Chapter 1: Life as Prologue
Everything is relative. Possibly the first lesson taught to anthropologists and starfleet initiates, along with don’t lick, fuck or steal anything. Relatively death is a blip in a space time construct. Like relative morality, relative physicality and relative movement, perception is born to the person making it. Death was a blip, being unattached to the idea of heaven or hell but comfortable with an expanding and inexplicable universe, the blip was easy to move on from.
It was everything else that was going to fuck me up.
Reality is at the whim of perception and I’d known my whole life that relative was always the rule of the game. A new perspective was always a good one. It took four years to make it work, two more to realise that the expansion of my mind and understanding was not because I was brillant but because I was just way outside the norm. Four days to stop hiding from parents -Not Parents? Pod parents? Better Than Ending up in Coraline I Guess Parents?-and teachers and friends. One three hour long panic attack questioning consent, identity and my own mortality. Five minutes calling the local radio station during the Agony Aunt hour because in some ways I was six and my judgement sucked, Two minutes of screaming into a pillow. Thirteen seconds to acceptance.
Relatively, I was the last fucking person who should be put in this position.
If someone was going to make a portrait of me they’d start with the loose waves of my mothers hair. My own was shorter and wilder, either something brought from a previous life -in which case I despaired because I doubted anyone had black girl hair care around here- or a throwback to the parent I had not met. I hoped it was something I could grow out of.
“Why on earth couldn’t you get my hair.” My mother tugged as hard as she could.
The Uchiha clan was the half-myth in Konoha. As far away as possible from my firmly middle/upper middle class neighbourhood of accountants and tradesmen, it sat surrounded by no other houses, no roads and no people. Rumor has it that before the Senju burned to death under their own hubris they made sure that the land around the Uchiha was unavailable for construction. The only person who could change that was conveniently a drunk and a runaway.
My mother walked through its gates as if she was being taken to her grave. Head held high, shoulders back, not a hint of emotion on her face. I imitated her as best as I could, which was not very, and sat dutifully at her side when we arrived...wherever. Wherever was dimly familiar, like looking at an old picture book or hearing half a song. A room in a house. A house in a bunch of other houses. The room gained three old people and a pot of tea my mother did not drink.
We waited. Then we waited some more.
Finally a door slid open and a boy around my age bowed. He had curly hair and an exuberant smile. He wasn’t who we were waiting for but my mother relaxed at the sight of him all the same. I squinted because like some half song he made me think of something. Something I should care about. His eyes tracked us, even as he seemed to lose interest. There was a red sheen in his eyes because of course there was, that was the sharingan. Even though Shisui would die way before-
And it clicked. If only my friends could see me now. This was the kind of bullshit second life I’d get. This was exactly the kind of bullshit I’d’ve boasted about enjoying. In the moment it was not so funny.
I watched as a jowl faced man and his wife walked across the floor to each other. They turned and smiled at us. I was the only dark face in a sea of pale ones. The only one not in dark blue or wearing a red fan. I was the only person who had to be told to bow to a pair of people who would die before the beginning of the first act, before the protagonist got out of bed and committed a minor felony as an introduction. I was the only one who caught the eyes of the quiet boy three years younger than myself and thought oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.
I was the only one, basically, that realised how cruel a joke this was going to be.
The Uchiha clan, I learned that day and every day after, did not lightly let go of family. We’d suffered too much in the Warring States Era to be anything but compulsive about it now. My mother had left the clan, been banished, seven years ago after she’d been ‘caught’ by a Kumo-nin. In my life up to that point my mother had maintained that my father was a trader, a lazy one, but he had a beautiful voice and he could dance. Of the two stories I chose to believe my mothers. When I was five my chakra started rapidly expanding. Despite being mixed there was a good chance I would produce the sharingan. I would have to go to the academy or be surrendered to a foster family. The Uchiha had enough pull to disregard my mother’s protests, so she put me in a sunny yellow dress, herself into a formal outfit and marched us over to the Head Family.
What followed I’d never gleamed the shape of. One day I was just Mariko, then I was Uchiha Mariko with a few dark blue robes in her closet, then I was at the academy hanging out with cousins who had an unfathomably protectiveness of each other. It was my first experience of Konoha outside of my quiet neighbourhood. I’d decided almost on the spot that I prefered that. In my nice but not lavish home backed up to the Diplomats Residency I saw people from other nations all the time. Almost never with my skin tone but it was a close enough match to my first life that I adjusted the rationales I’d come up with and moved on. It was the best bit about this weird situation -if I’d worked it out before I didn’t have to fight it out again now. I had to contend with Konoha’s racism, with its creepy patriotism, but I’d be fucked before I fought to be comfortable with it’s casual microaggressions. I just was.
Surprisingly, insecure seven year olds discovering their magic powers are not super understanding. If I was a literal black sheep in my family I was a sign of weakness and betrayal to Konoha at large. My mother should’ve aborted me rather than raise a mixed child. My mother should have killed herself rather than allow herself to be used by the enemy. That my mother kept his knife by her bedside and taught me his dances meant nothing. We weren’t at war with Kumogakure, but we would be eventually, and when we were I would learn.
What, and why I specifically had to be taught, was beyond the knowledge of six year olds. But not beyond mine unfortunately.
I threw in with my cousins. At least they just thought the fact that I lived outside the compound was weird. I wish I could say I was at least an interesting student but I was no more interested in figuring out how to get these teachers to like me than I had been before. I was a middle of the pack kid with a suspicious amount of chakra but nothing more. I didn’t want to specialise, I didn’t want to join the police. I wanted to do my time, run a few D-ranks with a team, join the genin corps for my mandatory two years then go to University in Fire Capital. I was going to be a very unremarkable example of my kind, keep my head down and only move when my own safety demanded it.
And then the Earth Nation attacked.
I’d fucked up. I’d accidentally ended up being too good on paper to avoid being deployed.
This was the first war with an age limit. You could file to be included, which is what a lot of jounin did for their genin cells, or be drafted, which is what a lot of clans did. Girls from prominent clans under the age of twelve were to be kept back from the frontlines. Ideally not deployed at all. This was the first war that the Hidden Villages knew wouldn’t result in the destruction of society. Everyone was looking at this with an eye for the long game, in that game the fact that most abilities passed through the mother was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Little girls were too valuable to die. We were protected.
At least we were meant to be.
“I thought we weren’t going.” Too numb to help her I just said the same thing I’d been thinking since Sarutobi made his announcement. I was too young for a war. “I thought they didn’t want any Uchiha girls on the front line.”
My mother had bought a field kit to fit to me. She’d been dead behind the eyes since the announcement was made. Full length gloves with non-conductive metal between the knuckles. Long dark pants hemmed in tight. Flat chakra resistant plates to the front of the legs and the joints. Loose breathable top and mesh underneath in standard genin green. The only things that differentiated me from any other genin was the braids down my back and the curved ear piece that curved down to press against my skin. I had excellent spacial awareness and a talent for using chakra to figure out dimensions and shape. It came partially with being a Uchiha; we all excelled at understanding space and relativity. The rest of it was personal, and being a weird dimension traveller with Plot Knowledge. It also came with the incredibly Uchiha-like drawback of blackouts, headaches and other things that may lead a particular group of people to develop chronic mental illness. When my mother realised that this opened up a weakness as well as a strength she went to great lengths to have a piece of Lightning tech crafted for me. “Your psych evaluation came back,” my mother murmured, “you got a 4.5.”
She pulled the ties of my under armour closed. “You have a near perfect attitude adaptability for this war. Your mental health is excellent for someone of your age, you’ve always scored exceptionally on your moral flexibility and you’re disinclined towards rocking the boat. This is a war, Mari. No one cares if you go as a patriot or a non-believer. They just care if you go.”
Far be it for me to not get a scolding. “The clan doesn’t want anyone capable of producing viable children on the field.”
My mother pressed her lips to my forehead and swallowed. “Good thing you’re nine.”
If I closed my eyes and disassociated I could pretend this was a really fucked up car ride. They installed all the kids they couldn't get around bringing on non-essential supply runs. On paper this sounded great. Low combat, low stress, as close as you could get to a C/D-rank posting. In real life everyone knew it was a bad combo of baby sitting and sitting duck. We had a few high ranked chunnin and one lone jounin with an omnipresent cigarette. The rest were under ten.
A boy maybe a year older or younger than myself flopped against the side of the cart I was guarding. Or pretending to guard. I had my pack of too shiny weaponry in its pouch around my restless leg. The long silver-gold metal with its various attachments was strapped to my other side. The chunnin who’d assigned me to the cart had snorted and dismissed it as genin stupidity. In reality it was a party trick I’d only just begun to develop with a lot of drawbacks. I’d always been the type to like an exit route, an ace up a sleeve, this was it.
“Quick,” he said, waving his long tanned fingers in my face, “all the Kage are dead and the Hidden Villages have disbanded. Samurai rule the land with an iron fist. You don’t know when you and your family can come out of hiding to avenge the Hokage. What’s your career?”
Uh. “I’d be a war correspondent.”
Right. No TV coverage, no BBC. “Like Umeo Ayada.”
“That coward?” The boy spat on the ground. “What the fuck for?”
“Sakumo Aio only knows what happened to her husband and sons because Umeo fought the Sunagakure government to release his story.” I murmured. “I’d want my mum to know.”
The boy shrugged himself onto the back of the cart. “She’s a shinobi. She’d get it.”
“She’s my mom.”
The boy nodded, his brown-copper hair bobbing. “Yeah.” he stuck out his hand. “I’m Dan.”
I shook it. “Mari.”
“Well Mari.” he settled back against the supplies watching the same skyline of fire and blood that I did. “If the worst happens I’ll tell your mum.”
Morning came with warning smoke. Underneath my palm I could feel something wicked coming this way. It was barely a kilometre away now, shinobi could cover that in a minute. I wasn’t the only one awake; the chunnin and the lone jounin who were our heavyweights were lounging around. But I was the only one with an ear to the ground and a genetic predisposition between paranoia.
I kicked Dan awake.
His pale brown eyes blinked open reminding me eerily of a startled snake .“Wha-?”
“Enemies.” I stood up calm, as if I was making a comment on the weather. “On the way.”
“Shit.” Dan bolted upright reaching for his gear. “Oh shit.”
Within half a minute the jounin realised what I had. He gave orders, ours were to hide.
For the rest of my life I’d wonder how I ended up kneeling next to a chunnin dying from a slit stomach. All I’d ever remember was how the ninja burst from the forest. How we were half gone in under a minute. How children looked cut in half by enemy blades. The jounin and half the chunnin prioritized something else over us. Dan was fighting, I was fighting, everyone who could win was gone already. It was me and him and a couple of other genin. We were it.
The chunnin coughed blood. “What element?”
“Lightning and fire,” I stammered. “I know water theory.”
“Good.” He formed a quick few signs. I tried to keep them in my head. “Water is a transitional element. You need to feel it, flow with it and lend your chakra to the experience.”
“You will,” the chunnin grimaced, “I’ll die if you don’t.”
I’d die if someone who could actually win didn’t show up soon.
Transitional elements and stabilizing ones. Air and water were transitional. Fire and earth were stable. Lightning was a wildcard. In modern elemental philosophy it was the marker of progress. In part because of Kumogakure’s dedication to it, in part because it was the only element that took to technology well. Water theory was the base of medical knowledge because of it’s ease of transition. Fitting together elemental theory was more like a puzzle than a mystical equation. If I thought of it as a series of...of game mechanics. Something I had a certain amount of control over because it had a theory-
I could get through this. Make it a game. I just had to play god.
I fumbled through it. It wouldn’t fucking take. Fire and lighting were on the other side of the board from water or earth, the two I needed.
He was going to die. No he wasn’t. I was stubborn. If I didn’t do this I’d never go home. I’d never see my mother again. I’d never see Konoha’s walls or it’s gardens. In this life and the last I’d been an only child to a single mother. In every dark moment I’d ever had I kept the light on for her. I could not. Would not. Give up. I wouldn’t. I would not be a dead body to mourn over. I would not do that.
There was a reckoning inside me. I would do this. I would do it now. I pulled on inner reserves I didn’t know I had. I pulled until something came unstuck. Something pounded in my head and then, and then-
The chunnin sucked in a solid breath. In the next he grimaced and was up, in the middle of Dan’s fight. My vision was red everytime I blinked.
Dan rolled onto his side next to me. “Holy shit-”
“Shut up.” I felt invincible. I was invincible.“I need your shoulder.” It had been seconds but already the drain on my reserves was too great. I had maybe two minutes before I tapped out. Until then I was perfect. “I need something to balance on.”
Dan crouched. I swung the thin metal rod up and onto his shoulder stabilising it quickly - perfectly - between the non-conductive patch between my knuckles, My earpiece sang with white noise. My eyes stung but I could see. Better than ever before. I pulled on my chakra, the way I had since I’d learnt to make the Grand Fireball, and made it flow. For a second it was a Grand Fireball shooting out of the end of the rod. But with the sharingan I felt an understanding between me and the universe. I re-aimed. I turned fire to lightning and struck.
“Wow.” Dan’s ear was bleeding from the sonic boom my lightning strike had made. It had struck through one enemy, then two and ended up in a smouldering tree. I gritted my teeth as the world cut in and out.
“You are never going to tell anyone I did that.” The swirling red eyes dripping with blood sold it. “Swear.”
As good as his word he said nothing when the jounin eventually returned. The jounin looked at the dead and my stitching on the wounded chunnin, said, “huh, you a genius or something?” and went back to ignoring us. He was kind enough to sit me on the cart with the wounded but otherwise simply lead the rest of us to god knows where.
“When the hell did you have time to get tattooed?” Dan asked as he limped along side my cart.
“You have the number eleven tattooed on your wrist.”
I looked down at my left wrist and sure enough there was a beautifully realised lightning strike stylised like the number eleven. Inappropriate given the war but I had been using lightning without proper grounding. Maybe it was just a random scar.
