“A tea shop?” Sakumo stopped, blinked at the building that had so recently been one of those odd bars that served mostly the civilian population, Sakumo had never paid it much mind at the time, being on the edge of the civilian district, but he had always had the impression that it was never doing as well as the owner had likely expected.
After all, one would think there would be a market for it, civilians hardly wandered into the shinobi bars. It wasn’t that it was dangerous, just that there was always that steeled edge that a ninja could never quite rid himself of, and had no desire to when drowning in alcohol. He imagined civilians looking for a night on the town found that quite off putting.
Still, despite being one of the great five villages with the healthiest civilian population Konoha was still a hidden village, generally, any attempt to cater to solely the civilian population would eventually end in bankruptcy as must have been the case here.
However, far stranger, was that it had been replaced by a tea shop of all things. A red and gold banner had stilted almost illegible calligraphy in dark ink declaring it, “Toko’s Tea Shop”, beneath this was a solitary wind chime, clinking every so often in the gentle breeze.
The place was devoid of life, the only sound that of the village outside of it, even as the screen door remained partly open. The shadows inside seemed darker than they should, not in the sense of genjutsu though. No, there was no extraneous chakra here. Nothing to really put him on his edge, in any legitimate sense anyway.
Perhaps ANBU work was getting to him, this constant tension and the thought of an inevitable third war looming on the horizon. These days he saw something lurking with a kunai in just about every shadow.
Yes, he had been in ANBU too long now. Already Kakashi was in the academy, close to graduating, and he felt like a stranger to his own son, his only son… But if he left, if he returned to regular service and was merely a jonin once again, then Danzo’s manipulations in ANBU would be entirely unchecked.
Not only that, but now was hardly the time to back down, not with violence right around the corner.
So, Hatake Sakumo stayed, long past when any sane man would have departed.
Either way, with a small and perhaps self-deprecating smile and a sigh, Sakumo stepped into the shop, pushing the screen door fully out of the way and allowing the light from outside to pour in.
Just as he thought, there wasn’t a customer in the place, and from the look of it there hadn’t been since it opened. The shop was decorated in brilliant colors, reds, golds, greens, silvers, blues, and bronzes, engraved on the walls were ornate carved symbols of lions, snakes, badgers, and ravens. However, there was a fine layer of dust on each of the cushions and tables, and everything was in that pristine condition one might expect the store to have been opened in, not an item out of place.
The silence was almost surreal, he had never thought how haunting an empty restaurant or tea shop could be, but it was, like he was standing in the aftermath of someone’s life. There should be laughter in this place, not this strange, lightly flowing quiet.
The sound of a page turning, his eyes moved over to the counter and there, a man. How had he missed him? He was too pale to blend into the shadows, and he wasn’t actively trying either, instead lounging behind the counter flipping through pages of a book. The man looked foreign though, even in the dark. With his hair and pale skin, you could mistake him for a civilian Uchiha, though he was taller than most. However, there was something in the shape of his nose as well as his eyes that Sakumo hadn’t seen before in any corner of the elemental nations.
The man glanced up from his book, eyes a brilliant almost glowing green, bemused and straightened as he took Sakumo in piece by piece with a small and rather enigmatic smile, “Don’t tell me I have a customer.”
“Ah, sorry, I see you’ve opened a new tea shop, it used to be a bar you know,” Sakumo blurted out, strangely flustered, although he couldn’t quite explain why. The man had an… odd presence, not one you typically encountered in a civilian. It wasn’t a shinobi’s edge but he seemed too confident and at ease in the presence of what most civilians mistook for a mercenary.
“Was it?” The man asked, glancing at their surroundings then the counter which he was leaning on, “I suppose that makes sense, the place was already up for lease by the time I bought it.”
“So, you are the owner then,” Sakumo exclaimed, only for the man to raise a dark eyebrow, as if to point out that this was rather obvious, which, yes, clearly. All the same there had to be some sort of triumph in it.
“Toko, yes?” Sakumo pressed onwards, willing himself to ignore both his own unease and the awkwardness of this stilted conversation, “Although, that’s a little misleading, a potter owning a tea shop.”
“The name’s much older than the tea shop, I doubt there’s been an actual potter in the family for many generations,” the man explained before brushing some of his dark hair out of his eyes and with that still easy smile introducing himself, “Toko Hari.”
“Hari?” Sakumo asked, what an odd name. He’d always thought that maybe Kakashi, scarecrow, had been perhaps too bizarre of a choice (not that Kakashi had ever complained) but if someone out there was naming their son needle of all things then he wasn’t doing too poorly.
“That one you can blame on my parents,” he said with a rather amused shrug before continuing in a musing sort of tone, “By the way, were you actually planning on ordering anything or do you just enjoy my company?”
“I…” he trailed off, gave the man a somewhat awkward grin, “Right, sorry, do you have any suggestions? I’m afraid I’m not a regular connoisseur of tea, I wouldn’t know the difference between one tea leaf or another.”
The man considered this before nodding to himself and saying, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with a classic green leaf tea.”
Sakumo smiled, placed a few coins on the counter, and watched as the man brought out a pot and began to prepare. He seemed older than he looked, although he had one of those faces that defied age, made him look anywhere between mid-twenties and early thirties, however, the way he moved and acted, even opening this tea shop, it hardly seemed like the actions of a young man.
He also… And this was a very strange thought for a man Sakumo’s age who had not so long ago been married and now had a son, was strangely attractive. Not in any way that made him necessarily feminine, or masculine for that matter, but there was an androgynous symmetry to his features, the contrast of his hair and eyelashes to his skin, and the brilliance of his eyes that, well, drew you in.
