Snap Back To Reality 35
Suzuki Taichi Part 1/2
Taichi had always been weak. He didn't like that about himself, although he never thought about it too often either. He was content where he was in life. He had friends, even if they were a little mean, he loved his parents, and he also loved baking. His life was normal, and good, and it only got even better when his kaasan got pregnant and had a baby. He was excited to have another friend, another family member, and when he first looked into his imouto's sharp green eyes, he had fallen in love… even if she was an odd baby. Taichi had vowed to be the best big brother.
Things rarely turned out how he imagined it though. His imouto was taken from him, and his family changed. Kaasan was always sad, always worried, and sometimes he heard her cry out in the middle of the night. Tousan had always been strong though, always so big, and comforting and reliable. Taichi wanted to be like that, but he was meek and mild mannered. It wasn't so bad though. He'd get to see his imouto once or twice every week, and then she'd cling to him with a happy expression.
But the older he got the more complicated things became. Hina came back, and he thought things would be good now, but it was tense. He took her out to the park because she was sad and that always cheered him up, but his friends were there, and they were scary. He wanted to be like tousan, strong and reliable, but he wasn't. He only made things worse that day, even if he thought she was being unreasonable, and he got angry too. In the end he felt bad. He had meant to make his imouto happy and now she was sad.
Life would go on. He would continue helping out at the bakery, would watch as Hina grew more and more distant, more and more strong, while he remained under kaasan's worried hands. He knew he was being coddled, he knew he was being kept safe, and it was frustrating, but Taichi wasn't like his tousan or imouto. He was soft. He liked to sew, dance, bake and do peaceful things. A part of him was terribly embarrassed about that. All the other boys liked to wrestle and shout and well… be boys, but he just wasn't like that. When he tried to be, he failed, and then everyone would laugh at him, especially Cousin Matsu.
Despite all these small little complications, and despite not truly being happy with himself, Taichi was content. He liked his little life. He didn't think too much of it either. But things began spiralling down and even he could see it. Hina was coming home at odd hours, covered in bruises, her normally calm demeanour turning flighty, like a scared animal. Taichi would hear kaasan crying out more at night, screaming out his imouto's name before he heard the frantic words of his tousan calming her down. He wanted to ask what was wrong, and then he learnt it was Orochimaru who was hurting his imouto. She said it was training. Taichi didn't think training should make you scared of head pats. Orochimaru was a Sannin though, and that meant he was strong. Taichi didn't think he could tell off someone that scary, but thankfully Hina's sensei did. Taichi thought Gaku looked cool, like his tousan. He wanted to be big like them one day. But Hina never stopped flinching away, never stopped acting so weird to the touch even after, and kaasan's nightmares didn't stop either.
It would all crescendo in one terrible night. One terrible night that Taichi would never forget. The first night where he had truly seen death. The night his imouto ripped her hands through his kaasan's chest.
Taichi didn't remember much after that, just that he was in so much pain he couldn't think straight. His tears blurred his vision and every time he closed his eyes, he would remember it again and again. Then he noticed he was outside, with a warm sheet bundled over him, and a bloody hand was reaching out to him. Taichi hit it away and looked up horrified to see it was his imouto. Her green eyes were cold, empty.
"Y-You! You killed kaasan!"
She flinched away for a second, her eyes trailing to her blood-stained hands and then her mouth opened slightly as if in realisation. Taichi watched in horror as she began shaking, her face still so cold despite it, and she turned away without a word. How could she… how could she not care? He sobbed more, wondering just why everything had become so wrong.
It was like time was a blur in his pain. Then Taichi found himself in a familiar, yet foreign house. A place he had frequently visited years ago when Hina wasn't living with him, when things weren't wrong. He felt a warm hand against his and Taichi looked up to see Hanami-san. He never really knew her, but the way she gently put her hand on his head and smiled sadly at him reminded him of his kaasan, and Taichi let himself sob into her chest.
"I w-want them back," he sobbed desperately.
"Why can't they be here?"
"They've passed onto their next life Taichi-kun. It's sad, but it's the way things are. They wouldn't like to see you so sad."
"Why?" he cried.
