Snap Back To Reality @jazhop
Chapter 62

Snap Back To Reality 62

I stood before the new Hokage. He seemed tall, taller than ever before on that podium, looking down at us. His coal black eyes locked his gaze on mine as if to tell me that I did this. It only made my stance more rigid, and my back straighten upward.

I did this.

There was a niggling voice in the back of my head that told me otherwise. How could one insignificant person do something so big? How could someone who'd lost so much, and been unable to protect her precious people, do anything worth being proud of? Yet, for once in my life I did feel that pride—that sense of accomplishment that seemed to spur some renewed strength within me. It almost felt hopeful.

I turned to see Orochimaru next to me, looking up at the podium, face impassive, and I knew I hadn't bent over. Not this time. Maybe never again. Kaasan, tousan and Kusari were avenged, and things had been set right. War had ended, a new Hokage was stationed in, and this world—it had become more than just a story, more than a series of events that were fated to happen. I could look up at the Hokage and know now that the Uchiha Clan massacre would never happen, that if Sasuke were to be born, it wouldn't be into pain, and that Itachi could be the man who took pride in protecting his beloved people.

"Konoha has fallen," Orochimaru said besides me, his voice only a whisper.

I didn't reply, not when he turned to walk away before Fugaku even finished his speech. Instead I watched almost in a trance, unable to hear his words past the loudness of my own thoughts. It barely faded even when Anko and Rui began chatting between themselves, for a moment sounding like they wished Orochimaru was in the seat.

"Oi Vege-senpai, are you there?" Anko asked.

I turned to her, blinking owlishly for a moment before nodding. "Sorry, it just feels so surreal."

"That the old man decided to step down? It's not so crazy. If I was that old I'd want to move to an island and nap all day," Anko said, plopping another dango in her mouth.

The funny thing was that he wasn't even that old. Hiruzen was only in his mid-forties at this stage. For a Shinobi in war time that may as well have been ancient though.

"He did take the seat for quite a long time," Rui added. "There was talk that Konoha calling for peace, despite Iwa and Kumo losing, was a sign of weakness. Maybe that's why he stepped down."

I bit back a biting insult of the old man. There was more to it than that. Probably the only good thing Hiruzen did was call for peace, and it was irritating that everyone was so caught up on that like it was the actual problem. Never mind that he allowed a private army to take control of his own Shinobi economy and needed a 12-year-old girl to fix up his mess for him. Never mind that he let his own student off scot free without a formal investigation even after confirming his involvement with Danzo a known traitor. I took in a deep breath to calm myself down. Getting riled up about things wasn't going to help me.

"Want to go get some celebratory dessert?" Anko asked.

"You mean dango," I deadpanned.

"You know it," she grinned.

Rui huffed from opposite Anko. "No Hina-chan and I were going to practice music."

"What, when do you have time for music?" Anko asked.

"Since the war ended. We get free time! Imagine that," I said dryly.

"Yeah well, of course a nerd like you decides to use it on something productive like learning an instrument. Why can't you be normal and do some fun things? We could have a tea ceremony," she whined.

"We always have a tea ceremony for free time," I replied in frustration. "Come on why not play some music with us?"

"Ugh fine!"

I smiled at my teammates as they bickered about what was more fun. Anko in her irritation with Rui had positioned me in the middle and gripped my right arm, as she ranted on with him. I chuckled at their sibling like interaction. They were like a bickering pair of siblings constantly around to annoy each other on a daily basis and I was the poor middle child forced to take the brunt of it all. I focused back to the present as I opened the door to my house.

"Wait this is your house isn't it?" Anko asked warily.

"Yeah, Rui and I began practising here and at his place."

Anko seemed uncomfortable with the news and frowned. I let her in feeling uncertain suddenly. Did she still want to keep work life and private life separated? I had no real wish to do it anymore. There wasn't much to my past I felt the need to hide anymore since ROOT was gone and done for. I could speak freely about most things except Orochimaru.

"Oh Hina-chan is this your teammates?" Matsu asked as he jumped up from the counter.

"Yup this is Rui, and this is Anko. And this is my Cousin Matsu," I introduced everyone.

"Pleasure meeting you Matsu-san. I will be on my way now to set up the instruments."

Anko followed after him awkwardly. It was weird seeing her without her usual confidence and so wary too. My conflicting emotions were diverted to the odd smile Matsu was giving me.

"So who is it?" he asked.

