Snap Back To Reality 36
One thing a day. All I had to do was one thing a day. I could do that. Even as weak as I was right now, I could manage that. I pulled myself out of bed, despite the tiredness in my bones and walked into the house that had changed so much. I was surprised, but it was a happy kind of surprise that was like a candle in the darkness that seemed to be my life. Taichi had changed. He had become more… assertive. In just two months it felt like he had become a better person. His grief had made him a better person. It reminded me of myself. When Josh had died protecting me, I felt so immeasurably guilty for his sacrifice, that almost anything I did from then on was atonement for not dying that day. It wasn't the same for Taichi. When I looked into his eyes, he didn't have that weight, that look of hate that followed him around like a yolk around his neck. He was sad, and there was a depression lurking behind his normally bright brown eyes, but he wasn't burdened, not like me.
I was glad.
He had pulled through. Despite me being unable to stay here and help, he had pulled through. I wondered if it would have been the same had I stayed. It probably wouldn't. My presence… it had only stilted him. It took me leaving for him to grow into his own person. I tried not to let that get to me, because I had no right to think that way. Taichi had held me, and let me cry, and be so completely open, for the first time since Guy. He had done so much growing, done so much overcoming, while I had fallen deeper into a pit of self-loathing that bordered on debilitating. I couldn't do that to him, couldn't leave him without a shoulder to lean on, so I tied up my hair and ate my breakfast.
"Thank you for everything Mebuki-san," I said earnestly.
"It's ok brat. Just let me know if you need anything ok," she replied with a grin, moving to ruffle my hair.
I stepped back a bit and let out a nervous laugh. "Ah, sorry. I don't like people touching my head. Bad habit," I said awkwardly.
"That's ok! I'm well aware of shinobi and their ticks so I won't do it again if it bothers you. Where are you off to today then?" Mebuki asked.
"I'm going to collect my mission pay, and then go meet Orochimaru-sama. I'll be back by around five. You can take things on until then, right?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's what you're paying me for after all," Mebuki laughed, like I had asked her the most ridiculous question ever, which I might as well have actually…
"My bad… also thanks for everything. For being there for Taichi. I should have—ah never mind. Just thanks," I said a little awkwardly.
"Well your niisan's a really tough brat. Are you sure you don't want to take a day off? You just came back yesterday. Why are you so eager to keep working?"
I sighed. How could I stay in bed and wallow when my ten-year-old brother was running a whole goddamn bakery by himself? I still couldn't wrap my head around that. Were kids in this world just naturally more mature, or was it really just circumstances that forced people to be who they are?
It wasn't just that though. If I stayed in my room today, I wasn't so sure I'd find the energy to ever move again. The last two months had left me shaken. I had attacked Taichi in the morning, simply because he was sleeping next to me. For a few seconds there, it was like I was in a battlefield, surrounded by enemy attack, and not in my room with my brother. I was tired, so bone weary tired, and it felt like every step I walked was a mile, but if I stopped, I'd never get back up.
"There are things you have to do no matter what," I finally said.
Mebuki's shocked expression turned into an odd smile, like she was unsure whether to be sad or happy.
"Damn, you brats really are a tough sort," she said. "I can't wait to see how Tsuki-chan turns out now."
"Oh, he's definitely going to be the toughest brat of us all," I snorted. "Have you seen how hard he tugs hair?"
"Point," she laughed, before his cries brought her attention away and I was finally free to leave.
I still had so many things to think about. ROOT still weighed heavy on my mind. Kusari was still my partner, but I knew how ROOT operated. It had you severe ties through blood. I thought I'd have to kill Kusari in the future, but his life had been swapped for my parents. I had vowed to help him escape though, and I'd do it no matter what. I had planned to die, but I didn't deserve to, not until everyone was truly safe, so I'd have to find another way around this. Fuinjutsu was going to finally be an option going forward. I could safely begin practicing it and finding a way around the seal now that I was sure I wasn't being tailed at all times of the day.
