[*flails* OMG ANGST! Yeah...so this is me when I'm just vomiting drama onto my computer after getting all weepy googling KakaNaru pics. I make no excuses for myself, I'm so hopeless... =P The images that the first three parts were inspired by are linked on my profile page. If you don't read or even like the drabble, at least go look at the pics. THEY. ARE. AWESOME.
This story has also been translated into Chinese and German. The links are on my profile. ]
Kakashi was drowning in a sea of red. Choking on it, gagging on it, blinded by the swirling haze of blood and hate that pulsated through the village like the heartbeat of a demon. A fox demon. A murderer and thief that had stolen the glimmer of hope from thousands. It had twisted Konoha's Will of Fire into a funeral pyre of gnashing fangs, ripping claws, and broken bodies.
He could stop the madness tearing the village apart and soaking everyone in the foul stench of gore. He had already lost everything, there was nothing tethering him to this world anymore. He could kill the killer that was wailing and kicking feebly under his grasp, because the thing wasn't human. He could end it all with one thrust of the kunai held in his hand, because even at 14 he knew he wasn't human either.
He shouldn't have hesitated. He shouldn't have paused for that brief second while everything was still a pristine wash of red, while he still had no concept of his own humanity. He shouldn't have halted when the red was pierced by a flash of blue. He shouldn't have looked into the eyes of the monster, because the eyes of a crying baby were all that looked back.
The red turned hazy, swimming in his vision and making it feel like half of him was under water. Everything was turning grey and blue and black and what had he done? Oh my god, what had he almost done?! The pain cut through him from the inside out, and something warm slid down his left cheek. All he could do was drop his hands and tremble in horror as he looked into those blue eyes, whispering the same thing over and over and over and over.
"...don't cry...don't cry...don't cry..."
Naruto was going to escape! He didn't like being in the smelly building with all the ladies dressed in white putting smelly stinging sticky things on his cuts and bruises and tying him up in bandages that itched. He didn't like it there. He wanted to go home because all anyone was doing was fussing and scolding him for getting into a fight. He'd tried to tell them in no uncertain terms that the other kids had started it, but no one would listen! And that's why he was going to escape!
It never occurred to him that an almost four year-old didn't have a chance of actually getting away with the grand break-out plan he was concocting. Which, of course, was likely the reason it almost worked. After all, no one ever expected him to even try.
He snuck down the hallways, peeping around corners like a stealthy ninja was supposed to do. Or, well, he figured that's how they were supposed to. It seemed to be working, so it had to be right! He wasn't sure why it was taking him so long to find a door that led outside. So, he kept on turning hallways, and going down stairs, and bumping into dead ends, and then having to go up some stairs because there were people down below, and HE WASN'T LOST, DAMN IT! He rubbed his tummy and pouted defiantly. And he wasn't hungry, either!
The sounds of approaching footsteps coming from both directions was what forced Naruto to duck into the room so he could hide. It was dark in the room with the curtains drawn, but he could kind of see shapes and shadows that sort of made sense. After a few moments of staring, he realized that there wasn't a stack of laundry on the bed against the wall.
It was a person!
He froze, grabbing onto the door handle and trying to work out another plan that would still get him outside when the person sitting on the bed called for the ladies in white. But the person didn't say anything. Didn't move. Didn't even turn to look at him. The person was facing away from him, slouched and still as a rag doll that had been propped up.
Curiosity and a tiny bit of concern got the better of him, and he tiptoed over to the bed. Maybe the person just hadn't noticed his room had been turned into a sanctuary for an escaping prisoner of war! Maybe he was asleep. Or...maybe he was dead. Could you die sitting up like that? He'd never seen a dead person before, this was going to be amazing!
Naruto crept cautiously around the foot of the bed. He didn't even need to crouch to stay stealthy and hidden, because he had to get up on his toes to see over the mattress when he got close to it. As his eyes continued to adjust to the low light, he realized it was an old grampa sitting on the bed. His grey hair was sort of messy and sticking out at a funny angle, but that was probably because of the bandage around his head. He must have gotten into a fight, too, because the old man had those itchy bandages around his arms as well.
