October 17, Yondaime Year 1
Sandaime’s funeral takes place on a grey afternoon, a week after the Fox’s rampage through Konoha. Despite the hundreds dead and the destruction wrought, nearly all of the village’s surviving ninja and civilians arrive in mourning black. Yondaime himself stands before the gathered crowd, face carved in lines of sorrow. Enough rubble has been cleared away to make room for the unlit funeral pyre— and the body.
In death, Sandaime’s face is free of the haunted look it has borne for the past three months. The hole in his torso from one of the Fox’s giant claws is covered by a set of Hokage’s robes, gleaming white amidst the charred grey of Konoha. His students, Lady Tsunade and Jiraiya the Toad Hermit, stand like statues on Yondaime-sama’s right, their expressions dark and unreadable.
The space between them where the third Sannin should be is empty.
Katsuko clenches her hands at her sides, staring blindly ahead. Even after three months, even after his sacrifice on the night of the attack, the last thing she wants to do is mourn Sarutobi Hiruzen. Sweat pricks at her temples and runs down her neck; underneath her shirt, the bandages wrapped around her ribs pull. The pain sparks the memory of yellow eyes and the cold, searing agony of the scalpel—
She bites her lip, forces herself to breathe. The village can’t afford her falling apart, not now. Not with so many gone.
The people around her stir, murmuring. Yondaime has taken his place in front of the pyre, facing the crowd. He stands resolute, gaze unwavering; the bruises under his eyes and the pale cast of his skin are the only signs that he, too, has lost almost everything to the Fox. Katsuko remembers Kushina-sama, her laugh and the bright way she and the Fourth looked at each other, and very nearly does succumb to tears.
Yondaime’s voice carries over the crowd. “Jiraiya-sensei told me once that what you don’t know can kill you. Sandaime corrected him. What you do know, he said, can make you willing to die. It took me years to understand what he meant by that. I’m not sure I truly did until I saw an old man, comfortable in retirement, tie his hitai-ate on again and set out to fight a battle he knew he could not win, to buy enough time to save the people he loved.”
The need for redemption could drive a man to walk into the jaws of death itself. Katsuko’s mouth twists as she ducks her head, trying to hide her expression. Do Yondaime and his ANBU feel the same bitterness she does, knowing the real reason Sarutobi chose to face down a demon?
Sandaime had visited Katsuko in the hospital three months ago. He’d sat by her bedside for half-an-hour, unable to bring himself to speak. She remembers thinking that he’d looked very small for a legend, an old and tired man with guilt weighing heavy on his shoulders. Human, and mortal, and fallible.
It hadn’t been enough for her to forgive him then. It still isn’t now.
“Sandaime was a man who loved peace,” the Fourth says. “The world only gave him war.”
She can’t listen anymore. Katsuko closes her eyes and breathes in deep, searches for the quiet place inside herself that keeps her safe and numb. Yondaime’s voice and the silent press of people around her fade into the background; she stands quietly, letting her mind drift, and waits for the funeral to end.
3 thoughts on “Secrets That We Keep”
I have so much rage when it comes to the Sandaime. I tried to justify the ways he’s run Konoha. The way canon Naruto grew up an orphan shunned and unaware of his own legacy, and the way Orochimaru was allowed to carry on with his illegal experiments. But I have so much rage. He was regarded as a man of peace and a loving grandfather yet he is sitting on a mountain of horrors and bodies. Hell, he allowed Danzou to carry on with his order to massacre the entire Uchiha Clan. Using their heir. He let Danzou lead and grow ROOT, turning people into soul-less machines. So honestly I burn for Katsuko, having to stand there at his funeral and pretend to mourn the man who ruined her life because he loved his sadistic students too much but didn’t care enough for his victims until it was too late.
Sarutobi Hiruzen is a wonderfully case of character revealment in Naruto. As in, he starts out as this authoratative gradfatherly figure, one of the few who seems to care for the main character, and then the show goes on and matures and now the fandom at large flames at him. Truly, I pity him.
Sarutobi Hiruzen had been a capable leader during the third war, clearly, since Konoha came out of it in a strong position. By the time we meet him in canon, he’s brought Konoha back to strength once again from what could have been a catastrophe for the village. So in that he was a capable leader.
But he also made critical mistakes that to our Western eyes, at least, seem unforgivable. Called back from retirement to govern in the wake of tremendous disaster, and after personal failure in his relationship with Orochimaru, his lifelong pupil, Hiruzen just wasn’t up to the whole task of leading the village. Before he stepped down he’d allowed Orochimaru to escape and become a serious threat to Konoha. Now, resuming the Hokageship, how could his first action be choosing to abandon the child of the beloved Fourth Hokage, making Naruto into an orphan pariah? And why is he more of a doddering old man than a leader by the time we meet him? Of course those are critical points for the story as Kishimoto wanted to tell it. But when fanfic writers start poking at some of the foundational elements of canon, they start to seem pretty flimsy indeed.
Sarutobi Hiruzen, on close examination, is a deeply flawed man who makes disastrous mistakes even as he makes brilliant saves. I pity Hiruzen, too, and I feel we gave him a much more fitting end in ANBU Legacy than canon did. He died a hero, helping to save the village one last time, buying time for Minato and Kushina to deal the death blows.