story. It's going to be weird not writing this story anymore but I can appreciate it for what it was and I'm excited to move onto new projects. This story was the first I ever wrote and it's always going to have a special place in my heart.
On that note, the idea that won for the one-shot was Kakashi as the Hokage meeting the trio again! Everyone also wanted them to meet Gai, so I am going to put that in as well. It might be a while before it gets written but I will post a notice on this story to let you know when it goes up.
And again, I just have to thank every single person who has read this story. There was no way I thought it would get this far and have the popularity it does when I started writing and I feel like my abilities as a writer have grown leaps and bounds since I started writing this story. I went back and edited and tidied up the first ten chapters too; I haven't changed the content but I feel it's easier to read now.
Thank you again and please enjoy the final chapter!
Chapter 31: Home
Kakashi stood to attention in front of Dumbledore, his hands loose behind his back as the headmaster stared him down over his half-moon glasses.
"You're late, Kakashi."
"My apologies, Dumbledore-sama, but an elderly woman asked me for directions on the way here and I could not leave her without offering my aid."
"Really?" Dumbledore was unimpressed. "Who was this woman?"
"I did not catch her name."
The headmaster stared at him for a long moment before he moved on.
"You did well to keep Harry safe through the ordeal at the Ministry; I will remind you that your mission won't be over until Harry is handed over to his guardians at Kings Cross Station in two days' time. There could be retaliation from the families of the Death Eaters apprehended so remain vigilant."
Kakashi nodded once.
"I did order the detainment of the Death Eaters," Dumbledore continued. "There should have been no deaths and yet, we had to bury two and three are in intensive care at St Mungo's. Care to explain yourself?"
He asked politely but Kakashi could hear the edge in his tone. He knew this was going to be coming and he was ready for it.
"I weighed the risks and decided that it would be safer for the students if the enemy were unable to get back up and continue their assault. It is a basic principle of warfare; I was not about to risk lives to bestow unearned mercy on your enemies."
"The fact of the matter is that you were given an order, Kakashi." Dumbledore dropped the congenial facade and the lines of his face hardened. "I did not hire you to decide which of my orders you will follow. I hired you to-"
"You hired me to protect Harry Potter and by extension, the rest of Hogwarts," Kakashi interrupted, crossing his arms. "That was the grounds on which I was hired. Every other order and addition you have issued during my time here was a breach of client protocol and I did not legally have to follow any of them. I did, because I am here to carry out this mission to the best of my ability but I will not allow you to hang the mission pay over my head. I have fulfilled the requirements that you hired me for and beyond. You will not be making any complaints and you will not be refunded the mission pay."
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes.
"As the client, I was well within my rights to add to and amend the mission. Long-term missions are unpredictable so I had to change my orders according to the situation at hand."
"There is room for interpretation within a long-term mission but you had the duty of informing the Hokage about those changes, and you did not. You held the threat of retracting the mission pay on the grounds of my being unable to complete the mission over my head and that is unacceptable. I am a shinobi of Konoha and I will not allow some wizard to place myself or my village in an unfavourable position. I am loyal to Konoha first and the client second."
"Some wizard?" Dumbledore repeated incredulously.
"I am not some tool in your belt that you can wield without any thought to the consequences. We had an agreement that you broke on multiple occasions."
Kakashi uncrossed his arms.
"On that note, I will be informing Hokage-sama that your community are unsuitable clients and should not be associated with in the future. Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic will be placed on a blacklist so I suggest you do not think of calling on us again."
"Hokage-sama is the leader of our village. He will not hold your friendship over the safety and security of the shinobi and villagers he has been charged with protecting. You forget, Dumbledore, that we are a military. We are not like you wizards with your politics and democracy."
Dumbledore closed his mouth and looked at Kakashi with an unreadable expression.
"You truly feel this way, Kakashi?" He asked. "There is nothing I can do to convince you otherwise?"
"No," Kakashi stated firmly. "You are fortunate I am not demanding extra payment for my additional services this year. If you had expressed all you would have me do in your initial mission request to Konoha, we would have increased the price significantly."
"I understand," Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "There will always be a place at Hogwarts if you ever wish to return. I would like to retain your services for the upcoming school year, despite your methods, as I feel this war is only going to get worse. I know Neville and Harry would feel safer with you here."
Kakashi's hackles rose. So the headmaster wanted to play that game? Emotional manipulation? Had he not realised who he was dealing with yet?
