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The Summoning [Aug. 21st, 2015|09:26 pm]

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[Takes place late morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours after Devil's Got My Secrets and two days after God Save the Foolish Kings]

It took two days to hear anything from T&I. Raidou managed to stay sane, just about.

Shibata’s advice anchored him: Hatake’s loyalty — and Shiranui’s, Tousaki’s, and Ueno’s — isn’t lightly earned, captain. Let that rest in your mind. It certainly made an impression in mine. Whenever he felt himself slipping into worry and doubt, Raidou lifted that thought like a shield. My team has faith.

The meeting had yielded another thing, too, after some time to mull it over: he liked the head of T&I. Shibata Tomohiro was a scary, scary man, but he’d still treated Raidou with surprising gentleness, and only kicked Raidou to knock down old, crippled armor that wasn’t helping anymore. He’d left Raidou with hope.

I’ve yet to find a well-forged weapon so dull it couldn’t be sharpened.

So Raidou filled his time with hard training, eating wholesome food, reading every book on genjutsu and trauma therapy he could get his hands on (when Shun ran out, he went to the jounin library and checked out as many new volumes as the suspicious librarian would let him carry), doing chores around his mothers’ house (there were many), sleeping, and waiting.

When the ANBU messenger finally arrived, Raidou’s stomach didn’t flip. It was the same kunoichi as before: buzzed haircut, lizard mask, absent manners. Raidou set down the heavy weight set he’d been working out with on the grass (it was too big to use indoors; the backyard was barely big enough), swiped a wrist across his forehead, and acknowledged her. “Agent.”

“The Hokage requests your presence at 1130,” she said perfunctorily.

That gave him more than an hour. )
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Devil's Got My Secrets [May. 24th, 2015|08:19 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 15, Yondaime Year 5, two days after God Save the Foolish Kings and the morning after Comfort Trap]

The first reports of the day brought Sagara Okiku with them, treading soft and relentless on Lynx's heels. Lynx slid the stack of files onto Minato's desk, saluted, and pulled up a chair for his commander before he retreated to the anteroom and shut the door.

"I don't suppose you brought another pot of coffee with you," Minato said, without much hope.

Sagara tapped her fingers to her tattoo, crisp and correct, and took her seat in front of the desk. Her back was perfectly straight, knees set together, hands resting lightly on her thighs. Sometimes he wondered if she ever slouched.

"I thought the tasks of the day might prove stirring enough," she said. There was a faint glint in her eye, not yet a smile. "But we can acquire something, if you're in dire need."

Minato waved her offer away. )
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Comfort Trap [May. 24th, 2015|07:40 pm]

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[Takes place the afternoon of May 14, Yondaime Year 5, the day after Trouble Round My Door]

On Saturday afternoon, Ogata-san didn't come to pick Naruto up from preschool.

Dad came instead. Naruto knew it from the moment he squeezed past Shikamaru out the door and saw most of the moms and nannies bunched up in a cluster at the play-yard fence, like pigeons on a roofline with a cat at the other end. Only Dad wasn't going to eat them.

He was just standing at the gate, chatting to Shikamaru's mom and Kiba's uncle, and he wasn't even wearing his white Hokage coat. He had jounin blues and a flak vest, just like Kiba's uncle. Nobody was going to mistake him for Kiba's uncle, though. He didn't have the tattoos, or the big brindled dog looking over the fence and perking up her ears when she saw Kiba come shrieking.

Since Kiba was shrieking, and trying to scramble over the fence and launch himself at the dog, Naruto tried sneaking. Dad was right in front of the gate, but there was a loose board on the side yard that Shikamaru and Naruto had made looser and none of the sensei had found yet. Naruto went that way. He had to wriggle, and he scraped his hand and tore his shirt but only a little. Kiba was still yelling when Naruto stood up.

Dad had stepped aside from the fence, so the more nervous nannies could scrunch past and collect their children.  )
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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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Trouble Round My Door [Feb. 6th, 2015|10:24 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 13, Yondaime Year 5, two days after Sound the Bells and one day after When Your World Starts Crashing Down and Pour Me Something Stronger]

Team Lead Shirotani blew into the Fire Country division office like the cold north wind, strewing paperwork and assignments in his wake. "Pre-mission briefing in 20 minutes in room H70. Hiyashi, I want you on it. Yamanaka, do you have that report yet?"