“Huh.” I passed Dan a bottle of water and went back to checking the wounds of the other soldiers. “That’s going to be hell to explain to my mother”
I couldn’t get god out of my fingers. After the war, my part of the war, I’d sit at home and stare at them as if they could tell me something. What the hell I was doing. How the hell I forgot the stench of dead and dying people, voided bowels, the way I’d had to drag the oxen through muddy waters of dirt and blood and piss. I didn’t get to un-know war the same way I couldn’t get the feeling of playing god out. I had a family full of doctors the first time around. People drawn to it as a profession weren’t always doing it for the good of humanity. I’d been in medical ethics classes, I knew how isolating the medical track was and how it sometimes produced half-people who’d forgotten what it was like to not be the highest authority in a room. First time around I’d missed being that person by the skin of my teeth and the intervention of anthropologists. This time around...
I shut my eyes hard against it. This time around I was a lone girl in a messy plot with nothing to recommend me. I wasn’t slotted into the place of a main character. I wasn’t someone’s twin or sister. I was nine and I’d been to war and thirty-five percent of the people I’d ever known were dead. By virtue of that my graduating class had been told that unless we were exceptional we would be graduating without honors. No genin cells. No jounin instructors. Just a straight path into the deep terrifying woods of regular ninja work. I couldn’t afford pacifism because god knows those around me would not give it. I could be good at this. I could find a way to meld this into something that, if I could not be proud of, I could live with.
I thought about my stupid fucking eyes. “I want to be a medic,” I told my mother.
She looked at me warily. She was writing condolence letters to friends who’d lost kids, spouses, siblings. “They won’t let you do that.” She sealed another letter. “The Uchiha do not join the medical core.”
“Mostly because the Senju never let us.” I pointed out. “And as you know the Senju have been pile driving themselves into the ground lately.”
“Point.” She allowed. “No.”
“You have to ask the Elders.” She said as if that would stop me. And it would. Usually.
“If I do?”
She looked at me very seriously. “Then I’ll back you.”
My family shut the door in my face. I pretended I didn’t care.
They had made concessions. I wasn’t valuable enough to try and convince but I was a point of reference for people in the village. My mother was a nice middle class public servant. If we didn’t remind people they forgot we were Uchiha entirely. Now more than ever the Uchiha needed that. We could still use the Uchiha doctors. My mother could still go the compound. Unlike in less modern times they weren’t going to pluck the eyes from my head. Instead a stoop backed old woman, the Book Woman who’d had a name once but had given that and her tongue up when the Nidaime still ruled, shaved my head and drew symbols on it. Even if I had wanted the sharingan I couldn’t keep it, not if I wanted to live outside the pitiless cold war of the Senju and Uchiha.
“Will it hurt?”
The Book Woman raised one greyed eyebrow.
“Right.” I shook of the nerves. “Let’s go.”
The Book Woman offered me two vials. One was green like the grass that edged the Nakano river. The other was as blue as the sky that hung over Senju Hashirama’s head. She shook both and pointed to her eyes. Her left eye bleached and lost colour becoming the pale purple of Hyuuga around her pupil. With a blink they returned to their usual dark hue. She shook the vials again.
“Green,” I said. “Is there a reason-”
The Book Woman slapped me upside the head.
“Sorry.” I winced. “Too curious.”
The Book Woman took out another vial of a darker green and two fine brushes. She hummed about them, I got the feeling this was something she enjoyed but was not called upon to do often. She made me lean my head back, wiped my brow with something that smelled like crows blood and strong white tea.
“What happens now?”
She smiled, her teeth were sharpened like a cats, her mouth made words and even if they’d belonged to an entirely human mouth I wouldn’t know the shape of them. Sight bleached from my eyes, the humming in the back of my head that I’d always assumed was mental shrapnel from the war closed off. One long whistle note and then nothing. My eyesight left and I was overwhelmed with the feeling I’d just done something monumentally stupid.
When I gained back my sight the world looked...blurry. A step to the left. This is what everyone else saw, I realised. Blood breeds true even without the sharingan. The Book Woman handed me a mirror. Green eyes of too many shades in a pale brown face. Her fine brushes were dipped in dye, a palette with shades found in nature and many more not sat next to a bowl of the same thick blood coloured substance she’d used to draw on my head. The Book Woman looked happy with her work and I had no choice with which to complain.
When I looked down and noticed that the 11 on my wrist was now 9. Since that was impossible I chalked it up to stress. Maybe it was always nine.
If I’d been smarter I’d have counted the years. It was six and change from the Kyuubi but that day all I’d thought about was what I was making for dinner, if I had to met Rangiku for lunch, if they were finally going to release my favourite serial in the newspaper. Ordinary things. I had a very ordinary life.
Remember relativity. I’d forgotten it in the years since I’d realised what I was. What I’d been thrown into. Relatively life was going fine for me. When I opened the door I didn’t feel the weight of an already finished plot drop on my head. I thought What kind of asshole has enough time to keep his hair that grey colour? Followed by Why would anyone bring my delinquent cousins here when we ran the damn police. I thought the sun was too bright. I thought about whether or not I had to sit through another will-they-won’t-they-on tv. I did not think for a fucking second that I had to care about the damn plot beyond moving to a coastal civilian town in a few years to avoid all the drama.
With a surprisingly emotive tone of voice Hatake Kakashi said, “Uchiha Mariko, I presume?”
“Not really,” I said, still squinting at the sun, “Mariko is fine.”
“Ah,” he replied, pushing the bundle of anger towards me. The boy glanced up behind uncut bangs. Medical training is harder to shake than not. He was sleep deprived, under nourished and had a possible chakra lesion pressing his temple if the way he held his jaw was any indication. All signs of genjutsu trauma which made Kakashi bringing him here more sensible. I could have been the closest person who knew how to treat it. “I have some very bad news.”
Chapter 2: Growing Pains
the titles mean nothing tbh.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I sipped my tea. Kakashi hadn’t even tasted his which I was struggling to not be offended by.
My new problem, Uchiha Sasuke, was as well trained as I could expect. He drank his tea politely and dutifully despite the fact that it was an eastern blend from Suna he’d probably never had before.
“My mother went over for dinner.” I mused. Later I could be upset about it. Right now I’d sunk deep into the place in my head I reserved for surgery and war.
The kids hand made an abortive gesture. His fingers twitched and curled towards mine. I had no choice but to remember that he was actually a very sweet kid.
“Fuck me,” I grumbled. “Alright kid, I’m making more tea and taking you for a check up.”
Kakashi shook his head. “He’s fine.”
Oh my god. If there was someone’s judgement I couldn’t trust. “Are you a medic? No? Shut up.” I pointed to my head. “He has a chakra lesion in his head, near his eyes.”
“They didn’t find anything.”
I sighed. “Because they’re not Uchiha. A Hyuuga physician might find it but a regular one never would.” I turned to the kid. He was watching me carefully, as if I’d only just started to be real to him. I pressed against his jaw, behind his ear and above and below his eyes. “Does that feel numb to you? Do you sometimes get a feeling like pins and needles?”
“Nose bleeds? Eye bleeds?”
Kakashi made an unhappy noise. I didn’t give him the dignity of noticing.
“Okay.” I reached down and checked his tea cup. He’d drunk it all the way down to the dregs. I kept the Suna blend on hand because unlike tea from the hilly regions of Fire it tended to contain things in the liquorice family. My best bet from what I’d learned was that herbs native to the regions that clan abilities had developed in had a profound effect on them. The Uchiha had spent a large amount of time living along the top borders of Fire therefore things from the legume family were our friends. This made about as much sense as anything else in this world. I drank liquorice and nettle tea to sooth my common upset stomachs and help relieve the constant eye pain since I’d had my sharingan bound. The kid probably had no idea why his family drank nettle tea after battles.
I looked at him again, fatigued by even the possibility of being the person to teach him this.
“This tea isn’t the best one for you.” I said quietly. “I’ll make you an appointment with a Hyuuga specialist tomorrow and we’ll see what can be done.”
The kid blinked.
I grabbed his cup, grabbed Kakashi’s full one too, and left for my kitchen. “You can go.”
Kakashi looked at me with that lovely combination of disdain and incomprehension only jounin could manage. “You’ll look after him?”
No, fuck all the oaths I took, I’m going to poison this orphan as soon as you leave. “He’s a kid. I’m not an asshole. If I decide I won’t go through with it, I’ll let you know.”
That was enough for him. He left. The kid followed me into the kitchen grimacing with distaste at my very modern layout and pulled himself into the lone chair on the other side of the butcher block island. I weighed how asshole-ish it would be to tell him I used that space for medical ninjutsu not as a prep area.
The kid drew in a deep breath. “Your eyes are wrong.” His voice was creaky. I added honey and ginger to my list of things to put into the teapot.
“They’re unique,” I allowed. Metal was also important in preparing salves and potions for shinobi. The Uchiha used clay because we reacted poorly to most chakra conductible metals. The Senju and Yamanaka were the same. I had the copper pots and pans the Akimichi prefered because they cooked chakra into their food. It just tasted funny otherwise. A lightning affinity side effect. Reaching all the way back I found my lone silver pot made of the same conductive metal as my earpiece. Sasuke had a lightning affinity too, more than that I needed to fry the ever loving hell out of what I was making for him. His shit of an older brother used kinjutsu on a still evolving brain, a close relative no less. Uchiha were susceptible to each other. When we used powerful ninjutsu on family we tended to turn them into mush.
“Why aren’t your eyes right?”
I was not going to explain nine hundred years of Uchiha eugenic philosophy to him. “You ever met the Book Woman? The last of the Elders from before the Founding?”
I nodded. A bit of nastiness the family would spare him. “Uchiha don’t become medics. I did. They bound my eyes.”
“Then you’re not Uchiha.”
I put the pot together. Honey and powdered herbs. Cook until they begin to caramelise. Add water and ginger. Because Itachi was an asshole I ended mentha extract and orange peels. I crushed one Akimichi Chakra Plus and put half in the pot. Waited until the mixture settled on an unsettling clear brown colour. Added rose petals I’d paid an arm and a leg for direct from the Yamanaka estate. They bred flowers capable of healing any mental wound. Waited some more. Added the second half of the pill, more water and more honey. Lastly I sprinkled in the headache powder I got at the Uchiha market -and realised with a heart pang that I was the only one now who could make it- and let it sit.
The kid was getting antsy. His chakra lashed with pain, guilt and fear. The bottom of the silver pot turned white-blue, a sign that it had finished cooking. Inside the pot the tea had turned from unsettling brown to a clear green smelling fully of mint and honey. I poured two cups. One for him, one for the dumb point I was about to prove.
The kid sipped his, anger and wariness sitting heavy on his brow. I leaned against the counter on the other side, reached up and pressed with tiny chakra scalpels on the release seal for the binding. Immediately the world righted itself. My nearsightedness left, the ache in my stomach disappeared. I felt as invincible as any of my kin with my red eyes swirling. It was only a two minute release to stop the build up of chakra but the kid didn’t need to know that.
I grinned around the pain. “Real enough for you?”
I squinted all the way to the second floor afterwards. Sasuke followed at my heels taking in the light blue walls of the house, the prints of art I had in the hallway. He seemed genuinely puzzled by the idea of a floor runner. The room I was going to give him was a combo of study and library. It had a deep daybed and more pillows than sense. I gathered up bedding from the linen closet and pushed boxes out of the way.
Sasuke looked at the bedding. “I want to stay in my own house.” His fists bunched up. “The Hokage said I could.”
“Too fucking bad for the Hokage then, because unless you’ve been given to the state he can’t say shit.” I paused. Was that why...Details of The Plot were fuzzy to me now, but I remembered Danzo and his fucked up killer children squad. Come to think of it, why was Kakashi the one to bring him to me? Maybe he’d whisked the kid out before Danzo could get his hands on him. “We’re blood related. More we share a maternal great grandmother. That’s enough for the Five Great Clans.”
He gritted his teeth, raising his voice slightly. It hurt a little to realise that the only reason he wasn’t yelling, wasn’t screaming, was because his mother had taught him never to yell at women. Especially his relatives. “I want to go home.”
“Soon.” I promised. We would have to. “But not today.”
I could see him cracking under the pressure. Soon he’d freak out. “Why not?”
I raised an eyebrow and handed him his bedding. No way he couldn’t make his own bed. “Because I put a sedative in your tea.”
He wasn’t talking to me when he woke up. That was fine.
I handed him Uchiha blues. He almost asked me a question but decided ignoring me was more important. That was also fine. I had to dress myself anyway. I did leave him a light breakfast and a cup of warm tea. I had a nice moment watching him decide if the obvious relief he got was worth the possibility it might be drugged.
“It’s not drugged.” I said. He glanced up. I had to hold a wince at how deep the bags under his eyes were. “We have to go down to Central to get a copy of your ID.”
He winced. Smart kid. Central was Civilian Central. No shinobi went there unworried. He drank the tea careful. I watched his eyes close with relief and re-upped my desire to kick Itachi in the face. Kinjutsu. On your brother.
We had to walk to Central. Konoha had a dedication to it’s aesthetic that meant no one was making viable public transport any time soon. The Records and Identification building was right in the heart of Central, a big dome shaped building with wide doors. Inside was just like going to the DMV. I took a ticket and sat down to wait. Sasuke sat next to me, jaw clenched. I reached into my bag and pulled out a book.
He looked as if it would bite him.
I smiled faintly. “Uchiha Umeko and her husband were the first people from Konoha to travel up the old trade routes in Earth. I thought you might want to read about it.”
He took the book.
I took out one too -a refresher on brain structure, much less interesting- and waited for my number to be called.
“00978, ID.” The bored man behind the counter announced.
I left the kid where he was and went to the assigned window. The woman behind the counter didn’t look up. “Request denied.”
I blinked. “I haven’t-”
She pointed behind me at Sasuke hidden by his book. “Uchiha Sasuke has no record here.”
“Yes he does.” I said patiently. “He’s, like, seven. He’s not in ANBU. He’s a citizen. He has to have records.”
That was fucking stupid. “Is it because we don’t look alike?”
She looked me up and down. So, yes, at least a little. “Mariko, no last name. Formerly Uchiha Mariko. ID number-”
I held up a hand. “Yeah I know mine. I need to know his. ”
“You said on your inquiry form that he was your cousin,” she did another infuriating once over. “You’re not cousins.”
“We’re cousins.” I replied. “In the same way all the Hyuuga are cousins. ”
The woman looked at me. “He has no documentation.”
“Why?” I hissed. “Does he not have documentation? ”
Sasuke pulled on my jacket. His eyes were red, he was swaying. Goddamit. I’d pushed him too far.