"It is your war, not mine. It would be better for them if the adults and teachers in their life stepped up and fought for them but we both know how unlikely that is." Dumbledore twitched as Kakashi continued. "They might even feel safer if the enemy leader was taken out, but you would rather have him still running around."
"There are forces at work that you do not understand," Dumbledore replied gravely. "Only Harry is able to kill Voldemort and even then it won't be easy. There are things he needs to do before he can even face Riddle."
"I do not think leaving the world on the shoulders of a boy who has been treated so badly by the rest of your community is a winning strategy, but what do I know of war?" Kakashi drawled, his mask hiding his smirk as Dumbledore shifted in his seat.
"Perhaps it is better if you leave."
Kakashi held out his hand.
"I require the portkey that will transport me home."
Dumbledore pulled something out of a drawer and placed it on the table. Kakashi swiped the chalkboard eraser from the desk, shoving it into a pocket.
"It will transport you home five minutes after the train pulls into London."
He merely nodded at Dumbledore and turned to leave.
"Thank you for your service, Kakashi," Dumbledore called out behind him. "It was reassuring to have you here protecting my students."
"It is a shame that I cannot say the same of you," Kakashi shot back and he left the office, silence following him down the stone steps.
Harry hurried along the corridor towards the Great Hall, already late for the End-of-Year Feast. He had been trying to find out what was happening with Sirius but no one was talking; Dumbledore had said he was getting pardoned but Harry wouldn't believe it until he saw it. The Ministry wasn't known for keeping their word.
He rounded the corner to see Luna pinning a piece of paper to a notice board. He hesitated for only a second before he swerved towards her.
"Hey Luna," he greeted. "How come you're not at the feast?"
"Well, I've lost most of my possessions," she said serenely. "People like to take them and hide them around the castle. It's the last night so I really do need them back, so I'm putting up signs."
Harry scanned the sign to see a list of Luna's possessions and a plea to return them.
"Why do they hide your stuff?"
"I guess people think I'm a bit odd, you know. Some call me "Looney" Lovegood."
A pang went through him at the thought of what Luna had been going through this year. He had been so busy with his own stuff that he hadn't noticed; she had been there for him but he hadn't been there for her. He would have to be better.
"That's not right, Luna," he said firmly. "That's no reason to hide your things; you don't deserve that from people. Do you want help looking for them?"
Luna was about to reply when a voice from above them appeared.
"There is no need."
Kakashi landed silently beside them. He was in his school uniform with the addition of his mask; Harry hadn't seen him without it since Umbridge's office. Actually, he hadn't seen the shinobi around since they had come back from the Ministry. It was a bit strange since Kakashi hadn't left his side all year but this is what he wanted. He wanted his independence; he wanted to handle things himself. Kakashi wouldn't be here from now on so it was better for him to get used to it now. Harry couldn't depend on him to win this war for them.
"I have returned your possessions to your dorm room," Kakashi said nonchalantly. "You can pack them after the feast."
Luna joined Harry in staring at him.
"How did you find them all?"
"How did you get into her dorm?"
Kakashi shrugged as he tore down the poster and handed it back to Luna.
"I had business that took me around the castle so it was easy enough to gather the items. I overheard two students discussing you while they hid a pair of shoes, so I understood the situation. They will not be bothering you again."
Luna's eyes were glued to the paper in her hands, her face unreadable for the first time since Harry's known her. He could guess what was running through her mind; he was just as surprised at Kakashi's actions. He would never have thought the shinobi would do something like this. He might never understand Kakashi and after tomorrow he would never get that opportunity again.
"Lovegood," Kakashi continued, drawing Luna's pale blue eyes to him. "You cannot ask for respect; it is earned and fought for. You need to take a stand or you will have to deal with this for the rest of your life."
He tapped the poster in her hands.
"This makes you look weak; you are depending on the kindness of others that have already proven they have none. You do not need pity, Lovegood. I know you know your worth but taking others' punishment is not always the best route. Sometimes you need to know when to fight."
Harry's mouth was dry as he listened to Kakashi's words.
"You sound like you're speaking from experience," Luna said softly.
Kakashi was quiet for a moment.
"I know what it is like to suffer the negative opinions of others."
"Who would make fun of you?" Harry blurted out.
Kakashi was strong, grumpy and did not suffer fools; Harry had no idea what kind of idiot would be picking on him. What would they even be making fun of him for?
