Chapter Four: Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Idai, Nawaki, and Shorai returned the day after, and they were not in good condition. And by "not in good condition," I mean that Nawaki was in a coma, Idai was suffering from multiple infections, and… Shorai was pretty alright, actually. Sure, she had broken her arm, and she'd have nasty scarring on her face (not that I could tell), but she was pretty good, all things considered.
Shorai explained all this to Fugaku and me while we sat by Idai's bedside, keeping him company while he slept. The room smelled of sour antiseptic and bleach, that distinct hospital scent that overwhelmed everything else. Shorai's chakra shuddered each time she described the battle—but so did Idai's, which made me suspicious.
"... and the Suna ninja separated our sensei from us. They ambushed us. We were completely overwhelmed. I ran to find sensei while they stalled for time." Her chakra, usually deep and clear like her father's, dimmed and shook again. "Nawaki was caught by an explosive trap, and Idai managed to hold off most of them, but he still got hurt. If it wasn't for those healing seals Nawaki had…"
Fugaku and I pointedly ignored her hitched breaths. He gripped my hand tighter, his chakra muted. Once her breathing steadied, she continued.
"Your brother saved my life." The chair creaked and cloth rustled. "Thank you."
"There's no need to bow!" protested Fugaku, standing up and jostling me off his lap. "He just did what a ninja is supposed to."
A low chuckle interrupted her response. "He's right, Shorai. You're my teammate. And we knew the risks."
"Idai-nii, you're awake!" Fugaku said.
"How long were you listening?" I asked, though everyone ignored me. Typical.
"Still, I just left you there. If I'd stayed behind—"
"Then we'd all be dead," Idai said firmly. "You're faster than Nawaki or me, and neither of us would have made it in time. Don't be too hard on yourself."
I tuned out most of the following conversation as they discussed in low terms the political ramifications of the attack, blah blah, fighting and Suna and all. I obviously knew what was going to happen. World War II. Or, Ninja World War II, I guess.
Oh man, this was going to suck.
Being the most disposable Uchiha, I was given permanent "sit by Idai's bedside" duty. Fugaku, adorable and nagging kid that he was, did his best to drop by as frequently as he could. He still had a job, though, and that limited his time.
I did not have any responsibilities, being a defective child, so I didn't have any excuse. Sure, I could've just skipped out on my duty like I usually did… but that seemed a little blasé, even for me. Though I wasn't exactly a fan of Idai, he was still my brother. Technically. In theory.
I was currently coloring with crayons while trying to avoid boredom. Yes, coloring. Because that was the only kid activity the nurses had. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing with these crayons, but oh boy, you bet that I was doing it with a lot of passion. I'd also stuck the crayons to my nose with chakra, becoming a (hopefully) colorful mockery of Pinocchio, but that stopped being interesting after the fiftieth time.
I paused in my defilement of paper as Idai's chakra shifted from the dull drone of sleep to a sharper, more active tone.
"You're awake," I said.
"Megumi?" murmured my oldest brother, his voice thick with drowsiness. He cleared his throat. "You're still here."
Well, that was a dumb question. He was a ninja. He obviously knew if I was alone. "Yeah," I replied anyway.
He was quiet for a long time, long enough for me to go back to 'coloring.'
"I can't be a ninja anymore."
I dropped my crayons. "What?"
He repeated himself, just as clear and steady as before. "I can't be a ninja anymore."
"Why not?" I fumbled and added, "I mean, not that I blame you. Going out and stabbing people doesn't seem like a really fun career choice—"
"I'm not saying that I don't want to," Idai interrupted, surprisingly gentle, even as his chakra roiled like a stormy sea. "I'm saying that I can't."
"Huh?" I said, eloquent as always.
"The poison that the Suna nin used. It corroded my coils. I… I don't have enough conscious control for ninjutsu anymore."
Just saying the words made the note of despair in his signature ten times stronger.
"Oh. Uh." Oh, shit.
Was that why darling daddy hadn't come to visit him after the first week? Jesus, that bastard. What kind of person threw away their children like that? I opened and closed my mouth like a particularly stupid guppy as I tried to figure out what to say. Come on, I was the adult here! I was the fast-on-my-feet, quick-thinking, fast-talking genius! If there was anything I could pull off, it was a motivational speech!
"Okay, first thing first," I began. "You're not useless. You didn't become useless, nothing like that. And no matter what anyone tells you—and this includes that lump that's our 'dad', you're still cool! That's not determined by you being a ninja!" I pointed a finger dramatically at him. I mean, I hoped I was pointing vaguely in his direction. There was always a margin of error with me.