Why? Why? Even if kaasan was scary, even if she had jumped at him, Hina shouldn't have… she shouldn't have. Taichi couldn't quite understand. His thoughts were all jumbled and confused and he didn't know what was going on. All he had left was this stranger holding him tightly.
"Hina would never hurt you Taichi. She loves you. Whatever she had done must have been to keep you safe. Please don't lose hope, don't give into this pain. It will pass."
He wasn't sure. This pain was too heavy, and Hina's eyes were so cold. It scared him. He wasn't so sure she was even his little sister anymore, or just some monster that took her place. Taichi wanted everything to go back, back to the way it was before, and for a second, he wished Hina had never been born.
Eating was hard, thinking was hard, doing anything was hard. Taichi felt this invisible weight bear down on his soul, pushing its claws into his shoulder and holding him down. It would rip into his chest, until it cracked open his ribs, and tore out his heart, leaving an aching, gnawing and hollow pain inside of him. He wanted it to end so desperately, wanted his kaasan to pull him into her warm embrace, wanted to climb onto his tousan's shoulder and eat dango with him. Then he would remember that they weren't there and then his heart would be ripped out again.
"You need to eat," Hanami would repeat.
Taichi would shake his head and look away. He didn't want to eat. He didn't want to do anything. She would ask him again and again, before sighing and walking away. Then she would come back, and he would refuse again. It was on the third day that she didn't walk away.
"You need to eat," Hanami repeated.
Taichi shook his head. He expected her to repeat herself again, but she didn't. Her hands reached out and grabbed his face and twisted it forcefully to face her. She looked worried, angry, scared, and Taichi saw his tears reflected in her eyes.
"Your little sister is out there right now, not a day to grieve, not a moment to cry working to plan a funeral. If you don't eat, and she comes back to see you having given in, then there will be nothing left for her. Hold your otouto and take responsibility."
He had been weak, hadn't he? Always been so weak and soft. He hated himself for it, but he hated Hina too. He hated her for taking away his kaasan.
"She killed them. She killed them!"
He expected Hanami to hug him, to console him like his kaasan would, but her eyes grew hard and he was shocked by the sudden sting on his cheeks. It took a moment to realise he had been slapped, and he was too shocked to cry. He touched his cheek softly before looking up at her wide brown eyes.
"She protected you. You're losing yourself to grief, and if you become too lost there's no coming back. Hina knows this, which is why she's moving forward despite the pain. There will be many sad moments in your life Taichi, many moments where your heart will be trampled and you will be in pain, and it's ok to cry and grieve, but it's not okay to lose yourself in that pain!"
Taichi felt so pathetic. Why, why had he been giving up like this? Hanami was right. Hina was moving forward because she was strong. He had never been strong, but he could be right? He just needed to pull himself up a little more, push his limbs to work. He could do it. He let out a wail as he hugged her, and Hanami didn't let go of him until his cries turned into sobs and those sob's turned into hiccups.
"I-I think I'll eat," he said through hiccups.
Hanami gave him a smile and put out the bowl of soup in front of him, and Taichi took the spoon and shovelled in the broth. He didn't stop until it was completely empty, and he felt like the weight on his shoulders had marginally lifted. He could be better. He could become stronger.
Taichi wanted to be strong, and every day was a struggle to do anything, but he managed at least one thing a day, and he knew he was not failing because Hanami never scolded him. She wasn't like kaasan, she never peppered him with encouragement, instead just told him things as they were, but not unkindly. He thought he had become strong, but he was wrong because that unbearable weight seemed to crush him once again. The funeral… he didn't want to think about it. He wanted to pretend it didn't exist. He couldn't even move when he heard his imouto knocking. He certainly didn't move when she came into the room, and his muscles seized up in fear. He was afraid to look up and see those emotionless eyes staring back, afraid to think he truly lost her to a monster that wore her face.
"Taichi, we're going to be leaving soon or we'll be late," she said softly, voice calm and too unwavering to be human.
Taichi shuffled and buried his face deeper. She was going to go. Leave him with a monster with her face. He didn't want to look up, didn't want to do anything today, especially not go to a funeral.
