十九 | begonia (fear)
The wind tickled my face, beams of sunlight penetrating through the rustling canopy of trees in dappled shadow. I gazed up at the leafy cover above me, squinting at the brightness that almost blinded me. The area was surrounded by a field of vibrant sunflowers facing towards their fiery star of a namesake, swaying in the pleasant breeze.
A whisper breathed into my ear, 'Over here…'
My eyes drifted towards the ground to a black hare. It was licking at its paws and cleaning its face, innocently going about its own business. Curious, I took a cautious step towards it, the gritty soil beneath my boot crunching softly. The hare froze at the sound, ears erect with alertness, its red eyes staring straight at me in trepidation.
"I'm not gonna hurt you, lil' guy," I crooned, hands out in an open and non-threatening stance.
It immediately turned tail and bounded away from me, heading into the sunflower field.
"Wait!" I called out desperately."Where the hell are you going?"
The leather of my shoes scraped against each other, making me stumble when I started to run after the startled animal. Sunlight cast over me in a swathe of warmth after I left the shade, the wind rushing through my hair as the sweetness of the air filled my lungs. Sunflower leaves tickled my face while I charged through the field, and I swept the stalks away with my bare forearms. The little black hare continued to hop frantically away, escaping through the spaces in the undergrowth. The flowers began to thin out the further we ran, and the stench of manure grew in the middle of this literally shitty countryside.
Wrinkling my nose, I pushed apart the last stalks in front of me, only to find myself standing in front of an open, asphalt road.
Motor roads don't exist in Konoha, do they…?
The hare stood at the edge of it, toeing the line between earth and pavement. Its whiskers twitched, the eerie, ruby glow of its unblinking eyes sending shivers down my spine. A rumbling noise began to approach us, making me jump with its startling familiarity.
I hadn't heard the sound of a running engine in years… but how?
A hulking semi-trailer truck drove nearer. The driver wasn't visible through its heavily tinted windows, though they honked their horn at the sight of me.
My heart wanted to anxiously burst out of my chest, dread pitting in my stomach, and I had no idea know why. Without warning, the midnight hare turned and began to dart across the road. The truck was fast approaching, its horn blaring into my ears, drowning out the cry that tore away from my throat.
I could only stand there and watch helplessly as tyres crushed the hare's body, leaving a bloody puddle of dark fur and viscera in the middle of the road.
The truck sped away, roadkill having gone unnoticed. Everything went still for a moment, the silence deafening.
It shattered when I started to scream, and I couldn't stop.
Kakashi looked at me with that annoying concern in his eyes after having shaken me awake. It was my doing, my calculating influence that he was like this, that he gave any undeserving shits about me at all.
"Neechan...?" The affection in his voice was unnatural.
Fuming, I smacked away his hands from my arms, and grabbed the diary from my nightstand, wordlessly sitting myself at my desk. My pen furiously scrawled across the page while I forced myself to recall and jot down every lurid detail from that abso-fucking-lutely horrid nightmare.
Too absorbed in my writing, I jumped when the brat placed a gloved hand over mine, making me scribble messily onto the page.
My temper snapped. "For fuck's sake, Kakashi!" I snarled, throwing my pen across the room.
It clattered against the wardrobe, and he flinched. My breaths came out heavily, hands gripping onto the edge of the table.
"S-sorry…" I gasped in air, letting my forehead rest against the desk. "I'm… I'm sorry for yelling at you when you were just trying to help."
Kakashi's hand rested upon the top of head, his fingers soothingly carding through my hair. My shoulders shook as I forced my tears to remain unshed. I was finished with crying because it accomplished jack all.
As soon as it was safe to show my dry eyes, I lifted my head. Kakashi sat in the seat next to mine, patiently waiting until I was ready to speak.
"I'm keeping a dream journal," I explained shakily, smoothing out a page. "It helps with lucid dreaming, apparently."
His tone was soft. "So… you want to control your nightmares?"
"Yeah, that's it. Jiraiya-san suggested it."
"Is there anything that I can do to help?" Kakashi almost pleaded.
I held out my arms expectantly. My otouto let out a ragged, bemoaned sigh and acquiesced to my "unreasonable" request.
"So much trust," he grumbled, though he didn't fidget in the hug at all like he used to.
"Oh my god, I've corrupted you," I let go of him and burst out laughing. "I've corrupted you with my awful slang!"
"You're such a tsundere!"
"NO, I'M NOT!"