When the pot was finished, the man pouring out a cup for Sakumo and passing it over to him, Sakumo smiled at him and asked, “Why don’t we go sit at one of your tables? Since no one else appears to be coming inside.”
A pause, a bit of a startled look on his face as if that was the last thing he had been expecting, then Toko Hari gave him a small nod.
The man moved with Sakumo, pouring himself a cup, and together they sat at the table closest towards the open door, sunlight still streaming in and in direct light the man seemed almost paler, his eyes an even more impossible green.
“You know, you could use some advertising, I hadn’t even realized this place existed,” Sakumo noted, which, really, was something of an understatement, “It certainly couldn’t hurt business.”
And it would be a pity, because although Sakumo was hardly an expert, the tea was very good. Given its taste, even for such a routine blend, Sakumo would have expected more people to be in here.
“You’re probably right,” Hari replied, but looking rather unconcerned by this fact, in fact, almost downright serene. As if the shop could close right then and there, be struck down by a meteor, and Toko Hari would just wave his hand and say all was well that ended well.
“Aren’t you worried about going out of business?” Sakumo asked, he certainly wouldn’t have been this calm if he was in Hari’s position.
However, Hari just offered a small, somewhat amused, grin, “Oh, I’m not hurting for money, if that’s what you’re asking. I come from a very old family and by unfortunate circumstances am the only surviving member. This is more of a means for something to do rather than a means to support myself.”
“Interesting, should I have heard of this Toko clan then?” because as far as Sakumo knew he hadn’t, then again, he didn’t really pay much attention to influential merchant families across the elemental nations.
“I doubt it,” Hari said, again with that quiet ease as he stared out onto the street, past Sakumo entirely, “I’m new to the continent and even newer to Konohagakure.”
“You know,” Sakumo responded with his own easy smile, “Only foreigners call it Konohagakure, the rest of us simply shorten it to Konoha.”
“I’ll have to keep that in mind,” Hari said, pouring himself another cup after finishing his first, and asking, “Is there anything else I should know?”
“Certainly, but most you’ll pick up on as you go along,” Sakumo said, eyes moving to the street and the village, “Just keep in mind that this is a hidden village, shinobi are the main population here, it isn’t like the world outside of these walls...”
Most civilians thought they were prepared for that, Sakumo would assume, but it was one thing to know what a ninja was another to see a child at the age of six being trained in it, or in Kakashi’s case, entering the academy at the age of four and looking to graduate at five.
Still, perhaps Sakumo wasn’t giving them enough credit, or this man for that matter. Somehow, Sakumo had the feeling that this Toko Hari could take just about anything in stride.
“Thank you for the tea, Toko-san,” Sakumo said, pushing his own empty cup towards the man, who took it again with those raised eyebrows.
“It was hardly a bother, you did pay for it after all…” the man trailed off, looking at him in expectation, as if waiting for something on Sakumo’s end though he could hardly guess what. Until, he realized with an almost painful awkwardness, that he’d never gotten around to saying his own name. One of those things about living in a hidden village and only generally associating with comrades or at least other shinobi was that you got something of a reputation, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to tell someone his name.
“Hatake Sakumo, Konoha shinobi as you have no doubt guessed,” Sakumo said before sheepishly commenting, “After all that and I didn’t even bother to introduce myself, how rude of me.”
“Yes, well, the pleasure was mine, Hatake-san.”
And just like that Sakumo was standing, exiting the store and looking back on the sign and that wind chime, it was a strange place with a stranger owner. However, all the same, he had enjoyed that more than he thought he would have, more than worth the price for a pot of tea.
Sticking his hands into his pockets, making his way home again where Kakashi was now likely done with the academy for the day, he thought to himself that he’d have to make it a point to come back and see what he might make of this Toko Hari in a second meeting.
Toko Hari must really have had more money stored away than any decent human being should, because after a few months, there was no way that shop should still be open for business.
Sakumo had tried to convince some of his fellow comrades to go in, well, the ANBU types weren’t really the kind for this type of scene, preferring either to go and isolate themselves in their own homes or else to waste away in a bar. Without alcohol they didn’t see much of the appeal of any tea shop.
He’d been slightly more successful with Jiraiya of the sannin, who he’d become close with towards the end of the second war, but even he’d ran out of the place with his apprentice basically as soon as they’d stepped foot inside. Although, Hari himself perhaps deserved his due portion of the blame for that particular episode. As soon as the pair had stepped in with Sakumo his eyes had latched onto the young chunin Namikaze Minato, and there’d been an eerie moment where they had stared at each other too long. Some unspoken, dangerous, knowledge passing from Hari’s eyes to Minato’s.
Although what that knowledge could possibly be was beyond any of them and Toko Hari wasn’t talking.
All Jiraiya had to say about it was, that for a civilian, Toko Hari was creepy as hell and didn’t even have the decency to try to hide it. Which, well, in Jiraiya’s defense, was probably a fair assessment.
Although what exactly it was about Hari that was so… off was hard to say. The man himself was always very polite, had been since the beginning, and for all that he looked foreign he wasn’t displeasing to the eye. Never the less, there was this air about him, that even now, would give Sakumo pause.
So, as the months passed, it seemed that Hatake Sakumo remained Toko Hari’s only customer. Honestly, for that alone Sakumo might have kept coming out of pity, but the tea really was very good and Hari himself was actually a rather agreeable sort once you got to know him.
As it was, about once a week or really whenever he wasn’t on a mission, Sakumo would find himself in this bizarre tea shop, and slowly but surely Sakumo began to count Toko Hari as a friend, a strange one, but a friend none the less and he hoped that Hari could say the same about him.
He'd never had a civilian friend before.
They had always seemed too foreign, they lacked the understanding of a shinobi’s life, even a civilian from a hidden village didn’t live the same life with the same goals. There were things that you could never… Never quite breach with them. However, that didn’t seem to matter with Hari.
