Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters. I do own Kumi, though.

Warning: child abuse and bullying (mostly mentions of it), some dark themes, too much fluffiness sometimes (each chapter less and less frequently, sorry!), DRAMA!, angst everywhere, unbeta'ed (frankly even unrevised most the time. Sorry, guys, I'm lazy.), my incapability to end a chapter in a happy note (I guess you're aware of this by now), a real rollercoaster of emotions.

Author's note:

Hello, guys! I'm back with another chapter, only about three months later. What an author am I, huh, when being back three months later is early for me. Anyway, nothing like a quarantine to make you sit your ass down and write. On that note, I hope you guys are taking care of yourselves wherever you are. Be safe.

About the chapter itself. Well, I tried to put some fluff there. It's mostly angst. I don't know how not to write angst. It's a problem, I admit. I just start to type shit and it become angsty along the way. The scenes write themselves sometimes, I swear.

On a happy note, though, we're getting closer and closer to ShikaKumi. Yay.


I just want to say thank you guys for your amazing support. Even if I don't reply to all the reviews, I read every single one of them. All of them make my day. I can't even believe that I'm getting closer to reaching my dream of a thousand reviews on FFNet. It's all thanks to you guys.

Just in case you don't know, you can also find me at AO3 (Amaryllis_Namikaze), Wattpad ( BrunaLCandido, FictionPress (Amaryllis D. Namikaze) and tumblr (broken_amaryllis). Give me a shout out.

You may also wanna read some of my original stories, which are still a work-in-progress, but written with the same love and enthusiasm of All Things Are Difficult Before They Are Easy. You can find them on my AO3, Wattpad or FictionPress profile. Leave me a comment or just pass by to say hi. I love to hear from you.

TL;DR: I'm back. Tried to make it fluffy, mostly failed. Oh, well, some ShikaKumi. Find me on my other profiles. Take care. Bye!

All Things Are Difficult Before They Are Easy

By Amaryllis D. Namikaze

Chapter XXV:

The Day

"Just remember: you never have to do Today again. You did Today. Good job. It wasn't easy. Tomorrow may not be easy either. But then again, it could be better - so much better. At least it won't be Today."

- Anonymous

The thing was - everything seemed normal. At first.

One would think that sensei was going to be stoned on the streets wherever he went, but that didn't turn out to be true.

I knew what bullying looked like, its consequences, its characteristics. It tasted like a tedious school morning, iron in your mouth and voices in your head. It sounded lonely and hopeless. In my first life - as distant as it seemed, most of the time - bullying was both discreet and glaringly obvious. Discreet in the sense that it never happened in front of people who could—

(who should)

help me. It felt lonely because of that fact. I had felt as if no one would come to my aid even if they did know what people said to me, spoke about me, did to me.

Most of all, it felt glaringly obvious because it wasn't like Konoha's citizens' hate.

A shove. Taunting words. Ill-intended pranks.

Were they so much worse than whispers behind your back? Silence when you walked inside shops in the district?

So, yes, at first, everything looked the same as it always did. June bled into July without harsh words being spoken to Kakashi - and he seemed oblivious to whatever happened at his father's latest mission. His daily training with my brother went on with no changes and his personality seemed mostly the same. He was still the same cheeky brat he'd always been, even if it had been toned down for a couple of months after Ren's— death.

Sakumo-sensei was the only reason why everything wasn't the same.

He looked tired every time I visited. His skin had taken on a gray, sickly hue, and his eyes had sunken into his face as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

(Which, to be honest, probably felt true to his mind.)

"Sensei," I said one July morning after seeing Kakashi leave with Minato.

My brother had taken one look at my face after seeing Sakumo-sensei and herded Kakashi into putting on his sandals faster than ever. They both left us alone faster than you could say goodbye.