"Who is what?" I asked.

"Oh come on no need to be shy. I know you don't have a gender preference. Who do you like?" he asked nosily.

"W-what—no one!" I spluttered caught off guard.

"You didn't sound this uncertain last time."

"Look I'm twelve. I'm not really going to date anyone for a long time, so it doesn't matter," I huffed.

"That doesn't make any sense. You're twelve, this is when you start thinking about... hey how the heck did you know you liked both boys and girls when you were six?"

"Whaaat?" I asked in a drawn-out panic. "Oh look at the time. It's time to play some music. Bye!"

I entered up and into my room where Rui took out the Konoha equivalent of a guitar. It was a more plucked instrument than it was strummed, and the sounds were Asiatic and different to the ones I normally heard in my past life. I couldn't say the same about the flute I'd been learning. It wasn't something I was amazing at.

"So this is your room. It's definitely..."

"Pink," I finished for her.

"Yeah, didn't take you as the pink type," she chuckled.

I couldn't bring myself to chuckle back. It was pink because Yua decorated it this way for me. My kaasan... I could picture her busying herself in preparation for her daughter back, a daughter who she had warned about the Shinobi life, and a daughter who was now facing the consequences of it in full force.

"My kaasan brought the furniture. I never thought to change it," I admitted quietly before I picked up the flute.

"Oh I'm sorry," Anko winced.

"Not an issue," I shrugged off in my best imitation of Kakashi's nonchalance.

"We've been working on this melody together," Rui informed Anko.

"What's it called?" she asked.

"Sadness and Sorrow," Rui replied.

Anko rose a brow in a questioning look but I'd already brought the flute to my lips and Rui was strumming. I admit I had basically hummed it one day in Rui's presence and then he had been so enraptured by the tune that he wrote down the sheet music and taught me how to play it. I thought it was kind of awesome how it somehow made its way to this world. The tune really did evoke a sort of lonely sorrow and I was swept up in its melody despite my inability to play well.

"Ok! Ok! That's enough of that! I swear you two together just makes me so depressed. I'm going to be the fun one here and suggest a more upbeat song."

"What do you want me to play then?" Rui asked, ticked at being interrupted from his music.

"One of the songs from the fare!"

"The winter festival?" I asked.

"No the fare, you know the one that happens sporadically whenever a travelling band comes in?" she asked.

I shook my head in confusion and she gasped dramatically. "Oh, you poor baby senpai! How have you not been to a fair yet?"

"We came to practice music did we not?" Rui asked impatiently.

"Then start!"

"I'll sit this one out. I don't really know the notes," I said hesitantly.

Rui nodded and then he began an upbeat tune which was hilarious in its own way because his expression was anything but. Anko had interrupted in the middle of the song and now he was cross, but the happy music just clashed entirely with his disposition.

"Now this is music!"

Anko began clapping her hands and I looked on in confusion as she began moving. I froze when I realised what she was doing.


My mind almost blanked and I felt my hands clamped together at my sides. Dancing... no one here danced or at least I'd never seen anyone dance here unless it was on a stage, and even then, that had been a foreign slow dance. Anko's clapping and twisting was all impromptu and oh so achingly familiar. Her movements were mesmerising, jumpy, coordinated and positively beautiful. It made my heart skip a beat. Then she turned and her smile was almost blindingly and made me want to puke.

"Come on Senpai have some fun and join in," she challenged.

Before I could protest, she grabbed my hands and pulled me toward her. I yelped out indignantly as she spun me around and took the lead. I stumbled in my step and was shocked to see her easily adjust to get me to join.

"A-Anko I don't dance," I said breathlessly.

"Sure you do! Everyone free dances, you just gotta let your body go," she grinned.

"I really don't know—"

She spun me around once again on purpose to shut me up. I was lost in a haze of confusion and elation as I decided to listen to her, spurred on by the rising tempo in the music. The strumming became faster and so did her movements. I began clapping in pace, my feet learning the movements. It was almost like the Circle Step style. My past self could have never managed to do this, but years of step training had made me more coordinated.

A chuckle was ripped from my throat, and I gave in and grinned as I got the hang of things and we began to ramp up. We were both utterly in sync now, laughing, clapping, and twirling to the music until it crescendo into a blasting end.