Which brought them to this fine winter’s day, where the door was safely shut against the weather and Sakumo was inside on one of his few days off, enjoying tea with this strange young man, as they talked about Kakashi of all things, “Kakashi’s always so stoic, I worry about him too much, I was hardly there a few years ago, or even now if I’m being honest, and he wants to grow up so quickly…”
Sometimes, Sakumo wondered, whenever he greeted his son after the academy, whenever he had the chance, if Kakashi, wearing that wretched black mask across his face, wasn’t trying to outgrow his own father as well.
It felt as if there was a wall, slowly but steadily, being built between them.
He sighed, sipped at his tea, a fruitier blend today which Hari had explained but Sakumo had already forgotten, pleasant enough though it was, something with a hint of orange in it, “Of course, he doesn’t have much of a choice, none of us do, the shadow of war looms over us all… Still, perhaps, perhaps we have a few more years in us yet before all hell breaks loose.”
He would prefer that, to see Kakashi a chunin or jonin before he was sent into war, in the second there had been far too many early promotions. Children who should never have seen the battlefield, their corpses abandoned in Amegakure along with all the rest of their fallen comrades.
How many friends had he seen die in that forsaken country?
War, to Sakumo, would always feel like a heavy, endless, downpour, where the blood, the mud, and the water were all indistinguishable from one another.
“On the matter of your son… I’m hardly the person you should ask for advice,” Hari commented, a strangely distant look on his face, “I’m estranged from my own children and my wife.”
“You have children?” Sakumo asked nearly spitting out his tea, and old enough to estranged from too. Granted, it was hard to tell the man’s age but Sakumo had always assumed that he was at least his age if not a decade younger. That and something about imagining Toko Hari with children, or a wife, was inconceivable.
He had always seemed an island unto himself.
“It was a long time ago, and they’re all gone now at any rate, so it’s all moot point,” Hari said with shrug.
“You mean they’re all dead?!” Sakumo asked, even more startled now, because surely this was not something to be blasé about. For a man this young, for his entire family to have died, that was not natural causes. Then, he suddenly realized what he’d just said, and felt himself flush and the urge to bow his head in apology, only just stopping himself, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories.
“Oh, it’s alright,” Hari said, a rather embarrassed smile of his own appearing, “I… Well, I guess you could say I got over it a long time ago. That’s not the important part, the important part is that I… I never really connected with my own children, I tried to, and with my wife but… Well, I don’t think I was ever what any of them wanted, at the end of things. Given all that, I’m not the best person to tell you how to connect or reconnect with your son.”
Sakumo kept staring, because what sort of a man could say something like that? That, there had been some fundamental flaw in Toko Hari that neither his wife nor his own children could forgive, and that he could blame neither himself nor them for it. As if he was truly at peace with that horrible fact.
Finally, Sakumo said, in something of a daze, “You are a very odd man, Toko Hari.”
Hari stared at him for a moment, and then yes, there was an embarrassed flush creeping up on his pale face. It took years off his age, making him look far too young to be estranged from anyone. The man glanced away from Sakumo before looking back, an emabarrassed expression that would have looked far more at home on Kakashi’s face, or, well, what Sakumo could ever see of his son’s face, “Well… I haven’t had any friends for a very long time. I guess I’ve forgotten what sort of things you say and don’t say in moments like this.”
“Oh, it has been a long time, hasn’t it?” Sakumo asked before deciding to let the poor man off the hook and explaining, “It’s not about what you say or don’t say, putting on some sort of a show. You shouldn’t feel the need to do that for anyone, just be earnest and be yourself, that’s all any of us can ever do.”
He paused then, searching the man’s still rather embarrassed expression, and said in a softer tone, “I hope you know that you can say anything to me and I won’t mind.”
Even if that something was about his dead family and his estrangement from them and the odd serenity with which he accepted that sort of situation. Clearly, Toko Hari had missed his calling as a monk.
Plus, there was nothing quite like that to make Sakumo feel like an ass. Here Sakumo was complaining that his son wore a mask and he hadn’t seen the boy smile since he was two and this man’s entire family was dead and Sakumo had had no idea.
He wondered, then, just where Hari had come from. He’d always said it was an island far off the coast, but then, with a story like that… Sometimes he didn’t wonder if Hari had been in Ame.
For a moment he thought Hari would respond with something typical of him, perhaps a serene, “That’s very kind of you, Hatake-san” but instead the man just stared at him, as if seeing him for the first time, and then asked in a quiet voice, “Why are you friends with me?”
“What?” Sakumo almost didn’t know what to say to that, well, clearly he didn’t, as that was the first thing out of his mouth, but Hari looked quite serious. Perhaps the most serious that Sakumo had ever seen the man.
His eyes burned like strange green stars.
“I’ve outlived all of my friends, and even then, towards the end… I don’t know what they thought of me. Certainly, I don’t know what they would have thought of me later. I doubt they would have recognized me, if I’m being honest,” he frowned, looking down at his hands, his dark clothing, then back up at Sakumo, “I’m off-putting, I know it. It’s why I don’t have any customers, why I’ve never expected any for that matter.”
He seemed at ease with this statement, this matter of fact bit of truth he threw out before continuing, “You know, I wandered quite a bit around this continent of yours before I settled here in Konoha. Oh, I went here, I went there, anywhere in between really. Just the same as I’ve always done for too many years to count, it has become… almost routine, even in a world as foreign and familiar as this one. However, wherever I end up, there’s a few things I can always count on. Whether it’s a tea shop owner, a vagrant, a medicine peddler, a potter, a merchant, a god emperor, or anything in between people will avoid me, sometimes without any rational reason they can give themselves, as if out of instinct.”
