Snap Back To Reality 53
"No one else is here, huh," Anko huffed.
"There was no one else he really knew," Rui pointed out.
I placed a crane flower next to the tombstone. I had paid for it of course and so Kusari's remains were allowed to rest besides my parents rather than the mass grave that was being built for the many unnamed ROOT agents that had recently died.
"We're the only people he would have wanted to come," I replied with a frown.
Besides the people here to bury the casket, no one else asides from my team had come. I hadn't told anyone about Kusari, not that I physically could. Talking about him openly made my throat clench up and a sting of debilitating guilt to overcome me. In the end I couldn't save him... not really.
"The Crane flower is a good choice," Rui said, putting a hand on my shoulder to comfort me as I watched the casket drop down. "Let him, in death be free."
I nodded numbly and before long it was time to put the first soil on top. I grabbed a handful of dirt and dropped it on the coffin and both Anko and Rui did the same after. I gestured for the worker to cover it up and he did. It wasn't good luck to cry at a funeral and so we all held in our grief and watched as the coffin was entirely covered up.
"He was a good friend," Rui mumbled.
"The best," I agreed.
"We won't forget him you know, but I doubt he'd be the type to want us to whine over him for a long time," Anko said softly.
"No, he really would," I disagreed.
I pulled out a bag full of all the romance novels I had given him over the years. It really should have been in his possession for his future library or something equally as banal.
"He just acted aloof and uncaring, but he really enjoyed the drama. The longer we cry over him the more entertained he'd be in the afterlife," I explained sardonically.
"Don't give me a reason to," Rui grumbled as he wiped his eyes on his sleeve.
"The funerals practically over. You can do it as much as you want now," I replied, pulling him into a hug.
Anko joined in on the unusual group hug and Rui finally let out his tears. I couldn't bring myself to cry. A familiar numbness had settled in. All this pain over the years had drained all the tears from me. It felt like from now on I could only cry in relief rather than sadness. I had a feeling Kusari would have preferred that… well for me anyway. I was sure he was enjoying Rui's display of grief wherever he was.
It wasn't until an hour in that both Rui and Anko decided they would leave. I shook my head when they asked if I would go with them. I... I wanted to read him his favourite book today and so I sat down and flipped the pages of Suna Suna Romance.
"Hey Kakashi," I greeted.
Said boy jumped down from a nearby tree and strolled over to me, hands in pocket, a sad look in his eyes.
"How did you know I was here? I hadn't told anyone other than my team about the funeral," I asked.
"I know that look," he explained.
He knew what look... I fumbled a little in realisation and felt my chest drop a little. I didn't want to believe it, but the fact that I had neither seen Rin nor Obito with everyone else spoke volumes. So what the Hokage had said was true... and things didn't change as much as I had hoped.
"Obito and Rin?" I asked, with a frown.
"Dead," he replied softly as he took a seat beside me.
The fact that he was hiding his left eye under his hitaite meant more than a simple accident now. I had initially thought it was because he lost his eye like in the story... but that didn't mean Obito would die. To think his Sharingan was in there now. I hadn't known Obito too well, but I had played with him and Rin on the occasion as children. It felt alien to think of them as casualties of war and of Obito as some kind of pawn to a madman.
"Can I ask... how?"
"It was my fault... Rin was captured and to save me, he pushed me out of the way."
I grit my teeth together. That idiot! Why had I spent a whole day teaching him the body flicker technique if he wasn't going to use it? I wondered if maybe that wouldn't have helped. If maybe he was too low on chakra, but for something like this to happen in the exact same way... what was going on?
"I'm sorry for coming here to give you more bad news," Kakashi sighed.
"It's ok. I need to know... and Rin?" I asked.
Kakashi's hands began to shake and his pupil contracted. I held his hand and shook my head to tell him he didn't have to continue. I knew that look. The look you had when all you could see was the phantom blood of your loved ones on your hands. I didn't need him to voice it to know exactly what had happened. I was foolish. My mission had taken me out months away when crucial events were happening back in Konoha. It wouldn't have mattered much to me, if it weren't for the fact that it happened to Kakashi. But I had taught Obito the technique for body flicker in the limited time I was allowed. That at least should have saved him... unless Madara and Zetsu's planning had changed to procure the same results. That made sense for Rin, but it really didn't explain how Obito hadn't been able to escape the rock slide.
