According to official medical instruction, Uchiha Shisui was not allowed to leave my side for—at least—two weeks, and I was not allowed to leave my hospital room for at least three. He was to maintain constant skin-to-skin contact with my person in order to ensure that my chakra system functioned correctly. I wanted to ask the nurses about it—why specifically his chakra and the mechanics to my body's subsequent rejection of any other—but they always shook their heads and patiently told me I wouldn't understand, anyway.
The doctor who headed my operation, some Murakami-sensei, sent a letter of request to the Hokage's office and the Uchiha Police Force regarding the consequential removal of Shisui's name from the mission roster for the amount of time it would take me to recover, considering that he was obligated to play babysitter.
We received approval from both sides approximately five hours after the letters were originally sent.
Mebuki and Kizashi did not protest, even if Mebuki seemed a little torn between displeasure (as for him being a shinobi) and elation (as for him being a shinobi who acted just in time); they knew, probably more than I did, that it was Shisui's chakra that kept my organs from failing all at once.
After calming down from their hysterics, my parents tried to thank him with money in compensation for his lost time. He politely refused the monetary reward, offering a weak-willed reply that went along the usual shinobi creed, "duty to the village", so Mebuki (stubbornly) found another way to give him his due.
She "accidentally" let slip to a distant cousin that I had been close to death, and was saved by Uchiha Shisui's quick thinking. The distant cousin was the older brother to someone's wife, whose friend's nephew happened to be dating a writer in Konoha Weekly. When Thursday morning dawned, all of Konoha knew about the incident.
The Hokage Tower released an official statement that sent the Hokage's approval rates skyrocketing, and from what I've read of the newspapers before Shusui embarrassedly tore them from my hands, even the daimyo had praised his quick-thinking, and was arranging a small ceremony to "award" him.
The Uchiha Police Force held a press conference regarding the matter, as well. I watched it all from the small television set I was confined to, Shisui by my side. His face had been unreadable all through out.
Both organizations needed some sort of publicity to connect with the civilian population, and Mebuki had provided them just that. It was almost scary how swiftly a personal incident became a political one.
"It improves their image." I told the air, and Shisui perked up, having almost drifted off to sleep staring at the lamp on my bedside table. I half-turned to him and held his hand. It dwarfed my own, and was a lot rougher than I expected. I reminded myself that he was a professional shinobi. "It makes ninja more approachable. More involved. You're a hero."
Shisui's expression was slightly disgruntled. "But we are involved. Teams go out all the time, in D-rank missions and C-ranks. A-ranks, B-ranks."
"That is true." I conceded, inclining my head. "But nobody cares if three ninjas swept someone's backyard, or cleaned somebody's gurney. Nobody cares if this person escorted that person all the way to Iron, or if that person helped a caravan along this road. The civilians are clients in those cases—you are paid to perform those jobs. It's a transaction—there are monetary exchanges for your services." I explained patiently. "An incident like this one is more personal. It makes the people think, 'If my child is in danger, then I don't have to worry because the ninjas are here, and they will help.' Something like that. You weren't paid to save me, but you did."
He sighed, but chalked it up with a smile. "You oversimplify it."
"It's the easiest way I can make it so that you would understand." I countered without missing a beat.
He made a face. "Hey! I'm hurt." He removed his hand from mine to clutch his chest, as if wounded, and for a split moment, my lungs shuttered. I sucked in a sharp breath, and exhaled slowly, tensing up. My hands gripped the sheets below me, and my nails dug into the linen.
His hand returned, and I felt something warm flow from his skin to mine. It wormed its way under the epidermis, and dissolved into the current of chakra my nerves were rejecting. I relaxed, and breathed in deeply, if a little desperately.
"I'm sorry." He apologized, brows furrowing. Shisui appeared uncertain. "I didn't..." He trailed off and bit his lip.
I shrugged dismissively, forgiving him for his inattention. "Don't be sorry. I have to relearn how to support my own organs, otherwise I will die. How will I learn if I am too dependent on your chakra?"
He cocked his head to the side and grinned exasperatedly. "You certainly don't mince your words, do you?"
"And you're really pretty."
"Wha-I beg your pardon?"
I cocked my head to the side. "I thought we were pointing out facts? Your eyelashes are very long, as well."
He blinked, and then Shisui chuckled good-naturedly, resting his chin on his other palm. "If that's the case—your eyelashes are pink."
"My coloring is natural."
"My looks are natural."
"You're really cool."
