Snap Back To Reality 37
I was no stranger to pain. In my previous life it would have been terrifying to even imagine this kind of situation, but Suzuki Hina was a far cry from what I had been in my previous life. I was hardened through blood and steel. Still, there was something primal, almost instinctual, that never truly got rid of one's fear of pain or change. I was terrified, admittedly more so for the pain than the change itself.
"It seems you've been reading my red files," Orochimaru hummed from his seat.
"I have," I replied, sending him a cursory glance before turning my attention back to the file in my hands currently.
I was a little surprised, but then again, Orochimaru was full of surprises. I didn't know how to take this gesture from him. Firstly he was allowing me to read through my own procedure before he carried it out, which in and of itself wasn't something he did for any of his experiments. Secondly, he was being rather nice about it all, which wasn't in his character at all. Most importantly—and this was what truly confused me—was the fact that this procedure included injecting the DNA of a white snake into my metabolic functions.
A white snake.
Orochimaru had a menagerie of snakes that he kept as pets in his public lab. His experimentation on animals wasn't exactly frowned upon nor a secret, just like his obsession with his own body wasn't. What surprised me was that he was willing to conduct the same procedure on me that he did to himself.
"Why?" I finally asked, after much deliberation.
"Hmm, you're going to have to be more specific than that Hina-chan," he said, grinning my way.
He knew my question exactly, but he wanted me to ask. I would give him what he wanted for now. "Why are you doing this specific procedure to me… when you've done it to yourself."
He gave me a mischievous smile, slitted yellow eyes twinkling with some kind of dastardly mirth. I had the sudden urge to run the fuck away, but I managed to ground myself and stare him down defiantly for an answer.
"You're my student, and you haven't grown an inch. I can't have you be a shorty forever, now can I?"
"The real reason please," I said, raising a brow.
He chuckled, before he stood up and walked my way. I wanted to run away once more but I stayed incorrigibly still while he leant over to twirl my bangs between a finger.
"I reward those who I see fit. You've been a rather useful assistant so far. Why should I not invest in my cute little assistant?"
I was relieved when he pulled away. He seemed to take pleasure from invading my personal space and threatening me. I felt a little petty glee knowing that it wouldn't have cowed me, not like it would to a real child. While I did have some sort of irritatingly innate reaction to listen to adults in this biologically seven-year-old form, I still could rationalise my way out of it. Still, his answer, while truthful, was definitely not the whole picture.
"Well then, shall we begin the procedure. Once I start, there's no turning back."
"As if you'd let me pull out now," I scoffed.
I made my way to the metal table and pulled of my Chunin vest, along with my scarf and arm guards. Then I shuffled onto the too tall chair and let the man strap me in, despite feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Orochimaru brought out the tubes connected to some kind of geyser and inserted the metal tip into my arm.
"Just one?" I asked.
"Do you want more?" he asked amused.
"No… I was just surprised," I replied hastily.
"It'll be painful all the same. I know how much of a masochist you are Hina-chan," he chuckled.
"I am not," I bit back, before sighing and closing my eyes.
Just my luck to get straddled with another sensei who could rile me up. I almost wished that Gaku was besides me now, holding my hand in comfort, giving me reassurances of taking me out for desert after. Orochimaru certainly wasn't the type to care about how comfortable I was anyway.
The pain was gradual, but when it hit, it made my body shudder and twist. It felt more visceral than the burn of a genjutsu. It felt real. A pained gasp escaped my throat and then a groan before I leaned forward and felt the bile burn up my throat. My stomach twisted inside of me and I shivered in terror. The pain was coming. I wasn't looking forward to it.
Then it really kicked. I bit back a scream, grinding my teeth together and leaning forward hands ﬁsted in determination. What was this feeling? Was it relief? This pain... It wasn't even close to the pain I felt that night. I stopped another scream from escaping and instead gasped tightly. I refused to let myself show weakness any longer.
"It's good to see the ﬁght back in your eyes Hina-chan. I was worried Danzo had beaten it out of you."
"That bastard will never," I hissed. "Fuck! Give me more!"
"Another dose? You think you can handle it?" Orochimaru asked, but he didn't wait for a conﬁrmation before he obliged my request.
