Snap Back To Reality 59
Clan politics and war talk aside, today was a different day. I had reported to the missions' desk rather grumpily, irritated that my vacation lasted only 5 days. It was as if this bloody Village couldn't take a break. I bore it in silence though, as I did for a great many things because complaining would just make you look like an inconsiderate idiot no matter the situation. I expected a lot, but this wasn't it.
"Sorry repeat that again?" I said in disbelief as I cleared out my ears to see if I was hearing this right.
"You've been transferred to Konoha's R&D sector," the Shinobi on the missions' desk repeated in irritation.
Was I dreaming? I pinched myself excited to feel the pain when a haggard looking lady walked in from behind. She was drinking some coffee and holding a folder in between her armpits.
"This the intern?" she asked looking entirely put off.
"Yes, although there must be a mistake since she doesn't look nearly bright enough for this department. Had to repeat myself three times," the desk ninja said irritated getting a hiss from me as he glared my way.
I turned to the lady who didn't look all that impressed as she looked me up and down. Then without a word she twisted away looking entirely too bored. I jumped after her in confusion. Was I meant to follow?
"So um, it's true right? I finally get to be part of the R&D department?" I asked, trying my level best not to jump in sheer joy.
"He was right."
"You like making people repeat themselves gaki?"
I raised a brow her way. Who shat in her cereal this morning? Well even her terrible attitude couldn't get me down at this news. I tried to keep my excitement to a minimum though. I wondered if I'd be taken to Orochimaru's private sector in the department like Hiruzen had informed me a while ago. I personally didn't want to go. It would be incredibly boring working every day in an environment with just me and Orochimaru's silent presence.
We came to a rather broken downish building, circular and covered in plaster to hide some holes here and there. I was more than a little shocked by how broken down the place looked, not that it wasn't for a lack of patch jobs.
"Don't keep your jaw open for too long," she said sarcastically.
I hadn't even looked mildly awed. What was she even on about? Not really knowing how to take this rudeness I simply frowned and decided not to speak. Maybe once this was all over, said and done, and I'd gone home, I'd have a million things I would regret not saying, but for now I was content to let things go.
She struggled for a moment to open the dingy old door with her keys before she inevitably just kicked the door in and grumbled some profanities. I jogged after her, struggling to keep up with her long strides and noted the many notes hanging on the wall with timetables and schedules hanging around. There were more than a dozen crowded rooms I ran past that I didn't really have the time to look at. She paused so abruptly that if it weren't for all my training, I would have crashed into her. Then she basically kicked open the door next to us, startling some poor man who had been sleeping with a book over his face. It fell down in a heap.
"Wake your lazy ass up Hiroto!"
"I'm awake! I'm awake!" he stuttered out, as his hands stumbled around to find his thick circular glasses.
I winced in sympathy for the man. He looked relatively young, maybe in his early thirties somewhere, but his hair was all over the place, long tangled and his stubble probably a few weeks old by now. Altogether he looked like a mess.
"This is your new apprentice. Show her around, but you know the rules. No equipment until a year in," she said angrily.
"It was one time," he mumbled under his breath as he fixed his glasses on his gaunt face.
"Get this one to work. Hopefully then you'll make some progress," she said harshly as she shoved the folder she was carrying around, to my chest.
I watched her leave and stuck my tongue out childishly as I watched her go. She turned around and gave me a sharp glare and I quickly made my exit into the room and grumbled irritations under my breath.
"Hashirama's saggy tree sack, what Iwa nin hid rocks in her underwear this morning?" I grumbled.
"Creative explicative… hmm those are nice," the man mumbled, still half asleep.
"Um are you ok… Hiroto-san?" I asked remembering what the demon lady had called him.
"Ah yes, yes! Sorry for my appearance. It's been a hard few weeks at work. Now that the war's over and we've exhausted our funding, Ichika-san has been on edge. Doesn't help that her fiancée called of the engagement."
"Oh, that does kinda suck," I admitted with a frown.
"Hmm you know Shinobi. Finding love with them is like finding love with a sailor. It's a hopeless cause," he sighed.
I raised a brow. Did he not know I was a Shinobi? Then again, I wasn't wearing my headband and I was in a plain green shirt with shorts on, so I doubted I looked anything less than a normal 12-year-old girl. Still it was a little irritating realising that's how civilians saw us.
"So… are you going to teach me how things work here?" I asked.
"Can I see that file first?" he asked politely.
I held out the file and was rather surprised by how tall he was when he stood up. Despite being quite lanky, the height did make up for it. If he cleaned up a little, he'd look rather nice, but as it was in his tattered lab coat, surrounded by a dusty room filled to the brim with papers and books, he looked every bit the hermit.
He fixed his glasses before reading through the file, and every second that passed his eyes grew bigger and bigger until it looked like it was about to pop out of his skull.
"You've got to be kidding me?" he said pulling at his beard.
"Yes? Is anything wrong?" I asked.
"It says here that you're a Jounin… student to the Sannin Orochimaru-sama!" he said growing excited.