"I'm a bit too old for you, kid." He teased.
I licked my lips, taken aback. "That's...I apologize. My advances were not sexual in nature." His eyes grew wide. "I really am just pointing out facts."
"I was joking!" He choked out, looking as red as a ripened tomato. It was a little alarming seeing his fair skin change color in under two seconds flat. "Kami, what are you—eight? 'Sexual in nature'? Where the hell-" He coughed, "-ccccckk did you get that from?"
"From Zakari-san's book." I answered point-blank, shaking my head with a careless shrug. I hid a smile. "I must borrow more scrolls and books from the library about this, though." I gestured to the both of us. "It's really fascinating, how no one else's chakra works like yours do just because it got to my chakra system first." I held up a finger and rubbed my cheek. "The nurses won't give me a detailed explanation why, so I guess I must search for the answer on my own and," I blinked when I noticed the faraway look in his eyes. "I'm sorry, I must be boring you."
He shook himself out of his stupor and shrugged. "No, it's not that." He reassured me. A part of me felt relieved that I wasn't being dull—well, that he liked me enough not to openly declare how tedious it was to spend time with me. "You're very fascinating. I don't think I've ever seen someone as young as you so well-worded. At least, someone not from a shinobi or a noble clan."
My mood soured.
And here we see a fine example of stationism in the Land of Fire.
"I...see." I looked away. "Of course." Such impressive talents could only be afforded by shinobi children, I wanted to add sarcastically, for some unknown reason feeling terribly defensive, but I held my tongue.
"What...err, what channel would you like to tune in to, Sakura-chan?"
I looked at the television and gave him a helpless look. "I do not watch TV often." I answered honestly.
Shisui tilted his head to the side and began playing with my stubby fingers. I let him. "Oh? What do you do in your free time, then?"
I thought about it and began to wiggle my hand, stabbing softly at his palm with my knuckles. It did nothing but tickle him, judging from the widening smile on his face. Save for that one dark glare I received while I was going 50-50, he really wasn't the type to be broody. I didn't quite know what to think about such an expressive grown-up.
"I read." I finally said, lurching forward to wrap both my hands around his wrist. I began to strangle it, amusing myself by watching his hand flap around. "And when Oka-san isn't around, I do, you know, what the doctors told me not to do anymore." I added.
He had a strangely charmed expression on his face. "You mean, play around with your chakra?"
I shot him a curt glance and grabbed hold of his thumb. I painstakingly began to maneuver our connected hands to compare the size of my hand to the size of his. "I would hardly call it playing." I defended myself. "Playing would insinuate that my decisions and actions weren't measured."
He raised a skeptical eyebrow and wordlessly gestured to my prone state with his nose.
I clenched my jaw and raised my chin. "This incident is an isolated case—an anomaly. It will not occur again."
He repeated what I had said to himself and let out a low, disbelieving laugh. "Ha! I don't get it!" He appraised me and ran his fingers through his hair. "Why aren't you in the Academy? You have so much potential."
"Because I'm not going to be a ninja. Duh." I rolled my eyes as if it were the obvious. I opened my mouth to tease him further, but remembered my manners. We hardly knew each other, so I wasn't allowed some liberties. I shut my jaw with a loud click.
The shinobi gave me an encouraging look, quickly hiding away the conflicted twist of his lips with a smile.
"I recognize that face." He said wisely.
I gave him a blank stare as if to ask 'What face?', and he ruffled my head with his other hand. I freed one hand to straighten my hair into some semblance of decency, leaving the other to curl limply around his bigger wrist.
"You are allowed to express yourself freely, you know, Sakura-chan." He pointed out, but I already knew that. "You're eight years old, not a middle-aged grouch."
I blew some pink hair away from my face and hesitantly forced out what I had been about to say. "Shisui-san can be so dense sometimes."
"Oi!" He mocked another hurt look and pouted. Oh gosh, I thought to myself with a discreet swallow. He was really pretty. It was fascinating to have such an attractive companion. I felt like asking him what his secret was—I always got acne whenever I forgot to care for my skin. "Now you're abusing your freedom, Sakura-chan." He, for the lack of a better word, whined.
"Honesty is a good and valued moral trait in all good citizens of Konohagakure." I replied solemnly, mimicking his actions and combing my hair through my own fingers. The strands felt a little greasy. With a small sniff of disgust, I pointed to the remote and reminded him the original point of our conversation. "Since I do not know much about the shows in the television, do you have one you would like to recommend?"