"Ah, Kumi-chan." Sakumo-sensei, who'd been turning around on the doorstep to go back inside, seemed surprised at my calling. I wouldn't know why. Ren always nagged us about taking care of each other. He used to say that between me, Chitarō and Sakumo-sensei, he didn't know who was the worst at communicating how we were truly feeling.

I was painfully shy with strangers and acquaintances, so I didn't bother to tell anyone my problems. And even after getting to know someone better, I simply didn't want to dump my insecurities on someone else. It was habit to deal with things myself.

Chita couldn't be bothered to speak about his feelings. He wasn't raised to be all mushy and sentimental. His words, not mine. Given Naras' tendency to rationalize everything, I could understand.

Sakumo-sensei was the type to hide his problems from us. At first because we were just kids he was supposed to teach. An adult asking advice from a couple of eleven-year-old boys and a ten-year-old kid wasn't exactly an example to be followed. When we did become his team, his comrades, he was our leader. I wouldn't know, as I wasn't and would never be a leader type myself, but I guess sensei simply thought he was supposed to take care of everything himself.

I wasn't the most indicated person to change his views on this topic. I wasn't the forceful type.

But damn if I wasn't going to try.

"Sensei," I said again, just to prolong the moment. "Are you okay?"

Dumb question, I chided myself. I knew he wasn't okay. His face screamed NOT OKAY.

(Ren was so much better at this. Used to be so much better at this.)

Sakumo-sensei gave me a weak smile in response to my concern. He put his massive paw-hand over my hand - not ruffling my hair or anything, just a comforting weight. I had taken to styling my hair in a half-updo knot at the back of my head when I wasn't going on missions, so I was glad he didn't mess with it like Chita would have done.

When my teacher was truly content, his eyes would close in half-moon shapes and his mouth would curl up at the corners. It resembled Kakashi's future smiles behind his mask quite a lot.

When he answered my question with a simple Fine, Kumi-chan, his eyes remained hauntingly open and his smile was the weakest turn up of lips I'd ever seen.

I gulped my uneasiness down. It tasted like an autumnal British morning with blood and mocking laughs.

Hey, ugly!

Look at his face.


Haywood! Hey, Haywood! Did Mommy dearest kill herself 'cause she couldn't take a look at your face?

God, what a freak.

Go away.

Leave me alone, Dan - god, my friends are right about you!

As if I wanted a son like you—

I woke up with a gasp on my lips, my throat closed up from lack of air.

"Hey," a voice beside me said. A warm hand on my shoulder. "You ok?"

I was laying down on the middle of a training ground. I'd been taking a nap. Chitarō was sitting beside me, observing my face with worried eyes and a frown on his lips.

"Yeah. Just fine. I had— nightmare." I managed to stammer out, feeling feeble in my excuses.

Although they weren't exactly excuses.

I had some nightmares from my last life. From time to time, I mean. Not every day, but once in a while. Enough to make it bothersome, not enough to make it worrying. Usually, they were sensations felt by my other body, not a full memory or anything like that.

My first life felt so long ago that I managed to get by without worrying about it too much. Sister, Father, Mother, Bullies - they were mostly distant blurs when I couldn't even remember my own face. Or name.


Dan Haywood.

This was a real name. My name. My former name, I guess.

Soon enough, I knew, I would forget all about it. There was a time when I could remember Sister's name - a time long past. Reincarnating wasn't that easy - there was no way a human brain could remember two lives without going at least a little crazy, so my mind made me forget most stuff I shouldn't care about anymore. The events of Naruto were branded in my memory simply because I couldn't afford to let it go, not if it meant the difference between life and death.

Memories were easier to forget, for which I was grateful.

Feelings, on the other hand, were simply engraved in my mind - haunting me, day in, day out. In the way that I woke up some days, looked at myself in the mirror and couldn't seem to believe that this pretty face staring back was me. In the way that my body could move freely when before it had been so sickly. In the way that people talked to me and I couldn't just get over the simple - simple - fact that my family and friends could love me.


Broken Dan Haywood.

"Kumi?" Chita laid his hand over my shoulder once again.

