'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got.'
The boy sat at the bank of the Nakano River, his lightly curled hair rustling in the autumn wind. He gazed, transfixed, at the sun on the horizon, which was slowly dipping its way to the underworld. The fairies that lit up the sky waved merrily at him, and the lightening of his features, so young and peach and whole, greeted them in turn.
Countless souls captured by Valkyries yelled war cries in his general direction, shy nymphs danced at the edge of his vision. He sat at the bank of the Nakano River, and he fancied he could hear the laughter of the ancient spirits crowding the crags of Telnair and the family shrines in China.
The girl climbed up the grassy hill, a stack of books clutched in her kimono-clad arms, and sat next to him, dispelling the illusions.
She sighed and gazed at the sunset, dreaming of molten lava eradicating cities and embryos proliferating into humans that led armies into bloody battles, of sunshine on grass and the end of days and crazy cats and the half dozen chores on her to-do list and the laughter of a family she will never get to see again.
Neither one says a word to the other, but both unconsciously draw closer together, and maybe the fairies were real, and maybe the crazy cats were not, and maybe the horizon blurred reality and imagination until one became the other, and either became or.
In this little pocket of quiet contemplation, Shisui and Akito didn't say a word, and shared a lifetime.
Right, if I'm going to write a play, I need to figure out purpose and characters.
Shisui-chan, Kabuto, Itachi-touto and I sat in a square on my bedroom floor, with Sa-chan in the middle like a sacrifice to the Muses.
"Would be funnier if there was a funeral pyre," I mused aloud. Itachi-touto gave me a thoroughly unimpressed look and brought Sa-chan closer to him.
Silly child – as if that would stop me.
"Not that I don't love these…meetings," said Kabuto in a way that said he'd eaten sarcasm for breakfast, "but why?"
Shisui-chan sniggered unhelpfully.
"Two orders of business," I began, trying very hard not to think of the stack of books I need to finish reading because their return date is fast approaching. "One, status update on the Hokage Appreciation Festival, Shisui-chan?"
He coughed just to irritate me and said, "Well, the civilian guilds are irritated about the day they're going to lose on productivity, the construction crew is irritated that their schedule is going to be delayed, Minato-sama still doesn't know we're doing this, the KMPF have given us the go ahead after you shamelessly Bambi-ed Fugaku-sama into submission–"
Kabuto sarcastically gasped, because apparently he'd had sarcasm for lunch too. "Are you implying Akito accomplished something through unsavoury means?" he said in the driest voice he could possibly muster.
Itachi-touto refused to comment, which is why he's my favourite.
"Just because I use everything in my power to make other people do the things I want them to do…"
My retort is falling short of initial expectations – I need to re-evaluate my life at some point.
When I have the time.
Maybe in the next nine to ten years.
I tried another way of getting back at him. "Just because you're bitter about last Tuesday—"
"I will never not be bitter about last Tuesday!" he hissed, giving me the evillest side-eye known to man.
Shisui-chan snorted in amusement. "Point being, we've convinced everyone that it's a good idea, for the most part. Initial survey says so anyway. Probably should contact Akimichi-sama at some point, Aki-senpai?"
I nodded, sure that he'd fit it in somewhere in my schedule. Probably best to do it in the morning after training, before heading to the academy.
I gave him a look. He changed our plans accordingly.
"So the next order of business—" I began, but was rudely interrupted with a strangled cry from Kabuto.
"No. We're talking about last Tuesday. We're talking about last Tuesday right now. I refuse to let you brush it under the rug and pretend it never happened!"
An angry Kabuto strangely resembles a jigglypuff.
"You're a marshmallow," I informed him. I figured calling him a jigglypuff might offend him.
He gave me a withering look before chucking a pen at my head.
Shisui-chan tried patting Sa-chan on the head. Sa-chan tried biting his fingers off, because that boy is a properly possessive ponce, even at ten months.
"I thought you said we weren't allowed to bring it up again ever," I reminded him glibly, wondering whether it was possible to practice lightning jutsu on grills so that we could have grilled sandwiches. Or would it just end with smoked sandwiches? What does a smoked sandwich taste like?
"We're bringing it up now!"
"I want a smoked sandwich."
"Ooh, that sounds interesting."
"There's a 78% chance you'll get food poisoning, Shisui-nii."
"You all suck!" Kabuto helpfully threw at us before going into a buddha-level sulk.
I tried valiantly not to giggle.
Also, I just really want a smoked cheese sandwich.
"Right, so the next order of business is the main entertainment," I began, completely ignoring the fact that a quarter of the executive board was acting like a hormonal teenager four years too early, "A play? If so, what kind of play? Kabuki, musical, dramatic…a dramatic kabuki musical?"
That sounds like a pain to even begin to accomplish in the two weeks we've allotted ourselves. Curse you, deadlines!
Shisui-chan tilted his head in curiosity. "What's a mu-shi-ku-ru?"
So it's decided then. Luckily, I'm not completely tone deaf. Unluckily, I have no idea where to begin with this.
"We need costumes, a composer, a lyricist, a choir, hair and make-up people, prop designers, prop makers, backstage workers, printouts of the script—"
"Aki-senpai? Breathe," said Shisui-chan, yanking the mental list out of my mental hands. "And tell me a story."
"Demanding much?" I said without heat, climbing our tree branch in the academy playground and taking out my bento.
"Where do you want me to begin?" I asked, munching on a shrimp and attempting to figure out a plausible tune for a song that didn't feel like jingle bells.
"Begin at the beginning," he said, shovelling rice into his vacuum cleaner. I mean, his mouth, but same difference really.
"Most helpful piece of advice you've ever given me, truly," I deadpanned.
He attempted a grin, and grains of rice spilled out of his mouth.
He's such an idiot.
"Since it's propaganda, it'll have to be about the Hokage. But just the Sandaime, or Minato-sama too?" I hummed in contemplation.
"All of them!" Shisui-chan cheered cheerfully.
I punched him in the arm for his uselessness. "We have two weeks to get this done, Shisui-chan. All the Hokage? Seriously?!"
"It doesn't have to be a long story," he pointed out.
And with that, we turned to the topic of which iconic moments in history we ought to talk about, but also how the casting was going to work.
"Well, we can get the feud between Madara-sama and Hashirama-sama in there," I mused. "But how do we get it to flow? Like, do we just have one song for each Hokage?"
Shisui-chan put his bento away, having eaten it in record time. Meanwhile, I'm still contemplating my first shrimp.
"We could do a rap battle?" he suggested, leaning against the tree trunk.
"Between who, exactly?" I asked, mentally going over any musicals I'd seen. I mean, I've heard of Wicked? Not any of the songs though…Disney movies are musicals, right? So how do they usually run? Intro song, character defining song, villain song…NO! We can't do that!
"I don't know. Maybe two important characters from each era?" he said. "Speaking of important, you wanted to schedule a meeting with Fugaku-sama."
The implied question was, why? He's my otou-san, shouldn't I just talk to him at home? The answer is obviously no, because then Okaa-san and Itachi-touto will hear, and we can't have that.
"I need to talk to the Head of the Clan, not Otou-san."
He hummed in understanding. "Is this about Obito-nii?"
I nodded. "But before I do, we need Danzou-sama in the rumour mill."
He raised an eyebrow, rubbing his eyes. It struck me that he looked a bit tired. "That can happen. It'll take a few weeks for it to stick though. You know how flighty the rumours are in Spring."
He had a point. Spring has the most rumours, so none of the less scandalous ones stick. If we want something about Danzou-sama to stick, it needs to be concrete, uber scandalous, and constantly topped up instead of just left to grow.
I blame the genin graduation parties. They all do stupid things at genin graduation parties.
"Who's graduating this year?" I asked, stuffing a shrimp in my mouth daintily. Okaa-san has fan-whack-on-the-head-ed me into proper food etiquette.
Shisui-chan closed his eyes and began rattling off a list. "Most notable to least: Hyuuga Niko, Nara Shou, Kurama Sozen, Uchiha Mitsu, Kage Kaoru, Ibiki Barachi, Itsuyama Saiki…"
I will never understand how he remembers all of them. I mean, I've taught them all and I still can't remember more than eighteen of each cohort.
"Shisui-chan, you're seriously impressive," I said after he'd finished.
He blushed lightly and grinned. "I cheated. I knew you'd ask me today so I broke into the teacher's lounge and memorised the stats."
I gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look. "That's what we call a humble brag. Humble braggers are dumped in the cornucopia, Shisui-chan. Or Jurassic Park without electricity. And you know what happens to braggers dumped in Jurassic Park without electricity?" I asked with my eyes narrowed.
He was trying valiantly to look appropriately terrified. Unfortunately, he just really wanted to grin, so he came off constipated. "They lose an eye?"
I nodded decisively. "Like Samuel L Jackson. Also they die. But mostly they become Samuel L Jackson."
"Oh no," he said with the straightest face known to man. "How ever will I cope."
I chewed my rice menacingly. "You won't. You'll die of meme overload."
He giggled then, like a silly schoolgirl.
Oh Kami-sama, how could I have forgotten!
I screamed so loudly that the kiddies below us looked up, bewildered.
Shisui-chan motioned for them to continue their kata practice that we'd gotten them started on and then turned to ask me, "What's Hamiruton?"
"Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington," I replied, taking several bites consecutively.
I can already feel a play forming in my head. I mean, the score will be a complete rip-off, but no one'll know, right? And they need the awesomeness of Hamilton in their life anyway, so I'm basically fulfilling a civic duty. It's practically a human right to know Hamilton the musical. I've just never attempted it because I'm pretty sure I've forgotten lines, and also if it's not perfect, it ain't worth giving to the public.
But if I'm making a parody of it, it's fine right? Right?!
"What?" asked Shisui-chan.
"Eliza's husband. Keep up, Shi-chan!"
He pouted. "That's a terrible thing to call me, Ki-senpai!" he wailed dramatically.
I shoved him. He shoved me back, grinning.
"I've got a story," I informed him, tapping my temple with the ends of my chopsticks. "I'll have it done for proofing by midnight."
Shisui stored that information in his mind, checked his list and moved onto the next task. "We were talking about the genin graduation?" he prompted, sidling closer to my bento and stealing my octopus.
He thinks he's sneaky, but he totally isn't.
I glared at him without any heat and protectively clutched my bento. "We need to get Mitsu-nee a present?"
He savoured my takoyaki for a good twenty seconds just to rub it in, then said, "I don't think so. But her father's been pretty moody lately. His late wife's favourite flowers were marigolds, by the way."
"Think you can get a marigold bouquet in time for the party?"
He shrugged. "I can get Michiko-chi to do it."
