The last AU promised, at last (I have rewritten it so many times, guys...)! The jounin!Maiko AU with some Shikaku/Maiko and Minato/Maiko and an open ending. 12 500 words with much more action than the previous AU.
Trigger warnings: some suicidal thoughts.
Oo Shi no Mai 死の舞 oOo
Being born the same year as Namikaze Minato was daunting.
From the day I noticed that coincidence (around my first day in Konoha Academy), I worried. The more time I spent with him and the more convinced I was of my inevitable demise.
He was the sun. Anyone close to him was inevitably attracted, burnt, and energized at the same time. Unless you were strong enough to have your own force of gravitation, you were bound to disappear to make him stronger. It's astrophysics law (for the little I knew about astrophysics, mind you). It might as well be shinobi law.
I made my peace with that the day I heard his name join mine in Team 7.
Or I thought so.
I thought it would be alright dying for him. It seemed a worthy death.
But not today.
Not like that.
Dying now would be useless.
I had to protect him from far worse than this.
Losing two of his students. Dying with his wife. Leaving behind him an orphan, a grieving student, a sensei, and a village.
That was what I was meant to protect him from. That was what I was meant to die for.
Not like this.
Not in the middle of nowhere.
So, I went back.
"The girl is dead. This one will be soon. Not so great as a sensei, Jiraiya of the Sannin, uh?"
I opened my eyes to a grey sky, heavy with clouds and windy. Thankful not to be blinded, I vaguely remembered having grumbled about the weather this morning.
"We heard them you know, complaining about how you left them behind to train your little apprentice. I can't fault you, though. They were so pathetic… Lost causes, uh?"
"Shut the fuck up."
Ah. Jiraiya-sensei. Late again, uh?
I wiggled the tips of my fingers and my toes. I contracted muscle after muscle, from my tongue to my abs. Only one point of pain. Stomach, just under the ribs. The liver had been reached. Slow death. Possibility of regeneration. That wasn't what had knocked me out (or killed? I wasn't too sure… no, this would be a question for another time). Poison on the blade, probably. Yes, I was feeling the after-effects: fatigue, cramps, low blood pressure… probably meant to stall the heart. I knew such a poison, common enough, one I had started to build an immunity to. It must have saved me (of course it did, I couldn't have died, silly me!).
"Is this one much better than them?"
"Let Ari go."
I focused, tried to make sense of what I remembered and felt. Ari was incapacitated and captured. Jiraiya and Minato were against a full team of Iwa shinobi. The enemies were near my head and my allies beyond them.
I risked a glance to pinpoint the situation. The Iwa nin were turning their back to me, the dead girl. Ari was held by the kunoichi closest to me, a few steps behind the leader. The other two were spread out to the sides.
"I don't think so, sunshine. If he wants his student to live, your sensei's gonna have to be very nice with us."
"Sorry, buddy, I'm only a gentleman with the ladies."
Sensei, damn it. You could at least play for time. It seemed I wouldn't have the occasion to heal my liver. Well. Shit. This was gonna hurt.
"So this is the Sannin of Konoha, uh? Heartless pieces of shit. What do you think, kiddo? Something to say to your sensei?"
Ari was many things. A talker wasn't among them. He stayed quiet.
Now or never then.
"Tch. Nao, kill him!"
I rolled to the side and severed Nao's Achilles' heel with a chakra scalpel before hitting the back of her knees. She fell backward with a shout of surprise and pain, letting go of Ari, who immediately took the opportunity offered to escape.
Gritting my teeth against the pain, I pushed myself to my feet and jumped away, giving me the time to do a Body Flicker. I appeared behind Minato and Jiraiya, just a moment after Ari. I immediately fell to my knees, an arm pressed around my midriff.
"Maiko! Are you okay?" Ari asked. "You're yellow!"
"Liver failure," I groaned between my teeth. My skin was itching. "I need to heal myself."
"Take the time you need, Maiko! We'll protect you!" Minato vowed firmly, meeting Jiraiya's eyes who nodded with a fierce grin.
I ignored most of the resulting fight, focused on breathing through the regeneration of my organs and skin. I could feel Ari crouching by my side, watching out for me, but my eyes were closed, my attention on what was going inside me instead of outside. Once I could only feel skin under my hand covered in healing chakra, I relaxed and opened my eyes.
Jiraiya was filling my field of vision, crouching with his hands on his knees. His frown of worry transformed into a large grin, and he went to shout something or another. I grabbed on his hair before he could form a sound and pulled until he found himself with a face full of dirt.
"I fucking told you to stop leaving us alone, sensei, damn it!"
He squealed and held on my wrist to stop me from pulling.
"I can't believe you left while Ari was sleeping and I was bathing!"
"I'm sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry!" He repeated, rolling to his side when I grabbed his ear instead of his hair.
"Tell that to my damn liver!"
"There's barely a scar left!"
"No thanks to you, old fool! Just you wait until I tell Tsunade-sama about it."
He was immediately out of my grasp and on his feet, crouching in front of me with his hands pressed together in prayer. "Please, don't tell her!"
"In your dreams!"
"Please, please, please?"
"No! I'm so damn angry with you! This was your damn fault!"
I stood up clumsily, wavering as my legs cramped and my blood pressure dropped, leaving the world dark around the edges. A hand came to my help by resting under my elbow. I shook it off and spun around to point at Minato: "And yours too! Don't touch me! Ari, let's go."
I had to lean on Ari's shoulder a moment later, but my teammate wisely didn't comment on it. He led me to a stone where we could sit before showing me his injuries, thankfully minor. I healed them without a word.
"We…" Minato cleared his throat and tried again: "We have to leave. Do you need to be carried, Maiko-chan?"
"Yes," I replied tersely. I was exhausted. I glared at Jiraiya. He turned around hastily to offer his back. I climbed on him with a grunt of displeasure when it pulled on my sensitive scar.
We were gone in a burst of speed, back toward Hi no Kuni territory. They ran for an hour without a pause or a word. Once we had put enough distance behind us, Jiraiya slowed down a bit. He tried an overture:
"I'm really sorry, Mai-chan."
"I know, you are," I grumbled. My anger had simmered down. "That won't stop you from doing it again, though."
"No, that won't happen again," he promised.
I made a disparaging sound. Jiraiya's promises weren't worth much.
"You did great back there."
"No, just… we couldn't feel your chakra, kiddo."
I adjusted my hold around his neck and pressed my cheek to his jacket. "Yeah… Well, I felt myself go for a moment there, so…" Probably just temporary paralysis and slow blood pressure though, nothing to worry about.
"And you came back?"
I cleared my throat, bothered by the taste of blood still lingering. "Someone had to give you an earful."
He laughed. "That's right, Mai-chan. Don't forget that. We need you to keep us in line."
I sighed. "Don't I know it."
My plan for the future had been decided since I joined the Academy: I would be an average student and become an average kunoichi, someone discreet who could slide a few anonymous tips to the big wigs. I would stay low-key because the last thing I wanted was trouble.
To end up in the same class as main characters had been a bittersweet surprise. I stayed friendly but distant with Minato, observing him from afar until we ended up being paired together for a project. He was a model student, just as smart as I was with my head start. Kind and attentive, he valued my participation, and we had a nice time working together.
It could have ended there, as a nice memory for me when I would be a thirty years old chuunin on patrol and he the Yondaime, but that was without taking Kushina into account.
She and I had been paired together for a taijutsu spar. It wasn't the first time, but it was the first which I won. She was genuinely good. On strength and endurance alone she was much better than I was, but her tactics were poor, and she sometimes lost against opponents of her level because of her temper. I didn't usually take advantage of her flaws. That day, I was in a poor mood, and she annoyed me further by telling her best friend that she would win against me in less than thirty seconds. In pure spite, I gave my best for the first time.