I blinked, startled out of my thoughts. An embarrassed smile bloomed on my face.

"Sorry, you were saying?"

Chitarō observed my face a little longer, before sighing, "Well, I guess I can't blame you for being so absentminded recently. I haven't been myself that much, either."

Hearing someone else feeling lost shouldn't feel this great, I'm sure.

"Yeah. Hokage-sama talked to you too?" I asked.

Chita nodded. His shoulders were hunching over, a grim frown on his face. I could understand his helplessness. I didn't know what to do either.

Our teacher was wasting away. Even Kakashi had noticed something amiss the last couple of days. His tiny voice asking me about it was in the back of my mind since yesterday evening, when I brought him back to his house after his training with Minato.

"God, what are we supposed to do," Chitarō said beside me, laying back down on the ground. His voice had choked in the middle of his sentence, sounding strangled by his worry.

I lied down beside him. That's how I had fallen asleep in the first place, but now I was too full to feel sleepy. There was this sensation that made me feel like I was overflowing with god-knows-what.

Just because we never saw anyone directly bothering Sakumo-sensei didn't mean that he wasn't being badly treated. I would know. All those taunting words hounding my brain these last days weren't said in a loud, in-your-face kind of way. Most were whispers behind your back - meant to be heard, of course, but not in a way that made the Bulliesfeel like they were bullies.

No one wanted to be the villain of their own story.

(If I said something terrible about someone, but not to their face, could it even be considered tormenting? Maybe I was just vocalizing a truth no one wanted to say.)

"Ren would know what to say," I stated matter-of-factly. I wasn't bemoaning Ren's death. It was simply the truth. Ren used to be better at feelings, while Chitarō and I floundered along his cues.

Chita nodded. He turned on his side and I did the same. The look on his face made me feel less alone. There were a handful of people I could count on in this world for absolutely anything and one of them was in front of me.

"Hey, Flea! Lazy ass!" I heard Tsume shout a few meters from us.

Chitarō groaned dramatically, which made me laugh a little. Not a giggle, because I don't do giggles, but a small laugh behind my teeth.

What had my life come to if hearing Tsume call me Flea made me happy?

"We'll be late to the restaurant and this time it won't be my fault!" She continued on, waving her hands at us.

I could see Mikoto hiding a smile behind her hand from my point on the ground. Kihito had his arms crossed over his chest, his lips twisting up in a rare smile. A littler further away, Kakashi and Asuma were playing some kind of game I couldn't for the life of me decipher, but that's what made me sit up.

I'd been working my butt off to make sure Kakashi would become a functional human being in his future, not some kind of misguided, mindless weapon. I'd given him love - not only because it was essential to his upbringing, but because I genuinely loved the little guy - and affection, introduced him to kids his age so he could act his age for once, cooked for him, and cared for him in all ways that mattered.

I wasn't about to give up on my teacher and his father just because I was a failure of a human being. Once again there he was, wearing his big boy pants, getting over every obstacle that came in his life, while I was turning myself inside out in grief and worry.

"Meh, who cares," Chita murmured grumpily.

Of course, even a few meters away, Tsume managed to hear with her acute hearing. There wasn't much that could escape an Inuzuka's hearing and smelling sense.

"Your brother cares, idiot! It's his birthday!"

As we walked toward the restaurant in which Shikaku's birthday was going to be celebrated - an Akimichi barbecue place, where else? -, Kakashi's small hand in mine, I felt as if I could take on the world.

I made sure to mark it in my mind.

It wasn't a feeling I felt often.

So what if I could barely look at Shikaku's face without averting my eyes, I said to myself. It's not like anyone noticed. It's not like he cares.

"Do you plan on saying Happy Birthday to my brother anytime today, Kumi-chan?" Chitarō teased on his seat beside mine, nudging my shoulder.

I sighed in defeat. Ok, so my friends did notice. Ren had told basically everyone in our group of friends about my crush - a crush that I didn't even try to deny at this point.