I could handle anything. I had already done the one thing I thought I never could. If I could kill my own blood, then I could take this. I could take anything! I grinned, feeling the burn rip a pained chuckle from my throat.
"You really are a masochist."
It hurt! It hurt so much and yet not even close to the pain I felt on that night. I had been so afraid! I had been so afraid of this pain, but it didn't even hold a candle to the hole Danzo had ripped into my soul. It pulled out a sick sort of satisfaction from within me. This pain was progress. One step closer to ripping out Danzo's throat. I didn't feel tired anymore. I felt angry. Fucking furious.
I grinned at Orochimaru and decided here, no matter how much I failed in the future, no matter how far I fell. this pain, this anguish, it would lead to one glorious moment where I would teach Danzo that he would never fuck with me. Never fuck with my family.
"Give me another!"
Orochimaru obliged, and I beared the pain with a smile. One day...
I woke up at the crack of dawn on a familiar couch, down at Orochimaru's lab. I ﬂexed my ﬁngers and felt the burn of stiffened limbs gradually die into a dull ache. Looking around, I noticed no one was around. A ﬁle was left out on the coffee table in front of me and after taking a moment to truly wake up, I picked it up and sat down with the contents.
"Subject requested for a third dose before she passed out from strain. Metabolic functions will recover to standard health after a period of 2 weeks. Subject will be required to take two haemoglobin tablets and a prophylactic dose once every day after a meal."
I mumbled off and took notice of the pills sitting innocuously besides the folder. After pocketing the medicine I decided to make my way home. It was morning out and I ﬁgured I must have slept the whole night in the lab instead of going home.
The sun glared down at me, and I found myself blinking back black spots, before my vision ﬁnally adjusted to the outside world. I felt mostly the same. The events from the night before had been unpleasant, but it hadn't left me feeling hollow or tired. For all of Orochimaru's dickish behaviour, he never seemed to manage making me feel so irrevocably done with my life. Maybe it was because his very existence was a buffer between me and Danzo.
"Tadaima," I greeted, as I opened the door to the bakery.
A cloud of flour hit my face and I stumbled back in confusion, drawing out a kunai reflexively before I waved away the air with a basic wind technique. The white fog of flour cleared, and I was met with the sight of Taichi, Matsu and Guy drenched in various ingredients. I blinked in confusion before contemplating just closing the door and walking away like I never saw anything. I was about to do just that when Guy sprung forward and pulled me into a bone crushing hug.
"Congratulations Hina-chan! I heard of your most youthful promotion!"
I was spun around like a ragdoll by the boy, and honestly, I didn't have enough strength to protest, so I let Matsu and Taichi pry his hands off me. After taking a moment to sort myself out, and gain a modicum of poise back, I eventually decided to greet him.
"Troublesome as always huh, Guy-kun," I said fondly.
"Ah, you and Kakashi are always so hip and cool!" he grumbled before his eyes widened as if he remembered something. "On that note! I have arrived today to take you out no matter the method!"
Taichi sighed and decided to explain instead, pushing Guy to the side for a second. "What he's trying to say is that your friends organised a celebration for your promotion to Chunin."
I looked around at the mess and raised a brow. "That doesn't exactly explain the mess."
Matsu flushed and grumbled something under his breath, while Taichi just sent him an irritated look. "I might have challenged Guy… we ended up having a bake off. Which he lost mind you! I would never make such a mess!"
"I am unaccustomed to the art of baking!" Guy said unashamedly. "Although I assure you, this challenge will not remain unfinished! I will bake an edible loaf of bread!"
"That's really not necessary," Taichi mumbled, rubbing his forehead to stave-of a headache. "I would actually appreciate it if you wouldn't actually. Anyway, I'm going to get Hina into a dress. You lot don't touch anything else. I mean it!"
He sent the two boys a pointed glare, and I was reminded of tousan. I blinked back the image and let Taichi hold my hands. He pulled me up into my room with an uncharacteristic amount of confidence. He really had changed.
"You really should tell Matsu to refrain from challenging Guy, or he'll never hear the end of it. I certainly don't," I said amused.