The silence was deafening in the courtyard.
Kushina was sprawled out of the fighting ring I had pushed her from. She was staring at me and gaping. I blew on my bangs and turned toward our sensei expectantly.
He smirked. "Do you feel better, Maiko-chan?"
"Yes, sensei, thank you," I replied primly. "May I have this spar?"
"Certainly. Kamizuki Maiko, winner. Well done."
Now, was it my fault if this was an exam and I jumped in rank while she plummeted? Well, probably, since I had lost my temper, but still. Her decision to consider me a rival from now on was quite excessive. Minato's answering decision to help me win this competition — which I had not agreed to (now I understood Kakashi's pain) — was just as much extravagant, and I told him so:
"But I don't want to be the number one kunoichi," I whined when he tried to convince me to train with him after school.
"Why wouldn't you want to be the best?" Minato asked, genuinely puzzled (bless his precious soul). "You have a lot of potential, I'm sure if you worked just a little more..."
I sighed, my shoulders lowering in despair. How was I supposed to explain to his big blue eyes full of good intentions that it wasn't my plan?
Low chuckling interrupted us. We turned to see Shikaku leaning against a nearby wall. He had been hidden in the shadows, like a good Nara.
"Shikaku-senpai!" Minato greeted him enthusiastically. Shikaku was a year above us, and he was Minato's favorite person in the whole Academy. They played shogi together during breaks. To be honest, Minato would already be in the senior class, if he had a clan to promote him and push him to graduate faster. As it was, Minato had been offered the opportunity and refused, so "he could train as much as possible before becoming genin" (he was the smartest, the wisest, the best kid ever, did I tell you that?).
"Should I…?" Shikaku asked me with as few words as possible.
"Please, do," I agreed with a nod.
"You know how I have average grades, Minato-kun?"
"Yes," Minato said, frowning, before turning toward me with wide eyes. "You mean you're doing it on purpose too?"
"Well… don't make me sound as smart as Shikaku-san… but yes," I confirmed, rubbing the tip of my nose.
"But…" Minato stopped himself before he could protest, and he ended up with an expression so close to a pout that my determination wavered.
I sighed. "I guess I could still train with you after school, though."
Kami, that smile would be the end of me.
At the end of the year, I was the first kunoichi. My groan of despair at the announcement of having Jiraiya for sensei was muffled by Minato's enthusiastic hug.
Shikaku laughed the first time he saw me with my genin team, the asshole. He knew. He knew that Minato's damn smile was my biggest weakness.
Not today either, I thought as I stripped off my clothes hastily, cursing and swearing.
"Mai-chan, do you need help?" Minato called, approaching the river bank.
"No! Turn around!" I shouted, glancing over my shoulder to see a blushing teen spinning around so fast he nearly tripped.
"Sorry!" he squeaked.
"Idiot!" I called before immersing completely in the water and rubbing my skin thoroughly to get rid of the poison dust I had been covered with. It was freezing, but my skin was red and hot to the touch, already reacting to the toxins. It itched.
"I didn't mean to," he said when I came out, sputtering. "I didn't look, I swear!"
"Are you sure? I don't need to rat you out to Kushina?" I teased him. Sitting on the rocks at the bottom of the shallow river, I made sure to rub everywhere, in my hair, between the toes, the belly button... I couldn't afford to leave any trace of the nasty stuff. It went through the skin to the blood in a matter of minutes. Once it was there, a heart attack was just around the corner. And this one, I wasn't immune to (I had a long list, but I couldn't possibly do all of them, especially not at the same time).
I laughed at him. He had been going out with Kushina for a few weeks now, and it was still funny to tease him about it.
"Just go and fetch my bag. I need new clothes. Those have to go through a dozen washing." I reached for my underwear carried away by the current and threw it in the reeds instead.
"Mai-chan?!" Jiraiya shouted.
"You peek, you dead!" I shouted back, glancing over my shoulder to check I was alone.
Minato was running back toward the battlefield we had just left. I trust him to keep sensei away, not that Jiraiya had ever shown any ill intention toward me other than a few inappropriate comments. He had boundaries.
"So, not dead yet?" Jiraiya shouted.
"Still have to give you an earful, old geezer! Did you really have to pick a fight, damn it?!"
His laughter could be heard miles away.
I sighed and tilted my head back to stare at the sunny sky. I was hot and cold at the same time. I was very naked and surrounded by stupid males. Why was this my life?
"Find me aloe vera instead of laughing like an idiot!" I shouted when the itching became so bad I wanted to skin myself.
Certainly not here. "I'm not dying in a damn swamp!"
"That's the spirit," Jiraiya approved cheerfully from the top of his summon toad.
I glared at him from the ground, where my open sandals were sinking into quicksand. It was going to itch, again, damn it!
"Need a hand, Mai-chan?"
I turned toward Ari, who was sharing my unfortunate fate, and rolled my eyes toward our cocky teammate who was hanging from a branch above us. Ari nodded his head in silent commiseration. It was regular communication between us. At least I wasn't the only one having to put up with those two super-powered teammates.
"Why, Minato-kun, of course not, I'm clearly enjoying this trip through mud alley," I joked before looking up and glaring. "Get us out of here, stupid jounin."
Since he had gotten his promotion (at fourteen, no big deal), I felt like my bad luck was worse than usual, as if to remind me of the difference of level among this damn team.
A blink, and Ari and I found ourselves on a solid tree branch, pulled and kept balanced by an arm each.
"Was our distraction worth it, at least?" I sighed.
"The enemy has been dealt with," Minato confirmed cheerfully.
"Good. I need a bath."
"Great idea!" Jiraiya approved. He jumped from his summon who disappeared with a cloud of smoke.
I crossed my arms but didn't comment. Behind his back, I made a gesture at Minato to keep an eye on him. He gave me the hand signal for 'ok' and smiled innocently at Jiraiya when he turned around, suspicious of our silence.
"So, onsen? Let's go!"
Not without having seen Minato for months!
I pushed the corpse of the nukenin off me and kicked him away so I wouldn't be stained more by the blood gushing out of the hole I had pierced through his neck with a long hairpin.
I curled up against a wall, trying to catch my breath and calm my heart. Touching my neck hesitantly, I tried to determine how much damage he had done when trying to strangle me. Nothing internal, hopefully.
A long and large shadow fell on me suddenly, but his familiar scent met my nose at the same time and reassured me.
"Mai-chan," Jiraiya said softly, crouching in my field of vision. He hesitated to touch me. "Are you alright?"
I nodded slowly and adjusted the fabric of my torn yukata over my legs.
He twitched, glared at the corpse of our target, and then cleared his throat to ask: "Did he…?"
I shook my head, and he relaxed.
"Come on," he said softly, offering me his hands. "Let's go."
"Sensei?" I asked as he helped me up.
"I wanna go back to Konoha."
"... Yeah, let's go back."
That promotion I had been given at sixteen? Yeah, not so cool. Being a tokubetsu jounin in espionage was mentally draining beyond anything I had imagined.
Each day, I had to remind myself: not today. Not yet.
But I was tired.
I wanted that day to come.
He was there. Minato was smiling and happy, showing off his brand new broody apprentice. That was good. I had missed his smile. I wanted to die with the memory of his smile etched into my brain.
But not yet.
This was the kid. Hatake Kakashi. I had nearly forgotten his name. He was one of those I needed to protect.
I had already failed him. I had forgotten. His father. His father had gone on a mission and committed suicide after failing it. That would have happened a few weeks ago, before Minato took him as an apprentice. How could I have forgotten that?!
"Ah, Maiko-chan! What's wrong?" Minato asked.
I pressed fingers to my eyes to hold back the tears and clenched my teeth to hold back the screams.