My sounds of laughter died out. I watched Kakashi's shoulders slump, his head bowed with a tiredness that looked tragically out of place on a child's face.
"Hey, I'm sorry…" my voice wobbled as it hit me how much of an asshole I'd been. His hurt look of near-betrayal flashed back into my mind, the guilt tearing into me. "My situation doesn't excuse me from being a complete dick."
"It's not that."
I tilted my head. "What is it, then?"
Kakashi gripped his knees, as if readying himself for some awful announcement. I placed a hand upon his shoulder.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
Shaking his head, he blurted out, "I can't train you anymore."
"I need to focus on my own training for the third stage of the chuunin exam."
Oh. That's it? flitted through my thoughts, but I couldn't help the disappointment that was disloyal to my effort in keeping a straight face.
"You never told me." It was most certainly an accusation.
Kakashi shrugged, absentmindedly scratching at the edge of his mask as if saying, "I don't tell you a lot of things."
You can't read minds, idiot. Remember what your therapist used to say, cognitive distortion 'n all that shit.
I shut my eyes, mentally shaking myself. It looked like I was merely blinking from an outsider's point of view, but the sanity check meant everything.
"There was… that incident," the masked kid lowered his voice, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "And everyone had a lot going on, so I didn't want to add to that and make it a big deal. That's why I didn't tell anyone."
Blinking and dumbfounded, I realised that I had just witnessed a milestone in Kakashi's character development. I wanted to burst out with, "You're shitting me.", but tact grabbed a hold of my collar and pulled me back.
"That's really considerate of you," I said instead.
Kakashi frowned, looking mildly affronted. "You look surprised."
Shrugging, I smiled wryly in admittance to my guilt and moved on. "Well, congrats, otouto. Though I can't really say that I'm surprised, with you being a prodigy 'n all."
Oh, I definitely anticipated that smirk of his. "Thanks, sis."
"The gang and I'll come to watch you humiliate and kick the asses of much older genin, promise."
Kakashi's huff of amusement was his equivalent to hysterical laughter.
"You're missing the service."
Asuma dug his hands into his pockets, face impassive while watching me dip my fingers into a water bottle in the middle of the deserted Academy grounds. Classes had been cancelled due to the memorial service for the victims of the massacre. Shizune and Gai were attending the ceremony, and I was left waiting for their return.
"Attendance is optional." I swiped my forehead with the liquid, trying to keep it from dripping via chakra control and asked, "Was it depressing as hell?"
He nodded, his eyes glassy. "Yeah…"
"Then I'm glad I didn't go."
Closing my eyes, I focused on the chakra exercise, feeling the cool wetness against my skin. It was difficult to work with liquid in varying the levels of my chakra constantly, and I was trying to build up towards water walking. Tree walking in its fight against gravity and your body weight had really been a cinch, to be honest, in comparison to this.
"Why do you have to be such a heartless bitch, Yuuhi?" Asuma spat out.
Opening an eye, I saw the sanctimonious kid shaking with anger, standing over me with his fists clenched at his sides. Water trickled down my forehead into my eye. I winced, cursing softly at the sting.
"I am not heartless," I said, keeping my voice level and wiping at my brow with the back of my hand. "The victims and their families have my sincere condolences. I just don't wanna expose myself to more trauma. I've had my fair share for more than one lifetime, thank you very fucking much."
"That's still selfish of you!" he hissed.
I shrugged. "It's self-preservation. Besides, you're here, so you must have left early. I believe the reason for your early departure would be equivalent to mine, you hypocritical dickbag."
There was a silence while I tried the chakra control exercise again, managing to keep the wetness pooled against my skin for a longer period of time. He obviously couldn't think of a comeback to my sound logic.
"You should have seen their parents' faces," Asuma whispered dejectedly.
Concentration breaking, I breathed a ragged, aggrieved sigh and reached into my pants pocket, digging out a rumpled handkerchief. It was from the souvenir shop of Hinoiri's workplace at the botanical museum. She had given it me, and as most gifts from my mother, it was appropriately red in colour and floral in theme, being embroidered with a pattern of small waterlilies.
Wiping my wet face, I wordlessly offered it to a crying Asuma who took it with a mumbled thanks. He sat down on the grass beside me and dried his tears with the handkerchief, sniffling pitifully.
"Your chakra control is really good," he said quietly.
"Good for a heartless, selfish bitch?"
Asuma snorted before catching himself and looking ashamed. "I'm really sorry for calling you that…"
"I'm surprised that nobody is suing the Academy for negligence," I said dryly.
