A Clean Break

Summary: Every member of Team 7 has their personal set of demons to haunt them. While Kakashi is always prepared to lend his students a listening ear, he still hasn't quite figured out how to ask for help when he's the one crumbling.

Team 7's regular sparring sessions were nothing new for most of Konoha's inhabitants. They were, objectively speaking, an unavoidable annoyance and cause of danger for anybody living even in vague proximity of the village center, and many people had by now accepted it as a constant in their life.

In some ways, they had no other choice. In stark contrast to most teams, Team 7 was not content to limit their training to a single, measly training ground.

On a perhaps not unrelated note, they were also the team that regularly caused the most collateral damage.

"Oi," Kakashi said, starting a half-hearted attempt at steering the fight back to where it had begun, "if you want to throw something at Sasuke this badly, why not head back to those lovely trees planted exactly for–"

Another lamp post was ripped from the ground and misused as a bludgeon, and Kakashi heaved a sigh while dodging. What had he ever done to deserve a team made up of such knuckleheaded powerhouses?

"Keep still already!" Naruto yelled, going after Sakura while dodging a ridiculously oversized fire ball from Sasuke. "I haven't gotten revenge for that shuriken yet!" His blond bangs sported an unfashionable gap on one side of his face.

"In your dreams." Sakura smirked, deflecting Kakashi's kunai so they took out Naruto's shadow clones instead.

As they made their way deeper into the village, bystanders on the streets either took cover or cheered them on. Ino took the barest step back as they passed her family's flower shop and yelled, "Again?!" before they'd barged on and left her behind.

Kiba leaped out of the way, only to run along with them with a smile. "Oh, hey guys! You about done?"

"Not even close!" Sakura yelled without pausing to pummel in the brickwall Sasuke had stood in front of mere seconds ago.

"Alright," Kiba said, cheerfully ducking under Naruto's fist as it aimed for Kakashi, "we're having BBQ at Shino's place later this afternoon. Feel free to come around if you're still able to walk by then."

"Don't count on it," Sasuke grunted, knocking another dent in the sidewalk.

Kakashi attempted to send an apologetic glance to a civilian who'd landed on their butt in the attempt to evade a stray Rasengan. He almost got a kunai to his chest for the trouble.

"Focus, Sensei! You can't afford not to give it your all." Sasuke launched another attack with murderously gleaming eyes.

Kakashi suppressed another sigh, made sure to dodge and tried not to contemplate the upsides of letting in a decent blow that would render him blissfully unconscious for the remainder of the bout.

Kakashi watched as the water disappeared down the drain. He kept rubbing at his skin again and again, over and over in curt, frantic movements well after his skin had already turned pink from the friction. He didn't know how long he'd been standing there, scrubbing at dirt that had long since washed off.

The old itch under his skin made him dread to look up and meet his own eyes in the bathroom mirror. Kakashi wasn't sure whether it was sad or laughable that after so many years he still hadn't gotten a grip on it.

Nothing had even happened on his last mission. It had taken him merely two out of the five scheduled days to complete and had, if anything, been boringly uneventful.

And yet, here he was.

Kakashi turned off the water with wooden, mechanical movements. He kept his eyes carefully averted from his own reflection and peeled off his uniform to drop it outside. The blood would be almost impossible to wash out by morning. He would simply get a new one. Anything to not have to sleep with the coppery stench of it filling up his nose, making his stomach clench with nausea.

He'd sleep it off, and by morning everything would be back to normal. Including the crawling sensation under his skin that urged Kakashi to head back to the bathroom.

His day opened with Naruto bursting into his apartment uninvited and dropping down on his couch face-first. Naruto let out a groan.

Kakashi waited for his teammates to follow. Despite their frankly ridiculously rough history together, it was almost hilarious how attached at the hip those three were on most days.

When the rest of Team 7 wouldn't follow, Kakashi frowned. "You three didn't have a fight, did you?"

Arguments weren't exactly rare among his team. Considering each of their personalities, it was almost impossible for them not to clash from time to time. However, they only rarely had arguments that they weren't able to pummel out of each other during training.

On the odd occasion that they did, their quarrels tended to drag out over weeks. Whoever did they get their laughably horrific communication skills from, Kakashi wondered?

"Nah. I just felt like spending some time alone."

Kakashi let out a huff. "What am I then? Air?"

