My little drabble-y thing…set before the Gaiden, and takes a closer look at Hatake Sakumo. I really hope it isn't too wacked out and confusing, since...it makes perfect sense in my head...:grin:
Hatake Sakumo was a good man.
"He was always the first one to help you out of a pinch," or, "He just had this aura about him that's hard to explain, but it was…comforting, in a sense," or, "You knew he'd drop everything he was doing and come to your aid if you needed it."
Hatake Sakumo loved his family. He found a wife with the same silver hair as he—though that was not intentional—and the trait was passed to their only child, a boy who learned to walk before he could crawl, a boy who saw someone else's blood before his own, a boy they named Kakashi. He had blue eyes, so dark as to be almost black, and he looked just like his father.
"He could be your twin!" People would exclaim when they saw them on the street. And it was true. Kakashi adored his father, and he liked to stay close, one hand clutching Sakumo's leg as they meandered through town, the silver of their hair glinting in the sunlight.
As he wished to instill proper values in his son at an early age, Sakumo took him to the Hokage Monument for the first time when he was two.
The grass swayed and rippled around them as they stood there, Kakashi perched on his father's shoulders, his hands clasped on the top of his head with his chin resting over the knuckles. Even though he was only two, Kakashi detected the air of solemnity in his father's countenance as the hard stone faces of the Hokages gazed with unseeing eyes over the village like sentinels. This place was important; he could feel it.
"Do you see them, Kakashi?" His father pointed to each likeness in turn. "That's Shodaime, the man who founded Konoha, and his brother Nidaime. There was bad blood between them, despite the love they had for one another." He was silent for a spell, recalling the old tales of an epic battle near a waterfall that had been drilled into him since he was a youngster at Academy. "Very sad," he murmured, and then moved on. "The last is our Sandaime. You should recognize him."
The boy smiled. He had not taken to wearing the navy blue mask that would conceal the lower half of his face yet, so instead of having only the eyes as a gauge, one could read his expression clearly.
He had dimples when he grinned, and the effect made him appear impish, a mischievous pixie out of the fairytales where castles and knights and dragons reigned.
"Sandaime," he repeated, the word slightly awkward on his tongue. He did know this man, with his funny triangle hat and his silly dress—Sakumo explained once that they were robes, not a dress, but Kakashi couldn't determine the difference—and all of his jokes and laughter. "I like him."
Sakumo tilted his chin back to meet his son's eyes, sharing the sentiment. "I do, too," his smile was full of respect. "He understands how to run a village, and he takes the people's interest at heart while contradicting it when it's necessary, as a true leader should. We may gripe about it at the time, but he does what he thinks is right for us in the long run, and more often than not, he's correct."
The same as you, Kakashi thought as his father's attention returned to the Monument, though he kept the observation on the inside, because he had the impression that he should. Once he had a better grasp of vocabulary, the means to make what he wanted to say sound more eloquent, then he'd tell him.
He'd tell him he was a hero like Sandaime, like the Legendary Sannin. He'd tell him that being the son of the White Fang made him proud, and that when he watched him wield his long knife—the weapon that earned him his nickname—, the point flashing as it sliced through the air, sharp and deadly and beautiful, he yearned for that fluid grace, that tangible equilibrium that exists when a man and his blade are so in synch it is impossible to distinguish where one ends and the other begins.
And later, when he stands at the unmarked grave, he'll wonder if, had he said those things then, his father would have remembered, and found the will to live.
Sakumo spoke to him again. "That's where your honor is, Kakashi," he explained, the Monument that loomed overhead seeming to grow in stature and presence, as if it were an all-encompassing entity. "Yes, the Hokage may be the strongest shinobi of the village, but he is essentially a servant. He will do what he must; sacrifice what he must, in order to protect his flock. A shinobi or kunoichi bares the same burden. Once you choose your path, you will have to follow wherever it leads without question, and without hesitation." He paused. "I won't lie to you, son. To be a ninja is to be a tool, one fragment of an overall whole. There are exceptions, of course, like the Sannin, but their breed is rare, and they only come along when they're really needed most."
The corners of his mouth turned up. "It's not an easy life, and you'll be forced to do unpleasant things, but it can be rewarding all the same."
Kakashi was quiet after his father finished, turning his thoughts over in his mind. There was so much of the world left for him to see, and so many things he had yet to learn, however…
"If you can do it, so can I," he said in his sturdy little voice, and extended his arm toward the carvings in the mountain, hand curled in a fist. "Honor." He liked the way that sounded.
The sun began to sink behind the clouds, the sky awash in pinks and reds and oranges, like watercolor blended on a canvas.
Sakumo gave Kakashi's knee a squeeze.
"Honor," he echoed.