"I never told anyone about this," I began softly, "but when I killed my own mother, I tried to make it quick. I used the wind blade and I... went straight through her," I said my throat feeling dry at the admission as I made the motion with my palm.
I could almost imagine it so vividly again. My kaasan's look of pain and love in her eyes as I killed her. I was so caught up in the memory I had almost forgotten that Kakashi was sitting next to me. I had no idea what I meant to accomplish by telling him this. The blood would never wash of. The years would gradually numb the pain, but the shame of your actions would follow like an eternal stain. There was no good way out of it.
"Gaku-sensei told me that I had to take my failures like my victories. It's hard to do when your failures cost you the life of a precious person though," I said looking at the tombstone.
"It is," Kakashi whispered.
I put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a tired smile. He looked back, too young, too small to be going through this kind of grief. But Kakashi was always strong. He lost everything and he still stayed strong despite it all. There were still people here who hadn't given up on him like they hadn't for me, and despite how much I wanted to leave this village full of terrible memories, I couldn't for them. They were both my stronghold and my chains.
"I was reading Kusari his favourite novel. Want to listen?" I asked.
Kakashi nodded, and I opened the book once again and began reading.
The funeral had ended, I didn't want to go home, and so I found myself drinking sake in Orochimaru's cleared out lab. There was no one here and Orochimaru rarely came down this way. This was the only place I knew where I could really hurt myself properly in solitude. Though today there didn't seem to be any torment and it was a lot more peaceful here than I wanted. Now that all the prisoners weren't here sitting in their own defecation and sickness, it was left clean and empty. Their moans of crying and pain still seemed to echo through the walls like a ghost though.
"I was a really terrible person, wasn't I? To think I spent so much time cleaning up after you guys... now you're all gone," I chuckled as I poured myself another cup. "What if I end up one of those typical self-loathing types? The kind that drinks away their depression and cracks terrible jokes to cover up the pain... nah that only looks cool if you're a rugged looking middle-aged man in a trench coat. If a little girl did it, it would just be depressing—not cool at all."
"What are you murmuring about in here?"
"O-Orochimaru-sama!" I said in surprise as I spilled half the bottle by accident.
I cursed as I tried to pick it up and my half-drunk mind already went to ignoring the man and pouring myself another drink. To my dismay it was quickly snatched from my hands.
"Hey! Give it back," I protested.
Orochimaru threw the perfectly good bottle of sake away and kneeled down in front of me, grabbing me by my scalp and forcing me to face him. I felt a little prickle of familiar fear at his irritated expression.
"You gonna torture me again?" I chuckled.
"How much did you drink?" he asked.
"About 10 bottles. Too much poison resistance—stupid body," I complained.
"Either you snap out of this now or I'll put you in another Genjutsu I've been meaning to experiment on," Orochimaru threatened.
I sniffled and then chuckled despite the shiver that ran through my body. Liquid courage they called alcohol. I could see why.
"Ok sounds like fun. Let's try it."
He snorted in exasperation. "It's not nearly as fun torturing you when you want it. Now come on."
This must have been a hallucination because Orochimaru mumbled something about 'masochists' before he put one of my arms around his shoulder and picked me up. Yup this was definitely a dream. Orochimaru wasn't this nice. Was he? I snuggled my face into his neck and nearly feel asleep to the gentle jostling of his stride when I was suddenly, and very harshly thrown onto a hard chair. I woke up startled to see the man putting a needle into my arm. I tried to jerk away and found my hands clamped to the armchair.
"I have a feeling you came here to punish yourself for some inane reason or another. So I've decided you don't get that pleasure. This is a machine I've made that extracts toxins and poisons out of the bloodstream slowly and painfully... mmm so a bit of a punishment still but you'll survive. Have fun getting sober," he said smiling as he patted my cheeks and strolled out.
"No wait! Aghhhh Orochimaru! Don't be mean!"
I found myself kneeling down in front of a very irritated Sannin, feeling entirely too much like a chastised naughty child... with a killer headache and pins and needles all over my body.