Michiko's the tiniest Yamanaka I've ever seen, and she's in love with Shisui-chan. Warunaki Ichigo, next head of the Warunaki minor clan has a huge crush on her, so that's a nice little connection with that clan. Not the point though. I nodded absentmindedly.
I finished my takoyaki, which reminded me that Kabuto had an aversion to our newfound obsession with takoyaki.
"Are there any alternative safe places we can store Kabuto?" I asked, before yelling, "Fix your left, Suzuki-kun!"
Below us, Yamamoto Suzuki snapped to attention and stuttered, "Hai, Akito-sama!"
Bless the first years.
Shisui-chan blinked at the sun. "There aren't any perfect places. The closest I came to was with Mufuyu-jii-san. He lives in the jounin veteran compound, so he's pretty well-guarded, isn't paranoid enough to kill Megane-chama in his sleep, and he's strong enough to fend any root canals off."
He took a breath.
"Downside is he isn't politically important enough for egghead not to off him on the sly, I don't think he's completely sane, and we don't know him well enough to be sure he isn't an egghead sympathiser, or worse, an ex-root canal."
I love that we have a code for this.
I sighed. "Yeah, not ideal. Kimi-baa-san wasn't a bad option, but she's too removed from everything, and she's got no reason to let Kabuto live with her."
Shisui-chan agreed. "I think Tuesday was a stroke of destiny and we should totally just let him get over it. Stop worrying."
And just like that, I did.
Oh, wait, you don't know what happened last Tuesday. The thing Kabuto has vowed never to forgive us for.
Well, I've found my naginata instructor. This is what happened…
Time: Last Tuesday
Location: Tetsuhane Weapons Shop
Walking into Ken-san's shop was like being assaulted with the overpowering smell of grease, metal and good-natured loathing. The weapons gleamed on their racks, Ken-san glared passively from behind the counter, and Tenten-tan chewed on a blunt shuriken cheerfully.
Everything was dimmed greys and browns.
"What're you doing here, Chibi-hime?" he asked, instead of politely welcoming me in like, oh, everybody else. Common sales courtesy, man. Don't know how his shop still gets customers…
I gave him a smile before greeting Tenten-tan, who cooed when she saw me. "Good morning to you too, Ken-san!" I said, smile still on my face. "I was wondering if you could confirm something for me, if it isn't too much trouble."
He raised an eyebrow at me. "Sounds like whatever it is'll make me want to throw you out of my shop."
I shrugged, grinning unrepentantly. "Is it true that you're a naginata expert? And that Tenten-tan is in need of a female role model? And that if you take me on as a student, I can totally teach her how to braid her hair and giggle appropriately?"
I thought about being subtle. I gave it a thorough try in front of the mirror. And then I was just like, nope, this way is a lot more fun.
His right eye twitched. "Who blabbed?" he asked menacingly, pulling Tenten-tan away from the edge of the countertop.
The wattage of my smile increased. "My sources are mine own. Ne, I promise I'll work really hard and I won't slack. Plus, I'll pay you."
He gave me a thoroughly disgusted look. "What do I look like, huh? That's just plain insulting." He narrowed his eyes at my faux-innocent smiley-face. "You're insulting me on purpose."
Tenten-tan fell off the edge of the countertop onto a cushion that'd been put on the ground for the obvious purpose of stopping her from plummeting to her death. Or something.
"Can't someone look after her while you work?" I asked, side-tracked. "This is the sixth time she's fallen this week."
"How do you kno—"
"My sources are mine own," I repeated with another grin. In point of fact, I have no idea how Shisui-chan knows this, but some mysteries are best left to the imagination.
He narrowed his eyes at me further, then looked at Tenten-tan on the ground, who was now cooing her way to the tantō rack.
I lifted her and put her back on the counter. She looked at me with great betrayal. "Bad!" she yelled at me.
"Tell you what," he sighed. "I'll take you on. If."
"If you get me a live-in nanny by the end of the day. Someone with jounin-level skills and prior experience with kids."
I needed Ken-san to take me on as a student.
And there was only one jounin-level homeless freeloader with plentiful experience with kids that I could think of.
I beamed. "Done and done!"
"Female," he added.
I pouted before grinning. I've always wondered what Kabuto would look like in a dress…
And that's how I sold Kabuto into slavery.
I even made him wear a wig and rouge. Twas hilarious.
And it was a perfect arrangement anyway. I don't see why he's complaining.
Ken-san is a former ANBU so he's strong, he's my sensei now so I have constant contact with him which makes him the Uchiha heiress' sensei and politically relevant without drawing too much attention to him, Kabuto will be cross-dressing as Kabuko so he'll be doubly hidden, and he'll have something to occupy his time with.
Also, Kabuto in a dress is priceless.
"But apart from that, we need to mobilise the minions for auditions. And have the details been worked out with the Cloth Weavers Guild?" I asked, finally finishing my bento in time for the bell to ring for the afternoon classes.
"I'm heading there after school," he promised. "When you're trying to revive a dead fish."
I stuck my tongue out at him. "Don't sass me, boy!"
"Aye aye, captain!"
I giggled so hard I nearly fell off the tree.
Minato was struggling to keep his eyes open, the words on the page blurring the longer he tried to read them. It was in this state of exhaustion that Kushina burst through the door with a stack of papers in her hand.
"Oi, Yondaime-sama," she said, cheerful derision dripping from every word of his title. "Sign these papers and then I'll carry you home."
Minato tried to shake himself awake. "Just leave them here and I'll go through them, Kushina."
She gave him an unimpressed snort. "You wanna sign these off or d'ya want me to forge your face?"
He blinked at her uncomprehendingly before sighing in defeat. "You're not going to leave, are you?"
"Nope," she said cheerfully. "You haven't been home in three days now. You want Naru-chan to forget what his tou-chan looks like, hmm?"
"I'm sure three days isn't going to make that much of a difference," Minato argued, reaching for the stack of papers she'd dumped on his desk and signing them. He trusted she'd actually read through them.
Kushina looked dramatically affronted. "Three days'll become three months and it'll become three years and suddenly your son won't even know he has a tou-chan, baka! You want my baby to have abandonment issues!?"
"Our baby," he corrected absentmindedly.
She scowled. "Not if you keep this up," she threatened. "I'll run away with Dai-kun 'nd you can marry your paperwork, 'ttebane!"
Minato smiled lightly. "I'm sure you'll make him a very happy man."
Kushina whacked him on the head. "You wanna die, blondie?! Dai-kun has weird eyebrows and he smells funny!"
Minato struggled to keep a straight face, signing the papers on autopilot. "That's not very nice," he said mildly. "I hear he writes lovely poetry."
She gave him a thoroughly disgusted look. "You marry him, you poetry-loving sardine-eating tuna-face!"
"You like tuna," he pointed out, forcing the grin off his face. Kami-sama he loved this woman.
"Well I hate tuna now," she said, glaring at him.
Minato hummed in agreement. "And I'm allergic to sardines."
She looked theatrically horrified. "I want a divorce."
Minato laughed, his heart lightening even as he signed the last paper. "I love you, Kushina."
She blushed a fierce red, just like she always did when he said that. She never ever got used to it, no matter how many times he said it. She mumbled, "love ya too, jerkface."
He put his brush down and straightened his spine, cracking it. "You said something about carrying me back home?"
She snorted unprettily. "Such a pansy."
And then she carried him home, because Kushina was the best wife ever, and Minato had fallen asleep standing up.
And she'd gotten him to sign off on all the legalities for the Hokage Appreciation Day without him being any the wiser, plus letters to Hi no Kuni dignitaries. She was awesome like that.
Hoshigaki Kisame was noting a disturbing lack of pattern in the Yondaime Mizukage's war against "terrorism", but he wasn't going to question it, because that wasn't a thing he was being paid to do.
And then his sensei turned out to be lying scum, which was nice.
And then all his friends died, which was…nice.
So Kisame, for all intents and purposes, was one hundred percent free. No attachments, no sensei (after the decapitation, it was kind of hard to take the guy seriously), no sense of civic duty…yeah, he was living the good life.
Of course, there were the burning children in the compound near his shabby hostel, and the crying and wailing of widows that kept him up at night, and the "spontaneous" floods eroding more and more of the liberals' territory, but overall, Kisame was living a good life.
As he took in the sight of three loyal shinobi to the Mizukage dragging off the head of the Michigaro clan to the butcher's block (the locals liked to call it that, though the Mizukage was adamant it was called Justice Being Served Swiftly), Kisame contemplated just how good his life was.
Very good. Clearly.
He had money, he had fresh meat, he had a working air conditioner, there were no cockroaches in his living room, he vaguely answered to the Mizukage and literally no one else, and no one looked too closely at his blue skin anymore.
"Please, have mercy!" screamed the head's wife, tears streaming down her pretty face, white hair sticking to her damp pale skin and making her look more pathetic than the average soon-to-be-widowed.
"Michigaro Shibu, you are under arrest for treason, conspiring against the Mizukage, and the defenestration of Kirigakure property—"
Kisame choked back a laugh. That had been probably the only fun part of the whole fight, getting chairs chucked at him from the second storey window by teenagers. Not that it stopped him from burning the place to the ground with them in it, but the point still stood that it had been hilarious.
"Leave him alone!" screeched a little boy, his fists clenching his mother's jumper tightly. Kisame almost felt bad for him. Almost.
Juzo next to him, Kubikiribocho propped lazily on his hips, shot a water bullet directly at the kid's forehead, and he fell, dead.
Mangetsu frowned but didn't say anything. Kisame was trying to remember that he had a very good life.
With the two other Seven Swordsmen of the Mist on either side of him, Kisame watched the clan head's wife scream in agony as she cradled her son's dead body, and then wail even harder when her husband's head was chopped off with a neat slice.
And then the wife was dead too, because she refused to stay down, trying to claw one of the Jounin's eyes out with her chopsticks.
Kisame was suitably impressed. Well, until she died anyway.
They all did, in the end. For one reason or another, they all did. No one survived Yagura's wrath. No one.
Now, if only his wrath was at all consistent.
"It's weird," muttered Mangetsu next to him, quiet enough that if Kisame wanted to, he could pretend not to have heard a thing. "Last week we were purging the Gusho family, which makes sense, but this week it's the Michigaro? And then last Thursday we had that potato race, which makes no sense because potatoes don't have legs."
Kisame didn't frown, though he got where Mangetsu was coming from. The Michigaro family didn't have any kekkai genkai. It made sense to go after the Gusho family, given that they did have kekkai genkai and people of the first caste really wanted them dead, but this?
"The potato thing was funny," said Kisame with a grin.
Mangetsu threw him a dirty look, tightening his hold on Hiramekarei. "Six people died."