I glared at the woman one last time, heaved my cousin onto my hip and took the ninja freeway back home.
I wrapped him in about a dozen blankets and stuck him in the lounge room. I’d been working my way through the ninja version of Lord of the Rings -more like a Wuxia than anything- and stuck him in front of it. I didn’t want to give him more tea. Instead he got one of my fancy hot dark chocolates with orange and a pack of liquorice. I went upstairs and paced. I went downstairs and cleaned. Eventually Sasuke got out of his nest and put in the next part of the epic. I gave up, got him another drink, and watched it too.
Sasuke fell asleep during the second movie. I tucked him under the blankets and pulled his hair off his face. I’d sedated him again, something we’d have to find a way around soon. His eyes were healing from the impact of an early release of the sharingan but I couldn’t trust it to not cause him more psychological damage. There were entire treatises on the formation of eye abilities -most written from very biased points of view, but some facts couldn’t be ignored. There was a reason that the most powerful sharingan came from extreme loss. We knew that trauma had an impact on the brain structure -well, I knew that- and it wasn’t hard to extrapolate from that.
He had no medical documents in the system. That was fucking ridiculous. The Uchiha kept to themselves, yes. We had a hard time getting fair treatment from some medical centres, yes. But we were a founding fucking family. Some things just had to be respected. Sasuke should have the basic ID forms everyone got. He should at least have his blood type registered. Someone had scrubbed him from the system. Someone had gone in and made sure he couldn’t access the basics we took for granted. I pondered that. Why would you take medical rights off a kid? It was mandated by Hashirama. If you were inside Konoha’s walls you got free medical care, free housing during recovery and limited access to auxiliary medical services like psych and PT. It was the base for citizenship in Konoha, the definition of it. It was why we were top choice for resettlement. The citizenship tests were heard but reasonable with three ways of entry: birth, marriage and military service-
I looked at my cousin. He was pale even for a full blooded Uchiha. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t eat much. He’d been socialised almost entirely inside his own family. He didn’t have friends that weren’t related to him. He had no idea why he’d drink nettle tea, when his sharingan developed no one would tell him how to maintain it. When he had children he’d never learn how to check the family charts to make sure he wasn’t giving his children one of the many immune disorders that plagued our line. He would grow up to be powerful. That was a given. But when it started, when he figured out how strong he could be, he wouldn’t be able to take care of himself unless he became a soldier.
What the fuck was going on here?
I have the first two arcs, the first ten chapters, planned in my head. I think the next chapter will be quick but after that it'll slow down.
Chapter 3: Growing Pains pt II
Clap ur hands if u had an emotionally draining conversation with ur parents today.
Chapter name is from a song on shuffle.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I put the phone to my ear. Breathed in. Breathed out.
“This is the Hyacinth and Mulberry Hotel, what can I do for you?”
“Yes,” I breathed in, breathed out. “This is Mariko. I should be in your visitors log. Is Yoshimoto Aimi there?”
“Ms Aimi?” There was a rustle on the other end. I tried to not pass out from how hard I was breathing. “Ms Aimi arrived at around six last night, should I tell her you called?”
Oh god. Thank god. “Yes. Tell her to come to this address-” I gave her mine. “As soon as possible.”
I ended the call. Thank god. Thank all the gods. My mother was alive.
I leaned against the wall, head against my knees. Three years ago my mother had gotten remarried. She changed her name to Yoshimoto for all intents and purposes erasing that she had ever been a Uchiha. I’d woken up with a hunch, a wild hunch, that no one had told Itachi. My mothers family was from the poorer side, Mikoto might have known, but excommunication was absolute. My mother had never the sharingan and had undergone the full non-reversible hysterectomy required by the Elders. On paper both in the clan and in the village she was just a retired jounin.
“What happened?” A small, raspy voice asked from behind me.
I looked up at Sasuke. His eyes were bloodshot.
“We’re going to the doctor today.” I wiped my eyes, my leaking nose. “And my mother was not at the compound.”
His face went through a series of emotions. Relief, anger, sadness, pain, resolution. There was a lot of work between now and him meeting his genin team. I ruffled his hair. “Kid, my mother is alive. That means there’s at least one more full blood Uchiha.”
He looked up and for the first time something like life came in behind his eyes.
I ruffled his hair some more. “I need you to get showered and presentable.”
The Hyuuga Compound was this sore thumb stretching across several blocks of Konoha. Like many Clan compounds it refused to conform to the creeping modernism around it, suffering nothing like interesting wall colors or decorative ornaments. We walked through an old entrance for servants and trade. I had a few hazy memories of structured, tense formal affairs with the Hyuuga but they’d stopped before I turned ten. The doctor we were going to see was the only one who’d ever reached across the aisle to extend a hand of friendship to the Uchiha. All other medical professionals on both sides were kept well sheltered in the family blood feuds, rarely leaving the village at all.
His door was a muted orange, blending with the general washed out purple of the Hyuuga. His receptionist, a woman in her fifties with the seal on her forehead, greeted us warmly. She already had a piece of candy waiting for my cousin, which he took dutifully but then ignored.
The woman smiled stiffly. “He’ll be along shortly, don’t worry.” She left us in his immediate waiting room. Uncomfortable chairs, out of date magazines and lukewarm water in plastic cups.
“Why is she uncomfortable.” Sasuke demanded. His voice was still hoarse. Until this morning I’d thought it might be the beginnings of a cold. Instead it was from his nightmares when he muffled his moans by biting down on his pillow. He never screamed, or cried, but the exhaustion of being always tense was doing a number on him.
I sighed. “I don’t know. The Hyuuga and Uchiha don’t like each other. I’m mixed, people don’t like that.” He glanced up at me with shock but I pressed on. I didn’t want to get bogged down in that, but we would have to talk about what it meant for both of us later. I loved the Uchiha a little for their blindness to those in the Clan, but hated what it meant for us practically. I softened my tone. “You’re an orphan and she probably knows why. It makes her uncomfortable.”
I saw the temper flash in his eyes. He was about to respond when a tall man in full Hyuuga robes strode out of the doctors office. He took one look at us, stopped, and turned around to the man behind him. “You have got to be kidding.”
The doctor strode out behind him. He went by ‘doctor’ to those outside the clan. I’d never pressed to find out his name. “She can make an appointment. The boy is just a boy.” There was more than a touch of censure.
“You forget yourself,” the other man hissed. He was Main Branch then.
“I do, and I do not. Good day Touma.”
I narrowed my eyes. Hyuuga Touma was the Official Aid to the Merchants Council for the Noble Houses. He was very elite and had no reason to visit his poorer cousin ever. If he wanted to see the man the doctor would be honour bound by the seal on his head to show up.
Touma swept out. The doctor invited us in.
The room was a standard specialist space. Charts on the walls. Note pads. Many chakra conductive pieces of metal and bone. The doctor weighed Sasuke, took a few eye tests and took a small sample of ear wax.
He made Sasuke sit down on a chair, staring thoughtfully at his messy hair. “What did you find Mariko?”
“Several lesions, non-threatening, around the orbital chakra points. A few indications of deep chakra growth, although I believe that’s resetting itself. Irregular patterns around the nodes along the spine at positions 3, 5, 7, 18, 24 and 53. Minus the irregularities at 53 and 7, the rest of it is what I expect with an early release of the sharingan brought on by a stressor.”
“Do the Uchiha react strongly to familial release?”
“Yes.” I hesitated. “Unlike the Hyuuga a stressor is the only form of release. It can’t be...induced.”
The doctor spared me a small smile. “It is only us here. If I asked you too you couldn’t crack his skull open like a robin’s egg the way my kin do?”
“Hmm,” he tapped the kids knee. 43. Then his other knee. 41. Then his ankle down to his toes. Minor and major chakra points. 91 to 227. Not all of them. We would be here for hours if he manually checked every chakra connection in the feet. He did his ribs and lower back next. Chakra was a little odd in where it decided to settle. It was part of our soul made material and thus followed a philosophical idea of reality. The feet, that touched the earth and wore the weight of the steps, and the back, which carried the burdens and was untouched by the sun, tended to be areas of concern.
“May I look at your brain?” The doctor asked Sasuke. The kid shrugged. He’d disassociated the second we’d started. I was in the shitty position of having to allow it. “It will not hurt.”
Sasuke looked at me then the doctor. I nodded back. I wasn’t a neural specialist. Sasuke nodded. The man smiled and activated his byakugan.
The doctor spent a lot of time turning his head this way and that. He pulled on his ear. Swiped his finger back and forth on his cheek. It was a lot of self control to not bat his hands away from the kid, pick him up and take him home. When the doctor found something interesting he hummed and wrote a note down.
“Brilliant,” the doctor murmured. “This sort of technique has so many on going effects it’s as if the caster is with the victim at all times.”
This is why I fucking hated doctors, in this life and the last. I touched the kids shoulder gently, pulling him away from whatever nastiness the doctor had unleashed in his head. “Your brother isn’t omnipotent.” What he was, was the privileged son of the clan head. He would know all he needed to succeed. He would know nothing of the secret beginnings and pathways. That was always the providence of the less deserving. “He’s a colossal asshole with a specific talent.”
The doctor flushed, suddenly aware he’d misspoken. I cut across before he could apologize.
If you learn a technique well enough you no longer have to use all the seals, just the first and last. Medics learnt to cut down as many steps in a technique as possible. The seconds it took to do ten seals could kill your patient. With a well practiced flourish I let lightning jump to my hands and then formed it into a loose structure. The natural inclination of Lightning chakra was to strike, if you knew where your own chakra points where you could attract the spokes to them. If your chakra control was good enough you could send little pulses of it to thicken some parts and thin others. The lightning formed a loose open flower, then the Uchiwa of the clan.
The kid immediately reached out to grab it. Lightning jumped over his hand and spun back to mine without burning. In my profession precision was everything.
I pondered for a moment, I had to be careful about how I worded this. “Your brother has mastered his sharingan, as many others have before. I have mastered this. It’s the work, Sasuke. It’s not him. It’s just a set of skills. He’s not perfect, he’s just very good, and anyone can be very good.”
I’d probably still fucked up, but I needed him to not fear his brother. Acting in fear would drive him places he couldn’t come back from.
Sasuke leaned back in his chair, pulled out the candy and stuck it in his mouth. He didn’t say a word for the rest of the hour.
Sasuke was pronounced ‘healthy enough considering’. The doctor had no concerns about me being primary medical care. His brain would need to be monitored. He was at a malleable age and only beginning to reach the point of development that allowed for critical thought. Any ideas he formed at this age should evolve with time but the kinjutsu wouldn’t allow for that. Ideas he attached to strongly at this age and for many years after he would have far more trouble letting go of. I was advised to be careful with him, to disabuse any harmful thoughts with emotion rather than pure logic, and to watch for erratic changes. If we could get him to ten without developing significant cognitive or emotional tripwires we would probably be fine. I took psychology from anyone living in nations where conscription started at four with a grain of salt, but both the doctor and I knew how much good mental health was a shot in the dark in both our clans. We could think it, even say it to some patients, but it was the dark secret at the heart of Konoha. All of its pillars of strength were just a lucky dip.
“This is a freebie.” He warned when I went to pay. “I won’t see him again until he gets some papers. Maybe you have a friend in the Merchant office.” The doctor shrugged. “Just a thought.”
Maybe I’d sprout wings out of my ass and fly to Hot Springs. “Are you asking me to get a clue?”
“I’m asking you to consider the advice you might give yourself in this situation.” He handed me a bill for zero ryo. “Maybe you have a friend.”
I carried Sasuke. He was always amenable to being carried, a left over from his mother. If I’d been male maybe it would be different. For dinner I bought a lot of tomatoes, meat and the soft bread my mother liked. Day after tomorrow I had to go back to work. Tonight was going to be about making a game plan for the next few months. How I was going to manage him, my job and the feeling that something really shitty was about to drop on my head, I did not know. I’d have to tell my mother about his lack of papers, too. If I had to go see a friend I’d need her help.
The light was on when I turned into the small courtyard of my house. I could smell dumplings, pot stickers and the red curry my mother made when she was heartsick. Sasuke had fallen asleep sometime ago. No screaming. No crying. His hair blew into my mouth tasting like my own apple shampoo. I was so fucking tired. I didn’t want this. I’d arranged my whole life so I didn’t have to do this shit. If I was a shitter person I’d drop the kid back at his house and move away. The plot turned out okay, right? Kids and a fucking mortgage.
But he didn’t sleep except when he was held. He didn’t know how to be a person anymore. His brain was a slow cooker of hatred and depression set by Itachi’s kinjutsu. He was seven and had the kind of mental illness that would haunt him for decades if not the rest of his life. More than that he couldn't escape it. The narrative was set already. He was going to go through hell whether I gave a shit or not. The only question is how much of a person was left afterwards.
I’m not a shitter person. I tried in my first life too. The stakes were just much higher now.
I did sigh as I put down the groceries on my doorstep. God help us if I had to phone a friend.
Next Chapter: Mariko phones a friend.
My mother was a slight women just shy of forty. She’d had me when she was a year or two younger than I was now. She’d never regretted it, even though it had cost her everything. Her new wife was an eclectic who arranged trade routes for emerging civilian businesses. She was wealthy enough that when my mother’s eyesight started going she arranged for a suite at the Hyacinth and Mulberry just outside of Konoha on a private estate. I’d been living alone a couple of years by then but my mother had given me my childhood home as a matter of course. Finding her in my kitchen the next morning was at once a source of pleasure and deep confusion.
That Sasuke was sitting anxiously at the table helped.
“Check up.” I grabbed my emergency kit from underneath the island and set it on the table. I needed one of the solution to test his earwax. Weird thing 1003 about the Naruto universe. Earwax was a great way to check chakra levels. It was an easily gathered waste product that held chakra well. It was like a BMI in that it gave general information but it was enough for the mornings. Whatever was going on with the boy was worse at night. I swiped his earwax, dipped it in the appropriate solution and waited. He was sitting a little above normal. Expected, if unwelcome.
Sasuke didn’t move. He kept squinting at my mother with her dyed blonde tips but otherwise perfect Uchiha-ness.
“Mother.” I called. “Come have breakfast before the kid gives himself an ulcer.”