Oh kami no. Not a fanboy. I let out a groan as he grabbed my hands and began shaking it excitedly like I was some kind of celebrity.
"I have no idea why they wouldn't transfer you under him, but it's an honour Suzuki-san. To think I'm going to train up the student of the legendary Orochimaru-sama. Do tell me, are his feats of scientific discovery as impressive as they say? Can he regrow limbs and stick a dead arm back to its owner to bring it to life?!"
"Ermm, the first part yes, the second part no," I replied uncomfortably as he kept shaking my hands.
"I've heard he came up with a method to boost the human immune system enough to repel poisons on its own. To think he would be able to go down to the cellular level with the changes in DNA—incredibly fascinating wouldn't you say! Tell me, has he shared this knowledge with you, and would you impart such precious research with this lowly mortal?!"
I could practically see the stars in his eyes. I was beginning to wonder if working with Orochimaru in his personal lab would have been preferred…
"Ne, Hiroto-san can we discuss this after you introduce me to my role in R&D. I'm sure we'll have a long time to get through all the other details."
"Oh right, of course! My apologies Suzuki-san."
"You can call me Hina if you want."
"Oh I wouldn't presume!" he said aghast.
Well if he was intent on treating me like his senior then I wouldn't say no. Literally everyone called me senpai by now as a joke anyway. It was about time I let the adults have their turn.
"Normally you'd have to be apprenticed to a head researcher like me for about 3 years before you could do research of your own, but I honestly don't want to have to hold your no doubt brilliant mind back. Just don't tell Ichika-san I allowed you to run your personal experiments and it's fine by me."
I took everything back I thought about this man. I was extremely glad he was a fanboy. Three years of a boring internship no doubt filing paperwork would have dragged the soul out of my body after how hectic I was used to my life being.
"Thanks a lot Hiroto-san. That's actually such a relief. What exactly is it that you research?" I asked.
"Well me personally? Yes, I'm developing soldier pills. It's a lot harder than it seems to boost chakra in the system without killing an individual. Plus chakra itself is such a complicated and wonderful field!" he said excitedly.
"If you like it so much then why didn't you become a Shinobi?" I asked.
He shook his head as if distraught at the very idea. "Oh I would never be able to take a life. I find it hard as it is to conduct experiments on my poor mice. Don't tell Ichika-san, but I usually test it on myself before I test it on those poor babies," he said with a tear in his eyes.
I raised a brow in alarm. Was this man insane? That was about the best way to an early grave. We had animal subjects in scientific experiments for a reason! I almost felt the age-old urge to karate chop a little idiot and go on a rant about safety and precautions in a scientific environment, but I held myself back. I couldn't simply chastise a senior like I could back in my old world. Still I needed to keep an eye out on this suicidal man.
"—I know what you're about to say. It's an incredibly hazardous thing to attempt, but I really can't you know! They have names! Sara-chan gave birth yesterday, and I can't bring harm to her," he said dramatically.
I nearly sweat dropped. This man really did name his mice… I let out a worried sigh and massaged my scalp. Hiroto was going to kill himself one day and then I'd probably end up apprenticed under Ichika, and that would mean 3 years of soul crushing servitude. No! I was going to ensure this idiot would stay alive. I couldn't play the good little intern any longer. It was time to put this man in his place.
"You shouldn't name your test subjects," I scolded. "That's the first rule of science!"
"I don't think it is—"
"—It is from now on! Get ready because things are going to change around here! We're going to begin filing all these papers! You are going to shave! And I'm revoking name privileges on the mice!"
"—No buts! Get to work. We'll begin by separating the notes, and then filing them in order of date and importance!"
As it turned out I was given the perfect minion—erm I mean—sensei. He was so easily manip—I mean accepting of my suggestions which were not at all orders. Well it paid to have a pushover as a puppet teacher so I could get about conducting my own research in peace.
Even if it hurt him, the first thing I did was rip out the name tags on the mice's cages and instead assign them numbers related to the experiment assigned to them. I ignored Hiroto's tears of distress as I confiscated all the notes, he had experimenting on himself and burnt them all. No use in encouraging him to continue such harmful practices.
It took the whole day and a lot of ordering around, but this mess of an office was now cleaned to each and every corner, and the shelves on the wall were ordered neatly and correctly. He'd be thanking me soon enough. It would be much easier to go back and refer to notes now that he had a filing system, made by his truly wonderful senpai.
"Wow, I got to admit this is amazing," Hiroto said, pushing his glasses up and looking around wide eyed.
"Of course it is. Who do you think I am?" I asked proudly.
"Of course! I wouldn't expect any less from Orochimaru's student!"
I felt a little ticked at that. I was going for more 'oh yes you're amazing Hina-san!' truly a prodigy in your own right. Why did it always have to be Orochimaru this, Orochimaru that? Hmm either way it didn't really matter. I wouldn't let this get me down. I had the perfect pawn—erm—asset in my hands, and now that he was my assistant in everything but name, I would mould him into the perfect scientist! Even Orochimaru would want to take him on as an assistant once I was through with this spineless man.