Kisame shrugged. "Shouldn't've said the Mizukage was going mad where loyalists could hear them."
Mangetsu nodded reluctantly. "You ever feel this is getting out of hand?"
"What, the indiscriminate killing? The defections? The state of the government? Our legacy?" Kisame didn't even know he was that bitter.
Juzo glanced at Kisame before saying, "You gonna talk about this here?"
Kisame plastered a smile on his face. "What're you talking about, Juzo-san? I think everything's great. Yagura-sama has a plan, we just don't know it."
Mangetsu swallowed whatever he was going to say and nodded. "Yup. Yagura-sama is wise. I wasn't questioning that. I wasn't."
Juzo traced a finger down Kubikiribocho. "Whatever. But when you're on the butcher's block and it's your brother screamin' for you, I won't even blink. The bullet'll be in his head before the blade comes down on your pathetic neck."
Mangetsu went pale but lifted Hiramekarei threateningly. "I'm loyal to the Mizukage. All you're loyal to is your own fucking skin." He spat at Juzo's feet.
Not for the first time, Kisame wondered where all the loyalty and camaraderie from the purported "golden days" was. He'd never had it, never seen it, could only imagine what it'd be like not having to worry about watching your back because one of the other Swordsmen had yours.
He petted Samehada as Juzo glared at Mangetsu. "Watch yourself, kid. Or your pretty little head'll be mounted on my wall."
Yup. Kisame had a good life.
Unbidden, angry onyx eyes on a too-young face flashed in his mind. So you've admitted defeat?
It was midnight and Shisui was counting the stars. It wasn't an interesting way of avoiding his homework, but it was definitely one of them.
From downstairs, he could hear the sounds of his parents fighting, getting louder and louder as the night progressed. An owl hooted in the distance.
He mentally reviewed everything he'd accomplished today, and tried to organise what he was going to do tomorrow.
The Weaver's Guild had been negotiated with by one of the hire-by-hour lawyers that needed some experience (Shisui checked him off the list of people needing to be made indebted to the Uchiha Clan), which meant the costumes for the play were ready to be made. Aki-senpai had made good on her promise and had had the play proofread yesterday night.
Rumours about Danzou's involvement with Sandaime-sama's coma had been flushed into the rumour mill (which had taken hours to get any sort of traction because it was Spring time). Four families had been visited, with Rukiko-san's begonias complimented and recommended to the Yamanaka flower shop (another influential civilian family checked off his list). Flyers for casting had been designed, printed and distributed across the Eastern and Southern districts, and would make their way to the Northern and Western districts just as soon as dawn broke.
Akimichi-sama had happily agreed to supply some caterers for the festival. Some freelancing caterers as well as an Uchiha Senbei stand (which Aki-senpai had argued with Teyaki-san for days to put up) would make up the deficit of the Harvest Festival.
And about another million and one things he had done subtly that he probably wouldn't remember he'd done until he could use it to his advantage.
Tomorrow he'd have to take a gaggle of chuunin females shopping so that he could covertly buy a suitable wardrobe for Megane-chama, as well as hair extensions and make-up.
Since he had no idea what to buy, he'd have to be sneaky-sneaky about observing the female chuunin. It wouldn't do for Kabuko to be caught out for something as stupid as lack of skirts. Shisui wouldn't stand for it.
He'd also have to weigh in on the casting process, make sure Aki-senpai didn't feel too guilty for not giving a part to someone, make sure she ate something along the way, remind her that her book loan was going to expire in the morning, set up an appointment with his kabutowari instructor for the next week, pencil in an appointment at the spa for his okaa-san, get some extra supplies for Itachi-chama's training at five o'clock, buy some flowers before they went to visit Kibiyaki-san…
Shisui yawned, rubbing his eyes tiredly. He looked at his notebook, page open to a diagram of a free-falling object and five questions related to trajectorial physics and integration.
He still had history and politics homework to get done before he could go to sleep. And then he'd have to go through his kata in the morning because there wasn't any time after school to get any done, so he'd have to wake up early.
He scratched out the correct formula and blinked at the page for a couple of seconds before solving the problem, suppressing another yawn.
Downstairs, a vase smashed to the ground and the voices quieted down.
Shisui mentally moved his okaa-san's spa appointment up on the priority list, even as he worked out the centripetal force of a kunai in—
He yawned again.
He would be really glad when this Hokage Appreciation Day thing was over. Maybe he could finally get some sleep after the aftermath.
Luckily, Aki-senpai would have the headache of actually preparing the entire cast for the day. Shisui would just have to make sure that people heard about it and got excited. Kushina-sama was handling the prop department and Obito-nii was figuring out the minutiae of lighting. Mei-san was working on costume designs, Inuzuka Hana was in charge of jewellery, Emiko-san was dealing with props, Mikoto-sama had promised to gather a squadron of matrons to do hair and make-up, the final year genin were dealing with backstage, Naruto-chama was handling Minato-sama Distraction Duty like a boss, the Carpentry Corporation was working on the stage, the Kurama clan on special effects…
With Akimichi-sama in charge of catering, the KMPF in charge of organising the stalls, the Yūhi clan in charge of hosting the dignitaries (their compound was the largest and they had the only high-class chain of hotels in Konoha), and the Orphanage in charge of the fundraiser games, Shisui just had…a few other things to organise and delegate.
Once this entire thing actually got going, Shisui knew he'd enjoy it. Maybe he'd even rope Kabuto into a takoyaki eating contest, for the bants. He and Aki-senpai could get their faces painted, and he might even get Itachi-chama to try some of the games without setting off Sasu-chan's brother complex.
He shook himself awake and rapidly worked on the rest of the physics homework and moved swiftly onto politics, writing the answers down from memory and reminding himself to look up a few of the mining laws in the northern Miwa region during lunchtime.
At this point, Shisui was going to fall asleep before he finished his history homework, which was pathetic because he—
Had apparently finished the homework already?
He looked at his worksheet a couple of times and nodded to himself. That was definitely his handwriting, but he'd definitely not written any of that. He shook the papers slightly and out from between pages five and six came a tiny note with a chibi kitten drawn on it. Noticed you looked tired. You're welcome. Get some sleep, Shi-chan!
Unbidden, a burst of warm affection spread through him and he smiled stupidly at the tiny note.
He'd have to remember to only steal one shrimp from her bento today as thanks.
He tucked the note into the special box in his bedside drawer, where all the little nice things Aki-senpai had done or given him were kept.
He looked at the moon, grinning dopily, before tucking himself into bed and mentally preparing himself for another day filled with too much to do and just enough time to do it in.
The Hokage Appreciation Day was in two days. Two. Days.
Iruka-kun keeps fudging up the Hashirama lines, Mizuki-san still gets a little too enthusiastic as Madara, there's something unearthly about a high soprano playing the Niidaime, much less it being Uchiha Mitsu (Tobirama's probably rolling in his grave), the lighting crew can't seem to get its act together, the costumes aren't ready yet because Mariko bailed last minute, and the choir is three members short because there's a flu going around the Nara compound—
"You okay?" asked Kabuko stiffly, still miffed about the apron (s)he now had to wear.
Whatever happens, at least I don't have to be forced into cross-dressing because one-eyed willy's out to get me.
"Am now that I can see your pretty face!" I grinned, completely unrepentant as he gave me a fierce scowl.
"I'm glad my misery amuses you," he sniffed, tugging irritably at the hem of his skirt.
Shisui-chan has an interesting sense of fashion.
I looked back at the door I've been staring at for the past two minutes, trying to work out how I'm going to do this without it blowing up in my face.
"Do you want me to come with you?" he asked uncomfortably.
Bless the child. He hates talking to strangers, and yet here he is, offering himself up to be lion chowder.
"I think I'll be okay," I said, smiling reassuringly. "Give me half an hour and we'll go meet up with Shisui-chan at—"
"Yakiniku Q, I know," he said. "Stop stalling."
I stuck my tongue out at him, and then knocked.
When I was given permission to enter the office, I contemplated running away for a split second. I hated what I was about to do, I hated that it was the best solution, I—
I sighed and went in.
Otou-san was sitting at his desk, his stern look melting into mild confusion as he saw it was me.
"Good evening, Otou-san," I said, smiling and waving. "I have something to talk to you about. It's important."
He got his grave face back on and nodded. "Take a seat."
The chair was wooden and uncomfortable. I know for a fact that he has it like this because he hates drawn out meetings, so he makes sure no one but him actually wants to stay in his office.
He's so ridiculously antisocial.
The clan would've tanked without Okaa-san's social-butterfly-ness.
"It's about Obito-kun," I said without preamble. "You're aware of the unrest his, er, incident at the hospital has caused."
It wasn't really a question but Otou-san nodded. "You have a solution."
That was also not a question, but I nodded too. "Yeah, I do, sort of. But it really does boil down to…I haven't talked to him about this yet, but I wanted your go-ahead first."
Otou-san nodded again.
I took a deep breath, and launched into it headfirst. "The civil unrest caused by Obito-kun's actions reflects badly on the Uchiha clan. Equally, it reflects badly on the Uchiha clan that we haven't actually done anything to punish him for attacking medical staff—"
"We're not punishing him for grieving," said Otou-san hotly.
I smiled in spite of myself. "And I'm glad you don't want to. Point stands that the medics want to see some retribution, and we're not ready to take the backlash this is causing." And, more importantly, Obito-kun needs to have no ties to the Uchiha, but I'm not allowed to tell Otou-san this. Plausible deniability and all that.
"What are you suggesting?" he asked, with a knowing look in his eye.
"Exile," I said, and suddenly Lion King II's soundtrack was blaring in my head.
"Absolutely not," he said sharply. And then, after a beat, "why?"
I know why he's so confused – I spent a lot of time convincing him that Obito-kun was the world's most precious cinnamon roll and if he so much as looked at him wrong, I'd defect to Suna. So for me to go from that to saying we should exile Obito-kun? Suspicious.
I shrugged. "I think it's the best idea for now. We can reinstate him later on, when the heat's died down."
Otou-san contemplated me for a few breaths.
"Akito-chan, you're talking like a civilian. And, alternatively, what of the backlash from the clans for the exile? In addition, reinstating someone after an exile is tantamount to blasphemy. As though the past is for nought."
And I get it. Madara was the last person our clan exiled, and reinstating someone sets a precedent. Exile is absolute. If you're exiled, there's no coming back. It's a complete severance of all connections, all bonds, all everything. They were strangers from that point on, or worse. If we reinstate someone, exile wouldn't mean the same thing. It wouldn't mean full stop, it would mean semi-colon. And the other clans certainly wouldn't like the exile in the first place.
It wasn't a thing done lightly.
"Trust me," I said, instead of pretending his concerns weren't valid. "We need to do this, Otou-san, for the good of Konoha."