"Now pray tell why you would think it's a good idea to come in here, drink yourself into a stupor and waste my time?" Orochimaru asked darkly.
I shrank a little at his death stare. Ugh... why had I? I had just missed drinking a little and then suddenly it had gotten out of hand. Maybe the idea of losing it a little sounded nice considering everything seemed to be pushing in on me now, from all my failures, to my worries about what Inoichi and the Hokage saw in my mind, to the war, Shikaku's betrayal, and Madara now getting his hands on Obito. I really did need a break. Plus it'd been too long since I'd been wasted. I thought I deserved it… although I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it was an unhealthy way to let loose.
"I will not do it again," I said instead.
"Good, next time I won't be so nice, but since you're here anyway I need to talk to you. As you've probably already noticed, I've transferred all my illegal experimentation to my hidden base in the Land of Rice. Hiruzen is onto me, and although I managed to evade notice in the Danzo incident—"
"—That's why you didn't summon Manda," I grumbled accusingly.
I scowled a little. So he really was also just using me to take the brunt of the fall when it came down to it. I had suspected of course but it still annoyed me that he did it. A part of me was still kind of in awe of how he managed to be so slimy to save his own skin. He smiled a little angrily at my interruption and I mimed zipping my lips.
"—I'm still under suspicion by association. Not to mention I heard word that Inoichi got his hands on you."
"It doesn't matter what he saw if he can't find evidence," I retorted. "Not that I think he saw anything important anyway."
Well technically it did matter but I had a feeling if he saw my past life's memories of reading a story on this world, then I would already be locked away in a deep, deep cell having my mind prodded by every single Yamanaka in the clan. Considering I was very much free, I had a feeling Inoichi only saw snippets of my current life, nothing too incriminating when it came to Orochimaru, and the only reason my mind was considered a low-tier secret was because of the fact that I was a confirmed reincarnation.
"Yes, but it does make my work a little harder to get to," Orochimaru replied.
"Do you have a plan?" I asked.
"Of course," he said idly.
"You want to be Hokage, don't you?" I asked.
He narrowed his eyes and finally looked straight at me. He did. It was a stupid idea. Not only would he be a terrible Hokage, but it would hamper his ability to do research unless he appointed someone to take care of the incredibly time-consuming task of running a military and a village whilst hiding his research at the same time. He'd be better of going Nuke to get what he wanted. At most he'd get more Sharingan eyes out of it… although now thinking about it, Orochimaru with experimentally evolved Sharingan eyes was a scary thought that should never become reality.
"You disagree?" he asked.
I nodded, feeling way too courageous today for it to be normal. I had a feeling if I was any other underling, he would kill me here and now.
"Konoha expects its Hokage to adhere to a certain morale code that you will not follow, not to mention it would take time away from your research, but I know you've already thought about this."
"Of course I have, and to begin my work I need to know I have your full support."
I tried not to falter in appearance because Orochimaru never really had my full support. He was always just a convenience, a convenience I regretted growing emotionally attached to. That was entirely my fault. Using him to get back at Danzo, had been necessary, but he had used me too. There was a level of commitment here, but not enough for me to lay my life down for him, not like I would for my family and friends... right?
"I am your assistant, aren't I?" I asked wryly.
"You can't fool me little neonate. You're no assistant yet. You're too soft," he said derisively.
"I don't understand why you keep my around then," I sighed.
Orochimaru ignored that question and pulled out a box.
"You ignore your own potential. One step at a time, I've been making you see what you can accomplish if you simply shed your tiresome chains. Behind all that morality is a brain I want to tap into, and there is no way out of it for you now," he said, with that same scientific gleam in his eyes.
So he wanted an assistant… but also something more? I couldn't pin down his motives. How unusually ambiguous of him. There was a safety in his predictability and understanding his logic, but right now there was none of that. There was something he wasn't telling me, certainly some bigger plan he had made up without my knowledge or consent. He and Danzo seemed to have that at least in common. I narrowed me eyes as he unwrapped the wooden box and pulled out a paintbrush and a smaller box inside. What was he getting at?
"What is it?" I asked.
"During the First and Second Shinobi war many Clans died out. The death of my Shinobi parents ended the line of the Mizuchi Clan. This was a tradition passed down to the children of the Clan. A chakra eye tattoo marking, and earrings which are a signifier of our Clan."
