A/N: completed version of this post
Here’s the thing about being a member of the Hokage’s Guard: you are no longer a shinobi.
Or, rather, you are no longer just a shinobi.
It’s different than being ANBU–a little less, a little more. You are still yourself, but yourself has changed. Rather than getting hidden behind masks and callsigns, the Hokage’s Guard have faces and names that are out in the open yet overshadowed by their charge.
The Hokage’s Guard are chosen for a specific reason, because the Hokage’s Guard will never be more than that. They are the ones who survive, but don’t thrive. They are the ones who are steady and reliable, not flashy or impossible.
They are bodyguards to someone stronger than themselves and that means they were never meant for legends. Only footnotes if they get written in at all.
It’s not a bad role to have, necessarily. Not the most glamorous, but not all shinobi are made for that kind of life. And there is honor in being the Hokage’s last line of defense.
So long as your Hokage doesn’t die before you, that is.
This generation has a lot riding on them; a lot of expectations to live up to, a lot of sins and debt just waiting to be collected.
It’s not their fault, but that’s just how life is.
“We can’t do it,” Raido says, scarred face made grimmer with a furrowed brow. Beside him, Genma’s mouth is a flat line around his senbon. Iwashi, too, is a silent show of long-seated wounds.
It’s not often that shinobi–regular, non-elite jounin shinobi, that is–will refuse the Hokage. But this is a special case, and it helps that the Sandaime is only asking, not ordering.
Hiruzen sighs, less out of frustration and more out of grief.
“It wasn’t your fault, any of you,” he says, though it’s something he’s repeated many times before, “You did what you could–”
“Not everything,” Iwashi murmurs, interrupting just like usual–another thing that these three are given leeway with, “we’re still alive.”
Hiruzen sighs once more.
“Gai would be a good choice,” Genma suggests, sidestepping the drama and getting to the heart of the matter. A quality that makes–made–him a good choice for the Hokage’s Guard, “He’ll teach them well. They won’t–” fail, he doesn’t say; reconsiders, says instead, “–I trust him.”
The other two members of the disbanded Yondaime’s Guard nod in agreement, before they all leave at Hiruzen’s dismissal.
He has done poorly by those three, blinded by his own mourning and the sudden reclamation of a burden he’d thought passed on for good.
But the next Hokage’s Guard will be better–better trained, better treated, better prepared–they will be slated for this duty from the beginning of their shinobi careers and they will know, each step of the way, what kind of person their Hokage is.
Hiruzen isn’t sure who exactly their Hokage will be quite yet–though he has hopes for one in particular–but he knows it will be someone in next year’s graduating class.
For now, he’ll do his best to make the team from this year’s graduating class an unstoppable Hokage’s Guard.
The Godaime is still a little uncomfortable in her new position.
But that’s okay, so are her Guards.
After all, while the Sandaime might have prepared for the eventuality of succession, he didn’t plan for this exact scenario. Or for it to happen so soon–the Hokage and her Guards all barely teenagers.
But maybe it’s better this way, for the Guards to grow around their Hokage. To watch her become the legend she will one day be remembered for, to walk with her every step of the way. To know their Hokage not as a hero, but as a peer and a friend; a precious person to protect.
A nice thought, perhaps, but nice thoughts won’t protect the Hokage from assassination attempts. Of which there will, no doubt, be many.
Konoha has weathered the invasion well, has regrouped it’s strongest shinobi together, and lanced a corrupt organization from their core. They are by no means vulnerable, but they’ve also put a giant target on an untested child.
The Sandaime had become Hokage as a youth as well, be had been through war. Had shown all of the Elemental Nations his strength, had earned the hat undeniably.
The Godaime is not there yet, and neither are her Guards.
The Yondaime’s Guard might have to come out of retirement.
Despite Kakashi’s completely unsubtle preference, he cannot actually follow his student around for the rest of their lives as the most lethal guard dog ever.
Jokes aside, Konoha cannot afford to have one of it’s strongest and most famous shinobi stuck in the village essentially babysitting the Hokage in her stronghold.
The same applies to Gai.
The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t really matter that his team isn’t yet chuunin–poor match ups and attitudes on their parts, anyway–it’s time for him to let them go. He knew from the beginning what he was training them for and it’s time for them to step up and for him to step back.
“Believe in them,” Genma says, looking unperturbed in the face of Gai and mini-Gai’s tears. That’s what being on a genin team with Maito Gai does to a person, “Believe in yourself, you’ve taught them well.”
Which begins a whole new bout of crying. But at least it’s more of the heartfelt kind rather than heartbreak.
Raido and Iwashi glance awkwardly at the remaining two genin, both of them thankfully not wailing and clinging to their sensei. Youthfully.
“You get used to it,” TenTen shrugs, almost eerily similar to Genma, no doubt having grown her own Gai and Lee-proof ways of coping. Neji scoffs but doesn’t disagree.
Iwashi turns to Genma, “You’re getting the mini-Gai.”
It’s not so much teaching or training as it is advising. None of the Yondaime’s Guard have Byakugan, and it’s safe to say that Lee is could probably kick all of their asses in taijutsu. And, given that TenTen survived being on a team with Gai and his mini-me, there’s no telling what kind of horrors she’s been put through for the past year and a half.
So mostly, it’s just advice. Passing on the baton, in a way. Just some veterans giving their successors some pointers. Ushering in the new generation, so to speak.
“I need to be drunk, like, five hours ago,” Raido moans, settling into the bar stool and immediately dropping his head in the curve of his arms.
Iwashi, already seated with his hands pressed to his temples, just grunts in acknowledgement.
“That bad?” Genma asks, smirk curling around his senbon.
“It’s my own damn fault,” Raido says, only looking up when the soft tap of a cup on the bar signals incoming alcohol, “I mentioned the Hiraishin and she just kept asking questions about it and–” he shudders, “Definitely Gai’s student.”
“And the Hyuuga?” Genma prompts Iwashi, who just sighs and downs the remains of his drink in response. Genma chuckles.
Raido eyes him, confused and possibly a little jealous, “How come you’re not all–” gesturing abstractly to his head, then at Iwashi.
“Lee’s a good kid,” he says, vague and unhelpful, “Gai did well…” he pauses, considers, gets to the heart of the matter. “They’ll be great.”
Iwashi waves the bartender for refills and raises his glass for a toast. “To the Hokage’s Guard,” he says, rueful smile on his face.
It’s not teaching or training or advice, not really. It’s closure, is what it is.
And maybe just a little bit redemption.
Raido and Genma mimic him, drinks and rueful smiles all.
“To the Hokage’s Guard.”
A/N: Okay so here’s the completed version, by which I mean I tried to continue it but I had no idea it would go in this direction and then I was just like… well, okay then. This has very little Shikako and Team Gai in it even though, given the title, it ought to be about them.
I dunno, I’ll post it to ao3 later, I guess…