My mother turned just enough to indicate she heard. “If he gets an ulcer you can fix it.” That’s my mom. Ever practical. “You need to eat. You need tea.”
I sat down. She would never stop until she’d met her obligations as the hostess of the house. A habit she’d regretfully passed on. “Is there fruit?”
“Is there fruit, she asks.” My mother tsk ed and grabbed a bowl from the fridge. Banana! Yay! She carefully ladled a bowl of porridge that was half nuts and honey before coming to the table.
“Oh nuts.” My mother walked into the island nearly dropping the food. I dashed for the food -which would be more of a hazard, the woman was mostly blind but she was a Uchiha and as such had amazing reflexes- as Sasuke dashed for my mother. He slotted himself under her arm, the two of them not being so unmatched in height, and escorted her to the table.
I brought my own breakfast over. My mother settled into her seat with her real breakfast of five eggs and coffee. Sasuke glared at me.
“My mother was a jounin.” I pointed out. “The first time she nearly broke her back going down the stairs she got mad at me for helping. Made me stand at the bottom while she did it again to prove her point.”
Sasuke looked at her, blinked, then returned to staring at his food. My mother’s mouth turned dpwn anxiously. I sighed, shuffled my chair around the table, and ruffled his hair. “Her name is Aimi. Although I don’t call her that. She’ll be looking after you today since I have an appointment.”
The kid looked up, chakra sparking with dismay. I didn’t try to alleviate it. One: I had a job I needed to go to tomorrow. Two: emotional attachment was the pitfall of my family and the stronger his was the better chance I had of rigging some sort of life support system against the Plot’s idea of character development. Three: this would piss my mother off so much she’d do twice as much to make sure he had a good day. He needed one. I wasn’t in the place or mood to provide it and maybe she’d tell him what a colossal asshole I could be while doing it. Three wins for making a traumatized child have an internal panic attack.
My mother glared at me. Yep. This was worth it. “I have to go to Merchant Court.”
Sudden understanding lit my mother’s eyes. Maybe she wouldn’t be that mad. “To get the boy’s papers.”
“Maybe.” I ate my fruit salad and tasted my porridge. “Probably just get treated like shit for awhile and bum around the chunnin desk.”
She hummed thoughtfully. “You should wear something different.”
“What’s wrong with this?” It was just dark pants, a green shirt and my hair in a ponytail.
“That’s your ‘I am going grocery shopping’ outfit. I raised you. You’re a chronic over dresser. He knows that. Dressing down won’t help. Not to mention the lack of lipstick.”
Out of the corner of my eye I caught Sasuke looking at me skeptically. I hadn’t put a lot of effort into my appearance while he’d been here.
I rolled my eyes. “What do you suggest?”
“Those dark pants you love so much,” she pointed at my serviceable but stretched shirt, “and that pretty rose and pale gold tunic you obsessed over.”
I did love that tunic. “No red lipstick?”
“Don’t knock them dead.” She rolled her eyes. Like watching a mirror. “You always liked that stuff better than me. Do whatever.”
The dark pants were actually grey leggings and the tunic tended to emphasize the freckles I kept getting from hours outside but it was more like what he would expect, yes. I didn’t want to meet expectations because I didn’t want to go. Fuck it, I’d already upset a kid and pissed off my mom. I might as well look good doing it.
One half sleeved rose and gold tunic, grey pants and pair of heels later I presented myself to my mother’s scrutiny.
“Lipstick,” she said.
I produced an appropriate colour and added an appropriate amount.
I hesitated. Konoha had a preference for understated beauty. I never did my prefered level of eye makeup because I’d carried it over from my previous life. Here it made everyone think I was a whore. Worse, that I was a foreign whore.
“Do it.” she said. “They’re your eyes Mari.”
I swore, turned and spent another five minutes outlining my eyes. I’d been told all my life by well meaning people to downplay my exoticness. I looked too much like I could be from Suna with eyeliner. Too much like Kumo with my hair out. Too much like Rice when I darkened my lips. It was well meaning but annoying. She was right, though. Parading around proving that I didn’t care at all by changing fundamentals wasn’t going to convince anyone who’d ever met me.
Merchant Court was actually three separate places. There was the Merchant Guild who worked independently from shinobi enterprises but maintained a presence in case someone needed them. There was the Merchant Alliance which did work with shinobi and was a civil and social powerhouse in its own right. Lastly there was the Merchant Office a subsidiary of the Merchant Council. They were the bridge between the civilian powers and the shinobi ones.
I knew what office I was heading to and breezed through the open foyer area, the elevator and the brown hallways. The office I was heading for belonged to the jounin in charge of legal disputes between civilians and shinobi. It was a vague title encompassing a number of things. Somedays it meant sorting out snarls in the judicial machine of Konoha. Other days it meant launching ‘investigations’ against Konoha’s citizens here and abroad. It was purposefully vague because the Merchant Court existed in a grey area of shinobi law. It had to.
“Hey Dan.” I made a point of leaning on his door. Maybe if I did it hard enough the ceiling would fall in. “But if you’re here who’s guarding the entrance to hell?”
Dan smiled and leaned back in his comfy chair. He was always happier to see me then I was to see him. He didn’t hit handsome, it was closer to interesting, but his too wide mouth and long brown-red hair kept him in good company. It was the eyes I felt were the trick. They’d sure fooled me.
“Mari,” he said, voice full of happiness I knew he actually felt, “I heard you were coming by.”
It was hard to look at him and not remember we’d been best friends for years after the war. Hard not to remember that when I moved out at fourteen it was his couch I slept on the first week. Hard not to remember that in a moment of trust I’d confessed that I’d figured out a whole new kind of weapon. That I’d been giddy to show him because I thought he cared.
So I showed him. I got up and took him to the top of the Hokage monument and shot birds down with my Lightning steel rod and a few rings of glass. I can hit anything, I told him, from over seven hundred metres away with the right conditions. I told him It’s basically untraceable.
And the motherfucker sold me out. It was simple to him, I could help Konoha therefore I should. It wasn’t simple to me.
He must have read all that in my face. “I’m not going to be rude to you just because you’re not happy with me Mari.” He gestured towards the seat. “You know I’m not the type to be baited. It’s why we work as friends.”
I closed my eyes. Saw the inside of men’s brains and eyeless sockets. “We’re not friends.”
“We are.” He tapped the bridge of his nose. “I got you out of the hole I put you in. I never left you somewhere I couldn’t get you out of. What would I tell your mom then?”
This argument wasn’t worth having. Not least because he’d broken my mother’s heart when he left my half starved corpse on her doorstep. “Uchiha Sasuke.”
“Tricky business.” He leant forward in his chair. Yellow eyes in a heartless face. “What am I getting for it?”
“Not my foot up your ass?”
“Funny. My ass is too high up for you to reach.” He turned a good show of speculative. Crossed his legs and leaned the right way. You can’t really speculate when you’re the only one with a hand to play. “Pick something else.”
“Foot number two, not rupturing your ballsack.”
“Fuck you Dan.”
He leaned back in his chair. I leaned in the doorway. “I’m not messing with something that nasty just to get in your good books again.”
It stung a little, I’ll be honest. “Did not think you would.” I walked forward and sat in the chair across from him. “How about this: give me something to work with and I’ll do the rest.”
“No?” I put my feet on his desk. “Why no?”
“You remember when you kicked me out the hospital window for trying to sneak out when you were on rotation? ‘Put up or shut up’. Give me what I want or give me something I can use.”
“No.” I let my bravado go. “Fuck. This was stupid. Have a nice day. Or don’t.” I’d find another way.
He stayed in his chair and all I had to be gratified by was the tension in his hands. He had something he wanted from me and I had the power to just not give it to him. I hit the bathroom first, possibly to collect myself possibly to dodge him if he followed me. I washed my face witch cold water, cupping it in my hands to hide my scream. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
My mother was a full blooded Uchiha, there was no way in hell clans like the Akimichi, Hyuuga and Nara would ever allow for the state to take a blood relative off any founding family. He could at the very least stay with my mother. But he was stateless. I wasn’t an active chunnin anymore so I couldn’t grant him citizenship as family. My mothers residence was technically outside Konoha and if he had to relocate there there was every chance he’d be abducted by Danzo or Orochimaru or anyone who felt like it. Konoha did not have to protect anything outside its borders and even if they did look for him there would be no international cooperation. He would just disappear.
On paper signing himself over to the state through military service was the best option. He wanted to fight. He needed the protections service could give him. Fuck me. In another life it was the only option.
I was spinning out too much. What could I actually do? I wasn’t letting that be his only option. It went down too dark a path too quickly. My mother was too old and blind to be reactivated. That left me and my stupid sniper stick. It wasn’t so much killing people, I was numb to the idea of taking lives, but I knew Dan would use it. Blind patriots are a horror at the best of times, revolutionary ones are so much worse.
So help me if I had to shoot the Shodai himself to get this kid therapy I would.
I turned my ass around and went back in.
He’d been waiting. He was always waiting. “What do I have to do?”
“There are five people who can do what you can do. Four are Wind aligned, one is Water. Ice makes for a very nasty but traceable -bullet? That’s what you called it?- but someone has begun making an effective counter measure. It stops Water 100% of the time, Wind is between 70% and 73%. Lightning, I’m sure, is still effective.”
“You’re an asshole.” I felt compelled to tell him.
“Sure.” I felt his mood darken, a third presence in the room. “But I’m convincing my higher ups to invest in recon and long range attacks. Modern warfare. Not scrapping on the front lines.”
“How did you get that out of the war?” I asked. “Not diplomacy or defense or-”
“Do you want me to get the kid some papers or what?”
I snapped forward and grabbed the papers off his desk. Mission specs, a deployment date, a reactivation of my active status. I snarled, “we aren’t friends Dan.”
He grabbed my wrist. I could feel the cuts he got holding onto me one handed as we hung over a cliff. His hand never healed right. “That’s never going to be true Mari.”
I took the paper anyway.
Next Chapter: In order: Mariko gets yelled at, takes a kid to school against everyone's better judgement, goes to work, does not deal with her choices.
No easy friendships, we become ideological opponents like Naruto characters.
Chapter 5: Growing Pains pt IV
This is like an authorial statement but if you want to use worldbuilding ideas from any of my work feel free? Just let me know and like, credit if it's extensive. I'm kind of interested to see what other people do with them since it will probably be better than mine.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Blessings be the six am wake up call. I was ready before my mother, who had claimed my old art studio for herself and had never been a morning person, and Sasuke, who I found asleep in the hallway with a kunai. He was positioned just out of sight of the front door in front of the half-hallway that lead to my studio/third bedroom. I grumbled back upstairs and grabbed him a blanket.
Technically work started at seven but there was a gap between six thirty and six fifty five in which all of the girls on shift got together to go over the day. I arrived at six thirty seven, coffee in hand sans lipstick. My work was what would be called in my previous life a ‘Private Wellness Facility.’ We did cosmetic procedures, all day spa treatments and dubious workshops for the spiritually inclined. I’d left public medical practice five years ago when rolling administration changes begun to hamstring med-nin. Some had banded together to form a proto-union, some had taken their paychecks and gone private. My choice had been a combination of practical and rebellious. Those of us from the last war stayed where we were to insure another one didn’t happen. If it had been purely medical I might have stayed but I’d had Dan to consider. I wasn’t in medicine for the right reason, anyway. Selling out was just an acknowledgement of that. You had to be rich just to walk through the doors, I wasn’t exactly swindling the undeserving. More than that after awhile you got sick of life and death, sometimes you just wanted a paycheck. With Sasuke I needed this job more than ever.
Haruhi was almost allergic to being on time but she was my shift buddy for better or worse. I put her coffee on the other side of the partition that separated our two ‘consultation units’. I had a minor fixation with and subsequent specialization in medicinal herbs and genetics. Being from a major clan this made perfect sense: we did benefit from alternative medicines. Most of the people I talked to in a day either dreamed of being a secret lost member of a Noble House or imagined that what ailed them could be fixed by a special tonic rather than following their doctor’s advice. There was a small third category of people for whom I swore I did this job; those who actually did need off the beaten track treatment. I had one of those appointments today, as well as a long term client that really needed to just eat more vegetables.
“I heard what happened,” a sweet voice called from over the partition. I looked at my pale green desk in its cream cubicle and grunted.
Haruhi stuck her head around, long dirty blonde hair swinging with it. She was the only person I’d ever encountered with natural heterochromia giving her a Bowie-esque vibe. “Is the kid cute?”
“Does he want cake?”
“Doesn’t like cake.” Or at least I had vague memories of a data book that said that. “Does like tomatoes.”
“Weird kid.” Haruhi narrowed her ‘mystical’ eyes at me. “Why aren’t you wearing make up?”
I pulled three tubes out of my bag and held them up for inspection. Pink. Red. Deeper red. Haruhi handed me back the darkest one. “I heard we’re being evaluated.”
I rolled my eyes. “Is that why you have two different shades of eyeliner on?”
Haruhi shrugged. Another reason I worked here; it was my job to appear eclectic and foreign. It I wanted to wear eyeliner no one would judge me, if I wanted to dress to appease my own dysmorphia no one cared. As long as I knew my stuff and gave people a good time I was fine. “Why the evaluation?”
“A Hyuuga expressed interest in buying us out.” She shrugged. Haruhi was less interested in a change of ownership than she was in getting me to try all kinds of lip colours she couldn’t get away with. She was a gifted psychologist with a list of honors an arm long. She worked here because they didn’t mind her dreamy personality or her fondness for men’s clothes. “We want to look ‘professional and charming’. ‘Cause the owner wants the deal, he’s going broke you know?”
I applied the lipstick without a mirror. Shinobi muscle memory is amazing. “Which one?”
“Touma.” Haruhi reached over for her coffee. “The beautiful maveric one with the pale purple eyes.”
What the fuck. “All Hyuuga have pale eyes.” I’d seen Hyuuga Touma recently. Was it a coincidence? Possibly, but I’d stuck my foot in the Plot now.
Haruhi shook her head. “No. His are a pale purple. He has a rare congenital defect. It’s a throwback to before the Uchiha diverged. He has visible pupils.”
I couldn’t remember if I’d noticed that. I shrugged. “Either way we’re only here until two.”