The next big issue I had was Orochimaru, although really even he tied back to ROOT and Danzo. He wasn't as hell bent on changing me or experimenting on me like I assumed he would be. His curiosity extended to my total concentration breathing, and beyond that he only cared whether I was useful to him or not. He didn't seem to pay any attention to my family or friends. For a man who liked torturing me, I found it odd, that out of all the threats in my life, I found him the safest.
I wasn't really travelling to Orochimaru though. No, I made my way into his lab, hoping to all hell he wouldn't be there, and then I resumed my work. I tied my apron, before grabbing a clinical mask, and putting on some gloves. Then I made my way into the deepest level, away from his public lab, and into his private area. The seals recognised me, and I was let through as the stone wall gave way. As I passed into the darker hallway, the wall closed up behind me and I descended down the stairs and towards the cages.
Like usual, the pungent smell of rot, faeces, urine, and other various body fluids, hit my nose. I scrunched my sensitive nose up and blinked back the tears as I looked into the several cages. Everyone who was still alive looked a little worse for wear every day. It wasn't hard to forget that they were in fact living, breathing humans, and not the mumbling corpses they were.
I turned to the voice of the new body and sighed. She had spirit left. It wouldn't last very long. Soon, she too would be broken down to absolutely nothing, until she wouldn't care about sitting in her own faeces and rot. There was no dignity in this prison. Just death.
"Sorry but I'm just here for clean-up duty," I said softly.
"H-he kidnapped me! D-don't trust him just because he's a Sannin!" she cried, long brown hair swinging wildly in panic, as her chains held her back from her wrists.
I felt a bubble of pity for her, but this world had hardened me, made me feel numb to these cries of pain and desperation. I could only afford to give it to the people that mattered, and she wasn't one of them.
"Do you think I'm here because I don't know about that?" I asked humourlessly. "I'm his assistant. We will most likely be seeing each other on your next experiment."
"No! You're just a kid! Please! If there's any humanity left in you! Please!"
I shook my head and sighed. She was definitely noisy… for now. I was going about this work because honestly this was all the humanity I could afford to give. ROOT agents would only ever deliver food and water when Orochimaru was not around. Orochimaru himself didn't care one bit for the condition his experiments were in. I personally couldn't get them out even if I wanted to, which I didn't, because I had more than enough on my plate already. All I could do, was clean up their cages, and afford them whatever dignity they had left before they died.
It wasn't a pretty job. Death was never a pretty affair, and this whole place stunk of it. I got about picking up their shit, and cleaning up their waste, before collecting their unwashed plates and putting those to the side. The water in the bowls they were given had become dirty and contaminated. I sighed. Orochimaru would see most of his experiments die before they even got to the table. What was the point of owning so many bodies, if he couldn't even keep them healthy enough for proper results? Maybe he had gotten too used to my help he forgot about doing his own uptake.
"H-How can you j-just do this? Don't you have a heart?"
I snapped my attention to the lady, thoroughly taken aback. I dropped the bag of bread I had brought outside and a few prisoners from the other cages, began groaning forward, eyes focused on the food in mad hunger.
"You don't know what you're asking of me. There's always one of your kind here, all whining and teary eyed. If you want to get out of here, stop putting it on me, and do it yourself. If you can't even manage that, keep your mouth shut and give me some peace," I grumbled, rubbing my nose.
It's not that I didn't want to help her. I just couldn't. I always did them the courtesy of picking up their shit, and wiping their asses, and all I ever got in return for it, was a headache. My irritation was momentarily forgotten when I heard a laugh behind me, and a weight dropped on my head. I shivered in sudden fear and cursed as I turned to see Orochimaru behind me, his eyes thoroughly amused.
"You came back from your little training trip. Did you have fun?"
"Fun?" I asked, a hysterical laughter ripped from my throat. "Oh kami, only you would think to say that."
"Good to see it hasn't broken down your spirit, if you're already here cleaning up after my subjects," he smiled.
I ignored the uncomfortable way his fingers ran through my scalp, all gentle and wrong. There was no use pretending it didn't bother me. He was a Sannin, and he knew what he was doing. I hit his hands away and glowered. Fuck, I was too tired to deal with his bullshit right now.