Taichi let out a grumble, dusting off some more white flour from his hair before opening my wardrobe. He shuffled through my clothes and handed me a deep blue and green outfit. He really did have an eye for fashion. Him and Kurenai would have really dominated the fashion industry if they were born in my old world.
"You don't look excited," Taichi said, looking away a little awkwardly.
"I just don't feel like celebrating… doesn't feel like there's anything to celebrate anymore," I said truthfully, before absently running my fingers over the soft cotton.
"I think it's worth celebrating," he said startling me from my thoughts. "You're alive, and you've made it this far haven't you. That's always worth celebrating."
His words were soft and kind and reminded me of the old Taichi just a little, except now his words weren't just pretty, it felt real. I nodded, unable to truly bring myself to smile more than forcing an upward tilt of my lips. It seemed to assuage his fears for a second.
"I guess it's ok to be grateful for what we do have," I relented.
"You remember what I told you?"
"It's ok to grieve and it's ok to cry, but it's not ok to lose yourself to pain," I recited.
"That's right. Kaasan and Tousan wouldn't want you to mope about forever anyway."
I chuckled at that. "When did you go and decide to grow up without me, huh?"
"Since the day I realised you needed me."
His answer to my mostly joking question made my heart flutter. I leant in and put my forehead against his shoulder. Sometimes a gesture spoke more than a thousand words. I was glad. It had been a long time since I felt like this.
"Your welcome. Now let's go celebrate."
"An Akimichi barbecue joint? Isn't this expensive?" I asked.
"Well it is a once in a lifetime celebration," Taichi reminded me.
I relented to that logic and followed him inside. I was greeted to the sight of Kurenai, Asuma, and Guy waving at me from the table. I noted a mop of familiar blond hair and was surprised to see both Kakashi and Minato there too. I stopped in my tracks when I saw a familiar tall ﬁgure.
No, not sensei. I paused, unsure of what to do when he turned to me and smiled kindly. I felt my head jerk away in shame. After treating him so terribly and practically shaming him by changing sensei's, I didn't really have the right to look him in the eye. I felt a bout of panic when Taichi pat my shoulders and pointedly left me alone so I could talk to him. He walked up to me and the conﬂicted feeling twisted deeper.
"Just because I'm not your sensei anymore doesn't mean I can't be in your life kiddo," he sighed, scratching his neck.
"I... this is awkward huh," I said ﬁdgeting.
"Now that you said it, it is," he laughed, which dragged a chuckle out of me too.
I looked up meekly and searched his face for any resentment. He didn't look angry. Not one bit. Relief blossomed in my chest and it was only overshadowed when his face took a guilty twist.
"I should have visited before. After everything you've been through, I couldn't ﬁnd the right time. Can you forgive me?"
I gaped in confusion. Forgive him? What was there to forgive? I was the one who pushed him away, granted it was a logical necessity at this stage. I was only dragging him into certain death if I let him stay in my life. Still he was looking at me as if he knew something and was unable to tell me of it. I knew that look well. I could never be truly truthful in this life. It was built on lies from the very beginning. Still, it was out of place on someone as open and honest as Gaku. I wanted to press for answers, but it felt incredibly hypocritical of me.
"It's not your fault. I'm ok now," I said lamely.
There was so much more I could say, but words always escaped me. I would no doubt look back later when all was said and done and think up a million things I should have said instead. I ran my hand through my hair and breathed deeply in through my nose.
"It's ok to not be ok," he said.
"People keep telling me that, but I'm ok."
There are things left to lose, I thought wryly. I looked up at Gaku and felt my heart stammer a beat. I could lose him too, and Taichi, and Tsukiya and the thought itself sent me spiralling into anxiety.
"I'm really proud of you, kiddo. I want you to know that. If you're ever in trouble I'm always here."
I nodded but didn't say much else. Thankfully, we had said our pieces and I was glad to be back in a group setting. It meant I wouldn't be the only one talking. I accepted a bunch of congratulations on everyone's part and was piled with gifts.
"That's a wet stone," Asuma said. "Thought you'd appreciate something practical."
"Thanks, this will deﬁnitely come in handy."