Otou-san stared at me. "The good of Konoha…is that right? The last person to use that phrase…"
His gaze was almost…wary? Worried? Both.
"Who was it?" I asked, feeling a sense of foreboding.
Oh. That explains the wariness.
"Didn't know he had a monopoly on that phrase. Okay, we need to exile Obito-kun to preserve the awesomeness of Konoha. And you need to trust me. I'll make sure it'll end well."
No need for him to know there was a huge degree of uncertainty when it came to rumour mills and public opinion.
"Have you met Danzou-sama yet, Akito-chan?" he asked.
I like how he says "yet", like he knows I'm going to meet all the influentials and he's not even going to pretend he can stop me.
"Can't say I've had the misfortune," I replied with more teeth in my smile than necessary. "But I hear he's good at shogi."
Some of the tension seeped out of him. "What game are you playing, musume?" he asked me quietly.
I smiled tiredly at him. "A long one."
He sighed, closed his eyes, and looked pained.
Then he opened his eyes, face determined. "When do you need me to make the announcement?"
I looked back at him, just as determinedly. "Four days from today."
He nodded again. "I'll talk the Elders around. Four days."
I hope I know what I'm doing.
Obito was having the time of his life, and he had no idea what to do with this excess happiness.
After the Kannabi Bridge mission, he didn't think he'd ever feel like this again, but with the preparations for the Hokage Appreciation Day for the last three weeks, he'd been so busy that he hadn't had time to think about the loneliness or his defectiveness or anything like that.
Lighting was relatively easy, but timing was the issue. He didn't have to move around a lot, but because he was in charge, he'd had to plan the colour sequence, where the spotlight would be, and he'd had to liaise with the special effects squad and the prop department, which was…
It was nice.
And plus, every single time Umino Iruka messed up his lines and Aki-hime started yelling at him, his inner cat purred in delight.
"Am I asking for too much?" she asked, completely irritated. "All you need to do is say "the clans have been warring for five hundred years for a prince and princess long dead and gone", but no, all I hear is, "princess dead and five hundred years are war". Does that sound like what's in the script?"
Obito watched the show from his perch up above, cueing Minoru-kun to shine the red spotlight on Aki-hime.
"But the lines are too quick!" Iruka whined.
"I don't care!" she screeched. "The play is tomorrow, Iruka-kun! I let it slide in the last ten practices, but we don't have time for this anymore!"
"Just change the script," suggested the kid playing Jiraiya, Tsubaki.
Aki-hime turned to her with a twitchy grin on her face. "That's a great idea, Tsubaki-nee! Tell you what, why don't you tell me what it should change to and then teach the entire choir how to compensate for the change and the orchestra to make up the music and the flow of the piece to—"
"Sorry, sorry…" said the Jiraiya-actress, sweatdropping and backing away slowly as Aki-hime gave her a spine-tingling smile.
"Anyone else have any helpful suggestions?" she asked with far too much chipperness for it to be natural.
Obito stifled a laugh. Stressed!Aki-hime was hilarious. And every time someone messed up their lines, she flashed her sharingan at them menacingly, so it was ten times funnier.
If he didn't know better, he'd think she wasn't doing it on purpose.
Mizuki, the kid playing Madara, yelled, "Just learn the damned line, Iruka!"
Iruka nodded hastily before throwing Mizuki a dirty look, who gave him an unrepentant grin.
Aki-hime breathed deeply. "Okay, Obito-kun, get the red off me," she said, her voice carrying up to him.
He gave her a prompt salute, a lazy smile on his face, and waved for Minoru-kun to get rid of the spotlight.
"Okay everyone!" she said loudly, clapping for the chattering choirs' attention. "From the top!"
The violinists from the orchestra groaned loudly and one of them flipped Iruka off.
Obito cued the Sato triplets to start the light pink and orange lightshow, and the opening chorus began.
"How's it going, Obito-nii?" asked a quiet voice behind him.
He didn't turn, already used to Shisui-kun popping out of nowhere to ask for progress reports.
"Better than it was yesterday. Umino's only fudged two lines so far, and apparently I'm subbing for Nara Ringo."
Shisui-kun tilted his head in question.
Obito cued Minoru-kun for the spotlight as Iruka's monologue picked up, the chorus chiming in every few words because the kid kept forgetting his lines and Aki-hime'd given up on him remembering everything in time for the performance. At the same time, he answered the unasked question.
"The flu. Aki-hime says I just have to stand there and look pretty, which apparently I do anyway. At this point, I think if I'd said no, she'd've propped a mop on stage and pretended it was sensei."
Shisui-kun snickered. "That'd be hilarious. You think I can convince her to do that anyway?"
Obito snorted. "Think she's sleep-deprived enough that the mop could convince her."
Shisui-kun nodded, eyes crinkling in what Obito'd come to learn was worry. "She's going to crash hard when this is over," he muttered.
Obito hummed in agreement. "So will you. When's the last time you slept, kiddo?"
Shisui-kun snapped his head to face Obito and gave him a pleasant grin. "Last night. But you're right. I'll crash and it'll be glorious."
Obito cued the next set of lighting as the Niidaime's choral ode began playing.
"Mitsu-nee's pretty good as Niidaime-sama," Shisui-kun mused.
"Yeah," said Obito, and managed not to let even a hint of bitterness show when he added, "but she's an Uchiha, so that's to be expected."
Shisui-kun looked at him as if he could see right through him, which Obito'd found disconcerting at first, when he'd actually begun spending time with the kid since this play stuff started, and still did.
"Has Aki-senpai said she wants to talk to you yet?" he asked quietly, so quietly that no one but Obito could hear what he said.
Obito tried not to tense up. "Yeah. You know what she's going to say?"
Shisui-kun bit his lower lip. "No. I can make a couple of guesses, but she hasn't told me."
"And she tells you everything?" asked Obito cautiously.
Shisui-kun shook his head to clear whatever thoughts he had. "Nah, but that's alright. She'll tell me if she can, and if she can't, I'll trust her to make that call."
Obito wondered how anyone could sincerely think that and not feel hurt by it. "Thought you two were attached at the hip," he said, voice gruffer than he intended. Huh. Maybe his voice was finally cracking?
Shisui-kun shrugged. "Nah, only seventy percent. I still have thirty percent of my own hip," he said with a grin.
Obito, not for the first time, wondered what to make of Uchiha Shisui. The kid was obviously smart, was obviously talented, and was obviously too young to look as smooth as he did. There was something ancient about the kid, like there was a wisdom brewery in his gut that had somehow spread to everywhere but his face.
And, more importantly, Aki-hime thought the world of him, which made him…Obito hesitated to say threat, but he was definitely someone to be cautious about.
He was pleasant, he was nice, he was funny. Obito'd go as far as to say that he was a good kid, but…it was like how it was with Kakashi, except weirder. Because Kakashi never pretended to be good at people-ing, and Shisui-kun…
But the kid was as sociable as Aki-hime, if a bit more reserved.
So he wasn't anything like Kakashi, except the intelligence.
But still. Obito wasn't an idiot. He was good at reading people, if nothing else, and while he couldn't quite name what was off about Shisui-kun, he knew that the kid was hiding something. And Aki-hime was, most times, like an open book. She trusted too easily, and she trusted deeply, and Obito loved her.
Trust once broken, and no one ever quite recovered from that.
Everything in Obito's world was broken. Aki-hime was about all that was still whole. If Uchiha Shisui was a threat to that…
He'd crush the kid into the ground and no one would find the body.
Instead of letting on any of this though, he put on a stupid grin on his face, aided by years of practice, and chuckled softly. "Didn't know you'd calculated percentages."
Shisui-kun smiled pleasantly, and there was something less wrong about it than before. "I calculate everything, Obito-nii. One of us has to." He waved cheerfully at Aki-hime, who'd just spotted him.
Obito looked from his almost-sister to her best friend, saw that they were having a conversation with their eyes and face twitches, and buried his worry down a bit deeper.
He had to get through the play, and then muster the courage to display his defective body on stage to play Minato-sensei as though he had any right to. He'd worry about Shisui-kun's hidden lies later.
For now, he had his self-esteem to battle.
Minato found it a tiny bit strange, now that he'd had a four hour (four hour?) nap, that he'd been babysitting Naruto-chan in his office for the last two weeks while Kushina had joined the "knitting club".
She wasn't even letting him walk home on his own anymore, which was also a bit strange. In fact, he didn't think he'd seen Konoha in the light of day for…a month now at least. Huh.
And when he was at home, which was now just basically Obito and Rin's apartment because Kushina wouldn't take no for an answer and was really invested in her impromptu Home Invasion, he hadn't seen either one of his students either.
Just as he was contemplating how out of touch with the world he was outside the Hokage building, Naruto-chan gurgled at him and then started crawling to the door, hitting it with his tiny fists imperiously.
Minato got off his chair and went to the door. "Well," he said to his beaming son, "even if I have become a hermit, at least your kaa-chan's worries about our rocky father-son relationship is gone. Which is always a plus, ne?"
He blew a raspberry into Naruto-chan's belly, and the tiny ball of sunshine started giggling. Unbidden, a smile lit up Minato's face. "What do you say we go out and say hi to the village today?"
Naruto-chan cooed importantly, giving him many indecipherable instructions while drooling all over his vest.
Minato nodded seriously. "Yes, you're completely right, Naruto-chan. As a Hokage, being a hermit is a no-go, even if I'm finally on top of the paperwork now."
Naruto-chan nodded and solemnly said, "No no, tou."
His son was stupidly adorable.
He carried him out of the office and bumped into a flustered Rin, who looked unduly relieved to see him. "Sensei, there you are!"
Owing to the fact that Minato hadn't seen his only female student not in medic gear for the last, oh, ten months, he can perhaps be forgiven for gaping at her purple and peacock blue kimono.
"Are those pigeons?" he asked stupidly, pointing at the design on the hem.
She looked startled before blushing lightly. "Um, maybe? I don't know, I haven't had the time to actually inspect it." She shrugged helplessly, half-smiling. "Busy."
Minato empathised strongly. "Obito got it for you?" he asked.
Rin's eyes watered slightly, and Minato was almost halfway to panic city by the time she composed herself. "Yeah, I…I think so. I don't know. We haven't…haven't spoken much lately."
Minato shifted Naruto-chan in his grip and pulled Rin into a hug, running a hand soothingly up and down her back.
For all that she was a responsible adult in charge of the hospital expansion and all major neurovascular surgeries, Rin was still just a little girl.
She sighed tiredly and hugged him back. "Sensei, how will he ever forgive me?"
Minato kissed the top of her head even as Naruto-chan started pulling her hair experimentally. "I don't think Obito knows how to do anything but love you. Talk to him, Rin."
