Author's Notes: This story is partly an examination of the kunoichi life and follows the life of Uzuki Yuugao, a character only briefly known in the Naruto storyline. The fic will contain spoilers for events in Naruto and will consist mostly of my own ideas about Yuugao. There will be an addition of cast members as the story progresses, and later on there will be pairings as well. Please heed the rating, as this will not always be a very merry fic.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and am making no profit from this fan fiction.
Turn of Blade, Twist of Fate
Chapter One: Compelled To Succeed
Her aunt's hand felt strange to her. There was a quality to it that was different than when she was guided in the market place or led up the stairs for bedtime. The flesh was warm as ever but too loose. The girl squeezed as tightly as her seven-year-old strength would allow, but the bigger palm did not even apply an ounce of pressure in return.
It was a harsh reminder to Uzuki Yuugao that her aunt would soon go away, and she would be left to fend for herself in the large building looming in front of her. The windows were wide and would give a good view of the outdoors, she knew, and the doors were open in welcome. Still, the bricks seemed threatening, as though they would constrict and kill her if she dared to go inside without her aunt at her side.
From her earliest days, Yuugao had feared being alone.
"Don't worry, Yuugao," came the reassurance as the older woman ran a tender row of fingers through her violet hair, recently cut short so as not to be in the way. "The Academy is not as scary as you think." But these were the same words she had heard almost daily for the past month, and they brought no comfort, like a medicine that failed to sooth.
Silent but infallibly attentive, Yuugao allowed no detail to escape her watchful vision. Dozens of children close to her age milled about the grass of the Academy's front grounds, the early-August sun highlighting a myriad of shades in their hair. Some were sobbing into the shoulders of their sympathetic parents, and others smiled while unaccompanied. Yuugao could do neither, feeling as though every emotion she had yet experienced in her young life was lost, absorbed by the irrefutable reality that she was no longer quite so young in the eyes of Konohagakure.
"Uzuki-san?" Yuugao turned her head to look up, squinting in the daylight, at the cheery man who addressed her aunt. "I see you've brought little Yuugao-chan with you." The man spoke from scarred lips. Additional scars defined the left cheekbone and the edge of his hairline, barely visible through the thick fall of dark bangs over his Leaf hitai-ate. Most noticeable was that his eyes were not quite the same shade of yellow, one slightly darker than the other. These eyes settled on the small girl and stayed there. She shifted closer her aunt.
"Hiroshi-san," her aunt greeted pleasantly. "I wasn't aware you were the Instructor for this year's Academy entrees. How lucky!"
"Not at all," Hiroshi insisted, at last taking his gaze from Yuugao to grin brightly at the kunoichi. "I merely volunteered when I was told the staff would be shorthanded this year. Actually, I heard at one time that you were offered the position, Uzuki-san."
"Please, call me Eiko. I was asked, as you say." Yuugao felt her heart fluttery wildly; if Aunt Eiko was her Instructor, there would be no need to be on her own! "But I don't believe that would be appropriate with my niece beginning her lessons this year. She must be treated equally and part from her guardian at the same time as other children. How else will she gain independence?"
Yuugao's hopes plummeted, though she knew Eiko said these things for her benefit.
"That's very true." Descending to one knee, Hiroshi winked into her straight face. "So you're Yuugao-chan, huh? I knew your father before you were born, and I can see your mother in you."
She stayed silent, but her hand began to tremble. As though it was a cue, Eiko extracted her fingers from Yuugao's increasingly vice-like grip. The girl reacted strongly, reaching for her so fast that she fell over Hiroshi's protruded thigh. With a laugh, the shinobi caught her, but Yuugao was out of his touch in under three seconds.
"She's fast!" he exclaimed, both surprise and delighted.
Eyes wide, Yuugao stared at her aunt in a wordless plea. Eiko looked down not unkindly but spoke in the voice she used when her niece tried to sleep in too late. "Yuugao, you're being rude to your new sensei. You should be grateful that he is available while our country is on the verge of war."
"Come on," Hiroshi invited warmly, "don't you want to become a strong ninja like your aunt and your parents?"
Yuugao's reply was given in a voice so solemn that Hiroshi's smile was extinguished like a flame. "Ninjas die."
She spoke so minimally in school that she became known as the Secret, not because she necessarily kept any but because everything about her suggested that she did. It was not unheard of for Academy children to have lost both parents in pre-war battle, as Yuugao had. What was strange was that she did not boast of the ways in which they had died per the standard defense mechanism for orphans.