"I-I don't want to go," he whispered, voice choking.
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?"
"No. 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 snapped his head to look at Hina for the first time since that day, and he was relieved, because she didn't look cold. Her voice had wavered, and cracked, and when he looked at her face it was contorted in pain and desperation. She was still his imouto.
Yet when her hands reached out in what was clearly a gesture of good will, Taichi could not help but flinch back, reminded of the bloody memory of her hands through his kaasan's chest. He hated that he caused her to pull away again, make her expression shut off and cold. He wondered for a second if he was the reason she was becoming a monster. Taichi couldn't have that, couldn't lose his imouto who he really did love, despite being too weak to help, so he pulled himself up despite the trembling of his knees.
They walked in silence to the funeral, and Taichi wanted nothing but to fall down, because his body felt too heavy to move, but when he noticed how Hina's hands were trembling against her sides, he could not help but continue. He had no right to be so pathetic when his own little sister was probably in more pain than he was. He had no right, after hurting her like he did before. If only he had the courage to tell her what he had been thinking all this time, to reassure her that he could never hate her.
The funeral was a blur. All Taichi could see was a replaying of that night, over and over until the tears blurred his vision again, and he felt like vomiting out whatever meagre food he had in his stomach. He didn't stop Hanami from putting a comforting hand on his shoulder, despite her carrying his little brother which he knew he should have been strong enough to do on his own. He didn't even hear what his sister had prepared, a speech he knew he should be saying as the eldest child, and he only really came back to reality when he saw her drop a handful of dirt on their graves. Then he watched in horror as those rocks moved over their graves, cleanly like magic, and seal their deaths. There was no coming back. Not for them.
He reached out, despite the pain, because he remembered Hanami's words. He could be sad, and he could cry, but he couldn't lose himself again. So he held out his hands and grabbed his imouto's smaller ones, so rough and hardened against his own softer skin, and he held on tightly. When she turned to look at him, brows furrowing and face contorted in pain, Taichi knew he hadn't lost her.
"I don't hate you Hi-chan," he finally said.
He wanted her to know, and now he had the courage to tell her. His words had made her teeth grind and her eyes shine wet with unshed tears.
"It's ok to Tai-nii. It's ok," she repeated in a soft voice, so full of hate, and Taichi knew it was for herself
"I don't," he said firmly, squeezing her hands before he turned away, too weak to say anymore. "I don't hate you. I never could."
And if Taichi heard her cry after all the mourners had trickled out, well, no one else would have to know but him. Because he hadn't lost his imouto. She had not become a monster. She had shed tears, and her sound of pain was all too familiar to him.
Going back home had been painful. Taichi had latched onto Hanami during his grief, and she had become a pillar of strength in his life, keeping him above the pain that made it impossible to even breathe. Hina had told him that breathing was the strength to the soul, and the way she had said it made it sound like a bitter phrase, something she both hated and latched onto. Taichi found it useful. It kept the panic away whenever he saw the broken wall where he remembered Hina had thrown kaasan into, or the patch of tiles that was still a little pink from his tousan's blood.
Nothing would ever not be wrong anymore, but at least he wasn't in so much pain he thought he would die. Hina was around too, to help him fix up the house, no matter how quietly they both went about just doing things that once would have filled them with chatter. They didn't even fight over Tsukiya's affections anymore, taking turns silently and cooperatively to take care of the baby. She was strong, and smart, and put together, and Taichi knew he could never match up to her, but he couldn't just sit back and make her life harder either. So he got up and did what he knew to do, and Hina… well she went about pretending like everything was normal, and if Taichi saw her in the break of day scrubbing her hands raw until she bled, he didn't make it known.
Then like a whirlwind Mebuki came into his life right about the time Hina left once more. A mission she said. She was leaving him for two months on a mission, but Taichi knew Hina. He knew the look on her face before she went on a mission. She had a fire in her eyes, a determined confidence that overcame whatever terror was holding her back. Not this time. When she held that godforsaken scroll, her face had gone white, and once again she was shaking and jittery, and he saw her hands go up to scratch her neck which sometimes sported fresh bandages. He realised she had stopped breathing, because her face turned slightly blue, and then she caught herself and put on an unaffected expression like she wasn't scared anymore. The trembling in her hands spoke otherwise. Taichi was afraid that she would truly not come back this time. Then she went out to do her work, because even in her panic, Hina was strong.
