Title: Mirror Images
Summary: Everyone sees something different when they look at the memorial, because everyone visits it for different reasons. A Kakashi/Sakura oneshot. (not really angst...but it's close enough.)
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. Word.
B/N (Beta Note): What? No TenTen? What's wrong with you man! xD much love for the fic.
A/N: And much love for the beta::huggleglomp::
Everyone sees something different when they look at the memorial dedicated to those of my profession whom have died.
Civilians don't come often, but, when they do, all they see is a big, black slab of marble. They don't look too close. They probably wouldn't see the names even if they did.
Genin usually don't see much more than that. They might see a few names of aunts or uncles, maybe a cousin—if they're unlucky a father, mother, brother or sister. They don't see the other names though: the ones of those that died generations ago, or the ones that aren't blessed with visitors.
However, once a shinobi has seen death, their vision changes. Once one of their comrades has fallen—once one of their friends doesn't come back from that one, last mission—they start to see the names. It's then that reality hits them and they realize that even during peace-time it's war that they're fighting every day. Some of them don't make it much further than that realization.
I see more than names: I see the people. I see Obito, blood splattered across his face, struggling for breath. I see Rin, smiling at me, telling me she'll be home soon—that it's only a week long escort mission. Their faces reflect back at me, as if the marble were glass. It's all that I can see.
I always feel as though they're half hoping I'll join them soon, and half hoping I never will. When I return from a mission alive I can see the relief on their faces, but at the same time I can see the jealousy, the bitterness, that I'm still alive, yet not living. I can't help it: while I'm home, all I can see is them, and when I'm away all I can see between the flash of kunai and the blaze of chakra is their faces, imprinted on my mind, keeping me bound to my past. My mind flounders in their reflection: suppressing all vitality, effectively keeping me deeply submerged in their memory.
"Ah…" I'm late again.
Like usual, it's hard to look away from their faces—always emblazoned on the front of my mind—even after leaving the quiet of the memorial, and so I only vaguely notice the poorly hidden, childish trap waiting for me. The chalky eraser hits my head as I enter through the door of the academy classroom. The blonde Kyuubi, the dark-haired Uchiha, and the pink—Pink? I wonder—haired Haruno all look at me with varying degrees of amusement, disgust, and embarrassment.
I'm surprised they pass the bell challenge.
I'm even more surprised when they start to grow on me, and uncomfortable—terrified is more accurate—that I start to see their living faces on missions, and as I go about my business in the village. I begin to find life returning to my dry, old bones, and lightheartedness isn't so hard to fake anymore—sometimes it almost feels real even.
I'm outright petrified when I begin to see their faces as much as Obito's and Rin's at the memorial.
The first time Kakashi consciously regretted his morning ritual was the first time he realized he wasn't alone at the memorial. At first, he didn't recognize her through the early morning mist, but once he reached the clearing he was not surprised to see that it was Sakura standing a few feet from the memorial stone, staring at her childhood love's name. Naruto had insisted the name be inscribed in the stone after Sasuke had died while extracting revenge on his brother, and no one was about to question the man now officially next in line to become Hokage.
Kakashi was sure that somewhere along the line, Sasuke's inevitable death had been the direct result of some part of his failure as a teacher when Team Seven had still existed. He could accept that knowledge, because it only affected him.
Slowly, he turned his gaze from the black mirror that showed his past to the woman presently standing beside him.
She was beautiful: shrouded in fog, her pallid skin gleaming with the otherworldly distinction that belongs to the sort of ethereal, scorned lover that haunts the forgotten grotto in romanticized ghost stories. She stood, stoic, without tears, without emotion, and without a sound—all things so unlike her. Another student he had failed, Kakashi realized, and he was forced to look on her in that instant, as a physical, real manifestation of all of his previous failures.
Kakashi had felt regret before, but this was different. It would plague him for a very long time after that, because unlike all his other failures, this one involved a third party, whom he had also vowed to protect upon accepting himself as a teacher. Seeing her—still alive, but badly wounded, possibly beyond restoration—intensified everything he might have ever classified as "guilt" or "regret" to a point that it surpassed any agony he had ever experienced.
While training later that afternoon, Sakura seemed to be her old self, so much that he truly didn't expect to find her there the next morning. But she was there: the same sorrowful, pained expression obvious on her features; a woman very different than the Sakura he, or anyone else, had ever met.
From her changed countenance during the mornings spent beside the memorial, Kakashi could tell exactly what Sakura was feeling. She was experiencing all the pain and weight of a shinobi's real, mature regret and guilt, for the first time in her young life. Civilians that had never felt such all-consuming pain called it "survivor's guilt" but one who experienced it themselves would never dare to give such a complete and utterly terrible internal sensation such a trite name. Kakashi knew that pain all too well, and by the fifth morning they had spent together, Kakashi could tell Sakura was suffering from it, mentally, emotionally and physically. When they turned to leave—both already hours late to the same training session—he decided he couldn't bear the dead expression that had replaced her old, familiar smile any longer.
"Sakura…why don't you take today off?"