He could tell her that there was nothing to forgive, that Obito's grandmother's death was not her fault, but it wasn't him she needed to hear it from.
She nodded, face hidden in his chest. "I just…I don't know how. Every time I try, my throat closes and the words get stuck."
Minato pulled back and lifted her head with a finger under her chin. "You are the bravest woman I know, Nohara Rin. You faced down thirty Iwa-nin after being tortured for hours. You can talk to Obito-kun."
She chuckled weakly. "Even braver than Kushina-nee?"
Minato laughed for her benefit. "You tell her and I'll have you assassinated. I have ways."
Rin stuck her tongue out at him. "She's rubbing off on you, sensei."
Naruto-chan chose this moment to squeal, "Sasasasasasa!"
He was making grabby hands at the end of the corridor, so he and Rin looked to see Mikoto with Sasuke-chan wiggling in her arms. She too was dressed in a kimono, hers a pale green and royal purple with swallows and snakes embroidered on the hem.
"Naru!" screeched Sasuke-chan, all gummy smiles and excited babbling.
Mikoto smiled tolerantly and then looked Minato up and down. "Kushina-chan said you would be a mess, but I guess she overestimated you."
Minato shrugged self-consciously. Things were a bit tense between Minato and the Uchiha Matriarch, but slowly, they were getting back to easy camaraderie. "Kushina's never wrong," he said dutifully.
Mikoto smirked. "A lesson well learned for all of us."
Rin had fully composed herself and said, "Ah, now that we're all here, it's time to go. It'll be starting soon."
Minato was confused. Had he called them here for something? What was starting soon?
The women walked to the exit in tandem, bells in their hair barely chiming, Sasuke-chan firmly secured and babbling angrily. "Naru!" he yelled imperiously at his kaa-chan.
Minato, feeling bemused, followed Naruto-chan's urgent command to, "Go go, tou! Sasa!"
When he stepped out of the Hokage Tower, Minato thought maybe he was dreaming. It would explain a few things. Like why there was a festival going on that he most definitely did not sign off on, why he could see the Daimyo playing an apple-bobbing game, how the entire Plaza was decorated in varying degrees of bold red, sea blue, forest green and bright yellow, or why there was what looked like some sort of platform erected flush against the Hokage Monument mountain.
And why he hadn't registered that any of this had been underway.
"Surprise!" exclaimed Rin, grinning.
Sasuke-chan was giggling and clapping while Naruto-chan was hitting Minato's face and going, "Su'PIES!" over and over again.
"What is this?" he asked, baffled.
Mikoto was smirking again. "Happy Hokage Appreciation Day, Yondaime-sama. I hope you enjoy the festivities. And that you make it to the play. It's been prepared especially in your honour and it would be remiss of you not to attend."
Minato blinked a few times, but no, the festival – HokageAppreciationDay? – was definitely underway, with all sorts of carnival games and floating lanterns and food stalls and jewellery stands lining a curving path to the platform at the base of the mountain.
"Who invited the Daimyo?" he asked, instead of the million other questions he had.
It was Kushina who answered. "The same idiot who invited the Wasukari tribe elders, the Fire Monks, the Butokai family, the Kusa diplomats and the Daimyo's demon cat."
She was cackling. His wife was cackling. This did not bode well for Konoha.
He turned around, saying, "I don't recall doing that."
Then, he took in her burnt orange kimono with blue feathers and red whirlpools for embroidery, her hair in a messy bun with tinkling gold chains holding it in place, and said, "You look…is that cotton?"
Kami-sama, this is why it'd taken him nine years to get her to agree to go out with him!
Her eye twitched. "How would I know, dattebane!" She huffed and ripped Naruto-chan out of his arms in punishment. "Where's Kakashi-kun?" she asked Rin, and if he hadn't known her intimately, he wouldn't have seen how hopeful she was.
It hurt him that that hope would be crushed. Kakashi had done a brilliant job at that picnic last month. The fight had been loud enough to even wake the Nara deer ten miles away, and Kakashi, as per their plan, refused every invitation to be anywhere near the Hokage's family, not that it stopped Kushina from inviting him anyway.
It was necessary, he reminded himself, as Kushina's face fell when Rin shook her head sadly.
He placed a hand on the small of her back comfortingly and then asked, "So whose idea was this?"
Kushina snorted. "I'm supposed to say Biwako-sama. Ya know, 'cause Hiiruzen-sama's gotta be appreciated or something, and it makes sense that she decided to do this."
Rin stifled a smile. "Uh-uh, and it would be totally ridiculous if an eight year old with no blood ties to any Hokage would plan something of this scale within three weeks."
"Ah," he said, smiling himself. "Of course. Because that would be absurd. No eight year old could possibly manage this. I'll have to thank Biwako-sama."
Sasuke-chan frowned before squealing, "Ane!"
"Sasuke-chan's got a point," said Kushina solemnly. "We should totally be celebrating instead of standing around like lemmings!"
And with that, Minato was swept away by the most important woman in his life into a flurry of haggling for handmade seaside jewellery, all the ring-tossing games, too many dango to fit into one stomach, screeching children, far more green tea than was entirely healthy, and more laughter than he'd had in over half a year.
"Feelin' appreciated, Yon-dai-me?" Kushina asked slyly after dumping a bucket of water over his head.
The onlooking spectators watched on with fascination as he flicked a bottle of ink from one hand to another, picking out the best trajectory to hit her with.
He beamed brightly, disarmingly, and then flashed behind her and splattered her hair, face and kimono with black, and then flashed back to where he was before anyone could even blink.
She gasped in outrage, and his laugh was answer enough.
Naruto-chan squealed. "Yes yes yes!"
It was finally time for the play.
I hadn't even managed to scoff down the one measly takoyaki Shisui-chan had brought me because there was a problem with the choir's costumes, and since they were constantly on stage, this wasn't going to end well.
Luckily, I'd had a full night's sleep the day before, courtesy of Itachi-touto marching me off to bed at ten and pointedly snuggling next to me to keep me down, so I was fine.
I had this handled, and I'd given the minions a pep talk, and said that even if we messed everything up, they'd given it their all and I couldn't have asked for more.
Iruka-kun was teary-eyed, but that's okay, because Senju Hashirama was a pansy anyway.
I peeked at the crowd that had gathered, everyone curiously chattering and milling about. I spotted Minato-sama's head of (wet?) bright blond hair near the front, talking to the Daimyo. It took me a bit more time to spot Kushina-ba-chan, because her hair was splattered with ink?
Must get the story from them at some point in the near future.
I turned around and there was Obito-kun, bright blond wig in place, leaning heavily on his walking stick and grinning.
I shot him a bright grin back. "Ready! And the guests of honour are in place, so we're good to start."
Obito-kun nodded and kissed my forehead. "Don't choke," he said cheerfully.
I mock-scowled at him. "You're lucky I don't have stage fright."
"The luckiest," he said dutifully.
Because I'm clearly the adult in this situation, I stuck my tongue out at him and flounced onto the stage.
I didn't bother looking down at what I was wearing to see if anything was out of place. Black kimono, simple silver embroidery of crocuses, the obligatory Uchiha clan symbol on the right sleeve, crimson obi holding it all together, and my hair in some extremely elaborate braided updo that Okaa-san had insisted looked amazing with my Inuzuka-gift fanged checklace and I'd better not mess it up.
If anything was wrong with what I was wearing, it was too late to do anything about it.
I called for silence, and then smiled brightly.
"Good evening, everyone! Happy Hokage Appreciation Day!"
The kids all started clapping and cheering, and the drunk adults joined in with several whoops.
"Since the end of the warring clan era, Konoha has had four illustrious Hokage that have shaped the world as we know it today. From the Shodai to the Yondaime, we have been blessed with brilliant leadership and amazing guidance."
I paused to let the minor cheering die down.
"We are gathered here to celebrate our Hokage, and since our Konoha is unique, our celebration will be unique! The Children of Konoha have worked extremely hard to put on a show worthy of our audience. I have to warn you though, there will be singing and dancing, and none of us really know how to do that."
I'm glad they laughed, or I'd have moaned about it for weeks.
"Without further ado, let the show begin!"
And just as expected, the special effects squad covered the stage in smoke and shadows, even though the sun was still setting and there was enough natural light to see the stage.
I ran off the stage and the chorus swiftly moved out, all fifteen of them wearing green kimono with pretty autumn leaves printed on them.
The orchestra began playing and the chorus started singing just as the lighting crew began their sunrise-y lighting.
"Listen to the morning wind
Sing a little story~"
I let out the breath I was holding.
Okay, it'd begun, they hadn't dropped the first note like they'd done in every single practice, so we're off to a good start.
Now to usher the stompers out.
And yes, I did in fact just have a contingent of minions lining the stage to stomp their feet when the chorus roared, "WAR WAR WAR!"
I moved to find Iruka-kun to shove him on stage, but bless his little cotton socks, he was already in place.
Now if only he'd been anywhere near this prompt during the actual rehearsals.
Kami-sama, I feel for directors everywhere.
What do you know, Iruka didn't fudge up any of his important lines! I mean, granted, when he and Mizuki were supposed to be insulting each other, he used the wrong insult, but I'll forgive him for that because it didn't mess up anyone's timing.
"I don't think I can do this," said Mitsu-nee, her Niidaime attire already on.
I gave her an encouraging smile. "You've got this, Mitsu-nee. Believe in the you that believes in the me that believes in the One Piece!"
She was so confused that she laughed, and then she had to get on stage and didn't have time to be nervous anymore.
And of course, she delivered her lines perfectly, and then when Mitarashi Anko went on stage as Sarutobi Hiruzen, she ignored the whispers of the crowd and only messed up a couple of lines, which is a stellar improvement.
It was a gamble, making Orochi-teme's protégé the one who played the Hokage currently in a coma, who there was a rumour going around was in a coma because of said student, but Anko had shown up at the casting and looked so defiant that there was no way I could reject her, not least of all because she was the only one who could manage the Lafayette-like delivery I'd written into the script for Sarutobi-sama's lines.
Her enthusiasm had been instrumental in actually getting half the cast into it, so yay.
And now I needed to go backstage and break the chorus' timing on purpose.
Shhh, I know what I'm doing. I'm using subliminal messages, but I have to be sneaky-sneaky about it and time it just right.
When the chorus shouts out the Council of Elders' names, I need to break the chorus' flow after they say Danzou's name. Because just before they yell the names, the chorus sings an entire stanza about—ah, they've begun. Tsubaki and Sato-kun as Jiraiya-sama and Senju Tsunade just finished talking about Sarutobi-sama's accomplishments, and now…
"But a shadow hovers…
Who cut the Inikara food supply?
