Notes: Still looking for a pre reader, or beta reader. Sorry for all the melodrama-ness but things should be lighten up soon. You will notice the sudden change from last chapter, thanks to a certain review i decided to take a different story path. Let's see if it pans out.
"A public flogging." The hokage stated and I grit my teeth, a far too lenient punishment. "Or..." he continued and it forced my gaze to rise. "You accept your graduation and continue to fight for the village but under veil of suspicion."
My heart stopped, had I heard correctly? A flogging, or everything I've dreamed of? Was this some sort of jest? Accept my graduation under suspicion meant no more than probation and enforced team activity to verify my loyalty. Common for all graduates.... The options spun in my head till I came to a crashing stop.
"I failed." I spoke flatly not hiding the tone of resentment I felt.
"Ah yes... well it seemed there had been a mix up with the paperwork." The hokage gave a soft smile. "Iruka has informed me quite adamantly that you are indeed a graduate."
"He lives?" I questioned, my concern genuine and a scapegoat to cover my disbelief at such words coming from Iruka.
"Yes, and will make a full recover. The same for the others." The hokage spoke and the images of the first team to find me flashed though her mind. I cringed thinking more punishment was due but no more was spoken on that subject.
"I... i will graduate sir." I bowed deeply my heart fluttering wildly in hope but prepared for a cruel betrayal. It never came.
"Very well. Report to the academy tomorrow and await assignment to a team and collection of your proof of graduation." The hokage nodded to the guard and with clear reluctance he unbound my bindings freeing me.
"Thank you sir." I spoke and the hokage gave a dismissive nod. I accepted it and left.
My eyes opened escaping the fairytale dream that had played in my head. Ha, if only reality had been so convenient. I hissed laying nude atop my futon except for my loincloth. Countless violent welts burnt across my back from the flogging I had chosen over my dream. The offer had tempted me but my pride betrayed me and my thoughts had been manipulated by the dark discovery of my past.
How dare they spit on me and expect me to honour them, to show loyalty towards them forsaking their crimes. Iruka's words wrung in my ears 'I only wanted someone to blame, someone to be responsible' and a blinding hatred overcame me.
The entire village was no different I could see it now. They hated me without fact, without cause, only a desire to sate their selfish needs for comfort. As long as I was a monster then it was ok the village was almost destroyed, their loved ones dead. I could be the target of all their emotions they were too weak to deal with, children. The entire village was full of children...
"Nnnn!" I whimpered aloud arching up from my stomach crawling to all fours and stood. My back stung terribly. I knew it would soon numb and heal as past experiences taught me, if only the same was true for my soul...
I truly wished I had not learned the truth, not from Mizuki and especially not from Iruka. Where I had expected relief and forgiveness within me I only found betrayal and hatred. I was bitter and scornful and refused to accept Iruka's words. To me they were nothing but childish pleas trying to excuse a crime that disserved no forgiveness. If I had hated him before... now... now I didn't know. I had no word to describe the raw grotesque feelings the raged within me, deeper then hatred.
I sensed the person outside my room before the knock came, my gaze already heavy on the door. At random I collected my orange gi top, one of many as the one i had worn the knight before was now in tatters. Sliding it on, its lose fabric hung to my mid thighs protecting my modesty but the large v necked collar exposed much of my chest, still, my breasts where mostly concealed. Opening the door I was momentarily alarmed to see a familiar face.
"Sakura." I stated flatly staring at an old acquaintance of mine. We had joined the academy at the same age so shared most of the same class's though the years until the first graduation where she succeeded and I failed. We had never been friends but had shared words on occasion. I didn't know what my towards her were anymore but i did know i was not happy to see her.
"I was sent to examine your wounds." Sakura spoke professionally, indifferent. Long time no see nice to see you too... Ha, she probably didn't even remember me, miss prodigy medic nin.
"I'm fine." I spoke and went to shut my door but it was blocked by her foot and hand holding it open. Immediately I felt anger boil inside of me. My sanctuary, my home, don't she dare try and control it.
"It's not a request." Sakura informed calmly. "Think of this as part of your punishment too if you must." She continued and this time i clearly detected the accusation and anger in her voice. I glared at her then decided i wanted her gone as soon as possible.