"On your desk, Shirotani-kakarichou." Yamanaka Susuki never looked up from her typewriter, manicured fingers rattling across the keys.

"Well done." Shirotani paused briefly by his desk, to set his coffee down on top of a teetering stack of paperwork and pick up another file. "Who's got this morning free?"

Kurenai exchanged wary glances with Tomo and Hide, across the aisle. "Why do you ask?"

"I'll catch you out one of these days, Yuuhi," Shirotani sighed. He held the file up. 'I got word this morning that Hatake Kakashi's been cleared for debriefing. Volunteers? Victims?' )
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Little Lion Man [Sep. 21st, 2014|11:30 am]

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[Takes place May 12, Yondaime Year 5, about nine days after Breakfast of Champions and the day after One of Those Lives (Get Used to It).]

Naruto approved of the new housekeeper from the start. Turtle recommended her, and Naruto got to interview her, and she turned out to be a short, lean, iron-grey person with her hair all up in a topknot and one eye missing. She wore an eyepatch when she came in for her interview, like Kakashi-niisan did.

Naruto asked her what was behind it. Dad made an exasperated noise and said "That is the kind of question you don't have to answer."

"I don't mind," Ogata-san said briefly, and took off her eyepatch.

There was a hollow where her eye should have been, and a knotted mess of scar tissue, all faded red. Naruto made an excited noise and tried to jump out of his chair to get closer and see, but Dad grabbed him and put him back down.

The corner of Ogata-san's mouth twitched up. She said to Naruto, "We didn't have masks, the way Turtle-san does, when I was young."

She was Turtle's aunt. She had been ANBU until she lost her eye, under Nidaime, when they were just barely beginning to be ANBU, and then she had been a jounin sensei twice, and then she'd retired after the war and gone to cooking school in Hikouto, only she lost her job at the last restaurant she worked at because she threw a cleaver at the head chef. )
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Shoot the Messenger [Jan. 4th, 2014|01:07 am]

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[Takes place the evening of May 4, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours following Breakfast of Champions.]

Kakashi slept until the late afternoon, sprawled comfortably on the couch in a moving sunbeam, until Naruto burst back fresh from school.

“Is he still here?” Naruto demanded.

Kakashi hooked a thumb towards Minato’s room.

Whooping, Naruto charged in like a tiny whirlwind and pounced, rousing his father in a cloud of bed hair and confusion. Despite familiar surroundings, Minato was still operating in a mission frame of mind; he immediately tried to go to the office. It took a combination of emotional manipulation, small boy tears, and Otter—the afternoon ANBU guard—leaving and returning with a message from Sagara that simply said ‘No’ before he could be persuaded to have dinner instead.

Since it was a special day, they ordered take out ramen (Otter taste-tested for poison, while Naruto watched in fascination) and cued up the old favorite movies that Minato rarely had time to watch anymore, since there was only so much Captain Seaweed he could tolerate before declaring mutiny. Naruto settled belly-down on the rug, feet tangled up with his father’s, and drew increasingly incomprehensible pictures with his crayon set. He presented each one to Minato, who declared them all a work of mad genius.

It was proven fact that Minato had questionable taste (see: opinion on Captain Seaweed, frog motif, his son’s name), but Kakashi didn’t argue with him. )
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Breakfast of Champions [Dec. 26th, 2013|10:59 pm]

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[Takes place the morning of May 4, Yondaime Year 5, about an hour after Leading the Lost Ones.]

Naruto woke up too hot. His hair was sticky, all over his head, and his new footie pajamas with the frogs on them were all twisted up around around his belly and too tight. He squirmed, trying to get comfy, and kicked something.

Something said, "Nrgh."

Naruto froze, clutching his blankie. This was his bed. There wasn't supposed to be anybody else in it. Monsters lived under the bed sometimes, but Dad always went under the bed with a kunai and when he came out the monsters were all dead. But Dad wasn't here. What if the monsters got brave, with Dad away, and tried to come up on the bed and eat him?