She turned to look at him, her eyes wide in blatant surprise, as if seeing him next to her for the first time, despite the past hours they had just spent silently side by side. She stopped walking and he followed suit. They stared at each other for a moment, before a small, sad smile crept across Sakura's face.
"Sensei, why do you come here every morning?"
That caught him off guard. Kakashi swallowed hard; it wasn't as though it was some secret he doted upon, it was just a piece of information of a more personal nature than he usually thought pertinent to share.
"I've never told anyone that, Sakura."
She nodded, and her expression fell slightly, but she understood. Sakura took a step away from him, and Kakashi felt a pang of guilt. There had been a glimmer of the old Sakura—the tiniest gleam of his old student—in that small smile she had blessed him with. He had sworn, upon seeing Sasuke's name carved into the memorial, that he would not fail his two remaining students more than he already had; he seized upon that slight gleam he had seen in her and promised himself he would hold fast, that he would not fail her again.
"But…I'm willing to tell you. The whole story—the truth. Although Naruto will be mad that neither of us showed up for training."
Sakura turned back to him, and smiled again, a little brighter, as if understanding that telling her would be difficult for him.
"I think he'll live."
The dew was fresh on the grass surrounding the memorial, but Sakura and Kakashi did not notice the small rainbows that frosted the landscape around them as the sunrise crept across the sky. They had eyes only for the very last, newest name to grace the memorial. They knew many of the other names that had also been added the night before, but that single, last name held their attention because of the person it represented. He was special—to them, to the village—and was listed last of all because his sacrifice in that last battle had been the greatest.
The battle had been long and bloody—a five-day, miniature war fought to protect their county, their families, and their peace. In the end, Konoha had won—but it had lost. Uzumaki Naruto had had all the promise to become the greatest Hokage Konoha had ever been blessed with to date, but now no one would ever know for certain exactly how great that would be.
Like his father, Uzumaki Naruto gave his life in one ultimate, uncertain sacrifice. He achieved what he had intended, and the village was safe because of it, but he had not even yet been Hokage for a full year.
Tsunade had already issued orders to have his young likeness carved into the mountainside alongside hers. Work was to commence that very day, but his image had already joined a different queue of great, honorable shinobi; Naruto's trademark, radiant smile was already reflecting out of the cold, black edifice at the two surviving members of Team Seven.
Sakura had not cried in years—had not even shed tears for Sasuke's death—but on the night Naruto's life had passed from under her very own skilled hands, she sobbed desperately. Kakashi had held her as she wailed and trembled, despite all the shinobi laws of conduct that deemed such exhibits of emotion improper. Sakura had not shed a tear for her friend since that night, her inward emotional struggle apparent only to Kakashi by her quivering hand, enclosed safely in his own rough, more calloused, more scarred one. Both were as silent as any morning they spent together at the memorial, but each equally found comfort in the other's touch, knowing it as a sign and reminder that they, at the very least, were still there for each other.
When they left the memorial that morning, Sakura quickly dropped Kakashi's hand, only to grasp it again the moment they returned to their post the following dawn.
On the fifth morning, she let her fingers linger between his longer than normal. He stopped, and she followed suit. They stood, eyes locked, for several long moments, before Kakashi smiled slowly at the silent understanding that passed between them. With a lively gleam in his eye, he firmly took her hand back in his.
"I'm feeling like Ichiraku, how about you?"
"If you're offering to pay, Kakashi."
Sakura gave a small tentative smile and leaned into him more as they strode away from the memorial, hand in hand.
On a whim, I told him what I saw in the black glass we visited every morning, and asked him if seeing the faces of my old teammates reflected back at me in the surface of the memorial made me crazy or screwed up or both.
He answered cryptically that everyone sees something different when they look at the memorial, because they visit it for different reasons. When I asked what it was he saw, he told me that he saw the faces of his old teammates, like I did. I found comfort in that, but he said that it was just more proof that we were both utterly senseless.
At that point, I pulled his mask down, kissed him, and told him that I didn't mind us being senseless, so long as we both were. He found comfort in that, and that was finally the end of him calling our relationship irrational.
He said he knew it was going to happen eventually; he had known since the moment he realized he had started seeing me—not me as a part of Team Seven, but just me, his Sakura—whenever he was away from the memorial. He said that once he had realized that, he had know that he had something to live for other than the memory of his dead teammates—and that I was that "something"—and that he'd known then that he was a "goner." It had just taken him some time to adjust to seeing me—after years of seeing the others—everywhere he went and in everything he did.
I never really understood how I could have replaced Obito, Rin, Sasuke and Naruto, all together, but now, seeing his face reflected back at me in the black, glassy marble alongside Naruto and Sasuke, and having his face remain with me as I make my leave, I understand all too perfectly. He's all I want to see; all I can see.
"Mm…" I'm late again.
Making my way down the hallway of the academy, I can't keep him out of my mind's eye. I notice the eraser lodged between the top of the door and the wall, but I don't do anything about it. It hits me in the back of the head, and I look at the three children in front of me, all wearing expressions of varying degrees of amusement, disgust, and embarrassment. Two silver bells jingle in my side pocket.
I hope they'll do better than we did.