Kakashi's feet took him to the memorial stone without him even having to consciously direct them. It was a behaviour ingrained into his psyche by this point. Losing track of time and sitting listlessly in front of the stone for a good three hours really hadn't been his plan, either. It was just a thing that happened. It wasn't unusual.

Unfortunately, it wasn't terribly unusual for Gai to interrupt him while he was broodin- er ... remembering, either.


Yep. Just like that. Kakashi sighed, half in fondne- annoyance, and half in resignation. He dodged Gai's opening kick on autopilot, jumped out of his immediate strikezone, and raised a hand in greeting.

"Yo." Gai, as completely unaffected by Kakashi's lackadaisical attitude as ever (mostly? there was a hint of something uneasy in his expression that had Kakashi on guard), grinned.

"Hello, my hip and cool rival! It is wonderful to see you awake and well enough to leave the hospital! But considering the opponent who put you there, do you not think you should be reporting to the Hokage?" Ah, good old Gai. About as subtle as a Chidori to the face.

"Maa, I was getting there." Kakashi waved it off, and leapt to the rooftops without further ado.

Gai followed, but kept glancing sideways. Enough so that Kakashi finally remembered what that weird expression on his face was: concern. Huh. It looked weird on Gai. Too genuine. Admittedly, it was making him a little uncomfortable.

Jumping into the Hokage's office through the window (if he didn't want people to use that entrance, then he really shouldn't make it so easy - it was even left open most of the time!), Kakashi merely nodded his head at the Sandaime, while Gai gave a more boisterous bow before taking off again. Apparently he'd been sent to retrieve Kakashi and make sure he showed up, and that was all.

"Kakashi - good to see you awake." Sarutobi smiled genially, and Kakashi wondered if he was actually going to be in trouble this time. It was far from the first time he'd blown off what he should have been doing in favor of spending some quality time with the memorial stone, but perhaps, considering what had led to this point, he shouldn't have blown it off this time.

Oh well. No reset button on life. Too bad.

Shrugging, Kakashi answered the unspoken question. "I figured you'd already figured out most of everything that I knew about what had happened - Orochimaru showed up in the middle of the second exam, disguised as one of the candidates," and how the hell had he managed that? Sure, it wasn't unusual for villages to send ringers to the exam (genin who either should have been promoted ages ago yet hadn't been for the sole purpose of showing off), but surely someone should have caught the sannin-levels of chakra in a supposedly genin candidate and thought that was a little strange?

...Unless you count that existence of Jinchuuriki, which they'd had at least two of in the exam this time. Sigh.

"...I jumped in to engage and give my students time to get away, Orochimaru poisoned me, and I lost consciousness right as you and the Anbu showed up. I'm unable to offer any more information as, although I'm pretty sure he was doing some monologuing while he was kicking my butt around the forest, whatever poison he got into my system was making it really hard to hear anything. Or see. Or move."

Suddenly, Kakashi remembered.

"Oh, before my hearing blinked out, he did mention something about how I'd wasted the poison he used on me because it had been 'uniquely coded for the Uchiha.' So if there was still any doubt that his target was Sasuke, we can put that to rest."

Sarutobi sighed. "We had suspected it was Sasuke he was after, but your news is confirmation. Unfortunately, your report is not the only reason I needed to speak with you."

Oh dear.

There was a rapping at the door, and Sandaime called for whoever it was to come in. Kakashi was not expecting either of the two ninja that were revealed when the door opened, and especially not together.

Anko and Jiraiya of the Sannin. Now that was an unlikely pair. And kind of a disturbing one, if Kakashi was being honest. He really hoped they weren't here about him. He did not want to think about the kind of trouble that would require Anko and Jiraiya working together to fix. Unfortunately, considering the way they looked at him, they were probably here for him. Crap.

Turning back to the Hokage, the look in his eyes was grave, and Kakashi felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. This did not bode well.

"It wasn't poison, Kakashi - not as you know it."

That sinking sensation? That was a boulder tumbling down a mountain now.

"Then what was it?" Kakashi asked, when no one else seemed to want to be forthcoming with information. Anko snarled in irritation, and stepped forward.

"It was this," she growled, yanking the collar of her jacket and shirt aside to expose the base of her neck. Or, more accurately, to expose the unassuming little seal that lay there.

Kakashi went cold.