I tripped on my feet and fell straight onto Anko in a heap, but I was still laughing and so was she. Looking down at her laughing face was like seeing a memory reawaken within me, one of sea blue eyes and shining blonde hair. I looked down and I saw my love. Her smile was wide. She had laughed with the same abandon, as if the worlds troubles were an afterthought. And like the free soul she was, we had danced with the same laxity.

We had danced...

My mind nearly blanked. We had danced and I had tripped and fell onto her. I stuttered to a pause as memories of a past life hit me. This was how I had met Catherine. We had danced and I had fallen onto her.

"Hina-senpai are you alright?" she snorted. "So caught off guard by my beauty that you're lost for words?"

Despite her words being teasing I scrambled to my feet in horror. Without a word I bolted out of my room and ran away.

I sat by the red bridge river feeling deeply unsettled. I brought my knees up to my chest and hugged my legs together in trepidation. I had danced. I hadn't danced in 12 years... since I'd danced with Cat on our final date night. Tears prickled at my eyes at the memory and an old pain rose to the surface. My heart ached in such a debilitating loss that I was confounded on where to throw those feelings. It had been 12 long years and I felt like I should be over this by now… but it still hurt.

Despite all the pain that the memory had brought up, something else worried me more. I could recall us dancing. The day I had met Catherine was at a party in Spain. I had been travelling there with a group, she was part of it, and we had capered with a band outside. I had been so clumsy, and so tongue tied, that I had fumbled the whole time while she had stepped around me with the grace of a coordinated feline. And then I tripped and fell onto her and it was like something had sparked in me when I saw her laughing face.

To remember such a thing again, was like looking into the depths of a memory in crystal clarity. I choked up at the emotion that pulled up my throat. Dancing with Anko had felt almost the same… like for a moment I was there with Cat again, in a life that had been my most happy years. It was gone. Gone forever and numbed only with time and forgetfulness.

I had danced again. It was both euphoric and deeply uncomfortable. I didn't want to admit what had happened because it would raise up too many questions, questions that I didn't want the answer to. First it had been Kusari... a boy who looked entirely like my late cousin Joshua who met the same fate. Now I had fallen onto Anko like I did Catherine and a familiar terrifying fondness had taken root in my heart.

Was I just seeing patterns or was I delusional? Maybe it was just a weird hormonal crush, or just fondness that I had for any loved one. Were things happening in cycles? The thought gripped at me with its terrible claws, opening up more unbearable questions. I realised that if that were the case, and my life did happen in cycles, then I couldn't change. I had repeated the same mistake I had with Kusari in my current life that I did with Josh, just in a different way, and that moment with Anko was too similar to my meeting with Catherine for it to be a coincidence.

I didn't like the implications. The world had trapped me in a torturous spiral. I shook my head and glared at the ants beneath me. They were all busying themselves scurrying along with food for their nest and here I was contemplating the nature of reincarnation of all things. This was unfair. It was ridiculous to think that even if I didn't remember I'd go through the same joys and grief that I did in my previous life, like some sort of sick thread of fate was pulling me around.

"Are you ok Hina-chan?"

I looked up to see Shisui. I wasn't surprised. The red bridge river was close to the Uchiha district and there were quite a few recreational stores nearby that had both civilians and Shinobi venture towards. I probably shouldn't have come here if I didn't want to bump into anyone, but I hadn't been thinking clearly.

"I'm fine," I replied, although my voice cracked, and it was clear that I wasn't fine at all.

Shisui sat next to me and put his grocery bag down next to him. I wasn't in the mood to share or talk, not that I could even if I wanted to. It took a great deal of convincing for Gaku to believe me and Inoichi only did because he'd been in my mind. I wasn't going to kid myself into thinking most people wouldn't just deem me insane if I didn't put some effort into explaining things. I wasn't in the mood to put in that effort right this moment either way. It was disturbing enough that my sick twisted mind had associated my wife with a child.

"You know you can tell me anything. If there's something troubling you, then it's probably for the best that you get a second opinion," he offered.

I wanted to shake my head and tell him to leave me alone but when I looked at him, he gave me the most sincerely worried look I'd ever seen on him and it felt wrong to snap at him.

"You wouldn't understand," I replied.

"Well you won't know if you don't try."

I contemplated telling him, but it wouldn't make any sense. I could barely understand it myself. "Do you think you can change?"

"Of course," he replied without hesitation.

"But what if—what if a Kami or something really big out there kept you the same. What if it forced you to make the same mistakes and choices again and again?" I asked.