"Second of all... look. If you didn't want to be a ninja, this is your chance. You can retire now and become a baker or something and no one will say anything. You can get hobbies! Reinvent yourself and all that!" Yeah, I didn't think I was convincing him. Time for a different approach. "Ok, fine... I never really got the appeal of being a ninja, but you know that you can still be one without ninjutsu, right?" That green child from the show pulled it off.
Idai perked up at that, his chakra settling on a slower waves. "What do you mean?"
"You can still punch people without throwing fireballs, right?"
"Besides," I said, waving a hand, "you could go into intelligence or analysis, right? Instead of being a person punching others, you could be the person telling others who to punch."
"Yes. That… That is true.." Then, his breathing changed: the addition of sniffles and small hitches could only mean one thing.
Fuck. Maybe I should've started with the sympathy first. Crayon and paper still clutched in hand, I scrambled to his bed, stubbing my toe on something before hoisting my scraggly seven-year-old self over the side. "Hey! I mean, don't get me wrong, that totally sucks. It's awful that you got hurt, and that this happened to you. It's always painful when your dreams have to be changed because of things outside our control, and it's okay to be sad, and—"
"I'm sorry, Megumi." His crying became more pronounced.
I slumped. "Yeah, I'm not doing a good job, am I? I can leave if you want me to, I totally get it—"
"I'm sorry that I was so awful to you. I treated you so poorly, yet you are still trying to comfort me."
I wrinkled my nose. "Don't worry about it. It's not a big deal."
"I mean it. I never did anything to stand up to father, I never did anything to help you—"
"Idai. It's okay." This was the second 'I have failed you as a brother' speech in the last few days. I really didn't need to hear it again. "Besides, you helped Fugaku, didn't you? You are a great brother."
"Not to you."
I sighed, nudging him a bit as I tried to get comfortable on the hospital's excuse for a bed. "Listen." I tried to make my voice as firm as possible. "It's not your responsibility to take care of me, to protect me, or to feel guilty about any of this. That's an adult's job. That's our parents' job. Not yours. You are not responsible for their failure."
Slowly, I touched his face. He stiffened underneath me as I felt his features for the first time—something I'd only done with Fugaku before. Idai had his eyes and my nose, though his chin was sharper, and the rough cloth of a bandage covered his forehead.
"Besides," I said, softer. "There's always more time. And I haven't been the best little sister either." As the technical adult, it was really on me to build that relationship. Idai was barely a teenager; he couldn't help how he was raised.
Tears dripped down my fingers, and Idai sniffed again. "How could anyone ever think you were dumb?"
"Because they're dumb, that's why," I said promptly. "Now, all this emotional turmoil isn't it good for your recovery. Hurry up and sleep so I can get back to coloring."
He laughed unexpectedly. "They gave you crayons?"
"Right?" I settled in next to him, nudging him again as I leaned against his side, careful not to bump any of his injuries. I had no qualms about stealing one of his pillows, though. Content, I colored the paper on my thigh until his breathing steadied and slowed.
Idai was a pretty good kid.
He went into surgery the next day, the doctors deciding to try an experimental procedure to give him back some conscious chakra control. Again, being on Idai-support-duty—though really, a physical adult should've been there too—I was stuck in the waiting room, trying to make origami. It was with the same paper that I colored, so it was going to be some psychedelic kick-ass origami. I didn't actually know how to make origami, but since when did that stop me?
The universe clearly answered my complaints when Homura entered the room and sat next to me. I didn't have much contact with Idai's genin teacher, but like his former teammates, his chakra signature was insane. It didn't have the overwhelming power of the Hokage, the cold, lethal sharpness of Utatane, or the "oh fuck oh shit we're dead" of Danzo. Instead, it was something gradual and heavy—like someone slowly burying you under rocks.
He didn't say anything at first, so I continued origami'ng my way through the pile of papers.
"You're Idai's sister," Homura said finally. His voice was kind of pleasant, actually—I'd bet on him being a decent tenor.
"Yep, that's me."
"Are… are you trying to do origami?"
I sniffed. "Excuse me, I'm not trying to do origami. I am doing origami." I hid a grin at the tritone of confusion in his 'rocks fall, everyone dies' of a chakra signature. I managed to hold the blank glare for a few more seconds before I gave in and snorted. "Nah, I'm totally just making random folds. No one's taught me how to do it. Despite it being something I can actually do."
I expected him to maybe be amused or annoyed. I didn't expect him to say, "Do you want me to teach you?"