I had a crush on Shikaku.


I said it.

I wouldn't say it twice.

A crush that wasn't fading away, by the way. Why, God? Why me? Why him? Why did I have to have a crush on a canon character of all people? I mean, they weren't characters, they were real people - but people whose fate was already decided. Shikaku was supposed to marry Yoshino. Not because of a marriage contract, or anything like that, but that's just how it was supposed to go in this world. Not to mention Shikamaru. How else would he come to this world and help Naruto? He'd been such an important piece in the Naruto series.

So. Here I was. On Shikaku's 19th birthday dinner party barely managing to sit on the same table without ceasing to function. The only reason why my face wasn't catching on fire was because he was on the other side of the table, while I was hidden between Chita's tall stature and Kihito's broad shoulders.

There was also the fact that I couldn't look at his face without feeling a little bit guilty this last month. His scars were there when I watched Naruto, of course, so they were supposed to happen at one point or another, but that didn't mean I wanted to be the one responsible for them. They were still a glaring pinkish-red raised over his handsome face.

"Nee-chan, nee-chan," Kakashi called me, tugging on my sleeve. A swan origami sat on the palm of his hand, clumsily made, but a swan nonetheless. "Look at this!"

I made sure to seem impressed, even though origami certainly wasn't the reason why Kakashi was considered a prodigy.

"Wow, look at that! Who taught you how to fold paper like this, huh?"

"Aiko-oba-san! Isn't it nice?"

Umino Aiko sighed in exasperation from the other side of the table, where she had been entertaining Kakashi and Asuma the last twenty minutes.

"Why am I oba-san? I'm not even that old! Kumi-chan is nee-chan, while poor, old Aiko is oba-san," she said, mournfully. She winked at me from beneath her eyelashes, mischief written on her face and clearly trying not to laugh when Asuma didn't know what to say to make her feel better.

Kid Asuma and kid Kakashi were adorable while trying to comfort Aiko, even though she was laughing her ass off inside her mind, I was sure. Mikoto was holding a baby Iruka on the seat beside her, seemingly enchanted by the mindless blabber only a toddler could produce. It reminded me that she had already turned sixteen a few weeks ago - the age which she was supposed to get married.

The reminder made me feel like the future was creeping up on me.

"Well, at least you are an oba-san," Kihito said, amused. "We can't say the same about Kumi."

The reference went right over Kakashi's and Asuma's head. They were too young to understand what Kihito was saying. Aiko was a woman. I was a man, so I couldn't be an older sister.

Once again I wondered if Kakashi knew this. He'd called me onee-chan ever since he could talk and I didn't have the heart to correct him. In his toddler mind, girls had silky long hair and boys did not. I took care of him like his mother used to do before she died. For all intents and purposes, I was a girl. In his mind, anyway.

I didn't feel any less of a man just because I had long hair or a girly appearance. I wasn't a girl and I didn't feel like a girl, so that was enough to make me a man. Maybe I wouldn't be confused as pre-pubescent girl so much if I cut my hair short, but I liked feeling pretty. It was vain, I knew, though I couldn't help it.

(Look at his face.


I breathed in. I breathed out.

I wished my thoughts weren't quite so loud sometimes.

I scanned the faces around the table, trying to distract myself from my own dangerous thoughts. It wouldn't do to keep putting myself down all the time.

My brother was unsurprisingly chatting with Kushina, who had a smitten look on her face. Everyone knew these two were sickeningly in love with each other - except for themselves. Umino Tetsuo's suffering expression in the middle of the lovebirds told me all I needed to know.

Feeling better at this scene, I contained my laughter. Without meaning to do it, I glanced at Shikaku's side of the table - perhaps to see if anyone was seeing the same thing as I was, perhaps to glimpse at his face as he talked with his team. Thing was - he was looking at me.

