Snap Back To Reality 41
There was very little downtime to be had in this career. So often I would simply spend my time rushing through one task or another. I was ready to continue my work on Fuinjutsu when I felt Taichi standing behind me, arms folded and glaring daggers at the back of my head.
"You've been looking at those scrolls all night, haven't you?"
I chuckled nervously. Taichi had effectively learnt how to glare like Mebuki and right now he looked every bit like an angry mother hen, arms crossed wearing an apron, holding his spatula rather threateningly too. I held out my hands in surrender.
"Please don't kill me. I'll take a break!" I said quickly.
"You better! You only get two weeks off and all you do is work! Did you even think about Tsukiya's feelings? He waited seven months for you and when you did come back you haven't even looked his way!"
I ﬂinched away before effectively being cowed. I had neglected him, hadn't I? Always too busy doing something to spend a moment with him. I was a terrible sister.
"He doesn't... hate me, does he?" I asked.
Taichi's lips drew into a thin line. He looked a mixture of irritated and sympathetic. All I could really do was dote on Tsukiya. I wasn't the one who had practically raised him. That was Taichi. In the end I was the one away from home for months. It had been a particularly devastating day when I had come home two years ago and Tsukiya shied away from me like I was a stranger. How could he not when I was practically just that?
"He looks up to you. It's partially my fault," Taichi said stiffly.
"Your fault?" I asked in confusion.
Taichi sighed and ran ﬁngers through his wavy chin length hair. He may have only been 14 but he looked much older. This world had a way of doing that to you.
"I didn't want you to be a stranger, so I told him stories of you. He thinks you're some cool ninja of justice."
I shrunk further into my seat and felt my vision swim for a moment. Cool ninja of justice... that wasn't me. I was anything but cool or a hero. I had failed our parents. I had spent hours upon hours aiding a criminal in experiments that were beyond inhumane. I had killed hundreds of people in dirty, unfair ways. I didn't deserve to be looked up to.
"Does it matter?" Taichi asked harshly. "He looks up to you either way. It doesn't matter what you are or aren't. It's your duty now to live up to his expectations, to set a good example for him, and most importantly—be there for him."
Taichi let his sentence settle and I remained silent, eyes on my lap. To live up to his vision of me... could I do that? Was it possible to be something great when I was anything but that? Just like usual, Taichi caught my sudden plummet in mood and decided to distract me.
"Tonight is the Winter Festival. Take Tsukiya out. I will be having a busy day selling pastries at the stall."
I nodded smiling a bit at that. It was always great to see how the business was ﬂourishing. As it turned out, Mebuki was a rather business savvy woman, or rather, both her and her boyfriend were. Their help had been what eventually got the bakery back to its pre-war goodness. Adding my excess mission money to the pool meant that we could afford buying extra sugar and other spices again. We had effectively cornered the civilian market on sweets in our district. Only a few handful of sweet shops still existed within Konoha, and the demand for sweets in general were pretty high. Sugar wasn't as rare a commodity as spices or chocolate were, so dango and mochi weren't so uncommon, but finding a cinnamon roll or a chocolate cake was hard and expensive. For Taichi to have pulled the business up like he did was more than good funding. It was because he had a good head on his shoulder and a knack for dealing with merchants.
"I'm glad we're selling pastries again. You know kaasan and tousan would be proud of you," I said squeezing his hand.
His eyes shimmered with growing tears, but he blinked them mostly away, letting a few drop. He pulled me into a hug which I didn't ﬁght.
"I miss them," Taichi said, his voice cracking with emotion.
"I know," I replied hugging him tighter.
"But you and Tsu, and heck—even Cousin Matsu—you're all that's left, so I don't want to see any of you drifting apart. We have to stick together."
I closed my eyes and sighed before pulling away. I had been so caught up on keeping them alive that I hadn't taken a moment to live with them.
"Come on, let's go make some cinnamon rolls together. I might actually make a baker out of you one day," he snorted.
"Ha! Good luck with that," I laughed.
