Disclaimer: Naruto and its plot and characters sadly belong to Kishimoto.
I recently watched the beginning of the Pain vs. Konoha arc in the anime and was struck with a sudden bolt of inspiration. This is a more than a little sad, and bittersweet, and features some character death, but I was never pleased with the nice and happy ending to this arc in canon. For those of you who either watch the english version, don't read the manga, or aren't caught up with the storyline, there be spoilers ahead. Just a warning.
Please review, I would love some feedback.
Dust swirls lazily around his feet—dust and ash and smoke from the thousands of fires. Beneath him is the cracked foundation of what was once a home filled with laughter, love, and life. It is dead now—shattered and blood-stained, just like his heart. Everything around him is dead, smoking piles of ruin—the last, broken traces of a great village. The devastation spreads out before him like a battle-churned sea as far as his eye can see.
Above him, there is a crack in his sensei's face.
Beyond the death and the echoes of ghosts, the sky paints itself brilliant and the sun stretches sleepy fingers across the dust-covered earth, searching for life to welcome it. It will find nothing here. Nothing at all, for he isn't sure that even he is alive—if there is anything left inside of him but emptiness.
He is Hokage today.
Hokage, just like the cracked face in the distance—the only remaining marker of where Konoha once stood. The crater before him is the symbol of their future, for he doubts there will be any rebuilding after this. This is beyond a war, beyond a demon, beyond anything he could have possibly imagined in his worst nightmares.
This is the end of the world. Or it feels like it.
Yet, it is still sunrise.
They're burying Tsunade today.
Tsunade, Irkua, Hinata, Chouza, Ibiki, Shinuze, Konohamaru, Ebisu, Inochi and thousands of others—all of them, today, will be laid to rest. They are the sacrifices, the martyrs, the patriots who had the courage to die for their village and their people. He is the shell that must somehow carry on after the end of the world.
The wind tugs insistently on the cloth of the hat in his hand, and he wonders where it wants to take him—what will happen if he lets it carry him away, because he doesn't know how to stay here amidst all this death and destruction. He thought he had already lost everything, but he was wrong—oh, so wrong.
A few deaths, a small measure of pain, is nothing compared to this.
He is Hokage today.
They couldn't have picked a worse candidate. He is too old, too broken, and too empty—but then again, who isn't, now? Naruto hasn't stopped crying since he struck the finishing blow and clutched Hinata's limp form in his arms—mourning the death of a love too late to mean anything. Sakura collapsed from chakra exhaustion two days ago and hasn't moved since, sending the hospital depending on her into a tailspin. Shikamaru has been wandering around in a daze while Chouji and Ino grieve the death of their parents. Kiba nearly took Shino's head off when the Aburame mentioned Hinata and Gai's team won't stop beating themselves up for being too late to fight, too late to matter, too late to do anything but watch as the world came down.
Nearly everyone else is dead or dying.
But he is Hokage today.
The hat is heavy in his hands. He hasn't put it on his head yet, and he doesn't think he ever will. He is too small and insignificant for such an honor. He has done nothing great in his life and the only thing he truly excels at is failing the people he loves.
"There you go again. Why do you insist on hating yourself so much?"
The voice is a blow to his gut and he spins with wide eyes, latching onto a pair of goggles that glint in the morning sun, hiding the fathomless eyes beneath. The hair is still spiky and wild, blowing in the wind, but the usual smile is absent, replaced by a serious frown that makes him look too old and too foreign—for he even died smiling, didn't he?
"Obito…?" He feels like sobbing and laughing, and oh he is really insane if he's seeing ghosts.
There is the smile—still sad around the edges, but at least he looks like Obito again. "You're a mess, Kakashi."
Kakashi laughs, then, unable to lock up all the bitterness inside. It is just short of hysterical, and there are tears leaking down his cheeks for the first time in decades, but it's the end of the world, so he figures he's at least a little entitled to be the broken human being he always tries so hard to hide.
"You think?" he chokes out, wiping a grimy hand across his ash-streaked face and smearing blood down his cheek. "Have you looked around lately? Everything's a mess."
Obito crosses his arms and his eyes are sad behind his goggles—red and black pools of grief. "I saw. I promised to be your eyes, remember?"
How can he ever forget? Those words are burned into his memory, etched in stone across his heart—the very core of who he has crafted himself to be. He says nothing in response to the rhetorical question, but looks out across the remains of his home again and feels himself beginning to shake.
But he can't have a breakdown now. He can't start seeing ghosts. Because he is Hokage today, and they're burying the dead in a few hours, and this shattered shell of a village needs someone to lead it.