When Orochimaru turned around and smiled, I felt like he was marking me too. I almost visibly snorted at that. While it could be taken as a visible sign of ownership, it was nothing in comparison to a fucking seal that made you wish for death on activation... and I knew in the future that these tattoos would link my identity intrinsically to his. He really wanted me to be his, didn't he?
What specifically did he want from me? Was it because I was his student, or for some other nefarious purpose?
The Orochimaru I read of in the story had never cared for anyone else. He definitely didn't care about me—maybe not in the traditional way, but a part of me did begin to understand him. For a man who preached overcoming human boundaries, he sure was intrinsically tied to his human nature. The fact that his twisted mind treated me like progeny was maybe simply because a student was akin to an experiment to him, and I was a successful experiment. So in a way I had fulfilled his criteria. The only thing he needed me for was my mind and now apparently also this ambiguous science experiment of his perfected student.
I contemplated turning it down, but I had a feeling that would result in an ass kicking I'd rather not receive right now with my skull crushing headache. I still refused to be owned though. It was one thing to maybe carry the mantle in the future, but it was another to be forever a lackey in the shadows. I didn't have much self-respect left but I had at least enough to grow some balls for this one occasion.
"I'll take it, but you should know that a student is never meant to forever follow their master. At some stage I'll be a master of my own," I challenged.
"If the time comes and you defeat me, I'll accept that. Until then you've forfeited your body to me," Orochimaru chuckled. "Now do you accept these gifts?"
"I do Orochimaru-shishou."
I stabbed the daikon radish a little too hard with the knife. Somehow the fact that I drank so much and managed only to be drunk for an hour was a travesty. Orochimaru shouldn't have even been there today. He's never there usually at that time of day.
"Orochimaru-shishou, what a fucking mouthful," I grumbled in distaste.
"What's a fuck-hing mouthful?"
I was startled once again and cursed my insane headache for the fact that a bloody 4-year-old managed to sneak up on me. Thankfully, I caught Taichi's scent before he came in, so I didn't startle again for the second time.
"Hey! Hey nee-chan, what's a 'fucc'—moughhhhmmph!" Tsukiya nagged before I managed to shut his mouth in time for Taichi to walk in with the groceries.
He sent me a glare and I laughed nervously. I'd never live this down. After taking a moment to grieve at my misfortunate day, I turned back to the radish and felt the grief come crashing right back. It was just like before. One moment I felt apathetic to the world, like I wasn't even in my body and then suddenly I could feel too much at once.
"Nee-chan just murdered the radish!" Tsukiya tattled.
"You know you don't have to cook. You just came back," Taichi sighed as he put away all the vegetables into the fridge.
"I know, I know, but I wanted a bit of normal," I sighed.
"Cooking is boring! Let's play!" Tsukiya pouted.
I was surprised when Matsu came in holding a big brown paper bag full of meat and all different kinds of mushrooms.
"What's with all the food?" I asked.
"Didn't you tell her?" Matsu asked Taichi before he continued, "We were going to celebrate well... actually we were just meant to celebrate you coming back, but now we're also celebrating the fact that you're necks still intact. So it's family hot-pot night," Matsu said in his normally crass way.
"Wait did you put on make-up?" Taichi asked, staring into my face.
"Ahh no... it's a tattoo," I muttered.
"And earrings too?" Matsu whistled. "I guess when you brush death that closely you'd want to go a little wild and live a little."
"That's not—ugh! Never mind... why don't we just start cooking?" I asked gesturing to the kitchen.
"What happened to the radish?" Matsu asked.
"Nee-chan shouted 'fuck-hing mouthful!' and then beat the radish to death with her kunai!" Tsukiya replied excitedly.
There was a long stretch of painful silence before Matsu doubled over laughing and Taichi's glare got ice-cold as he pulled up his sleeves and got out the spatula.
"Are you asking for a punishment?" Taichi said in a dangerously low voice.
I ran behind the dining table to use it as a buffer. Dammit Taichi was too scary when he entered evil parent mode!
"No! I swear Tsuki-chan was just exaggerating things! He heard another word. Fuu…rolocking—that's right I said frolicking!"
"Do you take me for a fool?"
