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A Shinobi's Christmas Carol

Chapter Text

(I don't own any characters etc etc)

Sakumo was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. He had taken his life, the whole village knew. People beyond the village knew. And certainly, Kakashi knew.

Yes, Kakashi knew his father was long gone, for now the young boy had grown into a man. A man who knew more loss, sadness, and longing. Who took it on himself to throw himself into his work, to pursue more for work, to become an ANBU.

Not just any ANBU, one of the most well-know, well-feared. Blood on his hands that may never wash off, but it was the price Kakashi chose to pay to keep himself moving, going, living.

For with the loss of his father, he lost part of himself.

But the loss of Sakumo brings us back to the point we started with. There is no doubt Sakumo was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story you are to read.

For while Sakumo was gone, he still lived within Kakashi. The last bit of a family the boy, now man, never really knew. A name, a nickname, a title, hung over Kakashi’s head, haunted him day and night, here and there. At least in ANBU, few knew who he was behind his mask. He was not the son of the White Fang, he was not even the copy nin, nor Sharingan Kakashi. He was just ANBU.

Oh! Was he ANBU! Aloof, hiding, wary, always vigilant. Unsure of what his life held for him, if he would have a life. He lived mission to mission, resting when he could, had to, was ordered to.

And then, he left ANBU. Mostly. Retired. Mostly. Generally inactive, but on call, on reserve. Tried his hand with genin teams; failed them. He knew he was not meant to train children, to have a “normal” life. What did that even look like for him? His only friends were other shinobi, mostly jonin. Ones who truly understood that life was short, relationships scarce, interactions few. Why become overly attached, he told himself, when life could be taken at any time, his or theirs?

And so, he spent time with some, few, mostly keeping to himself. His summons kept him company here and there; he received bits of mail from time to time. Jiraiya and Tsunade would keep an eye on him when they passed through Konoha, and the Hokage always checked in on him regularly.

But Kakashi kept to himself, mostly. Not many would say hello to him just because, though he was not known to be mean or grumpy. Just...aloof, distant. The man, the myth, grew. Rumors swirled, and he let them, he didn’t care. Soon that was all he would be anyway, just a name on the memorial stone and stories told of him. What did it matter if it began while he was alive?

Some reached out, breaking through. Kurenai and Asuma made him hang out with them and their developing relationship. Gai never backed down from embracing him as his best friend and eternal rival. Anko and Genma intruded on his personal space at times.

And then, surprisingly, there was one particular chuunin who always gave him a bright smile when he showed up to obtain a mission, or to return a report. A smile, followed by a frown at the state of his report and/or timeliness in submitting it (unless he was turning it in straight to the Hokage, a sad event as then he had no reason to interact with said chuunin). A smile that tugged at his heart for a moment before Kakashi squashed it down. He had nothing of significance to say to Umino Iruka, who had a big heart and warm eyes.

Warm eyes that did not appear to diminish in the frigid temperatures of late December. For as the end of the year approached, the village was temporarily more focused on the upcoming Christmas holiday than anything else, using it more as a special day to get together and exchange pleasantries and gifts, to spend time with loved ones, than for other purposes.

For Kakashi, it was just another day. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, what did it matter to him? He was to be alone for it, no matter what. Alone in his small shinobi standard issue apartment, huddled over whatever simple food dish he would make, reading and re-reading his favorite books, the only thing he allowed himself to indulge in in life. Beyond his weapons, that was.

“A merry Christmas to you, rival!” Gai boomed, as Kakashi was pulling his flak coat tighter around himself to keep the chill out as he walked to the market to buy ingredients, half wondering if Ichiraku’s was still open?

“Gai,” Kakashi sighed, as the other man fell in step with him.

“And how are you on this fine evening? Making wondrous plans for tonight and tomorrow?” Gai asked, a seasonal hat perched on his head.

“Hardly,” Kakashi assured him. “I’ll be staying home, alone.”

“On Christmas Eve and Day? Alone? You can’t be serious!” Gai gasped.

“I am,” Kakashi said. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? Any of us? With what we do for work?”

“Come, then,” returned Gai. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? We chose this line of work, but it is still honorable, and necessary!”

“Bah, humbug” Kakashi said.

“Don’t be cross, Kakashi!”

“What else can I be?” Kakashi asked, as he stopped walking, Gai doing the same. Kakashi pulled them off the street to talk privately. “When all around us people are celebrating, what, life? An innocent life? A life I don’t know and never have? A life I don’t deserve? A light spirit, an easy heart, something I know nothing about? Fools going around wishing ‘merry Christmas’ left and right, when I’m sick of hearing anything merry and fun! Idiots, all of them, and they should just stay home and pretend the world is a sugary sweet, delicate place, leaving us real adults to do the real work.”

