Where we fall are the stepping-stones for our journey.
She felt like she was in a maze. A very strange maze with exits, only dead ends at every route. Hashira had nowhere to go, so she waded quietly in the darkness of glass walls and ankle-high waters, waiting for a change.
Where am I?
The sky was in deep night and she absently noted a lunar eclipse behind the thunderheads. The thick clouds swirled in a circles to halo the crimson moon in waves. Thunder rumbled overhead. The red of the moon glowed brighter.
For just a second, Hashira could swear she saw it blink.
"Huh?" She blinked back at it.
Then, suddenly, as if on cue, a boom reverberated through the air around her, shaking the ground. Lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating everything, revealing nothing.
Images flashed across her vision, echoed in the moon's same red. Izuna. Fruits and toys. Laughter and teasing. Shiryo-san. Spikes of fear. Sharpened iron. Mother. Pretty dresses. Gentle jokes. Yanemaru. Flames reaching toward the sky. Pillars crumbling down. Screams, and breaths leaving, and screams, and – Hashira clutched her skull and grit her teeth in agony but couldn't make a sound. Only her chest heaved, breaths coming in short in panic.
Hashira's stone grip trembled in her tresses. Was that Father?
"…on your own clansman… own daughter…"
Lightning struck a wall, shattering it like a window.
"…ow could yo…!?"
Finally, she heard a familiar voice cry clearly above the storm.
"…ake up…! Shi, please!"
Stumbling after his desperate wailing, through the murky waters that glistened with glass, Hashira tripped over her own naked feet until she somehow found her way out of the maze.
Bleary eyes wrenched open.
And there he was, arms wrapped so tightly around her that it made it hard to breathe, tears streaming down his cheeks and splashing onto her face. That was the first thing she noticed, apart from the sniffling sounds. They were the same ones from even before she woke.
"Yuck," she mumbled. Despite the aching in her head, Hashira still managed to be properly grossed out. "Yacchan, get off."
Yanemaru stilled, loosening his hold on her just enough to look up and see her tired face. She also saw his, red eyes puffy and lips trembling. It made her feel kind of bad.
"…And stop crying."
"Sh—Shi!" he wailed instead, hugging her tighter. "You're okay! Y—You kept on sleeping! And you wouldn't wake up even though the sun was up! And then Daddy got scared and got some old lady and she wouldn't leave me alone and then he went to get Mommy and then Mommy got scared and I got scared because Mommy was scared and she's never scared a—and then they called in a bunch of old guys and brought you here an—"
"I can't breathe," Hashira wheezed, wriggling around to try and shake his arms off of her. After a few failed attempts, she looked around the room for help, and maybe something to hit him with, and then finally noticed that Mother had been sitting on the floor at their side the whole time, dozing off into space.
Hashira feebly kicked at her mother's leg, the question of why she was even there slipping from her mind in the next instant. Make Yacchan let go before I die!
Mother drearily blinked her half-lidded eyes — once, twice, thrice — and then finally snapped upright. "Hashira-chan!" she choked. "You've woken up!"
Not for long. Hashira croaked, "Mother," squirming for help.
"Yacchan, go get your dad, okay? Go get him, quickly, go." Mother stopped to catch her breath, inhaling shakily. "He should be in the next room with Shiryo-san and her sons." Where her face was pale before, it was steadily flushing in the same way Hashira's did whenever she got nervous or irritated.
Hashira paused in confusion. Was Mother upset?
Scrambling up, Yanemaru shouted, "'Shira, stay awake while I get Daddy!" And he ran past the door frame and out of the room, his quick footsteps pattering on the wooden floors as he dashed.
He's so dramatic, Hashira thought, her wry gaze following his rush. She shook her head slightly, wincing when the headache shook right back at her with full force. Dammit. All this melodrama when it was her and not even him who had been—…
…Who'd been what, exactly?
Hashira glanced around the room for a clue. This wasn't her bedroom, nor was it any room of her home. The floors were too deep brown, and the one oculi on the ceiling was one too many. There were too many potted plants sitting in each corner. An outline of the clan crest was indented tastefully on every wall, but each was moderately shielded by the green swirls of vines and flourishing leaves. They smelled strong, like aloe vera and medicine. Gross.
