I feel like I've lost my grip on Beni's character in the time since I last wrote for her. Is she too bitchy? I want her to be free and liberal with her criticisms, but not outright mean. Let me know your thoughts.
Translations for this chapter:
Metiche: a nosy person
Qué Pobres Tan Ricos is a Mexican telenovela. I used to watch it with my uncle. :)
Beni twisted to and fro, eyeing her reflection in the full body mirror. Red high waisted pants were tucked into tall, black winter boots, Mushi already nestled in one of the deep pockets. A puffy red vest with a high, fur lined collar was layered on top of a black, long sleeved thermal shirt. She was a million times warmer now than she was in the threadbare red kimono.
And a bazillion times cuter, hot damn!
The sacred pool in Choumei's temple wasn't exactly the most reflective surface—evil turtle of doom aside. Now that she could actually see her face in proper detail, she finally understood the phrase 'dynasty ending beauty'. Holy fuck, but she was cute. Raphael missed out on the perfect cherub. She was a little on the thinner side, but her cheeks were still round with youth, her pale green eyes standing out against her warm, sunblessed skin. The melanin gods hadn't held anything back when making her, had they?
She spun in place, fluffing up her curls and admiring the contrast between the brilliant gold of her hair and the glorious amber of her skin. Her ties to Kumo were obvious, but, she arrogantly decided, even Kumo would be hard pressed to find a kid as lucky as her. The genetic lottery's bias was written in her skin for all the world to see.
"Well, Benihime-chan," Chouza began with an indulgent smile. "What do you think?"
She looked up at him with a wide, toothy grin. "I think I'm cute as shit!"
Shikaku tried—and failed—to swallow his laughter, a hideous, painful sounding snort escaping him. Inoichi smiled, his chuckle as much for her words as his friend's reaction to them. Behind him, a store employee looked on with a vapid smile, eyes blank in that weird way only a retail worker could really achieve. This was a larger shop than Beni was expecting to be taken to, with several employees and even other customers. They all gave her serious side eye, but she was more than happy to ignore them. She was a foreigner in a time of war, and the animosity between Konoha and Kumo went back practically to the foundation of the village system. A little suspicion was to be expected. The employees were polite, if a little cold, so it was whatever.
"What do you want to do with this, then?" Chouza held out her old kimono. "Do you want me to get rid of it for you?"
"No!" She took it from him and held it to her chest, defending it from the threat of destruction. "Nii-san stole it just for me!"
Shikaku really needed to let himself laugh. That snort was giving Beni second hand sinusitis.
"So, this is where you were!"
The entire shop fell suddenly silent, customers and employees alike turning to look askance at the women who stormed through the doorway, the little bell above the door ringing in protest. Beni recognized one of them as the Uchiha woman who'd come by her temple with her asshole boyfriend, but her friend was a stranger.
And a good thing, too. She was livid, thin eyebrows furrowed deeply over fiery dark eyes. She…she was also heading right for Beni's group?
Ooh~, it looks like we're gonna see something fun!
Beni looked up at the adults around her and found their expressions utterly devoid of the mirth they were just wearing. Instead, they looked very on edge, almost like Roshi when Sakumo first came to the temple. Shikaku, especially, looked stiff and uncomfortable, his slouch a purposeful affectation.
The angry woman came right up into Shikaku's face, a finger jabbing into his chest and rocking him back on his heels.
"You told me you were doing a team building exercise! What is this? Huh? Since when is shopping a team building exercise?"
Something fun. Right.
Hey, who was it who spent all their time watching telenovelas?
Oi! Qué Pobres Tan Ricos was a good show! Plus, all the people in soap operas were fake and the melodrama payed up for entertainment value. This was just…
"Are you blind or stupid?"
The woman froze mid tirade, blinking owlishly as she apparently noticed Beni for the first time.
Beni made a big show of looking her up and down before scoffing. "Stupid. Got it."
The Uchiha stepped up, face set in a placating expression as she once again put herself into a mediator role.
"Hey, now, there's no need for insults," she said, looking down at Benihime with a kind, if confused, smile. "It's nice to see you again, kunoichi-chan. How have you been?"
Beni shrugged. "As well as I can be, now that I've officially joined forces with my own colonizers. And you? Dumped that dumpster fire of a man, yet?"
She did a good job smothering her discomfort, but her eyes tightened minutely. "Aha, no."