“Kakashi!”

“Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine,” Kakashi said.

“Keep it!” repeated Gai, laughing. “But you do not keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” Kakashi said. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

“Of course it has! It is a day to be with loved ones, to honor life!” Gai cried.

“Honor, ha!” Kakashi sneered. “The most honorable things I did were in ANBU, which is where I belong.”

“What are you saying?” Gai asked, concerned.

“I’m saying that I’m considering returning to it, full time.”

“What?”

“Why not?” Kakashi said, shrugging. “I’m good at it, the best. It’s where I belong, not in this make believe real world, out here. ANBU missions and home to sleep, that’s the life I belong to.”

“But you are blossoming out here,” Gai argued. “You have been for a few years.”

“Don’t act like you don’t know I’ve still done ANBU here and there,” Kakashi told him. “I’ve been dancing around the two, and now it’s time to pick one.”

“But you have friends!” Gai continued. “Friends, shinobi family! You just said yourself the Hokage is thinking of having you be a jonin-sensei again next year!”

“For my former sensei’s son!” Kakashi hissed. “Can you even believe that?! As if I could, should.” He shook his head. “Not happening. I’d ruin that kid.”

“You would train him, accept him, show him life,” Gai said, sternly. “The life you want, the life you are working to have. With him, your friends. And Iruka, you have lit a spark there, surely!”

“I don’t know,” Kakashi said, shrugging as he put his hands in his pockets. “Thinking of a relationship like that seems empty and pointless. He’s a shinobi, I’m a shinobi, we could leave at any time. In more ways than one.”

“No!” Gai told him. “Come to the party with us, tomorrow! Kurenai and Asuma, myself, Iruka, others. It is going to be a most enjoyable holiday event! And surely so festive!”

Kakashi’s mind travelled back to seeing the teacher the day before. Iruka had, as usual, smiled warmly at him and asked if he was well? And brought up the party, was Kakashi going? When Kakashi said he was not, he couldn’t deny seeing the smile falter on Iruka’s face, just briefly, before it was replaced with a wide grin and a fond plead for him to change his mind.

Shaking his head, Kakashi brought himself back to the present.

“No.”

“It will be fun!” Gai suggested, unknowingly mimicking Iruka’s own comment about the event.

“No.”

“The highlight of the season!”

“No.”

“We will see you there!” Gai said, as Kakashi began to walk away. “A merry Christmas, rival! Until tomorrow!”

Kakashi continued on his walk, alone, trying to ignore the rest of the village wishing each other happy holidays, trying to remain focused on his mission of buying food and heading home.

“Donate to the village’s needy, jonin-san?” a small voice suddenly said.

Kakashi looked to find a stall at the market with a kind older woman and two young kids.

“Pardon?” he asked.

“Donate to our charity that helps the needy? There are those in need in the village, not just this time of year. Destitute, poor, orphaned.”

“Can they not work?” Kakashi asked, thinking of his own childhood. “Are there not jobs for all ages and physical levels?”

“Well, yes,” the woman said. “Though some are more suitable than others.”

“Then if there is work to be done, a true child of Konoha will do it,” Kakashi told them. “No matter the personal toll.”

“Your father often donated,” the woman quietly said, studying him. “A generous man, he was. I expected his son to be as well.”

“And my father is dead, and let us leave it at that,” Kakashi curtly said. And with that, he left, not waiting for a response.

Meanwhile, fog began to settle on Konoha as darkness fell and people quickened their step as they moved to and fro. Lights dimmed in the misty darkness, and cold seeped its way under coats and scarves, no matter how tightly anyone pulled them.

Sounds of the holiday spilled out of shops, market stalls. Wishing each other well, hoping others enjoyed the gifts and food being procured.

Songs even dared to begun being sung, and Kakashi gritted his teeth underneath his mask as the start of a carol could be heard.

“God bless you, merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!”

Kakashi took that as a sign to hurry, lest he be caught up in anything he wanted no part of. He quickly bought a small bag of vegetables and a bit of meat, hurrying home to cook his simple dinner, for Ichiraku’s was far too busy for him to want to spend time waiting there.

He sighed as he approached his residential building, as even more decorations had been added in his absence since that morning. Yes, there had already been a fair amount of decorations, but now there was an ungodly amount of tinsel strung, and someone had the nerve to place a motion sensor music machine near the main stairwell so that it played tinny holiday music when someone passed by.