Yuugao did not seek attention that way most in her age group did. Rather, she seemed to avoid it at all costs. She did not respond in class, interact with her peers at recess, or make a new friend every day. It was, in fact, not until her second year in the Academy that she allowed the company of anyone at her lunch spot – beneath a thick oak tree on the East grounds. But her observing ability was flawless, and in live practice with training weapons she could mimic a teacher's action so well that Instructor Hiroshi worried she was not learning so much as she was copying others. Her written tests were often perfect as well because she was so focused, if not scholarly.
In response to her icy demeanor, she was treated cruelly by her classmates. Though her teachers surmised this was only because Yuugao did not seem to possess the same flaws as the rest of them. She was beautiful in appearance, talented in her studies, and ranked the highest in her class. The only thing that could be held against her was seized and expanded upon as much as possible: she was a girl.
A group of energetic boys watched with hateful glared as she took her turn throwing shuriken and kunai at a dummy post. They whispered among themselves while she launched blade after blade, often several at a time, always hitting vital points. She never expressed any displeasure or joy at these triumphs; she could simply walk away and wait for the next task assigned to her.
That weapons had become her specialty seemed to set off most of the would-be shinobi in her age group. No one had yet dared advance on her beyond a shouted insult that went ignored each time, but when Hiroshi had gone inside to see to a substitute teacher's needs, the whispering cluster of boys made their move.
"Uzuki, I heard your parents were killed when Cloud-nin used a simple bit of genjutsu," one boy sneered, "and they died from going crazy right away."
"Nah," interjected another one, jerking a little when Yuugao's dark eyes went to him, "my dad told me about it. The Uzukis got killed from a couple shuriken to the throat!"
A chorus of responses ("that's freaking lame," "who dies from that?") met Yuugao's ears. Though uncommonly reserved, a seven-year-old's detachment only can go so far, and she swiveled on a boy who had intended to sneak up behind and hold her while his friends distracted her. His hands got as far as the ends of her hair before she spun, palming the hilt of the kunai she had not thrown, and sent a straight, shallow gash streaking red across his forehead.
The boy's eyes widened fractionally more with each second that passed until he realized that blood from the cut was dripping into them. "Sen…" He choked, finding his voice late. "Sensei….SENSEI!"
The title went up like a chant until all fourteen of Yuugao's fellow students went racing toward the school, shouting for their teacher, relishing that there was impending trouble for the oh-so-perfect classmate. She did not move, standing in the grass with traces of blood falling from her kunai's edge, the spring breeze fluttering her hair.
Hiroshi came, and behind him followed the eager children, each of them holding their breath in wait for the outcome. The grim line of her sensei's marred mouth told Yuugao that he knew what had happened. With his yellow eyes on her, he said, "Shirada."
The boy, Shirada, came forward, the cut still bleeding wretchedly even though he held a hand to it.
"What is an important rule to being a shinobi? What do we never do, or else our honor is completely taken from us?"
Shirada's mouth fell open as his mind settled on one of the very first things he had ever been taught at the Academy. "We…we don't betray our comrades?" He ended interrogatively, as though he hoped he was wrong.
"Correct." Hiroshi turned to him, his expression baleful. "You may go home. Tell your father you are suspected from my classroom for the next month. Tell him I expect a conference with him before the weekend. Should he fail to show, I will visit your home myself. Is this understood?"
Shirada, now pale in all visible skin, nodded vehemently. Hiroshi nodded back, and the boy fled. The following silence in the yard seemed nearly palpable as all eyes left Shirada's retreating form and returned once again to Yuugao. Her face was as blank as it had been before the incident.
"Return to the room," Hiroshi ordered, and his students obeyed, disappointed. He fell into step beside Yuugao as she, too, moved toward the school. The back of his hand brushed her elbow as it swung at her side, and he sharply pulled away. "You realize, of course, that taking your weapon to him was wrong?"
She nodded curtly, though she did not fully agree. He had attacked her, and the kunai had been the simplest way to defend herself.
"Answer me, please, Uzuki."
Her voice, so rarely heard, seemed to stun Hiroshi for a moment before he continued. "Make sure you realize too, Yuugao, that this is not to be the last of your trials. In our current times, kunoichi is still a strange word. Female ninja are not yet fully accepted. You will be criticized and treated as lesser than a man, regardless of your skills."