"How did you stop it?" Luna asked, still speaking softly.
"I did not," Kakashi shrugged. "There will always be negative opinions of you but how you handle it can change how they act on it."
Luna didn't reply and Kakashi turned towards the Great Hall, walking toward the open doors. Luna followed after a long moment and Harry scrambled to catch up, Kakashi's revelations still swirling around his brain. He hurried to walk beside Kakashi, looking up at him.
"What was the business you had around the castle?"
Kakashi glanced at him.
"I placed security seals around the castle when I first arrived," he revealed. "I was retrieving them."
"There is much you have not seen this year, Potter." Kakashi actually sounded amused. "Your observational skills need some work."
Harry was about to refute him but paused. There were a lot of things that he had missed this year; mainly revolving around Kakashi. He didn't even notice whenever Kakashi had left to help Ishihara with her mission. There was probably a lot more that he hadn't seen; that Kakashi hadn't let him see.
Kakashi's head snapped towards him, the surprise visible in his sole grey eye.
"I missed a lot this year," Harry admitted. "I was so busy trying to beat Voldemort and convince people that I was telling the truth that I got tunnel vision. I need to be better if I want to win against Voldemort; I underestimated what it meant to be at war."
Kakashi continued to stare at him.
"I was just so angry, you know? I still am but we've got bigger problems now. This is too big for me to handle on my own."
They walked along the corridor, the noise from the Great Hall floating towards them.
"You have grown, Potter," said Kakashi. "You are not the same person you were ten months ago."
Harry smiled at him as they reached the entrance, the wall of sounds and light hitting them full force. He waved to Hermione and Ron as he strode over to join them, Luna peeling off towards the Ravenclaw table and Kakashi settling down next to Neville. He would try contacting Sirius again later; right now, he just wanted to spend his last few moments before the summer surrounded by his friends.
Kakashi leaned back into the seat behind him, watching the scenery pass by in a blur. Lovegood was engrossed in a paper in the seat opposite him, Ginny marking something off on her own copy, and Neville was up to something next to him. He had no idea what it was but he would leave the younger boy to it; he would tell him when he was ready. Granger and Weasley had left for some sort of prefect duty and Potter had gone to the bathroom some time ago.
His mission was technically finished, despite what Dumbledore wanted to believe; this was part of his journey home. He did not have to watch over Potter anymore. He was done; but he could not help the tension that built with every minute that passed. Potter really should not be taking this long.
The door to their compartment opened and Kakashi felt something unravel in his gut at the sight of an intact Potter sitting himself down beside Luna.
"What happened to you?" Neville looked up from whatever he was working on.
"Malfoy and his thugs ambushed me on my way back." Luna lowered her paper as she joined them in looking at Potter. "It's all good, the Hufflepuffs were right there and they helped me out."
"That is good," Luna nodded to herself and turned her attention back to her copy of the Quibbler.
"They're going to be unbearable next year," Neville rolled his eyes.
"We'll be ready for them," Potter grinned. "Everyone knows their deal now; they'll find it difficult to cause any problems now that everyone knows they're Death Eaters."
"Like that would stop Malfoy," Neville grumbled beneath his breath.
The door to the carriage slid open and Granger and Weasley stumbled in, shoving their way into a seat. Granger huffed as Ron brought a chessboard out, coercing Potter into a game quite easily.
"As much as I appreciate the opportunity and responsibility of being a Prefect, sometimes I would rather just not," she sighed, roughing bringing out the Prophet from her bag. "People can be absolutely insufferable."
"The perils of leadership," Kakashi remarked, thinking back to his own squad.
He wondered what they had been doing in his absence. His ANBU team were a strange bunch but always had his back. He had not really appreciated that; he was taking so many solo missions the year before this mission he hardly saw them. That would have to change.
"The perils indeed," Granger nodded to herself.
The cabin settled into a comfortable quiet as the landscape continued to pass by. Potter and Weasley quickly became engrossed in their rather one-sided chess match while Granger occasionally piped up with extracts from the paper. The youngest Weasley and Luna continued to read their own respective material as Neville flipped over whatever he was working on to do something else to it.
His friend's plant was tucked into the corner and had grown considerably throughout the year. It was happily crooning in its place on the floor of the carriage but Kakashi was ready if it decided to expel its foul smelling substance. He had avoided it all year and he was not about to let his guard down now.
"Hey, Harry." Weasley's voice drew their attention to the door.