Barely refraining from kicking it, the jonin continued up to his apartment, sighing again as he passed decorated door after decorated door. Some residents had voluntarily decorated theirs, with some creating lavish, supposedly festive displays, and others putting up a simple wreath, or holly, or perhaps just a bow.

For the few like Kakashi (though he suspected he may have been the only one on the floor, dare he even think building?) someone had only recently put a decoration up just below his peephole.

He rolled his eyes at the sight of it as he had been for the past week, something he had much disdain for but even he didn’t dare risk the wrath of whoever it was by removing it. Though why they had chosen a three dimensional Santa face for his door, he had no clue.

Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the ornament on the door, except that it was fairly large. It is also a fact, that Kakashi had seen it, night and morning, during the last several days; also that Kakashi had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the village. Let it also be borne in mind that Kakashi had not tried to not spare one thought on Sakumo, since his last mention of his father’s death from that orphanage lady, choosing to grumble about the village and the holiday otherwise since then. And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Kakashi, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the ornament, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change nor use of chakra that Kakashi could sense or otherwise detect — not a decoration, but Sakumo’s face.

Sakumo’s face. It was not in slight shadow as the other decorations were, in the hallway there, but had a dismal light about it. It was not angry or ferocious, but looked at Kakashi as Sakumo used to look: with a faint smile on his face. The hair was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air; and, though the eyes were wide open, they were perfectly motionless. That, and its livid colour, made it horrible; but its horror seemed to be in spite of the face and beyond its control, rather than a part of its own expression.

As Kakashi looked fixedly at this phenomenon, it was a Santa face again.

To say that he was not startled, or that his blood was not conscious of a terrible sensation to which it had been a stranger from infancy, would be untrue. But he still put his hand upon the key he had relinquished, turned it sturdily, walked in, and turned on the lights.

He did pause before he shut the door; and looked cautiously behind it first, as if he half expected to be terrified with the sight of Sakumo’s hair sticking out into the hall. But there was nothing on the back of the door, so he cursed underneath his breath and closed it with a bang.

The sound resounded through the small apartment like thunder. Every corner of the apartment appeared to have a separate peal of echoes of its own, though Kakashi was not a man to be frightened by echoes. He fastened the door and removed his sandals and vest, continuing to the kitchen to begin to cook.

He spent the night as he usually did when home - eat a regular, plain meal. Read. Clean as needed. Go to sleep.

And he did as he usually did - check that everything in his one bedroom apartment was secured before he went to bed. Windows, doors locked. Seals, barriers, wards up. Nothing in closets, underneath the bed. Water taps turned off, lights out.

Quite satisfied, he closed his bedroom door, and locked himself in, having added the extra security in the past. Actually, double-locked himself in, which was admittedly not his custom. Thus secured against surprise, he took off his uniform and settled into pajamas, which were, in fact, just a worn out training uniform. Comfortable shirt with mask attached, shinobi pants. Simple, plain, functional. The way he liked it.

He turned on a small lamp near his bed, dimly lighting the room so he could read, but instead found himself laying down staring at the ceiling, as his father’s face came into his mind, against all efforts otherwise.

“Humbug!” said Kakashi, standing to pace to calm his mind.

After walking around his scarcely decorated bedroom, he gave up and sat on his bed again. His gaze happened to fall on a sealing tag on his ceiling, something set to alert him if anyone entered, that had a fine layer of dust on it. It was high up, and still in working condition, though who ever dared to enter his apartment? So it was, in fact, very much unused.

It was with great astonishment, and with a strange, inexplicable dread, that as he looked, he felt his chakra pulse from alarm from this seal. It was barely a hint of alarm, but soon it felt like the loudest alarm he had ever known, and so did every other seal in his apartment. This might have lasted half a minute, or a minute, but it seemed like an hour. The seals ceased as they had begun, together. They were succeeded by a clanking noise, from outside his apartment; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the uncarpeted hallway. Kakashi then happened to remember to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses and such stories were often described as dragging chains...

His front door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, in his living room, approaching his bedroom, then directly outside his bedroom door.

“It’s humbug still!” said Kakashi. “I won’t believe it.” His color changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the bedroom door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, his bedside lamp flared in brightness, as though it cried, “I know him; Sakumo’s Ghost!” and fell again.

The same face: the very same. Sakumo with his white, white hair, usual uniform, vest, pants, sandals. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Kakashi observed it closely) of keys, padlocks, kunai, shuriken, tanto, and senbon, all wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Kakashi, observing him, and looking through his body, could still see the doorknob of his bedroom door behind him.

Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes; and marked the very texture of the forehead protector about its head; he was still incredulous, and fought against his senses.