"So testy," he teased. "Well, it seems at least that they whipped you into shape for me. Unfortunately, you haven't grown an inch."
"Why should that even matter?" I asked incredulously.
Orochimaru gave me a condescending look and I bristled. Forget whatever depression I thought I would end up in, I was more leaning towards the side of a rage attack instead. He was beginning to piss me off, playing with me like a toy, and not even giving me the same intellectual curiosity he had before. He was just being condescending right now.
"You're seven years old next month Hina-chan. That means you're meant to still be growing. All this intense work outs and lack of nutrition is hindering your ability to grow, and I can't have that happen as your sensei, now can I?"
To say I was baffled was an understatement. Never mind the fact that he knew when my birthday was, but up until now, I never considered that Orochimaru would even be vaguely interested in my development asides from teaching me, so I didn't make a fool out of him on missions. After screwing up so bad with the bandits, I had gotten a very thorough education on the more technical aspects of shinobi life, that didn't revolve around direct combat. But he had only helped because I very nearly died from the hands of mere bandits and it would have reflected poorly on him. I also assumed that whatever modicum of respect he had for me, had died that day. Yet… he was treating me so oddly now, like he was actively interested in my studies.
"What do you want to do about it then?" I sighed.
"Why, nothing too drastic. Just a little tweak here and there, and you'll be one step closer to perfection," he said, eyes trailing down my body.
I scratched my neck and looked away. Body modification? Hadn't I promised myself the first time I met him, that I wouldn't allow him to touch my body? The very idea of changing any part of me, that would be tied back indefinitely to him, was something my pride wouldn't have allowed me. I was a different person then… more confident. Who was I to refuse any sort of power now? I had murdered my own parents with my own two hands. I deserved no pride in my abilities. If anyone wanted to tell me in the future that I was strong because of Orochimaru's experiments, then I would let them, because I didn't matter, not like I thought I had. All that mattered was that I eventually did become stronger, strong enough to even kill Orochimaru myself if I had to. Then it wouldn't matter where I got my power, just that I had it. Because then I could truly protect my family.
"If it makes me stronger, I don't care what you do to me," I finally said.
"Ah, finally you've shed your tiresome convictions that limited you," he said approvingly.
"It was never strong in the first place," I hissed, hating how bitter I sounded.
This weak body, a body that was branded by a man I despised and tainted with the blood of failure, what use did it have? What use did I have now as weak as I was? One step at a time, right? Even if it meant becoming something more than human, becoming as distorted as Orochimaru himself, it didn't matter as long as I had the power to never fail as badly as I had before.
I remembered something I had learnt a long time ago, when I had spent majority of my days in a lab over the top of a microscope. When I had long brown hair and honey brown eyes. Something, so pivotal to the human nature, that it cemented how I viewed all living things.
"You can take a cell," I began, catching Orochimaru's attention. "Circumvent the cells lifespan limit, and you can prevent senescence.
In layman's terms, it means the cell becomes immortal, keeps dividing. It doesn't get old. It doesn't die. They say ageing is a natural process, but it was just a fault in our genes. When an iryo-nin worked their magic, they were simply multiplying cells, providing an energy that permeated this whole planet, which encouraged life. In the end humans were faulty creatures living in a chaotic world, bending to its rules. Back then I had no real way to defy that order.
When I looked up at Orochimaru next, he looked surprised. His yellow eyes were fully visible before a true smile took his face.
"You've been putting my library to good use," he mused out loud.
"I wanted to know what you found out about immortality," I shrugged. A lie, but what did it matter?
"I'll make an assistant out of you yet. Meet me here tomorrow night. We will conduct your first upgrade," he said before spinning around and taking his leave.