Wait a second… why was I beginning to sound like a villain?
I shook my head and scoffed. No I was being a benevolent saviour if nothing. I'd probably saved this man's life without his knowledge. But I felt a little bad for abusing how nice he was. I'd have to give a little back in this relationship.
"Hiroto-san, I want you to give me the most recent and essential notes on your chakra pills. I will look through them, and if you have problems regarding your results, we'll work through them together."
"Really?" he asked teary eyed. "You'd do that for me?"
I sighed a little in exasperation. I almost felt bad for abusing this too gentle soul's trust in me by making him my assistant. The least I could do was help him in his endeavours.
"Of course now that I'm your intern, I won't allow your research to be held back."
"I am at your service Suzuki-senpai!" he cried.
Ha! Senpai it was! He hadn't even said it mockingly. Maybe this would make Anko reconsider the tone she uses with me. Not Hina-senpai but Hina-SENPAI. I liked the sound of that!
"Well no dallying Hiroto-san, we have work to do!"
I sighed in satisfaction. Yup overall a good day. I even got to meet the rest of the staff working at the R&D department. Most of them were overworked and tired, but nice. I just had to meet the nastiest one at the start of the day.
I took a step to the right and yawned as Guy missed me and crashed head-first into a tree. I raised a brow in amusement as he jumped straight back up like he hadn't just gotten a concussion. This time when he ran up to me and took me in his usual too enthusiastic hug, I didn't stop him. I did regret letting him spin me around and eventually I pat his head and told him to calm down.
"Oh it's so good to see you Hina-chan!" he cried.
"You too Guy. What's got you so pumped up?" I asked.
"I challenged Kakashi to a duel! An egg eating contest and I won!" he said pumping his fists into the air.
"Oh really?" I asked smiling.
That didn't sound like Kakashi. Sure he pretended like he didn't care about Guy's challenges, but he was too proud to lose them. Maybe something was wrong? Or maybe I was overthinking things and Guy was just better at eating things.
"YES! The springtime of youth shines brightly on this one!" he said excitedly.
"Is that why you came to little old me? I'm second to Kakashi aren't I?" I said feigning mock hurt.
Unfortunately, I forgot Guy didn't have a sarcasm filter and he looked like I stabbed him in the heart with my words. I held out my hands in sudden regret, but it was too late.
"I have wronged you Hina-chan! I will do a thousand push-ups on my knuckles as punishment!"
"No, no, no! Look I was just joking! I'm glad you won your duel against Kakashi. Did you come to train?" I asked.
"No actually! I heard you got your dream job in the Research and Development Department and came here to congratulate you on your journey of youth!" he said happily pulling out a box out of seemingly nowhere.
I took it curiously. It was wrapped hideously, but really it was the thought that counted. When I opened it I was happily surprised to see a white lab coat. It was kind of designed like a kimono with the sleeves but everything else was standard hazmat material.
"Wow Guy, this is amazing," I said trying it on.
"IT LOOKS B-BEAUTIFUL ON YOU!" he stuttered out, face turning a deep red.
I laughed nervously. Oh kami this crush was still a thing wasn't it…
"Thanks Guy. I've been meaning to buy one for my new job, but this is even better than what I had in mind," I said genuinely excitedly. "I have to pay you back for this."
"No! This was a gift!" he said shaking his head.
"Well I guess we I shouldn't challenge you to a race across Konoha only on one foot?" I asked coyly.
"NO LET'S DO IT!"
I smirked. Yeah, suck it Kakashi, you may be the eternal rival, but I also could hog Guy's challenges!
A few days had passed, and it felt like life was getting a lot better. I read through all of Hiroto's research and the man was brilliant. I wondered why his research hadn't gotten more funding and after a little look into his record I realised it was because he had absolutely no spine at all. He was letting a 12-year-old girl push him around…
Still he was a brilliant mind, crushed by societies need for people to be charismatic to get anywhere. It was unfortunate but also the reality of things. Some people were meant to lead, and others would inevitably fade into the annals of history never taking the risk to be something big. Hiroto may as well have gone down that route, but no way in all 9 hells would I allow it. If I was to be his intern, then he needed to be a level above me, or at least a respected scientist. Hence why despite wanting to throw my research into religious texts, and jutsu based on raising the dead, I instead took a massive detour to research the nature of chakra itself and how soldier pills were made.
I'd eventually get a mission, but I wasn't really excited about it anymore. I had Guy to spar with me, and Anko and Rui to hang out with once they got out of T&I and Cryptanalysis, respectively. Life was incredibly peaceful, and kami was that a good break. I should have known it would come to an end.
"Shisui?" I asked.
Said Uchiha dropped from the tree behind me and chuckled. I turned around and smiled too. He did have feather feet, but my senses were just that good.
"What's up?" I asked.
"Ah, I wish I could say I'm here to see you, but actually I'm here on official business from my Clan," he said holding out a scroll.