"You know origami?"
"I do." After asking permission—even more brownie points for you, Homura!—he guided my hands through the folds for a paper boat.
I paused, a brilliant idea coming to my brilliant brain as I felt the finish project. With a growing grin, I took my lumpy paper boat and stuck it to my cheek. "I'm going to be Boaty McBoat Face," I mumbled to myself.
Then, an even more brilliant idea appeared, and with careful concentration, I stuck the boat to the wall. It took a lot more concentration than simply sticking it to me, and it fell in a couple seconds, but it was possible! Hey, wasn't there something called chakra strings? I could make remote-chakra-controlled ghost boats!
I was so lost in my boat-related plans that I forgot that Homura was there.
"You're quite the personality, aren't you?" He chuckled.
"I get that a lot. Hey, will you teach me how to make chakra strings? Do you know the theory behind it?"
There was a small pause—I bet he shook his head before forgetting, hello, blind—before he said, "I'm afraid I cannot. My chakra control isn't precise enough for that. You would have better luck asking Hiruzen."
Oooh, something about that dampened his mood. I could feel his chakra drop an octave. "Hey… are you okay?"
That startled him. "I am fine, thank you."
"You're actually not. You want to talk about it?" I didn't really want to hear him talk about it, but it was polite to ask.
"No, thank you," he said, and then like everyone else who'd ever been asked that question, he proceeded to talk about it. "I'm just… worried about my team. I've failed them."
"Oh?" I started folding another boat. This would take a while.
"I've always been the weaker of my teammates. Utatane is a sealmaster with the sharpest mind out of anyone, and her student is that Hatake boy. He's already making a name for himself, and her other two students are alive and well." His laugh was bitter. "And Hiruzen… do I really need to say anything? Not only is he the God of Shinobi and the Hokage, his three students are shaping up to be monsters in their own right. Me?" His clothing rustled as he shifted. "Not only did I start teaching long after they did, I nearly got my team killed. "
"That sucks," I agreed. "Are you planning on ditching Idai now that he can't use chakra?"
"To make it worse, I—" he stopped. "What? No! Of course not!"
"Good." I rolled my eyes, making it clear how I felt about his pity party. "Your team still needs you. Sarutobi—his daughter, not your teammate—broke down about how much of a failure she is, Idai feels useless and thinks he can't be a ninja, and Nawaki... He might be in a coma now, but he'll need a lot of support when he gets out of it." If. But I wasn't going to be a Debbie Downer during my fortieth motivational speech.
He was quiet for a pretty long time, and his chakra wavered in half-steps. "I… It might be better if I wasn't there."
I flapped my hand, my fingertips just coming into contact with his face (I guessed, though it could've easily been a different part), preventing me from slapping sense into him. "Gods, are you fucking kidding me?" Now that surprised him; a tiny child cursing at you tends to do that. "If you aren't there for him, who's going to be? Our dad?"
Forget half-steps—his chakra dropped an octave. Blow: struck.
"And sure," I continued, "Shorai's dad isn't that awful, but he's busy. And I think you're the only one who can really convince her it wasn't her fault."
I paused for dramatic effect and so that it could sink in. "As for your teammates, have you talked to them about this? If they're such great teachers, they'll definitely have advice won't they?"
"I didn't want to—"
"Isn't Konoha all about teamwork? They're your teammates. Talk to them."
The shift to a major key was slight, just a note or two, and it was more a major 7th than something unambiguously positive, but it was there.
My victory was dampened just a bit by his next words. "You're a smart child," he said, with more surprise than necessary. I mean, really? I was a bit tired of people thinking I was dumb just because I was blind.
(Or, it could be me playing dumb all the time…. Nah. Probably not.)
"You bet," I said instead. "I'm going to be the greatest."
He waited until it was clear I wasn't going to spill. "The greatest what?"
I sneered in the direction of his voice. "The greatest. Now, are you going to show me more origami or what?"
By the time we had to go, I knew how to make boats, cranes, frogs, and best of all… functioning paper airplanes.
I was wandering the hospital, bored of watching Idai sleep after his surgery, when I heard a vaguely familiar tone. Two familiar tones. I paused, hand still pressed against the wall.
(Ok, I admit, wandering the hallways wasn't my wisest decision. I was literally getting underfoot, but in my defense… I was bored.)
I continued down the hallway, tracing the wall to keep myself oriented, until I overshot and the chakra grew fainter. I backed up to the last doorway and knocked loudly.
The door opened.
"Yes?" I knew that Slytherin tone, though I'd only talked to its owner once.
