Snap Back To Reality @jazhop
Chapter 32

Snap Back To Reality 32

There wasn't any time to grieve. Not when the Uchiha police force had rushed in after neighbours reported screaming, not when Taichi was crying on the bodies of his dead parents, not when I was holding Tsukiya who was never going to see his parents growing up. I had no time for my insignificant feelings. Dad had asked me to take care of my brothers as his final wish. They had died to protect Taichi and Tsukiya and I had no right to shut down, not right to cry, and so I didn't.

"You're saying your mother stabbed your father and jumped at you with the intention to kill," the Uchiha repeated in disbelief.

I nodded numbly, my eyes trailing to the blood on my hands. I could see my neighbours coming out of their houses, all whispering about murder and shinobi. I looked back at the Uchiha and noted the worried look he was giving me.

"Your shinobi id," he said.

I fished out my id and handed it to him. He looked at it and nodded before pocketing it. I was no doubt going to be suspended from active duty until this was sorted. I reasoned numbly that Danzo would cover up whatever went on here with no traces back to him or me. Yua would die, being remembered as a clinically insane woman who snapped and killed her own husband before having her daughter murder her.

"It is customary practice that we investigate the crime scene immediately. You will be taken to an interrogation room for your involvement in the murder of a civilian and tried by the Shinobi code."

I felt my nerves spike as I looked back at my house in worry. I deserved to be tortured, to have all the harsh unforgiving questions asked to me, but not… not Taichi.

"Please… don't ask Taichi anything tonight. He's just… he's just a kid. Let me take my brothers somewhere safe for tonight and I'll tell you everything."

The Uchiha sighed, rubbing his neck before nodding. "We're not so cruel to interrogate your civilian brothers. Is there a next of kin they can visit?"

I nodded, but the frown that took my face was noted. We were the branch family in a line of civilian families that hailed from merchants. If things went by proper procedure, Taichi and Tsukiya would be under Cousin Matsu's roof tonight, and his mother was a particularly vindictive woman who didn't like how we borrowed money from them in the past, and how we were now more well off. If Taichi stayed with her tonight, she could hurt him further.

"I won't ask for anything else, but can I ask that they be transferred under Nara Hanami's care for now," I asked, a hint of desperation edging my voice and making it sound younger than normal.

"A Nara… well ok. We'll contact her, and if she agrees I won't be averse to it. Is there any reason why?"

"My extended family have some issues with us," I said briefly.

The Uchiha in charge of this mission nodded and left it at that. He probably had no reason to care about civilian feuds, and Nara were well respected members within both the civilian and shinobi circles. Leaving a murder witness with a Nara was the opposite of suspicious.

"Go be with your brothers. I will come pick you up in a bit."

I nodded dazedly. This felt more like I was living a fever dream. The world was fuzzy around the edges, and it felt surreal. I walked slowly to where Taichi was and saw his crying form. He was staring at the ground, body shivering in the cold wind as tears spilt from his eyes. I reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and he jerked, slapping my hands away. His brown eyes turned to look at me before it twisted into pain and sadness.

"Y-You! You killed kaasan!"

That's right. I had no right to touch him with these blood-stained hands. I looked at my fingers, still caked in her blood. The red marred up my skin, all the way to my forearm, and I noticed with building apathy that my fingers were still shaking despite the cold dullness that had settled in place of my grief.

For all the killing my shinobi career had brought me, I had never felt like a murderer until now. The shame cut through even the apathetic coldness. It seemed at each turn I was reminded of my failure. I stood by my brother at arm's length, keeping an eye on him and Tsukiya in silence. Why were they keeping him out in front of his house right after a murder? Weren't there better protocols in this world? Who was I kidding? This was Konoha, a shinobi village who churned out five-year-old child soldiers. Why would keeping the civilians psychologically unharmed after a simple murder cross their minds?

Eventually a familiar figure did come, rushing through the red tape put around our house by the Uchiha police. I barely even reacted when Hanami hobbled to me, dressed in her night robes and no cane in sight. She pulled me into a hug, but I didn't have the energy to hug back. She pulled away after making a sound of worried relief, and then her eyes checked me over hurriedly, falling on my blood caked hands.