He paused, eyes drifting downwards to half lids, as if on the table he could see all these memories laid out before him. Then, he mused, in a way that was not accusing but felt like it should have been, “But here you are, whenever you have time and sometimes I think when you don’t. Why is that, Hatake Sakumo?”
For a moment, Sakumo saw what he meant, considered himself from the outside in and asked just what was he doing here. He had friends few and far between, and with every passing year their numbers dwindled, looking at it from that perspective he hardly had the time to spare. So why did he keep coming to this civilian tea shop? Was it pity, the budding of genuine friendship, or something else entirely that even Sakumo couldn’t name?
Wasn’t this very second another he could spend with his son instead? Or if not him then his remaining friends, whose time, like the time of all active shinobi, was severely limited upon this earth?
Why was he here?
And then, looking at the unnatural glow of Toko Hari’s eyes, his pale interlaced fingers, the thin frown on his face, Sakumo couldn’t help but burst into laughter, “Ah, my friend, so melodramatic. Does it matter why, Hari? If I asked why about every friend or acquaintance I had then I’d hardly get anywhere at all. Shinobi, at best, tend to be an eccentric bunch, and that’s if you’re being polite. Besides, you look like you could use a friend, even if he’s an oddball ANBU captain.”
“Hari?” Hari asked with raised eyebrows and a somewhat irritated look, “Does this mean I have to call you Sakumo now?”
“Oh, don’t look so annoyed, you couldn’t go on calling me Hatake-san forever,” Sakumo said, “Think of it as the next step in our ineffable friendship, another milestone crossed by the mysterious civilian tea shop owner and his good friend Hatake Sakumo.”
“You think highly of yourself, clearly,” Hari stated with some wry amusement before adding, “If you weren’t so desperate I might reject this overture of friendship and then where would you be?”
“And if you weren’t so desperate you wouldn’t keep accepting my money for tea,” Sakumo supplied with his own grin, one which, surprisingly, won a cheerful grin back from Hari along with a small laugh.
Toko Hari did not seem like a man who had laughed in a long time, he looked good when he did, like the young man he had probably once been however many years ago that was. On some distant island where it always rained…
And in this small tea shop, abandoned but for the two of them, it almost seemed as if there wasn’t a world outside at all. As if… As if peace, this peace that had lasted for far too short of a time, could go on forever.
Of course, perhaps Sakumo knew even then, as his eyes drifted towards the screen door, that this would be the last time he would ever feel so light hearted. Everything was about to change, the shadow of war, after all, loomed heavy across Konoha’s doorstep.
And Hatake Sakumo would be the one to open the gates.
“Ah Sakumo, I haven’t seen you for some time…” Hari trailed off, smile dying at the sight of him, as Sakumo just… Just stood there.
Stood there in dumbfounded silence, staring forward at this strange man and trying to comprehend what he was seeing, what he hadn’t imagined in the weeks of avoiding this place even after…
He took one step in, then another, waiting but Hari said nothing, instead caught Sakumo by the arm when he was halfway across the shop and ushered him to his usual seat in that table closest to the door, the weak early Spring light coming in through the windows even as Hari left returning with a pot of tea as if this were any other meeting between them.
Sakumo dug through his pockets, hands shaking, searching for whatever few coins he had but Hari’s pale hand, warm, fell over his and stopped him.
“It’s on the house.”
Sakumo, before, would have protested, or perhaps would have taken it gratefully after noting that Hari could hardly afford anything on the house, with Sakumo as his only customer, but now he could only stare as he slowly released his hold on the coins and drew out his hand and moved it back onto the table in front of him.
He noted, in a voice that sounded flat even to himself, “You didn’t throw me out.”
“How could I? You’re my only customer,” Hari offered, as a joke no doubt, but Sakumo almost didn’t hear him, thinking back to earlier, earlier and earlier, when it seemed like every door was suddenly slammed in his face.
“Strange, every other business in the village has thrown me out,” Sakumo’s eyes drifted to Hari’s and he read, concern there, almost a desperate concern, “They don’t cater to men who needlessly start wars.”
“They shouldn’t be doing that,” Hari practically spat, “Especially in a place like this, they should know better.”
Sakumo said nothing to this but Hari didn’t seem to need him to, read Sakumo’s unvoiced disbelief, that Hari’s reasoning wouldn’t be good enough for a situation like this, and Hari knew it.
“We’re friends,” Hari said, and it was the first time Sakumo thought he had said it that plainly, it had always been Sakumo who called him a friend rather than the other way around, “It’s different.”
“Is it?” Sakumo asked, “Every friend I had seems to have turned their back on me. I feel them glaring everywhere I go, the streets practically paved in killing intent, I think the best anyone feels for me is pity. My own son sees me as a bitter disappointment, my existence a great stain of dishonor upon our family. And he’s right, they all are.”
“Only if you let them,” Hari swiftly responded, again taking Sakumo’s hands in his, squeezing them just a bit too tightly for comfort, “Honor isn’t as simple of a concept as that.”
Perhaps not to Toko Hari, but he was a civilian, and it was times like this, with his uncalloused hands holding Sakumo’s, that it showed.
“Do you know what happened? You must have heard,” it seemed, somehow, that the whole village knew, “The mission went south, but that’s not the issue, that, after all, is something that just comes with the territory. Missions go south sometimes, it just happens, no one would have said anything about that…”
He trailed off, took a breath, and forced himself to be blunt, “Essentially, I made a choice, I chose to save the lives of my teammates and sacrifice dozens of children, friends, perhaps even entire villages in their stead. I, singlehandedly, have brought a third great war down upon our heads.”