Shisui looked a little out of his depth for a second. I should have known. He was only 14, not some elder with sage like wisdom.

"I'm not so religious myself so maybe I'm not the right person to make this comment, but I don't think Kami-sama would be so unfair."

"But what if they were?"

Shisui picked up an ant on his finger and turned to me. "You told me a long time ago that these ants wage a secret war themselves. I remember you telling me it was simply the way of nature. I did some research into it and I found out it was true."

I paled as I realised the implications of my earlier analogy. I had essentially told a young boy that the world was a harsh place that wouldn't change, that war was in our DNA and that there would be no way around it. A deep shame overcame me in that moment, and I curled into myself a little more. How had I been so pathetic as to tell a child that?

"You seem as distressed as I did back then from this information," he noted.

"I—I have no words to express how stupid I was. I'm sorry," I whispered.

"Don't be sorry Hina-chan. You weren't wrong in the first place."

"No, maybe I was—"

He held up a hand to stop me from speaking. "I meant you weren't wrong about the ants anyway, but we aren't ants. We're human, and we can think and rationalise. It may be in our nature, but we have the ability to go against it if we feel convicted enough."

Shisui's words struck me deeply. He was right. I had been so caught up in the natural order of things that I'd let myself submit to it. I began enjoying murder, the thrill of the fight, the feeling of dominating. I stopped fighting against Orochimaru's ideology, all because I had determined that morality in the face of strength was meaningless. This world spoke only in strength—so it seemed an impossible factor to escape. Maybe this world didn't need to be ruled by oppressors... maybe I didn't need to either. A fool's thought maybe.

"You don't have to fight against everything that makes you, you, but it's a good rule of thumb to never make anyone else the master of your actions. Well that's what my tousan told me," he admitted sheepishly.

"He's a smart man," I said with a smile.

"So don't worry too much about things like fate and nature and all that ok. Just do what you think is right, and maybe listen to your heart for once," he said, poking my chest. "Kami knows you try to reason your way out of everything with your head."

I nodded his way, feeling smaller in his presence than I had any right to be. He gave me his hand, and I took it, taking comfort in the familiarity of his friendship, and the strength of his words. Shisui in that moment felt older than me, and I wanted nothing more than to listen for once.

"You were right Shisui-kun. You did help."

"Good, now how about we go get some sweets. That always cheers you up. Chocolate nama cakes?" he asked me with a kind smile.

I nodded and smiled.

"You know me well."

I had apologised to Anko soon after. Telling her something or another about being so embarrassed about dancing for the first time that I'd just fled. It helped that she bought the story, because I couldn't bring myself to look her properly in the eye. Something about her had changed to me and I recognised it as a sort of longing that shouldn't have been there in the first place. Maybe it was for the idea of love than being in love itself, maybe it was because she had the spirit of Cat in the way she sped through the world with reckless abandon. Either way it wasn't for me. This ideal of love was something that gave me pause, and made me sullen, but served no purpose but to distract me. There were things I needed to do, wrongs I needed to right, and love was not on my priority list.

So instead of dwelling on thoughts that would just make me miserable I instead funnelled all my attention towards personal research. Hiroto was a godsend really and my time in R&D was amazing and exciting all at once. I had shown Hiroto my total concentration breathing, something Orochimaru had grown bored of in favour of studying his cursed seals. It hadn't really been something I focused on much either, although it had worried me that I only knew the basics of such a game changing technique. Hiroto however had taken an interest in it and found that it was integral to his research, so I figured why not help.

"Total concentration breathing accelerates your blood circulation and heart rate. That in turn causes your blood temperature to rise," he repeated, looking through his notes.

"Yes, I did explain that before," I replied, rolling my eyes.

"But have you noticed the correlation with increasing your lung capacity? It seems when you bring an increased amount of air into your blood, it both stimulates your chakra, bones and muscles into a heated state where it's forced to strengthen and expand."

I stopped fiddling with the pen in my hand and turned to look at Hiroto curiously now. I hadn't really thought about strengthening my lung capacity. Then again that seemed like a dangerous body modification procedure I wasn't sure I'd survive as a first-time test subject.

"Are you saying that if I continue to practice this, I could compound my chakra over time?" I asked.

Hiroto shuffled up his glasses and nodded vigorously. He seemed to be vibrating on the spot as if he'd noticed something amazing.