"Make it quick." I demanded and turned entering my home trying to ignore the fact she would follow. I sat on a chair beside the dining table and pulled the back of my gi up over my shoulders before wrapping my arms around the back of the chair which my chest leaned against. After a short silence and no action I glanced over my shoulder glaring.
"Well?" I hissed pulling Sakura from her stare at the state of my room. I was reminded again how i had detested the fact she was a spoiled princess. Not so much as another girl I recalled from the academy, but almost as bad. She was given every comfort she desired and all the love she could handle. It reopened searing wounds of jealousy i thought long healed and i was forced to cut my head away silently waiting again.
I didn't have to wait long as her hands soon traced my back gently, bringing fire to my wounds. I made no sound or even tensed as she went about whatever she was ordered to do. For a moment I thought her words where appropriate to think of this as part of my punishment, she certainly gave no care to the pain i felt as she handled me.
"You will be fine." She stated finally and i felt the overwhelming urge to strike her or give a venoms retort. Didn't i say that at the door? I withheld it and looked over my shoulder expecting her to go. She stared back but got the hint. Hesitantly she glanced around my room once more in a disapproving manner then turned reluctantly and left only stopping at my door to call over her shoulder.
"I never thought you of all people would try and betray the village." And then she was gone my door closing with a reverberating slam. Had Sakura remained to see my reaction she would of feared for her life at the expression i now wore.
"You of all people?" The words slipped bitterly from my throat. What did she mean by 'you of all people'. Where in the hell did that pampered princess get off saying such words? Our conversations could be counted on two hands and she believed she knew me? Believed she was qualified to make such a statement? Just who the hell did she think she was.
My anger raged like a maelstrom but all to quickly it evaporated, suffocated under the weight of recent events. I sighed and soon found myself smiling, grinning at the obscurity of my life. Soon my lips curled as i began to giggle then laugh, full chested forcing me to wince as it aggravated my wounds.
My laugher too did not last long as my emotions changed like a kaleidoscope only to stop on just one. loneliness. I was alone, completely and fully. I had always been but i deluded myself with beliefs those around me were companions and allies. I now knew how wrong and naive i had been. Too the village I was an eye sour, an outsider, a monster. And now with Sakura's words I was alone more than ever.
If there has been people giving me the benefit of the doubt... i perhaps had just lost all my credibility. The doubtful reassured i was deserving of my. For a moment i wondered if Teuchi would feel the same, the only friend i had in the entire village. Why wouldn't he? My flogging had been public and my crime announced.
I felt weak and a little sick at the thought but grind and smiled, it didn't mater did it? No, i survived alone, i was strong. I didn't need anyone's help, their companionship, their weakness. It was starting to become clear that all this time it was the village that needed me, not the other way around. If they didn't have me to blame, to oppress, their lives would have been damaged and chaotic struggling with a reality they wanted to deny. Why did i have to be scarified for them... let them rot with their childish feelings and cry when i was no longer around to comfort them with my suffering.
"Smile smile." I spoke with a strained smile trying to cover my feelings of loneliness. I had always liked those words, the favourite phrase of a young happy go lucky ninja in a manga i had once read as a child. She would right wrongs and save the day while making everyone around her smile and forget about their pains and hardships.
It was a silly unrealistic manga but i had always dreamed that ninja would one day visit my door and tell me to smile. She would conquer the great evil and free me from my life of oppression becoming a close friend in the process. After that she would take my hand and together we would go out into the world to do the same for others... A Childs fantasy... how pathetic. The smile soon became less strained and more natural, smile smile. I could do that at least. I could smile.
Standing i removed the gi top to carefully only to spend the next few minutes whimpering and suppressing hiss's of pain as i dressed properly. I would not wallow in self pity in my sanctuary, it would only taint the comfort it brought me. No, i would go out and show my face, my smile.
Leaving my home i began to walk aimlessly till my feet decided to lead me to a place i did not want to go. I looked ups staring hesitantly at the Ichiraku Ramen stand and i could hear Teuchi behind the curtains tending the cookers. I felt no hunger, not in the slightest, but i could not walk away. I was here for one reason alone... to confirm the damage i had done.
