〇八 | sakura (impermanence)
I tried not to dwell too much on my nightmare. My memory of it had remained frighteningly clear unlike every other dream. Jiraiya had replied to my letter and advised me to not be too concerned with the postscript of, "We need to talk about your grammar later." My subconscious was probably taking it out on me, the underhanded little jerkass. The demon hadn't delivered on its promise to visit me again in my sleep, of which I was grateful for… but there was still the overhanging "yet" which prevailed.
I outright avoided the general direction of my mother's rose garden, though.
I peered over at my mother's scattered botanical academic journals strewn over her desk as she kept her head down studiously and scribbled down notes. Hinoiri's wavy black locks formed a veil over the sides of her face. Her lips pursed in contemplation as she tapped her pen on the table, turning to pour over journal articles before jotting down references in her notebook. I'd spent many evenings simply watching Hinoiri work on her research papers, fascinated at how similar scientific reports were written and collated as they were back in the Real World. Granted, they were all in Japanese and I could hardly understand any of it but the formatting was all too familiar and brought me back to my days in university.
"You're really pretty and really smart, Kaachan."
Hinoiri stopped writing as a peal of laughter escaped from her lips. She patted me over the head, smiling at me warmly. Brushing my hair behind my ear, my mother appraised me with a proud look on her face. Her thumb lingered against my cheek gently.
"Thank you, Kure-chan. I could say the same to you, sweetheart."
I have to admit that I was a sucker for my parents' affections and praise.
There was a frantic knocking at the front door.
Hinoiri frowned, "I wasn't expecting any visitors today."
Whenever I had heard that phrase be uttered, I knew that shit was inevitably gonna go down. I tottered after her as she got up to answer the door, only to be faced with a frazzled courier ninja who was out of breath and panting.
"Urgent message for Yuuhi Hinoiri!"
He thrust a letter out towards her and hastily bowed when Hinoiri took it from his hands. Without another word, the courier immediately body flickered away, no doubt to deliver other messages to their assigned addressees.
Upon reading the letter, she blanched. With trembling hands, Hinoiri sat back down in her seat and let out a shaky breath. Dread filled my stomach.
"Kaachan?" I tugged on her sleeve. "What's wrong?"
"It's your father," my mother's voice was thick with grief. "He's in the hospital… he's been hurt badly, Kurenai."
It was the first time that I had seen so many bodies and I was certain that it wouldn't be my last. I was definitely not prepared for the gruesome aftermath of a devastating ambush.
"Come on… come on!"
The green glow of the medic's hands continually flickered and died with each attempt to resuscitate the patient's heart. Blood adorned the unconscious ninja's face and soaked his clothes. Similar scenes surrounded the gurney as wounded patients were being rushed in and out of the crowded waiting room, straight from the battlefield. Konoha's medical facilities and resources were obviously stretched thin if they were being forced to hold patients outside of the overcrowded emergency room.
"We've lost him," the medic gritted her teeth and gripped the edge of the bed before letting out a weary sigh. "Time of death: nine twenty-one p.m…."
As soon as I averted my eyes from the sight, the very face of carnage was wheeled into the room. Burns had disintegrated the flesh of the ninja's body, leaving horrific wounds which exposed bone and sinewy tissue on his arms. His open mouth was but a gaping hole in his charred off face. The man was only in the room for a fleeting moment before being rushed to the operating room but the image was perpetually seared into my mind.
A shuddery chill rattled my body as my stomach heaved. Without another thought, I rushed into the nearest restroom and shut myself in an empty toilet stall, panting while I rested a palm on the door. My dinner threatened to expel itself from my stomach as I tried to stop myself from puking all over the floor.
"Fuck," I gasped and rushed to lean over the toilet bowl, retching.
Hastily tearing off a fistful of toilet paper, I wiped my soiled mouth before resisting the urge to vomit yet again. A stream of curses escaped my lips as I marched to the sink and splashed water on my face. The gory images flashed in my mind again and I whipped my head up to look at the mirror. A pair of haunted crimson eyes stared back at me, looking out of place on a frighteningly young face.
It would be a goddamn miracle if I didn't get PTSD from living in this fucked up universe.
Drying myself off and straightening out my tousled hair, I inhaled a shaky breath.
"Just don't think about it… fluffy kitties, pretty ladies, cute men, rainbows and motherfuckin' sunshine," I muttered to myself as I walked out of the restroom. "Just don't think about it."