A hand grips his wrist, gently pulls the hat from his slack hand. He turns to face Obito again—a little surprised that his old teammate has stuck around.
Obito glances down at the hat, and smiles wryly. "You know, out of all the futures I thought I'd see, I never pictured you wearing this."
"That makes two of us," Kakashi mutters, staring at the fire symbol and the brilliant red that matches the blood on his skin.
Obito reaches up suddenly and places the hat on his head, tamping down on his unruly, tangled hair that is falling into his eyes without his forehead protector to tame it. He stands rigid and uncertain as Obito adjusts the hat, turning it this way and that until it sits somewhat properly and the cloth falls down to hide his face. He feels a little stupid—like a child playing dress up with his father's clothes, but that isn't right, is it?
He's Hokage today.
"You look good." Obito's eyes are wet, like usual, but these tears seem different than all the old ones. Now, Obito is crying for far more than just himself.
Maybe it's for the cracked and shattered village, or the cracked and shattered man in front of him covered in ash and blood and Hokage red. He isn't certain, never quite knew with Obito, so he settles for tentatively touching the brim of the hat, feeling it cool and unyielding against his calloused fingertips.
No, this future isn't right.
Obito's hand slips through his again, tugging it away from the hat, and when he looks down at his old friend he sees tears and a smile all for him. "You're going to make it, Kakashi." Obito squeezes his hand tightly and he swallows around the lump in his throat.
"How do you know?" Because everything is dead, including him, but he's never been good at living, anyway.
Obito's fingers tap lightly against the side of his Sharingan eye, briefly brushing over the jagged scar that is no match for the one his teammate's death left across his soul. "That's what this eye sees."
There are no words—they've escaped him somehow, leaving him blank and stuttering. When he doesn't speak, Obito smiles knowingly. "Same old Kakashi." He flicks the brim of the hat. "You are a great jounin, Kakashi, remember that. And you'll make a fine Hokage, even if this doesn't feel right. So you can't give up just yet, even if Rin and Sensei and me would really love to see you. This world still needs you. So take a lesson from Sensei's kid and don't give up, 'kay? You've got some life left in you yet. You'll see."
Same old Obito, so full of inspiring words. Obito's fingers slip through his, leaving his hand feeling empty and cold. Blinking through tear-soaked eyes, he watches Obito give him a thumbs up and a grin to rival the brightness of the sun before fading away into glittering blue that soars up into the multi-colored sky, streaking across it like a shooting star.
There is no good-bye. They've never needed one.
The hard brim of the Hokage hat feels cool against his trembling fingers as he touches it almost reverently again.
It still doesn't feel right. It never will. But maybe, just maybe, it doesn't need to.
His face will never be on that monument. He will never be a legend or a myth or a hero, but if he can pull something from the ashes and ruin all around him, some flicker, some semblance of life, if he can help build a forest for these broken trees, it will enough. More than enough—worth living for.
"Hokage-sama?" Here is Shikamaru—jagged-edged and battle-stained with crutches under his arms and one leg in a cast.
Kakashi turns slowly, pulling his eyes away from the wreckage to the shadowed eyes and pale-skin in front of him. Shikamaru is as broken as his village, but there is a flicker of fire still burning behind the despair. He can almost see it. It's enough to carry on—drag them all forward into the future.
"We're ready." Right, the funeral.
They're burying the ghosts today.
"I'll be there in a moment."
Shikamaru's eyes shift to the massive crater in front of them and he turns away quickly, hobbling back toward the crack outer walls where a few structures still stand. There are no words of acknowledgement for Kakashi, but he understands. Words are hard to come by, these days.
He, too, turns his gaze to the crater at the center of the village, then up to the crack across his Sensei's face. The rubble and ruin are still smoking days after the attack and hundreds of bodies remain buried beneath the ocean of wreckage. The Hokage Tower is a pile of stone and tattered wood and half of the First's face is gone. In one blow, Pain swept them all away.
Something brushes his foot and he glances down in surprise. It is a flower, lying atop the stone as though it belongs. Its yellow petals are dirty and partially crushed, but it is still alive and reaching hands toward the sky. It looks like the flowers Rin used to weave in her hair, once upon a time.
He picks it up and twirls it with careful fingers.
Don't give up, the wind sighs as it dances across the field of death, and it sounds like Sensei's voice. Sensei who had to die for this village just as he will have to live for it.
A small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.
He's Hokage today. And maybe he can do this, somehow.
Clutching the flower to his chest and adjusting the hat on his head one last time, Kakashi turns and walks away into the broken future.
Behind him, sunrise paints itself across the sky in iridescent colors.