"Yes! Exactly, and not to mention this could change the way we train Shinobi. You aren't really opening a gate you see. A chakra gate requires opening pathways normally unused in the Tenketsu system, and you haven't done that. In fact opening a gate is extremely dangerous just because it uses underdeveloped parts of your body at extreme rates, whereas your method simulates the same effects without using those hidden pathways!"

I licked my lips and looked down at his notes hastily. "So you're saying we can formulate a method to help chakra development with an adult Shinobi as an experiment? It won't completely fry their insides?"


"Fascinating… now we just need to find out how exactly to reproduce my ability to do this in the first place," I said.

Hiroto and I fell into a glum silence for a moment. Scientific excitement usually came with the unfortunate side effect of roadblocks on multiple levels. I frowned for a moment, losing myself in memories of Orochimaru and my experiments… which weren't just a little bit illegal. Showing them to Hiroto could screw me over potentially, but it could also mean unlocking some vital knowledge on a technique I'd unwittingly created. I searched the man's wide doe eyes for a moment, and he seemed to catch my stare and shifted unsurely.

"Ah—did you need something Hina-senpai?"

"Yes… I need your silence," I said, stepping close to his seat and leaning forward until our faces nearly touched.

Hiroto squeaked, and tried to shuffle away, but I gripped the rails of his chair and held them firmly in place and searched his eyes for confirmation.

"Tell me I have your silence," I said again.

"Ok! Ok you have my silence!"

"Good, then follow me. We're going on a little excursion," I said, pulling away from his personal bubble, and throwing on my lab-coat as I walked out the door.

Orochimaru didn't need to know that I had a little hidey-hole for my own stash of research notes, entirely separate from his archive. If he did, he'd probably kill me, revive me, and then kill me again for my insolence, but then again when did I ever care about being insolent? I pulled out a copy of the documents he had on my personal experiments. If he thought I wouldn't keep my own personal record, duplicated or not, then he was the real idiot. I didn't like not having my research in a place I knew was secure, and if that meant sealing it within a vacuum hidden underneath a pile of other useless equipment, then it was worth the effort pulling out the mess I'd made.

"Is there a reason we're doing this in a dark forest?" Hiroto asked, before he turned to spot a spider's nest next to him and jumped from the fright of it.

"It's so I can smell a human coming easier," I replied.

"Oh no, we're doing something very illegal aren't we?" he cried.

"Yes Hiroto-sensei, keep up. These are experiments Orochimaru and I conducted already on the Total Concentration Breathing technique," I said handing over the papers.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled up his glasses and closed his eyes for a moment. "Thank kami, for a moment I thought you'd killed a man."

I felt oddly lethargic at that comment, but I decided to hold my tongue. Hiroto would see soon enough why this was extremely illegal. He flipped through the file, and then the next with growing wide eyes and an increasingly paler complexion.

"Y-your heart stopped?!"

"It did, multiple times," I said. "Although the pain of it wasn't so worrying as the lack of any results for bearing it. Orochimaru was involved with ROOT too, which if you haven't been living under a rock, should know that it wasn't exactly by the books. I've done plenty of illegal things," I said.

"Why are you showing me this?" he asked, wiping his hands nervously on his pants.

"Experimenting with animals is well and good, but human experimentation yields quicker, more accurate results. Considering I went through all that pain to get this data, it would be a waste not using it. I'll give it to you, but I have to be around to monitor its presence," I offered.

"It feels… wrong," he said, looking down at the notes with a distraught expression.

"Well if it makes you feel any better it was an entirely consensual process. I wanted to do it as much as Orochimaru did," I shrugged.

He sent me a disgusted look. "Please do rethink the way you word things."

I chuckled and he seemed to lose some of that tension in his shoulders. The idea of 'consenting to Orochimaru' did sound dirty, and it was so unrealistic that I couldn't feel disgusted, just purely amused.

"You won't tell anyone will you?" I asked.

"No, considering you did 'consent'," he said, sticking out his tongue in a little disgust at the end there.

"Well then let's hope your memory is good, because I'm not letting you write down any of these notes or data either."

I had walked Hiroto back to our office afterward. He went oddly silent and I figured it was because he probably was beginning to see both me and Orochimaru in a new light. Yes, there was something undeniably wrong about the experiments we conducted, especially when one put into context my age and situation at the time. I was barely clinging onto any sanity trying to deal with Danzo and accepting Orochimaru's experiments had been the only way to get out of worse torture. As it was, I doubted I would have gone to him for this if I hadn't been put in the position I had been in.