Chang passed by the glass, her traitorous friend following closely behind. Edgecombe had not appeared in public without that black cloth covering her face since that night. She was always hunched and looking down, her body language screaming shame and anxiety. Kakashi still had no sympathy for her; she got what she deserved.
"What's happening between you and her anyway?"
"Nothing," Potter shrugged.
"I've heard she's going out with someone else now," Granger added.
"Probably for the best, mate," Weasley leaned back into his seat, idly moving a pawn. "You could do with someone a bit more cheerful."
"She's probably cheerful with someone else."
Potter was calm and seemingly unaffected by Chang. He had gotten over whatever feelings he had at the beginning of the year.
"Who's she with now anyway?"
"Hey, Kakashi." Neville tapped his shoulder lightly. "I need to talk to you."
Kakashi stood and followed his friend out of the cabin, the rest still in discussion behind them. He slid the door closed as they moved in the opposite direction than the Ravenclaw girls. Neville stopped in the middle of the empty hallway, turning to face him.
"So I think I finally figured it out but I can't be sure, I mean I tested it but you never really know you know especially since I made it but I really did try to make sure it was right-"
Kakashi cut him off by resting his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Breathe, Neville," he said quietly. "Take your time."
Neville took a deep breath in and shoved something into his chest. Kakashi grabbed the item with his other hand and let go of his shoulder. He looked down to see a leather-bound journal, unmarred by any markings and the pages still smelling fresh. He looked at Neville, hoping to convey his confusion through his mask.
"It's a journal!" Neville beamed. "This is how we get around the owl thing!"
Kakashi switched his gaze between the book and his friend. This still was not making sense. Neville seemed to clue in that Kakashi was in the dark and he hurried to explain himself.
"I got the idea from what happened in second year, from what Harry and Ginny and them said about You-Know-Who's diary and I thought what if I could do that, but in a not creepy, one of us being dead, evil way, you know?"
Kakashi did not know. He had heard about what happened in previous years regarding Potter's encounters with Voldemort but he had not had the full story. Second year had involved a large snake and that was all he really knew; it did not have any bearing on his protection of Potter this year so he did not dig any deeper into it.
Neville brought out another identical journal and flipped it open. He then froze.
"I forgot a quill."
He sounded so disappointed and Kakashi sighed fondly, digging into one of his many pockets and extracting a brush and inkpot. Life as a shinobi required him to be prepared for anything and everything. He handed the brush to Neville, opened the inkpot and held it out expectantly. Neville grinned at him and dipped the brush, writing something in his own journal. He blew on it until it dried before looking back up at Kakashi with excitement shining from his eyes. He closed the inkpot and took the journal into his own hands; he had a feeling about what Neville had done.
Now we can talk whenever we want.
Kakashi smiled softly and closed the cover gently.
"Thank you, Neville."
His friend beamed at him. There was such a difference between Neville now and the timid boy he met on the train. It was not just that he was fitter and stronger, but there seemed to be a weight lifted; he did not hesitate to voice his opinion and while he was still a bit nervous, he was comfortable in his own skin.
He tucked away the inkpot and brush back into the pocket and held the journal in one hand, trying to decide where it would fit. He mentally shrugged, shoving it into the massive front pocket of his grey hoodie. It was not the most secure place to store it but it would do for now; he would just have to be vigilant that it did not fall out.
He looked up to say something else but he was suddenly engulfed by warmth. He could not help but freeze for a moment; his instincts screamed at him to get away, that he was vulnerable in this position. He consciously stopped that train of thought and brought up his own arms to wrap around Neville's back. He rested his head against the other's hair, breathing in the scent of his friend and committing it to memory. He would miss this. As much as he could not wait to go home, he would really miss this. He tightened his arms slightly before he let go. He ignored the glistening of Neville's eyes as they started to make their way back to the cabin.
The journal was a comfortable weight in his pocket; a reassurance that he would not be leaving everything about this mission behind. It was unconventional and not exactly mission protocol, but Kakashi found that he did not care. Neville was worth it.
Harry rubbed his shoulder, the weird phantom feeling lingering. Kakashi had pulled him into one of the bathrooms on the train just before they reached London and removed the seal that he'd placed on his shoulder at the beginning of the year; which honestly, Harry had forgotten was there. There was a part of him that still thought it had been overkill but thinking back to Umbridge's office maybe it hadn't been. Would the tattoo have detected the Veritaserum? It wasn't technically a poison but it was definitely something that didn't usually go in people's bodies. It's probably too late to ask.