The morning before she left, Hina handed Taichi some tea and sat down beside him quietly. He sipped it for a little while before turning to glance at her in worry. She was going to leave, and she didn't look confident at all. Nothing like the Hina he knew before who was so like her tousan. Now her eyes flitted around like kaasan's would, and she wound her body inwards tightly like a spring ready to uncoil and bolt.
"You can leave things to me here. You don't have to worry," Taichi said, twisting his cup in his hand.
He didn't want her to be worried. Didn't want her to be held back because of him. He was meant to be her oniisan, he was meant to protect her. She had always been so strong for him, despite being younger, and he knew now that it was his turn.
"I'm sorry I have to leave you now," she whispered.
Taichi was hopeful when she reached out to him, but it was dashed when she winced as she pulled away. Her expression grew dark and Taichi wanted to say so many things, about how he would let her touch him if it helped, but he wasn't so sure he could speak right now without breaking. He didn't want to cry, not when she was leaving soon.
"Mebuki-san will be around by 9," she said instead.
Taichi regretted letting her leave. His last words to her could have well been a pitiful 'yeah' and he would regret it forever. He knew now, what it meant to die. He had a taste of what a shinobi had to face, and he wondered how Hina managed to stay sane doing a job like that. He could only wonder as he watched her back recede into the horizon and he lost sight of her. He was still weak, still the soft little boy he was before, but he knew he would have to get stronger, and so when he heard Tsukiya cry, he rushed over to comfort his baby brother.
"Taichi-chan," a familiar voice called out.
"Mebuki-san," Taichi said in relief as he bounced his crying baby brother on his lap.
"Ah it seems the little brats giving you trouble, eh."
"He's not trouble. He's just a little feisty in the mornings," Taichi huffed, feeling a tad bit too defensive about his baby brother.
Mebuki put down her bag and leaned over to run her fingers over Taichi's head. She pushed away locks of green hair and she smiled. Taichi felt his cheeks flush as she turned that warm smile to him.
"He's hungry, that's why. Now where's his bottle?"
Taichi handed Mebuki his brother before rushing up to make the formulae. He wanted her to see that he had things under control. She came up behind him and gave a little laugh that sounded oddly nervous.
"Taichi… you haven't heated it up yet."
"I had to heat it up?" Taichi asked, feeling embarrassed by his lack of oversight.
"Not too hot, but cold isn't good either. Here, let me show you."
Taichi took hold of his baby brother as Mebuki showed him how to properly make baby formulae, and then she expressed the importance of setting up a routine. Taichi listened intently, and let the woman explain away her knowledge because it was a welcome distraction. She eventually began scouring the fridge after burping and changing Tsukiya's diapers.
"A-ano Mebuki-san, what are you doing?" Taichi asked.
"Why, I'm going to make lunch," she said.
"Y-you don't have to do that. We hired you for Tsu-chan, so—"
"You think he's the only brat in this house? If I had it my way I'd be feeding that sister of yours too, but it's beyond me to go telling the Hokage what to do with his soldiers," she huffed, before she turned her stern attention to him, making him both flustered and unsure of what to do. "And you," she continued, "don't you go looking at me like that! I'm a nanny. A nan-nee. You got that. It's my job to take care of brats like you, so if you ever have any trouble, or any issue whatsoever you feel free to come to me ok."
"That's my boy. Now put the baby in the crib. It's time to make some gyoza!"
Taichi was a little taken aback by her enthusiasm and loud demeanour. He hadn't lived with anyone so energetic and loud before. He actually… liked it. It was so far removed from his parent's mannerisms that it didn't bring up any memories at all, not even like how he remembered his kaasan when he was around Hanami. He smiled for the first time in a long time and nodded.