“A single man can’t unleash a world war,” Hari spat out, “And anyone who believes that is only deluding themselves. You are an excuse, you’ve been saying it ever since the beginning, everyone has, this war has always been coming.”
Sakumo, briefly, tried to force good humor upon himself. But there was such a heavy weight on him, pressing him further and further into the earth itself until he felt like he was being buried alive, and every face he saw seemed only to make that weight stronger…
Hatake Sakumo, it seemed, was no longer necessary.
“Well, at any rate, I’ve been placed on probation, so I suppose that means I can stop by more often,” he stopped, paused to look at Hari, about to add only if he was welcome but the words died on his lips.
There was killing intent around Hari, a killing intent that shouldn’t be there, not from a civilian, but miasma almost seemed to be forming around him and his eyes were glowing as he stared out at the village and hated.
Suddenly, Toko Hari seemed anything but a civilian.
When he spoke, his voice was quiet but there was a tension in each and every word he said, as if he was only just barely keeping them restrained, “When I was young, in my home country, something very similar happened to me. To me it wasn’t a choice, nothing like that, but I said an uncomfortable truth that no one wanted to hear. Acknowledging, it, after all, was to bring back a civil war that had been ten years dormant.”
He gave out a harsh and rather bitter laugh, offering Sakumo a strained smile, “They called me a liar, with a desperation, that in retrospect, is almost farcical. Here I was, a fifteen-year-old boy, one, who, for a variety of reasons was almost worshipped by the country, and they called me a liar. Not just a liar, criminally insane, a murderer, an attention seeking deluded little school boy who had clearly gone off the deep end… Oh, they got very creative in their desperation. It didn’t save them.”
His attention turned back towards the street, as if seeing his own home country written over top of it, “People I’d thought were my friends turned their backs on me, the close ones stayed true, but acquaintances… They never stood a chance. Every day the propaganda machine would roll out pictures of my face and whatever new scheme they had to convince the public that I was wrong and that everything was fine, and the amazing thing is that people ate it with gusto. And me… Well, killing me was in poor taste as was… blatant physical torture, but certainly, they tried to intimidate me into silence.”
Hari brought up his right hand, removing the dark fingerless glove and turning the back towards Sakumo, strange unfamiliar characters written on the back. Hari answered his unspoken question with a grim and knowing smile, “I must not tell lies.”
He sighed then, a flat sort of sound, even as he placed the glove back onto his hand, eyes glaring down dully at those strange characters from an island that Sakumo had never heard of.
“Funny, of all the depravities I thought this place could commit, I never thought I’d see something like that here,” Hari’s lips stretched into a smile, one that was hardly pleasant, his hands tightening around his own tea cup, “You can’t control what they say about you, Sakumo. Your legacy is out of your hands, no one can control that. However, you can at least control how you live. History, someday, will prove you and everyone like you right, just as it proved me right, but you’ll have to wait for it.”
“That would be nice,” Sakumo said, but his own doubt didn’t need to be stated, after all, even Sakumo blamed himself.
“You don’t believe me,” Hari said with a sigh, “I suppose my opinion doesn’t change your mind at all, but all the same, I believe you made the right choice.”
“You weren’t there,” Sakumo said softly, and more, he was a civilian, a humble tea shop owner who had not stood where Sakumo had. He couldn’t possibly understand.
“I’ve been in enough situations like it,” Hari said, “And I know how easy it is for people to judge someone for decisions like this. After all, they weren’t there either, how can they know what decision they would have made in your place?”
And he seemed very insistent on that, to be at least one person standing unequivocally in Sakumo’s corner. And it was… unexpected, and perhaps a bit nice, somehow just like this strange man he called a friend.
“Thank you, Hari,” Sakumo said dully, trying to lift his lips into a smile, only managing a truly awkward grimace, “That’s nice to hear.”
And it was, for a moment, it really was.
Somehow, though it hardly seemed possible, it got worse. Or perhaps, perhaps it just became longer, and Sakumo simply realized that this would be the rest of his life, more, the rest of his son’s life.
Standing there, at graduation, every shoulder turned from him, that now familiar feeling of killing intent radiating from every parent in the room, those children all grimly wearing their headbands and looking down at him in judgement, at Kakashi in judgement for the crime of being his son, each of them marching off into their graves at his behest, Sakumo realized that this would be hanging over the Hatake clan forever.
The blood of those children would forever be stained on his hands and that stain could not be removed by his son or even his grandsons.
He had wanted to be so proud, and he was, he still was and made sure to say as much to anyone who was still willing to listen, but Kakashi was so young, so much younger even than his graduating peers, and Sakumo was terrified because of it.
Kakashi, standing there, wouldn’t even look at him. He stood so straight and tall, as tall as he was able, and stared straight ahead at the back of the classroom. Afterward, he walked right past Sakumo as if he wasn’t even there.
And Sakumo had only stared dumbly after him, and he was struck by the simple thought, that his son didn’t need him.
Five years old, and he was a genin, perhaps skilled enough to soon be a chunin, by the next exams even. He had always been so very intelligent, so stoic and serious about his profession, and Sakumo had always been so worried and so proud because of it. His strange, gifted, genius son. And in every word he said or didn’t say, in that tense silence that now was their home, in the way he looked up at Sakumo with those accusing gray eyes, was the thought that Sakumo had become superfluous.
Perhaps, Sakumo had been that way for some time now, and only he had had the gall not to know it.
And at once this knowledge was worse but it was also… Easier, in a way, as if he had finally come to some long-dreaded truth, and that, in accepting it, a burden had been lifted from his shoulders. The path from here seemed clear now, even if it buried him under, it was clear what had to happen.
There was only one thing left that he could do for his son.