But I wasn't in that position anymore… or at least it didn't feel like it. It had been 4 weeks since Fugaku's appointment as Hokage. A whole month of quiet silence. And something about the peacefulness of it all was unfamiliar to me. So it was oddly relieving when the ANBU came through my window, startling Hiroto out of his seat and onto the floor.

"You've been summoned by the Hokage."

This was my first summon since Hiruzen had stepped down. I took the scroll and nodded. The Shinobi flitted away leaving a flustered yet relieved Hiroto.

"ANBU are scary," the man lamented holding his chest and breathing out deeply.

"Don't tell anyone I said this, but they go out of their way to put on a mysterious act. Most of them are just specialised Jounin normally," I chuckled.

That seemed to ease the scientist a little. Most civilians seemed to think ANBU had involved themselves in some kind of forbidden Jutsu ritual that made them affixed to the shadows. Taking away that mystery wasn't something most Shinobi did, as a healthy fear for the ANBU was what kept crime low, but I had a feeling Hiroto wouldn't be committing any crimes even if he knew ANBU weren't the unholy offspring of lightning and death. He fixed up his glasses and looked curiously at the scroll in my hand. I shook my head prematurely.

"No you can't look at this Hiroto-san. I'm going to have to leave you to your research today. It might be a mission summons," I explained.

"Dear me, it feels surreal when you put it that way. You're just so young," he said.

Well for those people who didn't often see war, it did make sense that seeing a child my age going of to do dangerous tasks would be disconcerting. I think this was the first time it really dawned on him that I was a Shinobi and Shinobi did things like fighting and killing. Well he already called me senpai, but this was probably a healthy dose of reality for him.

"Take care."

And to play with his heart a little, I used the Shunshin to disappear before his eyes. The yelp and the jump back certainly didn't bring a cheeky smile to my face. After having frightened my poor minion, I decided to make haste. A personal summon to the Hokage meant a level of respect in timing. I didn't bother to change into my Shinobi clothes, instead travelling there with my lab-coat and civilian garb underneath. I didn't bother carrying weapons around the Village anymore. I was a Taijutsu specialist anyway, so it wasn't that much of a risk to go without weapons.

I entered the Hokage's office and bowed in front of the large desk. Fugaku didn't smile often like Hiruzen did, nor did he seem to want to put his soldiers at ease. It reminded me of Danzo in that sense. Always so serious.

"Yondaime-sama," I greeted.

"It's time we discuss your future position Hina," he said straight to the point.

I looked up. So it went from Suzuki-san to Hina, huh. I personally didn't care how people addressed me, but it spoke volumes of the position they put me in. It was odd for adults to call children my age with the suffix 'san', but I knew I demanded a magnitude more respect than most children my age with how professional I acted when it called for it. Right now it seemed I was tentatively somewhere neither trusted nor held at arm's length. Was Fugaku trying to get me on his side or was he simply unsure of what I intended?

"My position?" I asked.

"As you know my predecessor has left some loose ends untied. Orochimaru is one of them. He thought it prudent to separate you from him to both keep an eye on you, and to save you from his presence, but I know you don't need saving."

I didn't like where this was going. In fact I was utterly sure I was going to hate it. Orochimaru had been a useful well of information. All of his more interesting and fruitful projects including the notes and research papers had been relocated to the land of Rice. It had been close enough to the war that he could go to it on a regular basis before, but now it was hard to reach even for Orochimaru. Without the position as Hokage as his, he was getting antsy. He was cut off from his life's work. And so he was forced to do more mundane experiments and go on missions, and I was glad to be in R&D proper to stay away from his temper. I didn't want to go back and face it. I had a feeling Fugaku had seen the hesitation on my face.

"What is it you'll have me do?" I asked worriedly.

"For now I want to know what he plans, his experiments, his motives, what he truly desires. I want to know what you've done for him, and what you'll be willing to continue to do."

I couldn't stop the way my body froze at those demands. I looked around and only ANBU were here, but even though they were forced into secrecy, I knew their signatures, and I felt Kakashi's admits the rank. Fugaku would have me spill my most depraved actions in front of a trusted friend. I shut my eyes and shook off my reluctance. His friendship was not deserved and not owed to me in any way. If he saw it fit to cut ties with me after learning about this, then it was within his rights and honestly what I deserved.