When he finally got around to look at the old man's face, he stepped back with a gasp and clutched the front of his shirt in fear. That was what a dead person looked like, and he didn't like it! This was not amazing, it was horrible! There was no expression, no animation, no life in his pale face at all, and he wasn't even an old grampa, there were no wrinkles! There was nothing left in the heavy-lidded eyes, and the one with the scar looked a little strange, which somehow made the fact that they were completely empty even more horrible than it already was!
He didn't like this! This wasn't what a dead person was supposed to look like! It wasn't anything like the pictures in the storybooks! It wasn't anything like what he sometimes imagined happened to the people that were mean to him! It was painful and awful and it made his chest hurt a lot and he couldn't breathe and he knew he was going to start crying and he didn't want to do that! He didn't want any of this! He didn't want people to be dead! Ever!
Hiccupping and scrubbing his eyes with the front of his shirt, Naruto thought maybe he should turn himself in to the ladies he knew were probably looking for him by now so he could ask them to fix the man so he wasn't dead anymore. There had to be a way to do that! Those ladies had fixes for EVERYTHING! Even the stuff that really didn't need fixing.
Wiping his nose on his sleeve, he spied the bowl on the bedside table and climbed up onto the chair next to the bed. The stuff in the bowl was mushy and soupy looking, and it smelled kind of awful, so it was probably medicine. He scooped up the bowl and very carefully traversed the canyon of distance between the chair and the bed. When he got himself settled onto the mattress and looked up at the man, he was surprised to notice that he wasn't a man at all. He was just a stinky old teenager with grey hair!
It was so incomprehensibly WRONG that a stinky teenager was sitting there dead, unmoving and unresponsive, when he should have been writhing with energy the way all the other teenagers in the village were! Naruto felt his eyes start to water again as the wrongness of it all twisted and scratched at his insides. As those eyes stared right over his shoulder without seeing him. He lifted the bowl to the teen's face and there was a shadow of movement from the corpse.
Then the eyes were looking at him, but they didn't see him. They saw something else. Something haunted and dark and empty and sad and painful and lifeless and he wasn't going to be able to take it if the dead teen cried, because his own eyes were going all swimmy again just thinking about it! He sniffled and spooned up some of the mushy soup, holding it out. The medicine would fix everything! As nasty as it always was, it also always made all the hurts go away.
"Don't cry," Naruto whispered in a tiny voice. He knew the teen didn't see him, but maybe...just maybe he heard because he opened his mouth to allow Naruto to feed him the medicine that would stop him from being dead.
Kakashi stood above the prone figure on the ground, the light breeze tugging at the cloak wrapped around him and whispering against the edges of his ceramic mask. The child was laying on his back asleep, arms stretched out as if begging the sky to simply pick him up and take him away. What a painfully impossible wish to have on your sixth birthday.
Every year on this day an ANBU escort was assigned to watch Naruto from the shadows, never revealing their presence to the boy or anyone else. This was the first year Kakashi had been up on the rotation, and it might very well be the last time he'd have to pull guard duty for Konoha's jinchūriki. Naruto would be entering the Academy that year, and soon the dead would have been buried long enough for the escorts to stop.
Unfortunately, the cold malice wouldn't end so swiftly, and he wondered if Naruto wished for the same thing every year. He wondered if there would be a time when that wish would change to something that wouldn't leave him asleep on the ground with tears on his eyelashes. He wondered if he'd be able to see that day, and crouched down to a knee next to the boy as he silently sighed at his own improbable, if not impossible, wish.
Slipping his hand into the supply pouch at his back, Kakashi drew out the small package he'd wrapped that morning. He honestly didn't know what the hell he'd been thinking when he'd bought the item, but his body had acted on its own when he'd spied the goggles in the shop window on his way home after learning he'd be the one watching over Naruto for his birthday. It was so silly and worthless, but he gingerly tucked the gift into the boy's jacket anyway.