I’d arranged for time off in two weeks and for all my shifts until then to be morning ones. It had taken a lot of bribery and promises of undying devotion but I’d gotten it done. When Sasuke re-joined the academy or -in my happiest dreams- joined the international education program that allowed students to study the same subjects they taught in the Capital remotely, I would need my afternoons. Maybe that was why my day turned into a shit show.
I handed Just-Call-Me-Eri her prescription for our pricey Byakko water when my manager stuck his head in. For the life of me I could never remember his name, that was how unremarkable he was and how little he encroached on my life. “There’s someone out front for you Mari.”
“Just a moment.” I smiled at Just-Call-Me-Eri. “You need lots of water and rest. Take two tonics a day until you run out.”
Just-Call-Me-Eri thanked me profusely. Byakko water was an electrolyte mix with an antioxidant booster. Just-Call-Me-Eri was recently widowed and suffering for it. It wouldn’t help her the way grief counselling would but when I saw her in a month or so I could push her onto Haruhi. Maybe she’d figure it out on her own. People were resilient that way.
My manager huffed. “I really can’t make him wait.”
I marveled at that. I was sure half of what we did was make people wait for things. There was that report I’d read once, that queuing for things made people feel important or something. “I’ll be right there.”
My manager left in a huff.
I drank some water, reapplied my lipstick and went to see what the fuss was about. Just outside our front doors was a commotion. A crowd peppered with chunnin was making noise.
Haruhi slung her arm around my shoulder. I tilted down to accommodate her. “Who is it?”
“The Hokage,” she rolled her eyes, “who else?”
The crowd parted and Sarutobi Hiruzen emerged. It was a weird little reminder that I lived in a manga, a storybook. At once he was in front of me, a fiction and dying at Orochimaru’s hands. I remembered that scene very clearly.
There was only reason for him to be here. With a sick feeling I asked, “What happened? Is he okay?”
The Hokage blinked. “Ah. No, he’s at school.”
What? “No. He’s at home.”
Sarutobi raised an ancient eyebrow. “He very much is not.”
“Son of a fuck.” I whispered. Then, louder, “I’m going to get my bag.”
The Hokage raised a delicate hand,. “We must speak.”
Since you couldn’t say ‘we can talk after I stop you from crushing my cousin under the weight of long held prejudices’ I kept my mouth shut. Haruhi grabbed my bag and slung it over my shoulder. “Alright.”
If the Hokage could tell I was pissed he didn’t say it. I settled next to him on a bench near one of the parks. It must have been a nice picture. The Hokage having ice cream next to a random civilian. My hand tensed around my coffee cup.
His gentle voice cut the breeze. “I wonder sometimes about how we can have so many nice days. Do you think, somewhere, someone is keeping score?”
I was a dimensional traveller. Reborn from another universe into this one. Someone certainly was keeping something. “No.” I turned to him. “What is this about?”
The Hokage frowned. “I do not want this to be unpleasant. You must allow Sasuke to reach his potential as a shinobi.”
I knew all the complicated reasons for that. We used the Uchiha as boogeymen. With so many legends dead Konoha was facing a serious image problem. Even one sharingan made a difference. “If that is what he decides. In a month.”
“A return to routine-”
“-would benefit someone who’d lost a grandparent or a sibling. Something devastating but overcome with time and support. His entire family is dead but for a few outsiders he never met. He needs to learn how to rely on us before he can resume his routine." I gritted my teeth. “Pardon my rudeness, but I am a trained med-nin. We all received trauma seminars.”
“For civilians.” He managed to weigh each word with maximum derision while ensuring politeness. “You are not a med-nin any longer.” It was clear he meant that as a grave insult. “ I mean no rudeness but perhaps you’ve forgotten the rigours necessary to shinobi life. Sasuke can’t afford softness, not until Itachi is accounted for.
Oh he could eat my entire ass. I knew Itachi was out there on his orders. Even knowing that he did not, could not know that I knew, I was incensed. Reason warred with my want to have the last word. Reason lost. “I have been reactivated in my former capacity.” Screw him if he didn’t know what that meant.
“Oh?” He sounded actually surprised. Shit. Guess Dan hadn’t worked that one out. “As a med-nin?”
“In all due respect.” Which was not a lot. “I cannot divulge that.”
He pressed his lips together. “Be that as it may Sasuke must return to the academy eventually.”
He could bank on eventually as much as he wanted. I wasn’t letting him go for a month. “Be that as it may,” I managed cordially but coldly, “as his next of kin I cannot in good conscience let him do that for a month at least. He does not currently met the academy’s health standards.” That was a shot in the dark. I’m sure they had some but this place didn’t exactly see extreme PTSD as a cause for concern.
The Hokage’s eyes narrowed. “That can be arranged.”
Wow. Hell no. “I’m afraid it can’t be. He’s under watch for serious genjutsu trauma.” I took another stab in the dark. “As a registered Uchiha medical ninja I cannot let a family member suffering from that sort of post-jutsu shock into an uncontrolled environment. You know how deeply affected we are be inter-family violence.”
His eyes narrowed. I saw a flash of something -irritation, regret- come and pass. I would bet my shoe collection he did not know anything about a registry or familial susceptibility but it was the kind of buzzword bullshit that would sound good in front of the clans. As the Hokage he couldn’t use the Sarutobi name. He had to dance around the major clans just like the rest of us. Even a dead clan would stand higher in their estimation than he would if I talked about keeping family secrets. “Of course. If you change your mind you know the way. Excuse me.”
He left at just the right pace. I couldn’t be offended but I knew he was upset. A few passing shinobi glared at me but I was never the type to be hurt by glances.
I’d gained a lot of information in one sitting. First: the Hokage needed Sasuke back in school, back under shinobi control as soon as possible. Second: he did not know what Dan was up to, or was playing dumb. Three: I’d probably just made an enemy I couldn’t afford. But if he needed Sasuke to go back to school I needed him not to go. Right now sending him to school was a guarantee he’d shift back onto the original path. Too many people wanted that and I didn’t know why yet.
We didn't cover as much as I wanted to so. Next time. Mari picks up her cousin. Def gets yelled at. Has to go to Merchant Court. ABSOLUTELY gets yelled at.
- I'm on the fence about whether or not Sasuke goes to the academy right away or gets a bit of civilian education and goes later. Thoughts? Opinions?
-There's something enjoyable about writing someone who has your worst traits and extending them. I'm a combo Slytherin/Gryffindor which means there are just. So many possibilities.
Sasuke came out of the academy layered down with food stuffs. He walked towards me like a man going to the gallows. I hid a laugh, the first one since Kakashi arrived on my doorstep, behind my sleeve. Just behind him came an instructor. I could see the fire in her eyes. As an adult you get to make the decision to fruitlessly put off things you need to do. I decided that guardians to PTSD-ridden children got to do the same.
I sped over to Sasuke and picked up half his load. “Hand me your food.”
Sasuke looked at me like I was an idiot. I was clearly already holding it. I rolled my eyes, grabbed his hand and quick stepped out of there.
A block or three away I stopped. Reaching into my pocket I produced a small blue scroll. Medical grade. Perfect.
Sasuke tried to snatch it from my hands. “What’s that?” His voice was reedy and tired. He sounded like he was seven, his actual age, which gave me some hope. But underneath that I could hear genuine exhaustion. School would be very good for him eventually but he was too tired right now to handle it.
“It’s a medical grade storage seal.” I showed him the Senju symbol on the end. “I’m popping the food in here.”
Sasuke eagerly helped me store his spoils. With that done we walked toward the local markets. Food stalls adorned the sides of the roads. A few years ago someone had introduced milk smoothies with tapioca pearls at the bottom. It was almost like boba tea. Almost was more than good enough for me.
Sasuke wanted one with tomato flavouring and seeds at the bottom. Since wanting things that did not include fratricide was one of our aims I bought him one and a pair of steamed buns. We walked a little longer until Sasuke really started to fade. I offered to put him on my back but he paled and swayed until I assured him we were only a few minutes of roof hopping from home, in which case I would carry him like a princess instead. He found this more comforting than disturbing.
We passed one of the old Aburame buildings. In the original timeline the speculation had always been that Naruto had lived in a shitty part of town. Either something had changed or we’d all been very wrong. While it was true that general proximity to the kid dropped property prices faster than bed bugs, the old Aburame apartments were the upper end of working class luxury. They were well maintained, with minimal security and easy access to some of the heaviest roof highways. It was a highly sought after complex for chunnin and low level jounin. Naruto lived on the second floor. The open windows with bright orange curtains were a dead giveaway. Still, Konoha had made sure that the kid knew where he stood. Piles of garbage were placed directly under his windows and left to rot.
I’d always considered Naruto my personal ‘One’s Who Walk Away From Omelea’s’. The price I paid to not live in the plot. Sometimes, when I hadn’t had enough in my life to make live in the moment, I nearly shook from how sick his circumstances made me. The person I’d been before would have fought tooth and nail for him on pure principle. I could say that I was made by circumstance -by relativity- but I couldn’t become someone willing to be so self deceiving. I was an asshole. That was the only real answer.
I couldn’t get out of the plot now, though. “Hang on.” I pulled out the notepad that sat eternally in my handbag. Then grabbed the seal with Sasuke’s pity food. I attached a quick note and then lobbed it through the open window. Medical grade seals could withstand a bit more than regular ones.
Sasuke took a long, obnoxious draw on his drink. “What was that?”
“A kindness,” I replied, sipping my own drink. “I hope.”
This time when I walked through his door I had the sense to look contrite. “Have you heard the news?”
Dan was doing paperwork, ink stains up his arms and hand cramped over the pages. “Please.” He kept writing. “Do not make me any angrier with you than I am.”
“That’s not very likely,” I said apologetically.
“The mission was approved already.” Dan managed a wry smile. “He almost made a fool of himself trying to interrogate me.”
I really, really wished he’d stop handing me olive branches. I was already too inclined to take them. “Didn’t work.” I settled on sitting across from him, ankles crossed.
We lapsed into silence. Dan did his paperwork and I tried very hard to sit still. I wasn’t wrong and I didn’t feel bad about it. I’d fucked up with the Hokage but my base revulsion to this, the reason I’d walked away from it years ago, was still there. If I detached myself -practiced my relativity- I could get over the whole ‘murder economy’ thing. It wasn’t historically inaccurate, after all, but the part that made me queasy was the scale and the menace. Just being rude to the Hokage had felt like a death sentence when I stopped to think about it: here was a man in a position of overwhelming power whose greatest recommendation was a dead man’s word. Incidentally a man who had some overwhelming prejudices. He would never be questioned, only opposed, and the man doing that opposing was a horror himself. I didn’t balk at following orders but I’d never gotten the hang of ignoring them either. I didn’t have the make up to be Dan, to exist inside a system that despised the progressive part of me, in the hope of changing it. No, I’d rather be on the outside to begin with. I was more comfortable knowing where I stood.
Dan crossed off something, murmured, “I want you to meet the team.”
I lost the fight and figeted. “Alright.”
Dan met my eyes, saw that I meant it, then went back to his paperwork. It was at times like these that I missed having a phone. Something I could distract myself with. I compromised by playing back some old memories I’d lasered onto my brain with the sharingan. Useless things; old movie trailers, live shows, bits of conversation Haruhi had play acted in the break room. I couldn’t lose those memories. That was part of the problem.
Dan grinned. “Done.” He stood and came around the desk, offered me his arm like a gentleman. It was a toss of a coin if he’d learnt that from me. It was just as apt to be something he’d discovered on his own.
I took his arm. I let him lead me down familiar hallways to the old conference room.
A man with dark hair in a slick topknot rests against a redwood desk. He has a cup of coffee balanced against his cheek, an overly long rod of white metal standing next to him. It looked like one of the mock ups I’d shown Dan years and years ago. He glanced up -white blue eyes- and nudged what I’d assumed was a pile of fabric on the floor next to him. “This is Red.” Dan gestures at the pile of fabric. “Yellow.” The fabric fell away to reveal a young man of Suna descent who smelt so strongly of ozone it was hard to look at him. He had a small tube of striated metal in his palms. “And- where’s Green?”
Yellow pointed behind us. “She was late.” His voice was deceptively light.
Dan leaned back, I turned and sure enough there was a woman of Yamanaka descent standing in the hall behind us. She had a flexible piece of metal coiled around her neck, duochrome sheen matching her mint eyes. She sipped her iced coffee through a straw. “Pleasure. Who’s she?”
I looked at Dan. He looked at each of them.
He placed a hand low on my back. “This is Blue.”
I opened the door to my house to find three blankets and a child in the entryway. Sasuke was asleep curled around one of the blunted, decorative blades I had hanging in my closet. I picked him up and laid him out on the couch. In the kitchen my mother was washing dishes. She’d stacked them all around her, compulsively re-ordering and re-washing as she came to the end of a cycle.
“He watched the door for you.” My mother faced away from me, hands braced on the sink. “I won’t let them send him back while you’re gone.”
A smart girl would’ve let it there. “Because you agree with me?”
“No.” She resumed washing plates I never used. “Because he sat down there from the moment you left and didn’t speak a word until he was too tired to stay awake. I’m not a brute, Mari.” I winced. She shrugged her shoulders. “He’s too...fragile.”
He would always be a little too fragile for what people wanted from him. He jumped at every chance for power no matter the fine print, if that wasn’t a kind of fragility I didn’t know what was. “I met the team today.”
“And?” She placed the last plate in the rack. In the reflection of the window I could see just how hard she wasn’t looking at me.
And was a lot of things. And was a question mark above my professionalism. And was a black mark against my loyalty. And was the fact that my mother held how much she’d always loved me and how willing she’d be to let Konoha kill me in the same breath. You can hold two disparate ideas in your head and still be a sane, smart, kind person. What you couldn’t do was claim a lack of hypocrisy. “They seem nice.”
I watched her refill the basin with water in the reflection. She watched me frown and take off my shoes. We said nothing more.
I’d never shot a gun in my first life. My first country had had a mass shooting and decided that it was enough for them. I’d known about them through TV and word of mouth. Keep it unloaded. Never point if you don’t mean to kill. It’s just as safe as a knife or a hammer if you know what you’re doing.