Taichi waited for the hours Mebuki would come by. The woman was a bright spot in his life. He always woke up alone in his room, sweat sheening down his face after another nightmare, and then he would go by Tsukiya's crib to rock it gently. It was more a method to sooth his own nerves than to help the baby sleep. This house… when he was alone in it, it felt suffocating and terrifying. Then Mebuki would come by with her too big grin, and over the top attitude and just slam through the heavy silence and cut right through to him like a force of nature.
Taichi was grateful for her help. She taught him a great deal of things, from taking care of a baby, to cooking general food, to keeping a routine. Now Taichi had asked if he could learn to take care of the bills, and because he hadn't ever gone to school before, Mebuki was teaching him maths so he could learn how to calculate and take care of the family reserves. It was hard at first, but Taichi took to learning like a fish to water. He wondered why he had never been given the opportunity to do something like maths before. It was fun and challenging, and most importantly distracting.
"So you carry it over. It's like if you took a bite out of this gyoza, two thirds of it still remain right. So if you had 4 of these two thirds bitten gyoza then how much do you have?" Mebuki asked.
"Four two-thirds gyoza?" Taichi asked.
Mebuki only laughed before writing more down and giving him a further run-down of the process. Taichi quickly understood the concept of fractions by the end of the day and began asking more and more question, while they both munched on the gyoza Mebuki loved to make.
"Well aren't you eager to learn. If only my little bros were this eager," Mebuki sighed dramatically before continuing their lesson with a grin.
Taichi was so engrossed in the affair that he almost didn't realise someone was knocking on the door until Mebuki put down her pen. He got up and opened the door to see his auntie Saiko and uncle Eiichi with his cousin Matsu in tow. He hadn't seen them since the funeral two days ago, but he awkwardly opened the door and let them in.
"How have you been holding up dear?" Saiko asked.
"A-alright," Taichi managed.
His uncle looked around and frowned. "Where's Hina-chan?"
Taichi cringed away and turned so they couldn't see the sudden worry on his face. "She's on a mission."
"So soon? She should be at home right now, taking responsibility after what she did," Eiichi said with a snarl.
"Honey—now's not the time," Saiko hissed at her husband, but it was too late.
Taichi didn't know what to think. He'd heard whispers before, directed towards his sister. He caught it on the occasion when people didn't think he was listening. Kinslayer. Psychotic. He bit his lips and shut his eyes tightly to get a hold of himself. They hadn't heard her cry, hadn't seen the pain she kept so tightly locked up. They didn't know. Still he let them in, out of respect for his family.
"Please take a seat," he offered.
Mebuki came up too, holding Taichi and she easily introduced herself to his aunt and uncle. Taichi let her talk while he made some customary tea. He put the tea in front of them before taking a seat on the futon besides Mebuki. Matsu was uncharacteristically silent, his cheeks heated as he sat down. Taichi ignored him. He was too tired to deal with his cousin.
"We came to see if you were doing alright," Saiko said, holding a cheek, and tilting her head at him, eyes full of pity.
"I'm… fine," Taichi said, blinking back his tears.
"Oh honey, I know you aren't," Saiko sighed. "Managing all this by yourself, and a baby too!"
"I have Mebuki-san to help," he said, averting his eyes and sipping his tea.
"Yeah, the brats in good hands," Mebuki said, ruffling Taichi's hair.
Saiko's smile dropped and Taichi looked up suspiciously. He liked his aunt although he never liked his uncle, but his kaasan had warned him to never take what they said to heart. They were 'condescending' as his mother put it, although he wasn't so sure what that word even meant.
"No offence Mebuki-san, but you're just a nanny, and not in a position to look after house affairs beyond taking care of a baby. Taichi needs adults helping, and not just the legal kind who leave on missions," Eiichi said, brows furrowing.
Taichi put his cup down and frowned. Why did everyone talk over him like he wasn't there? Like his opinions didn't matter. They always made it sound like Hina could get things done, but he couldn't. He didn't like it one bit.
"Hey—" Mebuki began, a snarl taking her face.
"—What my husband means," Saiko butted in, sending her husband a glare, "is that this is a family matter. We want to make sure Taichi is taken care of during this time, mentally, physically, and financially."
"What are you saying?" Mebuki asked, not even bothering to hide her suspicion.