Who caused the Amegakure genocide?
Who orchestrated the Yuugakure dissolution?
And that's my cue to push Chiaki-chan, who stumbles into the lead of the chorus, who stumbles and doesn't say Utatane Koharu immediately after.
They pick it up after, obviously, and at the end of the play, I'll apologise for any mishaps backstage, but there.
Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but whatever happens, Shimura Danzou's name will be raked through the mud in the rumour mill if it's the last thing I do.
And then I didn't have time to think about that because Obito-kun was on stage and he was singing.
After Nara Ringo caught the flu yesterday, I'd been resigned to the fact that no one was going to do Minato-sama's part, and that was saddening, but salvageable, because we were currently under the reign of the Yondaime so it wouldn't seem strange if only the chorus sang about him.
I had a choral part for all four Hokage, a monologue for each, a transitional dialogue between each choral verse, and then the whole thing would end with the Circle of Life, because nothing quite screams happy ending like a bunch of animals cowering in front of a lion at sunrise.
Plus, you can't go wrong with Lion King.
So anyway, I thought the fourth monologue just wouldn't happen, but there Obito-kun was, singing, and he was good.
I mean, he used to sing me old lullabies as a baby, which is why I fell in love with them in the first place, but I didn't think that extended to musical theatre.
I looked at the crowd and spotted Rin-chan with watery eyes, and I narrowed my eyes in concentration, looking for Minato-sama's face, and he looked radiant. Like a sun that'd been dosed with a galactic bucket of hydrogen.
Shisui-chan shunshin-ed next to me. "Megane-chama's bringing Naruto-chama for the Simba."
"What?" I hissed quietly.
"You heard me!" he whispered back, grinning like a lunatic.
For the Simba? What in Kami-sama's name is that supposed to—oh.
Kabuto, dressed in a really pretty pink kimono came rushing backstage with Naru-chan in his grasp, and it was like we were in a relay race because Shisui-chan shunshin-ed to meet him halfway and then ran to where I was standing with a disgruntled Naru-chan in his arms, and then I took him from Shisui-chan and sneaky-sneaky-ed my way behind the scenery props to right next to Obito-kun, making it into position just as they started singing the beginning lines of the Circle of Life.
Obito-kun took Naru-chan with one arm and tickled him, so that the entire song was punctuated by the happy giggling of a six month old baby.
It was everything I never expected and more.
"Happy Hokage Appreciation Day, Aki-senpai," whispered Shisui-chan in my ear, hiding behind the props with me, having caught his breath.
"How'd he know what to sing?" I whispered in awe, watching the whole thing come together like a jigsaw puzzle finally completed.
"Might've given him the script," said Shisui-chan with faked nonchalance. "He got the chorus and orchestra together when Itachi-chama'd tied you to the bed last night and they practised."
"And what were you doing?" I asked, happiness nearly choking me.
"Moi?" he asked with over-the-top surprise. "Nothing much. Just loitering around and filling people's ears with silly stories about egghead. Very therapeutic. Ten out of ten would recommend."
I'm kind of at a loss for words here.
"Hmmm?" he asked, giving me his full, undivided attention. What did I do to deserve him?
I hugged him. "Happy Hokage Appreciation Day, Shi-chan."
He hugged me back, muffling a laugh in my hair. "You're welcome, Ki-senpai."
Shisui walked Aki-senpai back to her house, both of them munching on takoyaki.
"Initial survey says they loved it," he said.
She smiled tiredly at him. "They had better. We sang the Circle of Life at the end. I'd worry about mass demon possession if they found that anything less than perfect."
"The dignitaries had a pleasant day, the fundraiser was a huge success and they can finally make the necessary renovations to the Orphanage, and goodwill for Obito-nii's on the rise."
Aki-senpai smiled, looking at him fuzzily. "You're the best, Shisui-chan."
Shisui blushed, and watched the stars glitter in her eyes. "Even better than takoyaki?"
She scoffed. "Now you're just milking it."
They continued walking in silence, the night deep and the village finally asleep. Clean up had taken a long time, and they'd stayed until all the stalls were packed away so that Minato-sama didn't have to.
After a beat, Shisui said, "Minato-sama looked happy."
Aki-senpai's eyes sparkled in delight. "Mission accomplished then?"
Shisui nodded, shoulders slumping in relaxation.
The day after Hokage Appreciation Day, Aki-hime came to visit Obito and shatter the happy bubble he'd been floating around in.
"I don't think I heard that right," he said weakly.
Aki-hime looked apologetic. "Kakashi-san is spying for a subsidiary ANBU organisation led by Shimura Danzou, and Danzou, hereafter known as egghead, is gunning for the Hokage seat."
"But sensei's sitting on that seat," said Obito dumbly.
"So, what? He's trying to kill sensei?" asked Obito hoarsely. And then realisation dawned on him. "That's why we had the thing yesterday, right? Because we need all the support we can get against, ya know, a guy who's been in the administration since the Niidaime's era."
Aki-hime bit her lip. "Yes, and no. Someone's been spreading insidious rumours about Minato-sama, so yesterday was a stunt to get people to remember how awesome he is."
"Danzou-sama? Sorry, sorry, egghead?"
Obito didn't get the codename. On the plus side, nobody else would either, which was always a good thing.
"Maybe, maybe not. Minato-sama'll probably debrief you on that, or Kakashi-san."
Obito scrunched his face up in irritation. "But you said Kakashi was a spy. Also, debrief?"
"Double agent. Kakashi-san is pretending to be Danzou's spy, but he's actually Minato-sama's spy."
Obito nodded, his world unshattering. "That makes more sense. Should've been clearer. You nearly gave me a heart attack, hime!"
"Sorry," she said sheepishly.
Obito breathed out, and then promptly regretted it, his ribcage protesting the movement. He winced, but managed not to yelp in pain.
"Not that I'm not glad you're telling me all of this," he said, "but why are you telling me all of this?"
Obito couldn't help in any way. Hell, he'd thought that Kakashi was just being his usual prickish self when he'd started that fight with Kushina-nee. And he'd been so busy the last month that he hadn't really put much thought into the fact that Kushina-nee and Kakashi hadn't patched things up.
He felt like a moron, which was great. Really it was.
Aki-hime took a deep breath, and Obito was immediately worried. He'd never known her to be nervous about saying something before.
"Well, there's something you can do to help them. Danzou can't know that Minato-sama and Kakashi-san are still on good terms, so when there's a mission report to give…"
"They need a go-between," realised Obito. "And I'm just sitting around and taking up space, so I'm perfect for the job."
"You are not useless, Obito-kun," said Aki-hime firmly, voice brooking no argument.
She'd make a great mother some day, seriously. She already had the voice down.
He waved away her words. "So they need a go-between. I can do that. Yeah, I can…wait, why're you the one telling me this?" He narrowed his eye at her. "Hime?"
Hey, he had a mom voice too, he was just better at hiding it.
"That eyepatch seriously makes you look badass," she said distractedly.
He smirked, but then snapped his good fingers. "Focus."
She blinked. "Yeah, right, sorry. Um, how much do you know about Danzou's love for the Uchiha?"
It was his turn to blink, but in confusion. "Didn't know he had an opinion one way or the other."
She had an odd look on her face. "I forget not everyone knows…this explains a lot…right! So, Danzou hates the Uchiha. Way worse than even the Niidaime, and probably with as much zeal as Madara."
Obito added this bit of information to his world view. "Okay…wait, does that mean Kakashi has to cut ties with me or his cover'll be blown?"
So he couldn't be the go-between? That led him back to why was she telling him all of this. More importantly, how did she know about all of this? She was just a little kid.
Yeah, sure, she was smart and social and she had a minion army and she was, like, BFFs with the Hokage and her godmother was the Hokage's wife and she was a clan heiress, but that still didn't mean she should know state secrets or that people should be telling them to her!
She hesitated again. "Yeah, there's no easy way to say this…Obito-kun, you are the perfect liaison because Kakashi-san is a socially inept hermit whose only friend outside of you and Rin-chan is Gai-san. Any new friends would be suspicious. Any Uchiha would be suspicious. You'd be perfect for the job if you weren't an Uchiha."
He snorted. "Yeah, I get that. But I can't just stop being myself, can I?"
She pinched her lips together. "There's always…um, gah this is so hard! There's a way to un-Uchiha you," she said abruptly.
And suddenly, her involvement made sense. She'd fight it tooth and nail, so Minato-sensei just told her instead of fighting her.
Sensei was efficient like that.
"You want to exile me," he said flatly.
She looked like she was going to cry, and Obito couldn't bring himself to hate her. "Hey, that came out wrong," he said, ruffling her hair. "'Course you don't want to. You're my number one fan, right?"
She nodded, looking every bit of the tiny eight year old she was. God, Obito couldn't even remember being that young.
"I'll reinstate you the minute I become clan head," she promised, and great, she was doing the thing where she was trying to look stubborn but really she just looked like a wet kitten and he couldn't help but want to pet her and cuddle her and never let go.
That's what'd happened way back when she was a baby, all tiny and giggly and curious.
"I'm sure you will," he agreed. "And hey, it seems like the best idea. I get to do something instead of sit here and mope around while everyone around me's being productive, Kakashi'll have to actually take me seriously, and it'll all work out, you'll see."
And the more he thought about it, the more he warmed to the idea.
He didn't live in the clan's district, his last immediate relative was dead, and this way, if he got caught, it wouldn't go back to the clan, which was always a concern.
It also meant he couldn't access the clan funds anymore, or the shrine, or the library. Which meant he wouldn't get to have a proper wedding—
Not that he and Rin were talking, of course.
They hadn't actually spoken for a long time now.
Which was weird because they lived in the same house, and he couldn't—what'd he done wrong? Had she finally realised he was too damaged to want to put up with?
You'd think she'd have done a runner back when he'd been completely bedridden though.
Maybe it'd only hit her now that he was never going to fully heal?
Now was not the time to be thinking about any of that, much less marriage.
"When's it happening then?" he asked, a kernel of dread lodged in his throat.
"Tomorrow. The sooner the better."
Obito nodded. "Makes sense. Hey, can you…maybe get baa-chan's tapestry for me? Ya know, from Nekobaa. She always wanted to go get it herself but, well, shit happened."
What a way to sum it up.
"Yeah, I, I can do that," she replied, nodding. "I have time now, which is new. Free time, I mean. I thought my days were packed before, but after the festival? I have a ridiculous amount of free time."
Obito had no idea what she was talking about, because he was pretty sure she was going off for a social visit in ten minutes, and then had evening training with her minions after that, and then homework to finish for tomorrow, but whatever. He'd let her have her delusions.
"Thanks," he said.