It was a weighty stone and looked to be of better quality. I ﬁled through the rest and found some other kunai care items. Kurenai brought me a pair of healed steel tipped boots. I nearly laughed at how she took both fashion and practicality into account. Running in small heels would be good to learn as a kunoichi simply because we did most of the infiltration missions… and anyone who's been kicked by heels knows how stupidly painful it is.
"There's a hidden blade compartment in the heels. So if you ever need to stab someone with your feet, you can just activate the chakra there."
That was admittedly awesome. Guy have me a massive shuriken and several chakra steel strings. Minato and Kakashi had picked out a present together and had gotten me some rather well-made explosive tags and smoke bombs. It was Gaku's turn and when I unwrapped his present, I paused. A scroll. I opened it and found the beast style form and my eyes shot up in surprise.
"B-but I'm not—"
"I told you, I'd eventually teach it to you. Your Taijutsu style wouldn't work without it."
I felt like tearing up, and I couldn't help that I leant over and hugged him for a short second. The brief contact had made me feel safe and pulled an emotion from me I hadn't felt in a while. It was a good feeling.
"Oh and before I forget. Hanami said she's sorry for not making it today. She got you a present too," Gaku said pulling out a blue box.
I opened it and found a book on the tenketsu system. This would be useful. My thoughts were taken from my presents to the food. The smell of heavenly meat hit our noses, and everyone happily began piling the food on. Kakashi who was sitting next to me, somehow was chewing his food before anyone even saw.
"How the heck do you do that?!" Asuma demanded.
"Kakashi is most stealthy!" Guy admitted.
I chuckled. "I personally think it's a genjutsu."
I was surprised when Kakashi sent me a glare. Minato laughed and I snorted.
"What? It's just a theory," I said.
"A genjutsu? Do you know a few Kakashi-kun?" Kurenai asked in apt interest.
"A few," he replied vaguely.
"Can you teach me some day?" Kurenai asked, her red eyes brimming with interest.
Kakashi paused before hesitantly nodding. Asuma snorted, taking my attention away.
"First we gotta get someone to teach us how to water walk," he grumbled.
Wait, he was still stuck on that? I laughed when Minato pointedly told him he needed to tree walk ﬁrst. Asuma, in classic Asuma fashion said he didn't need to if he could just climb trees with his hands. The conversations was so normal, and even Taichi had integrated so easily in with the ninja, that it made me forget my stressful life for a moment. I joined in, laughing, and chatting with my friends. I knew it was foolish to feel so at ease, but the atmosphere was contagious.
"You're smiling Hi-chan," Taichi noted.
"I am, aren't I?"
Peace was a ﬁckle thing. ROOT came to me soon after, and I found myself back in the hell hole of underground corridors that smelt of cold steel and sanitised blood. The world seemed to be pulling me from the casual company of friends to the dark corners of human depravity in a jarring fashion. I found the sudden change not so foreign anymore. I had become so used to how completely different my life could become. Kusari grounded me in this dark place.
"You brought another book?" he asked.
I nodded and handed him a romance novel I had brought solely for him. I didn't really have the time to read anymore. Getting an emotional response from Kusari was hard these days. He had shut himself of from his emotions like he had been taught. ROOT agents were trained to be tools, a degrading position that somehow shinobi seemed to hold in high regard. What was the point of becoming an emotionless husk, if you lost what made you who you are in the ﬁrst place? I was Kusari's last link to his humanity.
"They... love each other. They kiss and hold hands and they're always there. Can I hold your hands and kiss you?"
I blinked in surprise. His steel blue eyes didn't hold any shyness or joy or anticipation. He was asking for something so intimate without even a glimmer of emotion. I held out my hands and wrapped my ﬁngers around his. He leant forward and my hand shot up reﬂexively to stop his face before it reached mine. A glimmer of confusion and hurt wrung through his eyes and I sighed.
"Sorry... It's not your fault."
"You don't love me?" he asked, face twisting in not quite a grimace but not a pleasant emotion either.
Did I love Kusari? He was just a boy who looked like my late cousin, someone I wanted to protect for my own selﬁsh purposes. I realised my feelings for him were more than a little complicated.
"There are different kinds of love," I began explaining.
Was it a good idea giving him a bunch of romance novels to give him a framework for emotions? It was the only thing that held his attention when it came to emotions and I didn't know what else to do.