"Aghh don't hurt me! I'm so sorry!"
I got off with a rather painful whack on the head and then decided I'd never ever swear in front of Tsukiya again. Thankfully Taichi seemed to go back to normal and Matsu was oddly good in the kitchen along with him.
"Is Mebuki coming?" I asked holding the bump on my head and trying desperately to change the subject.
"No, she's pregnant right now," Taichi said with a smile.
"What really! Did she get married?"
"Yeah she got married to a merchant named Haruno Kizashi. They're so sure it's going to be a girl; they already got a name ready. Sakurai or something," Matsu replied.
"Wait Haruno?" I asked in disbelief. "Does this man have pink hair?"
"Yeah, you know him?" Matsu asked.
Kami, what was even going on? Sakura never had any siblings in the story, and to think Mebuki was her mother! Also they were going to have Sakura a few years too early and her name was going to be Sakurai? Heck, she might not even be a she at this stage. What if they gave birth to a boy? Had my existence just erased Sakura's existence?
"You seem a little pale. Maybe we should do this later," Taichi noted in concern.
"No, no, no! Let's do it today. I haven't seen you in 6 months and I refuse to miss another family dinner."
Yeah, I want to hear about you killing the bad guys!" Tsukiya said excitedly.
"Yeah!" Matsu agreed. "I um—I mean the parts you can actually tell us about."
I put on a strained smile and was about to nod when Taichi changed the subject. He sent me a knowing look before directing our small little family to work. He had interrupted on purpose seeing how uncomfortable I had become with the conversation and he had taken control. I felt my chest warm up a little as a smile took my face and I got to cutting the next radish a little more delicately. It seemed every month I was away Taichi would become more like dad... like a respectable man. A part of me still saw him as my little brother, but even though he was only 15, he truly did have the feel of a reliable adult.
Matsu though... yeah, he still acted like a 10-year-old. I snorted in amusement as Tsukiya began irritating our cousin. The two really had gotten close. By the end of the cooking, the kitchen had become a mess, but we had all managed to move to the futon with the hot-pot.
"So how did you manage to get your hands on all those apples? Didn't know they were that easy to import," I asked curiously.
Taichi lit up and then went on a very long narration about how Kizashi was a merchant with a lot of good connections and that now they had someone to give the apples to them exclusively from their limited stock. He looked rather proud of the fact that even the Akimichi hadn't managed this. I was actually rather surprised about how well the bakery was doing. Even the furnishings looked a lot better.
"Ha, kaasan and tousan are probably regretting kicking me out now," Matsu chuckled.
"They kicked you out?" I asked in shock. "Do you have a place to go?"
"I uh... I live here," he said awkwardly.
Oh right, a lot could happen in six months. Matsu looked panicked though, and considering I legally owned the house I could see why. If I wanted to, I could kick him out. Not that I would. He was family and I didn't take that lightly.
"That's fine with me! I'm just surprised since you weren't here last night is all."
"I was at my boyfriend's place," he said with a dreamy look.
"Ewwww that's gross," Tsukiya said sticking out his tongue.
"When you're older you'll understand," Matsu said pointing his chopsticks accusingly at the kid.
"Eh what's this Tsuki-chan? You got a secret crush? Is that why you're in denial?" I asked with an evil chuckle.
"Nuh-uh, girls all have cooties! Why would you even want to kiss them. Gross! I'm gonna be single forever!" Tsukiya said, looking like he was entirely in too much denial about something or another.
Taichi shook his head and I raised my brow at him playfully. He sent me a confused look before his face turned red and he looked away. Matsu broke down in laughter.
"What's wrong Tai-nii? Got someone you're into?" I asked interested.
"Oh he's been making ogley eyes at the blacksmith's daughter for months now. She's quite the looker too, just about as tall as him but all dainty and cute?" Matsu snickered.
"Kami, do we have to discuss this?" Taichi asked trying to distract himself by grabbing some steak.
"What about you?" Matsu asked me.
"Me?" I asked back.
"Yeah, you've been out on a mission with your teammates, right? They're both quite the lookers," he said wiggling his eyebrows comically.
"But they're children," I said in disbelief.
"Huh, I swear I thought they were older than you," Matsu muttered.
