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Ashes in My Wake [Mar. 7th, 2015|02:49 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of March 2, Sandaime Year 24. Kakashi is 8 years old. Told from the perspective of Sakumo’s friend, Uchiha Kousuke.]

There are only a handful of mourners at the funeral, and they are outnumbered by an unruly mob at the crematory gates. Families of the other dead, who are glad to see Konoha’s notorious traitor burned to ash, and offended he’s afforded even this last dignity. The widow wears formal black with a shroud pulled over her hair, hiding her face in shadow. The son’s face is masked, too, but he stands at his mother’s side with fierce eyes. Unwarranted sun gleams off his hair, the same shade of near-white as his late father’s.

A priest mumbles his way through a sutra for the dead, comforting no-one. The casket is closed, a simple, dark wood, without ornament. It rests on the rollers that will take it into the oven, but Kousuke doubts even Fire Country’s hottest flames will be able to burn the stain of shame from Sakumo’s bones.

He takes a deep breath and tries not to think about the body of his friend sliced through the belly in ritual suicide and decaying inside that wooden box. There are at least two hundred dead souls — already burned with their ashes already interred — sitting in judgment at this funeral, waiting for the smoke to rise.

A breeze ripples late blossoming plums on the hill behind the crematorium, tearing a few pinkish petals free to drift onto the dark gravel of the crematory yard. At the son’s other side, his young teacher stands straight backed and golden-haired. His eyes are just as fierce, red-rimmed against pale skin. He drops a hand to the son’s slim shoulder, but the boy shrugs it away.

Kousuke had never really known Sakumo’s family. And Sakumo had never known his. They hadn’t needed to. But on several missions last year, they’d each carried letters for the other’s families, to be opened in the event of their deaths. He wonders if Sakumo’s widow has found the letter to Kousuke’s wife in her husband’s effects. If he should retrieve Sakumo’s letter, tucked into a scroll case with a few other important papers. If the kinder thing would be to deliver the letter, or destroy it.

Jiraiya is here. And, surprisingly, Orochimaru. Two of the three Sannin stand to bear witness to Sakumo’s end. Jiraiya is dry-eyed, a solid wall of a man with an unreadable blankness on his tattooed face. Surprisingly, it is Orochimaru, a man Kousuke has always found cold and distant, who looks like he’s been weeping.

The priest drones on, voice rising and falling in a cadence too familiar to the assembled mourners. The only difference between this funeral and the countless shinobi funerals that have come before it is the sparsity of attendance. The conspicuous absence of the Hokage or any of the village council.

Another breezy gust sends smoke from the braziers full of incense dancing towards the mourners. Sakumo’s son’s nose wrinkles under his mask, and he shifts from one foot to the other. His mother drops a hand this time, stilling the boy. There is more reprimand than comfort in the gesture.

Finally, the priest finishes the sutra. He chimes a small bell, ringing it in a slow, steady rhythm, like a dying heartbeat. Someone from the crematorium turns a crank, and the coffin rolls into the cavernous mouth of the furnace. There’s a faint roar as the flames are turned up.

Kousuke holds his breath as the coffin disappears through the oven doors. They slide down behind it, dull steel embossed with Konoha’s leaf and a pattern of cherry blossoms. Sakumo and he had shared a bottle of sake at the end of a mission under the blooming cherries nearly a year ago; this year’s flowers are still furled tight in their buds.

He looks up to stop the tears that want to blur his vision. White smoke drifting from the crematory chimney turns to black, and from outside the gates, there’s a ragged cheer. That’s when his eyes spill over. When someone here inside the gates chokes back a sob. Kousuke knows without looking it’s not the widow. Not the child.

When he has control of himself again, the priest is conferring with the widow. Jiraiya steps in to form a small, protective huddle with his former pupil, putting a hand on the blond’s shoulder. For a moment, it looks like the younger man will break. His chest heaves, and his pale skin reddens, but then Sakumo’s son reaches up to tug on his hand, and he pulls himself together.

Orochimaru stands a few steps back. Dark hair hangs over his face the way Sakumo’s widow’s shroud had hidden hers. His shoulders shake once, and he snaps a sharp turn and vanishes, leaving a swirl of crumbling leaves in his wake.

There’s no reason to stay. It will be an hour, maybe more, before Sakumo’s body will be consumed. Before Sakumo’s widow and son will pick blackened bones out of grey ash and transfer them to the burial urn. If they do. Surely they will see this funeral through to the end, having come so far.

But the bone-picking is for the family alone, a final ritual before the urn itself can be buried. Kousuke wonders where the grave will be. Perhaps on the Hatake clan’s estate.

The only things he knows for sure is that Hatake Sakumo’s name will never grace the Heroes’ Stone, and those angry picketers at this farce of a funeral will never be satisfied.

There’s no reason to stay, but it takes until Sakumo’s wife turns her head, notices him standing there, for Kousuke to realize he should go. He bows to her, low and deep. When he straightens, the son is looking at him too, grey eyes as piercing as Sakumo’s were.

