June 10, Yondaime Year 5
The bottle said: Excellence Creme: Nourishing Color. The woman on the label had smooth, shining brown hair and a lot of very white teeth. At the bottom, a little banner promised the contents would banish unsightly greys with just one application.
Kakashi squinted at his hair in the mirror. “What’s wrong with grey?”
“It makes you look like an elderly paintbrush,.” Pakkun, always helpful, sat comfortably on Kakashi’s right foot to pass judgement. “A really surprised elderly paintbrush.”
“Okay, but unsightly?” Kakashi rumpled his hair, trying to affect the tousled bedhead look that was somehow more desirable than actual bedhead. It made no perceivable difference, except to add more static lift.
“Take it up with the fashion industry, kid,” Pakkun said. “Except maybe change your shirt first.”
Punting one of your summons into the toilet probably broke several key contract points, but Kakashi was still tempted. He distracted himself by reading the instruction booklet. It came with a tiny brush and plastic gloves, and several warnings about putting vaseline on his forehead to avoid permanent skin staining.
People did this for fun?
It was a mission requirement. He got on with it.
First step: mask off, towel around shoulders. Second step: vaseline applied to forehead, ears, and nape of neck.
“Shiny,” Pakkun said.
Third step: plastic gloves. Fourth step: shake bottle, apply contents. The brush was just for highlights, apparently. Fifth step: massage dye in thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, wait forty minutes. It was cold and it stank. He sat on the closed toilet lid and read Icha Icha, quoting the funnier bits aloud for Pakkun’s snickering benefit.
Sixth step: Shampoo hair, dry and style.
The sink looked like a dirt monster had exploded in it, and three of Kakashi’s towels were stained brown. He stared at the mirror. The final effect wasn’t anything like the sleek, glossy model on the bottle. He looked like an electrocuted brown dandelion.
Pakkun regarded him with sad, solemn pug eyes, and rolled over laughing. His tiny legs waved in the air.
Kakashi dropped one of the wet towels on him. “It’s not that bad.”
Pakkun didn’t even make an effort to escape the towel. He sounded like he was snorting flannel. Kakashi judged his predecessors so much for failing to make ‘summoners will not be mocked by fluffy cretins’ part of the contract.
Reluctantly, he looked at his reflection again. The face looking back, never exactly tan, was now the approximate color of salt. The grey eye was pale. He didn’t open the other one. His eyebrows floated under the sea of brown like weird grey afterthoughts. By any measuring stick, he looked utterly stupid, and he smelled like a chemical factory.
But he didn’t look like himself. And he didn’t look like Sakumo.
The bottle went in the trash, along with the ruined towels. He scrubbed the sink out, aired the bathroom. His hair fell into his eyes, caging the world with brown bars; he raked the top part back with an elastic band and ignored Pakkun’s renewed howls. Put on a cotton allergy mask, to get used to the feel of it for the upcoming mission. The naked edges of his jaw made him feel twitchy and irritable.
Hiding — sulking — under the bedcovers for the rest of the day was an appealing thought, but it didn’t serve the mission. He put on his civilian outfit — rough pants, peasant shirt, eyepatch, scuffed boots — and forced himself out for a test run. There were a few sections of Konoha that had made their opinions on him and his lineage extremely clear. He toured them twice and bought a dozen apples. No one spat at his feet.
While Pakkun trotted down from his rooftop perch to pee on a few choice targets, Kakashi cut across town to his favorite bookshop, where he could test a more familiar target and maybe sit in a soothing dark corner behind the books.
He was halfway there when Ryouma, strolling alongside a sardonic Hakone, totally failed a spotcheck. Ryouma actually brushed by Kakashi’s shoulder with an absent, “Sorry,” before the double-take kicked in. “Kakashi?”
Hakone snorted surprise. “Really?” He took a closer look, and added, with a bite that suggested he judged Kakashi’s vanity and/or mission choices, “Nice.”
Punting Hakone probably violated some unwritten ANBU contract, too. But still, tempted.
“Thank you,” Kakashi said instead, with dignity, and stepped around them to pursue his goal of dark, friendly book spaces.
Hakone’s mouth curled in frank amusement, as if Kakashi has said something clever. Kakashi’s total knowledge of him was: ANBU, torturer’s son. Someone who spent time with Ryouma. Punting: becoming more tempting.
