Ahaha, this fic is still cranking
"Before you start, I want to make it clear that if I don't believe you, then I'm going to pretend that this never happened. Also, If I get interrogated, I'm not going to be able to keep you out of it. I'm not so sure how much loyalty is left in me."
Yuzuru visibly gulped at the stony tone in my voice.
I folded my arms. "So basically, if you're going to tell me about your amazing plan, it better be especially fool-proof."
As much as I'd like to appreciate Yuzuru and everyone else's efforts in 'saving' me, I'm not going to risk my family's necks for my own freedom. And I very much would like to avoid selling out my friends too.
"Of course, of course," my old classmate assured me. "We had plenty of time to think this through."
We sat down in the spare seats of the office. Once we were comfortable, Yuzuru started talking for a long, long time. He began with my prolonged absence, how no one knew where I was at that time and assumed that I was with the Hokage for diplomacy with Kumo. We matched the timeline with what I experienced that time, which was when I was in the pit. Yuzuru had genuinely believed that I had died in the Kumo Affair, but the first moment he realized the possibility I wasn't dead came when his father hinted about having another servant from the 'shadows'. The servant was a girl who had to be kept away from Konoha, out of the Hokage's reach.
"My dad was the one who began this," Yuzuru explained. "Something about taking out the bandaged old man, since they have mutual dirt on each other. My dad said it'd help him a lot to get rid of the guy."
I rubbed my forehead. We were getting to the part I was going to have a hard time believing.
"Is your dad going to be a part of this conversation?" I asked sourly. "Why isn't he telling me this?"
Yuzuru flippantly sighed, "No, he doesn't want to incriminate himself."
I grunted at that. I couldn't blame the man. "Go on."
"Anyway, my dad had some intel that you were in the elder's hands, so he purposely asked the old man for a specific type of support that matches you: civilian, trained, quiet, unassuming, and a sensor. Once he got confirmation Danzo would send you, my dad started flagging the Hokage to begin stirring the pot, so to speak."
Yuzuru went on to say that the Yondaime was quick to catch on the occasional inconspicuous tips that were always presented by a nondescript individual and each one was organized by Diplomat Shoyo. Shoyo-sama never explicitly agreed upon a deal with the Yondaime, but they were now aware of their mutual goals: eliminating Danzo. Yuzuru himself wasn't aware of the full details, so he wasn't able to fully disclose specific details and I had to press him for certain issues that I wanted to know. It was hard to process the story Yuzuru told me. The resentful part of me didn't want to believe anything he said, but I had a hard time not seeing the truth.
Diplomat Shoyo was essentially using me to catch the Yondaime's attention, to guide him to a set trap that Danzo would stumble upon. Shoyo-sama planned to use the Daimyo's name to lure out the elder so that the two could confront each other, ideally ending with the Hokage arresting the old man and stripping him of all power. During the ensuing scuffle, I was to hoist myself into nonexistent lands, though I was unsure as to where I was supposed to go. Yuzuru assured me that there was a safe place for me to hide away for as long as it'd take for the Hokage to get rid of Danzo's underground power chain. In return for covering my identity at the designated safespot, I had to serve the leaders there in the same way I had been serving Diplomat Shoyo. Yuzuru withheld the location out of security purposes so that Danzo wouldn't catch wind.
Basically, I'm like a pawn right now. I'm under Danzo's thumb, but I'm living in the grey zone in the Shoyo manor.
I rubbed my chin. "I don't see how Danzo would be interested in meeting the Daimyo unless it's to discuss the appointment of the next Hokage. He knows that the Daimyo is a ditz."
"I'm guessing something along the lines of a scandal," Yuzuru suggested. "I'm sure dad would think of something convincing, I heard in passing that it might involve the Uchiha Clan."
At the mention of the Uchiha Clan, the back of my head throbbed. It was the same feeling as before when I realized I lost a part of my memories, it was something important.
No use trying to recall now. I stopped myself from lingering on that subject and turned to the conversation at hand.
I agreed with Yuzuru. Shoyo-sama was someone who treaded lightly but aggressively. He wouldn't pull anything outlandish for a matter as important as this. The man acted with a perfect balance of delicacy and assertion and if the bait concerned the Uchihas, then I was sure Danzo would bite.
"Well, I guess I could be convinced of your dad's plan since it's your dad we're talking about," I surmised slowly. "Do you know anything about what the Hokage has planned?"
Yuzuru winced. "That's shinobi business, so it's very secretive. All I know is that my dad is expecting someone from the Hokage to help us."