"Different kinds of love?" he asked cocking his head.
"Yes, it's not just an act. It's a feeling. When you hold someone in such high regard that you would give anything for them. That's love. When you... kiss that's a different kind of love. Sexual."
"Yes, sometimes it's purely physical, but sometimes it can be love too. When the feeling and the physical combine," I struggled to explain to the best of my abilities. "I love you Kusari-kun, but I don't want to kiss you because there's no physical love between us, just emotional."
"But you're holding my hands. That is physical, yes? Do you love me sexually too?"
I spluttered for a second, unsure of how exactly to explain things. I groaned and put a palm on my face. First Matsu didn't understand what bisexuality meant, and now a 7-year-old kid was asking me about kissing and romance. I was too old for this crap. I should be dealing with a mid-life crisis at my age, not literally going through puberty related questions again.
"There's different levels of sexuality. We're considered friends. Friends have each other's backs and care about each other. That means we can hold hands and hug and tell each other anything, but we don't kiss ok."
"Friends... I like that," he mused, his lips quirking upward.
I could almost imagine Josh's wide smile on his face. My cousin was such a good person, his smile had been bright even after all his pain. Kusari was not him, no matter how alike they looked. This boy was a different person, and I needed to treat him like that. He trusted me. I was the only person in his life for comfort and it was unfair of me to let him down. It made me angry that Danzo had taken away his smile, and his ability to feel. Wasn't that what it meant to be human?
I held his hand a little tighter and pulled him into a hug. If we were caught doing this, I didn't want to think of the punishment we might receive, but for once I didn't really care.
"You had my back when you attacked Hakanai. You killed her for me."
How fucked up was it, that murder almost felt like a present?
"For us," I said truthfully. "I hate how they have so much power over us."
"Why, we are simply tools?"
"Do we look like fucking kunai?" I asked a little harshly before I pinched his skin. "This is ﬂesh not steel. We use tools, but we aren't tools. Tools don't have friends or feel things. Don't ever let them win Kusari-kun, don't ever stop feeling."
"Not a tool?" he whispered, face twisting in painful confusion.
He trusted me, and so my words affected him as much as his conditioning did. I felt an unhealthy satisfaction about his ambivalence despite his pain. This was good. This meant Danzo didn't truly have him. Danzo would never have what was mine again and Kusari was mine.
"I don't understand," he said softly.
"You will one day. When no one can ever use you again and I'll make sure of it."
"Why? What would be the point of my existence then?"
I paused and frowned. What would be his point? I didn't know and I didn't want to tell him his reason for existing. Kusari had no family to protect, and I was his only bond. I doubted I would kill him when we were inevitably asked to ﬁght each other to the death. I would rather die myself than kill someone with my cousin's face. Living after that would be too painful. How selﬁshly unselﬁsh of me.
"It's ok to live Kusari-kun. It's ok to feel and to be confused. Fight for the important things in your life. Promise me Kusari-kun, that you won't die until you ﬁnd your meaning."
He nodded with conviction and I held out my pinky. It was such a childish exchange, but for the boy who never knew anything else, it was a bond he would never break. When I smiled at him next, a fondness rose in my chest and I knew he was more than just an obligation, because Kusari was a person too, and he was mine.
After my talk with Kusari I sparred with him and spent the next few hours learning about various common poisons, their symptoms, cures, and applications on the ﬁeld. ROOT training was good for something at least. I never truly stayed for all of it, because Orochimaru still had dibs on me. While I was required to learn ROOT protocol and their style of teamwork, if you could call being an expendable meat-sack teamwork, I was still Orochimaru's student. That meant I was at least not as expendable as the rest of the nameless faceless shinobi who had given up their goddamn humanity.
I changed into my everyday uniform and made my way to the exit where Orochimaru was waiting for me, leaning casually against a wall.
"Orochimaru-sama," I greeted.
"When will you ever call me sensei?" he sighed in mock-hurt.
I just shrugged. I didn't ever want to call him sensei. Gaku was my sensei, heck Hanami was also my sensei, but not Orochimaru. I'd have better luck calling him Orochimaru-the-Danzo-buffer than sensei. Still, he had never been particularly bothered by it until today.