"Can we please talk to Taichi-chan alone? This is a matter between family after all," Saiko asked instead.
Taichi wrung his fingers together, suddenly worried that Mebuki would leave. It would be rude of her to stay as an employee when family came. Even he knew that. Yet she didn't go. She crossed her arms and moved over closer to him defiantly. He felt his anxieties lessen at her refusal.
"Whatever you're going to say to him, you can say in front of me, unless of course what you're asking him is better of said to a child who is still grieving and is in a vulnerable time of his life."
Taichi looked up, eyes wide and mouth open in surprise as he stared in stunned silence. Mebuki was… Mebuki was awesome! He fought down the flush coming up his face before he put together whatever confidence he had left. He had promised to be stronger, and now he was going to do it.
"What are you accusing us—"
"Mebuki-san is staying," Taichi blurted, hands moving stiffly across his lap as he put on a determined face. "Whatever you have to say, you can say it to the both of us."
Eiichi looked ready to fight, but thankfully for Taichi, his aunt put a hand on her husband's chest and calmed him down. He kept his face as determined as possible and caught his aunt's eyes. She pulled out a file and handed it to him. Taichi was glad that Mebuki let him take it, instead of babying him. He pulled out the contents and skimmed through it with growing horror.
"Y-you want to sell the house?" Taichi asked in confusion.
"The shop," Saiko corrected. "I'm sure whatever savings you had, had gone to the funeral and the legal procedures that Hina had to deal with. If we had the deed to the bakery, then we could start it up again, and support both you and Hina—"
"—What is this bullshit?" Mebuki cut in, crossing her arms.
"—No excuse you. I'm not sure you know this, but Suzuki Hina happens to be a Genin, and if what I heard is correct, she's this close to being promoted Chunin. She owns the rights to this house and the bakery below. You coming here, two days after a funeral, to try and play of a little boy's fears is absolutely disgusting!"
"Have you seen their savings?" Eiichi challenged.
"No, but I don't need to, to know this is fucking disgusting," Mebuki snarled.
"Oh, I'm sure you'll take care of his financial needs once he doesn't have any money left for you to baby-sit him with then?" Saiko said, dropping whatever pleasantness she had before.
"I will, in fact, I'll take my own money to feed this kid if the need comes," she challenged, her dark green eyes narrowing even further, teeth visible.
"You are not his family. We have his best interest at heart! We'll take care of this."
Taichi had heard enough. He slammed the table, toppling over his cup. The adults all looked at him, even Matsu was eyeing the normally meek boy with wide eyes. Taichi wiped away his tears and snarled. He felt positively furious. He wasn't used to being so angry. It wasn't an emotion he associated with himself.
"Enough! Hina-chan left me, to take care of Tsukiya and the house! She left me! Not you, or you or any other 'adult' out here. No one's taking anything from here until she comes back! My imouto is not dumb enough to not have left enough in the bank for a two-month mission, and I'm going to bring the bakery back up again on my own!"
"No! Don't talk right now," Taichi snarled venomously. "Everyone's always taking care of me. No more! I'm the man of this house now."
Then he took in a deep breath and stood up. He opened his eyes and his head cleared. Breathing really was the strength to the soul. Now that the anger and anxiety had cleared out, Taichi could see what they were doing. They were trying to take advantage of him. He wouldn't allow it.
"I would like for you to leave," he said, voice coming out calm yet strong.
"Taichi please listen—" Saiko pleaded.
"I would like for you to leave," he repeated, pointing to the door.
He vaguely noticed that even Mebuki was gaping at him. His aunt and uncle stiffly stood up, their shocked expressions turning twisted as they hastily got up to leave. Taichi wrung his fingers together to give him back his confidence and then he slowly walked behind them to see them out. They only sent one last, 'condescending' look towards him, and Taichi figured out what his kaasan had meant. He didn't give them the satisfaction of a reaction. He was shocked however that Matsu didn't leave. He expected his cousin would run his mouth of at him, spouting some hurtful words to get the last word in, and moved to stop him, when he was taken into a hug. It took him a second to hug back, but by then the boy had already pulled away.