Upgrade. Well that was certainly a way to phrase it. I suppose I had done something to impress him, because he would have called it an experiment otherwise. Since he specifically used the word upgrade, I hoped it was safe to assume he was going to conduct a procedure that had already been tested. If not, then what really was the point of all these meat bags sitting in their cages? Speaking of meat bags, I turned to the woman in her cage and sighed. She had been shivering in silence since Orochimaru entered, and during that whole conversation I had nearly forgotten she was even there.
Did I truly care so little about people who I wasn't tied to? Catherine would be horrified by me if she saw me now… but I had died and disappeared, and she would never be by my side again. It didn't matter what she thought because she wasn't here. What would Taichi, Guy and Kakashi think then? Would they hate me for giving into my apathy, for letting go of the morality I thought I so needed? They could hate me… they could drive a knife through my chest and curse my name forever. I could live with that pain if it meant keeping them alive.
I turned to the woman in the cage and felt only anger. Irrational, blinding anger.
"You were shouting at me earlier, and now you're so quiet. You should know, that if you want to stay alive in this world, there's no one to help you but yourself. Don't whine to others. Don't look for their help. Get up on your own two feet, and if you fail, then live with the consequences."
I was aware of my hypocrisy. I didn't know who I was reassuring. Her, or myself.
I was no hero. I knew her fear quite well. I knew her pain quite well too. Everyone was out there trying to survive. Those who didn't even try, and those who simply cried looking to others for help, would not survive. That was just the way the world was. I looked back at the men and women who had lost their will, chained to a wall, and living out their last moments in abject misery that weighed so heavy they could do nothing but moan and cry. They had become truly pitiful creatures. One couldn't quite consider them human.
"Sometimes, there will be no one in the world to help you get up but you," I whispered once again, before I too took my leave.
I trudged back to put on my clothes after taking a bath at the lab. It wouldn't do good walking back home smelling like shit and disease. I wondered if this was all I had to do today, no running, no workouts and deﬁnitely no training. I felt beyond tired, but a part of me couldn't stop moving. It felt like I would get punished if I ever did stop, but there was no one behind me enforcing insane tasks and depriving me of sleep. I rubbed my eyes.
Special forces, eh.
This is what people had to face in the special forces. It was insane and I wondered if I'd ever be the same again. Was this what Kusari felt every day? I winced at the thought before closing my eyes and deciding there was nothing I could do at home. Taichi and Matsu had everything under control. Mebuki was taking care of Tsukiya, and I was... only ever useful for missions. My income would keep us above just scraping by. They could live comfortably. If I ever got a promotion, then forget scraping by, we would be more than rich enough.
I could teach Taichi some maths. He was taking to it like an Uchiha to brooding and a Hyuuga to self-importance. He was rather smart, and I wondered how many children like him had been shuﬄed into a life they weren't really going to ﬂourish in, just because they were born into the role. I wondered how much better my life would have been if I wasn't a Shinobi, if I was allowed to attend a university, and work in a ﬁeld that truly suited my skillset. Maybe then I would have been a true prodigy. After all throw a prodigy into the wrong ﬁeld of work and all their potential would be wasted. Someone who was born to heal would not do so well working as a shinobi, and a natural cook born as a weaponsmiths son was equally as useless.
Taichi would have done well in my old world, where he could pursue an academic career. I sighed and wondered about myself. What was I doing killing people? I remembered the ﬁrst time I killed a person. I remembered my thumbs driving straight into their eye sockets, pushing beyond the skull, and puncturing the soft brain matter inside. It had been so satisfying, knowing that all my training, my struggle to survive and to win had come out in my favour. It had been cathartic and left my heart ﬂuttering light. Every single kill after that was somewhat similar, even if I did question my younger kills out in the ﬁeld. It was ROOT, it was always ROOT... that destroyed everything. When I killed those children in the dark, when they twisted training into something painful and unfulﬁlling, and when they forced me to go against everything I stood for by killing blood, I had lost whatever pleasure came from this job.
Once this is all over—If I'm even alive—I'm getting a desk job.
A spar once in a while sounded amazing, but I sure as hell didn't want to be involved in this mess of a career anymore. The pay was good but fuck the benefits. My parents died for this, for my mistake, for this shitty job. I was just meant to be a hired soldier, a mercenary—not in this mess of a job where my consent didn't even matter. The Foundation wasn't going down though. What could I even do against them?