"Oh, am I in trouble?" I asked.
"Actually, you're being invited to dinner," Shisui said looking uncertain. "Don't ask me why. I don't know what's going on, just that our Clan Head wants to see you."
"I feel like I know the reason," I said sighing.
I never actually wanted to go meet Fugaku. In fact it would have been ideal if he just pretended, I wasn't there at all. He could be Hokage and then I could stay the heck away from Konoha politics. Maybe I still could, although this scroll in my hands said otherwise. I'd dragged myself into this in a way. It was my responsibility to make sure it didn't fail now.
"Look I can vouch for you're in trouble," Shisui offered, looking more than a little alarmed.
"I'm sure you could, but it's best to not get involved in this."
"What did you do?" he asked curiously.
"Hmm I might have gotten your Clan Head the recognition he deserved," I smiled.
Shisui's eyes widened and then he chuckled in disbelief. "So it was you? I thought the Clan somehow got the civilians on their side. How did you do it?"
"Well a Shinobi can't reveal all their cards," I said cryptically.
Although really all I did was get one very powerful lady on my side. Tomi really was a master at her craft. I didn't think the Chinsei family had this many people under their golden thumb. Well for once I was glad things worked out in my favour. Even if the Uchiha were generally disliked because of their task as police, the feats that Fugaku accomplished during the war wasn't unfairly hidden. I didn't doubt my rumours wouldn't have spread were Danzo still alive. No matter what Tomi did a member of the Council with a private army could have easily silenced her.
Still civilian approval was only really the first step. Actually putting Fugaku in the position would take a lot more than just getting the general public to respect him. Uchiha did still have a terrible reputation and were largely unpopular due to their police position. Very few actually went to war due to it, and even some Shinobi thought they were rich prats who had the privilege of safety because of their positions.
I thought it was kind of stupid that anyone was blaming the Uchiha for a decision they vehemently opposed in the first place. I was also half certain Hiruzen let this happen to reduce the risk of Sharingan theft during the war considering Uchiha didn't have a failsafe the way the Hyuuga clan did. And good riddance too, I'd rather have my eyes stolen than have my entire family enslaved. Due to this Uchiha had to go through a lot more red tape than most to be allowed on the field, and even then they were limited to their best of the best. Obito had only gotten through because he hadn't possessed the Sharingan at that stage, but I was sure they would have pulled him out when he did… but as it turned out he became the poster boy for the dangers of allowing Uchiha onto the battlefield, because now Kakashi, a non-Uchiha, owned their kekkai genkai.
"I'm really sorry, I'd like to stay and hang out, but I have to go. Work to do," Shisui said apologetically.
"No worries. Though now that the war's over, you got to teach me how you do your body flicker so fast," I grinned.
"Well a Shinobi can't reveal all their cards," he repeated back to me with a grin before practically teleporting away.
What a little shit! I still chuckled though. I did miss hanging out with him on the occasion. He was leagues more mature than my grade mates, then again apparently most Uchiha were born adults out of the womb. Not that I could talk.
I looked back down at the scroll in my hand. Well I dug this hole myself. No choice but to jump into it now.
It had been a while since I'd been invited to a formal dinner. I didn't usually do business dealings with Clans. Even with Shikaku in the past things had always been rather casual, and in our latest meeting I'd underdressed to a fault. I felt like it didn't really matter with the relaxed Nara Clan Head, but not so much with Fugaku. He was a rather formal man after all.
So I found myself in front of Kurenai's house. I felt a bit bad for always imposing when it came to fashion advice, but I had a feeling Kurenai really didn't mind. Plus the war really had pulled us apart and left the friendship on the reins for a bit. I had a hard time seeing anyone outside of my team for nearly 4 years by now, and suddenly now that I had some free time every day it felt like I should use it.
I knocked on her apartment door and was met with a tall, very ruggedly handsome man with a dark neatly trimmed beard and red eyes. Oh, was this Kurenai's father? I'd never really gotten to meet him before.
"Are you Kurenai's friend?" he asked.
"Hai, Suzuki Hina," I said holding out my hands.
He shook it with a kind smile as his daughter jogged to the front door. Kurenai saw me and her eyes lit up.
"Hina-chan!" she said happily.
"I'll let you two girls catch up. Don't be home late though," he said casually before taking his leave.
"Sure thing tousan," Kurenai replied with a grin as she turned to me. "What brings you here today Hina-chan?"
"Well I apparently have a dinner tonight with a Clan Head and I thought it would be fun to have a girl's day out," I said shaking around my wallet.
"Oh this is going to be so fun! The last time we did it—" she said excitedly before she trailed off and looked mortified.
I grimaced as well. Yup not a good idea to bring that up. The memory of Rin didn't make this any easier. There weren't many Kunoichi in our class who really went anywhere. It was a male dominated profession, and so Rin had been a part of this little circle. Kurenai had been a lot closer to her as well having been in the same class for a lot longer while I'd graduated early.
"I'm sorry for bringing that up," she said, her mood now sullen.