Jiraiya's large and warm body curled around me, pulling me into a hug as he patted my back awkwardly. "There, there, it's fine, Mai-chan."
I shook my head but kept my thoughts for myself (It was not fine! I was a failure! Even this, the only thing I was meant for, the only thing I could bring to this world; even this, I failed!).
"Sensei, what's wrong?" Minato repeated.
Jiraiya sighed. "What I wanted to tell you, if you had come alone, like planned," he said pointedly," is that Maiko isn't… really well."
After managing to get my sobbing under control, I said between sniffles: "He means I'm in the middle of a depressive episode. Crying outbursts happen."
"Yeah… that," Jiraiya said uneasily. He had been walking on eggshells during our trip back to Konoha. He had tried each of his tricks to cheer me up but when some of his jokes got tears instead of any of my usual reactions, he had become worried. Now he treated me like a bomb ready to explode… or a shinobi willing to commit suicide.
Not yet. That would make all this life even more pointless.
But… it was tempting, very tempting, to just… close my eyes and never open them again.
I blinked and, at the boys' expectant stares, realized I had zoned out for a moment and missed some comment or question.
"I asked you to have dinner with us," Minato repeated patiently.
"Kakashi, Kushina, and I."
My face convulsed into a wince. It was too much effort to smooth it into the mask of neutrality I had learned to wear in missions. Really, dinner with that cute and troublesome couple was far from what I considered a good time. I had already tried, okay? And I had spent ten minutes on the roof while they chatted. That's the time Minato had needed to realize I was gone and come to drag me back by my belt. If there was one couple in all of Konoha who made you feel like the third wheel, it was them. Considering how talkative Kakashi was, he wouldn't help much in that aspect.
"We'll make maki," he tried to bribe me.
"Not hungry lately," I commented, glancing away.
"I'll invite Ari, Jiraiya-sensei, and Shikaku, and anyone you want."
Now, that was better.
And this was how three evenings later, I found myself on the rooftop of Minato's apartment. I was staring at the full moon when a silhouette blocked my view.
"You took your damn time," I grouched. I had been waiting for him to show up for half an hour.
Shikaku crouched with his forearms on his knees. "Fleeing Minato and Kushina again?"
I made a disgusted noise.
He sat down beside me and sighed. "I see Jiraiya-san was right. You're in a mood."
"Yeah. They're doing their best to cheer me up but it's just… worse. I didn't want to ruin the evening," I admitted with a sigh. To be honest, they had all been nice, including Kushina and Minato, but it had just made it worse. It felt like a tremendous effort to socialize and participate, which made me feel like an asshole on top of a failure.
"Jiraiya-san said you had a bad mission?" At my silence and slight twitch, he added: "He didn't say anything else, but he looked worried."
"Just the risks of the job."
He watched me, considering, before lifting an arm. "Come here."
I rolled into his arms and dissolved into a river of tears.
Soon after my promotion, I was waiting impatiently in my apartment. When a knock finally sounded, I was on my feet and opening the door in the next second.
Shikaku greeted me with a hand wave. "I got your message."
He wasn't wearing his uniform but his casual attire: a buckskin vest over his utility one and a meshed shirt with short sleeves completed by vambraces. I heard he had just come back from a mission and was on leave. I had left a message at the Nara compound asking him to come.
"Come in," I told him eagerly, opening the door wider and closing it behind him.
He glanced at the studio without much interest, even if it was the first time he came in. It looked like all the similar apartments of the block for shinobi more often away from home than inside. There were only a few beautiful fans and ink paintings on the walls to decorate it.
"Congratulations on making tokubetsu," he said as he turned back to me, observing me to deduce what I wanted.
I knew I was more fidgety than usual and he'd notice that. Otherwise, there was little he could learn. I was in casual clothes too: my usual short green yukata and black leggings. Nothing out of the ordinary.
"Thanks. It's kinda about that… somewhat." I took a deep breath before explaining: "I'm leaving on a long mission with Jiraiya-sensei soon. Deep cover espionage, you know."
He tilted his head in understanding.
I bounced on my bare toes and just let it out: "He advised I got rid of my virginity before then. I heard you were single again. I wondered if you'd be willing to help me out?"
I wasn't expecting a big reaction from him, but I got a surprised blink in answer that was quite satisfying. It's not every day you could surprise a genius. I delighted in keeping those surrounding me on their toes.
He recovered promptly and shifted from a relaxed stance to his hands in his pockets to give himself some composure. He nodded. "Sure."
I grinned. That was a relief. I wasn't looking forward to making this awkward speech again to someone else. "Great. Do you have something planned tonight?"
I took a step forward and reached for his suede vest, pulling him down. "Stay?"
His eyes drifted to my lips as I tilted my head up. "Alright."
I smiled into our kiss.
"Come here," he murmured, pulling me against his chest.
His gentleness reminded me that I was supposed to be a virgin without experience. I let him take the lead, other than tugging on the zip of his jacket with an insistent pout. He huffed with a smile but removed both vests, throwing them on the back of a chair.
"Satisfied?" he asked before reaching for my top.
I hummed in approval (to his gesture and the result: he looked good in just a fishnet). I untied my obi so he could slide the yukata down my shoulders and reveal bra straps. He tugged on them gently and admired my cleavage before coming for another kiss.
He drew back suddenly. "Shit."
"We can't. I don't have a condom."
I raised an eyebrow and held back a giggle. "What, you don't go around with one in your pockets?"
He glared at me playfully. "Believe it or not, gorgeous girls don't jump in my arms every day."
I laughed, leaning into him with a hand on his arm. "No?! Impossible! A myth is broken!"
"Yeah, yeah, you, minx," he sighed fondly. "I get it you have one?"
"As embarrassing as it was, Jiraiya-sensei was very thorough," I confirmed, pulling out of his embrace to go to my bedside table. I threw him a package. "Is this good?"
"Yeah," he confirmed after checking the label. He walked up to me and glanced at the nightstand cluttered with lube and packages best left unchecked. "Thorough, uh?"
I shuddered. "The explanations I had to go through…" I had told him I knew everything I needed, but had he listened? Of course not, he had been delighted to give The Speech, the sadistic bastard. Minato had warned me, but I had naively thought I could avoid it. "I hope Ari and Minato had it way worse."
He laughed and pushed me onto the bed. "Let's make it worthwhile, then."
Afterward, I was entangled in the sheets, naked and hair disheveled. I looked over my shoulder as Shikaku went to throw out the used condom. I was quite pleased with the view but also the state of his hair: just as bad as mine. Payback was fair. I waited with half-closed eyes, watching him silently. I made a satisfied sound when he came back to lie down next to me. I hadn't asked him to stay, but I was pleased he did.
He pulled my back against his chest to be the big spoon and rest his chin on my shoulder, caressing the soft skin of my stomach.
"I thought you didn't want to be a spy," he murmured.
"I didn't, but sensei convinced me." It wasn't exactly true: I was mostly tired to see Minato with Kushina and had taken the first opportunity available to leave, but no-one would ever hear me say it.
He hummed and kissed my neck.
"So, you'll be away for months, uh?"
"Yeah, if not years," I sighed.
"Otherwise, I'd have asked you out."
I turned my head in surprise to check his expression, but he looked serious. "Well…" I breathed, trying to gather my wits. "If you're still single by then, I'll just take a rain check."
He chuckled and nuzzled my shoulder. "I'll hold you to that."
A knock sounded at the door, getting a groan out of me. "Let's just ignore it," I mumbled.
He agreed with a grunt.
"Maiko?!" Minato called while knocking again.
"Shit," I hissed. "I have to go. He has a key."
Shikaku pulled back, and I climbed over him.