"Ignore her. Hina seems to think everyone is younger than her," Taichi said rolling his eyes.
"That's because I'm the biggest big sister at heart," I defended.
Definitely not because counting my past life I was in my mid 40's now…
"Yeah nee-chan is the biggest! Look at her muscles!"
Tsukiya grabbed onto my forearm and I raised my arm out of habit to block my face. It just served to throw him up as if he weighed nothing. Everyone stared in shocked silence and then Matsu laughed which just devolved the entire table. I was surprised by my own laughter and turned to see Taichi smiling warmly at me. I smiled back.
We continued in idle chatter, with Taichi expertly directing all conversation about war to something else and before long we had begun to finish cleaning up the dishes and putting the knocked out Tsukiya to bed after he demanded a jutsu show.
I pushed back my little brother's hair and pulled it up from behind his head and tied it so it wouldn't get on his face at night. He mumbled tiredly, yawned, and then blinked his eyes lazily shut.
"G'night nee-chan," he mumbled asleep.
I kissed his forehead in affection and turned to see Taichi waiting by the door. I gave Tsukiya one more pat on his forehead before I felt the lightness of the day's conversation leave me at Taichi's expression.
"I knew one day you'd want to talk," I sighed.
"The truth Hina. I want to know the truth about the night our parents died."
The guilt rolled in my stomach at his words, but I knew I had no choice now. There was no seal, there was no Danzo, and there would be no more lies... not to my brother... not even if he hated me for the rest of his life.
I want to address the concept that Hina is a reincarnation isn't so hard for people in this world to accept because a lot of people (unexpectedly to me) didn't like the idea.
I personally think that accepting concepts like reincarnation being hard comes from a more modern atheistic western society. Maybe it's because I come from India, and I've seen how eastern concept religion affects people's beliefs, but the concept of reincarnation isn't so foreign there or unbelievable. Sure there are a lot of sceptics, but generally if someone tells you they remember a past life, some religious people will accept it as a fact with some proof.
Inoichi personally is on board with the idea because he experienced her mindscape and felt what it was like to be outside of time, which is something he's never experienced in any other head except hers. That isn't exactly something you can pass of as someone's delusions, especially when he's a professional in the mind jutsu field and knows somethings up. Gaku earlier didn't really have the time to process what she was saying and was more worried about her personally, so he just went along with it. What I'm trying to say is that if Hina just randomly puts this out in public they wouldn't believe it, and even say someone like Anko would have a hard time believing it, but others might believe, because religion and myths exist in this world and the Shinigami himself is a proven fact.
So no, not everyone is going to believe her straight up when she says she's reincarnated, but it really depends how she reveals it to them. In saying that, it's surprisingly not something that I personally think the Hokage would make an official secret. Her being a reincarnate doesn't really affect any military related aspects of Konoha as much as it does the spiritual aspects of their life considering she's one of a kind and Inoichi has told him she's from another world, so they assume she doesn't know any secrets from their current world. Religious matters isn't something Hiruzen's well versed with, and he knows her character well enough to know she won't run around proclaiming she is just because she can. I figured if they weren't bogged down by the war they might have looked into it more, but for now they're putting it of to focus on the more imminent issues.
As for Hina telling Gaku, well it's because imagine you're now stuck in a completely different world with different people—that doesn't instantly stop you from thinking about or missing your previous life. I know if I ever reincarnated somewhere with my memories, unable to get back to my family or friends, I would miss them dearly and hold them close to my heart. It's akin to the feeling of losing them entirely. She wasn't able to voice these thoughts for eleven nearly twelve years. Hina never gave herself the time to grieve and move on. To tell someone and have them acknowledge a massive 35-year part of your life no one else knows, including someone you loved dearly that you'd never see again, would have been insanely cathartic. It's less about needing to keep it a secret for her at this stage and more about moving on as she's kinda tipping over emotionally after holding everything in for so long.
At this stage, the one person Hina made the strongest bond with has been Gaku. There's always that one person you know you'll trust implicitly with your life/secrets and that's him for her. So she does the right thing and finally opens up to someone about herself. I did this more because it was definitely a character development moment. Hope that clears up my thought process. Feel free to still disagree though or this world wouldn't be any fun XD