I'm in a medical center, she concluded. Yacchan and Mother are too. And Father's here too. And they were waiting on me.
So now what? Was she injured or something?
Hashira scoured her memory, flexing her muscles briefly. None of them strained. She felt fine, overlooking the headache. But headaches were kinda normal, right?
"You okay, Shi?" Mother's fingers ran gently through her hair, smoothing out the nonexistent tangles that spoke of just how long she'd been sitting here repeating this habit before she'd finally spaced out. It was only mildly comforting. Aside from a faint headache and her sore throat, Hashira felt strangely numb.
I don't know yet.
Mother waited patiently for an answer, stroking her daughter's hair to the point that Hashira felt bad. She had to say something.
"…Welcome home," Hashira finally mumbled. It was only polite, after all. "I missed you." She sat up slowly, eyes trailing the stripes on her blanket as she tried to recall what happened. Something had happened. But what was it?
"I mi—" Mother's hand twitched in her hair, hesitating. "I'm sorry," she said instead, biting her lip.
Hashira opened her mouth on impulse, then paused, eyes flickering across Mother's face. There was nothing to say to that.
Father walked in at that moment, the uncharacteristic shuffle of his feet announcing his presence as he dragged himself in, dragged his heavy hand all over his face and wrinkled his forehead even more. His bottomless black eyes immediately found and pinned Hashira to the mat.
And, for some strange reason, they burned crimson in the back of her mind.
Father met her eyes squarely, smiling. "I see you've finally awoken," he said with a sigh of relief.
The sound of his voice flooded her ears like thunder — the terrifying kind that explodes from the sky when you're not safe at home. You're at the park or walking along the street, assumedly safe and sound, until rain starts to pour from the cloudless sky and you're unexpectedly caught in the strangest of storms.
Something bubbled within Hashira.
Mother stroked her hair again, comforting.
"You gave us quite a fright, Shichu," said Father.
Goosebumps rose on her shoulders.
What did you do?
She didn't think he had any right to be acting this friendly for the first time in all her four years after he—what? What did he do? Genjutsu the hell out of her? Is that what he did? This sharingan flashing in the back of her mind, it was his, right? It was his. Hashira stared at him for a few seconds.
What did you see?
"I—" she winced instead, curling into herself. "I didn't mean to…"
Kuromasaru reached forward to—hit her? Steal her eyes? Put her under a genjutsu? Again? Maybe even kill her? Hashira winced when Mother pulled back to make room for him setting his hand on her head, fingers running through her hair like a knife through the wind. Don't kill me, don't kill me, don't kill me. Her heart lurched and pounded like a jackhammer, the sound of blood rushing through her ears like a flood.
He gently ruffled up her hair. "I'm sorry, Shichu."
Time then sort of froze, just a little. Just enough for her to catch her breath by only a bit and process his shameless words.
Hashira gazed up to look him in his unabashed blacks. She imagined the scar on his throat, just under his anchor goatee, splitting back open like magic and finishing this issue here and now.
Maybe she was being dramatic.
Maybe she was a hypocrite.
Maybe she was an Uchiha, and vengeance was in the blood, but Hashira wasn't sure what she was avenging. She didn't know what to do. She wasn't too sure what was happening anymore. All she knew, looking her father in the same eyes that swept her off in the middle of the night, was that her own were watering and her chest was clenching and—
His hand shifted in her hair. She froze like a deer in headlights.
"I miscalculated," said Kuromasaru.
Miscalculated? Hashira stared at him, wide-eyed. You attacked me.
She wanted to say it, even if she wasn't supposed to know that. She was four. She was supposed to buy his words and think of last night as nothing more than a mistake, his red eyes as a peculiar crimson lullaby instead of the weapons she knew they were.
She wasn't supposed to have all these choice words for him raging through her mind, but she did. Yet when the thought crossed her mind to let him have it — darn it, why wouldn't her tongue just MOVE? Let her SPEAK! — her body betrayed her, stiffening even more against her will. Her eyes flickered to the wall behind his head, then to the window by her side, then to the sheets on her lap. Why were they clenched in her fists? When did she start shaking? Why were tears streaming down her face?