"Just a minute!" I shouted, grabbing a kimono slip and pulling it close hastily. I brushed my hair with fingers and went to crack open the door, only showing half of my face. "What is it?"
"I wondered if you wanted to train together?" he asked curiously.
"No, sorry, not tonight."
He blinked, looked down at the slip fabric showing, and then back up. "I'm interrupting something."
He blushed as understanding dawned on him. "Sorry! Sorry then, I'll go… See you tomorrow?"
"Yes, tomorrow is fine." I closed the door without ceremony and grunted before going back to bed.
Shikaku stopped me as I was straddling him to go back to my place against the wall. I blinked at him before his hand caressing my thigh upwards tipped me off.
"You need experience, right?" he asked, pulling me down for a new kiss.
"I heard you had a new girlfriend. Congrats," I said once I had calmed down.
"Thanks…" He brushed my hair distractedly before stating: "You should try the Jounin Exam."
"My genjutsu and ninjutsu aren't good enough," I replied, sniffling and drying my cheeks.
"Bullshit. Try the exam. Espionage isn't for you."
"Sensei says I'm good at it."
"Being good at something and liking it is different. I'm good at diplomacy. Does it mean I want to be a diplomat? Damn, no." He brushed my hair away from my face to catch my eyes. "Pass the exam. Become Jounin sensei. That would be good for you."
He had a point, but still. "I'm not good enough." He pinched me, hard. "Ouch! You just proved me right, asshole," I grumbled, rubbing my waist. That would bruise.
"You just need some training. Come on. Let's tell Minato he has to help, he'll be overjoyed."
"He's already super busy," I whined but let him pull me to my feet.
He steadied me and raised a judgemental eyebrow. "No excuses. Stop complaining."
I sniffled and pouted to make a point. He ignored me and pushed me toward the rooftop's edge.
The irony that a Nara would be the one to force me to stop overthinking and be proactive wasn't lost on me.
Kakashi was staring. I couldn't tell if it was a judgemental kind of stare or an analytical one.
I hadn't made a good impression on him after bursting into tears the day we first met and brooding for the whole dinner we were supposed to share, so I couldn't blame him if it was the first one.
Still. First impressions were overrated.
I bowed to the waist. "Thank you for letting me stay, landlord-kun."
He sniffed at his new nickname. "I did it for sensei."
Minato was smiling at us proudly, pleased to have killed two birds with one stone… or rather to have forced two lonely and depressed souls into one house.
To be honest, the idea that a six-year-old kid was living alone in that large clan house was super scary, and he had only needed to point it out for me to agree to his crazy idea. It probably had required more effort to convince Kakashi, whose privacy was invaded.
Since I had been gone on a mission for so long, I had left my previous flat and didn't have anywhere else but family or friends' couches to sleep. I had been planning to ask for one of the rent-a-week studios for shinobi like me, but it was expensive, small, and depressing. Minato had a better idea.
"This is the kitchen," Kakashi said as he showed me around his house. It was a traditional house with tatami and paper walls. It was very, very empty, and utterly depressing. "This is my bedroom, don't come in. And this is your room."
I stared at the bedroom large like a studio. For a rent 30% cheaper, I couldn't complain. I put my large bag inside before following Kakashi to the traditional bathroom, with a large wooden bathtub. Once he had shown me every room, we came back to the entrance.
"Well?" Minato asked. "Is it alright for everyone?"
I nodded, and Kakashi crossed his arms in silent neutrality.
Minato smiled. "Then it's training time!"
"Yes, sensei," we replied obediently.
I had no shame in being trained along with Kakashi, but I made a point to never lose during our spars. My pride was low but being beaten by a six-years-old was even lower. And I might never have obtained Kakashi's respect otherwise.
As it was, after a few weeks of training and cohabitation, Kakashi had warmed up to me enough to consider me his roommate rather than a tenant. I knew because he said so:
"Ah, who's this?" a very small but loud Gai asked as he froze in the doorway to the living room.
"My roommate," Kakashi replied calmly as he passed him by to come inside.
Such a heart-warming nickname pushed me to grant him a smile and straighten to leave some space to the newcomers under the kotatsu.
"Maiko-san, did you stay inside all day again?" he asked, like a little Minato in the making.
"Nu-uh, I bought groceries," I replied, curling up with my book. "And I made you dinner."
"I told you you didn't have to do that."
"I told you I'd do it anyway."
"I don't need babysitting."
"I know you don't, but If I tell myself I have to make you a good meal, then I make one for myself too instead of eating instant soba."
He paused, nodded, and sat down next to me. "I see."
"There's enough for your friend too," I said before standing up. They wouldn't feel comfortable as long as I was here, and I didn't want to disturb the (poor) social life of my landlord. "Enjoy!"
So… I was a jounin.
Well… Shit. That wasn't planned.
Worse, I was a jounin just in time for the beginning of a war.
That wasn't the plan at all.
Damn Shikaku and his false good ideas.
There were still six months before the next students graduate from the Academy. In the meantime, I got orders to take charge of a small outpost at the border with the Land of Hot Waters. Far from the war front with Iwa in the Land of Grass, it was supposed to be a relatively easy posting for a new jounin. That was the case for two months, until Kumo decided to join the party.
"You've got to be kidding me," I thought as I found myself face to face with A, the rising star from Kumo and the next Raikage to be.
With my tessens open in both hands, I quickly considered the situation. Faced with an invading force far too great and unexpected, I had given the order to retreat to the next defensible position, a garrison far better protected. I just had to give my people the time needed to reach it and warn everyone. Together and prepared, they could resist.
"Not today," I thought as the Kumo nin prepared to attack, but it lacked conviction.
A stared at the fuuinjutsu barrier I had erected behind me to block their path through the canyon before glancing at me.
"Interesting. And what might be the name of the Konoha kunoichi who plans to die today to protect her men?"
That was not the plan, a little voice repeated in my head.
No battle plan survived first contact with the enemy.
"Kamizuki Maiko," I replied with the sort of calm that only greeted me when I accepted the inevitable. I had won enough time. I was ready.
"Well, Kazumiki-san… You die today!"
Men. Always feeling the need to boast.
He ran at me, coated into the lightning that gave him so much speed, but wind beat lightning. I jumped back and threw my arms forward, the tessens channeling the wind chakra I was gathering into a giant wave improved by the bottleneck that was the canyon.
A and all his men were all pushed back far away.
I caught my breath and stretched my arms, ready for a round two that promised to be much worse now that he would stop underestimating me. I craned my neck left and right. I was glad to have worked on wind release with Minato. Water, my main nature, would have little interest in this situation, unless I wanted to end up electrocuted or in quicksand… again.
"Nice wave, that's the kind of fight I crave!"
Oh, great. B.
He jumped at me with a blade of fire.
Uh. Predictable. Fire beat wind, yes, but water beat fire.
Pushed back with a wave of water, B landed among his teammates with a flip and shouted: "Nice! That's fresh!"
Breathing a little harder after two A-level jutsu back to back, I waited for the next logical step. Their combined attack would be my downfall.
Damn it. I hoped the scroll I had written for Minato in the event of my death would be sufficient to change things for him. It would be just my luck that my birth wouldn't change anything in the end.
"Hey, lady! You fought well, but this is the end!"
I sighed. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don't you find it unbecoming to boast about defeating one opponent when there are twelve of you? Let's just get this over with, would you?" I gestured with one tessen for them to come forward.
At least, they delivered. Faced with a whole team running at me, I had no choice. I lifted my hands for the gesture that would engage the self-destruction of the barrier seal. I might be able to take the slowest and weakest with me in my grave—
My eyes widened in surprise as A appeared in the corner of my field of vision, bathed in blue light.
Frozen by a strike of lightning, my heart stopped.
I fell to the ground.
"Electric shock? You went easy on her, A-sama."