What was I thinking? Giving up like that. I shook my head and pulled myself together. If my ten-year-old brother could overcome his grief, then I certainly could. I continued walking down this dark corridor until my feet took me to the library.
My body... Orochimaru was going to modify my body. I sucked in a deep breath and shut my eyes. I would never truly be the same, but then again, I wasn't since the day I drove a knife through my father's heart and a hand through my mother's chest. First my heart and then my body. There was nothing I wasn't willing to give up if it meant eventually taking down Danzo. I pulled out an experimentation ﬁle, in the back corner. It was a group of red ﬁles I never really read through before, solely because I ﬁnished one page and felt too sick to continue. There were simply some things that were too much, even for me to stomach. Orochimaru, for all his abuse, had kept me away from his more gruesome experiments. Not anymore, I thought resolutely. The things he had done to others, the things he did to himself, were my progress.
I remembered him forming an entire body of his own, out of his own dead carcass, emerging from his corpse like a truly immortal being. That was in the anime I had watched a lifetime ago. I wondered if it was reality, because when I looked down at the ﬁles in my hands, I recognised that power was something to be taken and not given.
This world had set its cruel limitations and we were subject to its whims and mechanisms, yet Orochimaru had deﬁed it. I never truly believed you could overcome your own humanity, even with my incredible ability to rationalise everything I did. For all my apathy to human suffering, I still felt the very human need to keep my family alive, and an emotional response towards the pain and feelings of those important to me. It was a duty, an obligation, and a biological imperative to protect your kin. We had literally evolved in family units to take care of each other, to ensure our survival.
I didn't think I wanted to give that up. It was a cornerstone of my life. Even if I had failed my parents, I still had my brothers, Gaku-sensei, and to a lesser obligatory level, my friends. In the end I was standing here now, not devolving into a completely useless mess because they kept me going forward. This red ﬁle in my hands were a testament to the very human strength of familial love. Love being a word I took a great deal of time peeling open to understand. That was another matter in and of itself. Love was a tie, a tie to a responsibility, and to the emotions it came with. It was volatile, beautiful, and scary all at once.
What did Orochimaru love?
Had he truly given up his humanity, or was he simply substituting one thing for another? Family for self, responsibility for personal gain, or maybe humanity for knowledge.
I opened the red ﬁle titled simply #001. I pushed aside whatever morality I had been taught, whatever empathy I had left, because now there was just me, this vital information, and a drive for power. Maybe this was the state Orochimaru had to be in to truly become more.
Then I read.
The dichotomy of humanity was its ability to do complete opposites. Man could love and protect, and a man could kill and destroy with the same hands. Man could show compassion and then act without any empathy. I was capable of both, and after reading those ﬁles I truly understood that all the lines I had told myself I could never cross, were simply fabrications of my own carefully structured moral code. I very well could do those things if the circumstances called for it. Human desperation was a thing to behold.
I sighed tiredly. My ﬁrst day out and I had done more than one thing and emotionally drained myself too. I ran ﬁngers through my green hair and closed my eyes. I needed to go home, and so I did. I walked slowly and silently to my house, glad that I didn't see any familiar faces on the way. I made my way into the bakery, feeling a little lighter that the smell of fresh bread had overtaken the blood.
My eyes caught Matsu's and he awkwardly waved my way. I waved back, unsure of what really to say to him. We hadn't ever gotten along as kids. In fact he was rather rude to me in particular, but then again, we were kids and kids always had a lot of growing up to do.
"Uh Hina-san," he said catching my attention.
"Yes Matsu-san?" I asked.
He scratched the back of his head, ruﬄing his hair before looking down and sighing.
"I uh... I'm sorry about everything... and how I acted towards you before," he said, looking more than a little off kilter and ﬂustered.
"That's ok. I never really held it against you," I said, scratching my neck just as unsurely.