"Tch." Beni looked from one woman to the other and sighed dramatically. "I don't know what kind of bullshit your parents fed you, but you can't raise a man. He is what he's always gonna be at this point, so if you don't like it don't buy it. Besides," she said, ignoring the flabbergasted expressions on all the adults' faces to gesture at the Ino-Shika-Cho. "His teammates are right here, lady. What? Does he need to submit a daily schedule and never deviate? That's hella controlling, you know. Very unhealthy behavior."
Boo! Why'd you stop her?
Uh, because the nagging wife trope is gross and boring? Because she could distinctly remember how Shikamaru and his father dreaded being around the lady of the house? Or…was that fanon?
Whatever, this lady was a bitch.
The bitch lady clearly had things to say, but she couldn't get them out, her mouth opening and closing repeatedly as she struggled for words. Beni opened her own mouth to continue berating her, but a heavy hand on her shoulder had her looking up.
"That's enough, kid," Shikaku said with a sigh and the ghost of a smile. "I appreciate the support, but I did say I'd see her today."
Boo! Why'd he stop you?
Hey! Do you know how long I've gone without any proper drama? It's not like Taki has a booming soap opera industry, you know!
Why was a primordial chakra monster whining like a tía desperate for the latest round of chisme?
Sighing, Beni put on a smile for Shikaku's sake. "Ok. If you say so." If she layered her acceptance with a heavy dose of skepticism, well, who could blame her?
As Shikaku let himself be dragged out into the snow, his teammates shifting their weight awkwardly. The Uchiha lady bowed slightly before leaving the store, too.
Beni turned to the long suffering retail worker overseeing their group and held out her hand. "Bill please!"
With that, life returned to the shop, the other customers slowly returning to their own conversations now that the show was over.
"Ah!" Inoichi turned to look at the door with a scandalized scowl. "He left us with the bill!"
The tension lingering in the air was officially gone after that as Chouza laughed. "Don't worry about it. This was my idea, anyway, so I'll get it."
Beni followed close behind the tall Akimichi as he payed for her clothing, looking curiously at the colorful bills he handed over to the cashier.
"How much was it?"
He smiled down at her. "Don't worry about it, Benihime-chan. A child shouldn't have to worry about things like this."
He was right, but still. "How much? I'll pay you back."
He ignored her, tucking the receipt into a pocket with a wink. She narrowed her eyes at him.
Just accept it. It's not like he's a loan shark or something.
No. She couldn't do that. It was bad enough she'd resigned herself to working within the stupid system she hated so much. She wasn't about to let herself be in anyone's debt, too. Things that were given could be taken away or used to guilt her into shit she didn't want to do. If she let this slide, she was only opening herself up to more debts and the chance that she might be used by people less kind than Chouza.
"Please," she beseeched him, tugging on his clothing as they stepped out into the cold. "I don't like owing people."
He and Inoichi exchanged a meaning laden glance. With a sigh, he crouched down so their eyes were on the same level. "Benihime-chan, the say I see it, this village is the one that owes you. Just take it as a down payment, ok?"
She shook her head, teeth digging into her bottom lip. "You're not the one who owes me, your government is. I—."
"Benihime-chan," Inoichi's tone and expression were stern and she couldn't help but feel like she was being scolded. "If it bothers you that much, just take it as a welcome gift for joining the village, ok?"
Benihime looked from one adult to the other, reading the tension in their shoulders and the way Inoichi was carefully eyeing the other pedestrians on the street.
Ah. So Konoha was a dictatorship dictatorship. An 'insult the government in the privacy of your own mind and mysteriously disappear' kind of dictatorship. Right. Ok.
She hadn't forgotten about the people tailing her, but she hadn't really thought about what they might be tailing her for, beyond her questionable loyalties. The fewer excuses Danzo had to involve himself and his goons in her life, the better.
"Fine," she said with an exaggerated pout, crossing her arms over her chest for emphasis. "Thank you. I appreciate it."
The men relaxed, but Beni made a mental note to repay Chouza somehow in the future.
Chouza stood back up and rolled his shoulders back, for a moment looking very much like the tank he was instead of the lovable candyman she'd gotten to know so far. Then he smiled and he was a red headed Santa, again.
"How's about we head over to the Hatake compound? I'm sure Sakumo-senpai is worried about you. Plus, you'll be able to meet his son! Little Kakashi-kun could use a few more friends."
It was awfully nice of him to frame it like she wasn't also in need of friends. Once again, she was reminded of why Chouji was one of her favorite characters.