She was lost for words. I didn't know what to say either, so I just decided to focus on the important things.

"Can I ask you to house Taichi and Tsukiya for a while?" I asked, surprised at how normal my voice sounded.

"Of course! I'll take you too," she said frowning.

The Uchiha sighed behind her. "Look, we can't allow that. It's standard procedure—"

"—Standard procedure my ass! Can't you see she's been through enough? You're going to interrogate a scared little girl?!"

The Uchiha let out an irked expression, taking a step back from Hanami, who was so clearly terrifying right now. I held out my hand and stopped her. People were looking at us, beyond the red line that seemed to separate me from the world. It wouldn't last long. I knew eventually the whispers would get to me beyond this metaphorical and physical tape.

"It's ok Hanami-san," I said, pulling her back. "Just take care of my brothers. I am ok."

"Hina—you don't have to be strong, not today."


I couldn't help the bitter chuckle that escaped my throat at that.

I turned to the Uchiha and he caught my expression. It was time to leave. I would likely be interrogated by Danzo's agents. They had probably slotted themselves into the police system too. It felt like his touch had lingered on my skin, their hands coming down on my head, stroking through my scalp possessively. I could feel that gentle stroke turn into a hard grip, my feet tapering off the ground as they held me up in a clear sign of ownership. My hands twitched to my head and I forced it back down.

In front of me was the red tape, the tape that held me back from the rest of the world, and I knew I would have to cross it. Even now it looked at me like an unforgiving omen. I pulled it up and ducked through easily, and to the outside world I was like a calm pond, but only I knew the hurricane inside.

3 Days Later~

I had been cleared of all charges, and it felt impossibly unfair. I had selfishly hoped that someone would notice the poison in mom's bowl, or the oddness of her sudden snap to 'insanity'. I had hoped beyond reason that by some miracle someone would catch on that I had murdered them. Yet I knew the poison would not be so easily traceable, and that Danzo would have plants to testify of Yua's psychological break.

I had never before wanted to throw myself so willingly into T&I so I could get my due justice. Yet none of that happened. The powers at play had far reaching roots into every corner of Konoha. I was one insignificant part, and I knew that my life, now marked by such indomitable shame, was something I was not allowed to throw away so selfishly. I was tethered to family despite failing them so horribly, and it was no small comfort that I reminded myself the look of absolute hatred in Taichi's eyes when he looked at me, because I deserved it.

"You've been cleared to leave. Here's your id, and your proof of leave."

One week. They had given me a week to grieve and prepare a funeral. I took the scroll and felt like it was a rather cruel thing to give someone. A week was too long. Had I had it my way, I would have taken to a mission sooner. To be left alone in your thoughts for that long was a fitting punishment, however.

I took my id and my bundled up bloodied clothes in an airtight plastic bag… after all what use would they have to keep the evidence for a civilian murder? It was as inconsequential as murders came, especially in the thick of war. I took it and promptly threw it in the trash can near the desk and the Uchiha looked rather annoyed. I didn't respond, just bowed politely before leaving the station. I straightened out my plain grey shirt and shorts, handed to me by the police force and stepped out into the sun for the first time in three days. I turned out of the precinct to see Sensei and Nami by the wall opposite to me. I blinked in surprise.

"Hina," he said with abated breath, before approaching me carefully.

I didn't move, didn't know what to do. I kept still even when he knelt down and pulled me into a hug, even when Yama whined and rubbed against me hoping for a touch of reassurance. I just stared ahead in complete stillness; afraid one single move would cost me my composure. Thankfully, he pulled away, leaving the lingering and painful comfort of his warmth. Brown eyes looked at me in worry, and Nami put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed in reassurance, but it felt oddly empty.

"We were worried about you kiddo. They wouldn't let us see you or know what happened…"

I looked down at my hands in sudden shame. He didn't know. If he did, would he hate me? I noticed my hands were trembling once more and I quickly shoved them into my pocket before looking up at the sky. I didn't want to talk to sensei. I didn't deserve any such kindness or understanding on his part. If he knew, and if he finally saw how disgusting I was, then maybe I would get the treatment I deserved.

