Disclaimer: Don't own anything.
Author's Note: I seem to have gotten a bit obsessed with Rin's character lately, which I think is easy to do since she's such a blank slate, yet with such a good character base. My brother and I have finished writing our book and it's currently going through the family editing process.
In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. ~José Narosky
You don't know this village anymore. Very little is still the same and you can pick out few familiar faces in the crowd. (How many were dead, you wonder. If you visited the memorial stone, how many more names would you recognize?)
You're little more than a ghost as you walk through the streets. You're careful to avoid the ANBU's eye as some of them might recognize her. (It's a pang of pain to know that people you had grown up with, had laughed with—if they were still alive after all these years—could be assassins which was a very different thing from being a killer).
You don't belong here. Not anymore. You aren't sure where you belong, but it isn't here.
A scarf was wrapped around the lower half of your face, concealing the tattoos and your hair was longer than it used to be, even though it was wrapped in a bun for now. Most of the village doesn't bother you as much as you thought it would, as much as it should. So much had been destroyed and rebuilt over the years that few buildings were the same.
Ichiraku still stands with the air of a beaten old barn; the wood splintered and cracked, but still it stood sturdy. You take a seat in the corner and orders pork ramen and you people-watch the others in the restaurant. There is a young man sitting at the counter, a bright splotch in the dim light of the restaurant.
You catch yourself before you call out instinctively to him. He was similar, but the colors were all wrong. The hair too light, the clothes too orange, the skin too brown. There are three dark lines on each cheek and you ignore the yanking of her heartstrings when you realize who this must be. He looks like his father, very much so. But his mother was there in the softened lines of his face.
You sees phantoms of your Konoha,(Your team, your boys. Yours, yours, yours) superimposed over the world in front of you. There's his laughter, bright and loud and her sensei's chuckles and the snapping of chopsticks. There's a familiar eye roll and a half-smile hidden behind cloth and the arguing of boys. Your boys.
You swallow hard and leave your table without eating.
This isn't the village you know. This isn't the village in the grip of war where people were afraid to go outside lest they be hit with a bomb. This is a village where children laugh and run through the streets, where shinobi are protectors and guardians of the peace, not murderers and blood-stained ghosts.
Your heart nearly stops when you see her father's old bookstore, still in one piece and still standing proud. But the man behind the counter isn't her father.
And you know the man exiting the store, the bell jingling merrily behind him. He's tall and lanky with his nose in a book that you recognize. You want to tease him for buying it—it certainly wasn't his tastes—but then, it wasn't yours either. He'd probably bought it for the same reason you had. For the unconscious need to find Them in the pages, to hear old Jiraiya in the words.
He glances up and you're quick to pretend you're interested in the fruit stall, inspecting an apple carefully. He looks away and you think that perhaps it's time you were leaving. There was a possibility that he hadn't seen you, that he hadn't thought it was strange, but you haven't survived a decade and a half on your own because you wasn't cautious.
But there were a few stops to make first.
The girl that's at the counter of the flower store is pretty in that pale-winter-sunshine-and-cornflower way. The girl reminds you of secrets stolen and spirits in other people's bodies.
The last stop is at a polished black marble stone that stings your hand with the heat when you touch it. As you kneel to set the flowers down, your eyes rake over the stone, searching for those names. You find them a little above the halfway point. Uchiha Obito. And two lines down, Namikaze Minato. Uzumaki Kushina.
There are more names, many more, that you recognize. Classmates, friends, acquaintances, teachers…so many are gone now.
"So it was you. I'm not crazy."
His voice has changed since you last saw him. It's deeper now, a little amused, with a bittersweet undertone. You swallow, not wanting to smile. "Not for that reason anyway."
He huffs out a chuckle. "You're late."
You look over at him, not entirely sure whether he's being serious or not. His eyes don't give anything away. So you smile slightly as you tug the scarf down. "The road's an interesting place. I got lost."
He stares at you for a moment. Just stares. It isn't the kind of look a man gives a woman. This is something different, something calculating, but not cold. Finally, after the moment has stretched between the both of you, he asks, "How are you?"
You stuff your hands in your pockets and look up. The sky in Konoha always seems very blue, the bluest you've ever seen. "All things considered, pretty good." You turn and eye him. He's still unkempt, still lean, but he's always been like that. "Clearly, you haven't been found dead in bed yet."
"Gai is partially to blame for that."'
You hum in interest. "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me…how's sensei's kid?"
He focuses on the memorial. "The kid grows in leaps and bounds. Sometimes, I think I won't be able to keep up."
You chuckle. "You're getting old."
"You're the same age."
You flash him a grin, suddenly feeling all of twelve years old again. "Yeah, but I'm not the one with gray hair, am I?" The look he gives you has laughter bursting out of you. Once you can breathe properly again, though the smile hasn't faded, you say, "I've missed this."
"Then stay." He says. As if it could be so simple.
Your smile disappears. "I want to, but I won't." Had it been anyone else, you might have lied, might have said that you couldn't stay rather than you wouldn't. "I've got responsibilities that I have to get back to."
"Responsibilities, not people?"
"Not really, no."
"I still don't hear a reason as to why you can't stay then." But he knows. Just like you know. It hurts to be here, hurts to see all that's changed, hurts to remember, hurts to forget. He stayed. You didn't. End of story.
"You don't have to." You tell him before walking away. Before you go, though, you say over your shoulder, "Hey." He glances at you. "You look good."
He snorts. "Yeah…you too."
And you disappear, as much of a ghost now as when you came back.