My mother was sitting in the waiting room amidst the chaos, wringing her hands anxiously. I tried my hardest not to look at the surrounding patients as I approached her.
"Okaasan," she would know that I was being serious when I addressed her as such. "I really don't want to stay here… please?"
I was on the verge of tears. Hinoiri noticed this and immediately stood up, grasped my hand and walked me out of the room.
We stopped in the middle of an empty corridor of the hospital.
"I'm so sorry, Kurenai," her voice trembled. "I should have known."
"It's not your fault… Kaachan doesn't have to be sorry."
"You don't have to be here," she said. "We probably won't be able to see Otousan until morning."
The adult within me scolded the crying child who yearned to be curled up in bed and swaddled in warm blankets, away from the sickeningly clinical environment of Konoha hospital.
"You can stay with Kakashi-kun, if you like."
As soon as Hinoiri mentioned the lovable silver-haired brat, the mature conscience in my head shut up and I caved.
The Hatake household always felt lonely. Sakumo was absent for a majority of the time often on missions, leaving his son alone with a carer who felt more like a social worker than a loving guardian. There simply wasn't enough time for a close attachment to form between the child and carer as the individual frequently changed. Supposedly, Konoha's social welfare system was still one of the best out there and it made me cringe thinking of what the worst could possibly be like.
It was already a late time for a child of my age to be up after my mother had dropped me off at the Hatake home and the carer immediately ushered Kakashi and I into sleeping.
"Time for bed, kids," the kind-faced woman said.
Kakashi looked bored as he obediently climbed into his bed and turned to face away from the adult. Following in his stead, I slipped into my futon on the ground, nestling in underneath the covers.
"Goodnight," the social worker flicked the light switch off.
"Goodnight," I echoed.
Kakashi remained silent.
After the door shut softly and the sound of departing footsteps could no longer be heard, Kakashi instantly turned on the lamp at his bedside table and got up.
"Kurenai-chan?" he whispered.
"Are you okay?" His question took me by surprise.
I bit my lip as memories of the burn victim flooded my mind again. It wasn't helping the thought of the possibility of waking up to the news of my father being dead in the morning.
My silence had been dragged out for too long as the sound of rustling sheets jolted me out of my dark musings. Kakashi had gotten out of bed and proceeded to sit down next to my futon.
"I'm fine," I murmured, turning away from him. "Go back to bed."
I gritted my teeth, "I'm not lying."
"No, you're lying," he said firmly. "I know because I lie too when people ask me if I'm okay whenever Dad is really hurt."
Stupid perceptive and genius child. Wiping the tears that were now flowing, I sniffled.
"He's never been hurt this badly…" I said forlornly, still not facing him.
Kakashi sat there uncomfortably listening to my sobs as I buried my face into my pillow and cried my eyes out. He wordlessly patted my head gently with his tiny hand in consolation throughout my tears. After my crying had abated, Kakashi cleared his throat and I finally rolled over to my other side and faced him, looking miserable and completely pitiful.
"Do you…" he ducked his head sheepishly. "Do you, uh, want a hug?"
I practically threw myself into his arms after his offer and buried my head in the crook of his neck. The awkward child was too shocked to respond at first before finally figuring out what to do with his arms as he hesitantly wrapped them around me.
"Silly kid," I smiled into his shoulder.
"I'm not silly," Kakashi scoffed. "Idiot."
Pulling away in laughter, I gave him a friendly shove. He was—at that moment— sensible enough as to not give into his childish pride and return it.
I flung away the covers of my futon and patted the spot beside me.
"Get in," I said. "You must be freezing."
Kakashi looked hesitant and remained sitting in the bitter cold of the night. Little shivers gave his physiological condition away. I knew that he was already uncomfortable with the amount of hugging and breaching of personal space for one night… but my gesture was only out of friendly concern added with, y'know, getting close to Kakashi in regards to the machinations of furthering my plan to save the Narutoverse.
I smiled lopsidedly, "I don't bite, you know."
He relented and crawled into the futon with me, gingerly putting his head onto the pillow as I shifted over to give him some space.
"Can I ask you something?"
"You just did," he muttered, closing his eyes.
Rolling my own, I went on, "Are you scared of dying?"
Kakashi's eyes snapped open and he stiffened. I might have been an ass for springing this question on a toddler but I was morbidly curious about a child soldier-in-making's sentiments about a realistic outcome. It was just one of those times where a late-night deep and meaningful conversation about melancholy shit was bound to happen.
"I've never thought about it," he said softly but the true answer was written all over his face. "Are you?"