What did she do wrong? Wasn't she his daughter? His Shichu? Shichu, Shichu, Shichu! So how could he do something like that to her? Why would he...? Why would he do that?
Forcing the words, she bit out what she could, "M—My name… my name is Hashira."
Kuromasaru stayed silent, his hand still in her tresses.
Hashira waited for him to let go and scratch at his waist, and then for that nervous laughter to grate at her ears, but neither ever came. All that came was him gazing at her, touching her head, annoying her, pissing her off, screw him, LET GO, LET GO!
Hashira didn't have the Japanese words to say that yet. Or maybe she was scared to. In a moment of bravery or maybe of impetuosity, she shoved his hand off and curled in onto herself.
Kuromasaru had put her under a genjutsu, and he'd seen something. He saw something and was hiding it. He definitely saw something. And here he was, giving her lip service like words could mend shattered trust when she hadn't even done anything wrong. She didn't even do anything wrong! Right?
What did he see?
Mother's voice abruptly snapped from beside them: "Is that all you can say? I'm sorry, Shichu? What the hell is that supposed to do? She thinks you're some kind of demon, look at her!"
No, no. Hashira didn't really want him to look at her.
"I was only—"
"What was the whole point in keeping those damn eyes from her if you were gonna invade her skull while I was gone? This is her first impression of them—did you consider that? What were you thinking? You renegade Eastern Compound scum—"
Mother didn't listen. She kept going on and on and on, face burning like the fires of hell, shouting hell at her husband and glaring, pointing angrily, grabbing his collar—all with him talking back, but not quite fighting back, voice getting smaller and smaller—until she practically dragged him out the door and away to another room when Yanemaru's whimpers from the threshold got too loud.
Hashira nearly forgot he was there.
Mother leaving to scream at Kuromasaru outside didn't quite stop their kids from hearing. It didn't stop Yanemaru's eyes from watering. He scrambled towards Hashira, frantically shoving himself beside her under the blankets.
She didn't feel him wrap his trembling arms around her, and she didn't hug back. All she knew was this burning bubbling inside her, and all she heard was Mother outside; Kuromasaru had ceased to answer to her anger in exchange for blocking blows.
What the hell did he see?
Did he know she was a reincarnation? Did he know the Uchiha Clan was fated to die? Did he know about the Hidden Leaf? What if he wanted to know more? What was to say he wouldn't do it again? What was she supposed to think?
What'd she do wrong?
Why would he do that to her?
If push came to shove, would he kill her?
Why would he kill her, though?
But why would he put her under a genjutsu in the first place?
…What did she do wrong?
"Shi…?" Yanemaru's voice cracked. "I…I'm scared."
When Hashira looked up, she saw him squinting through his tears. She felt his arms tighten around her and finally hugged back.
"I know," she whispered. Kuromasaru's insisting sounded from the outside, just below Mother's shouting. Hashira rubbed her little brother's back. "I know."
She knew this bubbling feeling. Listening to their father speak, she recognized the way it held on like a heated vice, squeezing and squeezing, sweat pouring down her face, knees shaking. Her throat tightened with vengeance.
I hate —
Mother hated accepting loss. This soon became obvious.
Hashira found it very obstinate and irritating of her. The least she could do is pretend to pity Hashira for getting mind-swept or whatever it was that Kuromasaru had done, but she moved on so quickly. Everyone moved on quickly. It was almost as if this was normal.
And it was so damn disrespectful, honestly, but Hashira also hadn't seen Kuromasaru in weeks so it was manageable to cut her pity party a bit short since the danger was out of reach for the time being. Only barely, though, seeing how the bastard had again taken Yanemaru with him.
Hashira had thrown a tantrum for the books about that, but Yanemaru still liked his dad despite everything, and said dad still wanted to bring him along; this coupled with the essential fact that Mother wanted him away from Hashira made it a three-on-one case, and a lost cause.
"I miss Yacchan." I don't trust your husband, he's gonna kill him.
Mother didn't answer, huffing.
"He's probably under a genjutsu right now. Hope you're happy."
