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Fall from Grace

 

In The Beginning

Essay by Hatake Kakashi (age 4) written during his first week at the shinobi academy:

Assignment: In 500 words or less, who is your hero and why?

My Hero

My father is my hero. He is a powerful shinobi. He’s not quite as powerful as the legendary sannins. He does not have a humongous summons, but he’s more of a hero to me because of his character. The people of Konoha not only respect him, but they love him like I do. He believes strength comes from protecting your precious ones, and the whole village of Konoha is precious to him. He cares for all those around him, especially me and my mother. He encourages me and supports me. He is my best friend.

My father is known as Konoha’s White Fang. I think maybe it’s because of his hair, but he can also summon a large white dog with razor sharp teeth. He’s fast and strong and smart, but also patient and kind. He says when I graduate the academy, he’ll get me a dog, or rather teach me a dog summons. He says I’ll be able to summon that large wolf dog soon.

He is a hero of the village and has been on countless missions. They were all successful and even the Hokage recognizes him. His comrades all look up to him as their leader. He tells me teamwork is the most important thing to being a shinobi. He protects the village with his life. But he also tells me that he has had to kill many people too. He seems sad about that. He does not like to talk that much about his missions even though I like those stories best.

He tells me stories of Konoha’s past heroes. I like the ones about the First and Second Hokages. I want to be Hokage! Maybe my father can be Hokage someday, you never know what will happen with the sannins. He is funny and tells me jokes too. Ever hear the one about the shinobi who wanted to summon a horse but just got a part of a horse? He summoned an ass!

He taught me my first jutsu when I was two – a thousand years of pain. He tries to spend time with me though I know he is very busy. He is always thinking of me. For my birthday my father bought me a custom set of kunais and shurikens made a bit smaller because my hands were too small to hold the normal versions well. I remember all the times when he was able to train with me.

Not only is he a great shinobi, he knows how to fix a toaster, stop a leak, and all sorts of repairs. He’s also a good cook and can make mochi. My mom says she loves him because he can cook better than she can. He can also whittle blocks of wood into animal shapes. He made me a set of the zodiac animals. My favorite is the dog of course.

Everyone respects him and looks up to him. I’m proud to call him my father so that’s why my father is my hero.

Kakashi noted to himself: I really am a genius! Exactly 500 words after playing with the contractions - damn I'm good!

The Incident

They had been on a secret mission of espionage to survey enemy troop movements. Dangerous, but not an unusual mission, rather it was quite a typical one. They were deep in enemy territory but had to cross back into Konoha to relay the vital information they uncovered. They were close to the border now, so far so good, but then…

Despite all of his experience, his countless missions, his countless kills, despite the combined experience of the four man platoon, despite everything, they were fooled, tricked into a sophisticated barrier trap that would require time to unravel. Sakumo was scouting ahead when the trap was triggered. His quick reflexes enabled him to just barely get away.

From their surveillance they determined that the enemy troops were planning an attack to flank the Leaf troops, by sacrificing a smaller contingent, a decoy. Sakumo had to warn the main Leaf battalions before the enemy encircled them. But he didn’t. Instead of continuing to escape, he backtracked to find and kill the five hidden enemies to bring down the barrier, to save his comrades from being tortured for information.

The decision was made and could not be unmade. Perhaps it was a decision made on the spur of the moment with no more thought than drinking when you’re thirsty, eating when you’re hungry. There was no serious contemplation of the ramifications. It was just based on instinct, he had to save his comrades or they would be killed. It should have been as simple as that. But in times of war, nothing is simple and all decisions can have far reaching ramifications.

"Sakumo, you fool! Why did you come back for us?"

"Damn it! You have to warn the main troops or they’ll be slaughtered!"

"You should have left us to an honorable death. Now we’ll return home in disgrace. How do you expect us to live while so many others will die?"

"I…I couldn’t just leave you to your deaths…" What else could he say? They were right after all. It was the most difficult decision of his entire life – a no win situation, a desperate decision.

The team hurried to the front. It was unlikely that they would make it back before the armies engaged, but they could still possibly prevent a complete slaughter. Sakumo summoned his great white wolf and the Leaf forces were able to retreat without the enemy in pursuit. There were many casualties, but it could have been much worse. At first he was again hailed as a hero.

The Hokage was about to thank Sakumo in front of his platoon, the sannins and the other battalion leaders. Sakumo knew his men would not betray him. They would keep silent out of loyalty. But he saw the accusation in their eyes and he could not let the Hokage continue in what he felt would a travesty to all those who died so needlessly.

"I’m sorry Hokage-sama," Sakumo said as he dropped to his knees and as everyone looked on in confusion. "Our defeat today, it was all my fault. I knew about the enemy’s plan but I failed to complete the mission. I failed to get back in time…"

"It’s all right, Sakumo-kun, I’m sure you tried your best. It’s no one’s fault, I’m sure you were delayed for a good reason."