"She was strong. Her body could be useful. Put a preservation jutsu on it and bring it back to the labs."
"She didn't seem to have a Kekkei Genkai."
"Strength isn't always about blood. Go. The rest of you, let's go! She slowed us down enough, we have to move on Konoha's forces while we still have the advantage."
Aw. Shit. Wasn't I supposed to be dead?
Why did I feel like a ghost?
"Kamizuki Maiko. Konoha jounin. No kekkai genkai. Water as main nature. Also used wind efficiently. Body perfectly preserved thanks to A-sama quick thinking."
Hey. That was me. That was my body, lying down there in that aquarium!
"Let's start the transplantation."
I made an effort to focus so I could understand what was going on. I was in what looked like a lab or a hospital room, not an aquarium. That was my body on an operating table. That was five Iwa shinobi around the table.
What was going on?
"Removing the preservation jutsu in three, two, one. Removed."
"Testing muscles' answer to stimulus. Stand back. Clear. Shock!"
I sat up, taking a deep breath desperately (empty, my lungs were empty!). I knocked into the medic-nin bent over me, his nose meeting my forehead violently. Screams and shrill shouts sounded out in the room.
"She was brain dead!"
I grabbed a scalpel from the closest medic and planted it into his jugular. Jumping to the other side, I slammed a chakra scalpel into the chest of the medic with a broken nose, stopping his heart. I knocked into the back of the knee of the next person, getting them to the ground where I crushed their windpipe by stepping on it with a chakra-infused foot to propel myself on my next target, a nurse with clearly little taijutsu training. I pushed her, head first, into a wall, and turned around, using my momentum to receive the man jumping at me with a spinning kick. I grabbed another scalpel on a tray and finished all those who were still breathing by cutting their throat open.
Silence settled into the operating room, only broken by my heavy breathing. No-one else moved. I let go of the bloody scalpel, glanced at my red hands, and noticed I was completely naked.
"Shit," I breathed out. "Shit," I repeated, looking around and realizing the mess I was in.
Alone, naked and weaponless in an Iwa facility…
"Shit, shit, shit."
Focusing on the most urgent matters, I chose to ignore the fact that I was supposed to be dead. It wasn't the first time, after all.
Okay. Deep cover in Iwa. This sounded like the title of Jiraiya's next story. I guess I'd have to tell him how it went.
"...So, I decided to impersonate the nurse, who was roughly my size. I went to steal clothes in her locker, and I managed to leave the labs without too much difficulty. They weren't really used to keeping dead bodies inside, right?"
Shinobi chuckled at the joke and leaned closer to hear my story.
"I end up at the edge of Kumogakure, and when I mean the edge, it's the edge. Just next to the morgue, there is a cliff so high I couldn't see the bottom, it was hidden by a sea of clouds. I look down, and then I look back. There was a group of at least twelve shinobi coming up the path." I lifted my hands horizontally and rose them in turns. "Cliff or Iwa-nin? Deadly fall or possible torture and interrogation? I tell myself: darling, ending up as an okonomiyaki sounds better than ending up as a burnt lotus root."
A new volley of laughter.
"So this is how I escaped Kumo by climbing down a height of more than thirty freaking floors down to... a fucking torrent."
Groans sounded out.
"I know, right? This was just my luck. So now I'm clinging to this sharp cliff, ready to break my neck and drown. The day is getting better and better."
Ari stopped by and silently offered me a cup of tea before sitting by my side. I smiled at him and took a sip before continuing:
"I don't really have a choice though, so I jump…and shoo, I'm swept by the current in a mad dash through the mountains. All I can do is focusing on keeping breathing, but I swallowed more water through the nose than you should ever be allowed to in a lifespan. Finally, the torrent arrives at a flat plateau, calms down and becomes a river. I pull myself out of the water and fall flat on my face on the bank, exhausted. I give myself two minutes to breathe and then I have to stand up because, hey, I escaped Kumogakure… and now I'm in the middle of Iwa no Kuni, yay!"
"Were you seen?" Chouza asked, captivated.
"Yep. I reached the seashore, hoping to be able to find my way back from there. Their seashore isn't sand beaches, though, of course not. It's just more cliffs and coves. I reach one nonetheless, and I see a boat. I think to myself: awesome, that would be the easiest way to avoid patrols. So I go down to 'borrow' it, right? And as I go around a rock, I end up face to face to a genin. The kid, twelve years old at best, squeals and falls flat on his face since I immediately knock him out. His two teammates run to check on him, same thing again. Worried that there's a jounin sensei around, and being in absolutely no state to fight them, I run to the boat, check that it's safe and hop in it. I have never rowed so much in my life and it sucks, guys. I have no idea who would do it for fun."
"Where did you land?" Inoichi asked.
"Actually, I have no idea. Pretty sure it was the island south of Iwa no Kuni, but really I just found the nearest fisherman and promised him the stars if he could bring me to the Land of Fire or Hot Water, at worse, with a boat with a damn sail."
"Did you give him the stars?" Minato asked, teasing with a lopsided smile.
"Well, no. He was very down-to-earth, really. He asked me to kill the mercenaries who were bothering him and his village instead. I said: fine, why not, fair enough. So I went to kill the idiots, brought their wealth back to the village, and asked if it was good enough? Lo and behold, two days later I was in the Land of Fire, finally!" I spread my arms in pleasure before tilting my head back with a sigh. "And then, stupid Shikaku caught me with his shadows, lifted me by the ankle, and I spent twenty hours in a stupid cage waiting for stupid Minato to show up and verify my identity, damn it."
Leaning back against a tree trunk, Shikaku had an arm resting on a raised knee and no remorse. "You were supposed to be dead."
"Yeah, don't I know it. The joy to be proved wrong didn't smother you, though."
"I'm hiding it deep inside," he replied, deadpan.
"Don't give yourself heartburn on my account," I replied in the same way.
After some more laughter, my public dispersed to go back to their chores around the camp. Minato came to sit down beside me.
"Did you have the time to go back to Konoha?" I asked.
"No. It has been ten days of combat. Why?"
"And you didn't receive a scroll from me?" I believed he'd act differently if he had, but I had to check.
He frowned. "No. Should I have?"
"No, no, that's good."
"What was it supposed to be? Shikaku asked. He hadn't moved. He was eating a ration bar slowly and eavesdropping shamelessly.
"You know… A will, kinda," I admitted with a shrug.
Shikaku grunted before huffing in laughter. "Is it embarrassing?"
"There are things that should never be known about me until I'm ashes," I proclaimed solemnly. I was only half-joking.
"Now I want to read it," Minato admitted with a grin.
"But…" I squinted at him in warning, and he settled down with a sheepish smile. "Fine, fine. I have to go, I'm on the next patrol. Are you okay, Mai-chan?"
"Yeah, yeah, go on." I watched him leave, wondering if I was really relieved he hadn't read it. One day, I'd have to tell him myself. Which would be worse?
A shadow fell over me. "There is something that doesn't make sense in your story."
Shikaku crouched in front of me with his forearms on his knees. "How could they have missed you were alive?"
I shrugged nonchalantly. I had been deliberately vague about that part of the story. Most people had ignored it, fascinated by the tale I had to share, but of course, Shikaku would notice. "A mix of luck and incompetence, I guess."
"I don't buy it."
He was speaking softly, but I still checked discreetly that no-one was listening. "So? Are you implying I'm a turncoat?"
"I'm saying that in any other circumstances, you'd be brought back to Konoha for a stay in T&I. It's not out of the question yet."
"Oh, holidays. Great."
I was sitting on a rock with my legs parted. He put a knee to the ground between them and leaned forward.
"Maiko, I'm not trying to trick you. I'm worried for you," he murmured.