"I murdered my mother," I said holding out my hand, which had stopped trembling.

Sensei's eyes widened and Nami brought a hand to her mouth. I looked straight into their eyes, reading their expressions, hoping for disapproval and disgust. Nothing came, just a confused sort of concern.

"Hina, I know you. You wouldn't—not without reason," Gaku said.

I shook my head in a spark of irrational anger. "I murdered her. Don't you see? I killed my own mother, and I'm out here in the sun. I—I need… sorry, but I need to go."

I murdered my dad too! I forced a knife into his chest. My loving, strong, father. My heart stuttered a beat, feeling almost like someone was clawing at it. Nami's worried, yet tough concern ripped me from my sudden spike of emotion.

"And what are you going to do huh kid?" Nami asked surprisingly harsh, as she folded her arms and glared. "Are you going to fall into a pit of self-hate because I know that look anywhere. Are you going to leave the rest of your family and friend's behind? You have a thing coming if you think the rest of us are just going to stay back and let you go through this alone."

When her expression softened and she took a step forward, I almost instinctually took a step back. I didn't want anyone touching me, not now. I didn't want them to be kind hands. Not the warm pull of an embrace. I looked down at my hands and I knew logically it was clean, but it felt like the blood was still there. I could still smell it, seeping into my skin, and marking me forever with the smell of iron.

"Please don't touch me," I said, voice cold even to my ears. "I ask respectfully that you keep your distance for a while. The… funeral should be arranged by the end of this week. I will see you then."

"Hina… please don't go through this alone."

I looked at sensei and a part of me was tempted to just throw myself into his protective embrace, to bury my head into his chest and be so completely open with him. I threw that part of me away. I killed my own family, stabbed my father in the heart, ripped into my mother's chest and it was shameful that I even briefly considered I deserved to be held so lovingly. After killing my own blood… what was more shameful than that?

"I… I'm sorry."

I truly was, for putting that expression on his face. Sensei had become family, and now he was in danger because of me. I knew what needed to be done, to keep him safe, to keep my brothers safe. I would never truly belong to Danzo. I knew he figured out what kind of person I was. He knew I was the kind of person to value my bonds, and he had used it against me. He had taken my parents out of the picture as a warning. The thought made a deep sense of dread coagulate in the pit of my stomach. A warning was enough for him to break me entirely. If he wanted, he could kill of the remainder of my family and I would be left with absolutely nothing. If I ever stopped being useful, I knew what fate my brothers had.

There was no time to grieve. Not now. And as I walked away from sensei, I knew today was the day I cut of my ties with him.

I went back home and didn't stop to hear the whispers of murderer. The theories that I had planned their murder, and theories that Yua was secretly an enemy spy who tried to kill me. It got more and more ridiculous. They got one thing right though. Kinslayer they had called me. I didn't disagree.

While it was easy to throw suspicion onto Yua's mental health for the shinobi to buy, considering they probably cared little about how a baker and his wife died in the first place, it was a lot harder to convince the general civilian population that nothing shady had happened. Everyone here knew Yua and Noritaka, they knew their character and their relationships, and as much as Yua was paranoid, she was never psychotic or unusual in any way. The only odd one in this rather calm and peaceful family had been me, the only daughter, and a prodigy shinobi. The civilians had thought me odd, but they respected me. Majority of the civilians didn't understand secretive shinobi, but they knew enough of their strength and skill to know when to afford deference. So I was respected and avoided… which I didn't mind at all.

I entered the empty bakery. It didn't smell like freshly baked bread anymore, just the stench of death lingered here now. None of the usual bread was put out, and all the chairs had been stacked, leaving it to look rather lifeless. I walked up the stairs to our house, opened the door and entered into the lounge before looking at the kitchen. The blood was still on the floor. I walked over and knelt down by the tiles and put a hand on the stain. Dad's lifeless body flashed through my mind and I jerked away. I just… I just needed to clean it up.