"No worries. Well Rin wouldn't want us to mope around, let's go," I said trying to shrug of the bad mood.
What followed was a rare day for me. It wasn't often that I neglected work entirely just to relax. No training, no research, no real worries outside of having to think about fabrics and the latest fashion.
"There's this new tailor I wanted to try out."
"Won't that take too long?" I asked.
"No, so what she does is she has ready-made customisable kimono, and she alters them exactly to your measurements. It only takes about 3 hours so we can go in and do something else while we wait."
"Ohhh that does sound interesting."
And it was. The green to blue fabric I bought was the shiny kind that changed from both colours depending on the angle and the sunlight. The feather pattern was a little gaudy and over the top, but it reminded me of the patterns often found on saris back in my old life. It was silk too, which was expensive, but I had a lot of money to spare recently, a far cry from the poverty I had been born into. We left it with the nice tailor lady and then went to go grab some sweets by the red bridge river.
"So how's Asuma?" I asked.
Kurenai frowned. "I thought you wouldn't want to talk about him."
"Why?" I asked in confusion.
"Well… I heard what happened with the Councilman… and you know—you probably blame the Hokage and all that."
"Just cause I don't like his dad, doesn't mean I don't like him," I chuckled.
"You know what they say about Clan grudges," she replied a little nervously.
I really didn't, but I also wasn't in the mood to ask. It probably had something to do with a stupid concept like getting revenge on an entire clan for the action of one person. I wasn't really that type of person. My quarries were always personal.
"Well, tell him he can stop being a scaredy cat and come see me whenever. Also that I missed him here today. We always used to hang out at this river," I said wistfully.
Yeah, and now we were down two people from the war, so the memories we made here were kind of beggared down in tragedy. It seemed to be a pattern in this world apparently. I paused and then turned my head down.
"Well let's change the subject. What have you been up to these days?" I asked.
Then Kurenai went on about her team, about how Asuma was always telling Guy to calm down during a mission, how several times they'd been spotted because of their loudmouth teammate, how Gaku-sensei had then forgone all stealth missions ever. It seemed that despite getting into trouble quite often Kurenai was rather adept at getting out of it with her Genjutsu. I was mildly jealous. Something about ensnaring the senses sounded extremely cool, and I did eventually want to get down to learning it. If I wanted to beat Orochimaru, the master at basically everything, then it wouldn't do for me to not be knowledgeable in most fields as well. First, I'd settle for learning Doton, Suiton, and Raiton Jutsu. After I achieved the Avatar state then I'd worry about becoming a master illusionist.
"You've got a look on your face," Kurenai pointed out.
"Oh, and what's that 'look' look like?" I asked.
"You're planning something aren't you. Yen for some thoughts?"
"I want to be stronger than Orochimaru-shishou," I admitted.
Kurenai's eyes widened and her mouth formed an 'O' shape. Then she nodded and chuckled as if I'd said something funny. I felt a little irritated at that.
"You don't think I can do it?" I asked.
"No, I very much think you can. It's just that you always get that same look in your eye like the boys do. Not Asuma of course, he's lazy, but Guy, Shisui and Kakashi. You have the same look. Like you want to prove something no matter the cost. It's honestly impressive."
I felt a little guilty for assuming she didn't have faith in me before. I smiled her way although I could see the spark of jealousy in her eyes. She wanted this too I knew for sure, whatever 'spark' that we had, she wanted for herself as well.
"It's about conviction Kurenai-chan. If you want something badly enough, no matter how small the goal, then it is worth it to pursue without fail."
"Sometimes you sound like an old woman," she chuckled.
"What can I say, I have an old soul," I said back wryly.
"Ok come on, enough talk about serious things. Let's get you some hair accessories. Now that it's so long I can braid it up for you!"
I smiled. Ah I did miss the joys of being a girl.
If there was a military like rank in fashion, then Kurenai was surely Hokage tier. It was impressive in its own right, nearly awe inspiring how her eye for aesthetics was so keen. Honestly, she was in the wrong career. If she wanted to become something legendary, she should have gone to the capital city near the Daimyo's palace and started her own store. I had no doubt nobles from around the Elemental Nations would flock to the Capital and make her filthy rich. I honestly had no idea why she was wasting her time as a Shinobi and depraving the world of her true talents. Not that she was a bad Shinobi, but I digress.
She was also apparently very good at doing up hair and makeup too. I'd never be able to braid up my hair so elaborately into a bun and make it look like a perfect circular flower up he back. But she also didn't go too overboard either. She let me look rather natural but still stunning. I didn't look in the mirror for too long. Seeing my face look so perfect and not the usual tired mess that it was, would probably make me insecure once I took the makeup off. But altogether I looked almost like I could pass for the daughter of a rich nobleman for once in my life. My hair and makeup game was on fleek.
…I had a feeling Fugaku wouldn't care too much about that though. Still it made me feel a little better, so I took my victory happily.