I had rarely seen him so open and attentive. I hesitated, licking my lips in thought. When he rested a hand on my knee, the warmth and comfort of the touch, which I had been missing so much lately, finished to convince me.
"I don't know what happened," I whispered. I slid down the rock into his arms so only he could hear as I admitted: "I think I really was dead. I saw my own body, like I was out of it, floating... but then… an electroshock and I was back."
I met his eyes, knowing he wanted to be sure of my honesty. He nodded slowly and pressed a hand to my cheek.
"Alright. Promise me you'll talk about it with Tsunade-sama."
I nodded in agreement. I would like to hear her opinion, but I feared the answer came from a more esoteric angle than a miracle of medicine. The first person I'd talk to would be my mother.
A few minutes later, Shikaku met Minato outside of the camp and related in a whisper what he had learned.
Minato nodded slowly, but he was frowning. "And you believe her?"
"I do. But wouldn't you be the best person to judge that?"
"No, I'm afraid not. On the contrary, I believe she has learned all too well to lie to me."
Jiraiya and Tsunade shared a glance before staring at my mother and me.
"Well?" Midori asked impatiently. After I had told her what had happened, she had insisted we had no other choice than to share my story with specialists. Since Jiraiya had been in town, I had grabbed him for the scheduled meeting I had already planned with Tsunade.
Neither of them was overjoyed by the news that my grandfather had somehow fucked up with my birth and my death. And I knew that's what 'granddaddy' had done: Jiraiya had explained somberly the consequences of his meddling.
Lying on my back in the middle of a room covered with black ink coming from the seal etched on me, I tapped on my bare midriff impatiently.
"So. I can't die, and if my body is damaged I'll become a zombie. Great, awesome," I commented snidely. "Now is the moment when you explain what we do about it, O great Sannin."
"I'm transferring you to the Medic Corps," Tsunade announced.
I froze. "What?"
"I should have done so years ago, but Jiraiya insisted you were made to be a spy. Bullshit. We saw how that went. You're not fit to be on regular duty either, you can't be on the front lines like this. So this is it."
I lifted on my forearms, careful not to smudge the ink. "But…"
"Not debatable," Tsunade stated, crossing her arms.
I gaped a little, trying to come to terms with that change. It's not like I was a big fan of the front lines, but I needed to be there. I needed to be able to follow Minato wherever he went, especially once the Kannabi bridge mission would come up…
My mother gave me a reassuring look. "This is for the best, Maiko."
I made a face but relented. "I still can go in the field, right? Just no front lines?" At Tsunade's stern face, I predicted a refusal and pointed out preemptively: "I'm no hospital grunt and you know it!"
"Only in a platoon whose leader is aware of your predicament," she finally decided.
"Oh, come on, you can't share that story with everyone."
"Not everyone," Jiraiya stepped in. "Just Minato. We can make it that you're his appointed field medic-nin. I'll need to talk with him to alter your seal, anyway."
"Do you really have to?"
He tilted his head. "Why not?"
I sighed and slouched. "I'm not really looking forward to sharing this with anyone."
"He's your teammate."
"Yeah, and next thing you know, he'll ask if he can tell Kushina about it, just because she can help."
"She probably could," Jiraiya pointed out.
I groaned in distaste and lie back down, knocking my head against the ground. "Whatever. Still not telling her."
"One thing at a time. For now, don't move, I'll see if I can find him. I think he was training with Kakashi…" Jiraiya disappeared from the room, leaving me frozen on the cold ground.
"I'll get your transfer done," Tsunade announced before leaving next.
Left with my mother, I sighed and glanced her way. "The more we learn…"
"I know," she agreed, clenching her hands on her lap. Her rolling chair was stuck near the door, where it wouldn't be a hindrance to the seal. And then, because she liked to press where it hurt, she said: "You need to work on your feelings for the girl."
"No idea what you mean," I denied, folding a leg and raising my other foot to rest on the knee.
"You can't let your jealousy get in the way of this."
"It's not jealousy, mom, it's envy."
"Uhuh? Well, smartass, get your envy back in check."
"I'm working on it every hour of the day."
"You should just move on. That blondie isn't the only hottie in town. What about that Nara boy?"
"He has a girlfriend too, mum. And don't start naming anyone else, please, just because I'm a prisoner of this room doesn't mean you have to torture me," I whined, waving my arms at the ceiling.
"I'm just trying to help."
"Nope, not helping."
Yet, she continued. I was glad when Minato and Jiraiya finally showed up.
"At last," I sighed, making grabbing hands at Minato. "Come here, check this out, and free me of this damn room before I transform into ice."
He carefully stepped between the lines to crouch beside me, taking my hand in his.
"Jiraiya-sensei explained. Why didn't you tell me?" he asked with a sad face.
I sighed. "I didn't want it to change anything, and it didn't exactly come up in conversation. What was I supposed to say: hey Minato, did you know I have a crazy grandfather who messed up my birth to reincarnate his dead wife?"
"Yes," he replied matter-of-factly. "Did I ever let you think there was anything you couldn't tell me?"
Thrown off by his calm, I stayed quiet. He watched the seal silently, walking around the room to check its details. Jiraiya joined him and they murmured together while pointing at some signs.
While I had been taught the basics of fuuinjutsu and had been rather good at it, especially with barrier seals, those two were on a completely different level. I trusted them to figure this out.
"This is complex. I'd like to talk to Kushina about it."
I spread my hands to the side to commemorate this moment. I should have timed how long it would take before those words came out. My mother snickered at my melodrama. Jiraiya cleared his throat to hold back his own amusement.
"What?" Minato asked, curious.
"Called it," I explained. "Now, guys, I'm really getting cold, is it done?"
"Yeah, I think the copy would be about done," Jiraiya agreed. "Let me check." He went to see his own seal, written on the large paper I was lying on. With a nod, he confirmed the copy was finished. I rose with a sigh of relief and stretched.
"Mai—" Minato tried to say, staring pointedly at my eyes and not the sports bra and leggings I was wearing.
I waved a hand at the scroll Jiraiya was rolling. "Yeah, yeah, show it to your girlfriend if you want, whatever. As long as I'm not stripping for anyone else."
Behind Minato's back, my mother raised a thumb in approval.
Go me for being mature.
I wasn't the first to go.
I didn't know what to feel about that.
As I stood in front of Ari's grave, holding an umbrella to protect me from a downpour, I only felt empty.
He had gone to ANBU. It fit him like a glove, he who never talked, who liked to fade in the background, who liked to follow orders rather than give them. He was strong, as all the students of a Sannin ought to be, but it wasn't enough. Death wasn't about strength. And war made fools of all of us.
It had happened while we were all at war: Jiraiya, Minato, and I. His brothers as well. I didn't know who had been able to come to his funeral. It had been one among many these last months.
I crouched to put a pot of flowers on his tomb. Azaleas. They were his favorite. Ari liked flowers, sunsets, and simple things. Whenever Jiraiya left the two of us alone to train his genius of an apprentice, we were attached at the hips. I filled the silence, but he was the one who made it worthwhile, finding something to see, something to do… I hadn't realized how much his silent companionship had meant to me until I would never be able to enjoy it again.
"This is only the beginning of the end," I thought as I stared at his name on the stone. "Mine will be next."
Not Obito's, Rin's, Minato's, or even Kushina's. No. Mine. It had to be. I couldn't handle this pain twice.
"Medic on the field!"
The familiar call spread on the battleground from shinobi to shinobi, immediately changing the face of the battle. The injured fell back. The valid protected their retreat and surrounded my position.
Triage had to go quickly. I had gotten used to making quick assessments, visually and by chakra checkup. To the shinobi with a burnt leg and the one with a twisted ankle, I lent some small clones of Katsuyu to help their recovery. To the chakra-exhausted one and the concussed, I ordered a retreat.