As much as I trusted Yuzuru's dad, there was still too much left in the dark for me to be okay with everything. Even though it wasn't his fault, I glared at him.
"That's very reassuring, hanbei, it really puts me at ease," I snarked lightly, reverting to my old nickname for him.
Yuzuru flushed and complained, "Don't call me that!"
Rubbing the temples of my forehead, I tried to sort out the information minefield Yuzuru had ungracefully dumped on me. The probability of Danzo actually getting outed, Minato intervening, and Shoyo-sama putting forth his own agenda. As all these figures floated around my mind, a thought struck me and it dissolved my resistance in accepting Yuzuru's words.
"I don't have a choice, do I?" I realized with sudden clarity.
"Nope, my father is orchestrating everything according to his will regardless of our opinions. He is Kami and we are all dancing on the palm of his hand like puppets on strings," Yuzuru said all this flippantly while inspecting his fingernails. It unnerved me how he said this while being so nonchalant about his father's manipulative nature.
"Since this is all my father's doing, it's best to just go with it," he added. "I thought you'd have an easier time accepting the situation with the impression of having a choice, but in the end, there isn't a point in keeping up pretenses."
So he knew I never had any options, but he let me think that I could reject the 'offer' of help.
It was beyond what I had ever expected of him. I looked at Yuzuru in a different light. "Were you always this sensible?"
He squinted back at me. "Were you always this mean?"
A blank expression settled over my face. "Maybe."
Yuzuru made a 'harrumph' sound. "I'll forgive you now since you're obviously not right in the head-"
You're not wrong.
"-but things are about to go down in Konoha, so it's prime time for us to get ready. You'll be out of here in less than a month."
In less than a month. The novelty of it left me feeling dazed.
Shoyo-sama was aware of my memory gap and Yuzuru assured me that this wasn't an issue. If anything, it protected me in these circumstances which did make me feel a bit better even though I didn't like it. Right before we left the office, I remembered that there was one question I still hadn't asked Yuzuru.
"Wait, uh, Yuzuru," I hesitated. "...do you know why I got taken by the elder? Did the Yondaime..."
...let me be taken away? Did he give me up? Was it by force or by choice?
At my strained question, Yuzuru eyed me with an appraising glance.
"No, I don't know anything about that. Neither does my dad," he said with a note of finality. "That's something you'd have to ask the Hokage yourself."
Everyday life grew increasingly eventful as a result of Diplomat Shoyo's meddling. Yuzuru stuck close to his father's side during his stay in the manor, but I was ordered to shadow him the few times he stepped away from Shoyo-sama's presence. As the passing days tallied closer to a month, there were more nefarious attempts on Shoyo-sama's life as well as Yuzuru's. I ended up catching several civilians who snuck into the manor in the middle of the night. Each one was ultimately interrogated by Shoyo-sama alongside Garu-san and then dispatched by the elderly servant. We would bury the bodies before dawn rose. None of the other servants knew of the spilled blood, but they could sense the tension in the air even though Shoyo-sama, Garu-san, and I said nothing. Servants of noble houses could always tell if there was an impending conflict.
Diplomat Shoyo suspected that his political opponents were behind the schemes rather than Danzo because the old man hadn't changed his patterns. Only one Root agent visited in the meantime and they didn't suspect anything nor did they question me further than expected. They did the usual of requesting if I remembered my forgotten memories and an update of Shoyo-sama's ongoings. Diplomat Shoyo didn't do anything out of the ordinary, which made me wonder exactly how he manages to plot under Danzo's nose. I was still learning Shoyo-sama's methods of ruling the court, so I had yet to discern the full extent of his actions. Even though I had the privilege of seeing his little tricks and receiving exclusive lessons, I wasn't sure if I'd ever be up to par.
Later, Diplomat Shoyo informed me that I'd be in contact with the Hokage's agent. He showed the scroll that held the written codes to exchange, telling me to memorize them before he burned the paper. I spent a lot of time wondering who the Yondaime would send, if it was going to be someone I knew and if I would be able to look them in the face. I thought that maybe I'd prefer a stranger, but then the familiarity of someone I already knew would be more reassuring.
One night, I was in my room nearly asleep when I sensed an intruder entering from the back of the estate. A careful scan of their chakra made me jump up out of my covers in alarm. It was someone who I hadn't encountered in a long time, an oily chakra signature.
I grabbed the tantō from the closet and quietly sprinted down the hallway where Shoyo-sama and Yuzuru rested. Usually, I'd have enough time to wake Garu-san, but at the rate Kabuto was moving, I decided to go straight for the master's bedroom.