She resisted his attempt to pick her up, this time, instead taking the chance to test out her new boots. They were…restricting, to say the least. After so many years running around barefoot, she was unaccustomed to the enclosed sensation. Sure, they were warm, but she wasn't sure she really liked them.
They were cute, though.
She skipped along, kicking up fluffy snow. Now that she wasn't trying to escape it, it was pretty fun! Maybe she'd get the chance to actually build a snowman!
In her pocket, Mushi buzzed his wings. Oops. Poor little buddy was getting rocked all over the place. She calmed herself down, restraining her movements so her bestest buddy could sleep.
Kakashi did not hold his father's hand as they walked home. He hadn't expected Sakumo to be waiting for him when he left the Academy, but it wasn't an unpleasant surprise. At least, not until he caught wind of the whispers the other parents were exchanging. His father's formerly indominable reputation was still in tatters, it seemed, his failure not yet pardoned or atoned for. One glance at Sakumo's subdued posture and the shadows in his smiling eyes told Kakashi all he needed to know about his father's place in the village.
How far the mighty had fallen. Kakashi could vividly remember his father as he was before that critical failure, standing tall and parting crowds with his presence alone. How terrible was his father's crime if he couldn't even hold his head high, anymore? That he didn't even try to defend himself?
Looking at the way Sakumo shrank away from people who'd once greeted him with smiles, Kakashi reaffirmed his decision to place any future missions above any other priorities. The repercussions for doing otherwise were too severe.
"Oh, Sakumo-senpai! And Kakashi-kun, too!"
The next Clan Head of the Akimichi waved them down, approaching them with a wide, sincere smile. He was accompanied by the next Head of the Yamanaka Clan, his greetings just as kind and welcoming as his teammate's. These two and their missing third, the Nara heir, never treated Sakumo with the disdain that other shinobi did, but they were less…relaxed when speaking to him. As Kakashi saw it, they owed his father a certain degree of respect as the Head of the Hatake Clan, but it was a bitter courtesy. Why else would they be so tense?
Kakashi stiffened, his body overcome by the sudden sense of being observed. Pupiless pale eyes found his and held them, looking into his soul, judging him and finding him wanting. Their owner wasn't like any person he'd ever seen before, from coloring to the arrangement of features. No, that wasn't true. He'd seen someone like this before, just not in person.
"Is this a prisoner from Kumo?"
He felt his father stiffen beside him, the White Fang unable to fully suppress the sharp intake of breath that signaled his surprise. The two shinobi on either side of the foreign interloper looked down at him, not even bothering to try hiding their shock.
Their young companion just raised one short eyebrow at him, expression thoroughly unimpressed. "I'm from Taki, you xenophobic fuck."
"Beni-chan," Sakumo sighed, more inflection in his voice than Kakashi had heard in a long time. "He didn't mean—."
"Yes, he did," Beni-chan dared to interrupt, snorting as she turned scornful eyes onto Kakashi. "If broad generalizations and stereotypes are all your academy teaches your children about the world outside your Village, Old Man, then I don't think I wanna go."
Kakashi seethed as his father reached out and placed a gloved hand on the older girl's head, ruffling the golden curls his sensei had indeed insisted were the hallmark of Lightning's population.
"Don't take it to heart, Beni-chan," Sakumo said with a smile. "He's still learning."
She clicked her tongue. "I'll forgive him for your sake, then."
"How magnanimous of you."
Kakashi watched this interaction with narrowed eyes. The tension his words had put into the air was gone, now, replaced by warm smiles and indulgent laughter. The dogged expression on Sakumo's face had melted into one reminiscent of how he'd looked at Kakashi before his colossal failure. The Kum—Taki girl smiled happily—familiarly—at his father, Sakumo responding in kind.
What was this?
She noticed his staring—not that he was trying to hide it—and smiled at him, a baring of teeth that set his own on edge.
"Careful, Old Man," she chided—chided—his father, stepping back and out of range of his suddenly affectionate hands. "Your offspring is getting jealous."
What? No, he wasn't.
…How could she tell?
Sakumo's entire body froze. It only lasted an instant, but Kakashi noticed it, and noticed the awkward way his father reached out to ruffle his own hair, too, the movement stiff and disjointed.
"Ah, sorry, Kakashi. I forgot to tell you."
She huffed a laugh, fogging the cold air with her mirth. "Did you, though? Or did you procrastinate?"
His father sighed, again. "Beni-chan, please. Let a man have a little dignity."
She cocked her head to one side, her full lips curling into a slow, wicked smile, harsh winter sunlight glinting off crooked eyeteeth that bitterly called to mind the fangs hidden beneath Kakashi's mask. "I didn't realize you'd given me the power to take it."
