Maybes, and memories, and the meaning of being two-thirds. AsuKakaKure, 328 spoilers.
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Edit November 6th, 2006: I appear to have done this without realizing I was doing it at the time, so let me note that the final scene borrows significant inspiration and a paraphrased quote from "Hero", an episode from Joss Whedon's TV series /Angel/, season 1. I haven't watched said episode since its original TV airdate several years ago, so I apologize for not recognizing my borrowing sooner.
ANYWAY. Onto the original material. Sorry, not done talking to you yet, LOL...
Before I begin my long-winded author's ramble, let me note that this fic leans heavily on both backstory created by Kilerkki in her story Festivities, and some created jointly with Kilerkki and Iamzuul for the RPG Scarlet Spiral; without their inspiration and mad writing skillz I would probably never have dreamed this up in the first place, so thanks, guys. And with that said...
This is probably very pathetic of me, but for three or four days I haven't been able to sleep very well. Starting from the day I heard talk about the newest manga chapter, one that was out but we hadn't gotten the raws for yet -- I had a string of very wonderful days where I got go to out sightseeing and having fun with my friends, and then when I laid down to sleep... suddenly my heart was pounding and I was worrying about Asuma. I read the chapter itself with next to no emotion at all (save some minor glee at emotional messing-up of Shikamaru, coughcough), but when I went to bed that night, I couldn't stop thinking about it with a kind of horrified fascination, wondering how his friends and family would react, what they'd say... trying, perhaps on their behalf and perhaps not, to make sense of a Narutoverse without Asuma in it.
So in summation, I guess you can say I've been in mourning for a fictional character for the last few days.
I don't honestly feel Kishimoto made a good decision with this particular turn in the plot; it stings all the more because there was basically no purpose to it. After some time has passed, and this string of chapters is finished and the shock of it has faded, I don't personally think I will keep writing about a Narutoverse where Asuma is dead, because it doesn't make much sense to me. But the fact remains that for canon Asuma, this is the end of the road. There will be no more history; there will be no more restaurant trips for his students, or saving the day for Kakashi, or flowers for Kurenai. No matter how much we pretend or wish otherwise -- all of a sudden -- this is it. Time's up. Bye bye.
So here's to a man that raised some very fine students, and did some very fine work, and did it with style.
You will be missed.
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/n.,/ 1. An exact match between parts of a whole. 2. The quality of being similar or equal.
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The first day he spent at home.
The message came a little past noon, just after Naruto had gotten up from a hurried lunch to resume training. He and Yamato were perched in their respective positions, kage bunshin beginning to poof into existence again all over the clearing, when a messenger bird swooped by to drop a scroll at their feet.
"For you," Yamato noted with a distracted glance at the writing on the front, hands already forming seals.
Kakashi collected it with a frown; opened it up; glanced at it; and did an admirable job of not really swaying on his feet when his heart stopped.
The other two were both looking at him.
"....I think... we'll have to call it a day," he managed after a moment, shoving Icha Icha Tactics into his hip pouch and rolling up the scroll slowly. Yamato rose from his place with a frown.
"Kakashi-senpai, did something happen? Have you been summoned for a mission, or--"
He couldn't quite convince any further words to exit his mouth, so Kakashi simply shoved the death notice into the other ANBU's hands and turned to go, absently making seals.
"Oi, Kakashi-sensei! What about my training!?"
He barely registered the words as he teleported away.
The inside of his apartment was empty with midday silence and full with midday sun. He stood in the center of the room for a few moments and thought of nothing at all, looking blankly at Ukki-kun resting on the far windowsill, leaves turned toward the warm rays outside.
Kakashi was cold.
At last he half-sat, half-collapsed down onto the slightly dusty wooden floor, leaning back against the side of the bed and running a slightly shaking hand through his hair; and he took a deep breath and finally registered that he was crying, but couldn't quite manage to be as disturbed by that fact as he ought to have been. He tugged down his mask and his hitai-ate and wiped the back of his hand over his damp face, and blinked down at the floor, and sat there.
If he concentrated, he could keep himself from sobbing, which was good enough for now.
Something in his chest hurt.
One December when Kakashi was around seventeen, Sarutobi Asuma happened to pass his family home while Kakashi was doing New Year's cleaning. They had been taking ANBU missions together for a few months, but outside things like age and rank and what brand of beer they each liked, neither had yet learned anything very personal about the other. Kakashi had not spent a New Year's with another human being in three years -- not since Kyuubi; not since Sensei -- and there must have been something supremely pitiful about watching his partner clean the old Hatake house alone and in silence, because Asuma turned up on Kakashi's doorstep New Year's Eve with a bowl of New Year's noodles (his own home cooking) and his usual irrepressible grin. Kakashi mostly remembered it because halfway through the visit Asuma had promised he'd come again next year, and for a split second Kakashi's whole world had stopped--
--Just like that.