He reached over for the remote and began to flip through the different channels. "I don't think what I would normally recommend is appropriate for someone your age. Fortunately for you, I have a cousin your age, and he tells me all about his favorite TV series. Ever heard of 'The Strife Throne'?"
"In passing." I responded noncommittally. "You mean Sasuke-san, right?"
Shisui smiled and finally found the correct channel. "Yes. I'm glad you remember him!" He exclaimed, looking genuinely pleased with my efforts to remember one name. His smile faltered, and he leaned forward. "Maa, though I remember you not liking him very much. Did he do something to offend you? He does that, sometimes. Comes with being the clanhead's youngest kid, though his older brother would rather keel over and die before intentionally insulting someone as cute as you."
"Oh no." I shook my head. "Sasuke-san did nothing wrong. It's just that..." I thought of an excuse. How ironic—there I was preaching about honesty, and two seconds later I lie. What was I supposed to tell him, though? That that little boy gave me prophetic glimpses of long, long years of suffering and hatred?
Thank you, but no, thank you.
"We did not meet under the best circumstances. He was being babysat, and I apparently woke him up from his nap or something." I shrugged dismissively and faked an unconcerned look. "I don't care, either way."
He seemed to sense my discomfort anyway, and I quietly thought that I was fortunate I could even pull half-convincing acts in front of someone who was trained to sniff out false personalities. The shinobi changed the subject. "What's with that, anyway?"
I blinked at him uncomprehendingly. "What's with what?" I echoed.
"Zakari-kun calls you Sakura-kun," he elaborated. "But you're Sakura-chan." He emphasized.
I laughed at that, brightening up. "It's...I had a bad habit of answering neutrally whenever someone asked of my sex. The majority of the population simply decided that the pink hair was misleading and that I were a boy. That's honestly all there is to it. Zakari-san believes that I am male, but his uncle insists that I am a girl, which is correct, but he believes himself correct, either way. The end."
"Quite a tale. Do you like messing with people like that?" Shisui chuckled.
I smiled wryly. "I cannot wait until puberty kicks in."
The shinobi—ANBU Root, my mind whispered, and I wondered what that meant—paused and looked at me with genuine surprise. "That's..."
I sent him a secret smile, pressed a finger to my lips, and focused on the TV screen, suppressing a giggle as I felt him continue to watch me.
"Nakasone-sama," the man in the show was saying, "You cannot possibly defeat Miyake-sama! It is folly!"
Another man shook his head seriously. "I must, Sakamoto. For my friends, I must."
I made a sound of discontent. "Can we change the channel?" I requested politely. "I've had enough of this friendship cliches from the fables in Reading class. Do you know what channel, ano," what show did Kizashi watch again? "Shows 'Battle of Lost Brothers?"
The dark-haired man raised the remote in his hands. "I thought you didn't watch TV."
"I watch my parents watch TV." I explained to him patiently.
"Well—I must warn you; it's a little bloody."
"So is menstruation, but I will be dealing with that in about five or so years." I rebuked quickly. A strange noise left his throat, and in my head, I cackled.
Mebuki arrived at half past four in the afternoon, bringing her homemade dinner. She opened the door slowly, carefully balancing a warm pot of what I hoped was egg-soup (which I deemed the perfect sick food), and called out, "Hello, Sakura-chan!" Her voice was tired but bright, and I was very happy that she had come to visit. While she and Kizashi wanted to stay with me night and day, they still had jobs to do to pay my hospital fee.
Shisui was, in other words, a glorified babysitter slash life support.
"Good afternoon to you, too, Uchiha-san." The golden-haired woman added after a pause, remembering that I had company. She succeeded in finally pushing the door open with her sandaled foot, and it swung wide open, the knob knocking against the wall. My mother muttered a small "oops" as a passing nurse reminded her to maintain the silence.
"Oka-san!" I piped up, finally tearing my gaze away from Shisui, who tore his gaze away from the TV. He quickly shut it off, preventing my mother from seeing a rather intense scene between the "Battle of Lost Brothers"'s main characters. I had been pleased to note that they were playing re-runs of the whole series.
"Good afternoon to you too, Haruno-san!" The young man exclaimed, smiling kindly. "Would you like me to help you with that?"
"Oh, no, it's alright." Mebuki replied, shaking her head and attempting to flap a hand in dismissal. She didn't succeed very well because of the burden she was carrying—it was a fat clay pot that smelled really, really good. "How can you, anyway, dear? You can't exactly leave my daughter's side, and Kami help you if you do."
