It's raining and the only good thing about that is that it has put out the rest of the fires. Konoha is in ruins, burned to the ground and trampled by the demon we'd been unlucky enough to simply be in the path of. Just plain misfortune and now we're burying eighty five shinobi, and one of them is the Hokage. Simple bad luck and the number of civilian dead is eight times that number. Honest fate, and we're holding this ceremony in Akagahara because at least here, its the clover that is red. Not the stone and soil beneath our feet.
And the sky is crying because of it.
The remaining shinobi of the Hidden Leaf of Fire Country are standing in rank and file, trying to hold their faces impassive. But in both aspects I can see massive gaps, even amongst the Gennin recruits. Young pups with aging eyes, and I can see a few of the Chunnins trying to look like the second-level nins they are, and suceeding. Some of them only out of the academy 8 months and they've had the most thorough experience of shinobi life it's possible to have. Poor kids. There are a few others, but not as many Chunnins survived as Gennins... but both did better by far than the Jounins. Not many of them made it, and some that did were better off having not done so. I think of the Uminos, and imagine their screaming torturous deaths, remember that somebody had the wit to drag their son away from the battle. I can see him, his second year at the academy, but now he's standing looking at his feet and not many can tell the tears from the rain running over that scar on his nose.
But the Umino boy isn't the only one who finds himself alone, my eyes stray to the just teenaged kid stepping up to the shrine to pay his final respects. Hatake Kakashi, ANBU for all of twenty three minutes prior to Kyuubi's first appearance. The only one of his unit to make Jounin before his voice broke.
The only one if his unit left alive.
He lays his flower down, looks at the picture of Yondaime and then pulls another two flowers from his vest and puts each down separately. It doesn't take a genius to understand they're for his sensei's other Gennin students, who can't be here. They're with their sensei though, maybe that helps Kakashi a little.
Or maybe it just makes everything so, so much harder. As he steps down from the shrine his visible eye is fixed on the ground and he takes up his place in the front row, in the middle of two empty spaces left for his team mates. Obito and Rin.
Standing alone. Maybe like he always will.
The service ends, and people walk slowly back to the wreck of Konoha they're trying to rebuild. I spot Sarutobi-sensei, he is gazing over at me. We look at each other, and I see that even though he spent more time with the Fourth than I did over the last few years, he knows my pain at his loss must cut deeper.
He's never yet lost a student to death, I can't say the same. I look away first and glance over to where the Hatake boy was standing. To my surprise he's gone, and I never sensed him leaving. A few of his agemates - still Gennins for the most part but with a few high-flying Chunnins - realize he's gone too, and a girl with crimson eyes whispers something about the boy and I realize from her term of adress he's younger than she is. She looks worried suddenly, and tugs on the sleeves of the closest two Chunnins, scruffy but sober Asuma and the unnaturally solemn Gai.
Asuma and Gai go looking for him a minute later, both come back with bloody noses and burst lips but don't say a word about it. Kakashi was never good at dealing with people at the best of times. I watch the girl, a Gennin named Yuuhi Kurenai, silently fix their wounds and leave, not looking back to the picture of my dead apprentice sitting atop a mountain of chrysanthemums.
I find him alone, hair flattened by the rain, both eyes fixed on the memorial stone. The Sharingan that has just propelled him into into the stratosphere of the shinobi elite is staring dully at the black stone, draining his chakra almost as fast as a cut to the wrist would drain his lifeblood; because he still doesn't know how to control it properly - and now has nobody to teach him. His chakra levels are so low I can tell he'll be dead in a few minutes. But still he keeps staring with both eyes, trying to see something that isn't visible. That maybe isn't there.
"Underneath the underneath," he says quietly - I can just hear his low lilting voice through the raindrops. "Sensei you always said a ninja has to see underneath the underneath... and I'm trying. Sensei I'm really trying to see with everything I have - just like I told you I always would. But I can't see. I can't see anything underneath this. There's no bigger meaning. There's no greater purpose. You're just dead. You and Obito and Rin are dead. My family are dead. You're not here. And I am." He stops, for a moment I think he's seen me but I realize he's just trying to force himself to breathe. As he talks again, I hear the vitrupation rising in his quiet voice.
"When Obito and Rin each died... you told me it was a bigger part of existance, that their presence and loss was to shape us into what we would need to be. That it was okay that they existed for that. But it's not okay. It never was. How is it okay to lose everyone that ever mattered to you?! HOW?!"