Asuma came back the next year, and the year after, and the next, and the next; and eventually Kurenai started coming with him, and Genma and Raidou and Anko and their friends; and they made it a tradition, the lot of them.
The second day he spent at Kurenai's.
He woke up atop the wooden floorboards that morning and observed that time had not, in fact, ceased to flow; and after a while at least gave some thought to eating and changing his clothes; and eventually got up to do the latter and neglect the former. He stood in front of his closet for a little while after he'd pulled on his shirt, looking at a swirl-patterned green yukata sleeve that stood out garishly amidst the rows of navy and black uniforms, and then realized there was somewhere he needed to be.
Strangely enough, when he knocked on the door, she was there to answer it -- all rumpled hair and dark, dried-blood eyes and smeared makeup, and a passerby-on-the-road, stranger-in-the-elevator look on her pale bedraggled face. He padded inside just enough to close the door behind him (it was cloudy outside, and the October air was starting to grow a little cool) and they stood there for a beat or three, just looking at each other.
He buried his face in her hair after she threw herself against his chest, and they stood there pressed together and silent for a very long time.
When at last they got around to untangling from each other, he looked down at her, and she looked up at him, and Kakashi realized that, as usual, he had absolutely no idea what to say.
He supposed she felt the same from the helpless way she started to laugh.
One summer when Kakashi was around seventeen, Asuma and Kurenai dragged him to a festival. A mission they'd expected to last a week had only required a couple days, and so with some time to spare and some festivities to take advantage of, they'd opted to stay the night and enjoy themselves. Kakashi hadn't expected to find much merit in having to navigate a thick herd of people, bright lights, and strong smells without getting paid for it; but in the end they'd all gorged themselves on rich festival food, played a few games, bought some alcohol, and returned to their inn to get thoroughly drunk and kind-of-accidentally have a threesome. Though he was utterly mortified (and distinctly headachey) upon awakening the next morning, once he'd had some time to calm down, even Kakashi had to admit that overall it had been a very enjoyable evening. Next time they even tried it without the booze -- though that was another story entirely.
The third day he spent at Asuma's.
He didn't quite remember the end of the day before, and he didn't quite remember getting there; he had a key to Asuma's place, and it was laying on the dresser, and he was laying on Asuma's bed, face pressed against Asuma's pillow, clutching a sweatshirt that had been hiding amid the rumpled mess of unmade sheets. It was cloudy white-sky afternoon outside Asuma's window. He wasn't sure how long he had been sleeping there--
But he did know why he'd woken up.
He didn't bother moving, or opening his eyes again, as Genma padded into the room. He didn't have to look to know the other man was standing over him now, probably gazing down at his bare face and worrying about his mental state, or whether he'd eaten or hurt himself or some other odd thing his friends were always kind enough to worry about on his behalf, even if he didn't know why they bothered.
Asuma was always saying that. You're too freaking skinny, you don't eat enough, moron. And more recently, You're so freaking skinny, Ino'd be jealous of you, moron. Get some tips from Chouji.
Maybe he should've eaten something yesterday.
"Kakashi, I know you're awake, man."
"Wasn't pretending to be asleep," he mumbled back, eyes still closed. If he turned over enough to look Genma in the face, Genma would be on his Sharingan side anyway, and that was no good; didn't want to startle him.
A sigh. He felt the bedsprings give a little as Genma sat down. He was probably looking away now, maybe at the bookshelf on the other side of the room, or the framed pictures on the dresser. One of them was Asuma's little brother; one of them was a bunch of drunken Jounin from some Halloween party; one of them was Asuma and Kurenai. Kakashi remembered because he had taken that one for them. They'd been out at the park, celebrating Kurenai's promotion together over lunch, and she'd just bought herself a new camera...
"Kakashi... what are you doing here?" Genma wondered gently.
Kakashi took in a deep breath, and shrugged a little. It felt a terrible effort at the moment to move his lips. Troublesome, Asuma's boy would've said.
He's a little like you, y'know? Well... like you if you were a total lazyass who didn't give a shit about anything... No, really -- I'm telling you, he's got your kinda brains. If I can smack some motivation into the little bugger, he'll be Konoha's trump card one day.
Then he'd stopped to take a drag off his cigarette, and they'd moved on to complaining about Ino and Sakura.
"Smells like him here," Kakashi murmured.
He didn't know what Genma's face looked like right now, and he couldn't imagine.
They sat there for a while with those words hanging in the air and nothing to replace them, and eventually Kakashi let out a quiet little sigh, and rolled over a bit and cracked one scarred crimson eye to glance out at Genma from underneath the lashes.