“What?” said Kakashi, caustic and cold as ever. “What do you want with me?”

“Much!”—Sakumo’s voice, no doubt about it.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I was.”

“Who were you then?” said Kakashi, raising his voice.

“In life I was your father.”

“I….then sit,” Kakashi said, for lack of a better response, nodding at a chair he had at his desk. Could ghosts even sit, he wondered?

“I can,” Sakumo replied, as if to read his thoughts.

“Do it, then,” Kakashi posed, and watched the spirit pull the chair to face him, gingerly sitting in it across from the copy nin, as if he were used to it.

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Kakashi.

“What evidence would you need?”

“I don’t know,” said Kakashi.

“Why do you doubt your senses? Did I not teach you better?”

“Because,” said Kakashi, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a bit of undercooked rice, some ill-brewed tea. Some poison remaining in my system, undetected from a mission recently. A jutsu gone wrong.”

Kakashi was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

There was something very awful, too, in the spectre’s being provided with an infernal atmosphere of its own. Kakashi could not feel it himself, but this was clearly the case; for though the Ghost sat perfectly motionless, its hair and clothes still moved, as if agitated by something.

“You see this senbon?” said Kakashi, continuing the topic and wishing, though it were only for a second, to divert the vision’s stony gaze from himself. He twirled said weapon in his fingers.

“I do,” replied the Ghost.

“You are not looking at it,” said Kakashi.

“But I see it,” said the Ghost, “notwithstanding.”

“Well!” returned Kakashi, “I only have to swallow it like Genma’s embarrassing story and then I’ll be haunted by whatever else my mind makes up for the rest of time. This, you, are not real.”

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Kakashi dropped the senbon and gripped his blanket underneath him tightly, in an attempt to ground himself.

“Why are you here?” Kakashi asked, his voice betraying him.

“Do you believe in me or not?” the Ghost asked.

“I do,” Kakashi admitted. “But why be a ghost? And why come to me? Why? Why now?”

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

“You are weighed down Father,,” said Kakashi, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?” Kakashi trembled more and more.

“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was not nearly anything when I passed so many years ago, but you have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”

Kakashi glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of chain: but he could see nothing.

“Father,” he said, imploringly. “Tell me more. Is it because of my time in ANBU? As a shinobi?”

“It is not because of the job, but because of your actions otherwise. I have nothing else to say,” the Ghost replied. “Nor can I tell you what I would, I am only permitted to share little with you. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our family home, which you now avoid.”

Kakashi had to admit he was right, he never went to the family home, where thick layers of dust lay on every surface, instead residing in his small bachelor apartment in between missions.

“But you were a good shinobi, a good man!” Kakashi called out.

“A good man? Forget not the reason for my passing, how my life affected so many then and now,” the Ghost cried, shaking its chain. “And you, what are you doing with your life, to build your chain so fast and heavy? Not as a shinobi, but as a man, as my son?”

Kakashi remained silent, with no idea of what to say.

“Hear me!” cried the Ghost. “My time is nearly gone. I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Kakashi. You will be haunted by Three Spirits.”

Kakashi’s countenance fell almost as low as the Ghost’s had done. “Is that the chance and hope you mentioned?” he demanded, in a faltering voice.

“It is.”

“I—I think I’d rather not,” said Kakashi.

“Without their visits,” said the Ghost, ignoring him, “you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One.”

“Couldn’t I take them all at once, and have it over?” hinted Kakashi. “Bing, bang, boom?”

“Then the next at the next hour, and the third at the one following that,” the Ghost continued. “Remember what has passed between us!”

When it had said these words, Sakumo’s spirit stood, with his chain wound over and about his arm. The apparition walked backward from Kakashi; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the spectre reached it, it was wide open.

It beckoned Kakashi to approach, which he did. When they were within two paces of each other, Sakumo’s Ghost held up its hand, warning him to come no nearer. Kakashi stopped.

The spectre looked at him for one last moment before floating out upon the bleak, dark night.

Kakashi followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.

The air was filled with phantoms in the distance, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Sakumo’s Ghost; none were free.

The air cleared, and the night calmed. Kakashi closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. Same for the window that had opened of its own accord for his father's departure. His tags, wards, and barriers also gave off no sense of alarm as well.

He tried to say “Humbug!” but stopped at the first syllable.

And whether it was from the emotions he had just experienced; the overall day he had; his interactions with his father; or that it was just quite late at night, he went straight to bed and instantly fell asleep.

 

(This chapter used the actual story much more to set the scene, but the rest will be more original and written for this!)