So after telling Taichi I was going to go cajole favours from the future Hokage and leaving him perplexed at my sudden exit, I walked down to the Uchiha district. For the first time in this life boys around my physical age actually turned to look at me in the street. Unused to the feeling after 12 years living in this rather plain looking body, I sped up and found myself rather early at the Uchiha residence. The gates to most Clan Compounds were always open unless you were a Hyuuga for some reason. They tended to keep their large estate closed off and mysterious. The Uchiha district was open and rather larger because of its double use as a prison as well. I'd been here before after… after what I did to my parents. My mood soured at the thought.
"Yes?" I asked.
"I'll show you to Fugaku-sama's residence," he said politely.
I noted his tousled short hair and those familiar eyes and was reminded of Shisui. I was a little confused and unsure what was going on. Was Shisui pulling a prank on me using his Sharingan. He knew I was weak to Genjutsu… but then why would he pretend to be someone who looked very much like him. He smelled exactly like Shisui too.
"Shisui, you're not playing a prank, are you?" I asked.
The man turned around with an amused look on his face. "I'm sorry for not introducing myself earlier. I'm Uchiha Kagame. Shisui's father."
I faltered and felt incredibly embarrassed. For some reason I'd just assumed he was an orphan like Obito had been.
"My apologies," I said hastily.
"Don't be. My son doesn't often talk about his friends, but he's mentioned you, and I've caught wind of what you've done for our Clan. It's a pleasure to meet you Suzuki-chan. And we're here," he said stopping outside of a large traditional home.
"Thank you, Kagame-san," I said still recovering from my earlier embarrassment.
"No harm done Suzuki-chan. Keep safe," he said waving as he walked away.
I didn't need to knock at the front door for it to open rather quickly. I took a step back at the suddenness of it all only to see a beautiful grinning woman with long dark hair. Her smile was mesmerising, and oh kami how did someone have such a symmetrical and beautiful face? I snapped myself out of my fawning and smiled back.
"Hina-chan, come on in. It's such a pleasure to finally see you!"
I hadn't expected the insanely beautiful woman to wrap her arms around mine, bending over slightly to do so as she led me in.
"I'm Uchiha Mikoto. You'll probably find that I'm a lot more fun than my husband. He's a stick in the mud, although you should probably not let that get to you. He's like that to everyone," she explained casually.
"I'm sure he's fine," I said trying to keep up with how casual she was.
"You know I pictured you quite differently, but you're adorable."
Kami, my heart couldn't take more of this. The prettiest woman I'd ever seen was complimenting me. What was it with me and being surrounded by beautiful people? My one true weakness. Minato was one too many already. I found myself stuttering lost for words like a floundering lovesick teenage girl. This was embarrassing.
Thankfully Mikoto seemed to settle down a little in her excitement as we got to the living room.
"I'm so sorry for being so straightforward Hina-chan. It's just that we don't often get guests, and as a wife I've always dreamed of making this tired old home a little livelier. So I might have been a tad bit too eager in our greeting earlier."
"N-not at all," I stuttered out, hating how hot my face felt at her close proximity.
She seemed to find it adorable apparently judging from her expression. I'd given Tsukiya the same expression enough times to know how it looked. Suddenly I felt incredibly silly for being flustered in the first place. Firstly she was married, and secondly, I was a child. Of course she wouldn't think I had a crush on her. Oh kami was that a relief.
"Suzuki-san, it's good to see you again," a small voice said from behind the woman,
I tilted sideways a little to see Itachi come up from behind Mikoto. I gave him a smile and he smiled back softly too, although he held onto his mother's skirt as he did so. Was he shy? Oh kami, that was too adorable. I could suddenly see why Itachi was so adorable. If his mother's looks were anything to go by when he grew up, he'd be killing all the ladies with just a glance. The Uchiha massacre would look tame in comparison.
"It's good to see you too Itachi-chan," I smiled.
"Oh you two know each other already. Well then Itachi-kun, can you show Hina to her seat. I'll bring Fugaku in with the dinner."
"Ok okaasan," he replied politely as he took my hand.
Goddammit, 4-year-old Itachi was trying to ensnare my heart with his cuteness for sure. I tried not to die from adorable overload as he led me to my seat at the dining table in a much more mature way than most adults could. He gave me a shy smile before taking a seat next to me.
"I thought about what you said before Suzuki-san," he said.
I looked down with a raised brow and a smile. "And what was it that you found?"
"When otousan took me out to war—"
I would have spat out my drink at that had I not watched it happen in the story. It coming from the mouth of a 4-year-old was something else though. Probably the most fucked up take your child to work day ever.
"—I thought maybe it didn't make any sense. Why are we born just to fight, kill, and then die?"
Kami I couldn't get over the fact that he was still four and apparently thinking of things teenagers barely did.
"But then okaasan became pregnant and now I understand. We do it to protect our family and this Village, and sometimes we do bad things because there's no way around it. But I want to protect everyone one day."