Mother glanced up from her stupid lip brush, irked.
Hashira and her mother were in a silent battle of trust and wills. "Silent" meaning daily arguments, of course.
Apparently, while he was ravaging Hashira's mentality, Kuromasaru also devastated Mother's trust in him to protect her, their daughter. Which was bad for a Father-Daughter relationship in theory, but it was awfully convenient since Hashira didn't want to be left alone with him anyway. However, wherever he was, Yanemaru seemed to have to follow, and that was where the danger lay.
They'd been gone for weeks, after all. Weeks! People can die in half a second, and Yanemaru had been gone with him for weeks.
"That's not what's happening." Mother shook her head, brushing her hair behind her ear. "They'll be back before you know it, and Yacchan's fi—"
"You don't know that!" Hashira balled her fists. "Mother, if Yacchan turns evil and dies it'll be your fault! Don't say I didn't tel—"
"Hashira-chan!" she snapped, scowling. The mirror in front of her reflected her irritated disappointment, hands scouring through the drawers of her vanity for ink, but she didn't turn to face Hashira directly. "One: don't say something so cruel to your mother. Never say something so cruel to anyone. Do you understand me?"
Hashira frowned, unmoving.
"Two: Yacchan's not going to become 'evil', nor will he die."
"But… Mother," she stressed, chastised and chagrined, gesturing wildly to try to convey her point that leaving your only son alone with someone who has hurt one of your children before is NOT alright! "But he's with—!"
"Kuro-kun is his dad, and your dad too."
"Being my dad didn't stop Kuro-kun from—"
"Stop it, Hashira-chan." Mother's voice was a little harder. She lined her eyes with a thin brush. It made for a very sharp look
Hashira flared her chakra angrily, hoping it seemed as dense and daunting as Mother's was beginning to become. She didn't want to back down. "But what if—what if he's killed."
"Hashira!" Swiveling around, Mother's fiery glare intimidated Hashira into scurrying out of the room at the speed of light, only her fearful eyes still peeking passed the shoji door into her parents' bedroom where Mother was getting dressed all fancy for a mission.
"Watch your tone," bit Mother. "This is your father and brother you're speaking about, don't you forget that."
Hashira swallowed thickly, tightening her hold on the door frame.
Mother hummed, setting down the ink. "I do get it, you know, I really do. You're worried, right? But Yacchan's been fine before, remember? When your dad used to take him out even before?"
"U–Uh, yeah, b—"
"But nothing. Nothing has changed between them since then. Don't think so much, you're being a worrywart. Your brother will be fine, okay? Trust your mommy." Mother walked to where her shoes were put away by the door and leaned down for her tall geta sandals, taking the opportunity to run her free hand through her young daughter's hair. "See you tonight."
Hashira frowned, ducking away from her grasp.
This argument happened nearly every day, and it always ended with Mother retreating to her regular missions while somehow holding both the white flag and the victory simultaneously, which was incredibly irritating and annoyingly impressive.
People who have the gall to retreat should at least have the decency to accept their loss.
Hashira pursed her lips, glaring at the floorboards and listening to the sound of the front door slide shut.
Stubborn people really are the worst…
This became something like a daily routine.
While Mother was out on missions, she typically left ravens in her place (that could talk—seeing how they always talked to her before she left—but chose not to to Hashira) perched on the windowsills, picking their shiny feathers and yawning idly for hours on end, until their master finally came back reeking of sweat and iron and perfume.
For the first few days, it was manageable. Hashira read all the scrolls she could reach from top to bottom, cross referencing all the words she didn't understand until she could get a gist from the context. She practiced her calligraphy, made teas, practiced flexing her sensory range, did stretches, pushups, jumping jacks, anything to entertain herself.
But ultimately, she couldn't avoid the bright source of wonder drawing her away from the bookshelves and scrolls, away from the inks and teas and exercise routines. Drawing her to the hundreds of bustling people she could feel behind her walls and windows. The smell of pine and cinnamon. A world she couldn't reach.
Shiryo-san's words from back then echoed in her mind: I see you've taught her some things, Kuromasaru-san.
How do you know the name Senju? From where did you hear it? Kuromasaru's questioning that followed closely behind.