"The things I did—they're not easy to speak of," I said truthfully.

"You owe it to your victims," Fugaku said without any pity.

I guess I did. It was the least I could do to repent, but outing my Shishou after he gave me his Clan symbols… I needed to stop feeling guilty. It only reminded me how much better Orochimaru was at sinking his claws into me than Danzo had been. I remembered Shisui's words. It wasn't good to make anyone else the master of my actions. This was just a case of misplaced loyalty, to someone who hurt me and clearly didn't have my best interests at heart… and yet I still somehow cared for him.

"You're right. Where should I begin?" I asked.

"The start of your relationship. When did you meet him?"

"I was nearly seven at the time. I'd come back from my first mission and had chosen to spend my spare time practicing Fuinjutsu. I wasn't welcome at home at the time, so I'd gone to study alone at a training field when Orochimaru came upon me. He helped me with my basics," I explained.

"Why did he stop for you?" Fugaku asked.

"I think it was because Sandaime-sama had been pressuring him to get a student. He was scouting about. It was at this time that Danzo also had his eye on me, and he… claimed me first. Orochimaru was the mission lead on my next war expedition."

"You were sent with Jounin correct?"

"Hai, I thought it was unusual. I was correct because when I came back to Konoha, Danzo had summoned me to ROOT and branded me before I could try and shake of the Shinobi tailing me. If I had maybe tried more…" I paused and realised I was going off track. "After that I didn't have dealings with Orochimaru for a while. Once I created a breathing technique that essentially acts like a copy of opening the 3rd Gate, I managed to kill one of ROOT's instructors. I was beaten down harsher than usual that day, and when I next woke up it was in Orochimaru's room. They had been using him as an alibi to my… wounds, but it never really was him doing it until that day. After that I was transferred to Orochimaru, and I didn't want to go back so I offered him my services. At the time I was desperate for power and knowledge to overcome Danzo."

This caught Fugaku's attention. I could feel Kakashi's chakra wind up tightly, his scent change ever so slightly to one of anticipation. I didn't like this, didn't like remembering what I did, and what I would possibly be forced to do in the future.

"What did he have you do?"

"An experiment. It was one of the tamer ones all things considered. Orochimaru is working on a seal that acts like a syphon for natural energy. A mock Sage mode if you will," I explained, noting how Fugaku's eyes had narrowed and his posture had leant in.

He was serious about knowing things that Hiruzen had wilfully made himself ignorant on so as to not act against his student. I personally just couldn't believe I was ratting out my sensei.

"I-I wasn't told to do anything but to stand by the subject—"

"—Victim," he corrected.

"The victim," I amended, "and talk him through it to calm him down. To properly administer the seal we had to cut open the sub—victim's chest and open his rib cavity towards the heart. Doing this without actively killing someone awake so they could keep regulating their heartbeat was no easy task, and so my presence there as an assistant sped up the process."

"And what were the results."

I winced. "Never good. Every single subject so far has died. But the seal is getting closer to finished although it's a lot more twisted than its original purpose. I am sure Orochimaru is using the DNA of some Kekkai Genkai user out there, although he hasn't shown it to me or indicated that he is. Whoever gave him the basis for this cursed seal I think has a variant of a Sage Mode like bloodline ability."

I of course knew it was Juugo. The kid was probably the age of 10 at this stage and it made me feel sick to the stomach to know he was probably imprisoned like some kind of animal. It hit different with children. At least with adults you knew they had even the sliver of a chance to escape if they really put their minds to it. Children however were weak vulnerable things that deserved protection.

"And why do you think he decided to get you involved and to go as far as to give you his Clan markings?" Fugaku asked.

"I'm not sure to be honest. I think it's because he genuinely sees me as a student, even if it's in his own twisted way. Maybe more of a legacy he helped make and marking me was a statement of his hand in my growth," I offered.

"That is plausible. He is arrogant. So tell me Hina, would you be willing to go back under his care?"

I hesitated. NO. I really did not want to do that. In fact that's the opposite of what I wanted now. It had been tolerable when Danzo was the alternative, but now I had an actual partner in science who didn't want to torture anything to get his research done. I had a team of people who worked properly as one should do in the scientific field, and while results were slow, it was proper and lightened the darkness that seemed to seep into my heart around Orochimaru. For fucks sake, for the first time in this life I had a proper 9-5 job with free time to actually live. I didn't want to go back to Orochimaru at all.