To be honest, I really wasn't. No one would dare cross the Council who were practically the administration of the monopolised ninja educational system. Even if they did, they would be cast as a dissident. The civilian council also had no say in what was essentially a shinobi affair, even if it were a matter of public safety. Konoha's legal system was just rigged that way, and I wouldn't be surprised if the other Hidden villages operated in the same fucked up manner.
"That Ame ANBU girl was really powerful," Asuma shook his head ruefully. "It's not their fault… I mean, she was able to put that many people under a genjutsu."
Apologist, much? "It still should haven't happened," I snapped, the plastic of my water bottle crinkling in my tightened grasp. "There should be pre-emptive measures to prevent this sort of shit from happening, goddammit! We're in the middle of a—…"
I paused to prevent myself from revealing future spoilers.
"…what does 'pre-emptive measures' mean?" Asuma ducked his head in embarrassment. "You speak really long words, sometimes, Yuuhi-chan."
God, he was still so young. "Plans for things to be done before something can happen."
It was beyond shitty to believe that Danzo had realistically orchestrated the killing of children, inclusive in the assassination of that teacher for unknown reasons. He would have done so at his own discretion without the knowledge of the Council, as even they would have never accepted the murder of Academy students as collateral. Then again, I also had to take into account that the Council and the current Hokage would sweep a whole genocide under the carpet in the form of the Uchiha massacre…
Fuck, I needed a drink.
Children began to stream into the grounds, their inane chatter disturbing what little peace I had left. Most of them looked sullen-faced having returned from the memorial.
I got up and dusted off my pants. "Well, that's my cue to find Gai and Shizune."
Asuma handed me back my handkerchief, red-eyed and voice shaky. "Thanks…"
There really was nothing attractive about his behaviour at all. If this was who The Powers That Be thought should be endgame for me, then I'd just flip 'em all the middle finger and ride off into the sunset with a certain pretty blue-eyed blond or two.
Before I could re-join more tolerable companionship, I felt a tug at my sleeve. Head inclining to glare down at the Hokage spawn, my expression softened at the stricken look on Asuma's face.
"Do the nightmares ever stop?"
"…yeah," I lied quietly, scrunching up the handkerchief in a closed fist. "Eventually, they do."
Obito still hadn't arrived. I checked my watch again, gripping at my sleeved forearm in frustration. The little bastard was already over an hour late, again. I should've been used to his tardiness by now, but the daggers being glared into my back by the Uchiha guards at the compound's entrance were just slightly grating.
…fuck it, I'm done waiting. Kicking the dirt at my feet in frustration, I stormed off in the opposite direction muttering curses underneath my breath. It was already nearing sunset in the late afternoon as spring had yet to catch up to its lengthened daylight. The vermillion horizon swathed with the sun's receding rays, signalling the end of yet another day.
I had spent my earlier time trying to progress with the transformation jutsu. I could already make transforms successfully, although I still retained my own features in the mirroring of another's appearance. It was pretty hilarious transforming into a guy, though, with having a foreign appendage between my legs. I'd also seriously missed having boobs.
Shadows of the surrounding alleyways cast a dimness along my path through the slums of the village. Its surrounding eerie quietness crept through my senses as the sounds of my footsteps were amplified against the cracked pavement. Skin prickling while I was on edge, my line of sight darted between the vistas of the alleyways. I also occasionally whipped my head back to check behind me in case I was being stalked again. My paranoia wasn't unfounded, according to the Root bitch. I'd never experienced paranoid delusions with my mental disorder, though my concerns were completely legitimate in this fucked up universe.
My hand slowly dug into the weapons holster at my hip, fingers grasping around the hilt of a kunai. A small shuffle within the vicinity caught my ear, and I stopped in my tracks, listening intently for another sound. Silence remained.
"I'll have you know that I'm well-armed," I called out, voice clear and steady. "You reeeaaally don't wanna fuck with me, whoever you are."
There was still no response. I tentatively took another step, walking slowly through the corridor of alleyways. Darkness was rapidly descending upon Konoha as the sun sank lower in the horizon.
As soon as I heard the sound of approaching movement behind me, instinct had me dashing into the nearest alleyway. I ducked downwards and dove around the blur of a figure when it followed me, easily confronting their back. It was as if a switch had been flipped within me, and I'd begun operating on autopilot. My arm snaked itself around the neck of my assailant, locking them in a secure chokehold with my other hand bearing the kunai against their thigh. They began to splutter underneath in my grip, and the dark, murky haze cleared from my mind.