Kakashi looked up as the Yamanaka inhaled slowly through his nose, the tall blond carefully looking away as he tried to stifle an obvious bout of laughter. Sakumo chuckled dryly, returning his hand to the place it clearly preferred to be and pulling her golden curls out of her face.
"Alright, little miss clever, let me see what these two put you in. Go on, spin."
She did so, holding her hands out and posing with an infuriating smirk on her face.
Sakumo hemmed and hawed for a long moment before holding up a thumb in approval, summoning his inner Dai. "Very good! It suits you!"
"I know," she said airily, flipping her curls back over one shoulder. "I look good in anything."
The adults all laughed at her display and Kakashi could no longer restrain himself.
"Who are you?"
"Kakashi," his father chastised him, dark eyes brimming with disappointment. "Watch your tone."
Of course, Kakashi should have known his father would pick up on the growl undergirding his question, his anger and confusion expressing themselves in the basest way possible. If not for his mask, he'd be baring his teeth, too.
The girl clearly wasn't able to detect such subtleties as she took no offense from his behavior. She just smiled at him, the expression condescending and sarcastic.
"It's fine," she said with shrug. "It's not his fault you didn't tell him anything. My name is Benihime." She held out a hand to him and he stared at it in confusion before she retracted it with a sniff. "I just moved to Konoha, so I don't know a lot of people. I met your dad while he was on a mission in the Land of Earth, so he's one of the only people I know here."
…Why did it sound like she was trying to reassure him? Did he seem so insecure?
Before he could rebut her, his father growled in warning. It was low and the others likely couldn't hear it, but Kakashi choked on his words.
"Beni-chan will be staying with us for the foreseeable future." Sakumo's voice was affable but firm, allowing his son no room to argue. "I expect you to be a proper host, understand?"
Kakashi stared up at his father with open mouthed confusion, grateful for the mask that obscured his face. He couldn't be serious.
"You can't be serious."
Benihime crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes up at Sakumo, brushing off the confusion of the adults around her like so much dirt.
"I don't know where you got that idea, Old Man," she said with tangible derision. "But I'm not your problem. If anything, you're mine. I came here all by myself, after making my own decisions, the consequences of which are also mine. I get it. I do. I'm the cutest little orphan you ever did see and the urge to smother me in unsolicited parenting must be great, but you must resist. You have a perfectly good mini-you right there," she gestured at Kakashi, giving him a smile that set him right back on his guard. "And, let me just say, treating a literal foreigner better than your own children is a bad look."
A wave of unease washed over the gathered shinobi, even Kakashi feeling its weight. Benihime was unbothered, though, and simply held Sakumo's gaze expectantly, her pupiless eyes sparkling with some malicious light that Kakashi was very sure he hated.
"What do you know?" His words broke the awkward tension. "How my father treats me is none of your business."
Those eyes turned to him, the corner of her full lips curling upward as she took his measure. "You're right. But how he treats me is. I have no interest in ingratiating myself to anyone in this village any more than strictly necessary," this last bit was addressed to the adults, more than to Kakashi, but she didn't look away from him, her smug expression infuriating him further with every passing second. "Having already been clothed and fed, I would much rather not add housed to that list. I have spent the whole of my life living off the land and I assure you, a roof is not a necessity for survival."
Having just completed a week long field training exercise, Kakashi quite agreed, but the adults clearly did not.
"Beni-chan," his father pleaded with her, kneeling in the snow and lowering himself before her. "You know you don't have to do that, right? Konoha isn't like your temple. You'll freeze. Just take it as me owning you a debt, alright?"
"You do owe me," she said with a curl of her lip. "But if you think I'm gonna let you dictate how that debt is repaid, then you are sorely mistaken. In fact," she turned to the two third of the Ino-Shika-Cho who were standing behind her, very concerned expressions on their faces. "You can bill him the cost of my food and clothing. I'll consider it a down payment."
"Benihime," Sakumo's tone was sterner now and Kakashi instinctively straightened, years of training under that voice triggering an automatic response. "This isn't something you can joke about. You have no experience with weather like this."
"Then I guess I need to earn some, don't I?"
Oh. His father was angry. Kakashi had very few memories of his father's anger, most of them distant and directed at something other than him, and thus not his concern. Frustration was more familiar, exasperation, too. This anger, visible on Sakumo's face and audible in the sub-tonal growl only Kakashi could hear, was new. And confusing.