"Status report," Minato ordered as he appeared in a flash of yellow while I distributed chakra pills.
"Six wounded, three incapacitated. Two dead."
"Understood. Fall back."
I complied obediently, gathering my patients and leading them to the makeshift infirmary beyond the frontlines.
The war had been going on for nearly four years now. I estimated it would take at least two more, if not three, for it to end. Everyone was exhausted. So many were dead. Nothing had been gained by anyone. They invaded some of Hi no Kuni. We took it back. So on and so forth.
A complete waste.
I couldn't say that aloud though, not to anyone. To my complete bafflement, thanks to my heroic deeds at the beginning of the war and the people I helped on the field since, I had become someone respected, someone people looked up to.
"Shi no Mai."
I looked coldly at the Iwa nin who had managed to infiltrate our lines and our camp. He came out of the ground in a classic earth jutsu, his kunai dripping with the blood of the injured he had executed on their infirmary beds.
"You die, today!"
The chakra-exhausted Hyuuga who had been leaning on my shoulder to stay standing stumbled in front of me raising his hand in a Gentle Fist position.
The code dictated it: "No medic ninja shall ever die until they are the last of their platoon."
I wouldn't die, not today. It didn't mean someone had to die for me. I lifted my arm above the Hyuuga's shoulder and a flash of white slid from my neck to the tip of my tessen to threw itself at the enemy.
Katsuyu spat acid at his eyes before landing on him, splitting itself into tiny clones who penetrated his orifices and attacked his neural system. He screamed and fell to the ground, his skin dissolving under the acid with a sickening smell. He was dead in less than a minute. By then, reinforcements had noticed the commotion and came in to deal with him and the corpses he had left behind him. I opened the tent's flap to get rid of the smell.
"Lie down, Hyuuga," I sighed. "Neither of us is dying today."
Shi no Mai. The dance of death, a pun based on my name, referring to my supposed ability to negotiate with the Shinigami, for my own life and those I healed.
I wished it worked that day.
That evening, once the fights had stopped, I made my way to the Commander's tent to give my report. Minato wasn't alone. Shikaku was standing by his side, studying a map. They looked up at my entrance.
"Ah, Maiko. Just who I needed," Minato said, gesturing for me to come forward. "I have been called back to Konoha. It's time for the Academy promotion. I'm getting a full team."
Oh, so it was time.
"Congratulations," I said, stopping on the other side of the table from them. There was no envy in my voice. I had long ago given up on the idea I'd be a jounin-sensei. Medic-nins couldn't be one. At best, I'd get an apprentice. Nowadays, I tended to think that wouldn't be a gift to the poor kid I'd get saddled with. I'd die too soon.
He beamed. "Thanks!"
"Have fun getting Kakashi to cooperate with the newbies," I added, just to burst his bubble.
"I'm sure it will be fine."
I raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. "When are we leaving?"
"Oh." Minato hesitated. "Actually, you aren't coming back with me."
I blinked in surprise. Like Jiraiya had promised, I was assigned to Minato. If he was on the field, I was with him. If he was back in Konoha, I was on duty at the hospital. That's how it had been working for three years. I had been the third in Kakashi and Minato's team more time than I could count, teaching the kid nearly as much as Minato did… Oh, but he didn't need me to complete the team anymore, did he?
"Shikaku's taking over, he has been appraised of your situation."
No-one had asked my opinion on that, of course, but it wasn't a surprise. I was an asset among many others in this war. My privacy mattered little in the grand scheme of things. I should just be glad it was Shikaku.
"I see." I straightened and saluted. "Commander. Medic Corps, reporting."
"Go on," Shikaku replied with a calm look.
And so, the war went on.
When Minato introduced his genin team to me, he looked like a ninken proud of his offspring. While he had been their sensei for nearly a year, I had never met Rin and Obito during the few times I came back to Konoha.
I stared at the genius Hatake, the dead last Uchiha, and the peacemaker Nohara with the picture of their future firmly embedded in my mind. It left a bitter taste on my palate. I was determined to avoid Obito's pseudo-death, but my success was still uncertain… especially because my plan was fuzzy (a bit hard to make a plan when you were subjected to the erratic orders of a war-torn leadership).
"Well, what do you think?" Minato asked excitedly.
"I was imagining someone a little more… special," Obito said.
"Idiot," Kakashi hissed, "he wasn't talking to you but to her."
Obito flushed, deeply embarrassed. I should be the one embarrassed. Did he just call me plain?!
Rin immediately tried to cover for him: "That's the point though, isn't it?! Minato-sensei said you used to be an espionage specialist and good spies look like everybody else!"
"That's not a compliment," Kakashi muttered, facepalming. For once, we were on the same wavelength.
It was Rin's turn to blush, and she bowed deeply. "I'm sorry, Kamizuki-san! I didn't mean it that way! You're very pretty and elegant!"
With a hand on my hip, I turned toward Minato and concluded: "They're a mess."
Minato chuckled. "Well, there is room for improvement, but I'm sure we can get there."
The memory of what they could become came back to mind. I cocked my hip and rested a hand on it.
"Did you try dropping them in a yakuza district?"
Minato crossed his arms and put on a disapproving look. "You lectured sensei for dereliction of duty!"
"Yes, there was that," I agreed. "As I recall, it was more threats and promises of retaliation than lecture though."
"With your strange relationship, the two often mix together."
"It's tough love," I agreed. "But you need something drastic for those three. I'm just offering suggestions," I defended myself.
I pouted. "You're no fun."
"Your sense of humor is getting worse and worse."
"Who said I was joking?"
"... You're getting worse."
"Well, duh. Five years of war and counting. One keeps her sanity as one can."
Minato startled me out of a doze. I had been on duty at the hospital all week and my sleep schedule had taken a hit yet again. I blinked at him, confused.
He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry, I didn't realize you were sleeping."
"It's fine," I mumbled, rubbing my eyes. "I shouldn't nap, it'll only make it harder to fall asleep tonight." I sat up against the tree I had been reading under before fatigue took over. "What was that about Kakashi?"
"He's a jounin!"
I froze with a hand on the medical book I was reading. "Already?"
"I know! He's one of the youngest! But it's earned, he worked so hard those last years. Sakumo-san would be proud."
So, it was time. Finally. No more occasions to make dozens of extravagant plans. I had to decide what to do and act now. And the plans I had imagined had let me know one thing: I couldn't pull it off on my own. As a medic-nin, I went where I was sent and nowhere else. I needed to work with someone, and there was only one option acceptable: he was standing right in front of me.
So, this was it. Showtime.
I straightened to meet Minato's eyes. "We need to talk, in private."
He frowned but agreed easily and put down a seal at our feet who would ensure no-one could overhear us. "What's wrong?"
"There's something I haven't told you about my seal," I admitted. "Something I haven't told anyone."
"I'm listening," he encouraged me, reaching for my hand.
I let him hold it, staring at our palms to give me the strength to let it out. I had made peace with the fact this was bound to happen. This was the only way I could make this life worth it. And yes, my future also depended on how the truth would be received, but of all the people I could share it with… I trusted Minato more than anyone else.
"My grandfather partially succeeded. He didn't bring back my grandmother's soul, but he reincarnated someone."
I told him everything, about my past life and this new one, meeting his eyes to judge his reaction. He listened without a word and never let go of my hand.
"I know things that can happen, that will happen if nothing's changed."
"The first mission that Kakashi will lead… It's the destruction of Kannabi bridge. Although it might succeed, it will come at a price that would have a lot of long-lasting impact for you and your team."
I held his stare silently, waiting for his judgment.
"Sensei." Kakashi dropped from the tree above us to land at our side. He glanced at our hands and the seal under curiously. "Sorry, but we're summoned by the Hokage."