"You're missing the funeral, you know," Genma said, looking back at him.
Kakashi just blinked.
"So are you."
A one-armed shrug from Genma. "Sure. But whether I'm there or not doesn't make so much difference to Kurenai."
"Kurenai?" It was sort of a humorous thought, and Kakashi gave a little sniff of a laugh, lips quirking. "If the Five Kages themselves all showed up, she wouldn't notice right now."
"Don't think she'd give a shit about the Five Kages, but she'd probably rest easier if you were there..."
Kakashi shook his head a little, gaze drifting off toward the far wall. Everything had a not-quite-real feel to it, from the look on Genma's face to the clouds outside the window -- like he could reach out and touch them right now, and underneath his fingers there'd be white cotton; and the moon was really made of cheese and when he woke up the next morning, he'd be home by himself and Asuma wouldn't be dead.
"There's only one person she'll be looking for," he said, lips curling again in a half-not-smile.
For a while the silence went unbroken, save by a flock of birds that swept briefly across the white patch of window and were gone. Kakashi felt Genma rise from his place on the bed again, and let his eye fall closed.
"I hear Naruto's been asking after you," Genma said finally. "Guess he and Tenzou are gonna try to start up training again tomorrow. Tenzou said he could get an ANBU buddy to sub for you, so."
A beat or three of silence.
"Take care of yourself... okay? I'll come see you later."
It occured to Kakashi that he didn't really appreciate his friends enough, as Genma padded away through the bedroom doorway and went to let himself out of Asuma's apartment. Kakashi opened his eyes a little when he heard the front door close, and looked down at Asuma's rumpled sweatshirt resting against his chest, and sighed.
"Stupid bastard," he mumbled. "I was supposed to go first."
Then he rose and wandered off to find a change of clothes, so he could go be there for Kurenai to not-notice him.
Fuck, Kakashi, you'd be late to your own funeral, wouldn't you?
It was true, too.
"I'm not saying I'll do a good job of it or anything," he murmured as he locked the apartment door, hands fumbling a little, "but... I'll try and keep an eye on her... okay?"
He had to stop for a moment after he'd finished and clutch the doorknob with both hands, and take a deep breath, and convince the shaking to go away as much as he could.
"I'll... keep an eye on her," he told the door, and shoved Asuma's key in his pocket and turned around and walked back down the hallway away from Asuma's room, fighting the urge to go back with every single step.
One autumn when Kakashi was around seventeen, he realized he was kind of in a relationship, which was scary as hell, especially because there were three people, but also kind of fun, especially because there were three people. He was reasonably certain that even discounting the odd number, theirs was not the way normal people went about kind-of having a relationship -- there was probably supposed to be more talking about things besides missions, and more romance, or something... at least if movies and novels could be trusted... but normal generally refused to come anywhere within fifty feet of Kakashi, so that particular aspect didn't really bother him. What was important was that Sarutobi Asuma was important, and Yuuhi Kurenai was important, and they, apparently, thought he was important, or something, and... and he trusted that if he knocked on one of their doors at three in the morning, they wouldn't even ask any questions, they'd just let him inside. Well, Asuma might throw things, but he could duck them. And that was... overall, it...
It was different, was what it was.
Things never stayed. They never, ever stayed -- you shouldn't let yourself get so attached, he'd always thought, tried to remind himself ever since Sensei and Rin and Obito and-- everyone went away in the end, he got them hurt and he got them killed and he was never good enough and they went away but -- but this time--
It would just be nice if--
Just for a little while--
They could just--
"Hold still, would you? You're in the perfect spot already--"
"I'm sitting on a rock, Kakashi, gimme a sec-- there, okay, come on. Hey, Kurenai!"
"I've been waiting on /you/, silly. Does my hair look okay?"
"Just fine, promise. This one's the zoom button, right?"
"Yeah, and the lighting thing is on the side... okay, are we ready? Asuma?"
"Let's get this over with."
"Aww, so unenthused. Er... Guess I should move my hitai-ate first... There we go. Okay..."
"Asuma. I'm warning you. No rabbit ears."
"Hah, all right... one, two, three..."
A pause, a bright flash of light, and three contented smiles.
".....He made rabbit ears, didn't he."
"I guess you'll find out later when you develop the pictures, won't she, Asuma~"
"I think I hate you."
"Hate me all you want, darling. In fact, hate Asuma too. Your angry look is kinda hot~"
"Ugh... you two."
A pair of grins, and an annoyed sniff; and for a moment, a pause. And then the click of a lighter.
"Ah, there's my cigs... so... Is that it?" There's laughter in his voice.
"Are we done?"