His face was doing the same thing his brother's did when Chitarō thought no one was looking. The softening around the mouth, the lightening around the eyes. The look Chitarō had when he was comfortable around his close friends or his family.

I felt my cheeks heating up at being caught by his gaze. I averted my eyes, but not quickly enough not to see the tips of his ears getting red. Poor guy, I thought to myself, as if I wasn't also painted red like a target. Shikaku was used to analyzing everything, I knew. He liked to understand everything and everyone. That's most likely why he'd been looking at my face just then. Shikaku hadn't counted on being caught staring.

We had to cut the dinner party short when it became obvious that a downpour was about to start. Not to mention that it was way past nine, a time in which Kakashi and Asuma should be in bed.

Everybody bade their goodbyes quickly, wishing to be home before the rain could start, even though I could already hear thunders in the distance, shaking the ground beneath us.

I tried not to think about Shikaku's parting glance.

I took it upon myself to take Kakashi home, like I usually did. Minato was his teacher, but I was his caretaker in a way. Kakashi had his father, yes, but Sakumo-sensei hadn't been himself ever since his wife's death years ago. It was best if I kept my eyes on him too.

"C'mon, I'll go with you," Chita said, taking Kakashi's other hand. He sent me a look over Kakashi's head that said all about his intention to talk to our teacher. Yeah. We couldn't postpone that anymore.

Konoha had changed in the last month. Every shinobi and kunoichi knew that a war was brewing in the horizon. Hokage-sama had assigned more border missions the past thirty days than in the entire first half of the year. A few shops had closed due to economic relations being cut with countries whose shaky alliance wouldn't mean much the next months.

I should be surprised at how fast things turned south, but I was not. Even months before Sakumo-sensei's mission, the political climate in this world wasn't great. Konoha and Iwa were enemies even after the Second Great War ended. We never truly became allies. Our relationship with Kumogakure wasn't that great to begin with. And let's not even mention Kirigakure, whose fault in the destruction of Uzushio would mean sour relations for a long, long time in the future.

The Five Great Nations weren't friends. We were barely allies. At the beginning of the Naruto series, all five of them were somewhat at a standstill. No one wanted another war. It was an impasse. In this time, however, the nations weren't that wary of war as of yet.

War would come. It was a fact. What would be known as the Third Great Ninja War was about to happen. I just didn't know it would come so soon after sensei's mission failure.

I didn't blame him. How could I? He had saved my life more times than I could count on one hand, had taught me more than I could explain. He'd been like family ever since he cared enough to find me Suzaku-sensei.

But I could see how some people did. His failure as a leader during his last mission was the last drop in this full glass about to overflow. It meant no more pretending at holding back from war. The nations were about to start fighting each other for real.

It was a heavy weight to carry.

It wasn't Sakumo-sensei's fault - it was just easier to pretend it was. Having someone to blame about their problems made people feel better about themselves, I knew.

Midway towards Kakashi's house, rain started to pour over our heads in heavy pellets. We shared a glance before starting to run like the devil was on our heels, laughing all the while.

"Chita-nii!" Kakashi shrieked when Chitarō gathered him in his arms without breaking our run. The brat was smiling widely, so I wasn't too worried at his shouting.

Finally, we stopped to catch our breath when we reached the doorstep of sensei's house. The water couldn't reach us here, but the wind was still blowing in our faces, making me feel a bit like a drowned cat as I fumbled for the keys in my pocket.

I opened the door, taking my shoes off before entering. As Kakashi and Chita did the same, I could only huff and puff in amusement at their soaked state. My hair felt heavy over my back, probably dripping water everywhere.

"I'll get a towel," I said, already going over the stairs. "Wait here. Best if just one of us gets the entire hallway wet."

Chitarō nodded in agreement, helping Kakashi out of his drenched shirt. Thank God it was summer. I didn't want to have a sick child on my hands the next days.

I glanced at them with a small smile, before turning my back and going over to the bathroom. With a startle, I realized something while gathering fluffy towels on my arms.

