Title: After the War
Author: Three AM
Disclaimer: It belongs to Masashi Kishimoto.
Summary: What was life after the war, for those who got out alive? For those who were left behind…
A/N: This is still un-beta'd! Any grammatical errors or typographical mistakes are my fault.
It ended with a final explosion.
The whole forest shook with such intensity, the combined power of the two greatest ninjas of their generation finally met and crashed. It wasn't known who won or lost. They were both found lying alongside each other; bruised, wounded, filthy. Still. Dead.
Word spread fast.
They were shinobis after all.
She was tending to the wounded in a clearing, a kilometer far from where it happened. So many were injured. More were dead. And they all kept coming since it started. Together with the rest of the medic-nins of their hidden village and the other neighboring ninja villages as well (but only those who were against the Sound too), she focused on her dedication, desperately trying to keep her mind into her job. The licking fires of fear, panic, anger, frustration, and madness slowly burned her sanity. Minute by minute, second by second, as she poured her own chakra into others' wounds and scars. She sweated and her hands shook often, making her grit her teeth and scold herself fervently. Her tears constantly threatening to fall down, down down and down to her sweaty and blood-smeared cheeks and into the dirty ground.
She was a medic-nin. She was a medic-nin. Though she wasn't allowed by her mentors and her best friend to fight alongside with them, she was assigned instead to lead their village's medics. They said she was one of the best, silently surpassing even her mentor's healing aptitude. At another time and another circumstance, it would have flattered her very much and caused her to blush that to the shade lighter than her hair.
But now wasn't the right time. She wanted to fight. With them.
She was a kunoichi.
But she was left behind.
Just like before.
He carried his best friend towards the medic-nins' clearing. He staggered so many times, but that didn't deter him. He needed to get him to the clearing. Fast. He could feel his chakra pulsing gradually… slower and slower until his breathing was nothing but a wheezing pant.
He clenched his jaw, tightening his hold on him. He couldn't lose him. He couldn't let him go. He would not fail his best friend.
He would not fail himself.
Dead on arrival.
She didn't know what to say to him except she was sorry. She was indeed. For everything that happened. For everything that the war had caused.
For every single body she failed to save.
But mostly for her two former teammates…
She bit her lip and walked away from him.
He, who was huddled close to the still warm corpse of his best friend. He, who was crying silently, his whole body shaking with overflowing passion. He, who was clutching his closest friend's ruined vest, so tightly that his knuckles turned white. His tears fell down continuously to his clenched fists and the spoiled vest, dropping like clear droplets of rain from gray looming clouds.
Such solemn sorrow. Such agonizing anguish.
Salvation at its weakest.
There were so much beautiful scenes of grief, sorrow, bitterness, anger, and numbness in the clearing. The pungent smell of blood rose and spread throughout the close perimeter of where the dead bodies lied, choking and making it too hard to breathe. She closed her eyes, trying to dispel the unconsciously welcomed dizziness from her system. She thought she didn't need it now. She said to herself that she couldn't breakdown now. No, now was definitely not the right time.
And she knew, they wouldn't like for her to break now.
Bile quickly rose from her throat and she stumbled forward.
One step. Then another. And another. And then next.
She was out, just in the edge of the clearing. Shadowed by the shadows.
What are tears for when it's all over?
They met some hours after their tears had died down. A scant of a glance. A mere nod. A quick acknowledge of each other's bare existence. Then they both walked away.
He attended to the dead. They put the hundreds of unknown and unclaimed cold bodies to where the explosion happened. It created an enormous hole on the earth anyway, sufficient enough for the lifeless end results to be buried there. After which, they engraved a brief memorandum on a big stone and heaved it up in the center of the bulking and freshly dug earth.
Herein lay the heroes who surrendered the ultimate sacrifice and died for a reverential cause. Their end to the Great War will always be remembered.
He was relieved that his best friend's father brought his son home to give him a proper burial and a more private grave. He wouldn't want for him to be tossed insensitively among the throng of the dead, like he was just another face, another pitying casualty to the war.
Because he wasn't. His closest friend, almost like a brother, was so much more than that and certainly deserved the best of respect.
Exhausted and muddy, he walked away with an image of his warm bed on mind.
Might as well be one of the dead.
She kept on tending to the alive, but injured shinobis of the war. She kept herself busy with walking to and fro in the hospital, pausing only to jot down a short medical note on her clipboard and to talk to her fellow medics about their patients. She wore herself out with passing chakra to the dying and recovering. She burned herself down until the sun set and the moon begin to shine listlessly. And until the stars began to fade and the sky turned from midnight black to dull blue, she worked and worked…
She collapsed in the middle of the hall.
He was the first one to find her.
Sometimes, being numb is better than hurting.
She is a grumpy patient, he noted. He stood at the edge of her bed as he held in one hand a bowl of warm porridge and the other a glass of water. Sighing loudly, he put them down the bedside table, crossed his arms across his chest and stared at her. Hard. Glaringly. Willing her to toss her childish manner aside and eat.