"S-stop, Kurenai-chan… it's me!" the familiar voice choked.
In that fleeting moment, I almost gave in to the demon. The idea was just so close within reach, so enticingly tangible with my arm hooked around his throat in a headlock, kunai gripped tightly in my other hand while having the blade pressed against his femoral artery. This potential was within me, this honed skill of beating a person down by striking at the vital points of their body from the katas I'd practised, of knowing the right arteries to sever from the Academy's assigned readings.
After all, I never hesitated when I'd tried to stab the Root bitch in the neck.
But I reined in the demon, loosening my hold around the boy and shoving him away from myself for his own safety.
"Don't ever do that again," I hissed. "I goddamn mean it, Obito-kun! Not if you value your life."
"Lesson learned," he gulped, shakily raising his hands defensively. "Dead serious."
He's just a kid, I told myself. He's not that man yet… or he might never be, right?
"Right," I exhaled slowly, pocketing my kunai. "Good."
"We've got training together, remember?" Obito rasped, massaging his bruised throat. "Man, how did you even do that? That was crazy…"
It could have been so easy. I could have nicked the vessel and let him bleed out on the side of the street, relieving myself of a part of my blasted responsibility.
My Good Samaritan of a moral conscience gave me a major ass-kicking for that thought.
"I'll teach you next time," I said, rubbing my temples. "We need to focus on the great fireball jutsu, okay?"
Obito grumbled disappointedly, "Fiiine."
He wouldn't stop pouting all the way to the training grounds, while I was still stunned at what had just transpired. I could have killed him.
How brainwashed had I become?
"It's getting dark," Obito said, looking up at the dusky sky.
"Oh, really? I hadn't noticed."
Scoffing at my sarcasm, the Uchiha's annoyed expression quickly melted into a concerned frown as he grabbed my wrist. "You're shaking."
I snatched my arm out of his grip. "No, I'm not!"
"Are you cold, Kurenai-chan?" The kid always cared too damn much.
"I'm fine," I growled. "Just don't surprise me again with your sudden movements, alright?"
Obito sighed, staying quiet and thankfully dropping the subject. The walk towards our usual training area was painfully awkward. Shivers ran through my body while I braced myself by hugging my arms. The silence between us was punctuated with my trembling exhales.
"You're really not fine," Obito stopped and placed a hand on my shoulder, brows knitted together in protest. "I don't think we should train today."
"N-nothing's wrong with me!" I snapped, lungs constricting with every wheezing breath.
The feeling of a cold blade at my throat… the sticky wetness of my cheek… wet, I was dripping wet and running through the rain, mud squelching underneath my back with that pealing laughter as warmth trickled down my neck…
"Kurenai-chan!" Arms were holding me steady.
I was gasping. My heart beat erratically against my chest. Can't breathe, can't breathe, why can't I breathe? Oh god, I'm dying, not again, please, ohgodohgodohgod—!
"Calm down," Obito pleaded, rubbing my back soothingly. "Please, Kurenai-chan, you have to calm down and breathe…"
Sucking in a gargling lungful, I repeated the action, inhalations growing deeper and slower with each panicked breath. Obito wrapped his arms around my torso, and my breathing eventually steadied, though my body was still wracked with tremors and my racing heartbeat faltered slightly.
I buried my face in the crook of Obito's shoulder in humiliation, crying out profanities that would have made Hidan cringe.
I am not fucked up, I am not fucked up, I am not fucked up…
"It's okay," he whispered, squeezing me reassuringly. "We're going to see Tsunade-sama with Rin-chan and Shizune-chan, aren't we? I'm sure she can help you, Kurenai-chan…"
I was not fucked up.
A/N: God, going through this chapter was painful and I'm not really happy with it… it's totally transitional, unlike the next chapter WHICH WILL BE AWESOME BECAUSE WE GET TO MEET TSUNADE! But yeah, I've just been swamped with assessments which took precedence over fic, blah.
My friend, Joanne, drew me some more art of OC!Kurenai and Kakashi to motivate me into finishing this update. Go check it out and her Twitter linked in my profile! I'm pretty sure my own personal Twitter can be easily found there, so you can stalk me while you're at it, hahaha…
ALSO WE'VE REACHED OVER 1000 FOLLOWERS! HOLY SHIT, GUYS, WE DID IT. *pops champagne bottle*