Kakashi sighed at the lack of a response, sinking down on his sofa next to Naruto. He rubbed at his arms before he realized what he was doing and stopped.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Kakashi determinedly stomped out the part of him that still wasn't used to being a teacher and desperately wanted Naruto to say 'no'.

"'s nothing," Naruto muttered, his words muffled by a cushion and almost indiscernible.

Kakashi gave an indistinct hum and waited.

As expected, Naruto caved in with a sigh. "Kurama's being moody."

Kakashi blinked. "Moody?" he repeated. That word didn't exactly match the mental image he had of one of the Tailed Beasts. "What do you mean, 'moody'?"

Naruto raised his head only to sent him a scowl. "It means he's having a bad day and is taking it out on me," he grumbled, and promptly let his head drop back into the cushions.

"Okay." Kakashi frowned. "And how is he doing that?"

"Mostly by being noisy. His chakra is all," Naruto hesitated, flapping his hands as he tried to come up with the right words, "wild. Oppressive." He didn't quite manage to suppress a shudder. "It's nothing. I'm just not really used to it any more."

Naruto turned around so he faced the back of the couch.

They sunk into silence as Kakashi failed to come up with anything to say. Naruto didn't seem bothered by it. He seemed perfectly content to spend the rest of his visit in companionable silence.

For lack of anything better to do, Kakashi pushed himself up from his seat and headed towards the kitchen. He might not always know how to talk to people, but he did know how to make tea.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto's cry shattered the pleasant silence of Kakashi's afternoon. "Come quick! It's an emergency!"

Kakashi looked up from his plate and eyed his students. Naruto's eyes were wide and frantic, Sakura's lips quirked in an amused smile and Sasuke rolled his eyes. He thus concluded that the "emergency" was not of the village-threatening nature and went back to his dango.

Naruto wouldn't have it.

"Kakashi-sensei, come on!"

"H-Hey!" Kakashi's protests went ignored as he was dragged to his feet with frankly inhuman strength.

"Time is running out!" Naruto cried. "We gotta hurry!"

"I noticed," Kakashi grumbled, hastily swallowing the last of his dango he'd managed to grab. He stifled a yawn and stuck both of his hands into his pockets, just to make a point.

Naruto's indignant scowl most likely shouldn't be as amusing to him as it was.

"This is serious! A matter of life and death!"

Kakashi sent him an unimpressed glance. His gaze swayed over to his – momentarily – saner students.

"He forgot about Gaara's birthday," Sasuke muttered.

"So now we're trying to find something he can get as a present before we're heading off to Suna," Sakura added, not even trying to hide her amusement.

Kakashi couldn't believe they'd interrupted his lunch for this. "Didn't Tsunade prepare something?" The Hokage's advisers didn't usually allow something important like a diplomatic gesture slip through the cracks. Shizune would have definitely remembered.

"That'll be a present from Konoha." Naruto pulled a face. "He's my friend. I need to get him something myself."

Kakashi closed his eyes, sensing himself cave in.

As the kind and supportive teacher that he was, he spent the rest of his afternoon ravaging through Konoha's market places with only a minimum of disgruntled complaining.

Sakura and Sasuke did their best to help as well, their suggestions ranging from "a pet eagle" to "a really nice sword". Kakashi refrained from commenting on their choices, although he silently asked himself why his students were Like That.

By the time Naruto was seriously considering getting Gaara a makeup kit to cover up his eternal sleeping bags – the suggestion courtesy of Sakura – he finally decided to intervene.

"You're overthinking it," he said, trying his very best not to let the exasperation show on his face too clearly. "You're Gaara's friend, right? I'm sure he'll love anything you decide on, as long as it's from you."

There was a pause as his students considered those words.

"That's dumb, Kakashi-sensei."


"Hey, I heard that Taki had a market place made of foreign merchants this time of the year," Sakura said. "If we hurry, we might still make it in time."

In between Sasuke's grunt of consent and Naruto's enthusiasm, Kakashi heaved a sigh. Quietly bidding farewell to the rest of his day, he followed his students and ignored the cheerful waves of the shinobi on guard duty.

Kakashi fidgeted with the hem of his long sleeves. He played with his gloves, tapped his fingers and twisted them at his side, his muscles twitching with restless energy. None of it worked to get rid of the nervous, tingling sensation in his limbs, the itch that wouldn't let go of him.

Kakashi stared at the bowl of ramen in front of him, half expecting to see red, sticky handprints on its surface. His skin scrawled under imaginary filth.