"Hello, Orochimaru! It's me, Megumi the fantastic!"
A dramatic pause. It could've been a confused pause, but I decided to go with dramatic. "You're the blind Uchiha girl. The clan head's daughter."
I sniffed. "You're the Hokage's student. The…" I tilted my head. "I'm sorry, what are you again?"
Orochimaru's signature spiked into discordant tones, and I grinned.
"Oro," said a raspy voice from inside. Wow, Tsunade sounded rough. "What does she want?"
Another pause, the two of them clearly waiting for an answer. Orochimaru's chakra turned to jumbled tones again, and I widened my grin.
"Well?" he said, dropping the pitch of his voice into a softer version of a snarl. "What do you want?"
It was honestly hilarious when people tried to be all silently intimidating before realizing it had no effect on me.
"I'm bored. Entertain me."
"You came to a hospital to be entertained?"
"No, I came into the hospital because my brother's here. But I've been stuck in the same room for weeks, my brother's asleep after his surgery, and I already made all the paper I could find into boats and cranes."
His chakra turned softer, more considering. "I see," he murmured. A moment of hesitation. Then, his voice was much, much closer, and I jerked back, almost falling to the floor. Almost, because he grabbed my arm. "Distract Tsunade," he hissed. "That shall be your entertainment."
Distraction. Yeah, I could do that. I gave him a firm nod and stage-whispered, "You bet, sir."
His exasperation was obvious in his exhale as he herded me in.
I grew a little somber at the beeping of medical equipment. I, being amazing, knew that there weren't many reasons for both Tsunade and Orochimaru to be hanging in the hospital. Since I hadn't heard anything about Jiraiya getting stabbed, it was obviously Nawaki's room.
Honestly, it was a little eerie. His chakra signature was so faint I had to strain to hear it, something I never needed to do unless the person was actively suppressing it.
"Hey, Tsunade," I said. "How's it hanging?"
I could hear a hand slap skin, and I reveled in the joy of making more people face-palm.
"Awful," she replied. Surprise, surprise, Tsunade didn't sound very happy. "What do you want?"
"Do you know about origami?"
I took that as my cue to start blabbing about everything I learned, jumping in place and waving around my arms as I word-vomited everything Homura had told me. From that, it turned into a diatribe about the textures of paper as I set my mind free.
As I talked, Tsunade's chakra signature turned from the minor-chords of irritation to tuneless surprise to something that almost sounded… relaxed. She started asking questions, mostly to poke fun at my utter nonsense—which Orochimaru was also eager to mock—but occasionally with genuine interest. Namely, my plan to create a chakra-controlled paper armada.
"That might actually work," she mused.
"Don't encourage her!" hissed Orochimaru.
I talked until my voice grew a little hoarse, and I was under no illusions that Tsunade didn't see right-fucking-through me. After I coughed for the second time in my monologue about the best kind of fruit, she interrupted me.
"Megumi, you should go home."
"You look exhausted. And you said you've been at the hospital this whole week."
"Well, yeah." I had, mainly living on hospital food brought by sympathetic nurses and my very occasional Uchiha brethren. If labor laws were a thing, then my family would've been written up for stupidly long shifts.
"Go sleep." Oh, nice, Tsunade was using her 'angry doctor' voice without acknowledging the hypocrisy. I'd eat my foot if she hadn't been haunting Nawaki's bedside.
I grinned. "I'll do it if you do."
I held out my fist. "Come on, Tsunade. Let's be in sister-with-injured-brothers solidarity. Why don't we both go home?"
My fist was left hanging in silence. "Maybe later," she said finally. Tsunade had never sounded more tired.
"I can't go home without a guide," I whined. "Are you really gonna make me stay at the hospital?"
He heaved a drama-queen-worthy sigh. "Very well." There was a burst of chakra, like someone hitting a bell, and I could hear two chakra signatures. A clone, then, though I didn't think it was a shadow clone—the distinctive whine of lightning ran through the duplicate.
The clone picked me up, and I squawked. Seriously, not cool! "Hey!" I shouted. "Give me a little warning! I can't see anything, remember? It's kinda terrifying when you're hoisted out of nowhere!"
Clone-Orochimaru promptly ignored my lecture, because I had the sudden sensation of falling dramatically from a cliff—or from a roof, which was exactly how I'd died before—so I reacted in the logical, mature fashion and screamed my fucking head off.
"Be quiet!" he hissed, and his chakra shifted keys in a weird, twisty way. "It was just a body flicker."
I continued screaming because he really deserved it.