I saw the spark in his eyes. Yes, I could see it now—what Kurenai had described, but I felt like even mine would be brief and unassuming in comparison to this child's. I would be lying if I said I'd maintained a cool composure at this small and succinct yet incredibly moving conviction.
I remembered what he was capable of. This was someone who detested war so much that to maintain peace and save his brother he killed his entire Clan at the age of fourteen. Not only did he do that, but he took orders from Danzo, a man who would have killed his best friend at the time just to protect what he held precious. That was something I didn't think even myself capable of. In comparison to me, he was selfless beyond selfless. I felt my heart skip a beat sitting next to him, hearing his conviction. It reminded me that I could change things for him. I could make this a reality for him. He could in fact one day protect everyone, and never have to lay a hand on his Clansmen to do so.
Maybe I was fated to have been the one to take that burden on myself to spare him. I never wanted him to feel it, the feeling of taking the life of your own parents. I couldn't bare it to this day, let alone wish it on someone as pure as Itachi.
"You will protect everyone on day Itachi," I said softly, "I've never believed in anything more than I believe in that."
The smile he gave me after that was the most genuine one I'd seen on him so far. Well it was time to add someone else to this list of people I would protect with my life. To think he'd managed to get on that list so quickly too. He really was something.
"Apologies for the wait Suzuki-san," a gruff voice came from the door.
I stood up and bowed slightly in greeting at the Clan Head's entrance. He dipped his head before taking a seat as Mikoto set out the meal.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Fugaku-sama," I said uncertainly at my manners.
I'd never really grown-up learning how to properly talk in formal settings. The only two Clan's I had dealings with on the regular happened to be the two Clans that didn't really care for formalities. The Nara were content to greet you on their porch with a game of shogi. The Inuzuka would probably greet you with a million puppies and a bottle of sake before they ever bothered to formally sit down and discuss pleasantries.
"Where did you get that Kimono from Hina-chan? It's so pretty?" Mikoto asked, saving me from having to start the conversation.
I began making small talk with Mikoto, with Fugaku and Itachi hardly getting involved unless it was a one-word response. I was beginning to understand why Mikoto wanted guests around more often if this was how little they talked during mealtime. I was a little surprised however that she'd got me to relax so much and discuss things freely that I'd almost for a moment forgotten to worry about my manners.
Not once during the dinner did the conversation turn to anything about work, or the Hokage, or my rumours or any Clan business. Mikoto expertly stayed away from anything personal too and I was beginning to wonder if this was a specific technique to make me relax because it was definitely working.
To my surprise even when the dinner ended nothing of note was brought up. Everything we'd discussed had been small talk, benign things that I doubted Fugaku brought me here for. I should have known the dinner wasn't where we would discuss important things because a few minutes after the table was cleared Fugaku asked me to follow him privately. I strode after him glad that he kept his steps slow enough for me to follow without running. Adults usually had a way of forgetting that children found it hard to keep up with their shorter legs.
It wasn't until we entered the quiet of the Japanese garden at night that he gestured for me to sit down on one of the ornate stone benches. I politely obliged and he took a seat opposite me, his face as stern as ever. In the quiet of the night it was probably easy to see me fidget uncomfortably at the prolonged silence.
"I have some questions for you Suzuki-san," he said.
I nodded trying to bring an air of seriousness about me too. The fact that he was addressing someone so much younger so formally seemed to spur me to try and act a little more mature than I normally would.
"Of course, I'm certain you have the right to," I replied hesitantly.
"Then let's get straight to the point. What do you seek to gain from my recognition?" he asked.
"I want you to be the next Hokage."
"And I have noted that already, but what do you gain from it?" he asked.
I shook my head a little in frustration. Everyone was distrustful of my intentions recently, which would have been fine if I had some kind of terrible plan I was hiding, but there was none of that and a whole heap of suspicion. First from Shikaku and now from Fugaku. I'm sure next in line would be the Sandaime.
"I'm not doing this for any nefarious purpose as hard as it might be to believe. I simply have cause to… question the Sandaime's ability to choose officials. After Danzo you can understand why I'd want to take things into my own hands," I said frowning.
"You will not endorse your teacher instead?" Fugaku asked suspicious still.
I grinned wryly. "No, he wouldn't be suited to the position. As crazy as it might seem to believe, I don't think strength, sacrifice, or even love is what makes a good Hokage, or I'd be endorsing Namikaze Minato."
Fugaku frowned at that. "You think he's stronger than me?"
"Well, I think strength can only get you so far. What matters in a Hokage isn't just their strength, that is why we also have other Shinobi, but also their strength of character. You made a decision that day in the trial—"
"—Simply because I voted in your favour does not mean I possess these qualities you seek," he interrupted sternly.
"And I agree," I said giving him a hard look, irritated that he wasn't hearing me out. "It wasn't that you voted in my favour, but that you put your Clan first."
He looked somewhat confused for a moment before his expression flattened back to impassive.
"That is not something one would usually associate as a quality in leadership. Most would say I should put the Village first," he challenged.