"Kakashi," Gai said, his voice calm and subdued. It captured Kakashi's attention more efficiently than his usual shouting ever could.

"Hmm? I wasn't paying attention," Kakashi said, his voice cheerful and aloof.

Gai's brows narrowed. He refused to take the bait. "Are you alright?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't I be?" Before Gai had the chance to ask another uncomfortable question, he added, "Tell you what, I bet I can finish this bowl before you can eat even half of yours."

Kakashi knew that it was time to be concerned when Gai actually hesitated at accepting the competition. As he hurried home afterwards, Kakashi contemplated the option of taking on another mission. A nice, far away long-time mission that would get him away from the village for as long as it took him to pull himself together.

Kakashi caught sight of his front door and hesitated. He swallowed, rubbing at his arms.

Merely seconds later he found him climbing straight into his bedroom through the window and going to bed without so much as changing out of his clothes.

An hour later he was back in his bathroom, scrubbing at his skin and obsessively washing his hands.

Not all of Kakashi's students were bold enough to invite themselves into his apartment whenever they felt like it. (Sometimes, annoyingly, regardless of whether he was home at the time or not.) One might think that Kakashi would prefer this to constantly finding uninvited visitors in his living space. In reality, it made everything that much more complicated.

He feigned ignorance of his stalker up until he unlocked his front door – why he even bothered, Kakashi had no idea. He stepped aside with a sighed, "Come on then."

A beat passed, but Kakashi didn't need to ask twice.

Sasuke didn't plant himself on Kakashi's couch in a sprawl like Naruto would. He didn't help himself to the kitchen and Kakashi's tea collection like Sakura might. Instead, Sasuke sat on one of his cushions rigidly as though it was made of stone, his eyes fixed somewhere on his knees.

Kakashi waited. Sometimes, Sasuke merely needed some time to relax – although why he chose Kakashi's apartment to do so was a mystery to him. Several minutes passed without Sasuke so much as shedding the tension in his shoulders, and Kakashi had to admit that perhaps it was more serious than he had initially thought.

"Did you come back from a mission?" Kakashi asked, taking care to ban all sort of concern or sentimentality from his voice as to not activate Sasuke's fight or flight reflex.

Sasuke jerked his head vaguely. Kakashi tentatively decided to interpret it as a 'no'.

"Did something happen with Naruto or Sakura?"

A more determined shake of his head. That left...

"Was it one of the villagers?" Kakashi asked quietly.

Sasuke's lack of a reaction was all the confirmation he needed. Kakashi tried to keep the unhappy frown off his face – not that Sasuke would have seen it, considering he was stubbornly avoided his gaze.

Not all of Konoha had taken well to Sasuke's return to the village. Nobody had known him as well as Team 7 did, and as willing as the villagers had been to ignore their previous bias towards Naruto in order to hail him as their hero, they were just as willing to forget their initial adoration of Sasuke in order to focus on his sins.

No one, least of all Sasuke, had expected a seamless redemption after everything he'd done, starting with his deflection. But enduring harassment and taunts from villagers who knew nothing other than the rumors they'd heard, who hadn't witnessed his change of mind, the suffering he'd gone through and his willingness to atone for his sins? It rubbed Kakashi the wrong way almost as much as watching Sasuke refusing to let them help.

Kakashi scooted forwards to lay a hand on Sasuke's shoulder. Sasuke tensed as though he needed to force himself not to break contact. Like he'd rather pull away himself, rather than wait for Kakashi to let go on his own.

Kakashi tightened his grip, and some of Sasuke's tension melted away.

"We're here for the long run," Kakashi said, his voice gentle but firm. "None of us are going to go anywhere."

Not Naruto, and not Sakura. Not Kakashi, either. They'd chosen this, had chosen each other, over and over again no matter the baggage that came with it.

And if they needed to remind Sasuke of the fact now and again, that was something they would willingly deal with.

Considering the frankly ridiculous powerhouses that made up Team 7, it didn't happen often that his team was forced to request backup on a mission. In fact, Kakashi couldn't remember even a single instance of it – at least not on an assignment that included all three of his students. As such, the message he got from Tsunade three days after his team had left the village took him rather by surprise.

Seeing as Tsunade met him with an expression of annoyance rather than concern, Kakashi felt it safe to say that they weren't actually in any serious danger.

"What did they do now?"