"I'm sorry about them," he whispered, wincing a little as he glanced back. "Take care."
Taichi hadn't known his cousin could ever be so nice. When Matsu smiled at him, not a superior smile, or an annoyed smile, but a smile, Taichi couldn't help but smile back slightly. He waved a goodbye to the boy who disappeared downstairs before he looked back to Mebuki behind him who whistled in appreciation.
"You really showed them Taichi. Really lived up to your name there eh, 'Big Boy'," she said grinning.
Taichi blushed and scratched the back of his neck. "I-It was nothing…"
"How about we move onto some algebra eh?" Mebuki asked.
Taichi smiled softly and nodded. Maths was just what he needed to take his mind of things.
Taichi had never gone to the civilian library before. He knew how to read, write, and do basic maths even before Mebuki began teaching him. It was just enough to get by in everyday life. Taichi knew that wouldn't be enough now. He needed to know how to run a business, how to procure ingredients, and how to hire employees. He had told himself he would open up shop before Hina came. He was always in pain, always remembering his parents and then realising they weren't there anymore. When he was learning maths, he didn't think of them. It's when his thoughts went silent that he remembered and remembering always hurt.
What better motivation to begin his new studies, than avoiding that pain? Taichi began reading and reading. He borrowed books on business, and law, and trade, and asked Mebuki question after question in regard to the world they lived in, and he realised just how little he knew about life. He didn't know that they had to pay a levy to the Konoha reserves for every pound of flour, or that wheat was 20% more expensive during winter. He didn't know that people were paid in intervals of two weeks, or that they got extra pay during festivals. He didn't know a lot of things, but now he did.
It wasn't just that. Taichi had begun to do more things on his own. Instead of going to the park to play, he asked Mebuki for a list of ingredients, and went shopping on his own. He learnt the best places to buy fresh fruit, meat, and spices. Taichi was learning so many things, that he wondered if this was why Hina had been so different. She had become an adult before he had, gone out into the world and experienced things outside of the bakery he couldn't even imagine.
It was on one of his shopping runs that he nearly bumped into his old friends. The neighbourhood boys he had grown up playing with. He meant to duck away and out when Matsu caught his eye. Taichi cursed internally when Matsu hastily said a goodbye to the group and ran up to him.
"Taichi," he said waving.
"Hello," Taichi replied, holding back a sigh.
Matsu's eyes trailed from him to the bag of groceries in his arm and he looked mildly shocked. Then to Taichi's surprise he tried to give him a smile, although it came out odd and a little disconnected from his normal personality. Taichi wondered what exactly was going on.
"You're buying the groceries now. Wow you've grown up," he said chuckling a little forcefully.
"Well there is no one else around to do it," Taichi said, scratching the back of his head.
They fell into an awkward silence soon after. Matsu coughed a little and let out a nervous laugh.
"So—um what'cha doing for the rest of the day?"
"Um… cooking and taking care of Tsu-chan," Taichi replied unsurely.
"Can I—can I ahh… can I talk to you about something?"
Taichi rose a brow but nodded. Matsu never looked this unsure about himself ever before. He wondered what had gotten into his normally bratty and rude cousin. A part of him was suspicious, especially after what his parents had told him. Taichi saw no reason to say no though so he nodded and somehow the two of them ended up at his house, with Taichi making him tea.
"So what was it you wanted to talk about?" Taichi asked.
Matsu looked away, his palms rubbing back and forth against his thighs as he looked around nervously. Taichi wondered if paranoia ran in his family.
"You don't have to be nervous you know," Taichi assured, feeling oddly like a big brother again.
"Well I… promise you won't judge ok," Matsu said, voice uncharacteristically small.
"I won't," Taichi said nodding.
Matsu looked like all nerves and anxiety bundled into a person. His brown hair, spiked and long was slightly matted against his forehead from sweat, his tanned cheeks were flushed. He looked entirely like a different person in this state. Green eyes looked at the ground before he finally spoke.
"Okasan and Otosan found out… they um—they saw me kiss a boy."