Kabuto suddenly sped up in my radar, crossing into my line of path. His chakra geared for an offensive strike. My body tensed for the incoming clash.
Why is he-
My tantō blade scraped against Kabuto's kunai. The impact nearly sent my sword flying out of my grip. Kabuto swiped at me, pushing the momentum of the fight away from the mansion and into the far corners of the tall garden. My blood pounded in my ears. I tried my hardest to not make a single sound, channeling chakra into my feet to eliminate noise. The only sounds were the hard clacks of metal that rang through the air, but the soft leaves and plants dampened the noise. No one in the mansion would be able to hear us. Dressed like a typical Root agent in all black and a blank mask, Kabuto was like a silent wraith in the night, blending into the darkness. His grey hair and white mask were only colors that stuck out and helped me track him.
The entire time while we exchanged a few blows, my mind raced at what was happening. His target wasn't actually Shoyo-sama, otherwise he would've masked his chakra when entering the estate to avoid my detection. He purposely drew my attention, pretending to aim for the diplomat so that I'd come out to meet him. Kabuto was strong enough to cut me down right now, but he was toying with me instead.
I can't win.
He knocked me over, pinning me to the ground with a wrestler's grip.
"Why," I gritted out, stiffening at the kunai that came close to my neck.
Kabuto's grey eyes bore down on me through the eye slits. "What if I just wanted to say hello?"
I fought down the snarl at his sarcastic answer. Everything about this guy put a bad taste in my mouth and he didn't have to do much to get a rise out of me, even when I felt most empty.
"The weather has been overcast lately," he said suddenly.
I stared at him, gaping. No way.
"It should… rain soon," I managed to say.
"But when the east wind blows the clouds away, the sun will shine again," Kabuto finished. He put away the kunai and pulled me up to my feet, unmasking himself.
Kabuto had a bright smile that didn't match the heavy mood. "Nice to see you again, Haru-chan. How does it feel to know that one of your greatest tormentors is now going to be helping you out of this?"
I couldn't believe this. Testing him with another code, I said, "The season ends, the grass grows tall."
"The start of cold, the flowers fall," he recited smoothly.
"There are no trees, but there are leaves."
Kabuto answered again, "So how could there be a burning fire if we have no trees?"
I kept staring. My first thought was that this was one big trick. I was thinking that we'd been effed over because Danzo somehow smuggled Root into the Yondaime's plans and now everything was ruined. My second thought was why would the Hokage choose Kabuto in the first place unless this guy killed the original pick and got his hands on the secret codes somehow? When did this go wrong? How could Shoyo-sama make a mistake like this? How could Minato do this?
"We're so screwed," I breathed.
Kabuto chuckled. "No, I've been sent by Minato-sama, you can relax. It's your fault that the Yondaime took notice of me, you know."
I blinked in bewilderment. What?
"You told your clan head that you suspected me of ulterior motives before Danzo took you," Kabuto reminded me. "And in the Hokage's search for you, the Yamanaka clan head mentioned me. They tracked me down, forcing me into becoming one of theirs."
I took a step back, my grip on the tantō loosening out of sheer confusion. "There's no way," I muttered.
Kabuto followed my backtracked steps, leaning forward. "It's the truth, Haru-chan."
He didn't display any signs of fighting and his chakra didn't twist like he was telling lies, but Kabuto's chakra had always been harder to read.
I gave him a narrow glare. "What did you do to the real person the Hokage sent?"
"Nothing you can prove." Kabuto let out a dry laugh, but when he saw my stricken expression, he added, "That was a joke, you know."
"That's a bad joke," I weakly said, gripping my shirt right over my hammering heartbeat. Maybe, just maybe, I would've laughed if we were a different universe where we were friends and not in this situation.
Sighing, I sheathed the tantō and rubbed a hand over my face. "Oh God, this doesn't make sense."
I couldn't exactly think of a reason on the spot why this whole thing might be a ruse. If Danzo wanted to end the scheme between the Hokage and Shoyo-sama, he would have sent someone other than Kabuto to infiltrate. Additionally, there were no advantages to Danzo spoiling the scheme this early into the plot other than alerting the diplomat and Yondaime that they got caught in the act. Also, Danzo would be revealing Kabuto as a trump card preemptively without any real victory.
Or is Danzo testing me? My eyes snapped up to Kabuto who was watching me with that infuriatingly light smile. But that thought didn't last long either because Danzo wouldn't expend energy to play mind tricks on me like this, would he?
"Well, I was in the area for a separate mission, so I wanted to drop by," he said as he reattached the mask to his face. "Send the diplomat my regards."