Hashira blinked down at the scroll before her, her name written twenty-fold in perfect strokes from hours of practice, and three cups of steaming hot tea before her, probably perfect as well but she'd never know because she didn't even like tea. She was only doing this to have something to do, after all. And it'd felt normal too. It had felt normal until she set down the brush in rotation to once again practice flexing her sensory range a bit further. Its feathery touch reached passed the walls of her home, over to and through the shops it was tucked between, and then further to envelope the entire street. And then the next one. And, finally, the next. Instead of only doing a broad scan, Hashira tried noting each individual presence, differentiating them by size and scale, and the way they moved. Some were large and some were small. Some flickered quickly like a burning fire, and some were smoother, like flowing lava, and — finally, some were more muted, like hers. Like Yanemaru's... like a child's.
Those were children...
There were other children here, playing outside.
There was an open window, and Hashira felt the urge to peer outside, but three plump ravens blocked her view.
Hashira blinked. "…I really am sheltered, aren't I?"
Was it really even a question? Yanemaru was off who knows where surrounded by who knows who, doing who knows what, and meanwhile she was trapped at home by her mother's word and some poultry.
Hashira glared at them petulantly and they gazed back, feathers shimmering under the rays of noon. The ringleader of them, a small fluffy one that always huffed and flew after her into whichever room she entered, had an especially close eye on her.
Those damn birds. Day after day, they sat there and watched Hashira with those beady black eyes of theirs, stationed in every room of her house and had the nerve to not even tell her their names, or like, offer her to sign their contract. Tch.
"Tch." She huffed, slamming her brush onto the table and stomping off into her bedroom. The fluffy raven followed overhead, just narrowly escaping death by door frame as Hashira slammed it shut behind her.
It felt kind of extra, all these rude and useless precautions, when Kuromasaru was so far away anyway.
Uh, how am I going to be a ninja at a rate like this? Cooped up like a freaking chicken, not allowing to even touch a kunai, and words being taboo. WORDS! Senju, shuriken, freaking shit — I want to go outside!
The logic didn't connect very well in even her own mind, but she was sure she'd understand it once she got a whiff of fresh air.
In a bid to get rid of her bounds, Hashira left multiple hints around the house to inform mom that—maybe leaving your daughter bedridden for a day is enough of a reason to file some crisp divorce papers, grab your kids, and take off! Instead of feeling that the prospect of your husband nearing your daughter is unsafe enough to summon some damn birds to watch her every time you go out. But either because spitefully scribbling the English word "divorce" in ink on the dining table isn't understandable (it was done on a furious whim and she didn't know the Japanese equivalent, sue her) or because abusing kids via brainwash or whatever always finds a way to be excused as something like training or necessary precaution in this world, Mother ignored the implicit meaning of her nudging and interpreted it as an explicit I can't be left alone, even with ravens.
Hashira steamed in silent fury. She was definitely going to go insane!
On another note, in the time that she took to paint gibberish on the dining table, Hashira had neglected a wide gap where she could have practiced alone, and several untouched crumpled leaves screamed for validation from where they'd once been shoved under her futon. She pretended not to hear their cry.
Izuna was probably gonna flip his switch for wasting his time and effort next time he saw her, whenever that'd be. He seemed like the type to do that. They'd probably stained the fabric and floorboards green by now, they'd been under there so long. Still, Hashira couldn't work up the nerve to pull them out.
This is your chance to try!
But she didn't.
The thought of reaching for them made her stomach churn, made her chest tighten, made her head lighter than the leaves themselves, because—what if she was caught? What if the ravens told her mother? And if Mother told Father? What if Father came for her again? Would he hurt her?
The leaves were left rotting under her pillow because… she was scared.
Coward. You want to be a ninja, right? THIS is how you'll get there.
And no matter how hard she tried, self-deprecation didn't help much with overcoming fear.
But then again, it never does. It's always been up to reassurance and comfort. Yet, with Yanemaru gone, it seemed as though she'd be getting none.