I looked down at my little brother and realised how tiny he was. He gave me a blinding smile, holding out his little hands which I took somewhat reverently. It was so small. He straightened out his light mint-green kimono with white petal designs on it and I was reminded of his unusual interest in mimicking me. It looked like he speciﬁcally chose a kimono that looked like mine. I didn't know whether to be worried or proud. So often Taichi and I had fought right after his birth about who was the one between us who Tsukiya would idolize and love the most. Now that I knew it was me, I wasn't so sure I was ready for what that implied. Back then I hadn't failed my family, back then I wasn't worse than trash.
"I love the winter festival! So much dango," he said excitedly.
I chuckled. I hoped he'd never meet Anko. I doubt my wallet would survive that encounter.
"So where do you want to go ﬁrst Tsu-chan?" I asked.
"The Kabuki performance!"
I nodded before guiding him through the streets. We milled in with the crowd soon and I ended up squeezing into the front where all the children sat about. It was a little embarrassing having to go to the kiddies' section, but... tousan wasn't here to hold me or Taichi up to see the play. I felt my throat restrict at the memory. Tsukiya would never have that again because of me. I took that from him.
My thoughts were broken by Tsukiya's soft, worried voice. I looked down to see vibrant eyes shining up at me in worry. He may be a child, but the little humans were oddly more perceptive than people gave them credit for. I ruﬄed his green hair and snorted at his irritated expression.
"Hey! Don't mess tha hair!" he grumbled.
I chuckled and he looked down pouting, a blush taking his face. I was going to tease him for being adorable when the podium lit up and the performers walked in. The crowd hushed into whispers and then into silence when the first chord of the shamisen was struck. Long ago when dad had taken me for this festival, I couldn't even name half the instruments around, but looking at it now I knew more than enough. Because of Rui—who was on stage?! He was sitting up the back with a Koto in hand, strumming the chords with a wide grin on his painted face. He was quite enjoying the moment until he caught my eyes in the crowd and his face broke into mild alarm, his strumming breaking rhythm for a moment before he caught himself. The man besides him playing the Noh drum next to him sent him a quick stink eye, effectively bringing his concentration back to the music.
Huh, what was Rui doing on stage? Why didn't he tell Anko and I about his performance? He wasn't usually tight lipped about his performances. In fact he played his shamisen to a client upon request without even a moment of hesitation. Stage fright and Rui weren't two words one usually strung together in a sentence.
"This is tack'hy," Tsukiya said breaking me from my thoughts with his adorable lisp.
"Shh Tsu-chan. Don't be rude," I hushed him, but a smile played at my face.
He pouted, probably regretting asking to see the performance instead of going as quickly as he could to the game stalls. I, however, was more than invested already. My first and only Kabuki performance had been a rehashing of Madara and Hashirama's life. It was a struggle of epic proportions between two warring clans, a friendship, and then ultimately a betrayal. This time it was about the Sage of Six Paths. His tale was interesting. It definitely seemed more than a little fabricated and grand, and I remembered canon being entirely different, but the way he spoke—or was it the actor—either way it was beautiful in its profound simplicity.
"They squander away in war," Indra hissed.
"And you believe adding to it will help?" Hagoromo asked.
"It is the only way!"
"Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate the mountains and the earth. It is not through hard will that a true warrior fights, but through the softness of his principles, for it is goodness, and like water it ever seeks the lowest place."
I was more than a little curious. This felt like a familiar reading. When I looked around, I was more than a little surprised to see several people in the crowd mouthing the words. A popular religious script? I'd heard of the Six Paths edicts, but I'd never truly taken the time to learn them. Water as something soft… what an unusual analogy. Water came to me in my dreams like a rushing tsunami, a drowning force of nature. There was nothing soft about it. But watching this story unfold, a story of peace… I was left wondering whether it could be true.
And then he ended his final breath with words that I myself could never truly reconcile.
"If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of the end, there is nothing you cannot achieve."