I slid my hand down Shisui's elbow to give him some leverage, and watched him go through lightning-quick hand seals. His fingers blurred as he lined up his forefinger with his thumb, and then twisted his hands to form something else, and—I looked away and shook my head.
I felt slightly awed, seeing it performed so close, and had to ask myself how he managed to prevent breaking his own fingers at such a break-neck execution of seals. Maybe it was a ninja thing.
With a small poof, an exact copy of him appeared to his right. Wordlessly, it went up to a startled Mebuki and took the pot from her slackened hands, relieving her of her heavy bag and purse as well.
"I—that's...thank you, Uchiha-san." Mebuki stammered, blinking out of her stupor. She hesitantly spoke to the clone, wondering if it could understand her, judging from the terribly uncertain look on her face. "Put the pot on top of the rags I brought. They're in my bag, yes, thank you again." Fussily, she joined the clone and began to bring out bowls and chopsticks. "I forgot about your ninja abra-cadabra there. Very useful."
"It's my pleasure to help, Ma'am." Shisui said, tipping his head. I squeezed his arm and told him, "That was cool."
He winked and flashed a thumbs-up. I covered my mouth and began to softly laugh.
"I hope you've not been giving my daughter any ideas, Uchiha-san," Mebuki began with a deceptively light-hearted tone. It was a warning. "She's quite set to becoming a doctor already."
If I wasn't what I was—an older, partly prophetic entity masquerading as a young girl—I was absolutely certain I wouldn't be too far off from my present personality. The natural actress part had to come from Mebuki.
Shisui's smile remained. "She'd make a wonderful doctor." He commented neutrally.
"I don't know about that," I interrupted. "I have a terrible bedside manner." I blurted out. A strange look passed on Mebuki's face, before she shook her head and opened the pot. The delicious smell of egg-soup hit my nose, and I sighed. "Heavenly." I murmured, making a grabbing motion. "Oka-san, I'm hungry."
"Now, that won't do, will it?" She asked teasingly, pouring a generous serving into one bowl and handing it over to me. I accepted it with a pleased warble, and Shisui's clone handed me the Japanese version of a spoon. Humming to myself, I expertly fed myself with one hand, dipping the utensil into the thick, creamy soup.
Mebuki gave Shisui a bowl of his own, and, after the clone dispelled, the three of us began to eat. Shisui must have felt very awkward, judging by his silence and too-polite responses, but Mebuki filled the silence as she spoke about her day. I helped her along with harmless descriptions of my own experiences bedridden in Konoha Hospital.
A nurse entered, did her job while I remained as still as possible, behaving like I was expected to, and she left soon after after making small talk with Mebuki. Mebuki made herself comfortable on the seat opposite of Shisui—it was her turn to spend the night with Shisui and me. Tomorrow it would be Kizashi.
I didn't blame them for being so attentive—even I wouldn't allow a theoretical only daughter to spend the night alone with an older man, even if he had saved her life.
"Some of your friends dropped by, Sakura-chan." Mebuki suddenly began, smiling.
I perked up. "Who?"
She began listing off names. A whole class of upperclassmen from school, Jou, Ren, and Zakari, some teachers. There were more, but she couldn't remember them all.
"You're very popular, Sakura-chan." Shisui was commenting, but I could barely hear him over the buzzing of my ears. I clutched my chest and looked down on my lap, clenching my hand over his.
I felt...warm? Pleased? -that they had come and asked after me. True, none of them knew me very well to the extent that I would call them true friends, but they had cared.
The corners of my lips began to tug up. Flushing, I ducked my head and tucked a strand of pink hair behind the shell of my ear. "Please pass along my gratitude to them, Oka-san." I mumbled, pink-cheeked. I was embarrassed by the attention, but was pleased at the same time. The thought that they were worried about me made my heart flutter.
Shisui was squinting at me. I gave him a stubborn look. "What?" I demanded wryly, smile falling away.
He scratched the back of his head. "Maa," he started. "I don't see why many mistake you for a boy, Sakura-chan. Your smile...it..." He paused, and shook his head. "Never mind."
"You were going to say something cheesy, weren't you, Shisui-san?"
"I wasn't! Honestly, I wasn't!"
"This is not going the way you wanted to."
"No...not really. I underestimated his loneliness. But it doesn't matter. Shisui is enough."
"Shisui doesn't have much longer. Sasuke Uchiha is eight."
The voice is firm. "Shisui is enough."