Three weeks passed before she felt her armor crack. She woke up in the morning and Yanemaru still wasn't there. She stumbled down the hall and saw a mission scroll furled on the coffee table, Mother rushing to and fro in preparation to leave, just like the morning before that, and the morning before that. Mother's chakra signature was kneading itself all over, as if in preparation for something, and she had an anxious expression.
Hashira watched quietly as her mother shuffled around the house with an iconic high collar shirt (sans the clan crest) and a weapons pack, mumbling to herself about "imminent" and "Taji-taichou" as she stuffed it with scrolls, weapons, and perfumes off the shelves. And also, her red kimono.
"I—" don't want you to go again. Hesitation stilled her tongue for a second. "I—I miss Yacchan," she mumbled instead.
"…Not now, Hashira."
The next day found her in front of an open door she hadn't seen in months.
"You're back!" Izuna exclaimed. What looked like literal stones fell from his forehead as he scrambled up to meet her, and the toddler sitting beside him squealed and shoved one between its gums. It was kind of cute.
Hashira didn't really expect to be brought over to Shiryo-san's again. Why did Mother not just summon more ravens?
(The ink, Hashira-chan. You made a mural out of the dining table with it.)
She rubbed the back of her neck sheepishly. "Yeah, I'm back."
"What took you so long, Gachira-ku—ack! Hikaru, don't eat that, you'll die!"
"…Hikaru, huh?" she mumbled under her breath. Was this someone he knew? Shiryo-san babysitting more children than just Hashira didn't strike her as a possibility.
Izuna had pretty good ears. "Yeah!" He smiled proudly.
"Ya!" the kid echoed, lifting his arms excitedly.
"This is my little brother! He's gonna be stronger than you too when he grows up, since I'm his big brother."
Hashira ignored that whole last part about strength and entered the room. It wasn't the living room this time, it was some sort of baby room. By leading her here from the get-go, it seemed Shiryo-san couldn't be bothered to entertain her.
Hashira didn't really mind though.
The atmosphere was serene and calm. They fell into a sort of ambience that she wasn't sure she'd missed — until now.
"He looks like you," she commented, eyes flickering between the two brothers. They shared the same full lips that their mother had, and had identical ears as well.
"Duh." Izuna rolled his eyes, waving her off. "We're brothers."
Hashira huffed. Well, then.
"Anyway, you have bad timing. He has an a—…an appointent with the medics in a bit. That means you don't get to really see how awesome he is yet! But don't worry. There's always a next time." Nodding sagely, Izuna clapped the dirt off his hands.
"Is he sick?" She scoured the baby's tiny frame.
Hikaru, dressed snugly in a green yukata, was reaching for the stones on the ground and using them to fill up his rosy cheeks, only to whine when Izuna bewilderedly glanced down at him and noticed, before promptly plucking them all away. Hikaru pouted, flailing his arms and kicking out childishly.
He sure didn't look sick.
Izuna's eyes narrowed, grimacing as drool slid down to his sleeve. "Why would he be sick?" he asked, wiping his hands off on his pants.
"Um, since he's going to the medics."
"It's for his regular checkup."
Hashira frowned. She almost forgot that regular checkups were even a concept. This clan does that? She couldn't remember ever going to any doctor or medic for checkups of her own, growing up so far.
"More importantly, what took so long? I thought you'd be back in a day, not a year!"
"It's been a season."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Izuna rolled his eyes, clicking his tongue. "Anyway, have you been practicing the leaf exercise?" he asked, reaching over to pat the floor in front of him and pocketing the rocks. Hikaru's hand tried following the rocks into Izuna's pocket, but Izuna took a hold of his wrist.
"Ah." Hashira smiled nervously, taking a seat across from the brothers. Was "I've been too scared of my father to" a proper response? To someone who seemed to have a serious dad-worship problem last time she came, it probably wasn't. "I've been busy," she replied.
Izuna snorted, arching his brows. Then he shook his head disapprovingly. "Knew it. You already seemed like the lame type to not take training seriously." He pulled Hikaru's grabby hand away from his pocket again and placed it down gently on the tatami. "But watch out. Madara-nii always says that ninjas too busy to train are never too busy to die."
Shouldn't he be like six? Seven? Hashira grimaced. "Uh… That's kind of creepy."