I got about putting on gloves and bringing in the necessary chemicals to pull out the blood. It had congealed and stained the ground, but thankfully after a few hours of scrubbing, it was coming off. Once all the blood had been cleaned, I took the red stained cloth and washed it out and put it out to dry. Then I walked into the house and cleaned up the plates of fried rice that was still out on the dining table. My attention turned to the crack on the wall where I had thrown Yua.

"I can't fix that," I mumbled before turning away.

Then I scrubbed my hands. I took the soap and went particularly hard on my fingers, cleaning in-between the nails, and around the tips, and then I didn't stop. I was so lost in the motion that it was only when the water trickled to a stop, that I realised I had been washing my hands for a near constant hour, and my skin had pruned and started to bleed. I was trying to get the blood off, and I had just bloodied my hands further. I felt a strained chuckle leave my throat, before I devolved into a fit of laughter and fell to the floor, putting my head on the cold tiles. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to do something, but all I could do was laugh, a pitiful laugh, before the hysteria died down and I was left with the aching emptiness in my chest.

I moved to the bottom cabinet and pulled out the bottle of sake dad kept there. They were dead now. Not like they were going to drink it. I hadn't afforded myself any alcohol in this life. I hadn't needed to before. I drank casually in my previous life, at events and functions and sometimes at date nights with Cat. It felt like a weakness to drink to forget, but somehow it didn't sound so bad anymore. This once I would allow myself a little, so I could get through the day.

This sight must have been an odd one: a small child sitting at a table alone, swirling some sake in a cup out of nostalgias sake. It wasn't exactly wine now was it. I let out a sigh before bringing the cup to my lips. The first swing had been refreshing. A nice burn through my throat. The rest went down equally as easily. I put down the empty cup and felt it kick in. In this small body, I didn't require much. Not five minutes and I felt my shoulders relax, and oddly I could think. I took out a notebook from the shelf and began thinking of what to write.

"Taichi and Tsukiya need you," I reminded myself. "You can't act like this in front of them. You've cleaned the house. They can come back now. You can protect them… you just have to let go from now on and focus only on the necessary things. Keep it together. Don't cry, don't be overcome with emotion, act rationally."

I took out my pen and put it to the notepad. Time to make a list.

"There won't be any income but yours now. There's the family reserves that dad left for emergencies. It could cover the cost of a basic funeral and a few weeks of basics. Taichi will need time to grieve, so the bakery won't start up again for a while. You'll need to take missions. It will be hard, but you could afford a proper education for your brother now that the bakery won't be running for a while. If he wants to continue baking, then you could still fund that anyway. You'll probably have to hire a nanny for Tsukiya, and that might make a dent in your funds, but that's ok. Just cut down on all the sweets you indulge on. Just get off your ass and do what's necessary."

I got up, ignoring the tiredness in my bones. Then I got about planning how to conduct a funeral. I'd need some advice, and maybe I'd need to visit some places. Then I'd ask if Taichi and Tsukiya could stay with Hanami for a bit longer, even if it's the most selfish thing I could ask for. I could use this week to plan and prepare, and then I would work Orochimaru. A full-time apprenticeship.

It once again reminded me of the most painful thing I would have to do. I would have to tell sensei that I chose to study with Orochimaru entirely from now on. If I couldn't do anything against Danzo, then I would make sure he had no reason to go after the people I cared about. It hurt to know I wouldn't be training with him in the future, have Yama jump on my back out of nowhere, eat chocolate nama cakes with him or to have a ride on his unreasonably comfortable shoulder. I wondered when my life had become a tragedy… had it been the day I died or the day I was reborn?

I sighed. I shouldn't be so caught up in my own thoughts. I had work to do after all. Before I did that, I could do with one more cup of sake.

Planning a funeral was surprisingly easy work, especially with Hanami helping. I didn't remember it being so easy in my previous life, although I only had a brief recollection of what my parents when through in organising the events for my cousin's funeral. I had been too pathetic and out of it to really do much other than cry. I had come a long way since then, but clearly not long enough.