It was a good reason, but not good enough, not enough to compensate for all the lives lost. He could have left it at that. The Hokage did not blame him after all, but he still felt the eyes of comrades boring into his back. Sakumo remained on his knees and but now his comrades joined him.

"Forgive us Hokage-sama," they said in unison.

The Hokage instinctively knew there was more to the story. This time he said nothing but waited for Sakumo to finish speaking.

When he was done there was only silence. No one spoke for the first minute. Then the murmurs started. The four men remained on their knees. The Hokage did not excuse them. "I see…" he said trying to keep his voice level, his anger from boiling over, "You, Sakumo, have disappointed me. You broke one of the most important rules to being a shinobi." With that the Hokage turned his back on him and walked away. The murmurs became louder, rising to the level where Sakumo could hear the curses and insults. They were all directed at him. His three comrades finally got up with heads lowered but they were allowed to melt into the crowd. Sakumo remained on his knees, allowing the stones and well-deserved words of hate to pelt his body and soul.

Aftermath

Kakashi came home furious today, with tears in his dark eyes. I haven’t seen him like that in years. He said nothing but glared at me. Someone must have said something to him about me. I wonder what Kakashi did in response. Did he defend me like he would have in the past, or ignore the insult, or perhaps he agreed with them and renounced me?

Each time I see him he is so much bigger. It’s hard being away on missions for so long. Before I knew it he was already a man – he made his first kill soon after being promoted to chuunin. Yet in reality he is still only a boy. He doesn’t yet understand the kinds of impossible decisions a man has to make and the tragic mistakes they may become. To a child, the world is black and white. But in reality the shades of grey are often indistinct.

His eyes are dark like mine, his hair white like mine, a so-called genius like me, but he is different. He is serious and analytical. He always thinks with his head not his heart. They are distinct for him. He does not yet realize there are times when the mind and the heart struggle in opposition for greater control.

The Hokage no longer trusts me. I no longer have a team, no longer given missions, no longer a leader. No one wants to follow me. People have short memories don’t they? They never remember the positive things in life yet they have long memories of the negative things. All that I’ve done in the past mean nothing at all anymore.

The incident and its aftermath were closely scrutinized in his mind during the long hours in his dimly lit room. There was nothing else to distract him so he spent his days thinking what else could he have done, should he have abandoned his comrades, could he have lived with that, could he live as he did now? Even in his dreams he could not escape the recurring flashbacks, the images of bloody bodies stacked upon bloodier bodies, the bodies with no faces and the faces with no bodies. Like a shell-shocked victim suffering from post traumatic stress, the events of that day haunted him during his waking and sleeping hours, as if one of the Uchiha clan had used tsukuyomi to force him to continuously relive that day. He could think of nothing else. How could he when those around him would neither forgive nor let him forget his actions.

Perhaps he could have lived with the cold stares, the harsh words, even the isolation, but not from him - his son who was the most precious to him, who had looked at him with such adoration and admiration. Now he would not meet his eyes. Now there’s only silence. What had drawn his family and friends to him was what ultimately drove them away - his compassion.

He was alone now, completely alone, although they still lived in the same house. His son avoided his eyes, avoided speaking to him, avoided his presence, wolfing down his food, leaving early in the morning or staying out late at night. He had expected, or rather had hoped, his son would support him. His son whom he loved above all else, was suffering because of his actions - he was being blamed and shunned as well, even by people they had called their friends.

My son…we were so close. I was hoping he would understand. I’ve tried so hard to impress upon him the ideals of teamwork and friendship. But those ideals were my downfall. At least that’s the way he sees it. Such a serious child, now even more so. What will happen to him?

Was what I did wrong? If I had to do it over…knowing what I know now…would I have made the same decision? Yes, I think so, in the spur of the moment who can think past their immediate feelings?

What is the function of a shinobi? To cast aside personal feelings and do what is best to protect the village and its people. I failed. I can no longer function as a shinobi. What is the honorable thing to do? To continue or to end it all?

He would be better off without me. He would no longer have to suffer the cold stares and harsh insults. Without me he would be shown sympathy, be forgiven and accepted.

You are my most precious one, I know I have disappointed you. I hope that in time you’ll understand my decisions, including this one. May the Heavens forgive me even if the people of Konoha cannot.

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The body was found in his study, laid out in almost ritual seppuku, but there was no kaishakunin to cease the pain of disembowelment. He was dressed in his ceremonial robes, stained black with blood. His hands still clutched his wakizashi now caked with viscera. A scroll, a brush, and a pot of ink stood just within reach of the immobile hands.

Sakumo’s jisei no ku:

The sun sets after

Hours of brilliant glory

The moon sets after

Illuminating the night

But there are nights of darkness

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~End~

Authors notes:

Seppuku - ritual suicide via disembowelment then normally followed by near decapitation

Kaishakunin - the attendant (the second) who does the beheading in seppuku

Wakizashi - a short sword often used in seppuku.

Jisei no ku - a death poem written as part of the seppuku ritual, usually waka-tanka style (5 line poem of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables), death is only alluded to via imagery