He slid open the door to Toko’s Tea Shop with an easier smile than he’d had in months, Toko Hari looking up even before he’d fully entered with a smile of his own. What a mysterious friend he was, Sakumo regretted knowing so little about him. He didn’t know the name of his wife, of his children. He didn’t know how they’d died, why, or why they had left him behind. He didn’t know how to read the characters etched onto Hari’s right hand, he didn’t know the name of the shinobi who put them there. He didn’t know the name of Hari’s home country, he didn’t know how long Hari had been on the continent before making his way to Konoha. He didn’t know why Hari had chosen a tea shop of all things. There were so very many things he didn’t know about this man.
But no, this didn’t truly bother him, because even without his past Sakumo felt as if he knew the man, in some sense or another. Perhaps, instead, he regretted all the moments they would never have together.
He had seen the man smile so few times, heard him laugh even less, he would have preferred more of that, to allow some warmth to spread from his life into Toko Hari’s. He could picture all the moments that would never happen, Hari at his home, meeting his son, his eyes crinkled at the corner and such a brilliant beautiful green.
He wondered if Hari knew that, how beautiful his eyes were, or how beautiful he was when the light fell on him, painting gold streaks across his dark hair and pale skin. Or, how when he was standing perfectly still, he was captivating. Perhaps, someone had told him once, but Sakumo wouldn’t be surprised if the man had forgotten…
He hoped someone would, someday.
Hari’s smile dripped from his face, his face paled, and his eyes grew wide, “What happened?”
Sakumo closed the door behind him and stepped inside, taking an uncustomary seat at the bar counter, or what had once been a bar counter and looking across at his disturbed host.
“Nothing, Kakashi graduated, top of his class and half the age of his classmates,” Sakumo said, his smile staying on his lips, “The graduation ceremony was yesterday.”
“Congratulations,” Hari offered, but nothing more, his expression still wary, as if he knew that something else lurked behind Sakumo’s mood than this.
“I’m very proud,” Sakumo said, “He is too, of course, he has a long road ahead of him. A hard one, but he’ll be great, I know it.”
He eyed Hari then, carefully, taking him in piece by piece, “You’ll look after him, if something happens to me?”
His voice was like the crack of a whip, startling and accusatory, his eyes burning, and Sakumo wondered just what it was he was seeing, “What will happen to you?”
Sakumo gave Hari and easy, calming, smile, “War, my work is violent, any mission could be my last. It is simply a part of being a shinobi. Before, well, there were always options of who Kakashi might turn to, but you’re the only one left.”
“You shouldn’t have to ask,” Hari said, before clarifying, “I’ll look out for him, you have my word, on the chakra that runs through my veins, I will look out for your son.”
“Thank you,” Sakumo said, closing his eyes and breathing out, “That means more than you think.”
“You’ve been a very good friend to me,” Sakumo said, “An unexpected one, perhaps, but none the less, I am more than grateful for everything you’ve done for me. Strange, isn’t it, how times like this you learn who your true friends are?”
Needless to say, Toko Hari, this strange foreign civilian, seemed to be the only true friend Sakumo had in the world. He was going to miss him.
“Are you trying to say goodbye?” Hari asked, point blank, and once again that burning look in his eyes as if he could see every thought passing through Sakumo’s head as easily as any Yamanaka.
“No,” it was an easy enough lie, after all, the truth would reveal itself soon enough, “Just saying things that need to be said. I may be off the roster now, but undoubtedly, I will be put back on at any moment. We must grasp these moments in our lives while we’re still able, such is the bitter sweet reality in which a shinobi lives.”
By the thunderous expression on his face, it was more than clear that Hari didn’t believe him. He licked his lips, then bit down on the bottom one, thinking hard, finally, he said, “Sakumo, you have a son, a five-year-old son...”
Yes, and Sakumo was thinking of him every minute of every day. This would be for the best, Kakashi would know it, had probably realized it long before Sakumo had. Hadn’t he said as much, the night before, that it would have been better for the village if Sakumo and his teammates had died on that mission?
Perhaps he hadn’t meant it, the words fueled by rage and frustration and that bitter disappointment, but all the same there was a grain of truth in them that no one would deny.
“Yes, that reminds me, I should probably get going. He’ll likely be done with his training soon and I wanted to be home before him. Just thought I’d stop by here while I had the chance,” he stood, offered a parting smile, taking in all that Toko Hari was into his memory, and offering a short nod before striding out towards the exit.
Hari’s voice rang out, “Don’t, Sakumo, please don’t.”
Sakumo just gave one final wave from the doorway and then was out back on the street that he would walk this one last time.
In keeping with tradition, it was his own katana, unsheathed as he dressed in white, that found itself buried in his stomach.
The first thing that came back, from the dark, was the smell. The scent of blood everywhere, blood in his throat, him gagging on it and almost choking.
Then a pounding and ringing in his ears, indistinct voices muttering beneath it, growing louder as the ringing faded into some higher pitch. Blinking everything was dark and indistinct but slowly growing brighter and into the faces of Toko Hari kneeling over him and Kakashi standing over his shoulder, his face pale, eyes wide, with that shocked look of a man who had just been stabbed in the stomach.
“…kashi-kun, I need you to get water, clean water. Can you do that for me?”
Sakumo reached out for him but found something pressing him back, Hari’s hand on his shoulder, the other pressing against his stomach, covered in blood.
Kakashi nodded, slowly, then backed up, keeping his eyes locked on Sakumo, Sakumo still reaching out towards him and mouthing his name even as Kakashi all but sprinted out of the room, footsteps uncharacteristically loud as he ran towards the kitchen.
Hari’s eyes turned to him, burning, his hands pressing harder than they needed to, “You stupid man, you stupid, selfish, man! Oh, if I hadn’t brought you back from oblivion I would send you right back there, I swear it.”