…But I knew I would to stop him if I did.

I would listen to Fugaku because I had actively gone out of my way to appoint him. He was a leader I knew would make the hard choices, who would make the right choices, and if he asked me to go back to Orochimaru, I would, all my wishes be dammed.

"I would do it if you asked me to," I said after a moment's hesitation.

"I will not force you. I know what you've done is deplorable, but it was done in desperation. I don't think you would do the things you did if it were just your life on the line, so I have decided to give pardon to any crime you have committed under ROOT. It is entirely your choice if you will act as a spy and bring me the hard evidence of Orochimaru's betrayal."

"It would be my duty," I said seriously before I wondered for a moment if I could ask a question myself. "If I can ask—why isn't my word enough to execute him? Why do you need hard evidence?"

Fugaku looked mildly pissed off for a second, although I was sure it wasn't exactly directed at me. He put both hands in his kimono sleeves and sighed in tired exasperation at something or another. I had a feeling I knew who his issues lay with.

"The remaining two elders in the Council, and the Sandaime are still my advisors. They demand I not move forward to an execution if I don't have hard evidence for his crimes. I've already sent Shinobi to check his personal R&D department, but while they have found evidence for an underground system, they haven't found any evidence of any of his research there. But even more than just evidence, I want to know where he holds our citizens."

Well it was certainly a relief to know Fugaku genuinely cared about people's lives. More often than not it was always about the task itself, not about the victims.

"That would be because he's relocated just about everything to the Land of Rice," I informed.

"Do you know of the exact location?" Fugaku asked.

I shook my head. "No, he hasn't even told me that."

Fugaku looked up in thought. "Finding a hidden base in such a wide area of land is almost impossible without any intel or clues. He's hid his tracks too well. This is why I will require you to go back to him. Gain his trust, rile him up so he wishes to leave for his experiments. Have him make a mistake that forces him to leave Konoha and go with him."

I froze. Ok, that was a magnitude more troublesome than what I had imagined I would do. To actually leave the Village with Orochimaru was something I'd never even considered. I could barely keep it together when I was alone with him inside a safe zone like Konoha where he couldn't go wild with me. To leave with him on this journey would be akin to suicide… but I'd been the one to commit unspeakable wrongs against human rights, and now karma was coming back to bite me in the arse.

"Why would you trust me with this?" I asked him in disbelief.

"I can see the honesty in your body language. Not once have you lied to me," he explained.

Well that was true, I was no good liar. In fact that aspect of me would never be a good Shinobi. For how well I could wear another man's skin and pass of physically as him, the moment I opened my mouth to lie, I was often found out. My face was too expressive. I had to resolve myself often to keeping a passive face, but even that passiveness was fickle at best.

"What I request of you is no easy thing. It may mark you a traitor should he take you with him, and it will be a public title for a short while, but once it is over, we have ways of clearing your name entirely. Double Agents though uncommon, are things we have systems and regulations in place for. We will have protections in place for you and contacts in case your mission becomes too dangerous to continue. Also the nature of this task will only mean you may be deemed a traitor for a few months at maximum. I will not have you actually under the man for longer. So will you agree to this task?" Fugaku asked.

I had a feeling he knew I wouldn't say no. I was going back into the not so proverbial mouth of the snake and I had a sense it's poison this time would be harder to resist.

I nodded regardless.

"Hai Hokage-sama."


Oh lordie I'm so nervous. Hina is now somewhat back to square one, although this time it's for a good cause. Orochimaru's betrayed her before so she really shouldn't be feeling so guilty for getting him back, but she's loyal like that XD

I don't often write romance. In fact I avoid it like the plague, but I realise I need some experience in it and I figured fanfiction is the best place to start ToT Also even though I started it now, it's going to not really go anywhere for a long time, and by a long time I mean probably until Anko is around 22 and Hina is 19 at minimum, and romance will never be a key focus of this story.

Also I understand that if they started dating now, it would be an incredibly wrong and toxic relationship, so I just want everyone to know that it won't be happening anytime soon. In fact it could possibly not happen at all. It just really depends on where the story ends up in the next 400 thousand words, because I want it to feel natural, so if it won't work, I won't force it. XD The joys and tragedies of writing such a long story is that, unfortunately, I have plans that I change later down the line because of how different things turn out.

Anyway things are going to ramp up from now on. Can't wait for you guys to see how it goes!

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