Recap: Sasuke lost Ino again, Naruto witnessed the death of a mother he never had, and Sakura discovered the identity of the demon inside her.
Interlude: Haruno Nobara
First Draft: 5 December, 2010
Completed on: 13 February, 2011
Thirty-two years ago…
There was no warm on the recently snowed streets, the mood was dry and cold as the weather, and people walked down the road not acknowledging each other's presence. A war had just recently ended, but no one was celebrating, they did not lose the war, but neither did they win it. This war might not be the longest the history saw, but it was certainly the harshest; a lot of people had died, a few clans were totally wiped out, one such clan almost did. A lone survivor from that clan sat idly on the pouch, too young to join the war with his parents, too young to even take the Genin examination, but in his mind, all he could think of was to be with his parents, be by their side, the tide could have turned in their favour had they allowed him to be there in the same battlefield. It was a foolish thought, but he was only five years old.
He ignored the call from the babysitter to come back inside where it was warm, and instead looked down at the pair of katanas that the bearer of ill news returned to him an hour ago, his parents' twin katanas. To be frank, other than being elegant and identical in designs, they were a pair of remarkably normal blades, but they were still his family heirlooms, and the only identifiable artefacts the rescue team could savaged from the unrecognisable bodies. Soon, they might no longer be his to keep, in a week time, he was told, that someone would come and talk to him about being absorbed into other clans. They expected him to give up the only things he had left from his parents, they expected him to forget about the past and live on, but they were wrong, the young boy had already decided otherwise. It would be hard however, no one had ever heard of a clan leader who was not even old enough to be a Genin, he needed an endorsement, someone to vouch for his decision.
Deep in his thoughts, he missed the voice that called his name, he did not caught on to the person's presence until he squatted down beside him. He lifted his gaze, and saw that it was his neighbour, but recognised him as his hope. The two families had always been close, it would be hard to convince the older man, but he knew that it could be done.
In a week time, the Hokage accepted the Umino's head's plea to let the Haruno clan lived, on the condition that until the boy mastered the Haruno succession technique, he and his infant sister would live under the care of the Umino's.
Haruno Nobara was reinstated as Haruno's head at the age of thirteen.
Thirteen years ago…
The two families were no strangers, coming over for a meal was a common sight. The twenty-four years old Haruno Nobara recognised the elder Umino Ikkaku as both benefactor and mentor, the Haruno clan would not have existed without the help from the Uminos. The debt he owned for their kind deed was something he could never repay in full. However, this opinion was not shared by the Umino adults, Ikkaku expected nothing in return, only treating Nobara like a son, a younger brother to his Kujira, and even an uncle to the young Iruka. Ikkaku's only wish was for Nobara to treat him like a family, like how his sister, Haruno Hana, was like a daughter he never had, especially after his only daughter-in-law died young during the war, leaving Iruka without a mother.
Today, Haruno Nobara stomped through the Umino's hallway, fuming as usual. When he caught sight of the elder Umino, Nobara immediately hid his anger and bowed slightly in respect, but Ikkaku was used to Nobara's temper, he knew why he was here.
"Lost your sister again, Nobara-kun?" asked Ikkaku. No matter how old Kujira and Nobara would be, to him, they would always be his sons, even if one of them (kindly) refused to address him as such. Before Nobara could answer, Ikkaku cut in with: "Come, let's play some rounds of chess."
Ikkaku knew Nobara never refused his requests, though he was displeased with it and would glad to see him turn him down for once, it was nevertheless an easy way for the old man to steal his attention away from his sister. Leading the younger man to another room, he sat down before an already laid out chess while the younger man went to fetch a pot of tea. Nobara had never won a chess with him before, though partly out of respect, the true reason was that unlike his own son, Nobara was not a man of patience, and would most of the time made moves without thinking, this was also one of the reasons he always asked him to play with him.
"Hmm, so she's skipping out of your lesson again?" Ikkaku asked as he started the game with his first move.
"Yes, I need to impart her all our skills, she had to finish the full course, but she's gone off somewhere with that Hizashi brat!" Nobara said with a raised voice, bringing down a chess piece harder than usual.
Ikkaku coughed slightly as he tapped on the chess piece Nobara just moved. Seeing that he had made an invalid move and somehow managed to get himself checked, Nobara apologised quickly and corrected the move.