"Only to the weak!"
And to murderers.
And to children being groomed into murderers.
Hashira glanced at baby Hikaru, pulling on Izuna's sleeve. He was awfully quiet for a baby, though he seemed just as active (if Yanemaru was any comparison). While she didn't really care much for children she didn't know, it was still kind of sour to think of how he'd soon be indoctrinated too.
"It's probably not your fault though, since your father's not a general like mine is." Izuna shrugged nonchalantly. "Naturally, I'll be stronger than you."
"Stronger than who?" or maybe "General schmeneral, shut up with that already" or even "Actions speak louder than words" — she had a lot she wanted to say in response to that, arguments hot on her tongue, but they wouldn't fly off because her actions really weren't saying very much right now. She'd had three months and three leaves under her pillow — honestly she should've mastered the leaf exercise by now. So he was right, even without him truly knowing. And it really wasn't his fault that he had a dependable father who trained him for the tough future whereas she was stuck with a freaking dishrag of a dad who only acknowledged her to invade her mind, before disappearing with her brother for nigh months on end. It really wasn't.
"Do you have more leaves on you right now?" she asked instead.
Izuna smirked, reaching into his obi. He did.
The door slid open with a low rumble, drawing everyone's attention. "Hikaru-kun," Shiryo-san's voice sounded. It seemed more gentle than Hashira was used to hearing it. Whenever she stepped in the room, the whole world just sort of stopped.
"Mommy!" Hikaru cheered, scrambling to where his mother was walking in.
Her shimmering kimono was still regal, her hair still shone like ivy, and her gaze was still a glint of stainless steel, just the first time they met, and just like this morning. It was stunning and intimidating, like always. Hashira was wowed every time. "A—Ah, Shiryo-san!"
"Mom, you're here!" Izuna was immune. "Okay, have fun with the medics, Hikaru!" He waved goodbye with his hand full of leaves.
Shiryo-san deadpanned at the sight, stooping momentarily to scoop Hikaru up off the floor. "Izuna-kun, what have I told you about bringing leaves indoors."
"Not to do it!" he said with a suspicious amount of pride.
Her grey eyes narrowed, but she didn't chastise him.
"More importantly," Izuna changed the subject — how was he able to flip the script so fearlessly on her? "I'm about to test Hashi-kun on the leaf exercise, Mom!"
And, stunningly, Shiryo-san took the bait. Her stainless steel seemed a little less sharp when they were fixed on Izuna. She rolled them and then flickered her gaze to Hashira, who tensed up on impulse. "Is that so? Hashira-chan, could it be that you're aiming to become a ninja?"
Well, it was either that or dying, right? Or popping out children who'll be sacrificed to and for the will of The Clan™ and/or war. She assumed those were her options here.
Just Girly Things ft. the Uchihas.
Hashira fiddled with her obi, looking away. "Um, I… I want to be one, yes."
Izuna arched a brow, eyes narrowed just like his mother's. "Stuttering?" he mumbled.
Your mother is terrifying. Hashira chose not to respond aloud. "Uh…"
"Let's see it then," prompted Shiryo-san. She shifted Hikaru on her hip, tapping her foot as if saying don't waste my time, like she wasn't the one who decided to listen to her five-year-old son's maundering and stay longer than need be on her own accord.
Hashira's heart leapt straight into her chest. "I—I…" she stammered, then sealed her mouth shut with a gulp. She held out her hand for a leaf from Izuna instead of snatching it away like before. This was his mom staring knives into her here.
Here goes, she thought, biting her lip.
Maybe it was just her, but everyone seemed to lean in, either in anticipation (Izuna), intrigue (Shiryo-san), or because everyone else was leaning in and they didn't wanna be left out (Hikaru). Hashira closed her eyes and counted to three.
Taking the leaf, she pressed it against her forehead.
Father isn't here right now. It'll be okay. Just see the leaf.
She stretched out her chakra out just as she usually did when she was feeling for someone, but toward the leaf. A leaf is a plant, and plants live and breathe, just like the rest of us. So if she could feel chakra in people then she should feel a leaf. She should be able to find it. So she tried her best — but with all of Hashira's hard-laced efforts, until her closed eyes squeezed from the toil and her balled hands started shaking, she couldn't find the leaf. She couldn't see it. Not even if she tried so hard that she felt lightheaded.