All this touchy-feely emotional stuff was more than a little off putting. I almost wished I was the kind of person that could just punch his shoulders, put him in a chokehold and just laugh it off without any awkwardness. Unfortunately, I wasn't, and right now I wanted nothing more than to quickly escape to my room.
"Uh, is there something else you wanted to say?" I asked.
"Did—did Taichi tell you about..."
"About what?" I asked curiously.
"About why I'm here," he said trailing off nervously.
My eyes widened and I realised why he had been so anxious. I remembered a time when coming out seemed like the most nerve-wracking situation. Going to war and nearly getting killed really put my previous anxieties in check.
"I don't really care about that to be honest. I fancy girls myself," I said shrugging.
"Y-you do?" Matsu asked, brown eyes going wide.
"Yeah both actually," I added a little awkwardly.
"You can... you can like both?" he asked, the shock barely hidden.
Kami, he really was just a kid, wasn't he? How bad was the sex education in this world if people didn't even understand sexual preferences? At his age I knew that and plenty more. I really didn't want to have a talk about sexuality with a kid though. I felt too old to be this short. At least if I was feeling like a granny at heart, I should have the height to back it up. I rubbed the bridge of my nose and sighed.
"Troublesome... look, it's not going to change anything here ok. Taichi doesn't really understand enough to care and if he ever does become averse to the idea... well I'm a shinobi and I have my ways to knock some sense into him. So you can relax ok," I said as quickly as possible.
He looked about ready to burst into tears and I was just as ready to body ﬂicker into my room and lock myself in when the bakery door opened. I turned around to the large pool of chakra to see a shinobi with a scroll. He looked down at my headband and while I was ready to collapse in my bed from exhaustion, I would take another mission over an awkward coming out talk with my cousin.
"Suzuki Hina, you are to report to the Hokage's oﬃce with your shinobi ID card in an hour sharp."
"Hai," I replied before accepting the scroll.
"Another one? You just came back, didn't you?" Matsu asked.
"This is too soon, even for me," I agreed in confusion and worry. Didn't I deserve a goddamn break?
Not after murdering your own parents.
I shoved back my uncomfortable self-hate and opened the scroll to ﬁnd no mission end time, no expected mission length, and no speciﬁc requirements either. It just said the time and date and location, which was odd.
I turned to see Taichi look down at my scroll pale and wide eyed. I put it away quickly and even Matsu took a step back from the sudden uncomfortable silence.
"Again?" he whispered in confusion and hurt.
"Tai-nii, no need to worry. This might just be a summons. It doesn't really give me a ﬁnish date, so I'll probably only be doing a D rank or something."
With that we fell into awkward stilted conversation. I could see Taichi looking increasingly worried and I couldn't blame him. I was worried myself. With all the crap that had been thrown my way recently, I almost wondered if life was ever going to give me a break.
I eventually did manage to escape the awkward conversation and ﬁnd myself outside the Hokage tower. I was accosted by Orochimaru, who looked rather pleased about something. I turned my attention to some familiar faces in surprise. There was Shisui and his new Uchiha sensei. He waved at me and I waved back, only to see a few other older kids and teens enter with their Jounin sensei's.
"What's going on?" I asked Shisui.
"No idea," he replied. "Toru-sensei, said it was a surprise."
"Should I be worried?" I asked nervously.
"Maybe," he replied just as nervously before his eyes trailed down to my neck. "You're wearing my scarf."
I palmed the soft material and smiled back. The red made me look like a Christmas present, but it was surprisingly comfy, so I didn't mind. I wanted to thank Shisui for giving it to me that day. This time with a smile I couldn't have afforded him before.
"It's cold," I said instead.
He nodded, giving me a knowing look and a soft smile. I meant to return it, but the door opened, and it looked like it was time to go. We were invited in by the Chunin at the door and we all walked in and bowed at the Hokage. I sent Orochimaru a questioning look as I stood beside him, but I got nothing from his amiable expression. The Hokage smiled and scanned his eyes over us, before ﬁnally speaking.