Maybe it would help. Maybe it wouldn't. Maybe it would be just enough to keep the blonde from crying himself to sleep for this one night. That was all he wanted, really. That wasn't such an impossible wish, was it? Even if he'd almost... It was normal that he wanted his sensei's son to be happy on his birthday, wasn't it? Particularly when he'd almost... That wasn't reaching too far, right? Not after what he'd almost... It was okay for him to care just a little bit, especially on this day, wasn't it? Because there had been a time he'd almost... Hesitantly, he slid his finger delicately at the corner of Naruto's eye to wipe away the tear.
"Don't cry," Kakashi whispered.
The ceramic mask drifted and sank awkwardly down through the water, the river's current tumbling it end over end. Small bubbles of air floated out of the hollow eyes like tears, as if the mask understood that it had been abandoned to the will of the Fates. As if it knew its owner's desire was to have it smashed to pieces on the rocks up ahead. It rolled and spun as the river picked up speed, the water churning and roaring till it finally tumbled helplessly over the waterfall.
For years the mask had served its purpose unfailingly, hiding the one behind it from the world. It had never cracked under the strain of countless battles. It had never blinked in the face of death. It had shielded its master from the blood that sometimes fell like rain, and always always washed clean as the freshly fallen snow afterwords. It had watched and listened silently, remembering everything and guarding all the secrets zealously behind its smirking visage.
The sharp rocks at the base of the waterfall jutted out like teeth, gnashing eagerly in the maelstrom of swirling and thrashing water. Half a centimeter that way, an inch this way, a hair's breadth down, and the mask would shatter like an eggshell beneath the heel of a boot. The contours and holes in the painted object made its travel sharply erratic and unpredictable, narrowly escaping irreparable damage until the whirlpool shot it out into the relatively calmer current away from the waterfall.
It eased reluctantly down toward the rocky bottom of the river, a few lingering pockets of air squeezing out of the eyes as if it didn't want to be broken. As if it didn't want to be lost. As if it didn't want its secrets to be spilled out and sent floating downstream. As if it didn't want to stop shielding the memories of the man who'd painted it into existence.
A dark shape lingering near the bottom abruptly darted out as the mask neared the stones that would pin and eventually break it, and the mask tumbled to the side as the creature swam quickly away in fright. A snaking thread of seaweed caught it, holding it almost thoughtfully for a moment in the swirling water, and then the rest of the long tangling fingers of the river grass flowed over the red and white surface to wind and draw it into its soft secure folds. The weeds and water skated over the bumpy texture of the mask, as if whispering.
The years passed by, and the mask saw many more things in the shadowy depths. One day it was almost jarred loose from its safe nest, the water above thrown into violent turmoil as a remembered face and an unfamiliar opponent threatened to rip the river and each other apart. The water was salty with tears, the sky cried, and the mask watched and held all those secrets close. The reeds whispered against the algae that had grown thick over its white and red surface as small bubbles of air were stirred up from the bottom and floated through the hollow eyes.
Seasons changed again and again, and patiently the mask waited on the murky bottom of the river. The weeds had grown so thick over it that it couldn't see, unable to watch the world go by. Something hesitant and a bit clumsy bumped into it one day, then scooped up the whole mass of seaweed to bring it into the sunlight. Tangled slimy grasses were pulled carefully away, and a remembered face stared back at it in wonder, smiling and crying and laughing. Algae dripped and slid loose from the empty eyes as trembling fingers gently inspected it for injuries.
"Don't cry," Naruto said quietly, carefully beginning to sweep the algae off the face of the mask. "I'll keep you safe."
The mask smirked, as if in satisfaction or amusement at a private joke. It watched the remembered face silently while new secrets echoed old ones, and all of them were hoarded protectively behind the painted ceramic surface.