I let go of Minato's hand but gave him a meaningful look.
"What's your suggestion?" he asked neutrally.
"Ask for me as support."
Minato pursed his lips but didn't let me know if he would do so or not. He was gone in a flash of yellow, the seal at our feet gone with him. Kakashi lingered and glanced at me curiously.
"Is something wrong?"
"Every second this war continues, something goes wrong," I replied before reaching for him and brushing a leaf out of his hair. "Congratulations on your promotion, Kakashi-kun."
He thanked me before disappearing after his sensei.
I stayed where I was and waited while reading on cellular degeneration.
Minato appeared half an hour later. He stood silently for a moment, and I knew he was still skeptical but that the orders he had just received led him to give me the benefit of the doubt.
"We're leaving at eight tomorrow."
I tilted my head respectfully while my heart filled with relief (I hadn't realized how afraid I was to be ignored until my shoulders relaxed). "Yes, taichou."
Of course, it wasn't at eight. We had to wait ten minutes for Obito. I busied myself by teaching a few things to Rin, ignoring Minato's thoughtful silence and Kakashi's considering one. The kid could guess something was fishy.
"Kakashi will lead your team of three. Maiko will be with me," Minato explained to his students.
For numerous reasons, I couldn't go directly with them, but this was good enough. From Minato's side, I could change things.
When Minato and Rin brought out presents for Kakashi, I slid mine in Kakashi's hand before he could bicker with Obito about his absence of gift. The new jounin read the label of the bottle I had prepared.
"Blow it around you at concealed enemies and no jutsu will hide them from you anymore. Also, it makes them highly flammable."
He slid it in his pockets with a nod of thanks.
I listened silently as Minato explained our mission and then watched as Kakashi tried his Chidori for the first time. It was always a wonder to see Minato in his role of sensei, protecting his student from himself as much as the enemies.
As long as Minato would be by their side, the kids would be safe.
I waited for the end of his lecture before stepping in and crouching by Kakashi's side.
"Let me," I murmured to Rin. "You need to save your chakra."
The cut to Kakashi's armpit had severed a ligament. Rin was capable of healing it, but it would ask too much of her. I had the experience to optimize the chakra and better reserves. She thanked me in a whisper. Once I was done, when Kakashi brooded instead of thanking me, I flicked his cheek. He swatted my hand with a glare, but I chuckled and stood up.
"An original jutsu at twelve," I commented to Minato. "Incomplete or not… he beats you. Sensei's lecture about your Rasengan only happened at fourteen, I think." I patted his shoulder. "But, it's true you never needed a lecture about teamwork," I admitted as I walked away.
The next day, when we separated as planned, I slid a very small Katsuyu in Rin's medical pack. I kept a bigger version on my shoulder as Minato and I raced toward the frontline.
"They're under attack," Katsuyu informed me after a few hours.
Minato glanced my way and got closer.
"Kakashi-kun blew powder on the concealed assailants, and Obito-kun put them on fire. They fled."
I smiled in satisfaction. "Rin's status?"
"Alive and well."
I made a victorious gesture to Minato. First part of the plan: going smoothly. Now, if the Iwa nin could have died, that would have been perfect, but that was a satisfying outcome.
He nodded in approval.
We arrived to the frontline to find only four survivors against fifty Iwa-nin. I went to check the bodies in reach while Minato talked to the living. I pulled two badly injured and agonizing shinobi into our entrenchment. The Yellow Flash didn't need me to do his job. I focused on mine.
"They're under attack again," Katsuyu warned me as I focused on stopping severe bleeding.
"Tell me," I asked while knitting tissues back together.
"Same assaillants, using Earth Jutsu."
"How are the kids doing?"
"Kakashi-kun used a lightning jutsu but was badly hurt."
"Shit," I hissed between my teeth. I took a pocket of hydrating and nutritious gel from my backpack and opened it in the mouth of the unconscious shinobi before massaging his throat to make him swallow. "How bad?"
"Unclear. Obito-kun is standing over him, protecting him… Oh…" Katsuyu squirmed on my shoulder. "He unlocked his Sharingan."
"Good, that's good," I muttered, satisfied that I had stabilized one and crawling to the next.
"Rin-kun is taking care of Kakashi-kun while Obito covers for them with fire jutsu. They protect themselves with earth."
Lightning beat earth. They needed Kakashi to step in. Damn it, how badly was the kid hurt?
The next one was suffering from internal bleeding, his stomach was inflated and colored. He whined when I touched him.
"Kakashi's status," I demanded.
"Permission to reveal myself?"
"... Unconscious. Suspected head trauma."
"Wake Kakashi up."
"This might worsens his state."
"I know, but he has you and a medic on-site. Wake him now."
I incised the stomach and pressed to evacuate the excess of liquid. Perfectly red. Only blood, no other leak. Good. I could heal that.
"Kakashi is awake and standing. Ready for a lightning jutsu."
I healed with quick, mechanical gestures.
I breathed out and checked that I didn't forget anything.
"... Enemies' backup incoming."
I cursed and looked up from my bloody hands to see Minato come back under the admiring looks of Konoha-nin. He barely had any blood on him, but his kunai was dripping and his eyes were cold.
"Go, now," I ordered him as our eyes met.
He was gone on the next breath.
"You planted Katsuyu on Rin to spy on us," Kakashi accused me.
I was sitting on the ground with my legs spread, and he was standing over me, glaring. I looked up slowly from the hands I had washed raw. I had lost the internally injured shinobi. In my distraction, I had overlooked a complication.
"Yes," I agreed neutrally. I'd do it all over again.
The survivors of the front line and Team Minato watched us silently. Kannabi bridge had been destroyed. Iwa had been thwarted. No kids had died. It was a success. Only Kakashi's pretty face (and his pride, apparently) had taken a hit. He'd have a scar right next to his left eye, like a reminder of what could have happened, but his eye was safe.
"Didn't you trust me?"
"It's not about trust."
"About what then?"
I watched him silently, but he wasn't willing to let it go.
He clenched his hands and shouted: "Why?! Why did you do it?"
"Because no twelve years old kids should have the responsibility of ending a war," I said slowly before sighing. "Look at us, Kakashi. What do you see?" I waved a hand toward the dirty and exhausted survivors. "We're a generation sacrificed to war." I gestured at him. "You're a generation raised with it. It wasn't your place to die today."
"I wouldn't have died," he replied defensively.
"I didn't say it would have been you."
He froze. I let the words sank in.
"Believe me. It's worse being the one left standing." I caressed the dozen of dog tags gathered between my legs. The labels were kept under the metal of the forehead protectors. As medic-nin, I had the duty of counting the dead. Numbers, adding up day after day, year after year. "The dead don't feel guilt."
I rested my outstretched arms on my raised knees, lifted my chin and met Kakashi's eyes.
"It's not about trust. It's about the will of Fire. The three of you have to live and make tomorrow a better place."
He left without a word.
Sometime later, during my watch, Minato came to sit by my side and stuck a privacy seal to the ground.
"I believe you. Tell me everything," he asked.
So, I did.
"That was your plan all along?" he wondered after a moment.
I shook my head. "I thought about a hundred ways to change things… In most of them, I died."
I looked at him through my eyelashes. "You once told me I could tell you anything…"
He smiled slowly. "I'm glad you listened." He took my hand, intertwined our fingers, and squeezed.
So… I might not die right away…
I was a comet, going straight for the sun. Instead of being consumed, I had reached a stable orbit and became a little planet, somewhere stranded between planet Kushina and planet Jiraiya, small and plain, but stable.
I was fine with that.
Officially, finally, eternally.
No more AU planned. I hope you enjoyed the read. Thanks in advance for leaving me a few words to celebrate the end of Maiko's adventures! :)