The Lessons We Learn

'I often get the sense that my existence is a cursed one, for I am fated only to learn the greatest lessons of my life through the pain and suffering, and the deaths, of those I love.'

The atmosphere in the room was tense as the young man sitting in the chair stared at the floorboards, as if concentrating on their wooden grain with all his being would drown out the tormented coughs which tore from the throat of the room's sole other occupant. As the coughing ended, and was replaced by a heavy silence, Kakashi Hatake clenched his fists and fought the part of him that wanted nothing more than to run away from a situation that was all too familiar.

'I felt that everyone was leaving. Why was it, kami-sama, that I was chosen as one of the unfortunate ones: who lived in the autumn of the leaves; and watched them as they blew away in the wind, leaving me behind?'

It was the soft sound of liquid dripping onto fabric that drew the young jounin from his thoughts and he looked up with horror dawning in his eyes as the man who sat propped against the pillows of the bed shook silently, his body racked by mute gasps for breath as a dark red trickled from his lips and steadily stained the white sheets in morbid patterns. The man raised shaking fingers still stained with black ritual ink and covered his mouth in a vain attempt to stem the seeping blood. His shirt, partially open, revealed intricate black patterns, littered with symbols and far too complex to exist by human design, that appeared as if tattooed upon his chest, crawling in twists and spirals towards his heart.

'The seal master whose life was taken by a seal. How poetic I felt the shinigami had become.'

'Sensei, why did you ask me to stay…' The normally energetic shinobi's lifeless monotone cut through the silence that followed this latest fit. 'It should be Jiraiya-sama or Sandaime-sama who is here with you at the…end.' Kakashi fought not to choke on that last word and stood silently, walking to the window, opening it, and leaning out just enough to let his face and hair be drenched by the rain that had been falling on Konohagakure since the battle's end. Returning to his chair by the bed, his silver hair dripping rainwater down his forehead and stinging his single uncovered eye, he waited.

What he did not expect was the breathless laugh and the wistful and tranquil smile that answered his question.

'Don't you remember what I told you when Obito died, Kakashi? When you're dying you realize it's your last chance to do things you've always wanted to do, and say things you always wanted to say. For Obito it was a last chance to help save his comrades, not just to save Rin from death, but to save you, Kakashi, from your lonely path. For me, in my last moments, I shall ask that you inherit my will.'

'Sensei's will; an unshakable and unquestionable truth that he held within his heart, would not die with him.'

'Jiraiya-sensei and Sarutobi do not need my last words. Our hearts have held the same will for many years. But you, Kakashi, are still finding what you shall fight for. Now I am asking you to uphold what I, and your fallen comrades, have all fought so hard for. 'To survive and to grow towards the heavens, evergreen even in the days of autumn, and rooted to the life-giving earth for all eternity by bonds of companionship stronger than death.' That is my will - our will - that is the will of the leaf. Take it and make it yours Hatake Kakashi. Never let it die.'

'The will of the leaf. A ideal my sensei had staked his life on, was passed to me.'

'Stop crying Kakashi, a shinobi must never show emotion.'

'Sensei's pale attempt at a joke.'

'I'm not crying. My face got wet when I opened the window.'

'My pale attempt at a brave façade. But inside I didn't care if I broke the shinobi code 100 times by pouring out all the turmoil of feeling I held inside. My companions were worth more to me than any rules. It has taken the death of my closest friend, my father, and my dear sensei to show me that, and it is a lesson I will hold forever. Sensei knew that and I remember a ghost of a smile crossing his lips at my lie.'

'Rin and Obito will be proud to hear of the person you have become. The three of us will wait for you. But let it be a long wait. Live, Hatake Kakashi, live by the will of the leaf and fulfill your role in this never-ending story. So many leaves have fallen this autumn, but the branches remain-' Here the man was cut off by a searing pain in his chest as the elaborate seals branched out further across his chest, new lines of smoky black clawing further towards his heart.

'But I had already finished the sentence in my mind. 'The branches remain strong and will bloom again as long as the will of the leaf survives.''

An unsteady breath drawn in over the pain. 'Won't you help this damaged tree to welcome the spring?'

Kakashi Hatake clenched his eyes closed but in his mind he could still see the last line of black spiraling knots that slowly covered the remaining distance on the man's tanned skin.

'And so the shinigami claimed his recompense as I claimed my resolve, and the will that had been passed to me.'

'Yes.'

As the young jounin sunk to the floor, his eyes now fixed on the steadily growing red that marred the cleanliness of the white bed, and stained the man's blonde locks, a sob tore itself from his throat. A sound of pure and unadulterated agony. But it went unheard as the death knell tolled out across the ruins of the village, striking deeply and terribly within the hearts of the assembly gathered outside.

As one the wail arose, and proclaimed the cruel truth.

'The Yondaime Hokage was dead.'

And Hatake Kakashi wept.

'Pain is a great teacher.'

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Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Don't sue me, I have no money.

Author's Notes: Obviously I've taken some creative license with the events of this scene, but since the manga never really included any details on Yondaime's death apart from its cause and the events leading up to it, I figure I'm allowed to do that :P And in any case, if someone tells me I got something wrong, I can just say 'oh well, it's different because this story is slightly AU or something like that.' Har har har, being an author is fun…..

Before someone says something, I realize Naruto wasn't even mentioned in this, but this moment was primarily about Kakashi and Yondaime, and the will that Kakashi inherited from his fallen comrades. So fill in some crap about the rest of the characters with your own imagination (remember this story starts in Yondaime's last moments so I'm sure the topic of Naruto was discussed earlier in the chain of events). If you ask me, Yondaime's will for the survival of the leaf is a more important thing for him to want to talk about on his death bed than Naruto's future, even if Naruto was his son or something, as so many people, myself included, believe.

This is my first attempt at fanfiction so reviews are much appreciated! But please, constructive criticism is far more useful, and will be taken more seriously, than insults. It is likely that this scene will eventually become part of a longer fic I am considering writing.