A monster that fit under the bed couldn't be very big. )
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Leading the Lost Ones [Dec. 26th, 2013|10:04 pm]

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[Takes place in the early morning of May 4, Yondaime Year 5, a few hours after We Started Nothing.]

Minato landed on the red-tiled seal in the corded-off corner of the hospital lobby, staggered, and dropped to one knee. Someone grabbed for his shoulder. He shrugged the hand off. "When I'm facedown, you can grab me," he said sharply. "Not before then."

"Sorry, Hokage-sama," the woman behind him muttered. Her voice was thick with exhaustion, too. Fukui Ayane, he dredged up. ANBU Ferret. Rookie on Fukeda Hajime's team, currently one-half of what was left of ANBU Team Three.

Hajime himself lay on a stretcher on the floor with his face bare of his Squirrel mask and a mess of charred meat where his left hip had been. They'd sedated him for the nightmare jerk between realities from Hikouto to Konoha, like the others too badly injured for Hikouto's medics to heal. He'd brought back eight in total—four unconscious, one walking, Team Three's rookie, one medic, and the Sandaime's son.

And three bodies, two ANBU and the brave, foolish Intel agent who'd triggered the traitors' trap for them. )
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To the Rescue [Sep. 23rd, 2013|10:12 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime year 5, April 29, a short time after Take the Heartland]

The message came by radio, garbled and static-broken. The genin who received it had been drowsing at her installation, at the end of a long shift; the transmission had been repeating for some time, she reported, before she startled awake and dragged her headphones on.

She was ashen-faced, trembling, holding the paper with her transcription in shaking hands. "Hokage-sama, I didn't— I didn't know. I'm sorry. I—"

"Just give me the message," Minato said quietly.

The woman swallowed hard, nodded, and looked down. "I caught it midway through the repeat," she said. "...palace guard uniforms. The Palace is burning. The Daimyou's whereabouts are unknown. The Guardian Twelve are in combat. At least six have joined the rebels, or are leading them. Urgent assistance requested. Damn you, send the Hokage!" She flushed, red on white, and said unsteadily, "Then it starts over. Konoha One, this is Fire One. S-Class transmission forthcoming. Repeat, this is an S-class transmission. There is fighting in the Fire Daimyou's Palace—"

"That's enough." Minato kept his voice even. Maybe too flat; Oita Gennosuke, standing by the window, turned to give him a sharp look. Minato ignored him. "Give Oita the transcription," he told the radio operator. "Is the transmission still repeating?"

She shook her head. "It cut out just after I recorded this."

Fire had reached the radio room, or the rebels had. )
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After the Tornado [Sep. 7th, 2013|12:33 am]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 23, four days after Take the Mask, One Minute More, and Take a Number]

Minato was late for the briefing that morning, though it wasn't strictly his fault. He shouldn't have let Sagara schedule it at 0730, but with a conference with the ambassador from Rain Country set for 0900 and a shinobi's funeral at 1400 there wasn't much room anywhere else in the day. Unfortunately, Naruto demanded breakfast precisely at 0700, and a small child's schedule was even less malleable than an ambassador's. Naruto threw louder tantrums, too, when his favorite over-sugared cereal ran out.

Saya-san, the housekeeper, was mortified. Minato was impatient. Naruto was inconsolable, until a turtle-masked ANBU slipped through the kitchen window and set a bulging cloth shopping bag on the table. "It's 0732, Hokage-sama," she murmured.

Minato bit his tongue on one of the words he was trying very hard not to use around Naruto. )
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Take the Mask [Jul. 24th, 2013|10:14 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 19th, the day after Dangerous Game and Heaven's Got a Plan For You.]

The night before oath-day, Kakashi didn’t sleep.

He hadn’t had mission-related butterflies for years, and he didn’t now. These were tigers chewing on his spine. Excitement with teeth. And tense, over-thought—

Not fear, exactly.

He wasn’t afraid.

Maybe, for once in his life, he was actually ready for something.