Ryouma wheeled around to fall in comfortably at Kakashi’s elbow, open-handed and expressive. “Did you go to a stylist, then? Or— No, you did it yourself, right? Looks pretty good. What do you think?”
Kakashi thought his throat was bare and his hair was brown, and neither felt right. He shrugged one shoulder. “Seems effective. You see me every day and still took a second.”
“I was distracted,” Ryouma said, like that was a valid excuse. “Hakone was criticizing my taste in anonymous weaponry.” He hefted a clanking bag by way of demonstration, and studied Kakashi’s face with renewed thoughtfulness. “What about your eyebrows?”
“They’re judging your taste in weaponry, too,” Kakashi said.
Hakone made a dry sound and tapped Ryouma on the shoulder. “I’ll catch you later, Tousaki.”
“See you on the other side,” Ryouma said, with a flickering smile. Hakone’s mouth curled again, his eyes lingered briefly on Kakashi, and he slipped away.
Kakashi’s shoulders eased down a half-inch.
“Shouldn’t criticize before you even see,” Ryouma said placidly, hefting his weapons bag once more. Kakashi caught a glimpse of dark steel and lethal edges. “Are you planning to cut your hair, too?”
At this point, Kakashi was considering shaving himself bald. He was also wondering why Ryouma had traded Hakone’s more entertaining company for Kakashi’s radiating crankiness. Masochism, probably. Ryouma had a problem.
Kakashi scratched his stubby topknot. “Does it need it?”
Ryouma said judiciously, “Well, I’ve seen toddlers and samurai with that same style, and I’d say you’re about halfway between ‘em.”
So helpful. Kakashi sighed and snapped the stupid elastic. His hair fell across his eyes again, kinked and slightly wavy. He needed a hitai-ate, but that was the exact opposite of anonymous.
“What’s wrong with grey?” he asked, abruptly.
Ryouma blinked. “Kind of memorable, isn’t it? That’s how Iebara knew you.”
“No, I get that. Dyeing for the mission makes sense.” Kakashi raked hair out of his eyes. “I mean why is it unsightly?”
Ryouma was starting to get that bewildered why-are-my-teammates-all-crazy look. He opened his mouth, closed it, then finally tried, “I generally get mine cut every month or two. Helps keep it under control. If you want some product recommendations—”
“I will set your bathroom on fire,” Kakashi informed him. “If you try to make me smell like peach, I will set it on fire twice.”
“They don’t all smell like peach! I’ve got an ‘Autumn Woods’ one—” Ryouma stopped. Looked at Kakashi. “Why are you worried?”
Another point against the allergy mask: it did nothing at all to hide the edges of Kakashi’s face turning red.
“I’m not worried. It’s just— a thing I read.” A completely unimportant thing that didn’t relate to the mission, or any mission, and didn’t actually matter, and was also a question that Ryouma had completely failed to answer, which was a broad tell from a man who treated tact like an optional garnish, but whatever. Kakashi yanked the mask higher on his nose and thought, Books. Books made everything better.
Ryouma, frowning, opened his mouth again.
Kakashi cut him off. “Go away, Tousaki. You’re blowing my cover.”
Surprise, bewilderment, and something a little like hurt flickered across Ryouma’s face in rapid sequence. “Sure,” he said. “If you want. I still have some prep to do. See you at the Monument tonight.”
Watching his broad shoulders disappear into the crowd, Kakashi resisted the urge to slap a hand over his face. Minus ten points for all around failure, Hatake.
A warm, furry presence settled on his foot. “That was awkward,” Pakkun said.
“Ngh,” Kakashi said wearily.
“He seemed nice,” Pakkun continued. “Very tall. You could use him for a ladder.”
“I will pay you to stop talking,” Kakashi said.
Pakkun made an amused sound, like a rumble pulled through laughter, and pressed his side briefly against Kakashi’s ankle. He trotted towards the bookshop, miniature cape flapping in the light breeze. Kakashi trailed after him.
Behind the counter at A Likely Story, Tanabata-san looked up and said pleasantly, “Hatake-san, you’re back early. Four Seas isn’t in yet. Are you looking for something else?”
He bought another bottle on the way home, to dye his eyebrows.