The thing is that these thoughts weren’t sudden. That’s what’s really getting him right now, that after so many, many years and so much effort… after so much life and love and happiness… these intrusive, awful whispers are back yet again and louder than ever and they’re winning.
The thing is that Hatake Sakumo has been suicidal for a long time.
It’s not unusual, apparently, and he doesn’t know if that makes it better or worse – probably better, if it means other people survive this. He doesn’t know where it started exactly, which he thinks definitely makes it worse instead of better. Sometimes, in the darker moments, when he’s stagnating and incapable of seeing anything else, he wonders (wrongly, he knows it has to be wrongly, but… what if… the whispers say) if he’s just always been this way and he should just give up and accept it.
He remembers a time before these thoughts, though. He remembers a time before his heart existed in pieces barely held together and his own head wasn’t trying to kill him. He used to have pack, he knows. There was Mother and Father, Aunties and Uncles, Cousins and Elders, and Brother, he remembers. There was a Hatake Clan – people, pack, family.
Things were good, then. Things were simple and light, once.
Happiness, he used to have it. He knows he did.
Mother died on a mission. She died buying time for the mission to succeed, according to what little details the stone-faced jounin stranger gave as they offered their solemn thanks and apology. She did her duty.
Father died on a mission too. He was a bodyguard and took a poisoned blade meant for the Senju princess, the late Shodaime’s daughter, who told them that she admired his loyalty and wished she could have brought his body back with him in it. He did his duty. (That Senju princess is dead now anyway, though.)
The Aunties, Father’s elder sister and first cousin who might as well have been a sister, died protecting the village from released prisoners of war. Konoha's very own unfortunate enough to be captured and made into biological weapons, ticking time-bombs of biological warfare, and then released to wreak havoc by a rogue Iwa clan. It was a hard choice, the Sandaime Hokage said when he honored their sacrifice, killing Konoha’s own like that before dying themselves, but the village came first. The many before the few. They did their duty.
The Uncles died on missions too. One fell with the Nidaime, a long, long time ago, when Sakumo was barely old enough to sit still for the entire village’s broken-hearted mourning. One fell defending the Daimyo, a long time ago, when he called for Konoha’s protection in the time that the war was stirring. The last fell fighting off several Kiri Swordsmen, a time ago, in an attack on Uzushio’s coasts, and his dead body washed up ashore days later. They did their duty.
The Cousins died similarly, only one or two making it home to slip out of medics’ saving.
Only the Elders died of old age or sickness and most of them were long since gone.
One of the cousins, however, said that their beloved Granny really died of a heart that broke when her wife and daughter died. A broken heart was a sickness too, Cousin said bitterly, and wolves were prone most to it, born to pine for the moon as they did. Elders passed on their duty, then passed away, of broken hearts as the last to remain.
The Hatake Clan was never large and always loyal to those they considered their own. Sakumo has always loved his clan, for their deep love of home and family especially, and then one day, he had to look up, freshly returned from his brother’s funeral and belated commendation ceremony, to realize that there was no one else left.
Sakumo doesn’t know when he started equating duty with death.
Lone wolves die, the whispers say. A pack of one is soon done. He doesn’t know when they started and he knows that they’re wrong, but his heart has been broken too many times and the strings holding him together are so thin. The whispers are so loud and surely there must be something to them if they’ve gone on for so long? They’ve got a point, haven’t they? Lone wolves die, that’s what they do.
The thing is that he was getting better, though. When his commander took him in and said to a broken teenager: You’ve got heart and skill, kid, and we need those things. When Maito Dai took one look at that broken teenager and said: We’re going to be good friends, you and me, I can tell. When a sharp young lady bumped into a fragile young man and said: Yo, I’m Ayame, what’s up?
The thing is that Hatake Sakumo has known that he’s depressed and potentially suicidal for a long time.
It’s not unusual, apparently, among veterans and shinobi without stable support groups. The war definitely made it worse for an emotionally wrecked young wolf without a pack, but his commander was watching for it and did her best to make it better. He thought other people finding out would make it worse, but Dai figured it out and that made things better, so Sakumo told Ayame and that made things better too. They helped. He didn’t have to accept living that way, he learned, it wasn’t always this way and it wasn’t always going to be this way.
He remembers times without the whispers. He remembers that there are ways to fight the whispers, but they’re all so hard to remember right now when the whispers are so loud. He remembers a time before when he managed to collect a pack again and they had it figured out, even with the war raging around them. He had help, he had pack, and they helped him find the ways and strength to fight the whispers, then looked after him when he couldn’t fight the whispers on his own. He remembers getting better. He remembers winning.
It’s hard to remember much of anything right now.
Commander is dead. She didn’t survive the war. It was war, after all. It’s sad, but it happens.
Ayame is dead too. She died not long after Kakashi’s second birthday, suffering from a sickness that sapped her bright life away. She wanted a family so badly, but she didn’t get to enjoy it for very long. It’s sad, but it happens.