I had to dig through the layers of clothing that lived on the floor of my bedroom to find the box I kept the key in. Ammo and weapon should be in different places, right? The key opened a box in the studio my mother was living out of. Inside of it lay three metal pieces and another box with another key. I took the long, damning pieces of metal back up to my bedroom. Then I went back downstairs to the kitchen, to the walk in pantry, to a wooden panel with a lock. Behind that panel was what made those pieces of metal so dangerous. If what was upstairs was a rifle then what was behind door number two was Chekov’s Gun. Once I took it out again it had to be used. Maybe it wouldn’t come to that, but I wasn’t making bets.
I stopped by Sasuke’s room on the way back. He was flat on his stomach, breathing deep. I could almost see the churning of his nightmare. His hands clenched and spasmed as he chewed on his pillowcase, fighting screams. We couldn’t afford to sedate him anymore so he had to ride it out. I thought about waking him up but the nightmare would return almost as soon as he closed his eyes again.
With a wave of medical chakra I pushed and prodded at the main chakra bundles. Disturbed, unhappy and restless as they were, they fought me as I pushed low level calm through him. Like sedation this couldn’t be done too often but tonight was fine. I directed my chakra to meld with his, to soothe it, to melt away as if it had never been there at all. The kid sighed, curling up into a ball and went softly back to sleep.
To be clear, I am Australian and I really do know fuck all about guns. Luckily I am good at making shit up.
Two weeks later I sat in the back of a rickety cart, hat slung low over my eyes and my favourite boomstick sitting in it’s carry case on my lap. My mother had taken Sasuke off to the farm her wife ran for the week on the premise that if I came back fucked up he didn’t need to see it. The fact that it was outside Konoha, on the property of a wealthy woman the Hokage couldn’t isolate or assassinate was a plus.
“So, Green,” I said, “what’s your poison?”
Green looked up from her nails, her pupiless eyes narrowing. “I’m sorry?”
“Air or Water?” I asked. “In fact if all of you could tell me what your alignment is and what model you’re carrying I’d appreciate it.”
Red’s hand tightened on his own case. “Why?”
“Because I’m your medic.” I answered. “And I designed every version of this weapon.”
Green’s lip curled. “Would you like a prize?”
“No.” I tipped the hat back, the better to look at them. The sun blinded me for a moment. “Each design had a drawback. I want to know what to watch for. I would ask the same question working with any specialist.”
Yellow smiled from underneath his pile of robes. “Wind. I use the RG10 model.”
The bazooka model. “It was designed for a fire affinity.” And it’s kick back was horrible. Take off a pound of flesh horrible.
Yellow’s grin widened.
Okay. Moving on. I glanced at Red. “That’s the Infinity.” Dan had named it that, not me. I was going to call it S14 and call it a day. It’s drawback was that it technically didn’t fucking work.
“Fire/Wind. And it’s an Infinity II.” Red dutifully answered.
There was no Infinity II. “And you, Green?”
“Can’t you tell?”
“It’s a boomerang.” And it had been fucking hell to explain the concept and name. It was the answer to a semi-automatic and like the Infinity it was not worth the cost of using. “Why the fuck do you wear it around your neck?”
Green shrugged. “I live dangerously.”
“There’s dangerous and then there’s putting a weapon around your neck when it’s best known setback is its tendency to randomly go off.” What made the boomerang dangerous was it’s ability to fire rapid bolts of chakra with low cost to the user. What made it dangerous for the user was that it wasn’t great about direction or timing. Hence boomerang.
“And you?” Green countered. “What’s in the box?”
“This is the S1 and part of the S3.” I patted my baby. “I’m Lightning aligned, although I fulfilled the dual requirement for the international med-nin certification with Fire. And I can use rudimentary Water. Again, med-nin.”
“So you are that one.” Green murmured. “Rumor was you ripped the captain's heart out and stomped on it.”
Rumor was that I’d gone into his office, found all the schematics and burnt them. That rumor was true. “Dan started the fire. I just put it out.”
“If we’re using imperfect models it’s your fault.” Green countered.
“I left the B5’s intact. If he was going to arm people he should’ve used those.”
“Should’ve.” Green snorted. “You use a B5?”
“Then you know why not.”
The B5’s were handguns. They were useless except in mid-to-close range. Most ninja would just use their fists at that point. Which had been the point.
I shrugged, pulling my hat back down. “The B5’s won’t take your head off.”
“If you can’t see the point then I don’t know why you’re here.” Green grumbled.
I was put on watch with Yellow some three hundred metres from our target. Li Isao was an inventor who lived in a remote mountain village. He figured he was safe from assassination attempts because his home precariously hung over the edge of a smooth cliff. To get into the house you would have to drill straight through the rock or climb up the side of the mountain. No one had succeeded in doing either.
Li made commercial grade batteries. Currently they were almost useless because no one had anything to run them with. What really scared people was the fact that he’d made them renewable, invented solar and hydro power and was well on his way to splitting the fucking atom. If he had stuck to batteries it would’ve taken years for someone to kill him. He could have gotten rich and powerful enough to bargain for his life. Instead he’d begun making people nervous by giving them away. The shinobi world really hated rapid change. It got nervous about advancing technology and no matter the arguments I might have participated in during my last life, the shinobi world wasn’t stuck in the past. It was the beginning of the 21st century here. The Hidden Villages were the ninja equivalent of the beginning of the industrial age forcing change in all spheres of life and every war, every decade, pushed technology and philosophy forward.
And like the 21st century many people would rather it stopped.
The only fault in Li’s house design was a small balcony. He smoked for three minutes everyday. Had two cups of coffee six hours apart. Assumed that a smooth rock face and a beautifully crafted home alarm system would save him. Unfortunately I had three pieces of mottled copper and silver that would prove him wrong.
Yellow settled with a pair of binoculars next to me. “Two minutes.”
I nodded, unfolding my case. The top came off revealing the stand, the ‘barrel’, the ‘trigger’ and the ‘bullet’. I had fuck all idea what guns were actually like but I’d designed it with those terms in mind. First I placed the stand on my shoulder, fitting it so I could lie down on my stomach. It fitted as if it was an extension of my shoulder in that position, lines of silver metal acting as a grounder. I still had scarring on my shoulder but it stopped me from being electrocuted. Next I got into position and checked my angles before I loaded the barrel. The trigger went on, a long piece of finely linked metal that wound around my index finger. The one philosophically connected with lightning. I slipped on my gloves, put the trigger on and attached the bullet to the end. It looked more like an arrowhead than anything else.
Lastly I opened Chekov’s Gun. It was a deceptively ugly piece of weaponry. It looked like a monocle had had a lopsided baby with a truly avant garde piece of ear wear. The monocle was actually three separate layers of glass each made to specifications so exact I could still remember them. The ear piece in question was beautiful on its own, a collection of spider web thin glass and metal that brushed over my ear, grazing several key chakra points. It looked like a dozen blooming flowers. What made it ugly was the functional ‘thorns’ that stuck into the side of my neck and bled me. It fueled the monocle using some seal work I would much rather forget. I could never get the blood off, it always smelled of copper and the last place I’d used it.
With seconds left I got into position, slid the thorns beneath my skin and got to work.
The S1 came to life under my hands. The scent of blood buried itself in my nose.
“Set?” Yellow asked. He had his weapon in his lap. I grunted and loaded the first shoot into the bullet.
Yellow looked over nervously. “Are you going to...turn it on?”
I rolled my eyes. And then I turned my sharingan on.
My eyesight left me for a moment, like it had when I’d first been to see the Book Woman. When it came back it was in layers. The first was like having your first heartbreak, everything became straight lines between pain and the body. Red. The second was like being drowned. I’d once swum under an ice flow in Frost. The water had been black around me and while I knew I was moving in the current I was being held still by the dark. There was no time, no space so everything was time, space. The last layer was cracking an egg. Watching it run out around you but in a Lynch-ian universe where the inexplicable movement of breaking was constant. Movement.
It made no sense because the idea that the sharingan was truly rooted in loss was stupid. Anyone who’d studied the texts knew that it was simply a type of chakra that was corrosive to some parts of the brain. Only the Uchiha had an immunity to it. We lost immunity with exposure. It was brought on by strong emotion because chakra was a crap shoot like that.
When I used the monocle I forgot all that. It felt like there was something mystical to it, like maybe we were cursed the way Tobirama had explained it to Sasuke in the manga.
Someone appeared on the balcony. It just wasn’t the man we came to kill.
I was tracking him through the glass. The flickering red light of his chakra bounced up and down. He located Red and immediately struck. He found Green a second later and threw her off the balcony. I fired at his head banking on his dodge. I calculated three shots and took them in order of effectiveness. He dodged two but got clipped by the third. Red raised Infinity -bad move- and fired. His gun shot but the effect was negated by how close he was. The Infinity gained acceleration over distance. At such close range it would be more useful to hit him over the head with it.
Red leaped over the rail, down the side and into the rushing river below. I kept shooting. I wanted him as far away from my team as possible. I grazed his cheek, switched to Fire and aimed for his feet. Every time he advanced I made him step back. The usual shinobi reaction to suppressive fire was to freak out. This guy looked confused but then reacted to it as if it was a predictable obstacle. Eventually I made him get off the damn balcony.
I swore. “Who the hell is that guy?”
The second half will be up tomorrow, answering such questions as 'who the hell is that guy?' and finally getting to the plot bunny I have been toying with since I read my first SI Naruto fic. Also if you're looking for mission fic type stuff this is, er, not gonna be that kind of story. There will be a lot of missions but Mari's job is generally a lot of hurry up and wait, shooting people from a distance and a side order of showing up afterwards to patch people up.
“He has a hired hand.” Red pressed the ice to his face.
No shit. What he had was the kind of fighter who was happy to throw people off balconies. That was underhanded shit by shinobi standards. “Samurai? Missing-nin? A regular gangster?”
“Not shinobi,” Red said firmly. “He used brute force.”
Which, unless you were Maito Gai, was an unforgivable sin at this skill level. I nodded and pressed under his jaw. He’d hit his own head falling down the cliff and would be fine with some light healing and a poultice. Green had emerged from the river none the worse for wear.
“We’re going to play by his rules,” Red said grimly, “and we’re going to make him regret ever getting in our way. Yellow and Green will funnel him to the courtyard in the house. I’ll be on one side and Blue will be on the other.”
“I’m a medic.” I said numbly. “I can’t fight in a one on one.”
Red glowered. “We don’t play by those rules.”
I bit my lip and fiddled with some supplies. After a moment red stopped paying attention to me. The second I was alone I breathed in and let my body shake for ten seconds. Then I put my fear of what the fight might bring out in me behind.
I was jumpy. That was the only word for it. Yellow directed me down an empty hallway once Green gave the all clear to head into the house though the balcony. The home was beautiful and well lit. Walls hewn from rough stone and draped with expensive fabric. I padded down hallways on silent feet, sharingan on but letting my sense of smell lead the way. I was trying to get to a courtyard in the innermost sanctum. I wasn’t ruling out genjutsu after yesterday and the fastest way to root out one in an unfamiliar place was using smell. After a while I caught the faint hint of water on stone. I pulled out the S1, charged it was a light current so it was more like a lightsaber than a gun. The air filled with ozone.
Breathe in. Then out.
My hands were shaking. I needed to get a grip. Most likely he wasn’t there. I could wander the halls aimlessly and the rest of the team could handle close combat. Cowardice sat cold in my gut but it was so much better than the fear that I would have to act. I could do it, no doubt at all, but I couldn’t- I couldn’t-
There was a sound as I edged closer to the entrance to the courtyard. A man undoing his pants, pissing. The relieved sound that followed sent my already rabbit like heartbeat into overdrive. Sweat coated my body. I rounded the corner, S1 raised to sever, and froze. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to do it. Ididn’twantto-
The ‘hired hand’ tucked himself back into his pants. “You’re never going to win that way.” His voice was deep, gravelly.
I stood there sweat dripping down my face, red eyes spinning. I nearly hurt from the twin effort of telling myself to move and demanding my body stay still. If I had been any less well reined I’d’ve pissed myself. Then something caught my attention. In a moment I swung the S1 around, converted it back to it’s most basic function and fired a warning shot.
The man jumped. I’d missed him. He laughed and said...
But that wasn’t...That just wasn’t possible.
“Holy shit, little sister.” He grinned. “ You gave them guns. I was wondering who was that damn stupid and here you are! Fuck me.”
I gaped. “Are you speaking english?”
I stared at him dumbly, entirely forgetting to be afraid of him.
I flinched, bringing the weapon back up. He sauntered forward, hands on his hips. “You don’t know what’s going on at all, do you?”
He needed to get away from me. He needed to get away from me. He needed to step back, away, before I lost it. He needed to back off because I wouldn’t. I kept backing up towards the wall.
“We could work together.” He crooned. “I bet you have no idea what you could really do.”
I tried. I really tried. But the fire reached my fingertips and I forgot that I wasn’t in the water anymore. There was a reason, a very good reason, that I was not put into heavy combat. Every step he took towards me, every promise he crooned, I fought against. I needed to get out of this headspace. He had no idea what was rising in me. I tried very hard. I tried. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Not really. All I could think was he has a heart murmur. It flickers like a shadow on a wall.
I reached out with a fingertip, brushed his chest and made his heart explode.
He stuttered, clutched his side and fell to the floor.
The second he was dead I could breathe again. I reached up and redid the bindings on my sharingan. I grimaced as the expected happened. My vision cut out, my eyes filling with blood. I could feel the headache and a symbiotic longing for nettle tea rise. My vision came back,only blurred by the blood. I wiped it off and bent down to pat over the body. It would take a few moments for my teammates to arrive, I’d discharged a noticeable amount of Lightning chakra. If there were others they’d have to be taken care of.
He had a wallet of money. I debated whether or not I should pocket it, it was allowed but not to be done in company, and figured I could put it aside for Sasuke. He would inherit the estate but not before he was fifteen. He had three note books. One was red and contained financial information. One was bottle blue and contained personal information. One was green as new leaves and sealed with an intricate jutsu this man should never have been capable of. I had just enough juice left to force a few seconds of use before the bindings settled. Turning it back on was like taking a hammer to the face. I grimaced, picked the jutsu open and then spent a few moments just listening to the blood rush through my body. That’s it. When I got home I was finally planting that herb garden. If I was going to have to nearly send myself crazy with pain on the regular I was keeping fresh liquorice on hand.