She glared right back. She didn't want to eat. She didn't want to lie in the immaculately clean bed any longer. She didn't want to stay useless. She didn't want to feel so worthless when there were still too much work to be done, too many patients to attend to… still too many dying…
She hated feeling like a failure once more.
So, there she was, sitting on the hospital bed with a pillow in her back, glaring at her silent inconspicuous guard. And pouted.
"Healers make the worst patients," he said.
She snorted, raising a brow. "What do you know?
He raised his own in return. "I know enough. You make the best example."
And the day passed on in a cycle. Medic-nins ran back and forth all throughout the hospital, terribly worn out since the Great War started, trying to stay alert and quick, and using whatever's left with their own chakra. They couldn't stop. They couldn't waste a single second when every half of it corresponded to a fading life. Breaking down now would mean the worst catastrophe in their sworn code. Breaking down now…
Amidst the hectic activities and the desperate saving, they both found their own momentary piece of quiet. There, in her room…. A stillness of warm calmness. A welcomed disruption from the chaos of the outside world. Almost a dream, an escape… a dreamscape from the harsh biting reality.
Just a bit of peace.
It was a normal day. Well, as normal as it could get in a typical ninja village.
The old threats of surprise attacks from warring enemies were gone. The previous air of silent apprehension, of quiet vigilance, was replaced with relaxed and almost solemn atmosphere. The lush green leaves of the trees and meadows rustled as the wind blew by, taking with it the fresh breath of nature. Exotic flowers started to bloom again. The animals living in the forest came out of their burrows and scurried away for food.
And in the center of it all, deep in the middle of the thick clusters of trees, the dark brown earth was slowly compressing, and wild grasses began their first lives. The clearing was quiet and always, always that even the animals and trees never dared break a mutual oath, the atmosphere would instantly turn somber, as if demanding a right for solemnity and sacredness.
And everyone respected it.
People started to work again, trying to get by with their jobs and to outsmart life. They started to fill the dirty streets again, catching up with their forgotten and paused businesses. Women busied themselves with renewing their homes, while the men kept on working to keep the food and money flowing in to their houses. Little kids played from the early rays of the sun 'til the sky turned a gradient of purple and orange.
And genins, chuunins, and jounins alike went by their ninja ways.
He was standing in front of him, staring down at him with an unusual wistful look in his normally scrutinizing eyes. How long he stood there, he didn't know. He just did… stand there, staring down at him. Words seemed so inadequate.
Finally, he sighed.
You cheated on me. It isn't supposed to be this way. You know, I've always thought that among the three of us I'll be the first one to die. I don't know. Call me cynical that way. But yeah, I've always imagined my death like that… My life would have been with a normal wife, with normal kids and whether they wanted to be genins or not it's up to them. My life would have been with you by my side. With you, and yeah probably Ino too. But you both would have your own families to look after. You both would have your own damn careers and I would have been happily settled with a normal life. And then die peacefully and not in the middle of a troublesome mission. But damn you, Chouji. You ruined it for me. In my plan, you weren't supposed to be here. You weren't supposed to be—Well… Just damn you.
But I know that what's happened had happened. There's no other way to go but forward. And you know what, I am already moving on. Because I know you would be happier that way.
See you later, my friend.
She stood at the center of the bridge, unmoving, silent and pensive. She stared at the large expanse of the village, her bright green eyes frozen at one point in the unknown space. Space… could have been the light blue sky or the point to which the feet of the mountains met. Could have been the red flag waving atop one house or the ruined top of the Hokage's building. Space… the universe of the indefinite where no one has able to reach yet. Space… the endless void of mysteries and realities.
Could have been the great burial where the explosion happened. Or the graveyard of the legendary Uchihas, or the small land of seemingly forgotten tombs of the Fourth and the rest of the Uzumakis.
Could have been…
She smiled, a second before a soft gray smoke appeared beside her. Late as ever.
Before, greetings were small nothings, spoken just for the sake of it. Greetings were a word or two, barely meaningful, as people nodded to acknowledge each others' mere existence. Greetings were just bundles of clustered letters…
Could have meant…
What are you doing?
Why are you here?
Where have you been?
How are you?
And now, now, after everything had happened. After every deed had been done. After all the casualties that had suffered and been destroyed. Greetings became small words that spoke of thousand meanings.
Could have meant a hundred other expressions, with real meanings hidden underneath the underneath. Could have meant… What are you doing after what happened? Why are you here, here within the deceiving embrace of peace, when there are still so much to do there, there outside where reality sucks? Where have you been when it happened, when your friends are in each others' mercy and killed each other in the end? How are you when you failed to save so many lives, when that's the very thing you have sworn to prevent?
It was ironic. There should have been so many words. So much to say. I'm sorry. Thank you. I'm happy you're alive…
But there was only the wind, its silent bellowing of air breezing through the village. There was only the light blue sky, painted so beautifully above the mountains. There was only the space between.