"Tried to steal from the wrong samurai stronghold, that's what they did!" Tsunade scowled at him as though Kakashi himself was to blame.

Kakashi suppressed the urge to bury his face in his hands. "I suppose this means I'll have to grab my winter uniform," he said, going for cheerful and failing miserably.

Tsunade's sour expression was answer enough, and only minutes later Kakashi had crossed the village borders and was on his way to bust his brats out of the nearest samurai stronghold. Or rather, he was going to talk their way out of it. Tsunade had made it clear that diplomacy went over property damage, just this once.

All of this meant that by the time Kakashi had finished the negotiations and was lead into the tiny, dirtied prison cell where his team was waiting for him, Sakura looked bored close to death, Sasuke looked emotionless (and also bored) and Naruto beamed at him with a sort of cheer that looked out of place in their current location.

"Kakashi-sensei! You came!"

"Finally," Sakura muttered, shrugging off the rope they'd been supposedly bound with as though it was yarn. She stretched out her stiff limbs and stifled a yawn. "Does this mean we can finally go?"

There was a multitude of snarky answers Kakashi could have given in return. As it was, he had spent the last several hours stuck in tedious negotiations to see his three idiot students released without causing an international incident and wanted nothing more than to finally get home.

Kakashi sighed, waving them out of the cell wordlessly.

Perhaps the three of them recognized his exhaustion, or perhaps they simply had the mercy to not strain his patience further. They were completely silent on their way outside, thus refraining from provoking the samurai further.

"You three," Kakashi said once they had enough distance behind them, "are going to be the death of me."

Rather than taking his prediction seriously, Naruto snickered, Sasuke's lip tugged upwards and Sakura gave Kakashi a playful shove that almost sent him sprawling in the snow.

"Don't be silly, sensei," Sakura said. "As if we'd let you get away from us that easily."

Kakashi's visits to the memorial became more and more frequent. He realized how rarely he'd visited ever since he'd been put in charge of Team 7, and a part of him felt guilty because of it. He knew it was silly. His old team would never begrudge him for it. They'd be happy.

"You should see them now," he told them, his eyes wandering from Obito to Rin and from Minato to Kushina. So many more names had been added in recent times. "I almost don't recognize the hopeless brats they were at the beginning."

Kakashi paused, shivering in the cool evening air. He tugged at the sleeves of his shirt.

"It's started again," he said, his words reluctant and slow. "Like back during my ANBU days. I can't seem to shake it off."

Kakashi had become a shinobi at the age of five. He had spent over two decades of his life as one. By now, he really ought to have learned how to deal with the baggage that the profession entailed.

"I thought being with my new team might have dealt with it for good," he admitted.

Even before Obito had been killed, Kakashi couldn't think of a time when he had felt as content with his life as he did right now, with Team 7 at his side and safely in the village. Despite that, the itch on his skin wouldn't fade.

He let out a sigh and let his shoulders slump. "I'm starting to think I might be a lost cause."

There was nothing left to say, and his team had no answer to offer. Kakashi stayed long after it had gotten dark.

"– can't believe they're this petty! After all those years we've been a team, why are they still acting like–"

Kakashi opened the door to his apartment, letting Sakura slip through without interrupting her rant.

"I mean, it's not like I'm asking for much. I'm so sick of having to break up fights every time one of them is in a bad mood! Can't they let off steam some other way?" Sakura scowled, dropping down on Kakashi's couch with her arms crossed.

Kakashi sunk down next to her. He didn't feel as though he was expected to give advice. Apparently Sakura had come solely to vent some of her frustration.

"They won't listen to me! It's like we're back at the very start, only I don't know if it's just a petty argument or the next big thing that'll throw us back to–"

"Sakura," Kakashi said, his voice gentle.

Sakura threw him a fleeting glance. "I know! I know, I just... They won't listen, and every time I try to make them stop that just makes it worse. It feels just like before, only it's like this all the time! What if–"

"Sakura," Kakashi repeated.

Sakura trailed off in a frustrated sigh and slumped deeper into his couch. "I'm sorry. This is dumb."

"It's not," Kakashi said. "But you should know that it's not your job to keep them together. They're both adults, and they're both capable of dealing with their issues on their own."

Sakura looked up at him, biting her lip. "But what if they aren't?"

Kakashi hesitated, refusing to take the question lightly. "Sakura. If you were the only reason those two tolerate each other, the team would have permanently broken apart long ago."