"Welcome please have a seat." Teuchi spoke glancing at me, no reaction. I sat. "What will it be?"
"Beef ramen." I replied and he gave a relaxed nod, soon i found the steaming bowl before me and i dug in. We didn't exchange words but it was not unusual for us so i relaxed and tried to enjoy the meal. Before i knew it i had finished, perhaps my emotions had masked my hunger. I stood reaching for my money to pay.
"500." Teuchi spoke his back to me, his voice as level as always. My heart stopped. So... so that's that then. My smile faltered but i endured and maintained it. I knew the menu by heart and he knew that. I had always paid without question and never accepted free meals, he knew that too. His statement of the price i had already intended to pay was a clear message.
"Thank you for the meal." I spoke, money on the counter turning to leave. "Sorry to have bothered you, i won't return again." I could sense his casual nod and the fact he posed no argument shattered my heart. Pushing though the curtains out into the street i couldn't have looked happier with the bight radiant smile on my lips but i doubted i had ever felt so terrible in my entire life.
My history with Teuchi danced though my mind. Bright and colourful full of happiness and excitement now growing cold, monotone, dead. I had lost something i would not get back and never in my life had i regretted anything as much as i did now. One last glance at the back of the man i had come to love as a father figure, and then i turned and left for the final time. Smile smile.
Hours passed as I wandered with no destination in mind. I was in shock and cared little for the events around me. People pointed and stared, I was a traitor, some even confronted me stopping me by blocking my path. They yelled scornfully and threatened attack but my serine smile and dead eyes placated them leaving them unnerved and confused.
Finally the cotton cleared from my ears as the static faded and the sounds of the forest broke though my defences. I stood within a familiar training ground looking downward at the long shadows cast by the evening sun. Why not?
Sighing I took a deep breath and prepared myself to train heedless of my condition or emotional state. I did not think twice as I began to warm up then jumped right into a high level kata with my blade slicing at an army of phantom foes. This... this right now... right here... it was nice...
My lips parted still holding the serine smile, my eyes still lifeless but now hooded with euphoria. I could only depend on myself, no one else. Companionship, it made you weak, it brought pain. No i didn't need any of that, i didn't need anyone or anything. Just this, this deadly dance, this strength, this body... me. Only me and nothing more.
Sweat beaded on my flesh as i pushed harder and further, my body burning screaming for mercy, i showed none. The more i pushed the brighter my smile became, i was strong. Strong enough for this, strong enough for anything. Life returned to my eyes and laughter burst from my lips as i blurred about fighting of a hundred foes.
Not enough.. this wasn't enough! I was drunk on my euphoria, my battle lust, it threatened to drown me and i opened my lungs wide in acceptance. But like all good things in my life this too came to a sudden and abrupt end as my exhaustion took hold casing me to slip and fall to all fours. Ankle twisted, an armatures mistake.
I panted ragged and hoarse attempting to replenish my strength. My body burned heated and ablaze with new stress and injury. My hair matted wetly to my neck and back from sweat and blood. My nose wrinkled at the potent musk of it and i knew i had aggravated my wounds which now bled freely. I paid it no mind as such gashes were far from life threatening, untreated or not.
"Ahh i feel better." I spoke aloud collapsing on my thighs, legs under me and looked up into the starry night sky. I smiled, this time genuinely. I really did feel better, my workout having used my negative feelings as fuel and burnt them all away. I felt empty and hollow but no longer anguished.
"Honestly why was i so upset?" I asked running my fingers though my long matted hair giving myself a soft laugh. It was a swift uncaring movement, the one that severed my hair from scalp. In a trance I sat cutting my hair with the sharp edge of a kuna. I had loved my hair, taken pride in it, now it seemed so pointless. So vain.
Before long all evidence of my long hair had been butchered. My hair now cut short just below my ears, my neck exposed but concealed below my elastic mask. If the world desired to take everything i cherished then i would take it first. It couldn't hurt me now, i knew its game, their game. If i refused to play by the rule well then...
"You can't hurt me anymore." I goaded quietly to the stars feeling no sympathy for the river of hair discarded on the ground, tainted with my sweat and blood. My eyes closed and i was at peace. Happily alone, and Free...