The day was rather mild in weather, despite being chilly. The cold was oddly comforting, in that it stung, and the pain felt like a welcome distraction. I put on my black dress. It was plain as a funeral dress would come, just ending above my knees. I kept a few kunai hidden by my thighs out of a wilful need to be reassured despite it being rude to take to a funeral. I put my green hair in a tight bun before walking into the room where Hanami was sitting and holding Tsukiya. She was staring at the room beyond, the one Taichi was in, and I sent chakra to my ears to hear his small sniffles. He was only 10, and he had witnessed the murder of his parents at the hand of his own little sister. I wondered just how much I had scarred him, and the thought made me itch my neck in a bid to get myself to breathe again.

"Are you ready?" Hanami asked.

I looked around the house where I had practically grown up. I had come out of the room where I had been raised, away from a family, that I had taken the moment I put myself in. I looked at Hanami's chocolate brown eyes full of worry and nodded impassively. I was never ready… not when it mattered.

"I'll get Taichi."

I walked over to his room and knocked. The sniffles didn't stop, and I decided to open the door, knowing I wouldn't get a response. I noted he was sitting behind the bed, putting the wall and the mattress between him so as to push himself into the tightest corner of the room. I walked over tentatively in his direction before kneeling a good meter away from him, unsure if he would allow me to touch him. He sniffled some more, head still buried in his pants, unwilling to look up. I held out a handout of reflex to comfort. I'd never been good with words in these kinds of situations. But I couldn't touch him. Not with my blood-stained hands.

"Taichi, we're going to be leaving soon or we'll be late," I said softly.

He just shuffled and buried his face deeper. I knew I would normally panic, unsure of what to do, but the uncertainty just left me oddly quiet. He eventually looked up, almost like he had expected me to say more… maybe to convince him to come.

"I-I don't want to go," he whispered, voice choking.

"Why?" I asked, trying to be gentle in my prodding.

He looked away and wiped his nose before answering, "It feels like—l-like they'll really be gone. T-Then you'll go too w-won't you?"

I winced.

"No," I said, my voice cracking with emotion for the first time in a week. "I won't go. I won't ever leave, even if you hate me forever. It's ok you know… to hate me. Please just come today. If you don't you might regret it forever."

Taichi took a deep breath before he nodded, then he wiped away his tears before looking up at me. I hesitantly held out my hand for him to take, but he gave it one horrified look before using the bed as leverage instead. I pulled my hands back and ignored the pain. I deserved that.

I kept a good meter distance from my brother, just close enough for comfort, but not enough to make him uncomfortable. We walked solemnly to the grave site beyond the Hokage Mountain. I noticed another funeral nearby. It was basic. Just a picture of the dead by a gravestone, and some people by it reciting a memorial. I didn't know what to say. To everyone there, my mother had murdered my father, but I knew that she was a hero. She didn't deserve to be remembered that way.

When I reached the graves, the ground pulled down cleanly with an earth jutsu, I felt for the first time, the numbness recede slightly. It was replaced by an itching pain, and I brought my hands up to my neck, desperate to scratch, but forced it down. It wouldn't do to develop a nervous tic as a shinobi.

My attention quickly turned to the people present that I knew. Kakashi, Guy, Shisui, Hayate, Yugao, Kurenai, Asuma, Rin, Obito, Choto, Shikaku, Nami, Yama, Gaku and then finally my eyes landed on Orochimaru. My extended family was also here, and they gave Taichi some quick condolences, before hesitantly offering me the same. I wondered briefly if I had failed more than just my family, but also everyone here. I ignored the subtle grin Orochimaru gave my way before I turned back to the graves. Taichi was clinging to Hanami like she was a lifeline, and the woman had her handful with both my brothers. It seemed they were in better hands. I turned back to the funeral. Normally it was left to the oldest child or brother to read out a eulogy, but my family were reluctant to say any speeches considering the nature of how they died. I wouldn't let Taichi prepare a speech because he didn't deserve to go through that, and so it was left to me.

Me… the person who had killed them.