Sakumo’s eyes drifted towards the ceiling, caught on the shadows up there, the shadows which were different from how he remembered them. Time must have passed, clearly passed, it was night now, after sunset…
The pain though, in his stomach, the dull throb of his heart beat in the wound, kept him from thinking clearly.
“Do you know your son found you before I could? Do you know your son, your five-year-old son who loves you more than anything in the world, walked in on your body and your blood?! What do you think this would have done to him, has done to him?”
Sakumo closed his eyes breathing out but somehow Hari seemed to have read something in this because he kept talking.
“You are a very lucky man, Hatake Sakumo,” the man all but spat, “If I hadn’t been here, if I didn’t care more about you than I did my own secrets, my own security in this paranoid hellhole you call a village, then you would not be here!”
Kakashi reappeared in the doorway with a bowl of water in hand, Sakumo tilting his head to get a look at him, Hari nodded for him to come over and set it down next to him, “Good, we’ll also need a medical kit if you have any, particularly if it has painkillers. God willing, no one will see the inside of a hospital tonight."
Watching as Hari dipped a cloth into the water, switched it out with whatever he’d been pressing against Sakumo’s stomach, ignoring Sakumo’s cry of pain Kakashi hesitated, eyes wide as he looked at Hari.
And even with that mask on it was more than clear what he was thinking.
“Kakashi-kun, if he goes to the hospital, what is it, you imagine, they’ll say about him? About this?” Hari asked, “More, your father has many enemies at the moment, and undoubtedly some of them are medic nins. They might not gut him in broad daylight, but if he comes into the hospital, with wounds as grievous as this, well, sometimes people don’t get better. Do you understand, Kakashi-kun?”
Slowly, Kakashi offered a hesitant nod.
“Good, then get the med kit,” Hari said, and Kakashi was back out the doorway, searching through the house for the abandoned medical kit, wherever it happened to be. Neither Sakumo nor Kakashi had ever had any real use for it.
“I waited until after my youngest daughter was eighteen, I waited until after my wife had long since reached her breaking point and I had already moved out, I waited until it was clear that I was a freak of nature and perhaps always had been…” Hari trailed off, looked down at Sakumo with such agony, as if he was the one with the wound in his stomach, “I have done many things I regret, sometimes I think I am haunted by regrets, but that… That was perhaps the worst thing I have ever done to anyone. And mine didn’t stick.”
Sakumo hissed in pain as Hari’s hand unconsciously tightened on his stomach, but there was chakra there, chakra he had barely noticed flowing from Hari into him… Sweet, and light, and golden.
“Oh, I didn’t realize it at the time, in fact, I tried many, many times, and with each time I grew that much more desperate. Only later did I realize, that if it had worked, if I wasn’t some freak of nature, death itself incarnate, then someone would have walked in on me. My friends, my ex-wife, my children, one of them would have walked in and seen my blood splattered across the tatami mats and a stained blade in my hand. There is no justification in the world I can give that would have excused the selfishness of that hypothetical moment.”
Sakumo’s hand drifted towards Hari’s cheek, painting a stripe of his own blood across it as Hari offered him a tearful, bitter, smile. Hari clasped the hand in his, squeezing Sakumo’s cold fingers, and said, “There is no honor in death, Sakumo.”
Sakumo struggled, tried to laugh or cry but only came out with choking sounds, and finally managed to ask a breathless, “Why?”
Hari just stared at him for a moment, stared at him with those endless green eyes that seemed to contain all the leaves of all the trees in Konoha, and he said, “You told me, Sakumo, to look after your son.”
Then, moving his own free hand to cup Sakumo’s face, he added, “And I have few friends in this world or any other, you’ll have to forgive me, if I jealously guard my time with them.”
And for a moment, he thought Hari might move closer or that he should move up to Hari and with a shaking blood-soaked hand guide his face towards Sakumo’s…
Kakashi appeared once again in the doorway, this time with the med kit, Hari leaning backward to usher the boy over, then started digging through the kit with an expertise that surprised Sakumo.
As he pulled out tweazers, a needle, thread, a syringe, sealing ink, and darkened bottles, he said, “I think, Sakumo, that I will be moving in for the immediate future.”
Then, sticking the syringe in his arm, with a look that belied compassion, he said, “You have no say in the matter.”
He did move in, it seemed that very night Hari had brought everything he needed with him, closed up shop seemingly for good. And in the weeks that ensued, as Sakumo slowly and painfully recovered, it seemed Hari had no plans to move back out.
Surprisingly, Kakashi put up little protest. The boy had become skittish, he had always been quiet, but there was usually a confidence about him. Now though, he was always rushing about the compound, checking on his father every morning before he left and every night he came back.
Kakashi had never been one for social life, he hardly got along with his teammates, but all the same he now seemed to live at home the way Sakumo lived at home. Every second he wasn’t training, on a mission, or running necessary errands on Hari’s behalf like getting the groceries, he was there, eyes glued on his father, a dark unnamed fear lingering inside of them.
He spoke to Hari, often, most of it supposedly out of Sakumo’s earshot, or Sakumo stumbling on them from some other room when they were too deep in conversation to notice.
“I’ll be sent on a mission soon,” Kakashi said once, quietly to Hari, they were in the kitchen, Hari blending tea and cooking dinner, being far more adept at it than either Kakashi or Sakumo. It was one of those things about Hari that he hadn’t known until now, that the man knew how to cook. Sakumo, lingering outside, was supposed to still be in bedrest, hand pressed against the still healing wound.
“One outside of the village,” Kakashi added soberly.
“That seems the way things go here,” Hari agreed before pausing, and asking, “Are you worried?”
“It will take a few days, maybe a week,” Kakashi said, and in that, Hari seemed to read what Kakashi was trying to say.
