gigantomachy: (sakura // awake)
gigantomachy ([personal profile] gigantomachy) wrote on June 3rd, 2007 at 09:32 am
[ Naruto ] Mourning Air
So, this was actually the first Naruto fic I ever started writing. It's been molding on various hard drives since about, gee, 2003. You'd think that after four years, I'd somehow manage to come up with some truly inspiring opus, but there was a reason that it sat there. I'd look at it from time to time, half-finished as it was with bits that I was totally pleased with, and just not know how to get to the end. Surprisingly enough, I ended up pulling pretty much all of those parts, because I've learned a lot about characterization in that time, and I've learned a lot about Kakashi as well. I also discovered that I prefer writing present-tense to past-tense.

Originally, it was titled 'Bad Guys', and was supposed to be follow a conversation between Kakashi and Naruto over morality and Zabuza and Haku's villain status. The end product, however, deviated considerably, and while I still wanted to follow that thread (and may at some later time), it became a lighter piece on Naruto's first real encounter with mortality and reality as he never imagined it.

Inspiration via Portishead and, uh, Dan Fogelburg. (SHUT UP DON'T JUDGE ME. D:) Naruto is not mine, and I'm totally making no money whatsoever with my fandrivel. Comments are appreciated -- I wonder if you can tell where I picked it up?


mourning air
(a part of the heart gets lost in the learning)


Twilight lingers beyond the aspen groves, six hours since they died here and it is still snowing. Two shinobi work side by side in respectful silence, the younger of them unnaturally quiet since they'd begun this thankless task.

Kakashi wonders if this is the real Naruto he works with now. The boy is reserved, unencumbered by the mask of the childish prankster, his expression mournful and contemplative in a way that doesn't fit his carefree image at all.

Kakashi is proud of him, as curious as he is concerned about the obvious bond that had been forged between his pupil and the young shinobi Zabuza had retained. Perhaps there will be a time to ask, though Kakshi knows he never will -- he of all people can understand the value of secrets, and for that reason he does not mention seeing the boy slip a piece of the broken mask into his pouch.

The wood is wet with snow, but it is a trivial concern; fire jutsu creates enough heat to burn things far less flammable than this. It would be easier to just forego the wood altogether, but Kakashi has great respect for the shinobi pair and will hold a proper funeral. (There is also the matter of erasing the bodies; without a true hunter-nin, it is up to Kakashi to obscure the secrets of the Mist.)

Beyond that, he has a feeling Naruto would not allow anything less.

Naruto leaves for a few moments, returning with one last armload of wood, almost stumbling before continuing on stubbornly without so much as a sound of complaint. Their battle has taken much from them, but there is no one else who can do this -- Sakura refuses to leave Sasuke's side, and the Uchiha boy is back at Tazuna's home, slipping in and out of consciousness as his body tries to negotiate the damage it has taken from Haku's devastating attacks.

That is part of Naruto's silence, Kakashi thinks. There had been so much in the sudden spike of chakra, but it had been so, so strange. Dark and foreboding and evil, oh yes, but it was the--

--the tangible swirls of grief that curled like smoke through that seemingly endless power, thin and choking, like stepping out into deep winter from the warmth of a welcoming home. It left him gasping for air. It left him feeling that the world had ended, and he wasn't sure why.

He wonders, briefly, which of that body's inhabitants had been responsible. Not because he doesn't believe his student can grieve (nor does he truly believe the kyuubi can), but because he didn't think humans are capable of that level of anguish. It had felt so...endless.

Overpowering.

Inhuman.

Naruto kneels in the snow, placing the last pieces of wood on their makeshift pyre; inelegant, yes, but it will serve its purpose well enough. He sits there a moment in silence, and Kakashi wonders what sort of thoughts run through the boy's head. Dimly, the jounin realizes that this has been Naruto's first battle to end in death. A twinge of unexpected sympathy hits Kakashi.

He should have been able to keep his innocence a little longer.

He quells the thought, almost as soon as it occurs.

But we are shinobi, and he is the fox-child, and this is the first of too many deaths that he will see. It would not do to turn away now.