She looked at him like he'd hung the moon or something. "Any time."
And he was crying. Which was, great. Just great.
Shimura Danzou walked through the Konoha Byōin with his back straight and his face impassive, nodding at some of the recognised faces and generally conducting himself with the poise of a war veteran with class.
Leaning on his walking stick, he made his way to one of the private rooms, where machines could be heard steadily beeping out vitals. He made his way to the bed leisurely, taking in the fresh flowers in a vase on the bedside table and the comatose old man lying there.
Hiruzen looked smaller than he ever had in life, though the man had never been large. Danzou remembers racing against him in the fields, him a head shorter than Danzou's own gangly form. He had been so very small.
His impact had not been.
He contemplated sitting down on the chair near the bed, but chose to remain standing in the end. He had much to do, and this was not the time for indulging his sentimental side.
"The Uchiha boy is set to graduate in the fall," he said, voice gruff from disuse. "Another pawn on the shogi board. What is your successor planning, Hiruzen?"
Danzou wasn't too worried about Uchiha Itachi; he had a much more coveted prize. It would take time, but it was not too far into the future, maybe a few more years, where he could use the Yondaime's own protégé to end him once and for all.
He wasn't foolish enough to trust the Hatake boy quite yet. His father had had an honour streak, and while that had its place, it was not in the shadows, where Hatake Kakashi was best situated for Danzou's machinations. And in time, the boy would sink into the shadows. He was already predisposed to it.
"Some shine, Hiruzen," he said, mind a mile away. "And some sow seeds. The Uchiha…their time will come in due course. The girl has much clout, but it will not last her forever. She has peaked too early. She will fall, as all do eventually."
He sighed then. "Just as you did, old friend."
The "Hokage Appreciation Day" had been…eye-opening in a lot of ways. It had shown him that the heiress was prone to grand theatrics to win favour. Typical Uchiha behaviour, trying to be in the spotlight to hide the blemishes.
He could not argue with the results though. In the three months since the impromptu festival that his ROOT had informed him Nara Shikaku had aided and abetted, the tide had turned in the Yondaime's favour once more.
Of course, the seed of doubt he'd planted in the populace would stay, but the blond man was too charismatic for his own good. War would only bolster his reputation and would gain Danzou nothing.
"Your successor is young. Old age will not claim him."
And his assassins were not up for the job. Konoha's Yellow Flash was still an S-class threat, even under the deluge of paperwork. Which, he was irritated to note, he had not been able to effectively manipulate.
The man used no assistants, which meant he had no avenues to pass his own agendas legally, only to stop others' agendas from reaching the Hokage desk. It wasn't as much leg room as he had had before, when Hiruzen had been in charge.
Patience would win this battle. The Yondaime would burn out eventually, though he had the unfortunate habit of beating Danzou's expectations. Either way, he would win. To fight an S-class threat, he needed an S-class agent, and that was where Hatake Kakashi came in.
Once Namikaze Minato was out of the picture, things would be easier. Much easier.
"Patience," he said, chuckling to himself. "We have grown old, Hiruzen, to have learned patience so well."
His oldest friend was silent, heartbeat steady.
"This is impossible!" yelled Kakashi, yanking at his hair.
Obito gave him a thoroughly unimpressed look. "Didn't take you for a quitter."
Kakashi gave him a crazed look and lunged at him, wrapping his hands tightly over Obito's shoulders and shaking him. "They're hitting on me. Not hitting me, on me."
Obito smirked and gave him a once over. "I'd tap that."
Kakashi let out another strangled yell. "I'm not pretty."
Obito snorted. "Yeah, well, your delicate cheekbones say otherwise. So, enlighten me, how does a ROOT agent flirt?"
Kakashi started giggling like a mad man. "They just stand there, a wall of white masks, and then keep groping me. It's, it's—"
Obito nodded solemnly. "Solid techniques. Totally should go in the flirting 101 guidebook."
Kakashi glared at him. "Fuck you."
"Nah, you got enough partners for that."
"You're supposed to be helping me," said Kakashi irritatedly, as Obito tried and failed to hide his amusement.
"Yeah, and I'm also supposed to be sad I'm no longer an Uchiha, and I'm supposed to want revenge, and Rin's supposed to be my girlfriend," said Obito, shrugging. "I'm pretty good at letting people down."
Kakashi deflated. "You know, I thought I was prepared for this. Espionage, questionable orders, secret objectives, lying…I can deal with all of that."
"They found your Achilles' heel pretty early in the game," said Obito, nodding. "Humans."
Kakashi threw a sofa cushion at him.
This is why they were friends.
Itachi was terrified.
Okaa-san and Otou-san were looking at him proudly, smiles on their faces. Otouto was too much of a baby to understand the significance of what was happening, but Itachi wasn't so blissfully unaware.
He wished he was.
"As expected of my son," said Otou-san.
Okaa-san laughed, but nodded. "Well done, Itachi-chan," she said. "Graduating so early is no easy feat."
It was. It was painfully easy. So easy, in fact, that he didn't even know what he'd done to gain the opportunity. He just didn't understand why everyone was congratulating him instead of being angry with him.
By graduating earlier than Aneki, he had overstepped his position as spare, he had undermined her authority, and since she was the face of the clan, he was undermining the authority of the clan by graduating early.
Not to mention…
Even if his parents and his clan members didn't understand the political mess he'd created by graduating early (he barely understood it himself), Aneki would.
He was terrified.
He didn't know whether she'd be worried, angry, stressed, or worse, disappointed in him, when she found out, but it couldn't be a positive reaction.
And he hated that.
He hated causing his Aneki more work than she already had, and he hated that he hadn't seen this coming so he could have stopped it. He hated that his genius only went so far, that he was so helpless when it came right down to it because he couldn't just not graduate now, not when he'd already been promoted, not when he already had his headband.
It was like a shiny metal symbol of shame on his forehead.
Itachi hated this.
And they were proud of him?
Aneki breezed in through the door, hair in a low bun and cheeks red from having run all the way home.
"Otouto!" she said, her eyes landing on him, and it was shame that kept him from looking away. He didn't deserve the luxury of escaping his punishment.
"So you've heard!" said Otou-san proudly. "I knew Itachi would be exceptional, and this is just proof."
She smiled teasingly at him. "Don't go getting a big head – not like you had any input, Otou-san!"
Otou-san looked affronted. "I had plenty of input."
"Genetic input at the beginning doesn't count," said Aneki, sticking her tongue out at his reddening face playfully. Okaa-san coughed to hide her amusement.
Itachi was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
He stood stock still – no movement, not even a twitch.
She came up to him then, eyes firmly on his, and he waited.
She gave him a hug, ruffled his hair, kissed his forehead and said, "You don't have to look so scared, Otouto. I love you, no matter how much you overthink things."
"But you're older, and this undermines your authority," he blurted out seriously.
She shrugged. "Eh, we both know you're the genius in the family, and now the rest of the world does too. My authority is fine," she said, grinning. "I've been bragging about your awesomeness since day one, so people were kind of expecting it already. Don't worry about it, Otouto."
She sounded amused, and warm, and all of Itachi's negativity faded, because if Aneki wasn't bothered by his early graduation, then nothing bad had actually happened.
"This calls for a Disney song!" she exclaimed, wrenching him forward and twirling him around in a weirdly graceful dance.
She sang in that strange language, but Itachi understood her just fine, and so he sang along, because this had been one of his lullabies, and this was now one of his Otouto's lullabies, and it felt like love.
He was looking forward to meeting his team.
Lamb, now Yamato, had thought the world owed him one.
At least, all the nurses and medics seemed to treat him like the world owed him one, and he thought that just maybe it was a little unfair he'd spent ten years of his life in a secret lab being experimented upon, though he wasn't the type to throw himself a pity party over what he'd thought was normal.
But this ink-haired chibi, with her flashing eyes and rolling pin and scary smiles and harsh voice, seemed to have not gotten the memo.
Ever since Togari-sensei had brought Akito-taichou over, he'd had random children, usually his neighbours, whom he'd never met before and was now terrified of, banging on his door at the crack of dawn to take him to the park for some morning exercises.
Said park usually had Akito-taichou leading the morning exercises, and if it wasn't her, it was one of four others.
Shisui-taichou, who'd taken him shopping for clothes without him even realising and somehow replaced all the furniture in his house, and came over every other day to water his new, not bought by him dear Kami-sama where did they come from?!, plants;
Yamanaka Shouki-senpai, who'd taken one look at his matted hair and promptly shaved it all off, much to the suffering of his previously-unknown vanity;
Akimichi Minamoru-senpai, who kidnapped Yamato one fine evening while he was 'studying' and got him three months' worth of meals at a discounted price, menu fixed by his aunt, at Ikeyama, and sent Akito-taichou's assortment of minions to extract him from his safe space every meal time (personally escorting him to breakfast whenever he could) and drag him towards a nutritious meal plan;
And lastly, Kozori-senpai, who was the nicest out of all of them because she left him alone.
Meanwhile, he had acquired busybody neighbours who checked up on him, three dozen different invitations to outings from people he'd never met but were 'friends of Akito-hime', three teenage tutors who came to his house every day to force literacy into his brain—
And, every fortnight, Akito-taichou would come over, and he could never predict which day, so he had to keep his apartment immaculate, and his 'homework' up-to-date, and his hygiene in order, otherwise the rolling pin would make an appearance, and he'd already gotten his foot stuck in the hole in his floor six times just this month—
Yamato's life was very stressful, all of a sudden, and that was before Hokage-sama informed him he would be joining the academy, if he felt up to it, as a spot had 'miraculously' opened up.
Granted, Hokage-sama was really nice, and he'd felt calm and at ease with the blond man who had a really odd resemblance to the sun, but the fact remained that his carefree days of mooching around and doing absolutely nothing productive were over.
He almost missed being an experiment.
Namikaze Naruto was officially two years old and was ready to screech his lungs out. "I don't want LETTUCE!"
Kushina snapped her eyes open and growled menacingly. "You'll eat your bloody lettuce and you'll love it!"
With twin looks of bitter stubbornness on their faces, they glared at each other with the passionate fury only an Uzumaki could muster.
Uchiha Sasuke, at the happy age of three-months-older-than-Naruto, toddled over to the fridge to forage for tomatoes, because clearly he was the adult in this situation.
Rin came home after another long shift at the hospital and tossed the bag of paperwork near the umbrella stand. She'd have to pick it up before Naruto-chan woke up in the morning, because last week, he and Sasuke-chan had discovered crayons.
All surfaces were fair game, even top secret financial documents and medical files.
She kicked off her shoes and wore the indoor ones, moaning in relief as her feet were finally given a reprieve.