Kabuto disappeared before I could get a word in. I stood in the garden, surrounded by the bushes and quiet hum of fireflies, unable to process what just happened. A cold breeze swept through, breaking goosebumps across my skin.
Please, please, please, let this not be a trick, I prayed as I went back to the manor.
The next morning, I told Diplomat Shoyo of the incident. He wasn't as bothered about Kabuto as I was, stating that it was the most risky yet ideal choice for a double spy. His only issue was that the Hokage had made contact much earlier than Shoyo-sama preferred and he criticized the Yondaime for the clumsy move.
"It's like he wants to get caught," Diplomat Shoyo growled in frustration in his office. "Couldn't he wait at least three days before sending someone? He may be the youngest Hokage in the history of Konoha, but he lacks experience-"
"How old is the Yondaime?" Yuzuru muttered to me from the side.
I had to count for a second. "Twenty-nine, I think."
"Huh. Did you know that the human brain isn't fully developed until twenty-five years of age?"
"Yes, I'm made painfully aware of that on a daily basis," Shoyo-sama snapped from his desk.
After that, Garu-san, Yuzuru, and I wisely kept out of the office since the diplomat got in a bit of a mood for the rest of the day.
Instead of guarding Shoyo-sama, I spent the day escorting Yuzuru according to his whims and for today, he decided to roam around the city for a bit of fresh air. We were accompanied by two other samurai guards who trailed just two paces behind Yuzuru. I also stepped behind Yuzuru, but closer than the guards as I was a servant.
"So, the Uchiha clan submitted their bid for the land in the west valley," Yuzuru said conversationally as he inspected some fabrics on display.
I nearly stopped walking. "The recently discovered piece of land with the iron vein?"
"Yep, apparently it's their ancestral home," he snorted. "Which sounds just as cheesy as everyone else's claim, but anyway, it attracted attention. I hear that some people in Konoha aren't happy about it. The courts are holding the land disputes in a week for everyone who's declared ownership, including the ones who'd like to refute whatever claims that others announced."
For the rest of the outing, I was lost in thought as I followed Yuzuru through the capital. The people bustled all around us, the chatter of normal citizen life filling my ears like white noise.
So, they're baiting Danzo with the Uchiha clan? How would this work? I don't understand how a property squabble would lure Danzo to the capital even if the Uchiha clan is involved. And how is this supposed to help me escape from him?
Several theories concluded with me guessing that it was all a trap. Knowingly or unknowingly, Danzo would spring it, maybe be forced to step into it, and the Hokage would rain down on him like hellfire. I didn't know how this idea would keep the nobles and daimyo away from harm, but it was the only one I could imagine with the sparse amount of intel I had at hand. They also would have to deal with Root, and I had no clue how they'd touch that issue alongside confronting Danzo.
Again, like every time I knew there was a vital piece of information missing, I drew a blank in my mind. It was part of the memory gap that I couldn't reach.
I distantly wondered if I'd ever get my sealed memories back.
The day went by quietly without any commotion and we got back to the estate before sunset. Just before we parted ways in the mansion, Yuzuru pulled me aside.
"If you had a choice, would you go back to Konoha or go somewhere else?" he asked quietly.
I actually paused to contemplate my answer. I probably should have immediately answered for the former, for my younger brothers' sake at the very least, but 'Konoha' didn't leave my mouth.
Do I want to go back to Konoha? What would I even do once I'm back? Pretend as if everything's back to normal, nothing had ever happened, act like my death wasn't faked all this time?
"I'm not sure," I said. "Where would I go if it isn't Konoha?"
"You could always stick around me," Yuzuru said brightly. "I'm sure my dad wouldn't mind since you're helpful with the mindreading."
A noncommittal hum escaped me at the suggestion. It wasn't a particularly bad option because I was now familiar with this lifestyle and I could honestly say that it was fairly comfortable if I ignored the bloodier side of it. I had my own space, the other servants were courteous and we had camaraderie, Garu-san was a good overseer and Shoyo-sama looked out for us in his own manipulative way. He used my skills without treating me like a tool. He made me feel like I had purpose.
"Why do you ask?"
Yuzuru's black eyes studied me carefully before he shrugged nonchalantly. "Just wondering," he said.
Something told me that his question wasn't supposed to be so simple, that there was something else he was asking, but my mind was already tired from the past few days' events. After the surprise of Kabuto, I wasn't sure if I could handle another headache-inducing dilemma, so I just let Yuzuru's words go.
Getting ready for the 'Eventual Romance' portion of the story summary. After more than 30 chapters lmao. Shoot your opinions for pairing?
Thank you for reading! Hope you're all safe.