Not until Izuna flicked it on her forehead. Her eyes snapped open at the sting, and her gaze immediately fell on Izuna. She glared at him.
He frowned back. "Why're you straining so hard, do you want to die or something?"
Hashira blinked, offended. "What the hell are you saying?" she muttered, before glancing up and meeting Shiryo-san's eyes. They were thinly slitted like the deadly needles. Hashira felt the walls close in on her, just a little, and the leaf floated to the ground.
The leaf. The leaf that'd been on her forehead.
She hadn't even noticed that it had stuck.
Hashira's eyes bewilderedly trailed to her balled up hands—distinctly in her lap and not on her face; not pressing a leaf against her forehead.
What just happened?
"If you go for too long your chakra runs out, dummy," Izuna said, nodding sagely. He looked up at his mom for approval that she wouldn't give. She was too busy staring at Hashira much too firmly for Hashira to imagine that she was innocent, but—what did she do wrong? She was only following what was asked of her.
Hashira scooted back hesitantly, half fearing that Shiryo-san would lash out even with a baby in her arms, or that her eyes would maybe flash like red alarms.
What did I do wrong?
"Hashira-chan." It still only sounded right when Mother said it. "Could it be that you've done this exercise before?"
"Uh, I…" Her breath hitched.
"More importantly, you have been practicing!" Izuna snatched up the leaf and stuck it to his forehead, grinning and puffing up his chest. He leapt up and pulled on his mom's sleeve. "Mom, I'm the one who told her about it! Last time she came, remember?"
When Shiryo-san flicked the leaf on his forehead, Hashira suddenly realized where he'd gotten that from. Shaking her head she instructed her son, "Izuna-kun, don't interrupt others."
"Sorry." He pouted.
"Uh…" Hashira exhaled. "Y–Yeah, he told me about it so I… yeah," she half-lied, looking down at her hands.
When the words left her tongue, it was suddenly as if Shiryo-san's voice—her entire presence—loomed over Hashira. Her chakra signature flickered like a Bunsen burner's flame: High intensity, calculating, precise.
Silence echoed loudly down the halls.
"I see," she said lowly, but the tone of her voice was somehow crisp. It sounded too much like how Kuromasaru said it back then.
"How do you know the name Senju? From where did you hear it?"
"I heard Izuna-san."
A few seconds passed, no one wanting to somehow cut Shiryo-san off in her quiet contemplation. Then, finally, she said: "In three hours, I'll be back. Take care of things, Izuna-kun."
"Okay, Mom! Count on me!" he said brightly, pointing a thumb at himself.
The moods they gave off were in eerie contrast.
Child in arms, Shiryo-san drifted out the door, like a ghost.
A/N: heyy c: klsdflsd SORRY! I was in high school when starting this version of this story, but then I graduated school and had to get a job and go to college and then COVID happened and A LOT OF THINGS HAPPENED!
A LOT of things really did happen! I'm a working woman now, and I'm navigating my faith and love and life and relationships and hobbies (art, streaming, singing, etc.) and whatever! Finding myself and whatever! But Hashira is my baby! So here I am! I came to FF and checked to see if my draft was still here (story drafts expire if they're unattended for 365 days) and there were seven days left, so I was like "OMG... if I came in only a week, I'd be a week too late..."
Not to say that I'm not five years late right now, of course. LOL. When I was drafting the story at the very beginning, I actually outlined the entire course of not only this story but also anything that might branch from it. I was intended to be a real door-stopper! And, according to the vision, it was supposed to be complete by 2021. Imagine that. Unfortunately, we're two years passed the deadline already AHAHA
But better late than never, yes?
This is my very own passion project and I don't feel like giving up, even now! Thanks for being with me all these years! On August 15th, it will have officially been ten years! I still have the old versions and all the old reviews saved. I loved you guys then and I love you now. So many of you were here with me through my whole youth and watched me grow, in various ways, more or less. That's how I see it anyway. Thanks for all your support!