Silence… Because there's nothing to say.
He started with a smile.
She continued with a blush.
His first planned visit to the hospital was mainly to see how she was doing. Not really to check on her. No, he tried to tell himself that. He just wanted to see her. How she was doing, after the day she collapsed. Yes, of course that was all. He somehow felt responsible, because he was the one who saw her, sprawled on the floor like that. Of course he felt responsible.
He just wanted to see her.
A few days, a few nights after, it had become a daily routine. Everyday, before lunch, he would find himself walking down the path toward the hospital. Sometimes, he'd bring a take out ramen. If not, he'd casually mention not having lunch yet, and if she could take a break and join him… She never said no yet.
She couldn't really. How could she, or anyone for that matter? He was too generous as it was to bring lunches with him, sometimes. He was too thoughtful even to be asking her to join him for lunch. She guessed she understood the feeling all too well. Eating alone was quite sad nowadays. Indeed, such a simple task as eating could be painful… a remembrance of having a trusty someone by your side to laugh with over food.
So she always said yes. Anyway, she did need a break. And they were friends after all. He was the teammate of her best girl friend. Surely, she couldn't say no. Just what would the loud blond pig say if she found out that she's been going out with her teammate? Going out, like casual lunches together. Together, as in friends. Not as a date, no of course not. Why would she think of it like that? He never said anything.
He only smiled. And she looked away, blushing and inwardly scolding herself for involuntarily doing so.
Today was the tenth day he asked her out. For lunch. Not that she was counting. She said she was planning on an early out from the hospital anyway. She didn't say why and she was glad that he didn't ask. Her reason would be totally embarrassing…
There it was again.
"Are you hot?"
"What!" She snapped her head, turning to face him.
He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "That came out wrong," he said.
"Ahh," she mused out loud. She didn't know what to say, except—
"I'm not hot," she finally answered. "Are you?"
She saw him swallow, that small lump in his throat bobbed up, then down. He shook his head. Then, to her utter surprise, he stared at her wide eyes. Long enough, like one second… one blink of an eternity.
"You look really beautiful like that," he said softly. So softly that if she wasn't staring at his lips she would have missed it.
She gasped slightly, blushing more. And not knowing how to respond to that. How could anyone respond to that!
"Like what?" She asked instead.
He blinked. Had he really said that aloud! "Nothing," he said, looking away.
What a loser. He gritted his teeth. What made him say that anyway? One minute he was just staring at her. Those bright green eyes were too… mesmerizing, drowning him far too deep that he could ever imagine. And those blush-stained cheeks… too damn irresistible.
Fuck you, he scolded himself, silently, he made sure. Damn you. How could this ever happen? When did this started anyway? It was just…
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
It was unexpected. A surprise, a totally unforeseen surprise.
They were far too deep, drowning… spiraling downwards. Fast, so fast that it couldn't be stopped. No, they could not stop. Would not want to.
He started with a kiss, a quick gentle goodnight kiss, at her doorstep. But she continued with a response, another kiss so much like his.
She framed his face with her hands, holding him close, making sure he wouldn't back out. Making sure he was real, real enough for her to feel, for her to be alive again. Making sure he would get what she was feeling.
What she was feeling…
He grasped her back and pulled her closer to him. He deepened the kiss, almost harsh and demanding. His other hand went to her hair and grasped a handful, stilling her head as he kissed her with so much passion. Such fervor. Such needy intimacy.
He needed to feel. He needed to touch. He needed to breathe. To breathe her air. To taste her lips. To be alive again.
He needed her, as much as she needed him.
They needed each other. Wanted each other. Tasted, breathed.
It ended with a final explosion.
He got off her and slid his body beside hers. She nestled her head in his chest, as he put his arms around her, embracing her so protectively. Possessively. She smiled at his burning comfort.
He kissed the top of her head and smiled as he listened to her even breathing. He knew she was fast asleep. He couldn't really blame her. Hours of training on bed were a tiring activity, indeed.
He closed his eyes, and pulled her even closer, if such thing was even possible.
He knew he could never let her go. He knew this was it. This was what he told his best friend, years ago. This was…
This is it, Chouji. You're probably smirking down at me, right now. You are, right? You're thinking that this isn't what I had planned. I know, I know. You ruined everything for me, that day you died. I think you started it. You died, so many died, and she becomes my wife. So much for a normal life, huh?
But you know what, I guess I should thank you. You just won't let me have my way. You won't let me lead that so-called normal life I wanted. You just won't let me be alone.
Thank you for ruining it for me. Thank you for not letting me have what I wanted. Thank you for giving me what I have now.
Thank you, my friend.
A/N: It was all right at first, but my muse left me hanging in the air at the near end of it. Did you notice? Argh. I think I'll just re-write this when the time comes. Anyway, reviews are much appreciated.