Been there, done that.
"Of course I am," I huffed shamelessly. "Why the hell wouldn't I be? I've only lived, what, almost five years in this world?" which is technically true. "And I can't even read kanji yet! I still have so many things that I haven't done and if I were dead, I'd miss out on all of them. How shitty would that be?"
Kakashi stayed silent for a while, clenching and unclenching his grip on the blanket before sighing and finally speaking up.
"Yeah," he admitted. "I guess…"
We both stared up at the ceiling in silence after that. Kakashi was still fiddling with the edge of the blanket, shifting restlessly in bed.
"They're taking in enrolments for the Academy now," he said quietly.
This was the very conversation that I dreaded.
I dug my fingers into my pillow and sighed, "I know."
"Are you going to do it?"
It was the question that I asked myself every day. A large part of me screamed, "Hell no!" especially after the grisly scene today but the contrarian doubt at the back of my mind whispered, "Maybe you could stay as a genin for basic self-defence…?" It wasn't a bad idea in foresight and it was a rather pragmatic plan, to be completely rational. The experience would also allow me to gain a perspective into this shinobi mentality and get closer to the very people who would play a part in saving this damned universe… not to mention super cool jutsu. I would only graduate from the Academy, do the D-rank missions for a bit of pocket money and most likely hang up my headband before the chuunin exams, before anything that would put my fragile mortality at a major risk.
Sure, I'd be a huge disappointment to my family and my acquired friends and colleagues would most definitely look down on me with my pathetically low aspirations and my wasted potential… but fuck 'em, it was my life and I preferred to keep it that way: freakin' alive and not bloody dead.
"…maybe," I replied noncommittally.
He looked slightly pleased with this answer. "Okay, good. 'Cause you should."
Rolling over onto my side, I propped up an elbow and rested a hand against my cheek. "Can I tell you something, Kakashi-kun?"
"What is it?"
"You're actually a lot smarter than me, you know," I said, knowing exactly how I was boosting his ego.
He smirked, "Yeah, I know."
"But I'm a hell lot wiser… there's a difference between wisdom and intelligence."
"How are they different?" Kakashi frowned.
"Intelligence is something you're born with," I said sagely. "But wisdom comes from experience."
"But you're only a year older than me!"
I reached out and flicked his forehead playfully, grinning and sticking my tongue out.
Kakashi threw away the covers, got up and scowled, "I'm going to sleep."
He marched disgruntledly back to his own bed while I smiled amusedly at his childishly thin skin. The lamplight switched off and I closed my eyes.
"What does 'bro' mean?" his voice was muffled underneath the blankets.
The kid didn't answer for a while before finally muttering, "…goodnight, neechan."
My father was awake.
Yoruo's face was twisted in a haggard grimace and his chest heaved with each inhalation through the oxygen mask. I sat alone next to his bedside, grasping his larger hand with my own child-sized ones. He gave me a weary smile, squeezing my hand as if to remind me that he was still there, still alive and not left dead and bleeding in a battlefield somewhere.
"I need to talk to you," he rasped. "It's to do with this… this whole situation."
The tone that he used was usually reserved for adult talk of ninja affairs, something that he never discussed with me.
There were outbreaks of inter-village skirmishes over trade disputes and other political fluff of which Yoruo informed me about. Tensions were brewing between the smaller settlements involved and the Hidden Villages who refused to intervene out of fear of another war, despite being allies. This was evident when my father and many other ninjas were shipped off to patrol duty on the south-west border of the Fire Country for a few months. They were to maintain control of the scuffles and prevent any belligerents from crossing the border and invading the Fire Country.
Of course, my father kept it in layman's terms for a child like me to be able to grasp it all. He knew that I understood the gravity of the situation, though. Yoruo's eyes stared at me knowingly throughout his explanation while I maintained a grim expression.
Coughing and clearing his throat croakily, he took a moment to recover from his excessive speech.
"We never saw them coming. It was…" he swallowed and continued. "It was an ambush. Some terrorist organisation… I mean, a group of ninjas unhappy with Konoha's decision to stay away from the fights just suddenly attacked along the entire border."
"O-otousan," my voice shook. "Why are you telling me all of this?"
"They're taking in more kids than usual for the Academy for next year and they're loosening the requirements," my father closed his eyes and sighed wearily. "There's… there is talk of a war."
My breath hitched at this. The Third Shinobi World War.
"Damned if we do, damned if we don't," he muttered darkly to himself.