The train puffed to a stop and he grabbed Hedwig's cage, reluctantly following his friends to the carriage door. A huge part of him didn't want to step off the train; he didn't know if he could stand being stuck with the Dursleys' for another summer. It was getting harder and harder to go back each June and the thought of 'I could just not go back' constantly circled his brain every time he got the train back from Hogwarts.
He stepped down onto the platform and grabbed his truck, getting the all clear from the ticket inspector to pass through the wall between platforms nine and ten. He closed his eyes briefly as he passed through the magical barrier, opening them to see a large group of people waiting for him.
Tonks waved enthusiastically at him, Mad-Eye Moody glowering beside her. Mr and Mrs Weasley, in their muggle best, and Fred and George, decked out in fluorescent green jackets, stood a little in front. Harry's eyes landed on the last person and his heart picked up its pace.
The man grinned at him, walking towards him. He looked good; his long, clean hair hung around his shoulders and he looked like he had actually slept well. The stress and exhaustion that had been etched into each line of his face and frame was gone; Harry didn't think he'd ever seen the man so genuinely happy. Harry placed down his luggage and flung himself into his godfather's arms, laughing as he was squeezed tightly. Reluctantly he extracted himself from the embrace and he looked up.
"What are you doing here?" He asked breathlessly. "It's dangerous; you're not even in your Animagus form!"
"I got a pardon," Sirius grinned. "I don't have to hide anymore; I'm a free man."
Harry was ecstatic.
"That's amazing! Sirius, you're free!"
Something occurred to him.
"Wait, does that mean I can-?"
"I'm not just here to see you, Harry." His godfather gripped his shoulders firmly. "You're not going back to the Dursleys. You're coming home with me."
Harry could feel himself starting to tear up. He didn't have to go back; he didn't have to spend a miserable summer in that nightmare of a house. He could go with Sirius. He could have a home he actually belonged in with a relative that actually cared about him.
"Hey, hey, it's okay." Sirius pulled him into another hug.
Harry stamped on the emotions welling inside him and just gripped Sirius tightly. He heard Mr and Mrs Weasley fussing over Ron and Ginny and he let go again, wiping away the errant tears before the rest of the group could see them.
"So what's everyone else doing here?"
"We couldn't let Sirius finally pick up his godson from school without witnessing it," Tonks grinned. "We need to celebrate or something!"
"It's still pretty new so we didn't want him to come alone," Lupin smiled gently.
"Harry, dear, how are you?" Mrs Weasley made her way over to them, pulling Harry into a tight hug.
"I'm...I'm great," Harry grinned brightly. "I don't think I've ever been better."
Mrs Weasley let him go, staring at him with a surprised expression. A smile of her own finally broke through.
"I'm so glad," she nodded firmly. "It's nice to see you happy, Harry."
She looked behind him and Harry turned, seeing Kakashi standing in place, removed from the group. His large back duffel was slung over his shoulder and his grey hoodie hung loose, weighed down by something in the front pocket. He looked exactly the same as he had when he was boarding the train in September. There was something less rigid about him though; like something had softened.
"This is where we part ways."
"You're leaving right now?"
Harry knew that the shinobi would be leaving; it was the end of the school year. His mission was over. There was still a part of him though that couldn't help but feel this came out of nowhere. He wasn't quite ready for him to go; they still had stuff to talk about.
Harry wanted to know more about Kakashi, about his past. He wanted to make up for upsetting him during the school year by trying to pressure him out of that information. He wanted to actually become friends with the guy because as much as he wanted to believe otherwise, they weren't that close. He may have called Kakashi by his first name but it wasn't reciprocated. Now they were at the end and Kakashi would be leaving, he felt like there had been a missed opportunity.
It was strange, considering that during the school year he hadn't been that fussed. He was too busy resenting Kakashi's reason for being there in the first place. After that night at the Ministry, Harry felt a bit dumb about that; Kakashi really saved them there. It was a lot tougher than anything in Hogwarts or the DA had prepared him for; Cedric's death may have been his wake-up call but the Ministry showed him that it was going to get a lot worse. This war was bigger than him; he couldn't waste time being angry at the world and everyone in it.
"My mission is over," said Kakashi. "It is time for me to go home."
There was a brief moment of silence before it was abruptly broken by the twins as they slung their arms over each of Kakashi's shoulders.