Dai is the only one left, but he’s gone too. They didn’t even get to see each other when Sakumo returned from his massive failure, as Dai had already been sent out to the eastern coasts on an emergency mission, responding not nearly immediately enough to sudden and disastrous attacks from Kiri against Uzushio. Dai's son had already been left with his late mother’s family, the Mori Clan. No time for failing friends as yet another war raised its ugly head. It’s sad, but it happens.
Sakumo doesn’t know what to do with himself now.
He failed his mission - and in failing his duty, has failed his village. He has failed his village so very terribly, so unspeakably terribly, and now he’s doomed his son to being raised in yet another war. He brought war down on them and that is inexcusable, because the White Fang should have known better and should have done better no matter what he thought he knew. Sakumo has shamed himself, shamed his son, shamed his clan, and shamed the legacy and sacrifices of his family with his selfishness and foolishness and arrogance. He did not do his duty as he should have. He has failed not just as a shinobi of Konoha and head of his clan, but as a Hatake with any honor at all.
He just... he couldn't let them die. He couldn't go home and tell another soul their loved one had done their duty. And in his incapability, he has damned them all.
Inside his chest, the strings holding his broken heart together are snapping. Inside his head, the returned whispers are growing louder and louder with all the things he knows to be both true and wrong. He cannot stop them. He doesn’t know how. How do you fix hearts and heads again?
You can’t, the whispers say, you are a failure and a shame and you couldn’t do it even if it could be done.
Shut up, he tells them weakly, I beat you before, if I had help I could do it again.
But you don’t, not anymore if you ever did, and lone wolves die. That’s that they do. They don’t get help.
The thing is that he’s talking to himself and he knows it.
He should go and talk to somebody, but Commander is dead, Ayame is dead, and Dai is gone. Even if they were here, there’s no guarantee they’d give him the time of day given what he’s done. Kakashi hasn’t come home at all in over a week and barely passed through even before that, having now more or less moved in with the Moris for the foreseeable future, and Sakumo isn’t so selfish to put his broken heart and head on his son’s shoulders. Fathers shouldn’t need their children to fix them. Kakashi doesn’t even know about the whispers in the first place.
He should still go out and talk to somebody, anybody at all would do, but he can’t really do that. The village is in crisis now that the Third War has begun, resources are being relocated and strained already, and what stressed medic is going to want to talk with the man who started it all? They’d probably rather kill him on the spot than listen to him talk about the whispers come back into his head, and they might not be wrong.
He can’t even really go out at all. Walking down the street is to invite the actual whispers of civilians and shinobi alike, who have nothing but disdain and disgust and fury for the man who has sent their village to war because he was selfish, weak, and failed in his duty. Going out in public now is akin to torture, and surely sunlight and fresh air cannot help enough to counter the hurt and humiliation of being hated. He’s been hurt before, humiliated before, but… he’s never been hated before by the very people he’s dedicated his life and loyalty to for so long. It hurts most of all to know he deserves every last piece of their hate.
He should stick to a schedule, at the very least, but he doesn’t have one anymore. He doesn’t have Ayame or Commander or Dai to remind him to keep a routine, to keep busy, to keep some control. He’s been pulled from active duty for the foreseeable future, pending review and punishment, pending finding any responsibility they’re willing to trust him with again, and pending anyone willing to work with him again. The White Fang is a failure and everyone knows it now.
None of his acquaintances are speaking to him, sent away to war or refusing to look at him. He has no one to spar with, no one to chat with, no one to meet for lunch, and there are only so many things a man can do alone. He can’t go out and train, unwelcome at the training grounds, and he’s having trouble finding things that bring him joy anymore or goals to work towards.
Kakashi brought him joy, but his son is rightfully ashamed of him now. How can he put the pressure of his broken happiness on his son’s shoulders, anyway? Kakashi has others things to do. His son isn’t wrong not to want the shame of being seen with his failure of a father. When was the last time Kakashi actually needed anything from him, anyway? Maybe he was always a failure of a father.
And what use is making personal goals in the face of war? War destroys all plans in the end. What use is wanting to visit a particular place when the borders are made of blood and fire? How can one even await the sequel of some silly book when the publisher is closed for their own safety? It’s impossible to think of even little things to achieve when there’s no one to share anything with and everything he does always seems to end in failure anyway.
He can’t make more promises if he’s only going to break them and everything else he touches.
The thing is that there’s no way to fight the whispers this time. They’re too loud, there’s nothing else to drown them out, and there’s nothing to do to distract himself from the truths they wrongly remind him of. Time and effort, life and love, happiness… what did it mean in the end? The whispers always come back, as they’ve always been there it seems, and they’re winning.
The thing is that Hatake Sakumo is alone.
His days are blurring together, in haze of drinks to try and drown out the whispers, no careful hand and chiding words to stop him, and memories that make things so much worse that he’s beginning to forget what better even feels like. He found a photograph of his brother the other day, a loving farewell letter from his grandmother the day before, and so many old miserable thoughts of loneliness and loss from when he lost his pack the first time.
He’s losing his pack again. He might have lost it already.
And lone wolves die, the whispers sigh, that’s what they do if they have any honor. Do you?