No mortal man am I.
Summary: He gave them courage even as he brought death down on himself. (Yondaime-fic, one-shot)
AN: I've had this idea ever since I wrote the story Icarus and read the story 'Such Great Heights' by my darling friend link no miko (here on ffdotnet) Go read her story, liek woah.Basically, I've determined that it's fun to play around with Greek myths and see how they can relate to Naruto.
In the Hidden Village of the Leaf, there is a shadow of fire. It sways, soft as a summer breeze, timeless as the sky and sun and stars themselves, but malleable, amorphous. Fire knows change. It knows sorrow and loss and sharp, fierce joy.
He sits with his three students on the bank of a river, his feet stuck in the water and the sun on his face. Two of the children are arguing while the third one creeps closer to him, sits down and tucks her legs under her medic's apron. She gives him a cheeky grin when he looks down on her, prompting him to give her a victory sign.
One of the boys, the silver-haired son of Hatake Sakumo, slinks off into the forest to train or to sulk – he isn't quite sure which. He can't understand the boy, though he tries. One day he hopes he'll be able to change him, just a little. Your father was a hero, Kakashi. Believe me, please.
"Sensei?" the girl asks quizzically, as the remaining dark-haired boy, the Uchiha, sits obtrusively close to her. The girl offers him a smile and he lights up like a fireworks display, pushes his goggles back on his forehead and grins until his eyes scrunch up in little half-moons.
"You…you're Hokage now," she begins slowly, deliberately. "So…why are you still teaching us?"
He remembers the question later, arguing with the council elders about the fact that they're sending children out to die.
He thinks about it a lot. Why, when he could have handed his team off to a hundred other responsible, capable Jounin, did he choose to stay with them? Was it, in a way, an effort to change them? Was it selfish? Would he miss them? Or did he just not want to hear a report one day saying 'The Uchiha and the Hatake and the orphan medic girl got killed, sorry'?
He supposes it's a little of all three.
So he smiles at her and ruffles the Uchiha boy's dark hair, dislodging both goggles and hitai-ate. "I guess it's because I'm a teacher first, and a figurehead second," he tells her.
That night, he invites them all over for supper. They agree (The Hatake boy grudgingly, the Uchiha enthusiastically, and the orphan medic girl skeptically, and only after she made him promise that she could be the one to cook the food) and they gather around his table in his little bachelor's apartment and they tell stories and jokes, and they even win a quick flicker of a smile from the masked prodigy; once or twice. Later, the Uchiha asks him, haltingly, if he thinks any of them are really going to survive this war. He'd lost his father two weeks ago and the pain is still fresh.
He remembers the question later, laying on a checkered blanket with a rock digging into his back and he too lazy to move it as he catches the rush of sweet perfume on the wind.
He's a teacher first and Hokage second, and human third of all. He can ignore his needs -hunger, shelter, sleep- if it's necessary. He doesn't want his young team to have to do the same. He knows he's not immortal, but they're more fragile by far. He doesn't want…he doesn't want…
"They're our soldiers. Train them well."
He doesn't want to have to hold a precious person in his arms ever again as they choke out their last breath.
But he's the Hokage now, and sometimes people tell him that should come first. They ask him in their poisonous politeness to please look at lists and make decisions and send more people out to the front lines. He knows that every three of five people he sends are going to die. So he studies the names, the faces, and he tries to pick men and women without families. Sometimes, when no one is watching save the dead that he has failed to protect, he cries.
When his team doesn't have a mission, he tries to get them to remember what it's like to be a child again. He acts like one himself, teases and blushes and makes mistakes and apologizes shamefacedly as stern matrons jerk him around by his earlobe and chastise him for every wrongdoing he's ever done. The Hatake boy rolls his eyes and folds his arms and mutters under his breath something that sounds like 'waste of my time…' but when no one is looking, the Yondaime Hokage has caught him with his face pressed against a tank full of brightly colored fish, studying the marvel that is evolution and life.
He takes them to theatres and they watch puppeteers turn clunky wooden blocks into graceful extensions of themselves. He takes them to a gypsy and they have their palms read. According to her, they are all going to live long, prosperous lives, and the Hatake boy is going to have three children, two boys and a girl. He blushes a little boy's blush and pointedly does not look at the orphan medic girl who in turn does not look at the floor. The Uchiha looks at both of them and smiles in a manner that isn't really a smile at all.
He takes them to the highest mountain in Fire Country so they can watch the stars.
"That one looks like a leopard," the orphan medic girl murmurs quietly, pointing out a cluster of stars far to the east. The masked boy snorts at her disdainfully.
"More like a kunai," he says matter-of-factly. He's about to say more when the Uchiha interrupts him exuberantly.
"I think it looks like the Uchiha fan! See, if you look at it from this way, and then turn your head a little, yeah, yeah! It's just like it!"
Their sensei smiles and folds his hands behind his head. "You're all wrong," he tells them smugly.
"Oh?" The Hatake boy inquires archly, as if challenging him.
"Really?" The Uchiha asks quizzically.
"Mm," says the orphan medic girl.
"Yup. It's definitely a bowl of ramen."
Two of his three children burst out laughing, and the third one smiles a little.
And it's enough. Sometimes, but not always, it's enough.
"Sensei, when will I be promoted to Jounin?" The masked boy is so deadly serious.
He remembers the question later, when the cream of the year's crop are taken and broken and walked through fire and fury to emerge like tempered steel. The Hatake boy is not the only one to make Jounin, but he is the best. And this time, there is no father to pat his shoulder and tell him how proud he is. Instead, there's a ghostly stigma dressed all in black and blood, and no matter how far or fast he runs, he cannot escape the shadow.
A week later, the Uchiha boy is dead, and his team is broken. He cannot put them back together because half of the pieces are six feet under. The orphan medic girl comes and sits beside him after treating the wounds of her one remaining comrade. She wraps her arms around her knees and rocks her feet and stares off into the sky, unblinking.
"Are you all right?" he asks her softly.
"…Y-yes. I'm fine, sensei." She pauses and fidgets with the hem of her apron, and her rocking finally stops. "…Are you all right?"
He remembers the question later when the tendons in his right arm are so severed that he can barely form seals. The pain is crisp and sharp, like fresh paper. His blood is the ink, and it drenches his skin. He thinks maybe he is all right, and maybe he isn't. He thinks and he knows that even if he weren't, this would still have to be done. Even if he weren't, war would still exist and people would still die.
So he thinks that he's all right, because it wouldn't make a difference either way. He fights down tears and the cloying sensation of having failed someone, so many someones, and he stands a little straighter and smiles a little broader and he makes his hand work again.
"I am…a teacher first…and Hokage second…" and it's true, so true, so painfully, perfectly true, because he's teaching them, his village, something that cannot be learned save by example. He hopes that Kakashi knows now that his father is a hero and that Obito was never a coward. He hopes that Rin knows that she can't save everyone, all the while hoping that it won't stop her from trying. He hopes the Sandaime won't hate him too much for giving him his job back, and he hopes that Jiraiya won't ever stop writing his dirty books, because the world needs a laugh now and again.
He hopes that his child can forgive him.
"Sensei…? Do you care about us?"
He remembers, and he thinks, yes, always and forever, you are what is precious to me…
"How can you stay smiling?"
He remembers and he thinks, it's hard sometimes, but life will never be easy, and sometimes smiling is all we can do.
"Will I see you again…?"
He forms seals and he thinks, I hope not for a long, long time…
In the Hidden Village of the Leaf, there is a shadow of fire and a creed.
And somewhere, as the sun rises over the mountains, there's a baby crying, and a masked boy standing at a monument.