Chapter 24 

Chapter 24 

Hiruzen looked as if he could not avert his eyes no matter how much he wanted. He stared at the four dead shinobi bodies he had sent to the Land of Water. He didn't know what he felt as their dead and cold bodies were presented. He still didn't know what he was feeling as lifeless eyes looked back at him. So many feelings were stirring inside him that he felt numb.

It was the first time he was responsible for the death of his shinobi. In previous times, the dead were something he couldn't have prevented as it happened as the action unfolded before he was even in this world. But these four shinobi. Three men of various ages and a young woman died because he sent them on a mission.

He didn't think much at the time. He needed to know more about the Land of Water, as it now stood as a mystery to him. He wanted to know if Yagura was already under genjutsu and what was happening behind the closed borders. And he was looking to try and save the clans that would be lost soon if they weren't already lost.

It seemed like a good plan to him, and it still feels like it. But when the consequences of his actions hit, it hit hard. The reality was sometimes hard to accept, but it was his and he had no choice but to accept it. His orders, no matter how well intended, led to these four deaths. And now he couldn't stop thinking about their lives and what he had taken from them. Hiruzen knew he was staring at the abyss, and he had to put every fiber of his being to not blink at it as it would consume him.

"Kakashi," If the boy weren't near Hiruzen, he would have collapsed, even if it meant showing weakness to the shadow guards around him. But when Kakashi was next to him, Hiruzen couldn't do it. "Their deaths are sad and angering. But what they did wasn't meaningless. Four died, too much of a price, but more shall be saved. I will not rest until the price of their death isn't repaid in full."

"Can it be done?" Kakashi asked as he turned his lone eye towards Hiruzen.

"No," Hiruzen replied, revealing any emotion, but Hiruzen spoke from his heart. "I confirmed my suspicions. The current regime of Kiri is killing people right and left. Innocent people are people who will look to the left and see that nothing is right. Or they look at the left and see that there is nothing left. Those kinds of people are most pitiful, Kakashi. I think you, of all people, can relate to them."

"Give me your orders, Hokage-sama," Kakashi knelt before Hiruzen.

"Save them, save them all," Hiruzen said, as that was the only way he could justify the deaths of these four shinobi and lessen the quilt. "But do not die. Do you hear me, Kakashi? No matter what, do not die, and do not let your comrades die. I know you have the capability to do so. And if you don't, you will find them. For you are the son of the Hero of the village, Sakumo Hatake, student of another hero, Minato Namikaze, and comrade of the bravest heroes, Obito Uchiha and Rin Nohara. But unlike them, I will not allow you to die. Even at the lowest points find that sliver of strength that resides in you and that what was given by the previous heroes and live to save and give more meaning to the previous heroes. Even if your name will never be mentioned, this mission will never exist, and the people you will save will never know you."

"I accept this mission," Kakashi replied simply, revealing nothing.

"Gather your team," Hiruzen said. "Take the comrades that will give you strength, and may the previous heroes watch over you. Dismissed."

As Kakashi disappeared in the shadows, Hiruzen returned to look at the dead four shinobi. He had known nothing about them until now. Now, he knew that they were all orphans and had no family. Hiruzen didn't know if it was better that way or not. On the one hand, he had no one to tell about the death of their family members; on the other hand, he just took the opportunity ever to know what family was like.

And now, he might have sent Kakashi to his death. But he had no choice. Hiruzen had to save those clans somehow. If not because it was the right thing to do, he still had another reason. Those clans would boost the village's strength in the long run. And Kakashi was the only one he could trust with such a mission, as otherwise, he might have to turn to Danzo, and he did not wish to do so.

Still, he felt a bit bad about manipulating Kakashi. Hiruzen knew what words he should use to motivate Kakashi, and he used them ruthlessly. But he also believed that Kakashi wasn't realizing his full potential. Hiruzen couldn't let Kakashi go on like this. What Kakashi needed was to focus on something, and this mission would give everything that Kakashi needed to grow.

He couldn't understand this world, no matter how much he tried. He watched, listened, and read, yet he still couldn't understand it. Maybe it was too early for him to understand. Maybe he had to wait. But even then, he couldn't understand why this world was filled so much with violence. He couldn't understand why it couldn't be avoided. As he saw things, nobody wanted to get hurt, yet where so ready to hurt others.

Looking at Sasuke and Naruto glared at each other, Itachi couldn't understand why. Like they were old enemies and couldn't accept each other, and yet, they couldn't be separated. Even though blood didn't bind them, it seemed like they understood that they were brothers. Itachi was envious of their connection. He wanted to have it, too.

