Title: Taking the Torch
Rating: PG
Words: 1331
Summary: Duty tumbles, like a burning brand, through their lives. No one can hold it forever. KakaSaku.
Notes: Written for the Kakasaku Community's Give Me Some Sugar chat on the DW branch. edellin's prompt was: "A book of four lives."

This is how the book starts:

Konoha's shinobi live-and die-like phoenixes. They burn and fall and rise again.

Fire, after all, is immortal.

And through it, so are they, even long after they're gone.

His fire is the whiplash of blue and crackling white (the hottest possible) and sharp in his palms as he takes out enemy after enemy and hears what they call him. The White Fang. It's fitting.

Yet he always thinks that they've missed the fact that while his chakra is white… it burns. Just like every other fire. Fangs, no matter how sharp, cannot do the same.

But that thought is irrelevant and they're the enemy besides and he has never credited his enemies with much intelligence.

He is hardly going to start because of a nickname.

What matters is the mission, every mission, because accomplishing them brings him alive. Keeps him moving higher, brighter, stronger-

Until it's a choice between a rock and a hard place and he makes the choice that can never be undone and as a consequence Konoha is engulfed in war.

The rage of it blazes around him and the choking smoke of guilt strangles him and, in the end, fire consumes him, by his own blade, by his own hand.

And the burning brand known as duty is passed to another.

They have to cut down a vest for him to wear for the first three months because that's how long it takes supply to get one in his size made. He's tiny and he burns brightly.

White Fang's son, they murmur in corners, to each other, where he can hear them but not retaliate. Every comment drives a wedge deeper and deeper into his heart because his father's gone and no one, not one person, has said a word of condolence about that.

His father's gone and he's alone and he shines so bright that he's hard to look at as he gets better, one foot after the other, down the winding path of life—a path that's brutally unfair and horrifically unkind and amazingly beautiful all at once—until, rather than remember him for his father's name, they remember him for his.

And somewhere along the way, the names they associate with his cease to matter.

What matters is a pair of blue eyes and humongous strength, a girl with brown hair and gentle hands, and a boy with goggles who is always, always late. Their flames warm his heart.

And even when they're gone—burned on his heart, with the other scars—people keep coming. A red-eyed girl and a boy in green spandex and another boy who chews on senbon and yet anotherboy who starts ruining his lungs before they're all fifteen and they all grow up, melted and forged by war and flame and their own drive to make a difference.

They change.

He is always late. He always saves those who matter. He is gentle sometimes and he never tells his past to those who don't already know.

He burns his life at both ends and it's never enough because there are always more things that matter despite everything he does. (There are days when he doesn't know if he wants more things to matter or if he wants nothing to matter.)

Even when the wars end and peace slinks in uneasily, much like how they're left lighting empty fireplaces being used for the first time in decades, he runs mission after mission and forces himself higher.

(Peace is an adjustment after a lifetime of war. Every day is a new struggle because there is no enemy to struggle against and that has been how he has defined his life.)

He struggles, staggers, and-eventually, he falls.

He fails in a duty he's given and is scorched by his own negligence. Dark eyes on a boy who is deeply wounded and a pair of blue eyes on another, different boy, who is equally as hurt (blue eyes that match another pair of eyes from long ago) and a girl with green eyes, who watches him accusingly as it all falls apart. He fails them badly.

They go on without him. The green-eyed girl finds her own tutors in the village. Both of the boys leave to follow their own paths. One will return. The other… he doesn't know.

That's his fault too. His failure to help them channel their strength, their will, constructively-how could he have ever taught them that when, like they must do now, he had to figure it out on his own?

In time, he learns that duty is not something that must be passed on.

It can be taken from him.

Duty tumbles and falls and lands in the out-stretched hands of a girl with green eyes and pink hair and a stubborn mouth. She's been left alone, ignored, neglected—

-and like a weed, like a forest after a burning, she grows strong and powerful, passion kindled and tried and tempered and matched with responsibility.

When she's left alone one more time—it's always one more time—she keeps going and, eventually, they come back to her and by that time she's found and fanned her spirit until it glows brightly enough to act as a signal flare.

She builds on the mistakes of others and shores up her faults and remembers what has brought her to this point so that she never forgets how it feels to be left in the ashes even as she soars up and up towards the stars.

And duty, rather than being a heavy burden, lies lightly on her as reaches for those who left her and refuses to leave them behind. They'll go together.

So they do.

Time keeps on moving and, eventually, another takes up the torch.

She is eleven and brilliant as she beams in the mirror. She has her pink hair and her daddy's dark eyes. And her hitae-ate, which is being worn for the very first day.

Her feet land lightly on the stairs as she races down them two at a time, ignoring the bickering of her younger brothers as they argue over some inconsequential thing, and pausing long enough to fling her arms around her older brother, who has the same pink hair she does and, unlike her, has their mother's green eyes.

He laughs and she continues onward.

Her mother sits at the kitchen table, reading a newspaper and dressed for a shift at the hospital. Her father is cooking breakfast, waving the spatula as he talks. These days, he trains other shinobi rather than run missions.

She knows about White Fang's son and how he's her dad. She knows about the Godaime's most talented student and how that's her mom and that her mom runs the hospital these days after turning down the position of Hokage with the comment of that being someone else's dream.

Looking at her parents, she thinks they're amazing. She won't tell them that, because that's seriously not cool, but she thinks it.

"Are you ready?" her mother asks.

"You'll be careful, right? Listen to your sensei." Her father sets breakfast on the table and hollers for the rest of the family, who come stampeding down the stairs like a pack of dogs (and, indeed, there are several dogs who accompany her siblings into the kitchen).

She grins at them both.

It's in her hands now, they're saying when she looks at what's underneath the underneath, and she's eleven and knows she doesn't understand everything they say but she's determined to succeed and that's the first step. The most important one.

"Good," her father says.

"Remember," her mother tells her, green eyes bright, "it's your turn. Find that spark and keep it bright."

She nods.

This is her story now.

She won't shine. That's too simple, too lacklustre.

Like her parents, she's going to burn.

And, slowly, the pages keep turning.

Please let me know what you think!