Sakura mulled over his words for a while. She shrugged, losing some of her tension. "Yeah. I guess so."

"Don't worry so much." Kakashi lay a hand on Sakura's shoulder and squeezed. "Sometimes they just need to figure these things out on their own."

"Yeah," Sakura said, and Kakashi counted the soft smile on her lips as a victory.

As most missions that included the four of them tended to do, their next assignment went by almost flawlessly. Their intel had been as perfect as their teamwork had been marvelous, and their objective had been completed after only a week.

The single scratch on Naruto's arm where one of their targets had gotten in a lucky hit wasn't nearly enough to dampen the celebratory mood on their way back to Konoha.

Kakashi kept telling himself that there was no reason to feel anything other than cheerful. There was no reason to replay each and every of his actions, to belatedly judge what he could have done better, where he could have been faster.

He told himself that he was only doing it so he would be able to do better, next time. Even so, Kakashi couldn't bring himself to join in on the cheerful chatter. If his team noticed, they didn't make a comment.

Kakashi closed his eyes, ignoring the itch scrawling under his skin. He was tired, that was all. He would sleep it off as soon as they were back and everything would go back to normal.

Kakashi's fingers had gone numb under the constant stream of water. It had run cold ages ago. The only way for his skin to get any cleaner was to drown himself in the nearest river, and yet Kakashi kept scrubbing, on and on, washing off filth that wasn't there.

He hadn't even gotten any blood on himself during the mission. He could feel it regardless, sticky and warm, covering his skin in a coppery, disgusting layer.

Kakashi didn't know how long he'd been standing here, but it must have been the middle of the night. He didn't want to know what Rin would think of him if she could see him, now. He didn't want to think about Rin at all.

Kakashi clenched his hands to fists, then started anew. He couldn't stop until he'd gotten it all off. He needed to get clean. He needed–

A hand laid a gentle grip on his arm and Kakashi jumped. He kept his eyes fixed on the sink but stopped scrubbing.

It was a challenge to tear his eyes away, and an even bigger one to make himself look at his arms. Kakashi had scrubbed them raw, and the beginning of scratch marks stood out on otherwise pink skin.

He felt a spark of relief at the proof that he hadn't scratched them bloody. It vanished in an instance as he realized how pathetic of a comfort that was.

Kakashi closed his eyes, letting his arms sink to his sides. He didn't open them as somebody reached over his shoulder to turn off the faucet, nor when he was herded into his living room.

Shame throbbed in his chest dull and barely there at all – apparently the numbness was good for something, after all. A muted exchange of words washed over Kakashi's ears like waves, a steady and calming sort of background noise. It soon subsided and left only silence in its wake.

Kakashi opened his eyes when it no longer felt oppressive.

His couch was nowhere near big enough to hold all of them, and yet his team had somehow managed. All three of them laid curled around him, partly on top of each other to make it fit. Something warm settled in Kakashi's chest, breaking through the apathy his memories had left behind.

"You were right, sensei." Naruto's voice was soft as though he wanted to avoid breaking the calm of the moment.

Kakashi waited until he was sure that he would get his voice to work. "Oh?"

"About Gaara," Naruto clarified. "He loved that gardening kit I got him."

"He probably won't even be able to use it," Sasuke grumbled on Kakashi's other side. "Nothing more complicated than cacti grow in Suna."

"Oh, give it a rest." Sakura reached over to lightly punch Sasuke's arm. He dodged without giving up his space on the couch. "Gaara was happy, so it doesn't matter."

"I hope this makes you realize that you should listen to your dear teacher more often," Kakashi said.

His students almost lacked the tact not to point out just how horrible that piece of advice had been. Sakura barely managed to turn a strangled laugh into a cough, and Naruto sounded far too indulgent when he said "Duh. Sure it does."

Kakashi allowed himself to let his eyes fall shut, knowing that his students would be staying the night. Perhaps none of them were what qualified as a functioning human being, but if nothing else they had at least figured out how to make their dysfunction work together.

A/N: For the prompt:

Would you consider writing an angsty prompt? Such as the older team noticing old self harm scars on kakashi (or something along those lines) and them making sure he's not alone..

Feel free to send a prompt of your own! Just send an ask to xxgwenstacyxx on tumblr.

Beta'd by the wonderful Igornerd, PyrothTenka and To Mockingbird, who, once again, lend me a hand with the title! Please check them out, they're all fantastic writers themselves! :D

Let me know what you think!