Why was he getting angry over a child throwing her non-existent weight around when he'd never so much as bristled at the insults hurled his way? He let himself be backed into verbal corners, torn down by the village he'd sacrificed so much for, but this, this was what made him snap?
"Listen, Sakumo-chan," Benihime sneered, her teeth bared in a facsimile of a smile. "There are two beings in this universe who can tell me what to do, and you're neither. So, be a good little soldier, and march away." She made a shooing motion with her hands. "I am going to make myself at home, far away from you. Toodles."
She disappeared, her shunshin leaving a swirl of snow in her wake. Kakashi watched as his father deflated, anger replaced by something he couldn't name. Sakumo held his head in his hands, kneeling there in the snow like a beggar in the street.
Kakashi wasn't sure what just happened, but he knew he didn't like it.
Benihime leapt from one snow heavy branch to the next, following Choumei's advice as she searched the forest for a place to set up camp. She felt a little guilty about how she'd handled the situation with Sakumo, but she couldn't imagine doing it differently. He was all lovey-dovey with her while Kakashi stood right there, watching. What the fuck, man? She didn't need to be a parent to know that was fucked up. Her anger on the adorably tiny Kakashi's behalf may have played a large part in her bitchy behavior, but she'd never planned to live with Sakumo, in the first place. As far as she was concerned, her residency in Konoha was temporary, so letting herself be corralled into a permanent residence was no bueno. Plus, she meant what she said about debts. Sakumo, as cool and nice as he was, was still a servant of the state. As such, any care he gave her was essentially on behalf of the state and became something Danzo and his asshole buddies could hold over her head.
If she could avoid giving her enemies ammunition to shoot her with, she would, not matter how much of a bitch she had to be to do it.
Everyone is sleeping, Choumei groused. Winter is a bad time for us. Even you will start to feel it, if you haven't already.
Why didn't he say so before she ran off into the winter wonderland of doom?
Well, you were on a roll. The look on his face was priceless!
Ugh. How unlucky was she, stuck with a drama addicted bug in her brain?
Technically, I'm in your back.
Ooh, watch out. Your fans have caught up with you.
Ah, yes, her tagalongs. She'd almost forgotten about them. Well, if she did freeze to death, as Sakumo was so sure she would, then at least her corpse would be discovered quickly.
You know I will literally kill everyone if you die, right? That's a thing that happens when jinchuriki die.
She landed on the branch of a tree, looking out on the snow covered forest. Her new clothing was certainly warmer than her old kimono, but it wasn't designed for prolonged exposure. Already, the chill was seeping through the fabric and into her bones. A small part of her was starting to regret running away from Sakumo.
There's a place up ahead which should be warm enough. Insect activity hasn't completely stopped, at least.
That was…encouraging. She followed the bijuu's directions and found herself looking at the corpse of a monstrous tree. The deciduous giant was lying on its side, parts of its trunk caved in where rot had weakened it and the wood collapsed under its own incredibly weight. Benihime walked along its length, unsure of how it might be turned into a shelter. Was she…supposed to crawl inside? Like the larva Choumei said she was?
Could she say no?
Choumei laughed at her expense. In a tree this size, there should be a few holes big enough for you to sleep in for a night or two, at least until we find something better. It beats freezing, right?
Ah, she was the unluckiest kid in the universe. She should have just stayed at the temple. Kakashi turned out ok enough to become Hokage, after all. She didn't need to get involved.
That's what I said, but you didn't listen. Decisions have consequences, remember?
Having her own words thrown back at her had her stubbornly setting her jaw. Fine. She would sleep in the log. It was warm enough for the bugs she could sense inside, so it was warm enough for her. Never mind that the warmth was a byproduct of decomposition. Blegh.
Choumei was right. There was a large cavity further down the tree, though she had to crawl through a narrow opening to get to it. Insects and a few small animals scattered as she invaded their space, making their displeasure known through a cacophony of hisses and chirps.
"Sorry," she said with a duck of her head. "Sorry, I'm just cold. I won't bother you guys."
The creatures that understood her—surprisingly more than just the beetles—calmed down, and that helped the others relax, too. The inside of the tree was dark, and a little stuffy, but it was worlds warmer than the snowscape outside, and that was good enough for her. She found a spot that was relatively critter free and took a seat, settling her back against the mulchy wall.
Mushi crawled out of her pocket, investigating their new abode with his antennae.
Staying? Larva staying?
"For now, Mushi," she said with a tired sigh. "For now."