An unwelcome bubble of hysterical laughter nearly took my throat, but I forced it down. That would be rude and alarming and entirely disrespectful during a funeral. I instead drew my face into a cold, impassive look as I stepped forward. I couldn't even feel the tears brimming behind my eyes like I expected it would. I was left standing in front of the crowd of people, all their familiar faces sending me looks of pity and sympathy and I hated it. I didn't deserve to be worried over. Only hated. At least Orochimaru's hidden amusement at my grief was something I could latch onto. He was the only one who saw just how ugly of a person I was.

I realised that I had been silent for a whole minute while everyone was waiting for me. I stood forward slowly before taking one long look at the coffins. Then I opened my mouth and spoke, and my words came out dry and rehearsed and so much like the ROOT agents lack of intonation that I had hated so much. Now I wondered if they really were emotionless, or if it was just a defensive front they put up to hide the absolute agony they were in.

"My parents were respectable people. Tousan was hardworking and loving. Kaasan was always there ready to take care of us, to keep us safe."

I noted the looks of mild confusion. No doubt some of them thought I would leave out the parts involving Yua. I almost wanted to not say anything at all. I had no right to speak on their behalf after killing them, but I continued anyway, because I refused to let Yua's memory be tarnished like it had.

"When I was small, I was diagnosed with having too much Yin chakra, and I was taken away to pull up my Yang chakra to par so I wouldn't die. It pushed me into the life of a shinobi, and kaasan had warned me it would be dangerous. She never stopped worrying. She worried until the end."

And she was right to worry. I had been a wilfully ignorant child despite my age and experience and now she was dead because of me.

"Tousan was a hard worker. He made sure to provide for us no matter how hard things got. He wasn't a prideful man. He was honest and hardworking and did anything to make sure we were happy. He would smile after working for 12 hours every day and take the time to tuck us into bed. These were the kind of people my parents were. They were honourable to the end. They were loving to the end."

They killed themselves for you.

I pulled out the omamori my dad had given me. He had said it would repel evil eyes. I felt the cloth around my hand and felt a stab of pain as my hand began to tremble, and I felt the phantom blood linger against my fingers, the scent of iron hitting my nose. I blinked back into reality and noticed I had spaced out for a moment. No one came by to stop me from my faraway thoughts, they just stood by patiently. I didn't remember what else I had written down and prepared. My thoughts were blanking so I just took the dirt and put it on the coffins, eager to be done with this. Taichi cried a little louder.

I went to stand back by my remaining family, as the doton users covered the rest of the coffin up, sealing them into the earth for good. I stood by numbly. To my surprise I felt Taichi's soft hands reach out to grip mine as he cried into his forearm. I held back tightly, my lips thinning as I watched the rest of the wood disappear into the dirt.

"I don't hate you Hi-chan," he said softly, through tears.

You should

"It's ok to Tai-nii. It's ok," I repeated.

"I don't," he said firmly before he walked away.

Once he left me, everyone said their condolences. I let them hug me out of courtesy, let them tell me empty platitudes. I just nodded and kept a straight face through it all. My year mates all gave me worried, awkward condolences. They were still children with their parents. They didn't fully comprehend what death was anyway. Shisui handed me his red scarf and I took it gratefully. He probably noticed my hands absently going to my neck. Guy and Kakashi gave worried hugs.

"I know… I know somewhat… what it feels like," Kakashi began, too awkward and unsure of himself to give me a proper talk. "Talk to me… if you want ok."

I nodded. Guy wiped away his tears. He had been crying a lot, maybe even more than Taichi. He pulled me into a hug, and I'd never felt the need to pull away so urgently. He was too kind, too pure for someone like me to touch, and so I tore away a little more abruptly than normal. Thankfully, he didn't seem to notice. Kakashi did though. He always noticed. His father had committed suicide, and he knew what it felt like to some extent. But he hadn't been the one to rip his hands through his own mother's chest, or to push a blade through his father's heart. If he knew what I had done, he too would hate me. After all I had failed my comrades, and that made me worse than trash didn't it.