The house was silent.

I mean, I could hear Chitarō teasing Kakashi and his childish responses, but I couldn't hear my teacher moving around. With a sickening feeling in my gut, I laid the towels over the bathroom sink.

From the bathroom to my teacher's room it only took about ten steps; it felt like an eternity to cross the hallway. I knocked, even though this time, for some reason, I felt like I shouldn't bother.


The scene behind the door was familiar and not at the same time. Familiar because I was sure I had seen it before, in animation style. And not familiar because the one standing over Sakumo-sensei's still body was me instead of a little, silver-haired boy.

(Familiar because I'd seen Ren die earlier this years. Not familiar because it wasn't Ren this time.)

My eyes felt dry as the desert while I walked over to my teacher. Maybe it was the shock. Maybe I was surprisingly good at not being a crybaby when it mattered. Who knew.

I crouched over sensei's lying down form with dread. My bare feet was stepping over a puddle of blood, but I couldn't make myself care about it. I only wanted to check on my teacher's pulse without dissolving in a crying fit.

I gulped down my uneasiness much like I'd done a few days ago. Once again it tasted like a British morning and despairing loneliness. I felt like throwing up.

"Kumi, why are taking so lon—"


Chitarō, I wanted to shout. There was still someone with me.

The rain couldn't come inside the house. It was pouring outside. Nevertheless, I was drowning.

The next few hours felt like a mix of an insane dream and a terrible nightmare.

Sakumo-sensei wasn't dead. We'd reached him before he could bleed out completely. He just wasn't ok. The wound on his abdomen - clearly self-inflicted - would heal, but his consciousness couldn't be cured with medicine. The medical-induced coma would end a couple of days after we'd taken him to the hospital, but on he would sleep.

The doctor said we could only wait.

Kakashi was sitting on my lap, not even a ghost of his smile showing on his face. It felt like a punch to the gut. We'd been laughing in the rain earlier. How could everything go so wrong in the span of a few hours?

A nurse had been kind enough to contact my brother and Chitarō's family so that we didn't have to leave Kakashi alone. My brother arrived in less than five minutes, huffing at running all the way to the hospital and absolutely drenched from the thunderstorm outside.

He took one look at my face and went "Oh, Kumi," in that tone of voice of his that I didn't want to hear ever again. It felt like that day all those months ago when he found me crying naked as the day I was born in a bathtub of all places. When he gathered in my arms, sitting beside me on the plastic chair hard on my bum, I could only lay my head on his shoulder.

Kakashi let out a sob in my arms and started to shake.

I shushed him without thinking too much about it. I'd done this a thousand times before. When his mother died. When Ren died. I hadn't thought I'd need to do it because of his father too.

Shikaku arrived so silently that I barely noticed when he entered the hospital corridor. Chitarō collapsed in his arms like a puppet with broken strings. I could understand the feeling.

As Kakashi cried his heart out on my arms, I could only swallow the guilt inside me. I should've spoken to sensei earlier. I shouldn't have been such a coward. I should've told him how it wasn't his fault that the mission went south, that he was just being his noble self, the one I admired, the one who taught me that friendship and bonds weren't a weakness to be overcome in this ninja world.

I should have.

I should have.

I'd been lulled by a false sense of security. Everything had seemed normal.

But I knew. I knew that sensei had been suffering. I knew that people were talking behind his back, that people were treating him badly in the shops, in the streets. I knew what it felt like wanting to die.

(I just hadn't know what it felt like to be courageous enough to try.

Dan Haywood had been a coward.

And, apparently, so was I.)

"Onee-chan, is Dad gonna be ok?" Kakashi murmured against my neck when he managed to stop sobbing uncontrollably. His tears felt wet falling on my collarbone.

I couldn't lie to him. I couldn't lie to him, because if his father never woke up, what would I say?

"Igarashi-sensei tried his best, 'Kashi-kun. Sensei's tummy was hurt, but is well on its way to getting better. We can only wait and see when he'll wake up."