He left the skeleton-crew boxes of his packed apartment when the moon was still setting, and went to the Hokage’s Monument, picking out a seat on stone spikes of the Sandaime’s hair. When dawn came, he had a perfect view.

Tuesday was fire-day, the namesake day of Fire Country, and someone had given nature the message. The sun rose in a blaze of orange and gold, draping Konoha in molten light. The river glittered. The forest swayed in a warm eastern breeze. Even the heavy crags of the carved Hokage faces looked less severe.

And Kakashi was late. )
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Heaven's Got a Plan For You [Jul. 24th, 2013|09:43 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 18th, several hours after Dangerous Game]

Even though Namikaze Minato was only about a decade older than him, Raidou felt exactly an inch tall kneeling in front of the Hokage’s desk, waiting for judgement to fall on the back of his neck.

“At ease, captain,” said Yondaime-sama.

Raidou took that to mean stand up, not collapse on your face and attempt to hide in the rug. He found his feet, standing straight-backed, and slapped a respectful salute against his scarlet ANBU tattoo. “Commanders.”

Sagara-sama sat at the Hokage’s right, like a favored partner. The vice-commander stood on the Hokage’s left, back a pace, like a much less favored step-child.

“Namiashi Raidou, captaining Team Six,” Yondaime-sama said. He glanced down, checking an open file in front of him. “Lieutenant Shiranui Genma. As members, Ueno Katsuko, Hatake Kakashi, and Tousaki Ryouma.” He looked back up, a faint smile curving his handsome mouth. “Good luck, captain. I have no doubt you're up to the task.”

Raidou couldn’t have heard that right. )
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Dangerous Game [Jul. 6th, 2013|11:39 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 18, the day after Run, Rabbit, Run and Take Me Back to the Start.]

Ryouma woke in the dark hours after midnight to a blue and white mask bending over him and a hand on his throat.

"I moved the kunai under your pillow," a low alto voice said, very quietly.

His good hand was under his pillow already, long fingers flattening. No cold brush of steel, just a tiny slit in the bottom sheet where the blade must have snagged as she'd drawn it out. He drew a slow breath.

"You didn't trigger my wards," he said.

"I had a key." The hand left his throat. She straightened, slim and straight in ANBU black and bone. The mask caught the yellow spill of light from the streetlamp below the window; better lit, its fragmented blue accents still didn't resolve into any recognizable animal. Maybe the ANBU quartermaster wasn't much of a naturalist.

She said, 'Tousaki Ryouma, the Hokage requires your presence.' )
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Take Me Back to the Start [Jun. 29th, 2013|02:46 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 17th, in the early morning after Run, Rabbit, Run.]

A hospital was a good place to reflect on your shortcomings.

Of course, with a little practice, anywhere could serve as a place to yank your flaws out, sharpen up the edges, and stab yourself with them—repeatedly, for preference, until you’d finished bleeding incompetence over the floor and could actually stand your own company again.

Not that Kakashi had that kind of problem.

Or difficulty looking at himself in the private bathroom’s tiny, depressing mirror.

He washed his hands, careful not to wet the edges of the new white bandage wrapped around his wrist, and shoved his hair back from his forehead. It fell forward one spike at a time until it looked exactly the same. He gave up on it.

Minato-sensei was waiting for him back in the hospital room, backlit by milky dawn light. )
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Run, Rabbit, Run [Jun. 9th, 2013|08:59 pm]

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[Takes place Yondaime Year 5, April 16, the morning after Field of Daggers.]

Kakashi visited the Heroes’ Stone on the morning of the second trial.

It had stopped raining; the air was cold and clean, and Obito had zero useful advice to offer. Kakashi left a single flower at the foot of the stone, mostly to annoy him.

Dawn was still a distant possibility when he arrived at the hidden training field behind the Hokage’s monument. The commander wasn’t there yet. Kakashi slipped in behind the loose knot of sleepy-eyed candidates. Today, most of them had thought to bundle up in oiled rain-cloaks over their uniforms. All of them had visible weapons — slung swords, kunai, shuriken. One woman had a giant folded fan strapped to her back.

It took Ryouma less than four seconds to find him. )
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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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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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