“I’ll look after him,” Hari said, “I don’t think he intends to try again, but none the less, I’ll make sure he doesn’t have the opportunity.”
And for whatever strange reason, Kakashi appeared to trust that, to trust, at least to some extent, Toko Hari, because he left soon after for his mission and when he came back Sakumo was still here and so was Toko Hari.
The missions slowly became longer, more dangerous as genin began to fill in those roles that would be left to chunin in peacetime, and then it was just Sakumo and Hari in the house. Sakumo still wasn’t on the roster, and as far as he knew, on one in the weeks during his recovery had thought to look for him.
Or, had thought much of Kakashi’s explanation, that Sakumo had had a training accident, but not one worth worrying the hospital over when those with far more grievous wounds were already beginning to be shipped in.
Likely, as Hari had noted, the medical staff was simply glad they weren’t wasting a bed on him, or else they thought him sulking and had given his son such a lame excuse.
Kakashi had told him he’d said this, but Sakumo wondered if any of them had asked after him, or if any of them had really cared one way or another.
Either way, he and Hari now sat at the kitchen table with Hari’s tea poured in a cup for each of them while outside the birds twittered, blissfully unaware that a war was raging in Kusa. He didn’t have to be sitting here, it had been enough time that, he seemed to have made a full recovery.
Hari had said as much.
He could be out training if he so desired, but instead he sat, sipped at his tea, and then stated that thought which had been growing on his mind since finding Toko Hari in his house, “You are not a civilian.”
Hari looked at him for a moment, eyebrows raising slightly, before looking out the window and responding with the same ease that Sakumo had managed, “No, I’m not a shinobi, but I’m not one of your civilians either.”
Somehow, Sakumo was feeling perfectly calm, even though beneath this a storm raged.
“How did you get through immigration?”
“I was not the droid they were looking for,” Hari answered easily, the words rolling off his tongue, as if it was a phrase that Sakumo should have recognized, before pausing, and expanding, “I made it seem as if I wasn’t worth looking at.”
“Genjutsu,” Sakumo supplied for him.
“I suppose,” Hari said, “If that’s your word for it.”
“Is your name even Toko Hari?”
“No, but my name would have been unpronounceable, and besides, even that name faded into oblivion after a while,” he paused and said, “Harry James Potter, or I suppose, Potter Harry in this language.”
“It means potter, so I thought Toko was a good substitute,” Hari said with a smile before adding, “It’s as much my name as any other.”
Sakumo took this in, nodding slowly, a frown on his own face, then asked, “Are you in contact with your village?”
“There is no village,” Hari said, “There never was, and even if there was, then it has faded into oblivion at this point. The light of those stars no longer reaches even this far, that’s how long they’ve been dead.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that there is only Toko Hari, there is no village,”
The silence stretched between them as Sakumo took this in, slowly, and tried to think exactly what he wanted to say. Finally, he said, “I’ve seen battlefield medics, I’ve seen very good ones… Even if you had rushed me to the hospital, brought me under the knife of the slug princess herself, I wouldn’t have made it.”
Looking into Hari’s eyes, he concluded, “You are a concerningly good medic nin, Toko Hari.”
“Death, Sakumo, is my gift,” another strange, almost automatic, cryptic joke.
“That’s not funny,” Sakumo snapped back.
“No, it wasn’t for Summers Buffy either,” Hari said, then, face grave as he looked at Sakumo, “Are you going to report me, Hatake Sakumo?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
Because this man had saved his life, because his son trusted him, because he had known him for only a year now and yet he already was so important in Sakumo’s life?
Hari only said though, “You have no reason not to.”
“Yes, I do,” Sakumo snapped back, before taking in a deep calming breath and asking, “Do you know what will happen to you? Even in the best of scenarios?” At best, and this was an optimistic best, he would slowly but surely be integrated into the village’s shinobi forces, kept an eye on at all times for years to come and grilled for all of his history. Put into this war that Sakumo himself started. At worst, well, he’d have a long and interesting stay in T&I and then a shallow grave.
Or, worse yet, he would be transferred to ANBU’s care, and left to Danzo’s tender mercies.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, Sakumo,” Hari responded quietly, “I have been here hundreds of thousands of times before with hundreds of thousands of people who did not hesitate. I possess… A great and terrible gift, I am well aware of it. If you report me, Sakumo, you or your son, then I will simply leave. After all, there are other worlds than these.”
“Other worlds… Is that where you’re from?” Sakumo asked, almost in wonderment, “One of these other worlds of yours?”
“Yes, many, many worlds from this one…” Hari whispered reverently, these thousands of worlds glittering in his eyes even as he looked across the table to Sakumo, “Thousands of years of light between us.”
Sakumo reached across the table with hands that were far steadier than he felt at the moment, stood and moved so that he was standing over Hari, Harry, whatever he called himself. He brushed strands of dark hair away from his forehead, revealing a thin red scar in the shape of a lightning bolt.
A pained, bitter, smile growing across his own face, he leaned his forehead against Hari’s, framing the man’s face with his hands and winding dark curls through his fingertips, “I won’t report you, Hari.”
Then, leaning closer almost as if on instinct he brushed his lips against Hari’s and he whispered against them, “I won’t report you, you have my word.”
Another breath, another whisper against those slightly parted lips, “Please, stay.”
He moved back, only slightly so that he could look Hari in the eyes, and for a moment, Hari just stared back at him, his expression inscrutable then, with his own hand, he reached up and cupped the side of Sakumo’s face, and ran a smooth thumb over one of his cheekbones.
He too, leaned back into Sakumo, breathing against him, then brushing his own lips against Sakumo’s, a longer and more tangible kiss than the others.
Then, “I’ll stay.”