He salutes the boy, and leaves before his own tears betray him.

Image credit Leia Ham
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Mama Come Home [Aug. 2nd, 2014|12:48 am]

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[Takes place in late September, Sandaime Year 14, when Genma is two.]

Shiranui Yuuichi didn’t hear the knock at the door above the din of the rain on the ceramic tile roof and the screams of his overtired two-year-old.

“I want Mama!” Genma raged. He lay on the floor, thrashing his tiny limbs and wailing the words over and over again, until “Mama” was just a long, drawn out cry of fury. His little face was brick red, his eyes and nose streaming, and there was nothing, nothing Yuuichi could do.

“Mama’s on a mission,” he said helplessly. “She’ll be home tomorrow, Gen-chan. Just take a nap for Papa. Please.”

He could practically hear Etsuko laughing at him. “There’s no reasoning with a toddler, Yuuichi.”

He’d tried every toy, every game, every book, every trick, and every treat he could think of. Even Genma’s favorite stories, Noisy Little Monkey and The Dancing Kettle, had fallen flat. Unfinished jigsaw puzzles and building blocks littered the floor. Half a chestnut-paste bun lay next to a sippy cup of warmed milk, abandoned on the kotatsu. Nothing was working.

Etsuko’s two and three day missions away hadn’t been easy, but Yuuichi’d managed. A week of solo parenthood was something else. Six months in, and he was sorry he’d ever agreed to her resuming full field duty. When she got back, he was renegotiating. Maybe she could work at the Hokage’s office or take that teaching position at the Academy. Anything that meant she’d be home at least once a day.

Genma needed her.

Yuuichi needed her.

“I want Mama!” Genma yowled, choking on his own tears.

The knocking came louder. )
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A Man Who is Not Afraid [Jul. 7th, 2013|03:36 pm]

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[Takes place in September of Yondaime Year 4, about six months before Ryouma's ANBU Trials. Warnings: NC-17, contains slash, graphic sex, and consensual BDSM/kink. Please read with an awareness of your own comfort level.]

Raidou made it home with blood in his hair, grit between his teeth, and a powerful desire for a shower, shave, and some kind of shindig.

Except no one said shindig anymore, so scratch that last one.

The barracks’ water pressure was temperamental at best, but it ran hot and long and very, very red before he was done with it. Heartblood spiralling down the drain. Well, there were worse ways to end up, he thought, making a clone to scrub his back. One day he’d be the crimson under someone else’s nails.

“Are you having a moment with yourself?” his clone asked, picking a ragged bit off the sponge.

“I might be,” Raidou said. “If myself would shut up.”

The clone raked through his hair, stripping out dried blood and other unmentionable things until Raidou felt re-sterilized and a little scalped. )
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Suffer the Children [Jun. 2nd, 2013|10:53 pm]

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[Takes place Sandaime Year 30/Yondaime Year 1, June 5, four months before the Kyuubi, when Genma is 17]

The war had officially been over for a year. The first anniversary celebration had been a few days of somber memorials followed by a week of wild revelry, and Konoha hadn’t stopped celebrating yet. Banners strung between buildings honored the troops, and the spiral-leaf emblem of Konohagakure rippled and fluttered on flags and pennants decorating nearly every door. Even dripping leftover raindrops from the latest one of Fire Country’s perennial June showers, the decorations were a cheery sight.

At seventeen, Genma was still too young to join the platoons of off-duty ninja enjoying the early June evening by getting tipsy, but no one was checking a uniformed shinobi’s ID too closely. Walking into certain bars with a hitai-ate tied around your head and a faintly blood-stained flak vest on over patched and repaired chuunin blues was an easy way to get a free drink or three, and maybe a willing partner for the night. Even for an awkwardly big-handed, skinny guy who still had a few pimples on his cheeks and nothing resembling a full beard.

It had been a long enough day running messages between the Hokage’s palace and Intel... )
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We Were Giants Once [Jun. 2nd, 2013|07:21 pm]

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[Takes place Sandaime Year 26, four years before the Kyuubi, when Ryouma is thirteen.]

Everyone knew that Hatake Kakashi had been placed on a team of one when he graduated from the Academy. Ryouma didn't see why they couldn't do the same for him.

"Because you're a thirteen-year-old hooligan, not a seven-year-old prodigy, and no one volunteered," Naoto-sensei said unsympathetically. She'd kept him after on the last day of class to make him clean the new team assignments off the blackboards; he reached higher than she did, these days, or any of the Academy teachers except Himura-sensei. She'd stayed because, she said, someone had to make sure he didn't write dirty things on them afterwards.

Since most of the things Ryouma knew how to write were dirty, she had a valid point.  )
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Burning on the Western Front [Jun. 2nd, 2013|04:23 pm]

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[Takes place in June of Sandaime Year 29, just over a year before the Kyuubi, when Raidou is eighteen.]