"You're going to wake up your whole clan!"
I paused. I proceeded to scream louder, because inconveniencing the Uchiha was a bonus.
His hand covered my mouth, marginally damping my noise. "I already cast a silencing genjutsu," he said, annoyed. "You can keep screaming, but that's not going to change anything.
Ah, that explained the twistyness. I stopped, disappointed. "Do you say that to all the kids you kidnap?"
"Just the ones that annoy me," he snarked back. I tried not to laugh or wince. That… was really ironic with future sight. "Now that you're done…" He sighed—I think that was number four, woo!—and set me down. Orochimaru was quiet for another moment, and for once, I waited. "Thank you," he said, and I really didn't expect that.
"No, for talking to Tsunade. She… needed that."
I smiled, and it wasn't a shit-eating grin. "Ah, don't mention it. The seals she gave saved my brother's life. I still owe her."
"You're an odd child," he said. Then his chakra rang like a bell again, and I couldn't hear his chakra anymore. I'd bet he flickered away again.
"Asshole!" I shouted. "You left me in the middle of the street!"
Oh, well. This time, I could scream to wake up the neighborhood and be justified.
My excuse of a father deigned to finally see his eldest son in the hospital, so I actually had the next day off. I decided that the best way to spend that free day, of course, was by bugging the great old Sarutobi at his place of work.
But I had to admit, it was a bit difficult to get a meeting with the Hokage while carrying a bag of boats.
"That's mine!" I screeched. "No, they're not exploding seals! You stupid child!"
The unimportant, unnamed individual who was currently disassembling my boats spluttered as I grabbed at his hands. "Stupid child? You're calling me a stupid child!? I'm older than you! And not stupid!"
"Are you sure? I don't see anything that proves me wrong!"
"You can't see, you—"
"Are you really bullying a blind child?" interrupted a haughty voice. His sibilant chakra spiked, soft but powerful, and I beamed.
"Orochi!" I debated running up to him, but I still didn't know the layout of the Hokage Tower well enough to do that without falling on my face and ruining the dramatic entrance.
"Oh, uh…" The other man's (dull, ugly, stupid-ass) chakra faltered into a shaky whine. "I…"
"Give her the bag," commanded Orochimaru.
I didn't wait. I just pulled it to me and stuck out my tongue. Take that! I had the power of a goddess and anime on my side!
"Now," Orochimaru said, "follow me, Megumi. I shall take you to sensei."
I assumed he walked away—I couldn't actually hear his footsteps, though his chakra grew fainter—but after a moment, I felt fingertips touch my hand.
"Right," Orochimaru said, stiff.
I grinned and immediately clutched his hand. I mean, it was hilarious how he decided to flomp away while forgetting I couldn't toddle after him, but I decided not to mention it. "Alright! Let's go!"
Sarutobi's overwhelming chakra felt… tired. He carefully withdrew his chakra, bundling it up into soft chimes, but it took longer than usual.
"Megumi-chan," he said. I could hear the smile in his voice. "What brings me this pleasure?"
I dropped the bag on the floor, enjoying the soft ploompf it made. "Paper boats," I announced. "Can you teach me how to make chakra strings? I wanna control these boats."
"Chakra strings, is it?" He sounded thoughtful. "I'm afraid that recent matters have occupied my time. I would not be a proper teacher, unfortunately."
I'd expected as much. I heaved a dejected sigh, but before I could really dial up the theatrics, he continued.
"However," he continued, "Orochimaru here is currently on leave. Together with his teammates, I am certain that they would do well to teach you."
I outright cackled at Orochimaru's dismay—I could feel it in the way his fingers stiffened, almost clenching into fists. This was better than I expected! "Thank you so much," I said, packing as much glee and sincerity as I could. I moved my hand from Orochimaru's fingers to his arm and clutched it tighter to me. "We're going to have so much fun!"
We were going to have so much fun, even if it killed me. But what was fun without danger?
AN: Yeah. An update, two years later. I'm as surprised as you are. Much thanks to GwendolynStacy, my incredible beta-reader, the one who reminded me that I actually had this project.
Basically, I had this chapter planned out for ages, but I never got around to writing it. I'd worked on it piece-meal for literally the two years until I decided to sit down and finish it a week ago instead of working on my actual main project, Sanitize. So it goes. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure that I'll finish this story, but if I decide to discontinue it, I'll post one last chapter and the full outline for it.
Y'all are welcome to join my fun fandom Discord server that consists of nice people and fanfic recs. Here it is: discord. gg/wNncyM4