Taichi's eyes went wide and he nearly dropped his cup. He had no idea what to say to that. Cousin Matsu was three years older than him, so he was 13 right now. Taichi hardly interacted with any of the girls in the neighbourhood, because he had once, and they laughed at him for playing their games. He didn't quite understand, but he knew he didn't want to get laughed at again, so he stayed away. All he knew was that the boys played with the boys, and the girls played with the girls, and the only real time the two genders got together was when they wanted to hold hands. He knew Hina played with boys, but Hina was weird like that, and shinobi in general were an odd bunch. Shinobi children played together regardless of gender, although Taichi didn't know why. It was just the way it was.
"Ah… ok," he decided to say.
"Ok?" Matsu asked, scanning his expression for anything else.
"Ok… is that bad?" Taichi asked unsurely.
"No—um… my parents were mad, but I don't know. I think so… do you find it weird?"
Well talking about kissing was too embarrassing for him. Wasn't that supposed to be adult talk? Taichi didn't really know what to say about it.
"I don't know," Taichi said honestly, sipping his tea again. "I don't really have anything to say about it. I'm just confused why you're telling me. Just don't k-kiss a boy again and your parents will be ok with you right?"
"It's not… it's not like that," Matsu sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "It's not just a kiss. It's like marriage!"
"Marriage?" Taichi squeaked out in confusion, feeling entirely too embarrassed to discuss something so—so adult?
Matsu cringed a little, and shook his head, looking like he couldn't quite figure out the words to explain things to his little cousin. Instead he decided to nod seriously, and just go with that instead.
"Yeah like love and stuff… although I'm not so sure it's love. Well maybe more like attraction… ugh I don't know how to explain it!"
"Yeah ok… well I still don't know why you needed to tell me this," Taichi pointed out flustered.
Matsu's expression became sad again. "My parents said they'll be kicking me out by 16 if I do it again, and I… I've never really done any work before. I don't usually help around shop, and now they won't let me unless I promise to never… never be with a guy."
"They're going to kick you out?" Taichi asked, eyes wide and completely baffled. "For kissing a boy? That's… stupid."
"I-It's more complicated than that ok! I was just wondering—if I could work at the bakery with you is all… you don't have to. I know I've been pretty bad… and I'm not even sure you're opening it like you said you would—"
"—I am," Taichi cut in defensively.
"That's good. That's good," Matsu nodded awkwardly.
"I'll let you become an employee, but I'm taking a month to figure it out first. I'll not be able to pay you much at the start though," Taichi said honestly.
"I don't mind! In fact you don't have to pay me until you can! I'll do anything," he said eagerly.
Taichi laughed nervously, wondering what the hell he had just gotten himself into?
Honestly, I loved writing Taichi's POV, and just watching him slowly grow as a person. He's still pretty clueless and naïve, but he's grown up quite a lot. Currently he's ten years old, and so he's not really mature enough to do anything on his own, but he has Mebuki to help him and now Matsu's going to be there too… you know the annoying little cousin from all the way back from chapter 3 XD I didn't forget about him. Also yes, if anyone's asking, Mebuki is Sakura's future mom. Hina hasn't realised it yet, and probably won't until she meets Mebuki's pink haired boyfriend.
As for Matsu being gay—it was included because I wanted to explore cultural norms. I admit to being interested in it because I'm a lesbian irl. Although I'm not exactly sure what the consensus is in Naruto canon on gay characters. Either way I thought it would be a good look into some cultural norms and maybe set a kind of basis for shinobi/civilian sexual norms and expectancies. You see a bit of it here with the high demand for nannies considering shinobi often die, leaving them widowed, and their children would need someone to look after them. In my head the fact that shinobi die so young means that they're not so averse to homosexual relationships/unconventional relationships, although I do think that people in clans will definitely be a lot more heteronormative, solely for the bloodline continuation. But you can in general, expect a lot less prejudice against Hina in her own circle, compared to a civilian like Matsu who comes from a very stringent heteronormative culture.
Also yes—some of the characters are now at that age where they begin asking questions about the birds and the bees. Hina is going to be spamming the body flicker in the future trying to yeet herself from those conversations. XD But I repeat once more—she will not be in a relationship until everyone is well over 18.