Kakashi's Heart


Kakashi knelt by Minato's gravestone. A gentle, cooling breeze ruffled his hair, and the light shifted, dancing in and out of clouds moving rapidly across the sky. But there was no rain destined, no matter how much Kakashi might wish someone or something acknowledged his pain. He sighed, staring at the kanji for his mentor's name, carved bleakly on the stone in front of him. Minato. Minato's carefree smile flashed through his mind. He glanced up in spite of himself, looking at the stone monument towering over his village. Minato's enormous stone countenance stared over the top of his head.

When Naruto was young, he'd painted graffiti over the grim faces of their Hokage monument. In spite of his duty to uphold order, Kakashi had secretly approved of the disrespect. Secretly, he looked at the stone faces of Hokages gone with anger. Secretly, his stomach clenched when he looked at the artists' representation of his teacher, Minato-sensei, despising the one thing they had done to his teacher that no one should have been allowed to: take the smile from Minato's face. Minato had died smiling, and had been memorialized frowning – or at the best, Kakashi could convince himself it was an expression of serene stoicism. Nothing cut into Kakashi's heart worse than to look up and see Minato judging Konoha without a smile.

Kakashi snorted to himself and looked away, feeling unshed tears burn his eyes. He fastened his gaze to the gravestone, faceless and incorruptible. The kanji could not lie.

Then he braced himself and flashed over to Obito's gravestone, lest he be caught lingering somewhere else. Obito was his cover. People expected him here. People expected – judged – that he ought to feel guilty about surviving his team, guilty about the outcome of the mission.

His fellow shinobi had no way of knowing that Minato had taken him aside after the mission and tended to his grief. Minato had let him cry, let him confess his guilt, and then gently washed it all away with logic and sympathy. We all learn things, sometimes, by tragedy. Kakashi still remembered those words. Those words exactly. Minato had talked at length about his own life, about his past mistakes and painful lessons, and made Kakashi feel as though he were one part of a whole. Not alone. Shortly thereafter Minato had introduced him to Jiraiya, Minato's own sensei. To Kakashi's amazement, Jiraiya had taken him under his wing, instantly offering his support and guidance. Minato had given Kakashi a family.

Kakashi stared at Obito's gravestone numbly, not seeing it but rather all the times Minato had invited him over for dinner after their mission was over, how many times he had sat in that warm dining room, Kushina serving him dinner and mothering over him. His heart thudded with pain. At the dinner table, surrounded by Minato, Kushina, and often Jiraiya as well, he had finally been able to smile. Amongst the laughter and teasing of the close-knit group, Kakashi had found his own sense of humor.

One swift, brutal cut had sliced all that away. Tobi's attack on Konoha had taken it all: Kushina, Minato, Jiraiya. In horror and pain at the overwhelming tragedy, Jiraiya had run away, declaring that he couldn't stand to look at Konoha any longer. Kakashi hadn't the courage to abandon his village. Jiraiya would have taken him, would have allowed him to come along, but Kakashi had been crushed and terrified of the life of a missing nin, which he'd been convinced the people of Konoha would label him as, in spite of accompanying a Sannin. He'd begged Jiraiya to stay. Jiraiya had refused. Kakashi knew it was to save Jiraiya's own sanity that the Sannin left, but Jiraiya had torn out the rest of Kakashi's heart when he did.

I have nothing. I am nothing.

And somehow, Kakashi had to summon the cheer and stoicism to teach his students today. He touched the blue fabric over his nose and mouth. This situation was what masks were for. If he could keep pain out of his eyes, or at least not let people look too closely at him, he could get away with feeling this miserable.

He turned away from Obito's gravestone. Late again, Kakashi. His cultivated lateness would not get him in trouble. Everyone expected it by now. The habit covered the days when getting out of bed was too difficult, when he visited the grave of his mentor and couldn't bring himself to walk away. Better laziness than grief. People could understand a lazy ninja. Laziness was comic relief. A grief-stricken ninja? That people would not understand. Shinobi were always supposed to face forward, leaving the past behind. A ninja who dwells in the past is a liability, the saying went. If people had to think less of him, he'd rather they think it was something smaller, something like the death of a teammate in a situation where he was supposedly at fault. Anything to cover the grief of losing his mentor. People understood that kind of grief too well. It made them uncomfortable. Gave too much insight. A man carrying this kind of grief would eventually fall. The weight of losing a replacement father, a replacement family, was too much to bear.

If I die in battle respectably, no one will ever know. That was the most comforting option Kakashi could come up with.