When I could swallow my own spit without wanting to puke from how it pulled my muscles I read the first few lines of the green book. The script looped into a beautiful cursive describing events I’d heard of n great detail. Some of them were from years ago in places I’d never been. Some of it was disaster scenarios for the future. He wrote them as if they were oral tellings a lot of he said and she screamed. The writing had a lyricality to it I admired. It was a bunch of beautiful, oddly historical nonsense except for one thing:
It was in english. It described events I remembered from the anime/manga. And he talked about them as if they were still just a story.
Red rounded the corner, gaze roving over the dead man with approval. I handed him the red and blue books, tucking the green one into my own pouch.
Water. That was the first thing that filled my mouth.
I couldn’t open my eyes. Or they were open, and I couldn’t see through them. The thing about water is that at the right temperature you can’t even feel it. You’re weightless. Apart from the thin rope around my wrist that was what I was. Weightless. I could move my hands. My legs. But all they felt was a tiny bit of resistance as they pulled through the water.
Blood filled my mouth along with the water. The warm water became brackish and awful. I had visions of myself underneath an ice flow surrounded by fast moving water. This was the opposite of that and that just made me long for the certainty of the first. Ice could kill. So could fire. Hell was the middle. Hell was being surrounded by water the temperature of my own blood, sightless, knowing that this was meant to be a comforting reprieve before the worst. Hell was waiting.
And when they grabbed me, when I went down into the dark, their hands felt like an extension of my own body. Where they gripped, pulled, might as well have been me.
I had a mouth and I still couldn’t scream.
We split up after it was done. Yellow and Green had an assignment. Red was heading to a nearby station to send a confidential report. I was informed that as my ‘reinstatement’ was as a specialist and not a tobestku jounin I could make my own way back. It was the kind of shitty loophole that meant as soon as the mission was over no one was responsible for what happened to me until I re-entered Konoha. Red was kind enough to lend me some money, some ninja passes for hostels and a scarf to cover the marks on my neck. It was probably pity but I was nearly out of my mind with stress, fighting hardcore triggers I wasn’t equipped to deal with healthily and had a life changing revelation to boot. The first Konoha friendly hotel I found I holed up in.
The timeline was the first thing I went back to. It detailed -in finer print than I could ever remember and I had written tens of thousands of words of fanfic- the events of the Naruto world. Parts were circled and underlined. Scribbled out and written over. Along the side he’d written his own notes Dust and Naomi, Ichigo and the Wolves, Akihiro w Akatsuki, Eiji in Oto, Jiraiya travelling with Rachel, Hoseah and Joseph. At the back of the notebook was a printing number and date. This notebook had been printed four years ago, number 33 of 52.
I went back to the timeline. Suzume, mother of Hashirama was printed next to the very first spoke on the timeline. The very last one said anomaly, defection interrupted dated a few weeks ago. In between those two points were pages of events, deviations of events, those responsible and whomever this belonged to thoughts. He had a neat glossary of people in the back. Ichigo and the Wolves were based in Frost; to be avoided at all costs. Akihiro was a grey agent -whatever that was- and if he was playing for a team he wasn’t saying which. Suzume was presumed dead, but if she wasn’t then she was hunting Madara. The First, as this book called her, was not a woman you crossed lightly.
Mentions of grey agents confused me. I flipped back and forth through the book trying to make sense of it. Just as I was getting a headache I found a cramped bit of script. White = Pro. Black = Anti. Grey = doing what the fuck you want. Pro and Anti what wasn’t answered.
On the same page, in equally tiny writing, he’d put the initials of everyone he knew about down with a black or white circle. The amount of people without any circles worried me. So did the fact that I had fuck all idea who half these initials were. Senju Suzume would be easy to avoid by virtue of having a portrait in the local gallery and being one of two Senju left. PJ with the three black dots next to their name could sneak up on me at any time.
None of that changed the fundamental, earth shattering notion I now had to contend with.
I wasn’t the only one.
Pro what? Anti what?
We will answer a lot of the questions that have been asked in reviews, some in the next chapter even, but here's a brief explanation about the sharingan:
Mariko's was bound not sealed. The exact reason for that will be covered once we get into talking about the Uchiha. She can undo it basically at her own whim because it was designed that way, it just comes with a lot of incredibly nasty side effects. It is not the full sharingan, it's basically just the first level and it is not as effective as it would be if she was just free to use it. The binding was more of a political gesture as Mariko's work in the Merchant Court for Dan was considered as a net positive for the clan. The problem was when she stopped doing that.
This isn't actually going to be discussed but: Itachi was like, thirteen, when he killed everyone in the clan. He met Mari once when he was three and then never again. Their social circles don't overlap and there's some inbuilt snobbery about clan position to it too. Itachi is not so infallible at age thirteen to not absorb what constitutes a 'real Uchiha'. Other people in the village make the connection 'sharingan = Uchiha'. The clan is more like 'X-amount of inbreeding and position relative to power = Uchiha'. They will still cut you for looking at their unfashionable cousin wrong but that cousin is still socially untouchable at family dinner.
Konoha based it's idea of citizenship around healthcare. This is actually a carry over from NTFS but in the same way everyone in Australia should have basic access to healthcare and this is in fact one of your main ID's that you use to get others, Konoha built the interactions between government and it's people around healthcare documents. You get them at birth and then use them to gain other kinds of ID. Sasuke not having papers is therefore ridiculous. He's a citizen. The only other way to get them is through military service. Because ninjas. The suggestion is that in the original timeline the Hokage and Co. insure that they keep up their end of the deal with Itachi by making it impossible for Sasuke to function unless he joins up. Being a genuine child it's unlikely Sasuke actually understood what he was signing up for.
Anyway, thoughts? Opinions?
I fucking hated beer but everywhere sold it. I drank three of those and a few bowls of sake before I went home. I think I had some cooking wine? Maybe a few bottles of mini dessert wine. People kept giving me that.
The house was all dark. I dragged my fingers along my walls feeling the bumps and texture. Life was a pretty unfair thing, I know, but lately...Lately I needed to be more drunk. Oh god. If I thought about the absolute shit storm of a turn my life I had taken -going back to my old job. Taking in an orphan. Knowing that the one immutable fact of my life was now up for debate- the ground went soft, I started swaying side to side with fear.
So drink I did.
I had a bottle of clear liquid that I might have brought home from work which meant it was at least 60%. Woo. I had another half bottle of wine. I swapped that in when the rotgut was unpalatable.
It was between a swig of wine and the swap to something hardier that a small blue rug walked up to me on its hind legs. I squinted, “Where’s mom?”
Sasuke shuffled from foot to foot. His face was a pale oval. “She went home.”
I drank again and immediately felt bad. I knew that my stepmother was due back while I was away but I’d assumed...Well, shit, I assumed she’d do what I would do and stay. I thought of as Sasuke as a kid who needed every advantage he could get. My mother would think of him the same way she thought of me at that age: a very small shinobi.
I poured the drink down the drain.
“I’m gonna...I’m gonna sleep on the porch.”
Years ago I’d fenced in my porch. Konoha had mosquitos and I hated very few things the way I hated mosquitos. There were heavy duty sleeping kits in the downstairs linen closet. Mine had a big blue spot on the bottom next to it was my mother’s with her initials on the strap. Sasuke would eventually need his own space in here, which was both nice and terrible. God I needed to sleep.
I kicked out the sleeping bag. The night was warm but not quite warm enough to do this but I just...needed to be somewhere else. I ran through a few hand signs for a low use warming jutsu and lay down so I could see the stars. We never got as many as you’d think and I’d never figured out why, but it was still a clearer sky than any city I’d lived in.
Sasuke toddled out wrapped in my mother’s sleeping kit.
I snapped, “Go inside.”
He stood there, blinking. He thrust out a thermos.
I sat up, sighed and took it from him. “Thank you. It’s too cold for you out here. Go to bed.”
He stood for a few more minutes, lips pinched before trudging away.
I felt like an asshole. I was being an asshole. But an equally strong part of me was still raging at everything, even him, for interrupting my boring life. I tried to take heart in the fact that I knew myself well enough to be sure that in a few months -years- I’d be grateful that Sasuke’s abrupt appearance in my life forced me to be a better, more proactive version of myself. Right now all I felt was the cold fist of fear about all the monsters that were circling me again.
I couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t right.
I rolled over face down on the sleeping bag and willed myself to sleep.
I didn’t bother dressing up for Dan this time. I was hung over, terrified and angry. He got workout pants and a thin jacket. He was lucky he got a bra.
The way he eyed me -disdainful and amused- suggested he got my message. “His forms will mysteriously reappear in the Records department tomorrow. I’ll see you and your mother in the Merchant’s Court to discuss his official adoption as well.”
Alls well that ends in earth shattering revelations, I guess.
He slid over a pile of papers. I picked them up and scanned. Standard medical info and at the bottom a small plastic card with his citizen ID number, blood type and lineage. A half dozen appointments I needed to make ran through my head. I swallowed, feeling the dry rasp of my hangover. I had to do better, even better now that I knew that something even scarier than the plot could be coming for Sasuke. So I turned on my courage and just said it, “I don’t want him to be me.”
Dan blinked at me. “Sorry?”
I swallowed again. I couldn’t scream that it was his fault that I broke this way. It was him who put me in hot water and let me drown. That the straw that literally broke my head had his name written at the bottom. But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t even think of how to get him to understand why I blamed him for this. I literally could not think of how to get him to understand the concept. I needed someone to, because the hopeful, idealistic part of me believed that if I could just get someone like Dan on my side maybe I could show everyone why someone like Sasuke shouldn’t follow this path. Have this life.
Dan tilted his head almost all the way, stood and rifled through a cabinet. He handed me a slip of paper before he sat again. “This is for a doctor in Hashimoto.”
It did indeed have a Doctor Kurosaki printed on it. “Yes.” I slipped it in my bra. “I don’t understand.”
“The Yamanaka’s have been...experimenting with medicine for mental...disorders. Currently they’ve only been able to induce extreme mental distress but there has been some success with reengineering the drugs. The original research belongs to this doctor in Hashimoto. He’s the beloved cousin of a local power so don’t be rude.”
I blinked at him.
He cleared his throat. “I still don’t understand,” he paused, again “or appreciate why you left. But I think it might not have to do with me at all.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. “And this is?”
“Reparations.” He says judiciously. “I took things from you.”
I did appreciate that Dan took the time to remind me why I sometimes completely fucking hated him. He never could finish a sentence that might imply some form of fault. “Is that as far as you got?”
Dan smiled enigmatically. He handed me yet more papers.
I checked them. Enrollment, provisional guardianship, his grades and assessments from the Academy with...“This has a mission slip attached.”
“Well Mari did you expect to get an apology for nothing?”
I could not, I reminded myself for the fourth time in an hour, burn down the Merchant Court. It was important. And full of people who could kill me. Hashimoto was a research mission with low risk. Hashimoto was also bordered by contested areas swarming with body hunters who would cut a Uchiha up for parts. My options were: a) don’t go, b: find my mother and force her to look after the kid, or c) bring him with. There was no d) hide under the blankets and cry.
Hashimoto itself was safe as houses. It was a three alliance. Shorthand for: at some point it was politically expedient for three Hidden Villages to mount a joint presence here and now we can’t afford to stop so we keep it well supplied in case one of you rat fuckers fucks up. Fighting three forces who were hell bent on working together kept all but the scariest motherfuckers away. And, well, it was game over no matter what then so the plot could have fun without me or the kid.
Annnd shit. He was coming with me.
I gazed over the lounge room where Sasuke was working through daily conditioning alternated with watching a horror movie. Hashimoto would be safe, right? It was getting him to Hashimoto that would suck. If I could get him to a specialist...If there was a chance I could get him the right help now...
I breathed out through my nose. I didn’t want him to be me. I had to take him to Hashimoto.
I called out, “We need to go shopping.” Sasuke appeared at the table as if summoned. I noted that he was only wearing one sock. I nodded absently. “You’re going to need a rough sleeping kit. And a few sets of travelling clothes.”
“I have some at home.”
I sat next to him at the table. “No.” I frowned. “We’ll need to be incognito. You’re coming with me to Hashimoto. We’re going to see a man about some dogs.”
I rolled my eyes. Way to ruin my exit line. “I have a C rank mission and you’re coming with me. Don’t be sour it’ll be fine.” I ruffled his hair.
“I want to see my home.”
“I know.” I did know. We weren’t going to make progress unless we did. “We need to get a few things sorted legally first, and I have to go to Hashimoto. First thing when we get back, I promise.”
He seemed to take a promise as a promise.
Shopping with a kid who is terminally polite to his elders is a breeze. We got new shoes -both civilian and hard wear, several sets of semi-formal clothes and a range of hats without incident. What clothes we had for him were Uchiha blue and what he wanted was in the same colour range. That was just about to become a problem.
“I know you want to keep the clan colours,” I said gently, “but you’ll need some others too.”
He pulled his hand back from a pant rack as if it had been burned. His lips thinned.
I crouched down next to him. “The clan colours are distinctive. We’re travelling incognito and anyone who knows Konoha’s clans and colours will know who you are immediately. With your brother still out there we can’t risk it.”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
“Not the point. It’ll be me, you and maybe a small group of chunnin. The only way that ends is with a bunch of dead chunnin, me injured and you dead.”
He looked me over incredulously. “You think you could beat him.”
“No.” I replied patiently. “I’m a medic, a non-combatant in most situations. I won’t register to him.” Which was a fact I was counting on for the future. I wasn’t so ridiculous as to believe I could hurt him but there were a few key areas in which I had him beat.
Sasuke made a disbelieving noise. I tapped him on the nose. “Also I’m the one with money.”
Civilian wear was too light for travel and shinobi wear was bulky off the rack. I can’t sew and the tailor wouldn’t be done in time. I settled for mixing and matching. Sasuke took after the purest strain of Uchiha colouring. He had no warmth to speak of and looked sallow in most colours. Those deep, rich colours that suited him could not have looked better on anyone else, though. One of the few upsides of having a very young charge was that when I chose pink, green and cream cloth he didn’t object. In fact the more choices I gave him the more interested he seemed in the way that fit together. I laughed under my breath as he paired a deep pink undershirt with silk cranes under a dark blue wool blend jacket. At least there was an in universe reason for so many outfit changes. It might be nice to live with another clothes horse.
I was in the middle of fitting him with lightweight armour when he, quietly, asked, “Why does your sharingan work?”