Shit, they were preparing themselves by recruiting more children?! It would explain the age discrepancies between this generation's cohort. All the friends that I would make in the Academy would be fucking conscripted, sent to an absurdly pointless war and—…
"You will have to fight in this war should it ever happen, Kurenai."
"No!" my refusal automatically tore itself away from my lips. "No, I don't want to be a ninja."
"It is your duty," Yoruo rasped. "To make use of your talents and serve this village."
"So what, you'd just send your own daughter off to die in some stupid war?" I snapped, standing up defiantly from my seat. "What the hell kind of a parent are you?!
"A parent who doesn't want their only child to waste her potential."
"My potential means nothing IF I'M DEAD!" I snarled, not believing the utter bullshit that was own father was spewing.
"Kuren—" he began to cough uncontrollably, his oxygen mask filling with blood.
"Shit!" I scrambled to rip it away from his mouth and slammed down the assistance call button by his bedside.
Yoruo just wouldn't stop hacking his lungs out as large amounts of blood began appearing on the bed sheets. My heart raced as I panicked and frantically hit the button again and again.
"Somebody help!" I screamed as I watched my father gurgle and choke on the overflow of blood that was pouring from his mouth.
My mother rushed into the room at the same time as medical help arrived. I couldn't stand to watch as they treated him and I immediately ran out of the room, cursing this universe in every language that I knew and thinking that I would have been better off if I had stayed as dead.
おまけ | sister
The silver-haired child sat glumly at his desk, scribbling out inane English letters that Kurenai had taught him. His carer hovered over him irritatingly like a buzzing fly who wouldn't go away.
"What are you writing?" she asked curiously.
"Nothing," Kakashi replied bluntly.
"Oh… well, okay."
Kakashi knew that he was being unaccommodating and mean but he didn't care. It wasn't as if they truly cared about him, anyway. They only worried about keeping their own jobs. He didn't blame Sakumo for being away all the time, though. His dad was a hero who saved lives and was a respected, powerful ninja. Sakumo was only following his duty to be away on missions and Kakashi could completely understand that. He wanted to be that in the future.
There was a knock at the door.
"I wonder who that is," the carer thought aloud. "It's late as well…"
The disgruntled child ignored her as she went to answer the door. A woman's familiar voice spoke up and Kakashi stopped writing to listen intently.
"Is it alright if Kurenai stayed over for the night?"
It was her mother.
"Yes, it's fine. Hatake-san has told me of your daughter."
"Thank you so much. Kure-chan, say thank you to the nice lady."
"Thank you," her voice sounded so unlike her, so uncharacteristically… broken.
Kakashi got up and peered outside his room into the corridor which led up to the front door. There she was, the oddly intelligent older girl with the red eyes which were currently downcast.
Kurenai's mother hugged her daughter and left after saying goodbye. The carer guided the sad-looking girl into his room.
"Hello," he said.
She smiled weakly in return, "Hey."
Kakashi was taken aback at her quiet meekness. Kurenai was usually so brash and confident of herself, incessantly teasing him about whatever aspect of his personality she could make fun of while possessing a dirtier mouth than some of Sakumo's ninja friends. It was like having an older sibling who annoyed you to no end except you couldn't help but respect them. Kurenai was the only other child his age who wasn't that much more stupid than he was and he could actually hold a decent conversation with her.
It was… nice to have a friend.
The idiotic social worker said something about an early bedtime which had Kakashi refraining from rolling his eyes, a habit that he had acquired from Kurenai. He couldn't ignore the noticeable droop in her shoulders and from the look on her face, it was clear that she was close to crying.
Inwardly sighing, Kakashi crawled into bed and wondered if this feeling was what it'd be like to be worried for a sister.
A/N: I apologise for the delay with this chapter and hope that the omake made up for it. Uni has started again so I've got less time to focus on this fic… but don't worry, I've got a plan for this baby of mine and will continue to write out chapters. Updates will occur monthly on average.
I'm also sorry if some of you readers are getting sick of the repetitive tears and hugs and "omfg people dying, life sux" but this OC is still a n00by civilian who's being repeatedly hit by sudden trains of death and destruction. I promise that the constant drama will lessen soon after we finally get past this first arc of the story.
An important aside: While intelligence is innate to some degree, it definitely can be altered in the early stages of life. So it's pretty much both nature and nurture, unlike Kurenai's generalisation.
Anyway, Unsolicited Providence has reached over 21k views and over 100 reviews! Your continued support has kept me going so all of you guys are awesome and deserve lots of hugs and cookies~