There was more to it than that, of course. A blood transfusion had been necessary, stitches had been done, not to mention a surgery, a coma had been induced. Everything that Igarashi-sensei, the doctor, could do, had been done. The only thing he couldn't do in sensei's stead was wake up.

Only Sakumo-sensei could choose whether to come back to us or not.

Shikaku stood up.

"C'mon, let's go home. There's nothing we can do here except become exhausted to the point of uselessness."

Chitarō sighed, though I could see in his face that he agreed. Nara and their rational minds, I thought fondly. He turned in my direction, a haunted look on his face.

"Come with us," Chita said, extending his hand towards me. "You guys can crash at our house today."

Grateful that my brother didn't even need to ask me if I wanted to go, we left the hospital. Kakashi was dozing off in my arms. Soon enough he'd be too big and heavy for me to carry. I hadn't had a growth spurt since I was twelve, most likely, and this child was growing taller every day. Probably Mom's genes in me.

I was in the Nara's bathroom when everything finally reached a breaking point. I knew my brother was downstairs making tea, as if it would make us all feel better somehow, and that Chita was putting Kakashi down on his bed to sleep at least a few hours.

Chita's father was out on a mission and his mother was giving us space to mourn. I knew she didn't want to be overbearing, which made me grateful for her insight. I didn't want anyone asking me if I was ok, because I was not.

I had faked well enough until I went into the bathroom. I hadn't cried that much yet. I mean, I'd shed a few tears, but I didn't want to sob in front of Kakashi like a baby when the little guy was shaking on my lap like a leaf.

When I closed the bathroom door, however, everything felt too real, too raw. The soles of my feet, still in the sandals as I hadn't even remembered to take them off before entering the house, were still sporting dried blood. My legs were trembling and I sat on the edge of the bathtub before I could fall to the ground.

I realized I hadn't even remembered to lock the door when I felt a hand lay over my knee and a voice telling me to breathe.

The air was stuck in my lungs.

"Kumi, breathe. C'mon. In. Out. In. Out."

A wheeze went past my lips. I tried to follow the voice's instructions, even if I felt like melting into the bathroom tiles. My heart was rattling inside my ribcage.

"Deep breath through the nose, out through the mouth. Come on."

Somehow, an eternity later, I did it. Air entered my lungs. My hands stopped shaking.

The one calming me down was Shikaku. Kneeling in front of me like this, I could see details of his face I sometimes missed when he was standing up and our height difference was more pronounced. His eyes weren't black like the Uchihas', it was more of a warm, dark brown. The tip of his nose was upturned. Even his new scars didn't seem that terrible, though they were still a reminder of how I hadn't moved quickly enough.

"Better?" He asked.


Not ok. I was still long ways from ok. But I did feel better after crying. I always did.

Shikaku stood up and I was forced once again to look up to see his face. He was smiling softly at me. It wasn't a look I was used to seeing. Not only because I was usually too shy to even glance at him, but also because his lips were most frequently smirking, not smiling.

He patted my head once. Twice.

"Take a bath. You'll feel better after washing the blood off you."

He'd know. Any shinobi would.

I nodded in agreement. Shikaku paused for a moment, taking one more look at my face. I wondered what I looked like. Devastation, most likely. I was sure my eyes would be red-rimmed and my cheeks swollen if I stole one look at the mirror.

"You did good today. For Kakashi, I mean. You were strong for him - but now today is over. You won't have to repeat today. Tomorrow is another day."

I bit my lower lip. I didn't know why this hit me harder than everything else. Shikaku had said it matter-of-factly, like it was simple truth that couldn't be avoided.

Today was over.

Tomorrow was another day.

I didn't have to live Ren's death day all over again.

I didn't have to live sensei's possible death day again.

No matter what happened, it had already happened. Tomorrow could be worse - or it could be better. I could only wait and see. Hope was both terrifying and breathtaking.