"Make sure to cause some trouble for us, okay?" George grinned.
"And find a hobby, for the love of Merlin!" Fred added loudly.
They let go as Mrs Weasley approached the shinobi. Harry's gut tightened; they had never really seen eye-to-eye. Mrs Weasley had always been disapproving of the shinobi and while she mostly kept it to herself, they all knew how she really felt about his career. She stopped in front of him and they just stared at each other for a few seconds. Harry couldn't see what kind of expression she wore from this angle and Kakashi never showed anything on his face anyway.
"Thank you, Kakashi Hatake, for protecting my children."
"I merely fulfilled my promise, Weasley-san."
Harry frowned; what promise?
Kakashi brought out a chalkboard eraser from one of his pockets somewhere as Mrs Weasley stepped back.
"Good luck in the upcoming war." He moved his gaze over the group before he finally landed on Harry. "Do not be afraid to take any advantage you can, no matter how you may feel about the means. Remember, all that matters is what you are fighting for and what you are willing to do to protect it; taking the high road may mean sacrificing something you are not prepared to lose."
Harry nodded quickly, words becoming trapped in his chest. He hadn't forgotten what Kakashi had told him after Snape's office. To be honest, he was still processing them and trying to reconcile with them even now. He still believed that the Death Eaters were evil and needed to be stopped; it was that simple to him, but maybe Kakashi was right in saying that just being good might not be enough.
"Take care of yourself, Kakashi," Sirius smiled gently beside him.
The tell tale signs of a portkey surrounded the shinobi and he vanished. Harry did a quick scope of the station but nobody had noticed, too busy trying to get to wherever they were going. Sirius wrapped an arm around his shoulder and the group began to walk to the exit of the station, conversation and laughter starting up around him.
The future looked bleak right now, with Voldemort on the rise and the Death Eaters just waiting for the moment to strike, but Harry was okay. He had Sirius and his friends and the Order there for him; they were in this together.
"It sounds like you had an eventful mission, Kakashi-kun."
Kakashi stood at attention in front of the Hokage, his bag resting beside him as he held his head high. He had reappeared in his office; it had not been the best plan as at least three ANBU popped out of the shadows to take him down but they had managed to get it sorted out quite quickly. It was a good training exercise for them at least.
"I will take into consideration what you have reported about the wizards' actions and attitude as clients," Hokage-sama continued. "At least for now, we will refrain from sending over anyone else. You can drop off the information you have gathered to the Intelligence Division tomorrow and you are now on leave for the next week."
Kakashi bowed low before he grabbed his bag, ready to head home. He stopped as the Hokage spoke up once more.
"You look well, Kakashi-kun." He smiled. "It appears that this mission was good for you."
Kakashi stopped beside the open door.
"It was, Hokage-sama."
The Hokage nodded and Kakashi left, making his way out of the Hokage building. As he left he quickly made his way up one of the walls, bouncing from rooftop to rooftop on the way to his apartment. He took a deep breath, the scent of fresh leaves and open air filling his lungs. He had missed this. He really was home.
He came to his window and opened it up, climbing into the quiet and musty room. Nothing had changed; everything was in its place. As he dumped his bag down and scanned the room, he could not help but feel it was a bit bare. The dorms in Hogwarts had six of them and that came with six persons' worth of stuff. He had always been minimal but maybe he could do something to brighten the place up.
His gaze landed on the blood stains on the floor; he had not cleaned it before he left. He went through to his kitchen, thankful that he had at least emptied the fridge and cupboards of food. He ducked into a cupboard and grabbed a bottle of cleaning solution. He went back into his room and dumped it on the floor, leaving it to soak in a bit. He would get it out properly later. He picked up his bag and tossed it on the bed; he had to do some laundry too.
He took out Neville's journal from his pocket and moved across to his chest of drawers, opening a mostly empty one on the top row. He placed it in there for safe-keeping, vowing to himself that he would use it tonight. He also placed his useless wand next to it along with the translation necklace and the magnifying glass. He closed the drawer and hesitated a moment before he unfurled Rin's scarf from around his neck, folding it gently and placing it on top of the chest of drawers.
He ran a hand over it, smoothing out the creases. It was time to leave it at home; it would be safer here. He hauled his grey hoodie off and threw it on the futon, his plain headband following soon after. He grabbed his hitai-ate and tied it tightly, slanting it to cover Obito's Sharingan. He also swiped up his green jounin vest and shrugged it on. Running a hand through his hair and checking his mask was firmly in place, he made his way back out the window.