"Then they are idiots. If you can't even protect your family then how will you protect an entire Village?" I retorted in vehemence. "You've been persecuted unfairly by the Council, felt what it was like to be ostracised and treated disrespectfully in your own Village, a Village your ancestors helped found by the way. Then you understand the plight of the people wronged by the system. If you can't even get your own home in order, then you shouldn't dwell into the lives of others. That I believe has been the folly of all previous Hokage and that is why I think you're the only candidate I would back."
Fugaku seemed to regard me in a new light if the change in his posture indicated anything. He sat back slightly, not so much leaning forward to interrogate me anymore, but he still looked unimpressed.
"And your teacher? You bear his Clan symbol. That is not a light thing. I am not the Sandaime. He is biding his time waiting for proof he already has on Orochimaru, but if I were to become Hokage, Orochimaru would be taken care of immediately," Fugaku said bluntly.
I couldn't help the frown that took my face.
"Are you asking me to kill him?" I asked in disbelief.
"No, simply if you have the will to. I will not trust someone who has half their allegiance to a traitor," Fugaku answered by a leer of his own. "And I know he is a traitor. There is no one else in this Village capable of drafting Sharingan into an arm. His involvement with Danzo is confirmed by my intel and had you not been coerced into your position as a child, I would see you to a similar fate in execution."
I nodded in understanding but felt uneasy, nonetheless. I could not truly hate Orochimaru. In fact a large part of me was protective of him even though I knew I shouldn't be. Maybe not to the extent of how protective I was to my family, but he was still my mentor, now my master, and someone who had pulled me out of the torture chamber of ROOT's indoctrination. I knew it was for no altruistic reason, but without him as a buffer, I would have eventually succumbed to Danzo's torture and broken down into my namesake of Utsuro. Hollow.
Even if it wasn't his intention, he had saved me from that fate, and for that, I would be eternally indebted, but he had also introduced me to things that had ripped out my very soul. I tried to quell these contradictory feelings and focus instead on what I logically needed to prioritise. It was hard to put aside my turbulent feelings to focus on logic and reason, but I couldn't afford to let myself get carried away by my feelings anymore. I couldn't kill Orochimaru. There was no point in lying to Fugaku about that, but I also wasn't going to stop him from doing so.
"I cannot kill him," I admitted. "But I... I won't stop you. I'm not a very good liar so let me put it this way. I simply value the lives of my family over his. Everything I do is to make a world in which the people I love will live peacefully, and to that extent my goals and Orochimaru-shishou's are very different. I am indebted to him so I will not harm him if you ask, but I am honour bound to my family first."
Fugaku didn't make a tell with his expressions, his face remaining as stoic as ever. He sipped his tea silently for a moment.
"Your honesty is making it hard for me to distrust you," he sighed. "Regardless thank you for the truth. It is easier to trust someone you know the motivations of."
Well probably not trust in this case, but more so relax in the safety of knowledge. Fugaku knew what I would do in certain unsavoury situations now and he could plan ahead and see to it that the need wouldn't arise. I always knew honesty was the only way towards that trust. That part of me would never truly be a Shinobi. It was hard for me to lie. I would rather not if I didn't have to, but life had a way of forcing secrets onto me.
"But this is not a compromise. You are either with me or against me. If I see that you've aided him when the time comes you will summarily be executed," he said unflinchingly.
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Finally a potential Hokage with some balls. Fugaku probably thought I was an idiot for smiling at his death threat, but I was incredibly pleased with him. He hadn't even questioned the fact that he might not become Hokage. He had faith in something else other than my intention I was sure, faith enough to know he now had a chance to become Hokage. I was pleased to realise that he had taken those political matters into his own hands now, enough to be safe in assuming he would be the next choice. I knew he would be good and decisive, but this was a great leap above what I expected.
Now there was just the simple matter of getting him there…
Ok so a semi-longer chapter because I had you guys wait. Sorry about that :') I don't normally talk about life here, but I've been mad busy recently. I got a new job, a really good one with enough pay to let me move onto better living conditions, but it's also a lot of hard work. It's had me put my writing on hold… also got a new pet bird, a little green cheek conure named Marley, and trying to train her and get her used to flying around the house is a time-consuming task because the original owner clipped her wings (which is a big no-no in my books because it just makes the birds fly wonky, and can cause more accidents. It's kinda like chopping the legs off your toddler because learning to walk might cause accidents, instead of just minimising risks by monitoring their progress) So yeah overall waaayyy too busy to even sit down and relax most days XD But I really did want to get to the time skip to give you guys the crossover story I've been writing, so I'll try and speed up a little.
We have Hina's first day in R&D. As you can see, she's not really working under Orochimaru at his private sector because the powers at be (mostly Hiruzen and Shikaku) at this stage know that Orochimaru is up to no good, and want to keep Hina the heck away from him. The only reason Hiruzen hasn't acted against his student yet is because he's a soft idiot, and also because he won't go against someone he loves without hard evidence. He doesn't have it because Orochimaru transferred all of his experiments out. Hope that clears things a little!