The girl kneeled beside the bed, and took the sick man's pale hand on her own.
His head didn't move, but his bloodshot eyes turned to her. Seeing the pain on them, she had to fight back the tears. She couldn't remember the last time she cried, it was so unlike her.
With the free hand, the ancient made a gesture, and the girl leaned closer, watching him part his dry lips to speak
"I see the greatness in you. Few would get to where you can get, child." She nodded firmly. It was not like his worlds were strange to her. She was considered a genius even by her clan standards, but out of everyone her grandfather was the last person she'd expect to say such a thing in his deathbed "But with power, comes the duty of protecting those who are weaker. We, who know nothing of real pain, are the ones to receive the task to stop others from suffering. You have your future in front of yourself, a clear path, don't dwell on it."
The man's eyes widened and he tried to pull himself up, only to begin coughing up miserably. The girl was keeping him in a sitting position, supporting his back with the other hand.
"To protect those we love" He continued once his fit had stopped "it's not enough to be stronger than them. We have to be stronger than ourselves. Do you understand?"
She pondered a little. How could she be anything more than herself? That didn't make any sense.
Her answer was a short shake of head. The man, smiling sadly, ruffled her hair the best he could in his weakened state.
"No worries. You will, eventually. You are still young, still full of promises…" With a sigh, he proceeded. "Mei, you were blessed with talent, beauty and intelligence. All you need is courage."
"Protect your family. Protect your friends. Protect your village. And don't let anyone scare you into doing the wrong thing, because you will regret it for the rest of your life. Just like me."
He breathed deeply with his mouth, and a shiver ran down his body, making the girl shake too.
"Those are dark times for Kirigakure. I know I have no right to ask you anything, but please, if- if you can… protect those people. They need someone, someone better than who they have now. Don't let the darkness within our kage's heart consume the village."
Trembling, the girl opened her mouth to answer but no sound came. At first, she just stood there looking at her grandfather's saddened eyes. Gathering all the confidence she could, she finally replied.
"I promise." Her expression didn't quite match with her inner thoughts. In theory it all seemed easy, but she knew that things were always a lot less pretty in real life.
"Good." The man smiled sheepishly "Now go, I need to sleep." Turning his back to her, the man closed his eyes and adjust himself in the bed.
"Sleep well." She whispered out of politeness, walking out of the room.
As she stumbled across the corridor, Mei felt this was the last time she'd be wishing her grandfather a good rest.
Independent of how many people walked around the streets of Kirigakure, it always seemed empty due to the heavy mist that covered it at all times. Even more so that particular day.
Green eyes scanned the mist, as if searching for something. But they were not. At least, not something that could be found by merely looking at it.
Answers were never that easy. Sure, some could be found in a book, but the realization of them being true depended on something else entirely.
Hugging her legs to herself tightly the girl rested her chin over her knees and sighed.
She was completely clueless.
Mei didn't know what she was supposed to do, and not even if she should be doing anything at all. She was afraid. Just like she'd always been, ever since she could remember. She could pretend well, none did ever know. The days would go by and she'd keep up the mask, happy and untouchable, as if everything around her was just a dream. Closing her eyes was simply convenient, so she learned how to. Sometimes she'd feel guilty, but that she could ignore as well. Being blind was not odd to her.
Lost in her thoughts, she didn't notice the steps, until she saw two feet firmly planted in front of her.
"Chieko-chan" Mei looked up with a smile that didn't quite match her eyes "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, of course." The younger girl answered with arms crossed "You didn't show up for the funeral"
At these words, the brunette looked down.
"I don't like funerals"
"And why is that?"
This question leaded to a painful moment of silence
"…Funerals are boring"
Chieko stared at the girl who was avoiding her eyes and kneeled down, patting her head, not knowing exactly what she should say in a moment like that.
"He told me" Mei whispered, still staring at her toes "He told me… But I don't think I can do it, I don't know what he meant…"
She bit her lips to fight back the tears. She knew crying wouldn't help anything, so why was that the thing she wanted to do the most? As she felt arms embracing her neck and was pushed into a hug, she couldn't hold herself anymore.
"Ch-chieko…" She sobbed on her friends shoulder "T-tell me… Wh-what d-does it mean? Th-that to… to prot-tect th-those we love… we m-must, not only… n-not only be stronger than t-them b-but, b-but be str-tronger than our… ourselves… What does it mean?"
"I think" The other girl murmured after a little pondering "I think it's about overcoming. See… You shouldn't be satisfied with what you are; you should still be trying to get better. Even if you are stronger than those you wish to protect, that wouldn't be enough. I think it's about, not being the best where you live, but being the best you can be."
Mei nodded understanding, and while her eyes were still watery the tears had stopped running "He also said… To help them. To help Kirigakure…"
The other just sighed. It was easier said than done. It was not like Mei was the only one worried about the state and the (deserved) reputation of their village, but at the same time, none moved a finger to change it.
"And that's why I'm going there" She continued, now with a determinate spark to her glance
"There?" Chieko let go of her to stare at her friend, who had her eyes glued at the building behind her.
"Up there." She pointed to a large window in the circular wall "I'll kick Yagura from his throne, I'll wear the crown that should've never been his, I'll be the fifth Mizukage and I'll fix everything he's done to us."
"Woah, and are you just declaring this out here, that you're going to go against him? Right where he can see us? You know, if he put his head outside the window we…"
"Don't worry." Mei interrupted "I'm not doing this now, nor alone and nor out of the blue. But I'm not going to keep ignoring it, acting like everything is fine when it's not. This village and its people gave me everything, and if I can do anything to help it, I will. I might not make it to Kage, and I know it… But… But I swear I'll protect everyone, even if it kills me."
"Aren't you scared?" Chieko asked, eying the girl who had already rose to her feet
"Of course I am. I am, but I'm much more scared of what will happen to Kirigakure if Yagura never leaves." She sighed "One day he'll fall, and I want to be there when it happens. So, what do you say, Chi-chan? Will you help me out?"
"Well" the other laughed, seeing the girl's wide grin. Sometimes she wondered if she really was two years older "Why not? I don't think anyone could do a worse job than Yagura, anyways"
Mei giggled and helped the other girl up "Now, come, we have some training to do."
"What? B-but, shouldn't we be mourning or something?" Chieko asked in a semi-horrified tone, not so much because Mei seemed to have gotten over her grandfather's death so quickly (she knew how well she could bottle up this kind of feeling), but for forcing her to train, just the day she hoped she'd have nothing to do.
"No time for negativity!" Mei yelled, dragging the struggling girl behind her "We have to get stronger!"