"We're here for you no matter what Hina-chan!" Guy sniffled.

I nodded, and then Kakashi noticed how Guy was affecting me, so he pulled the boy away much to my relief. I noticed sensei and Nami walk up to me and I wanted to run away. I needed to discuss something with sensei, and I had been holding back. Right now I was feeling that numbness come back and I knew, if I didn't say it now, that I never would.

"Hina, how are you holding up?" sensei asked.

"I'm ok," I said a little too indifferently. His concern just grew, and I looked away. "I wanted to tell you something. I… I don't think I want you to keep being my sensei anymore."

I memorised the flash of pain in his eyes. I had caused that. I had made him sad. I had hurt him. Despicable little me.

"What are you saying?"

"I want to be fully apprenticed to Orochimaru-sama," I continued. "It's nothing personal sensei, but I think it's obvious who's stronger. He'll be more able to make me stronger."

"And that is what you want… to be stronger?" sensei asked, looking wholly unconvinced.

"Strong enough not to fail as badly as I did last week," I said a little mutedly. It was half the truth. "I have my brothers to take care of now. I hope you understand."

"You can make Orochimaru your sensei Hina, but please don't cut me off," he said sullenly. "I know what you're trying to do. You're trying to go at it alone, to punish yourself, and that's not going to work."

Wasn't that a nice thought. That I was doing this as a way to punish myself. What gave everyone the idea that I was some kind of masochist anyway? I didn't want to hurt myself. I didn't want to end this partnership, but if he died on my account, then that would simply stack more guilt onto me. I didn't need that, and he deserved more. I just had to lie. I was good at that anyway.

"I won't be alone. I'll have Orochimaru-sama."

No support, no love, no ties. Taichi would hate or distance himself from me, Tsukiya would know about what I did eventually, and he too would come to hate me, and Hanami would not have the time to care for me. Sensei was the only adult left in my life who I knew would go so far as to adopt me, and I couldn't risk it… couldn't risk him. I so desperately wanted to go home with him, rather than to the house where the smell of death lingered, but I knew it was selfish and unreasonable. I was alone and that wasn't what I wanted by any stretch of the means, but it was what needed to be done, and Suzuki Hina, always did what she needed to do without looking back. I had people left to protect and if I failed again… I didn't know what would happen, but I didn't want to find out.

"Don't think for a second I'll ever give up on you Hina. I know behind that… indifference, you're hurting. If you ever change your mind my door will always be open. No matter the day or time or circumstance."

A flicker of hope sparked inside of me and I snuffed it out. I watched as sensei left. He hadn't hugged me, and I felt eternally grateful that he didn't. Nami followed behind him, giving me a concerned look before leaving. The hand on my head made me flinch back, and I turned stiffy to see Orochimaru behind me. His fingers trailed dangerously on my scalp, and I could feel the phantom pain prickle across my skin.

"What a delightful show," he said. "Very moving indeed. It seemed almost like a tragic play."

I snapped his hands away and sent him a scathing look.

"Don't come to a funeral if you're not going to behave. I think it's about time you left," I hissed.

"So mean to your new sensei," he lamented, his fingers gripping my hair a little tighter.

I ignored the shiver of fear that ran through my spine. Right now it wasn't me who was treading on rocky ground, it was him for all I cared. I gave him one dark look.

"Take your hands of me. This is my parent's funeral. You will not disrespect their memory here."

"My, my, I did so miss this spunk of yours. It's good to see it back. I would not want a broken toy now would I," he whispered with a pleased smile.

My anger threatened to boil over, but I was thankfully saved by Shikaku of all people. Almost everyone had said their condolences by now and had gone. Shikaku gave Orochimaru the briefest of nods, his eyes trailing on the now retreating Sannin intelligently. He knew something.

"My condolences Hina-chan," he said.

"Thank you, Shikaku-san," I replied absently.

Empty platitudes. A sorry couldn't bring them back. A sorry couldn't make any of this better.

"You know I found out that you were going to get another A rank mission," he said catching my attention. "Another long-term trip with an interim Jounin. It's odd that they'd send a child without their designated Jounin sensei wouldn't you say."

