Field of Fallen Leaves
Many great thanks to the lovely kimi no vanilla for graciously allowing me to steal the title for this fic from a line of hers, and to iamzuul for her invaluable aid.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal… A time of war…
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-3, 8
That generation was born in winter.
They seldom saw snow; it melted beneath the searing heat of fire jutsu, or scattered star-like on gusts of violent wind, unwelcome in a world where the only white was the clay-cold flesh of a dead boy's cheek, and the only purity was lost the first time one child killed another.
What snow they saw was almost always dyed red.
When they stole through the trees, silent as the cold wind that barely whispered in their ears, Rin sometimes spared a precious few seconds of attention to glance up. She saw steel-blue sky, and tattered grey clouds like scraps from an old shroud, and naked black branches reaching out jagged hands to each other. A few stubborn leaves still clung on in desperate defiance.
In the heartbeat before Rin looked away, the savage wind rose, snatched the leaves, and tore them away.
Spring came too late, of course. But somehow it was soon enough. And while that generation blinked in the bright new sunlight and thrust clean and empty hands into pockets and shrugged shoulders lightened by vests that no longer seemed to weigh quite so much, hesitantly they learned to smile.
The Hyuuga twins learned to flirt at the ripe old age of nineteen, and they seemed surprised when their young wives flirted back.
Genma traded in his senbon for a whittled-down chopstick and spent the next two days pulling splinters out of his lips.
Inuzuka Tsume retired from active duty with no warning even to her worried husband, and she shocked her five-year-old daughter nearly to tears by asking if Hana was ready for a baby brother to look after.
Rin wasn't sure if wandering the village with Kakashi counted as a date, not when they both walked in an awkward new silence, Kakashi's hands thrust into his pockets and hers tucked behind her back. At least he was learning not to devour the lunches she made him as if the enemy ambush might be sprung at any moment, as if Obito was still lurking behind him waiting to snatch whatever Kakashi didn't finish. At least, when she paused outside the teashop to talk to Kurenai, he stood there quietly behind her, not really listening to the girls' chatter, but certainly not leaving her.
And at their sensei's inauguration as Yondaime Hokage that night, Kakashi even awkwardly, mumblingly, hands in his pockets and eyes on the floor, asked Rin to dance with him.
They left the party early; neither of them were particularly good dancers, and Rin knew if she stayed they'd end up ruining sensei's party by trying to persuade him not to let Jiraiya-sama drag him into a drinking contest. They perched high in the branches of the old tree on the Academy grounds, and the spring air was still cold enough that Rin let herself lean hesitantly against Kakashi's side.
He didn't pull away.
Together they watched the stars come out through a patchwork canopy created by a few brave new leaves unfurling young and strong on the branches of the old tree.
That summer never came to Konoha.
Fall painted its colors brilliant crimson and gold against a lowering, smoky sky. Wet warmth soaked Rin's side and dripped through her hands, dark in the flickering light that turned the world into a nightmare. It tinted Kakashi's hair the color of the blood that trickled down his brow and clotted his shirt to his chest.
And where the full moon's glow should have made his masked face beautiful and mysterious beyond his years, the glare of the Kyuubi's fire only mocked the desperation in his mismatched eyes as he ripped his mask down and crushed his lips to hers and fought vainly to give her the breath she'd already lost.
In the gathering darkness, Rin's hands slipped away from their useless clutch on her stomach, and clung to Kakashi's for the briefest of moments before they went still forever.
A few hundred meters and a lifetime away, their sensei lifted his hands in the seal that would steal his life and the Kyuubi's body and a baby's future. Brilliant blue light bleached out golden hair, overwhelmed the Kyuubi's orange blaze, sliced into one crimson eye already wet with tears and one black eye that would never cry again.
And the Yondaime Hokage fell slowly, gracefully, as the returning wind of his jutsu fanned Kakashi's hair and rippled the long grass and tore a few more crackling leaves from the trees to scatter into a field of fallen leaves.