"But..." I spoke again eyes opening hooded and dulled with vengeance. "Don't think i will forgive you." If the world or the village felt threatened by my words they did not voice it and i hung my head overcome with weakness. I wanted to go home but i knew i would not make it. My eyes closed once more as i slumped forward surrendering to darkness.
Morning came and so did the thick smell of antiseptic. The hospital, it figured I'd wake up here. I did not rush my wakening instead i relaxed and let myself drift back and forth but it was all too soon before my aching body roused me. My eyes opened and stung from the blinding gaze of the sun that filtered though my window.
To my left a nurse noticed me and favoured me with open resentment slamming my patient chart into the holder on the wall. It looked as if i had been watched over till i woke and now that i had the nurse stood and left showing me as much hostility as possible. The door slammed, i smiled.
Sooner then i expected it opened once more revealing Sakura who entered the room with an angry scowl on her lips. To meet her twice in as many days... trick of fate i suppose. My smile light and soft i cast my eyes away back out the window my expression care free.
"I am here to take your report on the events of last night." Sakura spoke tightly as she pulled the nurses chair beside my bed and took seat. Report? Why? Oh... they probably think my battered condition was due to personal vengeance from the village. Funny... if such a event happened wouldn't they be hailed as hero's?
"Report?" I questioned distantly decided to make a game of this. I couldn't let them have all the fun anymore...
"Yes." Sakura spoke again in the same voice. "Of what happened last night to put you in such a state..."
"I don't want to talk about it." My voice wavered, intentional of course. Sakura took the bait as i knew she would.
"Please..." Her voice softened. "Tell me what happened."
"I..." I hesitated for a time letting Sakura think i was struggling with memories. "They followed me to the training area..." Sakura gave a nod and began to take note, my soft smile curled slightly, wickedly.
"Go on." Sakura comforted.
"I ignored them at first, training... taking my mind of things. They noticed my weakness..." I continues, my voice hollow. "They said they wanted to help me train... i told them no... but they..." I paused there and could almost feel the sympathy rolling of Sakura. She may have disliked me but she was so sheltered, such terrifying event probably made her heart go out to me. I was enjoying this.
"Then what...?" Sakura in the smallest softest voice she could placed her hand on my shoulder in reassurance. Had the event been real Sakura's touch would have been just as unwelcome then as it was now, but i went with it shaking slightly trying to hide the laughter in my chest. She mistook it for anguish.
"They chased me... cornered... me.. then they... they they...." My voice tightened, her grip following suit. "They held me down... one after another... until.. until they were satisfied... They cut my hair... left me..."
"I'm so sorry." Sakura's hand trembled and i could smell the salt from her tears welled up in her eyes. This was too much i couldn't go on. I exploded in laughter and immediately regretted it chocking and whimpering as my body cried in pain. It didn't feel like i had be privileged to any healing. Ass holes...
"Calm down... hold still." Sakura panicked and restrained me pinning my shoulders to the bed half leaning over me. My face contorted in terror staring up at her..
"Please.. no..." I whimpered and her eyes rounded in horror backing away immediately. My Laughter resumed and she finally began to clue in. Her expression turned from realization to betrayal to rage. I almost had to duck to avoid the notebook she threw at me in her temper.
"Do you think this is some kind of game!?" She demanded livid and i smiled sticking my tongue out at her cutely. It almost looked as if she would turn into some beast and snarl at me but she restrained herself.
"What really happened?" She demanded though clenched teeth.
"I told you i trained all night." I sighed and hissed a little pain throbbing though me I laid back limp and relaxed.
"Your telling me you got all those injury's from training?" She didn't believe me but it was the truth.
"You don't have to believe me." I stated flatly uncaring. "Make up whatever story you want, i don't care."
"Look if you where attacked you can tell me!" Sakura shouted and i wanted to laugh more but mood had passed. She continued to hover and i held my tongue. Finally she lost her patients and turned to leave.
"I never thought someone like you would give a crap about someone like me." I stated off handily but my resentment was clear. It caused Sakura to pause mid step at the door.
"Your still a human being." She spoke hoarsely and slamming the door. She missed my hollow reply.
"I don't know about that..."