In a perfect world...
In a perfect world, his students wouldn't be so petty and vapid.
At least, that's what Kakashi thought. The day before the bell test that had determined whether they stayed as a team or were dissolved before being given a chance, they had introduced themselves on the roof and then gone home separately, resigned to the fact that they'd have to endure each other until their next promotion.
Today, a day after the mission in Wave Country, Kakashi led them to their training ground, the weather crisp and cool, the tree line a nice blend of ochres, crimsons and vermillion greens, and the fauna promptly scattering at the sound of approaching feet.
Naruto was loudly complaining about wasting time, Sakura was trying her level best not to agree with him and Sasuke was uncharacteristically thoughtful. Eventually, Naruto noticed and asked him what he was thinking about.
"It isn't about Sakura-chan is it?" he blurted cheekily and, mildly affronted, Sasuke retorted with a "As if dobe, I was just thinking."
Sakura, to her credit, only blushed a mild shade of pastel pink. Kakashi stopped near the War Memorial and then turned to his students.
"Three months ago," he began sombrely, "we stood on the roof of the academy and introduced ourselves."
He paused, waiting for all of them to recall that day, and before Naruto could make a stupid comment about it, Kakashi continued speaking. "I didn't really tell you anything about myself , did I?"
They all agreed, especially Naruto who proclaimed loudly that if Kakashi wasn't such an aloof bastard, then he should train them more instead of trying to make up for it. Sakura now looked curiously at her mysterious sensei and wondered whether he was going to elaborate. Sasuke was intrigued despite himself.
"Quiet down Naruto. I'm going to tell you a story, and you're going to listen."
And he told them of a story where a child with bright eyes and wild dreams broke as he came home to see the man he'd looked up to most staring lifelessly at him from the kitchen table. A story about a loud and obnoxious boy who fell in love with a girl with a heart forged from tempered steel. A tale of how a rule was broken, how he was crushed under stone and how the bright eyed boy lost the one person he called friend.
A tale about a sensei that was more a father, a teammate who was more a brother, a woman who was more a mother and a comrade who was more a sister; a family that he had created from the shattered pieces of his heart and put together, only for it to smash irreparably when one after another, they all succumbed to death. A narration that ended when he looked at their pale and wide-eyed faces, staring at the man they had thought they'd known.
"Then the boy grew up, and the Hokage gave him a team that should have failed, a dream that would be broken, brimming with a power that must be earned. Overambitious and underachieving and beyond precious to him.
My name is Hatake Kakashi, I like miso soup with sliced eggplant and books, dislike stringent rule following and stupidity that can get people killed, my hobbies are reading and making people wait and my dream is to make sure that no more of my precious people die." He took a deep breath then.
"You nearly died Sasuke-kun." Kakashi continued after a beat. "And I realised that you didn't really know anything about me and never really would have."
Sasuke squirmed a bit and Naruto lost any colour he had had in his face. Sakura turned to look at him, as if he would disappear the minute she looked away.
Kakashi then cleared his throat and all three looked up at him.
"Well then," he said cheerfully, eye-smiling at his cute little students. "Who wants to reintroduce themselves, properly this time, now that we know each other better?"
No one volunteered, not even Naruto, because Kakashi-sensei had trusted them enough to tell them his story and, no matter how self-absorbed they were, they could tell he'd never done it before, would probably never do it again, and the least they owed him was telling him the truth.
No, Naruto thought determinedly, the least I owe myself is to tell them the truth.
"I'll go next sensei!" Naruto exclaimed, although it was far more subdued than it usually was. Both his teammates to his left turned to look at him, Sasuke hiding his curiosity and Sakura slightly exasperated.
"My name is Uzumaki Naruto dattebayo! I like," and then Naruto paused to actually think about it. "I like playing pranks, taking care of my plants and ramen!"
At this, Sasuke sighed, Sakura muttered 'obviously...' and Kakashi chuckled.
"I dislike," and this time he thought about it really hard. "I don't like it when people judge others without getting to know them. I mean, I get that you're angry or you're hurt, but that doesn't mean that it's hopeless or this person's a monster or that person is not worth acknowledging."
They sat silently, urging him to continue with their curious eyes.
"I mean," he thought, trying to elaborate. "It's like with Inari and him hating his dad, and then thinking that everything was hopeless and that we were all going to die. And how old man Tazuna thought that we were weak and wouldn't be able to handle a super hard mission. He didn't even know us! It's okay if Sasuke called me weak, even though it's not, because he knows me, you know? He can say it cause he knows what my skill level is, but if, I don't know, Gato told me that I was a failure, I'd be like, how do you even know? You know?" he looked at them imploringly and Sasuke nodded, for once agreeing with Naruto openly.