I hadn't realised I had been squeezing Tsukiya's hands too hard until he pried it away, or that a considerable portion of the audience was clearly conflicted by the play. The number of shinobi I had seen before had dwindled, leaving in uncomfortable silence. The ones who did remain had an air of solemnity. Wasn't this meant to be a festival of lights and thankfulness?
"What's wrong?" Tsukiya asked, tugging at my kimono sleeve.
I blinked away the uncomfortable feeling and looked down as my thoughts were drowned away by the crowds muted applause. The civilians would never truly understand. Their jobs didn't revolve around a constant worry of oncoming death. For many shinobi, the weight of murder was something too heavy to shoulder. Grown men broke down under the weight of a crushed soul. It didn't matter how old, how wise, or how physically strong you were; killing had a way of profoundly changing you. For the lucky ones like myself, it wasn't a burdening yolk on our necks, but for many killing took a toll on their soul that they would never get back. Then to see a play condemning war and killing as a whole—it would no doubt be uncomfortable, almost accusing.
I shook my head at my brother and plastered on a reassuring smile. He cocked his head in confusion and I patted his hair. I could see him catch something from the corner of his eyes and almost instantly his mood plummeted. I turned around to see him looking directly at a father holding his son on his shoulder from the crowd… like tousan had done for me. Tsukiya had the look of terrible longing in his eyes, and I felt a stab of pain in my heart, condemning me for what I had done.
"Hey Tsu-chan, why don't you get on my shoulders?" I asked.
"Really?" he asked, perking up as a smile took his face.
I nodded and bent over to let him climb up on my shoulders. He rested his chin on my head, and I bit back how deeply uncomfortable the weight on my head made me. His giggles of joy was enough to make me forget my intrinsic fear of being touched.
"Your hair is really soft! Was… was tousan's hair this soft?"
I froze for a moment. It was soft…
"It was," I said stiffly.
"You and Tai-nii don't ever talk about them," Tsukiya pressed.
We didn't, did we? I personally was never asked the question. Not to mention, it felt incredibly wrong of me to even tell Tsukiya about our parents when I had been the one to kill them. Even if I was giving him the popular story of how it happened, and not the brutal truth, how did one go about telling their little brother that their mother supposedly went mad, killed their dad, and was proceeded to be killed by her daughter? It was a fucked-up mess of events that no kid should have to hear.
"You don't have to tell me," he said softly.
I frowned. He sounded so sad, so… wistful. I hadn't been a good sister to him before, and I didn't know why Taichi never told Tsukiya anything about our parents, but it felt cruel to keep it from him. I could tell him the benign things, right?
"Tousan was very tall," I began, and with just those words I could feel Tsukiya stiffen on top of me. "He was strong, and kind, and very soft-spoken, but he never backed down from his work. He was a man of integrity."
"It means he kept his word. He didn't lie, he never cheated, and he was always so loving and protective."
"Like Tai-nii," Tsukiya asked.
I nodded. "Yes, just like Tai-nii. He would have loved to watch you grow up you know."
"Why can't he? Nii-chan always says he's watching… I just don't understand'h why he can't be here and watch too."
My heart twisted in my chest.
"You'll understand when you're older."
"Nii-chan says the same thing," Tsukiya pouted.
"Well that's because we're smart ok. Now come on, I saw something I want to investigate."
I was very glad for the change of subject, even though it did make me guilty that I couldn't say more. Still a part of me was relieved because I didn't want to focus on the pain, not when the anxiety I had for the future was debilitating enough. I preferred to live in the present, and right now, in this very instance, the biggest question in my head was: why exactly was Rui in a performance without telling either me or Anko? And not to mention, how exactly did he find the time to practice for it?
"Are we playing capture the missin'gh nin?" Rui asked.
"Spot on! Our target right now is Chinsei Rui. He's got light blue hair and pale grey eyes and is wearing a Kabuki disguise!" I said in a dramatically excited voice to get my otouto ramped up.