She could hear Kushina-nee snoring from the "guest room" (was it really a guest room if sensei's family had been living there for almost a year now?) as she locked the door behind her. She was ready to collapse onto her futon, but she had to eat something if she didn't want to be woken up by hunger pangs in the middle of the night, which always made the morning shifts worse.
The kitchen was dark as she softly made her way in. She wasn't sure if sensei was here or if he was still at his office, but he was a light sleeper and she didn't want to disturb him by making too much unnecessary noise.
She flicked the light switch on and froze, slamming the lights off almost instantaneously.
She gingerly made her way to the breakfast table, where Obito was wheezing lightly in sleep, his one good hand loosely curled over the handle of his mug. It was the one with the orange goggles and the words "I'm not crying, I'm leaking frustration" scrawled on it.
Akito-chan had gotten him it at some point, though Rin's forgotten the occasion.
His back was going to hurt worse if she left him to sleep like this, but she was aware he got very little sleep to begin with, so she was reluctant to wake him up.
The moonlight from the high window cast a silvery glow on his face, and Rin took a moment to stare at him unabashedly.
The scarred half of his face was grosteque at the best of times, but in the relief of the moon, it looked strangely beautiful. The eyepatch he almost never took off with the Dragon of Autumn painted on it made him look kind of comical, and he was drooling.
Unbidden, a wave of affection went through Rin at the sight of him, followed almost immediately by a tidal wave of guilt.
It had been…at first, it had been guilt for her hand (or lack thereof) in his grandmother's death, which had compounded with the guilt of having left him alone in the empty apartment for hours on end, and all of that together had made it so hard to even make eye contact with him…
And it had been so easy to put off confronting him about it, because she was so busy all the time. It wasn't a stretch to say that she barely had any time to herself, and she'd been almost glad that her excuse to avoid the inevitable "let's break up, I can't forgive you for what you've done" conversation was airtight.
But then a few days had become weeks, and then the weeks had somehow turned into months, and now it had been eight months and she didn't know where the time had gone, and it was just easier to not talk.
And he'd withdrawn from her in the past few months, but that was not an excuse for her to have done the same.
They slept in the same room and they barely spoke to each other.
Some days, Rin wanted to go back in time and fix what she'd broken with her silence.
Minato-sensei was wrong. She was a coward, because all she needed to do was talk to him and this would be over, and she couldn't bear that. The brave thing to do would be to let him go, so he wouldn't have to look at her every day and see how she'd failed him.
But Rin was a coward, and she couldn't. Because even though they never talked anymore, just knowing he was there was enough.
It was enough.
She would make it be enough.
She breathed out softly and pushed reluctant chakra into her weary limbs, lifting him gently off his chair and taking him to their room. He grunted but settled down as she grabbed the blanket and tucked him under it.
His mouth was open as he wheezed, his mangled arm slightly apart from the rest of him so that he couldn't accidentally roll over it in his sleep, and Rin smiled fondly at him, brushing his hair out of his eye.
She took his eyepatch off and placed it to his right, and then lingered for a spell.
So many regrets tangling into each other, so many months of silence, of cowering away.
Rin was tired. So very tired.
She sat up with a sigh and went back to the kitchen to retrieve his walking stick and grab a banana before bed.
When she left the room, Obito's eye snapped open in the dark, and he stared quietly at the door, wishing she'd just put him out of his misery and dreading the day she would.
Yamato hated school, but he also hated the before- and after-school too. In short, he hated his life.
Because Akito-taichou was everywhere.
He took it back. Hokage-sama was evil. What had he ever done to deserve being in the same year as Uchiha Akito? And if he complained to anyone, they looked at him like he was the crazy one!
"You alright there, Yamato-chi?" she asked with that pleasant smile on her face. Yamato wasn't fooled. Underneath the pleasantness was the rolling pin wielding, life disrupting mafia boss.
"Yup, yeah, definitely, affirmative ma'am!" he replied. Please leave me alone!
She giggled at him.
He was onto her. She might have fooled everyone with the giggling, happy act, but the rolling pin.
Yamato would never forget the rolling pin.
(It's a pity he didn't just let that go, because Akito certainly had.)
Orochimaru contemplated his "freedom" and how he'd fallen so far below his station.
He could blame that blond gaki of Jiraiya's (it would hardly be the first time Jiraiya got him into a mess), or he could blame that Uchiha girl (though his pride galled at the thought of blaming an eight year old – but she was ten now, wasn't she? My, how time had flown…).
Really, at this point, he was just going to blame Jiraiya. It was easier that way.
An escape plan.
He'd finally managed to modify his cursed seal for instantaneous implantation, but he'd need live test subjects to see if it would actually work and hold its integrity.
Now, where had Anko-chan lived again?
In the overcast land of Amegakure, purple lightning flashed across the sky of the ruined city.
Atop the Angel's Tower, as the locals had taken to calling it, Nagato and Konan, two-thirds of a whole that would never be whole again, watched their damned city and ignored the torrential rain.
Amegakure was always crying.
"The masked man," said Konan silently, face impassive as always. "He wants to form a group of vigilantes."
Nagato didn't reply, letting the water drip down his sore eyes, the light-sucking rinnegan underneath his eyelids just as much of a curse as they had been nine years ago.
"Nagato…" she said, a flicker of uncertainty passing across her features before settling again.
"It's peaceful," he said, opening his eyes slowly. "Hanzou's loyalists have been purged completely. The borders of Ame are secure."
It was Konan's turn to be silent, staring down at her village.
"Thirteen years today," he whispered into the cool air. "Thirteen years."
Konan closed her eyes slowly, a tear sliding down her cheek. "Yahiko…"
"He would have done it," said Nagato.
Konan snapped her eyes open. "You don't know that."
"He died trusting that Hanzou was honourable," said Nagato, and the bitterness was heavy in the air between them.
Konan grit her teeth but said nothing.
"The world needs salvation," he continued. "True peace, not years of infighting until the other side gives up because there aren't enough of them left to fight."
Konan looked away from him, from the pain in his eyes that mirrored her own. "Begin the world anew," she said. "Wash it clean and repaint the canvas."
"Destabilise the order of power," he said, agreeing. "What is corrupt cannot remain standing. The rot needs to be cut away."
A silence overtook them, this time one of agreement.
"I will go where you go," she said finally. "Can Madara be trusted?"
Nagato gave her a look of festering anger. "Those with power can never be trusted. But he means to use us."
Konan nodded minutely. "So we will use him for our own gain."
Nagato replied, "It is only fitting. He has a vendetta against Konohagakure no Sato."
As do we, was left unsaid.
A tiny smile twitched onto Konan's face. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Nagato didn't look amused, only contemplative. "In the end, they will all know pain."
The god and his angel watched over their lightning-streaked wasteland.
The girl sat on the bank of the Nakano River, inky hair rippling in the wind as she gazed at the fiery reds and deep ambers of the sky, thinking about storms in summer and graduations, about stories yet to be told and stories that would never be told, about dreams and fears and messes.
A book was open in her lap detailing the major chakra points, though she didn't need to read it anymore, time having flown by enough that she no longer had the time to devote to study. She thought about the hitai-ate tied around her upper arm, of the honour and the weight of responsibility it held, and of failures and successes.
She contemplated naivety, and broken promises, and the state of the world. She mourned a life gone, puzzle pieces lost, and memories blurred.
The boy climbed the grassy hill, his own hitai-ate tied to his forehead, and sat down next to her, dispelling her thoughts.
They sat together in silence, arms brushing against each other lightly as they tucked together closer. The wind breezed through their hair as the boy thought of growing up, and splitting up, and broken bonds.
He thought about the girl next to him, and the secrets they shared and the worlds they'd built together. He thought about the world they were leaving behind.
He nudged her silently as the sun gently touched them with its molten last rays of goodbye, and when she looked at him, he smiled.
There was a secret promise in his smile, and she put her head on his shoulder, letting a smile of her own gently creep onto her face.
In this little bubble of calm, Shisui and Akito smiled, and exchanged an eternity.
Uchiha Koki had a special place in his heart for the hatred he felt for Izumi.
She was argumentative, petty, and she never listened to him.
She was as brainless as a parrot, constantly chatting bullshit and just echoing what any smarter person said without any regard for whether she sounded like a moron or not.
He had no idea how anyone found it endearing, he really didn't.
He channelled his anger into his wood-carving, and he ended up carving a parrot, which was horrible because they were his least favourite animal.
He blamed her for this.
She could take the cursed carved parrot.
The next time he saw her during their evening tea rounds, he shoved into her hand and stalked off, and she followed him, after a moment.
"What is this?" she asked suspiciously.
Koki nodded to it vaguely and then looked at her pointedly. "You."
He'd bet she was insulted by the gift. No one likes parrots, and he'd totally insulted her by calling her one.
So pleased was he by his insult that he didn't even notice the smile blooming across Izumi's face.
Izumi, for her part, was completely surprised. She'd thought that Koki had hated her, but here he was giving her a gift that he'd so painstakingly handmade.
And it was a cute parrot too!
Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.
Okay, let me begin by apologising. This took far longer to come out than it had any right to, and I've made you guys wait for nearly a year. This is…wow, I didn't think I'd ever take that long to write another chapter, but, like with Rin's avoidance tactics, the longer I spent not writing, the easier it was not to.
But I'm back! And, like I've said before, this story is DEFINITELY not being abandoned.
I honestly have Tonegawa Rie to thank for this. Your constant reviewing and faith that I'd definitely write the next chapter has been pivotal in making me feel guilty enough to get this done.
24 hours, even with guests over and life-ing to do. I just sat and wrote. More than 18000 words...
For every single one of you that reviewed, thank you. Thank you SO MUCH, because it kept reminding me of plot points so that I wouldn't forget anything, and my memory's usually atrocious about these kinds of things. I might have still messed up somewhere, but I think I've managed to get them all.
And Akito's finally graduated! She's a ten year old genin! So much has happened this chapter!
What do you think about Obito? About Danzou? Did I do Konan and Nagato justice? About Kabuto? Or should I say, Kabuko? KISAME'S BACK! You know, the more I wrote his scene, the more I feel like writing a story based in Kiri…but I'll wait till I've finished this one, probably. I still have Indefinite Leave to Remain to actually write for…
What did you think about Shisui and Obito's thing, by the way?
I actually did write the full musical on my phone on a train journey from university back home. And then I missed my stop because I was so invested so the journey took three more hours than it needed to...are you guys interested in reading the full thing? I can put it up as an appendix or something at the end of the next chapter if you'd like.
Also, teams and D-ranks and C-ranks next chapter! And Itachi's finally graduated! (And has been for nearly two years by the end of the chapter!)
Let me know if the tone's the same, if the writing's still okay, if the plot made sense? Please?