Leaping across the rooftops once again, he watched the bustling streets below. The village was so alive and vibrant and loud and he loved it. He had never appreciated it before but now his desire to serve and protect the village was even stronger.
He leapt down from the roof and walked slowly away from the village, the sounds fading from behind. As he walked to his destination, the rustling leaves and gentle breeze flowed around him. Coming to the empty training ground, he strode across the grass and finally came to a stop. He stared down at the Memorial Stone, hands tightening into fists in his pockets.
He scanned the list of names, finding Obito's first. He lingered over it for a moment before he moved onto Rin's. Finally his eyes landed on Minato-sensei's and Kushina-nee's which were right next to each other.
"Hello," he started awkwardly, feeling a bit strange talking to a slab of stone. "I know I should have probably come before this but I...well, you probably know that already. I want to be better now though; I have so much to tell you. I am going to try and visit more so please be patient with me."
He let the silence sink in.
"I know I let you down a lot; you would probably be here if it were not for me. You are missing so much so I will try to let you know what is going on with the village. You would not believe some of the stuff I had to deal with on my last mission; you'd get a kick out of it, Obito."
He took a deep breath and threw out a quick goodbye, turning to walk back to the village. It was strange but he did feel a bit better; maybe this is what he could do to honour them. He would not forget them this way either; maybe this could be his way of earning their forgiveness, instead of avoiding all thought of them.
He soon reached the edge of the village once again and decided that he would not go for the rooftops this time. He walked through the streets, soaking in the scents and noise and sights. He had a feeling he would be doing this for a few days. He passed by a bookshop and the twins' voices echoed through his brain.
'It's okay to have fun, you know.'
'Find a hobby or something, mate.'
He made a decision and walked into the store, swiping up the first book that caught his eye. The orange cover stood out amongst the rest and he did not bother to check its title or blurb; he had to start somewhere and a book is a book. He could easily find something else if he did not like it. He took it to the counter and the man gave him a strange look.
"Are you sure you want this one?"
The man looked at him for a long minute before he shrugged, taking the payment and handing it over. Kakashi tucked the book away in a pocket to read later. He exited the store and picked a direction to wander in. He walked along for a while, just taking in the village at large.
"My Eternal Rival!"
Kakashi's head whipped round to find the source of that voice. Gai was waving enthusiastically at him; he was standing from his seat at one of the outdoor benches of a yakisoba shop. He still wore that awful green jumpsuit and that terrible bowl cut and Kakashi did not think he had ever been so glad to see them. Genma, Raidō, Asuma and Kurenai sat around the other jounin, halfway through their own meals.
Gai paused as Kakashi made his way over, scanning him with dark eyes. Kakashi stared back at him quizzically; sure that was not his normal response but Gai should not look so worried about it.
"So you made it back in one piece," Genma grinned around his senbon. "Thought you were gone for good at one point."
"Such a lack of faith," Kakashi answered back playfully.
This led to the entire table staring at him.
"Are you okay, Kakashi?" Asuma eyed him warily. "You seem...different."
Kakashi was not sure how to respond to that.
"You want some lunch?" Raidō offered, waving a hand over the table.
"Sure," Kakashi eye-smiled.
He shoved himself next to Gai on the bench, ignoring the stares and the subtle exchanged glances. Gai looked over at him, his gaze still considering. He seemed to decide something and he slung his arm around his shoulders, hugging Kakashi tightly to him. Kakashi did not resist and he settled into his friend's embrace. Never had he thought that being back with Gai and the rest would feel so good.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder; it was not until now that he could truly understand that saying. He vowed he would be better than before he left. When he had lost his team, he had retreated into his grief and losing Minato-sensei had been the last nail in the coffin. He sank himself so much into his work as ANBU that he had forgotten that he had friends that were still alive. It would never replace his team, they had been like family to him, but maybe it could be enough. It could be better than before.
"You still owe me a meal, Gai."
His friend burst out with a loud, booming laugh.
"Indeed my Eternal Rival," he grinned widely. "We shall have to have another challenge now that you have returned!"
"Yeah." Kakashi smiled to himself. "I can't wait."
This concludes the final chapter.
Thank you for reading this story and I wish you luck and happiness in whatever you do in the future. Hopefully our paths will cross again.