He was taking the bait, because his excitement was reaching new peaks again and he was actively looking around. I didn't really need his help though. I was trained under an Inuzuka for a long time. I had above average tracking skills. Once I had located his position in a performers tent, I gestured to my little brother for silence. He giggled in excitement as I climbed up a tree and he held on tightly. Then once Rui moved into position, I bounced down behind him, scaring the absolute breeches off the boy. He jumped forward, holding his chest before turning to send me a rather exasperated look.
"You and sensei!" he grumbled in disbelief. "You two are going to elicit a cardiac arrest and then it will be my head on your hands!"
"Oh don't be dramatic. You saw me in the crowd and you still weren't prepared," I snickered.
He composed himself and sighed in irritation, pushing back his pale shoulder length hair. It dropped right back down his neck considering it was too silky to even be properly tied up. He looked the picture definition of irritated and flustered.
"We caught you, criminal scum!" Tsukiya finally bellowed as he jumped from my shoulder straight on top of the boy, with remarkable dexterity.
Suffice to say, Rui was incredibly confused.
I didn't really have the time to interrogate Rui about his secret stage performance, not with Tsukiya high on sugar. So I dragged my teammate to all the stalls as Tsukiya eventually wore himself down. It was only when the sun was setting that I managed to finally sit down alongside Rui as we both munched on some biscuits. Tsukiya was asleep on my lap and I finally had a moment of silence.
"Your otouto is… energetic," Rui commented, although there was an amused expression on his face.
"You can call it as it is you know. He's a handful," I replied fondly, running my fingers through his hair.
"My otouto is just like that," Rui commented, although his smile weaned.
"You have a brother?" I asked.
Rui's lips thinned and then he looked away. He was more than a little emotionally constipated, and so I often had a hard time reading him. His generic facial expression was passivity, on the occasion he would look absolutely done with Anko and my fights, but mostly he was a relaxed child. Hardly did he ever look sad. I must have hit a nerve with my question, and I wanted so terribly to backtrack.
"It's ok. You don't need to tell me anything you know… well other than why exactly you joined a Kabuki performance without telling me or Anko," I said, expertly changing the subject.
Rui sighed, looking entirely exasperated as I nudged his side playfully. He was a no-nonsense kind of boy and it was oddly refreshing.
"Anko-san would no doubt garner some sort of mortifying joy out of pestering me from the crowd," he said, looking incredibly annoyed.
I laughed. She really would do that! She was a little shit. His expression turned a little more closed off and sad after that.
"And my family was very adamant against my involvement in this play, so really no one was meant to know. I thought the face paint would help, but judging from the way you spotted me in the crowd, I'm sure it was of no use."
"Huh, why?" I asked.
"Art has always been about pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo. Currently village morale is at an all-time low, and many people are shouting for an end to the war, even if it means we bend the knee to Kumo and Iwa's demands. Not only would we legally be giving up mission rights but also be paying a hefty sum in reparations. The play was a call for a ceasefire. The Sage of Six Paths has always been a symbol of peace, and it's a dangerous symbol right now to the people advocating for a continuation of the war."
"The play was pretty anti-war," I agreed, frowning as I let the information sink before I turned to Rui. "And you believe in its message?"
I'd never seen so much conviction before in his eyes.
"I hate war."
Neither had I heard such loathing from his voice before. He clenched and unclenched his trembling fists in a motion to calm himself down. I knew he didn't like taking life. He had taken it very hard the first time he had killed someone out in the field. I remembered his cry, a soul-clenching sound of pain and a loss of something I couldn't quite put a finger on. It wasn't a moment of celebration like it had been for me, a victory in a line of future victories to be had. For Rui it was something he never spoke about. He hardly spoke on the matter of his emotions either before.
For how much we all trusted each other with our lives, we tended to keep our thoughts on war and family tight lipped. I knew nothing about Anko, or Rui's home life, and they knew nothing about mine either. With how little time we had in the village before a mission, and our obviously not-so-perfect homelives, we never really spent any given spare moment together talking about depressing things. We knew our lives were far from perfect, so instead we shared the things that put a smile on our faces. For me it was playing shogi with them, for Anko it was teaching us how to properly conduct a tea ceremony, and for Rui it was helping us learn how to play music.