"Why do you care?" I asked curiously.
"Well you are going to meet your new team, aren't you?"
I looked up in surprise. No wonder he seemed more annoyed than usual. Still it was deﬁnitely a calmer presence than what he was like after talking to the Hokage.
"They won't know about... this right?" I asked, gesturing at the both of us.
Orochimaru chuckled. "No, I don't need another assistant. They are simply an obligation."
Wow, I almost wished I could transfer those poor kids to Gaku. Orochimaru may be strong but he would be a terrible teacher. I should know, he hardly instructed me beyond giving me a book or on the occasion directing me to yet another book. It fit my learning style perfectly, but with anyone else it would be detrimental to their progress. He did instruct me very well during the experiments though, so it's not for a lack of ability but for a lack of trying. It worked in my favour of course. I could happily sneak in Fuinjutsu books to study since he hardly ever monitored me, not that he would discourage me from biting Danzo's ass since he hated him too.
We took to the trees and I was instructed to follow along silently. There was meant to be a test of some sort, a kind of graduation staple apparently. I hadn't been tested by Gaku at all. He just measured out my ability and started training asap. I honestly had no idea what Orochimaru had planned. It wasn't until we reached training ground 13 that we stopped and I ﬁnally got a good look at my future teammates.
They looked a few years older than me. I noticed Anko almost instantly with her dark purple hair and beige clothes. The boy however I hadn't heard of before. His name was Rui if I remembered correctly. He had short light blue hair, pale skin, and pale purple, almost blue eyes. Between the two of them he certainly looked like the more relaxed one.
"So what's the plan?" I asked.
Orochimaru grinned my way.
"You're going to attack them."
What indeed. Hina is going to have a fun time warming up to her first genin team XD So for context, Hina is one month from being 8 right now, and she's been a Genin for a year and a bit. Kakashi and Guy are 8 but that's because they're 6 months older than Hina. Taichi is around 11 at this stage. Rui and Anko are around 10 years old. Man writing that down really puts into perspective how fucked up the Naruto-verse really is. These kids should be going to school, not to war.
Character breakdown special!
Hina being a biochemist is integral to her character and ideology. She states very clearly that family is something to protect, that blood is more than just love, but an obligation. This is how Hina explains her feelings of affection because she's driven by logic and so needs a frame of reference for why she feels a certain way. To Hina, love is intrinsically tied to her biological imperative. She views the world from a very scientiﬁc lens and often discounts the abstract. Her mother points this out in her ﬁrst nightmare sequence in chapter 17 when she says, 'Sometimes logic doesn't explain what you truly need'. To Hina, love is logical, it is a method a species uses for cooperation and survival. She ties her worth to fulﬁlling this obligation (although really, it's driven by illogical and entirely emotionally driven guilt), which is challenged when she kills her parents to save her brothers.
She thinks this way, and yet she also is a hypocrite because she loves illogically. This can be seen how she comes to care for Emi during her ﬁrst mission on the front lines, despite only knowing the girl for a little while. Meanwhile she can be dispassionate about the welfare of Orochimaru's experiments because they aren't her obligation, and while she has very human moments of sympathy for them, she can just as easily compartmentalise and desensitise herself because of her ﬂawed understanding of what it means to be human. Essentially Hina as a character is on a journey to ﬁnd her soul, what it means to be human.
I write most of my characters as hypocrites. They think one way and act another because I ﬁnd that all humans in real life are hypocrites too. We usually say one thing and do another. In this story Orochimaru is a foil to Hina. He doesn't follow the notions of human limitations or the biological imperative like she does. He wishes to overcome it. He's a hypocrite because in the end he wishes for a successor/child like all humans do and moulds Hina to be like himself. In doing so he is fulﬁlling a very human/biological need for progeny. (I think this can also be seen in Boruto too with Mitsuki)
This story is partly an exploration on human nature (questioning whether war/love/greed, are all things we are born with or whether we can change). Naruto canon does this too, exploring the cycle of hatred, destiny vs autonomy and overcoming prejudice. I'm not going to go down the Naruto canon route with my themes, but they will be somewhat related, especially later on when Ninshu gets touched upon.
Hope you enjoyed this breakdown!