The first time Raidou ripped someone's arm off at the shoulder, he had nightmares for days. That was a long time ago. Now he kicks his screaming target in the face and throws the arm to Gorou, who's out of weapons. A sparking jutsu turns the limb to stone, and Gurou beats another man to death with it, making blood and bone fly. Raidou breaks the amputee's neck.

And that's Tuesday.

The Third Great Ninja War was seven years old before Raidou got into it, a shiny teenage chuunin with ambitions to make himself a hero. He's eighteen now, still a chuunin, and it's the only day job he’s ever had.

Sometimes he suspects it might be screwing him up. )
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Secrets That We Keep [Jun. 1st, 2013|08:27 pm]

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[Takes place October 17, Yondaime Year 1]

Sandaime’s funeral takes place on a grey afternoon, a week after the Fox’s rampage through Konoha. Despite the hundreds dead and the destruction wrought, nearly all of the village’s surviving ninja and civilians arrive in mourning black. Yondaime himself stands before the gathered crowd, face carved in lines of sorrow. Enough rubble has been cleared away to make room for the unlit funeral pyre— and the body.

In death, Sandaime’s face is free of the haunted look it has borne for the past three months. The hole in his torso from one of the Fox’s giant claws is covered by a set of Hokage’s robes, gleaming white amidst the charred grey of Konoha. His students, Lady Tsunade and Jiraiya the Toad Hermit, stand like statues on Yondaime-sama’s right, their expressions dark and unreadable.

The space between them where the third Sannin should be is empty. )
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Don't Fear The Dark [Jun. 1st, 2013|05:19 pm]

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[Takes place Sandaime Year 20, ten years before the Kyuubi, when Kakashi is four.]

The mask was waiting for him in the hallway.

Kakashi stuck his head cautiously around the kitchen door, saw the the red-lacquered eyeholes gleaming in the shadows, and ducked back into the kitchen. His mother found him rooting through the cutlery drawer, balanced on a tall stool to reach the handles. Her long, dark hair was knotted in a complicated twist, with calligraphy brushes rammed through it. A few drops of ink splattered one cheekbone.

“Looking for something?” she asked.

He’d read Shizuoka Noburu’s Lessons From Behind Enemy Lines last week. The chief principle had been deny everything. “No,” he said.

Her eyebrows lifted. )
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No Old Heroes [May. 30th, 2013|09:41 pm]

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The guttering embers of Obito's funeral pyre die around dawn. Rin helps Minato-sensei gather the ashes and break camp, a hollow feeling in her chest where grief should be. Kannabi Bridge lies in ruins miles behind them; Kakashi hasn't said a word since Minato-sensei rescued them yesterday. She finds Kakashi out in the meadow, staring up at the sky. The bandage wrapped around his head makes her eyes burn.

“Kakashi,” she says, and touches his shoulder. He doesn’t shrug her off. “Kakashi, we have to go.”

After a moment, he turns to look at her and nods. She’s known him long enough to read the tightly controlled fragility in the set of his spine, the shape of his mouth underneath the ever-present mask. He looks one step away from falling apart.

“Come on,” she says gently, and takes his hand.

He lets her lead him out of the meadow. )
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After the Ending [May. 20th, 2013|07:02 pm]

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For the first three days after Kushina’s death, Naruto never stops crying, and Minato never puts him down.

Maybe that first is an exaggeration, Kushina’s dramatics rubbing off on him at last (too late.) Naruto wails himself into an angry, exhausted sleep from time to time. The world is too big for a newborn to rail against forever.

Minato envies him, all the same. He wants to scream, wants to weep, wants to shake the foundations of the earth, rage with thunder and whirlwinds against the heavens until the gods themselves kneel down in fear and give him Kushina back. And he could, he thinks sometimes, walking the rooftop in the smoky hours before dawn, with Naruto sniveling against his shoulder and ANBU guards shadowing silently behind-- he could challenge the gods, if gods there are in a world burned over. There are demons. Kushina died with one.

Another ANBU appears in a flicker of smoke, kneeling with his fist to the concrete rooftop. “Hokage-sama,” he says, not quietly; Naruto has begun wailing again with the abrupt chakra flare, and he has his mother’s lungs. “They’ve found the Sandaime’s body.”

The bone-white armor is charred and cracked; dried blood masks his tattoo. He reeks of death and fire, and his bowed shoulders tremble, a little, as he waits. Minato isn’t the only one who hasn’t slept since the Kyuubi came.

The ANBU might follow him against heaven. But half of them are dead, and so is the Sandaime, and a quarter of Konoha’s ninja corps. Who would look after the survivors, if Minato waged war against the gods?

He cradles Naruto’s head against his shoulder, rubs the tiny, shaking back. Blinks hard, against the drift of smoke that is all he can breathe, these days.

“I’ll come down,” he says. “Can someone warm a bottle for my son?”
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