Naruto jumps beneath the damp fleece of his coat as Kakashi's hand clasps his shoulder. Slowly, he lifts his head to face his sensei, and it is impossible not to feel the pain painted across his deep blue eyes. His is a child's grief; the sorrow of first blood smeared across his cheeks and clothes. For a moment they simply look at each other, and then Naruto turns away like he has been caught doing something wrong.

Kakashi lowers his hand, and leaves the boy to his silence and his grief.

"This sucks," Naruto says quietly. "This really, really sucks."

"This is what we all become one day," Kakashi answers, a little too quickly. "One day, it will be me. One day, it will be you, too. Sasuke and Sakura too, and everyone else we've ever known."

Naruto's hands shake visibly, and Kakashi realizes that perhaps that was not the right thing to say. He sighs, and tries something a little more appropriate. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Naruto answers simply. "I guess we should do this, huh?" He gestures to the wood inarticulately, and starts to stand.

Kakashi blinks. "Yeah." He pauses a moment to gather his chakra, feeling the warmth rush through the channels in his arms, swirling and building in his fingertips as he forms the seals. Naruto gasps softly as fire blossoms before them, igniting the wood and the bodies in an instant.

Another silence passes between the pair, two shinobi seperately contemplating both Death and Purpose. For one, it is a struggle--what has happened today is so vastly different from the glorious heroic ending he has raised himself to believe in, and the part of him that isn't reeling in horror is attempting to come to terms with this reality. For the other, it is an avenue of thought too-often travelled, and he still no closer to understanding.

Before them, the fire crackles and rages, the sickening scent of charred flesh and burning hair riding the currents. Naruto shudders and fights not to turn away, and it takes every ounce of effort in his small frame not to run for clearer air. He stares at the pyre, stares until his eyes lose focus and the crisp outlines of the flames blur into a red-orange wall. He holds on to that image until the smoke forces his eyes closed and leaves him blinking hot tears that cool fast against his cheeks.

"Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto's voice sounds small, empty of his usual forced confidence.

Kakashi shifts and lowers his head, watching Naruto struggle for words. The boy doesn't bother to wipe the tears from his cheeks, and for a moment, Kakashi's previous thoughts rise again to the surface before being pushed down firmly. "Yes, Naruto." It is not so much a question as an encouragement.

"Ha--Haku," Naruto tastes the syllables hesitantly, as if he isn't sure whether he is allowed to speak the dead boy's name, "he wanted me to kill him. He said I took his reason to live." He shudders and huddles in on himself, the action making him look far younger than he is. "I understood what he was saying, Kakashi-sensei. I don't--I don't understand why he had to die. Why wasn't there another way?" His voice rises as he continues, traces of desperation beginning to lace through his tone.

Kakashi contemplates that for a moment, sifting through his thoughts and memories in an attempt to explain to a twelve-year old ninja that there are things that supercede personal safety, that sometimes nindo is just another name for death wish; that one can rarely succeed on belief alone. He thinks of Obito and Rin and he thinks of the Yondaime and he thinks of all those names carved in cold stone and realizes that this is something that simply cannot be explained, no matter how one tries.

He notices that Naruto is looking at him, eyes wide and full of confusion, and he knows that Naruto will never understand because his will to live is stronger than anyone Kakashi has ever met. The fire crackles and spits, and Kakashi turns his attention back to the flames and curses silently the fact that he has never had a talent for words. "Sometimes," he says and swallows against the bile rising in his throat as his memory finally settles on the image of white hair streaked crimson with slick blood, the gut-turning scent of intestines freshly ruptured. "Sometimes, the price of our failure is more than we have."

Kakashi forces the memory back down and closes his eyes, recalling the secret satisfaction on Haku's face as Kakashi's hand broke through his fragile chest. He combs the snow out of his hair and says softly, "sometimes, there is no choice at all."