Sakura just sat there wondering how she hadn't noticed that Naruto had hidden depths like that, but at the same time realising that she'd kind of already known in her heart, even if not in her head. Kakashi silently mused that it was probably because of Naruto's upbringing that he hated being judged like that.
"Anyway, hobbies! Um…I like taking care of my plants, and comparing different flavours of ramen, and going to have Ichiraku ramen with Iruka-sensei and Jiji!" he grinned widely at this and his team kind of felt that they should have seen this coming.
"And my dream, like I said last time, is to be the greatest Hokage ever!" and then his grin nearly split his face before it lost some of its intensity. "But, it's not just cause I'm awesome and a super cool shinobi dattebayo." Sakura looked slightly startled and Sasuke felt that somewhere deep down he'd known there was more to it than that.
"I mean, I am! Obviously, I'm going to be super strong and everything but," and then he looked down and his voice lost nearly all of its exuberance. "But really it's because, well before it was because I wanted…"
Then he looked up and Sakura flinched at the amount of loneliness she saw there.
"No, I needed to be acknowledged, because no one ever had you know? They used to look right through me, like as if I wasn't even there, like I didn't mean anything and I'd be better off dead. And sometimes I used to wish I was dead."
Silence met this statement, and even Kakashi was surprised.
"But then, I thought that it was like giving them exactly what they wanted, and so I didn't, and anyway, being Hokage means that no one will ignore my existence like that ever again. That's how I thought anyway. But Haku, he talked to me about precious people, and how fighting for them made a person stronger."
He smiled at them, and it was contagious because they all smiled back (except Sasuke, who only lightened his face and twitched his lips upward).
"And now I want to be Hokage to protect everyone! I want them all to be my precious people, even if they don't really like me, and I still want them to acknowledge me, but so long as I have team 7 - yeah, even you teme - then I guess I have everything I really need dattebayo!"
This statement caused not only the speaker to blush, but the audience as well. After a few moments to compose themselves, Kakashi asked one of the other two to go on. Sasuke looked conflicted so Sakura took one for the team and began.
"My name is Haruno Sakura and I like," she was very tempted to blush and look at Sasuke-kun shyly, but then rethought that, and actually tried to think of something else. Even though Sasuke-kun was definitely what she like most.
"I like reading novels and pickled plums. I can't stand spicy food and idiots who don't read instructions and still think screwdrivers are glorified hammers!" she said, her chest heaving with ragged breaths by the end of her mini-rant.
Naruto's eyes were wide in fear and he moved away from Sakura slightly. Sasuke just wondered whether she realised her temper had come out again. Kakashi wondered who on earth she was talking about.
Brushing aside the thoughts of her dads' abysmal DIY skills, Sakura continued. "I also don't like being compared to Ino-pig." And at their blank looks, she shyly looked down and felt that she should justify herself.
"Because, well, she's from a shinobi clan and has had way more training than I did, so it's not fair for people to compare us. Actually," she looked up at her team, "it's not fair to compare me to anyone in our graduating class because I'm the only non-clan graduate. And it," she breathed slowly, "it's not fair. It's not fair that I had to read heaps more and practise kata and memorise facts ten times harder than everybody else and still only manage to beat Hinata of all people by a measly four points on the written test."
She then looked at Kakashi-sensei specifically. "It's not fair that all my sensei, no matter how kind or cool or educated they are, still expect me to be at the same level as the clan kids, and then when they find out I come from a civilian family, they immediately lose any expectations they had of me. I hate that the most; the way there are so many double standards and that I have to work so hard just to be able to keep up with it all."
Looking at their surprised and, in Naruto's case slightly frightened, faces, Sakura thought she should stop talking. But then, by the time she'd taken a breath, she launched into another tirade, fuelled by the cold hard knot in her stomach and the hot rage that she'd never known she'd felt that had given birth to inner Sakura to begin with.
"It's not like I particularly mind most of the time, but sometimes, especially when people call me weak, I just want to smash their heads against the floor and ask them how they could possibly expect me to do better and still have a social life."
She huffed, and by this point, she'd forgotten she had an audience at all.
But then she caught Naruto's gobsmacked expression and the slight appreciation in Sasuke's eyes, and she blushed slightly before moving on to the next bits. Trying not to mention Sasuke at all, even though it took a lot out of her, Sakura began about her hobbies and dream.
"My hobbies are playing quizzes and memory games." she said matter-of-factly, glancing at Sasuke discreetly (read: very obviously), "and my dream for the future is…"
She furrowed her eyebrows in contemplation. "I don't really have one." she said sheepishly.
"Come on Sakura-chan, everyone has a dream! It's okay if it's embarrassing, we won't mind!" Naruto butt in encouragingly. Sasuke merely grunted.