"Yes, sir." This she was more than aware of, yet comprehension made her despise it no less.
"Do you want to be a kunoichi, Yuugao?"
She stopped walking. Hiroshi halted a few paces in front and looked back, puzzled. Her brows had knitted together in thought.
Yuugao looked up at the sky, gray with an impending rainfall. "It doesn't matter what I feel, sensei. That is one of the highest rules of a ninja. Isn't it?"
Hiroshi exhaled, his face showing a feeling she did not recognize. "Yes, Uzuki. It unfortunately is."
In school she was unsurpassable, yet she still strove to improve. No matter what her talent suggested, Yuugao did not long for acknowledgement or recognition. She did not want fame or glory. Honor even mattered little to her since she believed it was an individual value.
But she had heard of Hatake Kakashi, a Chuunin at age seven, and now that the Land of Fire was at war, she wanted nothing more than to rise to his level of skill, if it were at all possible. Upon her graduation from the Academy, Hiroshi left the teaching job there to become the team leader for her two Genin shinobi. She had experienced war, fought in battles that had come to Konoha, and seen the death of her uncle under the poisoned senbon of a Cloud-nin before her tenth birthday. It was not until a week after the sealing of the Kyuubi and, as a result, the end of the war that she came into association with Kakashi.
She was airing laundry at home with her Aunt Eiko. The day was bright but the neat house no longer held the same resolute joy that had been present before the war. Her father's sister-in-law had given in to her age, moving with far less energy than she used to. The deaths of her husband and the Fourth Hokage had proven to be too much stress for Eiko's will, and as a result she had buckled. The way she spoke to Yuugao was almost as short and detached as the way Yuugao spoke to her.
But Yuugao heard her crying herself to sleep each night from across the hall.
"I was informed by a friend of mine, an aide of the third, that the boy named Hatake Kakashi returned from a dangerous mission three days ago." Eiko spoke with a grim set to her mouth that used to always be smiling.
Yuugao paused in the act of folding a bed sheet over the line. Her foster mother knew of her admiration for Kakashi's work as a shinobi, but the woman had never opened the topic herself. Curious, she turned her brown eyes to Eiko.
"Apparently his teammate, Rin, has retired from ninja work, citing her reason as an overload of grief. It's said she never was the same ever since that Uchiha boy died on a mission with her and Kakashi."
The young kunoichi had heard of the sorrowful event, both the facts and the rumors; that Uchiha Obito had died, that Kakashi had nearly betrayed his teammates, that Rin had performed some type of impromptu surgery. Yuugao had chalked most of it up to hearsay, though she had seen the Uchiha clan funeral procession shortly after the Fourth's team had returned.
Eiko had little more information to offer, so Yuugao followed the story to satisfy her interest. As details became available, she learned that the medical kunoichi was to be permanently on-staff in the Konoha medical unit. Yuugao, now an eleven-year-old Genin, skipped a scheduled training day with her team (the Genin shinobi, she was sure, would be defeated by the strain before the year's end) to meet her in person.
She was easily found, working in the office of the Konoha hospital, reviewing accounts for the hospital's renovation after damage had been done during an ambush from Sunagakure. The wounds inflicted by the war were still painfully new in many places around Konoha, the least benign being the medical areas. It made sense, strategically, for the enemy to take out the healers as efficiently as possible, and true, Konoha was the culprit of many such attacks. Yuugao, however, could not help but consider the maneuver to be in bad taste.
Rin was a slim woman, and most likely her position had been as a doctor first and a fighter last. She looked as though she could be easily overtaken, though Yuugao spotted a potential for impressive accuracy simply in the way she moved pen over paper. The skill would not be honed as well as her own, even though Rin was four years Yuugao's senior. It seemed a sad thing to Yuugao that a girl of fourteen, not even entered in her prime, had given up her ninja career due to the emotional toll war took on people.
"Rin-sempai?" Unused to addressing others, Yuugao felt a surge of defenses rush forward and try to block in her feelings, but the violet-haired girl fought through it. The medical kunoichi looked up from her paperwork and gave an automatic yet genuine smile.
"Can I help you?"
"I'm…" Those defenses were like a wall, and she stepped into the crowded hospital office to push herself. "My name is Uzuki Yuugao. I'm the kunoichi for Hiroshi-sensei's team?"