My heart skipped a beat. I had to stop myself from snapping my head in his direction and giving him a wide berth. Instead I simply looked at the grave site and pulled my lips into a thin line. Was I overthinking, or was Shikaku still looking into things? Did he find out about ROOT? What was this about a long-term mission? Was this ROOT assigned?

"One can never be too careful during any mission," I said pointedly.

He glanced my way. "You're talking to the Jounin commander kid. I'll have you know I'm always careful."

He was right. Who the heck was I to tell him to be safe? If anyone was qualified to take down ROOT it was Shikaku. I doubt he'd have much of any kind of progress in that front with how far reaching Danzo's influence and security systems went, but the biggest roadblock of all was actually the Hokage. As much as I respected the military dictator for even keeping Konoha afloat in this mess of a war, he was absolutely too kind-hearted, or rather weak-willed, to be the Hokage. Any military dictator who wilfully let anyone, friend or not, create a separate army under his nose, didn't deserve to be in power in my esteemed opinion. If only because it was absolutely the best way to get back stabbed in the future.

"I'll be going on more of those missions soon," I said, hoping me trying to be vague and cryptic wasn't being too ambiguous. "You know how A ranks are; it's so hard to tell anyone about them."

Shikaku's eyes shot up a little wider for a second, before his face went back to being as passive as it was before. He had caught on then, that I physically could not tell him.

"I think I bit my tongue this morning," I mused. "It hurts a lot. I'd say it's a bad omen for more missions."

Was I laying it on too thick? My seal was beginning to throb. I wondered with muted horror, whether the seal pinged a message to Danzo when it activated. Would he know I was trying something? So I decided to end testing the limits of the seal here. Just the thought that Shikaku was looking into things was a huge relief. He was too politically powerful to be defeated without a fight, but I wasn't so sure I could help. Not now anyway. My parent's graves were a testament to that.

"I'm truly sorry about your loss Hina," Shikaku said, placing a placating hand on my shoulder before his eyes took on an angry note. I was mildly surprised, but I should have known he'd figure out their murders were related to ROOT. Danzo had pissed him off. I could only hope this wouldn't drag the rest of my family into any sort of mess.

"I probably won't be around to help you unfortunately."

It would be suspicious if he did, and that suspicion would then fall on me. He knew what I had left to lose so he was staying away. I nodded gratefully. He could have, with his power, demanded that I help him as a spy in ROOT, but he hadn't asked. I knew I could be instrumental to taking them down had he asked, but it was too risky. I wasn't a valuable enough asset to let stay alive should I be potentially mouthing off to Shikaku. For now just giving him the concrete knowledge that ROOT existed, and there were seals on our tongues was enough.

I looked back at Taichi. His face was tear stained. His brown eyes rimmed red from crying. He looked weak and tired and I wanted to hug him. I stopped myself. Hanami looked at me and I shook my head. I needed some more time. I lingered by the graves, until everyone had well and truly left and then I knelt by the stone. My trembling hands went to my pockets, and I felt the omamori dad had given me.

"You said it would protect me from evil eyes… why, why did you die then?" I asked, my voice cracking.

I was well and truly alone now.


And it hurt. I had pushed away everyone I cared about. I had done what was necessary, so why did this pain hurt worse than any blow? I felt myself double over, my hand gripping the sleek black tombstone in pain. I heard a terrible sound. It sounded like someone in pain. I briefly recognised that it was from me. I felt the wetness against my cheeks. I wondered if I was crying. The pain in my chest was hollow and electric, making me heave, unable to breathe as I wept.

Well and truly alone.


Don't mind me here, just you know… ripping apart my own soul writing this ಥ╭╮ಥ

I've decided to drop this and the next chapter now, because it's the end of the whole ROOT focused stuff for a while after. Really after next chapter ROOT takes a back seat. We get Taichi's POV for 2 chapters. He's the second POV outside of Orochimaru, I've written so far. Then we get the set-up for the next arc which is mostly not ROOT centric. It goes back to being war/Orochimaru-centric.

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