"It doesn't have to be a long-term goal Sakura-chan, just short term is fine." Kakashi added.
"Well," Sakura said, biting her lip in thought, "I guess I'd like to be a chuunin. Oh!" she exclaimed and grinned cheekily, "and my dream is to one day read all the books in the library!"
She giggled at Naruto and Sasuke's horrified faces and Kakashi eye-smiled, amused at his only female students' weird sense of humour, and wondering how much of that was actually a joke. Now that he thought about it, he couldn't make a judgement call one way or the other because he just didn't know her that well.
Realising who's turn it was next, Naruto's head snapped to Sasuke, staring at him with an expectant expression, nearly falling flat on his face with the amount he was leaning towards him. Sakura looked just as eager to properly get to know her Sasuke-kun and, silently, she promised herself that she wouldn't tell Ino-pig one word of what he said. Trust, at least, meant that much to her. Kakashi was also intrigued but was more practised at hiding it.
Sasuke took his cue and, looking away from their faces, staring at his folded hands and not particularly seeing anything, he spoke with something that Kakashi would have pegged as resigned acceptance and Naruto would have called sheer loneliness and a need to tell anyone so long as they would listen. He stayed silent.
"My name is Uchiha Sasuke." he said in a faraway voice, as if speaking about a boy that was lost and he hadn't quite managed to find. "I like tomatoes and training, especially shurikenjutsu." In his minds' eye, he wasn't speaking to them, he was speaking to who he used to be and, perhaps, what he had become.
"I especially enjoy it when I practise Katon jutsu with my father." Sakura silently gasped and both the male members of the team felt sympathy for the boy, neither mustering up the courage to interrupt him to remind him that his father was dead.
"I dislike it when people are late to a meeting or fail to show up entirely even though they promised they'd be there. I also hate sweet things." Kakashi somehow felt that that late comment wasn't directed at him at all, or rather, mostly not him.
"My hobbies are taking walks and, before the incident, I loved finding stray cats and feeding them. My dream for the future is just that—a dream." He breathed deeply and finally turned to face them, but he still wasn't truly all there yet. "It's never going to happen no matter how much I want it to."
"What is it Sasuke?" Naruto quietly whispered.
Sasuke's face took on a tentative wistful expression and in a voice filled with suppressed longing that, no matter how hard he tried to dampen somehow still leaked out, said, "I want my whole family sitting around the kotatsu, Okaa-san smiling and giving me riceballs and grilled tomatoes as a special treat for making genin. Aniki and Otou-san are laughing and complaining about Neko-baa and our second cousins. Otou-san's laughing like he never has before and Aniki congratulates me for passing with a perfect score, telling me," and his voice had a slight hitch, "telling me that he always knew I could do it and that he's never been more proud. And even though Aniki is there, the attention is on me and they're happy and celebrating because of me."
Then he finally seemed to come back to himself and looked at them with absolute certain sadness and angry resignation. "But that's never going to happen, all because of that man. All my dreams," he looked at each of them in turn, "all my likes and dislikes and hobbies mean nothing because of what he did. And now that I am the centre of attention, people don't see me. They see what they expect; an Uchiha prodigy," he bit out bitterly, "They never see me as Sasuke the youngest son of the Uchiha clan head or Sasuke the best in his class, or even Sasuke who's earned the skills he possesses."
"All they see," he said with barely supressed rage, "is Sasuke, the last of the Uchiha, someone to lavish attention on but never once to treat like a normal human being."
Naruto was rethinking everything he'd ever assumed about Sasuke and Kakashi was frantically calculating exactly how long it was until the next chuunin exam, because if it was a long while coming Sasuke might not pass the minimum sanity requirement. Sakura felt like crying; she'd never known.
"I wanted attention, but not like this. And now he'll just take everything I care about, and I can't, I won't let that happen." He said with grim determination. "I will kill him, and he won't ever be able to touch any bit of my future again."
He stood up and turned to Kakashi. "Ask me after he's dead what my dream is. I won't dream till then."
He walked away, and team 7 was never quite the same again.
-During the timeskip-
Years later, in a forest that reminded him faintly of the chuunin exams, Sasuke sat on a log and thought.
You never really knew what you have until it's gone. He'd taken for granted that his Okaa-san would always make him onigiri with okaka and tomatoes and she would always kiss his forehead before he went to school and after he came back. He'd never appreciated it when his father had laughed, even though he only seldom did, and he'd taken that for granted too. He took for granted that Aniki would always be indestructible and perfect and the epitome of goodness and justice.
Did I take them for granted too?
Far away, the broken pieces of team 7 lay scattered across the elemental nations, waiting to be reunited once more.