Naruto turns away, his expression pained, and Kakashi knows he is trying to reason out this thing that he is far too inexperienced and far too young to understand. He opens his mouth and abruptly closes it, then opens it again. "I was going to do it," Naruto says after a moment, his voice so low it's almost lost in the wind. "He stood there and told me to come at him because it was the only way and I thought Sasuke was dead and--"

"--You didn't kill him, Naruto," Kakashi says, and looks at Naruto with such intensity that the boy shrinks back. A part of him wants to lecture Naruto. A part of him wants to tell Naruto that at his age he had killed more people than he had years to his name. A part of him wants to tell Naruto that if he had killed Haku it would have been for the mission and nothing more --and that before long he will do just that-- but even though Naruto has not been Kakashi's student long, he can sense that there is more to this child, and that he will not be able to hide behind the encompassing wall of mission priority.

Naruto only looks away, and Kakashi tries to remember what it feels like to not have blood on his hands.

Several minutes pass, the silence hanging between them only emphasized by the whisper of falling snow and the crackle of burning wood. The fire has started to burn low, and where once bodies lay there is little left but cinders. Naruto slips a cold hand into the larger curve of Kakashi's, small fingers trembling as they press against the rough fabric of his glove. Kakashi starts, surprised at the sudden gesture, the childlike display of weakness. He regards the boy for a few long seconds, and then surprises himself by squeezing back. He has never been good at offering comfort, but Naruto's face softens then and Kakashi is overcome with a sudden, unexpected wave of gratitude.

"Can we go back?" Naruto asks quietly, and Kakashi realizes after a moment that Naruto is speaking of Tazuna's home beyond the forest. Kakashi can see that he is shivering, and he knows that Naruto is concerned about Sasuke, though Naruto would never admit it. He glances back to the dying fire, but there is nothing left to do here, no reason to remain in front of this heap of burned wood and ashes. He nods briefly, and Naruto releases Kakashi's hand, straightening and brushing the snow from his shoulders like he was never vulnerable.

Kakashi watches the embers for another moment, then turns and thrusts his hands deep in his pockets. He offers one last silent prayer for the spirits of the dead as he walks towards the edge of the forest, and listens behind him for the soft crunch of Naruto's footsteps in the snow. Before long, he knows, this storm will pass. Sasuke will rise and pretend that nothing ever happened, Naruto wil return to his careless ways, and Sakura will again take her place between them as the middle ground that binds them both firmly to the earth. Before long, this storm will pass, and perhaps they will be that much wiser for it, because there are lessons to be learned from life and mortality that no amount of his instruction can provide.

Or perhaps it won't. Perhaps Sasuke's indifference or Sakura's obsession or Naruto's foolishness--perhaps all these things--will be their ruin. Kakashi doesn't fool himself into thinking that there aren't flaws in the bonds his team is struggling to form; he is constantly reaching through the years to extract the important lessons of those who have come before him. He hopes it will be enough.

Above, the sun breaks through the clouds and Kakashi briefly imagines this small island as a jewel floating at the edge of a glittering sea. In the distance, the sound of the village bells echoes off the water, rising above the snow and the forest and escaping into the atmosphere. Naruto trots past him and turns back, and Kakashi is relieved to see that Naruto's face has been cleared of that melancholy expression, replaced with a look of impatience that propels Kakashi forward into the forest, toward the village where the rest of his team is waiting.

Yes, Kakashi thinks and lifts his face to the sky, this storm will pass.

-fin
June07

-- I know I say this a lot, and I really intensely dislike the idea that I seem to be constantly whining, but the more I go over this the less happy I am with it. Maybe it's because I still remember what I wanted it to be, and really feel that the product comes up short. I'm definitely going to sit on this for at least a few days before archiving it anywhere else, see what you cats' opinion on the thing is. I also think I need to find me a beta that I can sling ideas at; I'm kind of hesitant to go searching really hard for one, though, since my output isn't exactly expedient, and trying to keep someone's interest with a lot of dry periods in between is kind of difficult, sometimes. Anyone have any ideas on where to look? I know there are a few communities out there, but I'm kind of shy. >.<

I'm totally moving to Arizona in a few months. How excited am I? A WHOLE LOT. ♥
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