"I'm sure you're wondering why I summoned you here. It's because each one of you has managed to demonstrate Konoha's values during your time in service. Two or more Jounin have attested in your beneﬁt for your promotion and I have screened their reports. During war time we do not have the luxury for Chunin exams and so today you will be receiving a ﬁeld promotion."
I blinked in shock. A Chunin? I'd only been a Genin for nearly two years. Wasn't this too soon? I knew Genin who had been in that position for ﬁve to six years before ever receiving Chunin status.
I took the Chunin vest handed to me by one of the Hokage's helpers and felt the weight of the green vest heavy in my hand. I didn't deserve this. I had failed everyone so terribly, had yet only proven how useless I was, and this was what I got. A promotion? I didn't feel happy about it, not like I would have under different circumstances.
"Hand your ID's over and move to the registration room!"
I did as was instructed and found myself in line for the camera. It was only on the occasion that we'd take photos. Cameras were a rare thing after all. I was distracted in thought until Orochimaru of all people snapped me out of it.
"Aren't you going to wear your vest?"
I looked around and realised everyone had already put it on. I nodded reluctantly and put it on before deciding to leave it unzipped. I forced a smile on my face when the man took my photo, and then began writing down my new details onto my new card. He handed me my old one. It had a green text for Chunin stamped on it.
"Keep this for now. Your new ID will be delivered in 3 to 4 days."
I nodded and took the card. I turned back to Orochimaru, and then looked at Shisui who was having his hair ruﬄed by his sensei. It felt wrong to have this moment without Gaku and Yama here. I pulled my attention back to Orochimaru and noted he was rather pleased about the promotion. Most likely I would still be asked to work under him, without the whole training aspect of things. I was a Chunin now, and Chunin did a lot more self-study than Genin.
"Well, then. It's time to leave, wouldn't you say so?"
I nodded, only to be stopped by the Hokage of all people. He sent Orochimaru a smile that made the Sannin's own smile drop in suspicion.
"Before you two go, I would like to see you in my oﬃce."
Orochimaru didn't say a word but I said a quick hai and followed after the two legendary shinobi. We walked back into the Hokage oﬃce and Orochimaru's patience was wearing thin. I could see his chakra ﬂuctuating and coiling like it did when he wasn't pleased. I felt much the same. There was something about seeing the man pretend to be this kindly grandfather figure that rubbed me the wrong way. How could he preach about this supposed will of fire and turn away purposefully from the people suffering under Danzo? How could he smile my way as if he didn't have a hand in the shit that happened not 3 months ago?
"Why keep us back?" Orochimaru asked. "Don't you want me to celebrate with my sweet student?"
The Hokage smiled kindly, although it looked oddly patronising. Even Orochimaru scowled.
"You haven't really taught Hina-chan anything. In fact she was only recently transferred as your student and Gaku-san did most of the work. I'd say you haven't yet achieved what it was I was looking for."
Orochimaru's scowl deepened if that was even possible. I took a step back nervously. Fucking old geezer, he was going to get the Sannin mad, and that was always bad news for me. I was too tired to deal with this shit. How had one thing a day become several things all at once?
"What are you saying? Get to the point."
"I've assigned you two Genin and will expect Hina-chan to continue under your tutelage. She is after all an upcoming kunoichi."
Orochimaru took the ﬁles like it had burned him. Teammates... I didn't know how to feel about that. I was, after all, trained on my own for nearly two years. The only group training I had was with ROOT or spars with Kakashi. I was comfortable enough to work in teams when it mattered so it shouldn't be much of an issue. I just felt for the poor brats who got Orochimaru as their sensei. Now that sucked.
"Can I ask how exactly this is going to work Hokage-sama? I was under the impression Chunin were either assigned to speciﬁc war time tasks or sent to work more intel-oriented jobs."
The Hokage smiled down at me, and for a second, he really did feel just like a kind old man and not an accomplice to my incredibly shitty situation. Maybe he was just a good actor. It didn't change the way I felt a bubble of hatred peak up inside at his insidious act. I returned his smile, although it probably came out dry. I was trying to ease some of the tension that had escalated from Orochimaru's temper, if only to spare myself from his anger later. I really just wanted to crash on my bed and never wake up.