“It doesn’t,” I replied. “We’ll leave all the technical, political mumbo jumbo until you unlock yours. What you mean is why I can access it at all, right?” At his nod I continued. “Do you remember what a factor of seven is?”
He frowned but nodded cautiously.
“A factor of seven is the closest the clan can be before guaranteed genetic instability. You would have been told who yours were.”
“Michiru, Honoka and Tokio.”
“Right. Three of the seven branches of women we all descend from. The ones whom we’re pretty sure gave birth to the first sharingans. Honoka is the originating Hyuuga ancestor, and Hanae, your mother’s line, is most disparate from hers. I remember when you were born everyone -even me- had to come home to look over the charts to find a match. Your brother pulled more from his paternal grandmother. His line was more evenly spread out. Your mother was Michiko’s granddaughter and that...” Was not a high point in our family history. “Made things difficult. When your marriage would have been arranged it would have been one of the girls from Michiru’s, Honoka’s or Tokio’s lines.”
Genetics didn’t fucking work like this, but it was one of the many sensible things you gave up for the ability to shoot lightning out of your hands.
“What does that mean for you?”
“Ah?” I laid down a few shirts the colour of muted blood and folded dark pants over them. These I could get layered with lightweight mesh for protection and warmth. “Mm, I’m a ‘seven’. I don’t know the math they used to figure it out but every seven matches or so we need to inject new blood. Either from one of the outer lines -the four that produced sharingan a few generations later- or from outside sources. My mother is from Tokio’s line but I’m a throwback to her grandmother. She was from Honoka’s.” I was losing him which was fine. I still struggled to keep this in my head and I’d had it drilled into me since I was six. “All this means that I was a prime candidate for marriage and children with a line close to the Clan heads.”
“Your cousin, Shisui.” And hadn’t that been fun? “Along with two other girls. Probably I’d’ve married his close cousin or had a swaddle child after he got married.”
“Sometimes children are had out of wedlock and given to older women to raise.” This was what happened to Obito. “The children are still Uchiha but they don’t get to know their parents.”
“You would’ve married Shisui?”
His face screwed up. Cute. “But that would make you my cousin.” He pondered. “Or a sister.”
Ah. No. But whatever. “Sure. Let’s go with that.” I handed the clothes to an assistant. “Anyway. His family objected to having my sharingan taken away. It would have looked bad if we did get married.” I suspected Shisui had more than a little to do with that. I stayed well away from him for sanity reasons but when we had met he’d always treated me with a gentleness and courtesy that baffled me.
Sasuke spent the rest of the trip absorbing this and I went ahead and picked him out a new wardrobe that had only a few pieces of Uchiha blue. We were never going to get away from it but the more chances we got the better off we’d be.
Updates on all my work have been slowed by the author getting very ill and then having my laptop charger crap out on me. Updates have been brought back by the author adding a few songs to the playlist and getting into The Black Tapes and refusing to write the Sentinel AU that fandom sorely needs until after I finish/progress on something else.
Chapter 10: Hashimoto pt II
Whoop it's been a long ass time. Honestly I've been struggling for the last couple of months to write literally anything. Given that writing is a huge part of my life this has been a problem. I've been working on this and a Harry Potter SI because they have the most creative freedom of any of my projects. I'm not saying updates will be anymore frequent.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
My last shift at work before we headed to Hashimoto was uneventful until about eleven when some idiot tripped the fire alarm. It was company policy that every woman on shift returned to our cubicles to wait for further instructions. Yes, even if the building was on fire.
I threw a stress ball over the divider. “Why sister?”
Haruhi caught and threw back the ball. “He had a brother, uncles and aunts.” She stretched until I could see the back of her chair poke out from her side of the divide. “He never had a sister. It’s easy for him to not relate the two.”
I added ‘Absolutely murder Danzo’ to my internal checklist. “Do you do drugs?”
“Psychiatric drugs.” I inhaled sharply. “There’s been research into-”
“Yes,” she said hurriedly, “but only by those people not civilians.”
Right. T&I using mind altering substances on unwilling subjects. “I’ve heard good things about Florazon.” And hadn’t that been a mindfuck to get out of Green? The name wasn’t a Yamanaka secret, she just fucking hated me.
“You have to get it shipped from Iwa.” She murmured. “I have heard of something called Florazine. It’s a lighter dose but you can make it at home.”
“How?” I actually wanted some sort of time machine but I’d make do. “Doesn’t it need a lab?”
“Herbs.” She said the way you’d say ‘massive gastro outbreak’. “Specifically from the Pink Lotus.”
Ah. “Those herbs.”
Marijuana. Ninja marijuana. Yeah, I wasn’t giving him marijuana.
We threw the ball back and forth and talked about lighter things. The wailing of the siren went on and on until it was almost pleasant. The twins who did aromatherapy started singing, then rapping to the beat. I had a vague memory of them being into either slam poetry or the local music scene. Either way it was fun to sing along, all of us together, once we got a handle on the lyrics.
“So you’re to Hashimoto, then?” Haruhi said abruptly as the handsome firemen walked in. Many of the girls had either cut out or gone to the break room in hour two of our unscheduled fire drill. The second the firemen appeared they did too.
From our space at the back of the room it was easy to observe the blood bath. “That I am.”
Haruhi bit her lip. “Be careful Mari.”
I didn’t say ‘I’m always careful’ because I wasn’t. What I was, was a lifelong slytherin. “And by that you mean?”
“I mean,” she said warily, “there are a lot of ways to get caught out and you only look for a few of them.”
That was cryptic enough to warrant an interrogation but at that moment the swell of angry, hungry, kinda horny staff overwhelmed the defenses of the local firemen and the rest of the day was lost to public indecency.
If I had any idea how long it would be until I spoke to Haruhi again I would’ve tried harder to find out what she meant.
We got lucky the day before our seven day trip to Hashimoto. Getting Sasuke reconfirmed and formally adopted was easy as showing up, saying ‘I do’ and getting out before someone thought to ask for more information. Apparently we came in just before a scheduled meeting with a couple from different nations who had gotten married under the influence and had, on their anniversary, married another woman from yet another different country. Two allowed bigamy, including Fire, the other was a conservative religious city-state that was concerned Konoha was trying to introduce unseemly ideas. They’d been on tv and in the papers lately making all kinds of accusations about the moral fibre of the nation. I don’t know how we ended up being the appointment before that but I thanked whoever for it because no one wanted to deal with us.
My mother grumbled anyway. “That was too easy.”
“Probably,” I replied cheerfully. Sasuke was, again, on my back. This time from physical tiredness. Confirmation ceremonies required a lot of very formal posturing that in a less overwhelmed state he would’ve handled easily. For the last couple of days he seemed to be leaning heavily on the idea that I was able and available to carry him if need be and was giving into physical tiredness when it presented. I think my mother must have said something because there was nothing I’d done to warrant the change. “But none of us will be around to see it.”
She huffed. I preened.
Sasuke chose huffing. “Can we get lunch from the place near Ichiraku?”
“Sure,” I adjusted direction automatically. Most of the hangout spots in the shinobi parts of town centered the jounin and chunin assignment desks, the R&D or the public service adjunct building. For some reason Ichiraku also qualified. Where Sasuke wanted to go was a nice upscale place with a lot of plants and fancy sandwiches. I didn’t know why they did sandwiches, I was just glad they did good salads as well.
I was well into my mixed fruit dessert, watching Sasuke put away a disturbing amount of bread stuffed with what I thought was fermented fish and tomatoes when the paint bombs started crashing down. It was habit to deflect the one that came too close to the window.
“Goddamit Naruto!” Iruka tundered running down the street. I was sure if I looked I’d find an orange blur.
Sasuke grimaced. Now that we had to do something about.
I sipped my tea. “What’s with the face?”
“He’s always like that.” Sasuke said with a fierce scowl.
I thought about that. Sasuke was per the original timeline, in a word, driven. Certainly well into rudeness. Chaos was an enemy. As was what he considered stupidity. I looked at the cute kid across from me. Right now the problem was in the bones of who he was not a series of possible outcomes. That drive was still there, absolutely, but the disdain wasn’t yet. Naruto was still going to be too chaotic for a child who just sat in seiza for an hour and half while we read out his lineage from the beginning of time only to haggle over details. Disrespect was stupid. I’d been taught the same thing. I could make a point about Naruto not having a clan to teach him that, which I would at some point less dicey. Honestly I just couldn’t see myself giving that speech. It was the kind of moralistic shutdown that I loathed. Fun to see on paper but not exactly a lesson with many uses besides building empathy, something I actually wasn’t concerned about right this moment.
“When we come back,” I posed deliberately thoughtful, “see if you can’t get Naruto into a trap building competition. Something with unconventional materials.”
Sasuke looked appalled. “ Why? ”
“Because,” still deliberate, still carefully worded, “you’ll see why some of us actually aren’t all that worried about what he’s learning.”
That was an absolute fucking lie. It was absolutely the kind of statement that was going to have hindsight kick my ass, but Sasuke looked peeved and begrudgingly thoughtful between sandwiches four and five. I counted it as a win.
Dan was waiting when the kid and I strode up to the gate in the morning. He was having a casual conversation with the guy on the gate. I sighed and walked over ready to engage. Dressed in off duty wear it was only his stance and the tension of the men he was talking to that gave an idea of his rank. He tipped the brim of his irritatingly wide hat at me and the kid.
Dan smiled. “I have some news.” Then he crouched down to Sasuke’s height. “Hey.”
Sasuke looked at me, looked at him, and took a wary half step back. A raised fist and an adjustment away from an opening stance.
Dan and I exchanged a shocked look.
Dan liked kids. They liked him. I pressed a soft, chiding hand to Sasuke’s head. He backed off, putting himself behind me.
Dan’s eyebrows pulled together. “Well, I have to talk to your, er.”
“Cousin.” Sasuke supplied helpfully.
When Dan offered a courteous arm I took it. Less courtesy than an unwillingness to rock the boat. We walked no more than twenty metres, nothing to shinobi sense. Good thing the person we were keeping secrets from was like, five.
Dan tipped his stupid hat up enough I could see his eyes. “Hyuuga Touma is buying up medical practice centres.”
I knew that. “Okay?”
“He’s also started funding expeditions to employ foreign doctors in them.”
Ah. That wouldn’t go over well.
“Increased deployments of human traffickers in the border towns. Rumor is that Rice is paying top dollar.” His face turned sullen. “Mari-”
“Don’t.” I sighed, pulling on the end of my own braided hair. “Even I can’t blame you for that. Shit happens. Don’t worry about it. The kid looks Uchiha pale, yeah, but I don’t. And whoever is out there isn’t looking for him.”
“You seem sure. There are any number of people who would leak information for the right price.”
“That’s a little more your deal than mine isn’t it?” I said lightly.
Dan inhaled sharply, leaning back from me as if I’d hit him. “That was never my intention Mariko.”
At another time I might have pressed on that admission of fault. Dan was the reason I’d ended up with my head on the block any number of times but again, I was distracted by other things. Sasuke was talking to the men on duty with less animation than I’d expect from a six year old but far more than he’d shown anything but food. With the warm morning sun overhead and the prospect of a few days of travel lingering it didn’t seem the time hash out the past.
Again, if I’d had any idea how long it would be until we saw Konoha again, before I saw Dan again, I would have absolutely chosen differently.
I surveyed the two of us about forty five minutes into our trip, just as we were about to cross the informal line between Konohagakure and Fire. There were outposts for another day or so of travel but this was where the rules changed from shinobi to civilian. Generally I didn’t notice but today it seemed monumental.
The kid and I matched. I’d had my hair braided and pulled into a ponytail high at the back of my head. It would make my neck ache later but it was such a fashion-over-function hairstyle that I’d already been dismissed as a civilian by people who should know better. Even the ones who’d read my damn papers assumed I was a cosmetic specialist and not a trained med-nin. Fucking idiots, the lot of them.
Leggings, a long sleeveless wrap style dress split at the sides, the open toed boots I loathed and an undershirt with an adjustable neck. Currently it was worn as a loose cowl but I could adjust it to close tightly or wear as an tunic. I could pass for a number of people with minor adjustments. I’d given Sasuke the same brief I’d given myself: an outfit of no more than three pieces -not including shoes- that could be adjusted quickly to throw off an untrained pursuer.
God bless the kid, he was going to be worse than me about his clothes.
I’d chosen the raspberry colour currently on trend for the dress because if things went poorly it was the most distinctive item and the easiest to get rid of. I’d gone for a neutral cream and black for pants. I remembered being on lookout duty. We made a drinking game out of ‘light shirt, dark pants’ as a description.
Sasuke had chosen an absolutely stunning emerald green jacket, a black undershirt and brown pants made of a very utilitarian material. The jacket was reinforced with insulation and mesh. It was a smart choice if, say, you were going on a mission with a team to back you up and you needed to travel light. It was abysmal when part of the point was that you had to able to ditch it at the first opportunity.
Time for critiques. I knelt down and placed my hands on his shoulders. “I honestly love this jacket.” And I really did. “But it doesn’t meet the brief.”
His face fell and I felt like the shittest person ever. I carefully explained my reasons.
“So I have to be able to change my appearance quickly?” He said thoughtfully. Now I wondered what the fuck he heard the first time around. “Okay.”
He took the jacket and neatly turned it inside out revealing a quilted material with many zips. He undid the zips on the arm and turned it into a short sleeve jacket and then after nearly a minute unzipped and reattached it so that it could either be a green sleeved black jacket, a black sleeved green one or have no sleeves at all.
The correct answer, if I’d been marking, would have been to ditch the jacket. But he had solved the problem. Clearly the aesthetic value of the jacket was superseding common sense. This is how you end up spending your teen years in high waisted pants and a shirt with no buttons. Or your preteens in a black romper. Or like, any fucking choice he’d make on his own.
I narrowed my eyes. I did value commitment. “You can keep it if you get that sleeve thing down to ten seconds by the time we hit the border.”
Some other kid would have been ecstatic. Mine looked very, very serious. Kids are weird.
With that sort of sorted I adjusted his backpack, hauled mine up and held out a hand. “Time to go an adventure.”
After a moments thought he took it. Not for long, but that wasn’t the point.
Straight up, are there any good dollmakers left? They're fun.