Still, even if he would never have the same connection with them as they did with each other, Itachi was sure he would do anything for them. He didn't know why, but he knew he would do anything and everything to protect them from the cruel reality of this world. Even destroy that reality, so they don't have to see it like he did.

"Crows," Itachi looked at the Fifth Hokage as he approached, his footsteps loud but reassuring. "They are deceptively smart. Usually, you would not be able to expect much from birds, but crows differ from others. They are smart, know how to use tools, can remember faces, and, most importantly, crow siblings can help their parents raise newborn chicks. Isn't that interesting?"

"Father isn't home," Itachi said.

"I gathered that much," Hiruzen smiled softly. He looked at Sasuke and Naruto, who were unusually calm. "Since I don't want to wake up your mother, I thought I'd talk to you."

"I don't think I have much to say, Hokage-sama."

"I think differently," The Third Hokage said. "I think you have a lot of thoughts and much to say, yet you prefer not to. Tell me, young Uchiha, what do you think of me?"

"I think you are perfect," Itachi didn't need to think much about it. Everything about the Third Hokage was perfect. From the things he heard about him and from how he saw him, everything about him was perfect. Was there a shinobi who could surpass the Third in anything? Itachi didn't think so. Even his father looked respectfully and with fear at the Third, so he must have been perfect in all aspects.

"It would be good to learn it now, young Uchiha," The Third said slowly as he looked at Itachi meaningfully. "There is no such thing as a perfect being in this world, nor there was nor there will ever be. But, one can fill the imperfections of the other. Two completely different people can actually be two sides of the same coin, and working together can succeed in anything."

"I think if one isn't perfect, he should work harder to be one," Itachi said. For Sasuke and Naruto, Itachi had to be perfect and he can't make mistakes, for he had to create a world where they could grow up peacefully, without the worry and the horrors of war.

"I am sure you will gain power beyond anyone's imagination," The Third only smiled at Itachi as he spoke. "But don't let it make you arrogant and egotistical. No matter how powerful you are, don't take everything on yourself because if you do, you will fail. Look at the crows. Even alone, they can achieve many things, and yet they still flock together."

Itachi looked up from the courtyard of his house, where crows gathered on the tree. He couldn't understand what the Third was trying to say, yet Itachi memorized each word as he felt like they would surely be more important in the future, even if he couldn't agree with them right now. After all, a Uchiha, especially an heir of the clan, had to be perfect and be able to do everything alone.

"Reality can be deceiving," The Third continued. "Sometimes we can focus on the shadows, ignoring the light that creates those shadows. Don't turn your back on that light, young Uchiha. The shadow will always be here, but so will the light. Heh, I probably sound like a deranged old man speaking nonsense. And I might be. After all, it is up to you to understand the things you see, even if sometimes you might lose sight of what truly is important."

Itachi heard his father return with a hastened step. He probably heard the Third was looking for him. But the Third wasn't in a hurry to turn to Itachi's father, as he watched over him until Fugaku came before the Third and led him away from Itachi. As Naruto and Sasuke started to get rowdy once again, Itachi heard his mother rise from her sleep, as she sensed it.

As his mother took the baby with her, Itachi was left alone to think about the Third's words. Itachi had a hard time even understanding why the Third spoke to him, to begin with, so getting the meaning behind those words didn't seem possible either. And yet they did resonate with him on some level like those words were carefully chosen just for him.

"I will be gone for a bit," Shisui said with his usual confident smile. "I am going on a super secret mission to another country. I was even handpicked for it. Isn't it great?"

"Why are you talking with me like I would be a child?" Itachi asked.

"Well, because you are and I talk like this usually anyway," Shisui said. "Anyway, I am telling you this so you don't have to worry about me and can train by yourself. I am looking forward to seeing how much you will learn by the time I get back."

And like that, Shisui was gone. His speed seemed to be increasing each day. Itachi was proud of him and couldn't wait to get on the same level, so for once, he could teach Shisui something. But for now, he would have to wait. Next year, he would go to the academy and start his career as a shinobi. And it would be the start of accomplishing his dream of erasing fighting from the world.

But firstly Itachi needed to learn how it all started. Why were shinobi always fighting each other? Why could the world be at peace? He had a lot to learn. But most importantly, he needed to get stronger. Stronger and better than anyone else, so Sasuke and Naruto don't have to. So they can fight each other and then laugh at each other without the world disturbing them. Itachi will create such a world for them.

A.N. I am super tired but managed to write a bit. I think that will be the most I can do for this week, as I am just enjoying my first weekend after three long weeks. see you next week.