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Tomorrow's another dangerous mission.
With one foot, Genma absently rocked himself on the playground swing as he idly watched the children play. Instead of anticipating it with his usual grimness and mulling over his own fragile mortality—he was looking forward to trudging through miles of hostile territory with his comrades. Ever since the fifth Hokage took over the leadership position of Konoha village, every A class assignment team was accompanied with a highly trained medic nin. This measure not only protected her fleet of valuable jounins, it also ensured a significantly higher rate of success—a critical component in establishing Konoha's reputation as the strongest nin-village.
There was another selfish reason why he was looking forward to his new mission. He felt his cheeks heat slightly from the thought of spending more time with a particular raven-haired jounin; Shizune was the medic nin who always ended up being assigned to his team. He nervously twiddled his thumbs as he recalled the smell of her hair and the few occasions when he'd had the pleasure to feel the slight brushes of her healing hands. Those touches were nothing lascivious in nature, of course, they were strictly professional—which he found rather disappointing. There were times, when she loomed over his injured body and scanned his face with concern, he'd imagine there was something more between them.
But it isn't so. Genma sighed.
He was never good around women, especially the female nins; they intimidated him because he never knew what to say. There were always prolonged awkward moments of silence between topics and the conversation transitions were never natural. This seemed to be a common problem among the male shinobis, he thought as he mentally sifted through the ranks. Asuma always had a cigarette in his mouth, so it wasn't obvious when he ran out of things to say. Kakashi wore a mask and buried his face in those Icha Icha books to avoid as much conversation as possible. Gai…Well, Gai has more than simple social problems. Hayate…when he was still alive…coughed all the time so NO women ever wanted to talk to him for fear of him being contagious, Genma chuckled slightly at his now-deceased friend's brilliant ploy to avoid female company. Genma's solution was to dangle a toothpick in his mouth because he could clean his teeth whenever he wanted, and he hated the smell of smoke. And cigarettes are such a waste of money, he thought of Asuma's smoky aura with some distaste. Thus, whenever he felt the usual awkward silence, he would chew on his toothpick in a thoughtful manner, as if he were contemplating some deep philosophical issue that gave meaning to life.
Seriously, how was one supposed to court a kunoichi? They are tough females who didn't need to be rescued or taken care of; in fact, they'd be down right insulted if one were to make that attempt. They are fiercely independent. They are like men, except they smell good, have soft skin and…
"Genma-san, what are you doing in the playground?" A melodic female voice rang from behind him, interrupting his drifting thoughts.
"Uh…oh…ohhaiyo, Shizune-san. No…nothing, I was just thinking about tomorrow. And…uh…you know…all the secret thinking spots are taken by the others." he stammered and smiled shyly at her. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he jammed one deep into his pocket and scratched the back of his head with the other. He stared at his shoes.
"Ano…ok. I saw you zoning out and just wanted to say hi. I'll see you tomorrow at the briefing room" her eyes winked into half moons and with that she turned and left him sitting alone in the swing in the playground.
Genma closed his eyes and let out a relieved sigh as the spring breeze gently cooled his blushed cheeks. Shizune must think I'm a weirdo. Why AM I here all the time anyway? A bittersweet distant memory tugged at the corner of his mind, urging him to remember, to give it life.
It was a Sunday afternoon, a five-year old Genma with skinned knees sat alone on the swing in the playground. The kids had been playing a game of tag and everyone kept picking on him. He eventually fell face-first from tripping over a rock on the ground, skinning his knees and bruising his chin. The wound bled and the pain caused his eyes to instantly water. Afraid of getting into trouble with the adults, the other kids scattered and ran away, but not without laughing at him first. Genma the girl, Genma the girl, they had teased cruelly. Their jeering voices trailed in the air as they disappeared into the distant horizon. The words stung worse than the wound because he knew it was true. He was the smallest boy of the bunch with smooth, pale skin, big brown eyes with thick lashes and longish silky hair; even the girls who ran with the group were tougher looking than he.
Genma was trying hard to stifle his sobs just in case if one of the kids came back he wouldn't see and tell the others. As he stared miserably at his shoelaces to keep his tears from streaming down his face, a figure loomed over him. He looked up to see a girl he didn't recognize. She was about the same age, wearing a pink kimono with her dark hair tied up into a ponytail with a red ribbon.
"Does that hurt?" She asked in a small voice as she squatted down and rested her chin on her knees, watching him.
"No." He said defensively. He wasn't in the mood to have a stranger make fun of him.
"I'll make it better." She said softly as she took out a handkerchief to carefully clean the dirt from the wound. Genma winced from pain but bit his lower lip to keep from yelping. The girl then gently used her small delicate fingers to pick out the gravel that was embedded in his skin, her dark eyes squinting in concentration. As a finishing touch, she took the red ribbon from her hair and wrapped up his left knee.
"I'm sorry I only have one." She said apologetically as she regarded the exposed right knee.
"It's ok. Th…thanks." Genma stuttered his appreciation; he got tongue-tied around girls.
"I have to go, Okasan will be worried. Maybe I'll see you around?" The girl gave a shy wave and left hurriedly.
Genma never saw her again.
Over the years, Genma often wondered who she was. She never came back to the playground. He wanted to ask the other kids, but was afraid of their ridicule. Eventually, as he excelled at the shinobi art and had more important things to do, her face and voice blurred and became a distant memory, but he always remembered to visit the playground before every mission. Being there made him feel comforted and safe. He knew it was a stupid superstition but maybe, just maybe, she was his guardian angel. The red ribbon was kept in his right breast pocket of his vest as a good luck charm, and he believed fiercely in its powers because that was the only plausible explanation for him still being alive after countless A class missions.
One could say that that childhood incident was the defining point in Genma's life. It was one of the reasons why he chose to become a ninja, to show the other kids, once and for all, that he was not some delicate gender-ambiguous weakling nor was he willing to take their endless taunting any longer. The true reason, to which he had long forgotten, was he had secretly hoped that, on one of his far off missions, he would somehow find her; the girl who showed him true kindness and gave him the resolve to become a man. He would give her back the ribbon he had carefully cherished, she'd put it back in her hair and smile at him and he would whisk her away to show her the world and dazzle her with what a man he had become. And they would be happy.
Reality was never quite as one hoped. He never found her. Instead, his life was an endless routine of carrying out dangerous missions then coming home to an empty apartment that was sparsely furnished. He was a terrible chef who labeled his cooking style as "survival cooking," which really is just a fancy name for throwing everything left in the fridge into the pot and adding some hot sauce for flavor. His taste in furniture was rather "safe," everything was cream, beige and darkwood. At least everything matches, was the excuse he gave when his friends laughed at his boring taste. The truth is, even with his shinobi peers, Genma never belonged. Perhaps that was why he was so shy around Shizune. He wondered if she saw him the way others did, a recluse who was hard to get close to.
He longed to have her comforting presence next to him, to have her soft eyes murmur encouragement, to have her healing hands rest on his shoulder. He longed to have her.
He smiled at the thought of tomorrow's mission.
to be continued...