Sometimes I did wonder though… what their lives were like at home. But then it all seemed to come back to war didn't it. For those whose blood didn't sing during battle it wasn't a pleasant place to be. While I had thought Rui was the cold, calculative kind at the start, I had begun to see that he was the most compassionate of us all. His worry was simply masked by statistics and a blunt logic. For him to hide his thoughts on an issue meant he thought it worrying enough to avoid the consequences. It didn't sit well with me. Rui was truthful to a fault. No one should have to take it from him, make him live a life strung full of lies like I found myself living.
"You shouldn't ever apologise if they find out," I finally said. "There's very little time in this life to be spent apologising for things we're not sorry about."
Rui nodded, his face going back to its usual passivity. He was calm again. This was more like him. We sat in silence overlooking a crowd of gathered families and friends all holding lanterns, and I wondered if I should have said more, maybe validated his hate for war or challenged it. I couldn't really find the energy to do either. It was beyond my reach, a string of events that I had no control over, and therefore I found no reason to feel much beyond a personal sort of annoyance at the constant work it threw at me.
The hour to light the lanterns was nearly upon us. I nudged Tsukiya awake when I saw Taichi walk towards us. He sent Rui an odd look but otherwise the two boys made no comment. Instead Taichi held out the paper lantern in his hand and I couldn't help but remember back to that night... the night when my world truly snapped.
"Is it time for tha'h lanterns?" Tsukiya asked rubbing his eyes.
"Yeah. It is. Do you want to light the lantern?" Taichi asked.
Tsukiya nodded and I helped him hold the lantern properly while Taichi carefully handed him the match. Our little lantern lit up and I watched as Taichi picked up our baby brother and put him on his shoulders. He looked just like Noritaka.
Then we watched one more as the bells chimed, and the winter air defrosted a little as thousands of lights twinkled upwards into the night sky. I turned to Rui and found myself oddly hopeful in this moment.
"Nothing truly lasts forever."
Pale purple-grey eyes caught mine before turning to the night sky littered with hundreds of yellow lanterns. His eyes reflected the warm light. He saw it too. There was always an underlying current of hope in every tragedy. If I saw Rui blinking away tears, I made no move to comment. Right now our thoughts were on the future.
Just wanted to give a little perspective on how tired it would make the people involved in war feel. Not everyone is as driven or as apathetic as Hina. Most people would be absolutely weary after 4 years of fighting, death, and more fighting.
Also wanted to highlight the most stupid review I'd ever gotten in my life because I'm feeling very petty today.
"I always find that authors that write female MC tend to have them use seals/poison/traps/genjutsu. all the non-confrontational, weak arts. I am fairly sure it's a misogyny thing. I hate women so when i write one, she is going to be as useless as I can possibly can make her. always the same, weak useless female MC. your story is one of the worst in on this issue. I wonder what does that say about you as a person, author."
I'm legit so confused how you came to this conclusion whoever it is that wrote this. Seals are used by men and women in canon and is not indicative of ones gender role. Hina also doesn't often rely on traps or genjutsu. She is in fact a Taijutsu fighter first and foremost. While I wouldn't consider myself a feminist, I am an egalitarian, and a lesbian and in no way a misogynist.
What really bugs me is that this just perpetuates gender norms by associating traditionally female methods to being weak. Women are naturally physically weaker and finding ways around it just makes us stronger as individuals, not somehow inferior to men, not to say that some females (like Hina) can't find their calling in traditionally male oriented roles. I admit, I'm being very triggered right now XD and it can come off as a useless thing to be in the internet, but I feel better now that I've vented. I just get a lot of these kinds of comments in real life, on the internet and everywhere. I have no idea why everyone's so fixated on whether they have a vagina or a penis. For once it would be nice to treat individuals like individuals before we judge them by their gender or race.
Thank you for listening to this pointless ted-talk (sorry for wasting your time) ಡ‿ಡ