He's shouting now, and I can see his one black eye welling with furious, betrayed tears. He shouts for a long time, so fast I can't make out the words after a while and it just becomes one long cry of pain and futility. I make myself listen, force myself to hear this, because its the one thing I won't let myself do. I'm not crying for you, my student, I'm not letting any of this pain out because inside is where it belongs. Next to my heart like you were, closest thing to a child I'll ever have. Closest thing to a parent the orphaned boy raving at that memorial will ever know. After a while, Kakashi stops and I know he feels empty.
"There is no underneath," he says, his voice broken and quiet, "Losing all of you hasn't shaped me into anything I want or need to be. All there is is me. And I never liked me very much anyway."
For a few minutes he stands there in defeat then finally his body gives out, and he collapses - cracking his forehead on the step of the monument, blood spilling from a new cut on his young face.
Only now, when I can see him sprawled in the muddy grass do I realize his mask has fallen down so it lies around his neck. I see his face for the first time, probably the first person in Konoha to know what this prodigy really looks like.
The answer is he looks heartbroken and young.
He's so fucking young.
He's barely thirteen years old and already his world's broken beyond fixing. He wants to die. He wants to drown in the rain, bleed til there's no pain left. I've always respected the feelings of others about this kind of thing. Let people fight their own battles, interfering only makes it hurt more in the end. I've left people to take themselves away more than once, let them walk their own path because really - if you want to go who has the right to stop you?
But not him.
My apprentice would never forgive me.
The youngest Jounin in Konoha's history is not dying in the rain, slumped over a piece of obsidian with dead people's names on it, not caring if he wakes up or not.
He's just not.
Your sensei was so angry when they made you a Gennin, Kakashi. He was enraged that they let you and the others graduate at 5 years old. Times of war, they said. He argued for your time of youth. You're only young once. But you're guaranteed that once. Or at least, he'd thought so. Until he met you. Grown up before you could reach his knee. Capable of killing someone before you'd kissed your first girl. He didn't begrudge you the life of a ninja, Kakashi, but he wanted you to live for you before you lived for everyone else. So you'd know what you were really fighting for. Sarutobi-sensei had listened to him, heard his every word but the fact was 20 shinobi had been killed by Hidden Mist that morning and Konoha needed more soldiers. No matter how young they may be.
Maybe a part of my student knew this had to happen. Times of war, of change, of demons and sacrfice: what were the odds any of you would survive for long? He wanted you to have something of your own to fall back on, to start again with when you started losing the people you based your life around.
You live for everyone but you, kid. Sounds like someone I used to know.
Now everyone but you is dead - so what are you going to do?
Maybe your sensei knew you would be left here one day. And so he tried to give you a childhood with him. He asked for you to go on his Gennin team. He tried to get you to act like a kid and a shinobi. Not easy, especially when you're as clumsy with people as that apprentice of mine. And anyone can tell he failed but he was true with you. He took care of you. And your teammates cared about you too.
He became Hokage because of you. Because as Hokage he could make sure nobody was ever graduated that young again. That no matter how genius a child might be they would be left a child, let be a child until it was the right time to become shinobi. He wanted to protect this village from everything, including itself. That's the kind of idealistic idiot he was.
I don't blame you for wanting to die. A big part of me wants to too.
But you only live once too. And you need to survive. The Fourth Hokage gave his life for you as much as the other villagers - and I'll be damned if I let his sacrifice go to waste where it mattered to him the most.
I pick you up, you're limp, you don't move. I can't tell if you're breathing. I pull your mask up so it sits over your nose like its meant to. In seconds we're in the hospital and they've got you in with the medic-nins. They hesitate for a moment. Is it worth bringing him back? There will be nothing more for him when he wakes up. I bellow orders at them, they snap to it. Being a Legendary Sannin counts for something. I sag into a chair in the waiting room and wish Tsunade was here, she'd be able to make sure you were okay. But Tsunade has problems with the dead of her own. And maybe, maybe she'd just leave you to die like you want.
The head medic-nin comes through. You're going to survive. You'll be unconscious for weeks, maybe a month but you'll survive. There won't be anybody with you when you wake up but you will wake up. Maybe by then, things won't be as raw as they are now. I go through to see you, and - seeing where the cut on your forehead is - lift the bandage over the wound.
It's a funny, one-of-a-kind sort of shape. Almost like a feather, or a leaf.
That blond idiot of mine gave himself one of those tripping during training, trying to push one of his teamates out the way of a wayward shuriken. It looked exactly like that, was in exactly the same place. He got it when he was thirteen years old. I smile, there's no way you can't have noticed it after 8 years under his care.
Underneath the underneath, Hatake Kakashi. Even with the Sharingan you can't see some things until someone shows them to you.
He's in you. In everything you do. And when you wake up and look in the mirror you'll be able to see that it's true.
Who knows, maybe you'll even be as tall as him one day...