"Hana-kun has already mastered the three moves, Shiro Gufuu, Hanabira Boufuu, and Chouryuu Shindou (#1), hasn't she? Quite a remarkable feat, if you ask me."
"Yes, but she has yet to learn all the secondary skill sets, and can't beat me in a spar no matter how many penalties I allowed myself to have."
"Nobara-kun, you have already taught her everything she needed to know, some skills are meant to be leant by herself through experiences in the outside world, not in a training hall."
"But she's out there dating with that Hizashi! Don't you know about his clan, how they berserked and ended up killing themselves and their allies-"
"Nobara-kun, you are starting to talk like a rumour monger, don't believe in everything you heard from the old women you bought fish and veggies from. How old is Hana-kun again?"Ikkaku asked, though it was not like he was senile enough to forget their ages.
"Nineteen," Nobara said, recognising the usual question Ikkuka used to shut him up.
"Before questioning your sister's boyfriend, get a girlfriend of your own first. When will I get to see a baby in the Haruno's? I hope not after I get my own coffin, huh?"
It always came to this, a question he could not answer, continuing on, the older man said bluntly as usual, "Nobara-kun, I understand that Hana-kun is your only remaining family, but sometimes the more you try to control things, the more it would want to escape. Rather than holding your sister on a leash, let her experience the world on her world. You have already sacrificed enough, it's time to place your own wish ahead of the priorities that you set for your sister. You have done enough, all that remains is time and… a wife."
The young man remained quiet for a while, but a sad smile was slowly forming on his face, perhaps the repeated lecture of life had finally set in, perhaps he had finally learnt from the old man's experience. But, Ikkaku knew Nobara well, he was not the kind of a person to easily bow down to other's opinion and betraying his own belief.
The chess game was heading nowhere with Nobara not putting his head in it, eventually ending with a defeat, he quickly gave a reason to excuse himself. Returning home, he realised that he had not seen his sister the whole day, something was wrong, he could feel it like a chill in the spine. Haruno Hana never had the habit of bringing her katana along anywhere unless it was for a mission, but she did yesterday, Nobara knew she had no mission, and when asked, she only answered that she was meeting the Kumogakure girl, Uzumaki Kimiko. Hana returned early that day, her head was down, and said nothing as she retreated to her room. The sword was drawn, Nobara could sense it, a battle was fought, and she lost. Somehow, he knew that she was not depressed over her defeat, but something else.
Haruno Nobara found himself wandering through every room in the house, only to end up in her's, which felt strangely empty and lifeless. The katana that matched the one he always carried abandoned on the desk, approaching it, a strange thought came to him, wondering if she would return.
(A/N: Read chapter 42 to learn what happened 'yesterday')
Twelve years ago…
With the unknown demon attacking their village, the security around the tomb of his sister was relaxed. The questions he had were why the tomb was not buried as he was told, why was it in this guarded room under the Hokage tower, and why was her tomb guarded in the first place; it could not be just because she was in intimate relationship with the Hokage.
He entered the room after cutting down the remaining guards, it was dimly lit and had no windows, the only thing in it was the stone coffin in the centre of the room. With a simple swing of his katana, he blew the stone slate off, exposing the coffin's content. As he expected, something was terribly wrong, there was no body in it, only the burial clothes and the katana he personally placed on top of her body. What happened? Why did no one tell him anything? Was being the only living relative not an enough reason to know the truth?
Haruno Hana disappeared from their village and became a Missing-nin, and within a year she returned, and the first person she spoke to was not her brother. In fact, he only learnt about her return after the Hokage informed him of her death, and he was there when she died, but how and to whom, the Hokage could not manage through his tears. It was a sick joke. Picking up the katana with a trembling hand, he took off his own forehead protector with the other, questioning its worth and his own purpose. Robbed of strength, he let it fell through his loose grip, in the enclosed place was supposed to be her burial chamber, the drop of the protector against the cold stone coffin echoed like a bell, stirring his heart, clearing his head with a strong reminder of what just happened. His will resolved, his bare hand closed as a tight fist.
- Glossary -
#1 :: Shiro Gufuu, Hanabira Boufuu, and Chouryuu Shindou – White Tornado, Petal Storm, Tidal Shock.
- Names and Ages -
Sakura (daughter, 0) – cherry blossom
Hana (mother, 20) – flower
Nobara (uncle, 25) – rose
Iruka (son, 11) – dolphin
Kujira (father, 35) – whale
Ikkaku (grandfather, 59) – narwhal whale