"Normally you'd be expected to take on an extra responsibility outside of your border post work. It could be as menial as a librarian or even an internship at T&I. You're in a rather unique situation as the student of a Sannin. Orochimaru no doubt chose you because of your ability to think rather than to simply ﬁght. It seems you'll have a future career in R&D or the Special Research team," he explained patiently.
R&D! I turned to give Orochimaru a wide berth and a miniscule part of me, that shot through my recent depression, wanted to give the man a wet sloppy kiss. Research... oh Kami, I missed my old desk job. I wanted to become a researcher again and hopefully do work to help people rather than ripping them open. I shook myself out of my musings and decided to ask the important questions while I could.
"I've heard of the R&D division, but I haven't heard of a Special Research team," I said curiously.
"It deals with village research secrets from A to S ranges," Orochimaru said, surprising me with his input. "It's not a big team, nor is it easily accessible, but as my student you are eventually going to be privy to such information."
I gulped. That seemed like something you couldn't come back from. No easy retirement to civilian life after that... but I could almost imagine the access to classified research papers and equipment that came with the job. It was certainly an enticing thought. The Hokage's rather croaky chuckle reminded me to stop losing myself in thought.
"Well let's not get carried away. You will still have to prove yourself before you can enlist in the Special Research team. For now we'll have you enlisted as Orochimaru's assistant for his personal R&D sect."
Orochimaru had his own personal section? I honestly didn't know whether to be surprised, frustrated, or impressed. Frustrated that Sarutobi was giving so much power to people like Orochimaru and Danzo, and impressed at Orochimaru for somehow pulling of getting his own section of R&D.
"Hai, Hokage-sama," I settled on saying instead.
I was once again reminded of Orochimaru's bad mood when we were dismissed. He was looking at the ﬁles of my future teammates at hand and scowling. I eyed the exit and wondered if now was the best time to leave because dealing with Orochimaru's mood swings wasn't in my itinerary for the day. It was too troublesome to deal with.
"Don't forget about tomorrow," Orochimaru reminded me.
"I won't. Can I expect to see detailed information on the procedure before we begin?" I asked, trying to keep my voice level.
Orochimaru, to my relief, nodded. He didn't say much after that and simply left. I was glad. It was time to go home and collapse in bed. Hopefully Taichi wouldn't be so worried then.
I trailed my ﬁngers over the collar of my new ﬂack jacket and I felt oddly calm when I looked out over the village. Things could deﬁnitely get worse, but I hadn't yet collapsed from the weight of it all. Maybe I could do this. I could become better.
I turned to see Shisui smiling at me. His sensei was behind him, looking rather pleased. I mirrored a smile back and Shisui faltered mildly. I wondered if maybe my smile didn't truly reach my eyes or if something else was wrong.
"We're going to celebrate. Do you want to come?" Shisui offered.
"I would love to, but I have my brothers waiting for me at home. Thanks for the offer."
He nodded, a little disappointed but not intending to force me. I waved as calmly as I could before deciding I'd done enough for the day. I was just about ready to collapse after all. One thing a day had become several, but it made me feel just a little more accomplished. I could make it through this. Things would change. I would change.
Hina is going to finally get a team ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ I've been waiting for this, because her team's really fun and I'm sure you guys will enjoy them! Their banter is to die for. Also this is really the start of Hina's change in viewing the world. She's been very prideful before. She believed in getting strong without any real boosts or advantages—just you know the traditional way with training and all that, mostly because she wanted to be self-made. This Hina is a lot more open to power for powers sake, without any real value set to how she attains it, because she's stopped caring how people view her. You can expect she'll take the quick route to power if she can now. Not that there's anything wrong with that in my opinion. Body modification is a valid way to power. If I was in Naruto that's the route I'd take personally.
Also check out Dino digital on Instagram. They did an amazing artwork of Hina. It's so cute!