He leans against the porch rail while he watches the stars, a premonition of dread settled in his heart, and he cannot for the life of him figure out why. He'd been on countless missions of this sort before, and he knows what he is doing, has confidence in the men who will accompany him, yet something is amiss, so he worries.
He hears the creak as the door swings open, hears the soft shush of her feet on the wooden planking as she pads toward him, and rests her head against his shoulder. In response, he folds her into an embrace, because he thinks this may be the last chance he'll have to hold her this way.
She clings to him, sensing his urgency, and it frightens her, though she would never admit it. The White Fang's wife will not show weakness in front of her husband; her job is to be his anchor, the one solid surface he can turn to when everything else around him crumbles to dust and ashes, when the disorder of an already turbulent world transcends any semblance of stability and becomes a chaotic nightmare from which he cannot wake.
The shadows are in his eyes, and she sees them.
"What is it?" she asks gently.
He breathes, in and out, and she moves with the rise and fall of his chest. "I don't know. I just…I feel like I'm walking to the headsman and offering him my neck…"
The fear is a beast gnawing her bones. "Why would you think that? At dinner you said the briefing went well, and your team is as ready as it will ever be." She kisses his cheek, partially for his sake and partially to calm her nerves. "You've never been one to second-guess yourself, Sakumo. Now isn't a good time to start."
For a moment, he allows his apprehension to retreat back to where it came from, and he gathers her closer, touches his lips to the tip of her nose like he always does before capturing her mouth.
His kiss is insistent, fiery, and strangely tender, and it makes her mind reel, but this is the Sakumo she knows, so she will cherish it.
"You're right," he whispers when he releases her. "I'm being an idiot." But he still isn't convinced.
He leaves the next morning before the sun comes up, his wife and his son waving and yelling for him to be careful and come home soon.
"I'll keep training and take care of Mom and the dogs, don't worry!" Kakashi assures him, and then mouths the word, "honor."
Sakumo remembers the Monument, so the smile he was about to force doesn't have to be forced any longer.
His boy will do well regardless, and the knowledge gives him peace.
Hatake Sakumo was never the same again after he returned. He was disgraced, dishonored, ashamed. The one thing he swore not to do he had done, and the mission was a failure because of it.
Men that should not have perished were dead, and the blame was stamped across his forehead, burned into his skin, seeped over his hands…
He had disobeyed an order. Perhaps his reasons for doing so were logical, however that did not change the fact that people were dead. He lost his head when his friends were captured, abandoned the game plan entirely and chose to go after them when he should have remained on course, and even the companions he rescued told him so.
"'The hell were you thinking, Hatake? Trying to play hero…we're in deep shit now! The guys are getting ripped up out there!"
He realized as soon as he did it he'd made a mistake, and that there was no possible way for him to rectify it. He always followed orders, had gained respect because his resolve was made of tougher stuff than iron, and constant.
"Follow the path to the end," he told Kakashi. "Don't ask questions, just do it."
For the first time and the last time, Sakumo did not take his own advice, and the cost was higher than he could pay. How could he look his son in the eye, knowing that he had fallen short when excellence was crucial? How could he accept his wife's selfless forgiveness when knew he deserved none of it?
It was a wound that rankled and festered and spread its corruption throughout, and there was only one way he could conceive of to contain it, to prevent it from infecting the two individuals he loved the most…
They were innocent, and he would not allow his sentence to fall to them. They did not deserve the contemptuous stares and the ill-concealed whispers, stigmas that his folly generated.
Because he loved them, he was not afraid to be condemned for them.
"Honor," he murmured, and the sword, his own macabre angel, sang her hymn through his flesh, the final testament of the White Fang.
The Kakashi before this day believed his father was invincible, the strongest, the fastest, the most competent shinobi of them all. He does no wrong. He can't. Hatake Sakumo isn't capable of failure.
But he is capable of dying, and no amount of denial can prove otherwise.
There is a body on the floor, and it isn't moving.
Hatake Sakumo is dead, his sword lodged in his gut, blood pooled around his still form like a puddle of crimson tears.
The blade weeps, he thinks, and starts to laugh because he knows what he sees can't be real but it is real, so real that he can smell the scent of the grave and feel the blood, tacky between the pads of his fingers as he rubs them together.
"This is what it means to be a shinobi, is it?" He says to the corpse, which has no more words left to offer. "This is it?" His voice is rising, and he grips the handle of the sword. "A cold, hard machine that kills and kills and kills and doesn't care…" He yanks, and the dead tissue gives up the sword, along with a river of blood.
He examines the weapon, and his tone is dangerously quiet.
"If that's what they want, that's what I'll give them."
Kakashi tells himself he wears a mask because he is a tool, yet the truth hurts too much, so he leaves it alone.
Hatake Sakumo was a good man, but his legacy has been forgotten.