Rin turned in the swivel chair to face her fully, her long hair swinging with the about-face. "Ah, I've heard of you, I think. The girl with the affinity for weapon handling. One hundred percent accuracy." At this, she gave a short laugh. "Hiroshi-sensei was a friend of my sensei. He bragged about you to the Fourth a couple of times, and I overheard."
Had Yuugao been any more susceptible for embarrassment, she would have blushed from hairline to neckline. "To the Fourth…he mentioned me?"
"He sure did. Actually," Rin continued, rifling through some files on her desk, "you're one of the students we get alerts on. It's expected that you'll be brought here for self-inflicted injuries given your choice of battle focus, but the truth is we have more records on your opponents than you." Looking back up, it was obvious she expected Yuugao to be amused or possibly ashamed, but the younger girl showed neither. "Well, you're a quiet one, I see. Was there anything you needed from me?"
Now that the point had been asked for, Yuugao was not entirely sure what she had come for. To ask what it had been like to be on the same team with Hatake Kakashi would make her sound like an airhead crushing an impressive shinobi, and Yuugao did not want her real wonderings to be taken in the wrong context. "I suppose, I…I wanted to ask…what drove you to give up being a kunoichi?"
The question out, Rin's smile fell to be replaced with open-mouthed surprise. Yuugao's hands formed fists at her sides, and she waited to be told that she was a foolish child stepping over boundaries by asking rude things of her elder village mates. No such rebuke came. After a minute of uninterrupted silence, Rin leaned back in her chair and regarded Yuugao solemnly.
"You were told I collapsed under the stress, weren't you? Don't worry," Rin added when Yuugao's eyes widened as she sought an excuse, "it's all right. That was the reason put into circulation among the villagers. I could not be expected to pass undetected by the public eye. My team has had too much attention." When her visitor did not make a reply, she stood up and took a few steps forward. Yuugao's hand went to the doorframe, as though she would have pressed against it for moment had she decided to flee. She stayed where she was, though, and waited. "The truth," confessed her senior kunoichi, "is that Kakashi asked me to retire from live combat."
Yuugao's eyes shot to Rin's. Whatever she had been expected, it had not been that. She had always heard that Hatake Kakashi lived for the battle and only abided those who did the same. Rin must have seen these sentiments and more in Yuugao's face, for she only smiled once more. "It was to fulfill a promise that he made to our dead Obito. I did not want to be the reason that promise was not kept, so I did as he asked. I'm very content to make myself useful here," she concluded honestly.
Yuugao did not know why, but she felt urged to respond. It was as though this young woman's earnestness had demanded a return confession from her. "I feel compelled to succeed," she murmured at last. "I wish to see the world's opinion of female ninja change. For them to see that we are not worthless, that we are just as important as the shinobi of this village."
At that, Rin chuckled, and Yuugao felt instantly hurt. It was not a new feeling, but it had not directly affected her many times in her life as she had so often kept herself locked away from anyone else's influence. But she had opened herself up to Rin, perhaps without realizing it, and now faced the consequences.
"You aren't the first of us to wish for that, Yuugao. I believe every woman on the battlefield yearns for equality at some time. The remarkable thing is that it is never a desire had for ourselves personally, but for the rest. For the sisters who shed blood like we do, that they may be recognized." Tearing herself from her reverie, Rin shook her head a little. "Not an impossible dream, mind you, but a faraway one."
The question was asked so simply that Rin's smile came and stayed this time. "Because for now, this world of ours belongs to men. Our happiness comes from knowing that, without us, they would have nothing."
It was an unusual conversation for two young girls; one only eleven, the other fourteen. But this is what a life of ninja training and the horror brought on by war did to children. It made them think – while they still were alive to do so.
Strangely satisfied, Yuugao gave a slow nod and made a low bow. She was thinking of leaving when Rin stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. She tensed in reaction, and then slowly relaxed.
"Why don't you come again tomorrow? We can discuss the topic more thoroughly."
It was a strange sort of beginning, Yuugao realized that evening when she was sitting in bed throwing plastic darts at the target drawn on her wall and making bull's-eye after bull's eye. Trusting someone was frighteningly new. She had never fully trusted her teammates or even Hiroshi-sensei.
But she was finding with each fresh remembrance of Rin's smiles and honest answers that she found the feeling positive. And maybe it was time she gave herself up to positive.
To Be Continued