A/N: I have no proper excuses, just that my brother talked me into trying FFXIV and that was the end of much of my free time since October. But I've cleared all the post-Endwalker MSQ, so here I am.
Also that these chapters are difficult to write, because the battles we fight in everyday life might seem less exciting than the ones we watch shounen anime for, but are critically important for the people we become.
Kill Your Heroes
Kintsugi (Part IV)
Hyūga Yori was younger than the Hyūga usually sealed their children—he had just turned two and unlike his physical body, which had a child's robustness, his chakra pathways were permeable and sensitive yet from his time in the womb, more easily invaded and contaminated by foreign chakra. By extension, this meant they was also a greater risk of permanent damage or perhaps outright disability from something like a seal which interfaced with the neurological system.
Because of the Crush, Yori-kun had been made an orphan, which was in part why he had been selected for the seal that she would demonstrate for Hiashi-san, though not for the reason it might have been had he been born outside the Hyūga.
Circumstances might make orphans of them, but no child with the prospect of the Byakugan found themselves without guardians for long.
The Hyūga did not allow their children to be adopted out. Someone would always be found even in the unusual circumstance of the more immediate relatives not being in a position to take a child in. The only way an outsider would be involved in the raising of a Hyūga child was if they married in.
This was not a perfect defense against exploitation or child abduction before they had the protection of a seal, but it did mean that all children with the Byakugan were raised under the clan's watchful eyes and within their unique tradition—even if that tradition was hierarchically draconian, it provided excellent training and a stable homelife.
So Yori-kun was not without guardians—and they were people that in another life might have been even more to her than they already were.
Tatsuo's parents—Masuyo-oba and Rousei-oji—had never stopped treating her like their own daughter even though it had been years now since their son had died. They had been so much more present in her life than her own parents—because they were always there, in the village, always ready with a meal she didn't have to buy or make, one eaten without probing or prying questions, but with a silent understanding possible because both had been active combat shinobi. An understanding absent senpai, who sometimes couldn't resist the urge to be himself when the enemy was an emotional one, which was not always entirely helpful, though she was afraid she had inherited a little of that when it came to others.
She had wanted to invite Masuyo-oba into the dressing room before her wedding—wanted her there to the point she felt guilty toward her mother, as if she was ungrateful for all the things she had provided for her, but that wasn't it, it was that Masuyo-oba meant…well, Masuyo-oba meant a lot of things, had taught her things that she hadn't had an adult woman looking out for her to teach her otherwise—but Masuyo-oba had taken the initiative to invite her out to a café and confess that she might have overstepped.
Over animtsu she admitted she hadn't trusted either Itachi's judgment or his connection with any makers of kimono worthy of being called shokunin, so she had taken the initiative to make introductions and guide him in his selections. Grasping her hand, she had insisted very emphatically that it couldn't be merely a garment, no matter how gorgeous, that she wore on the day she took over the Uchiha clan. It needed to be art, because it was a statement that could be read at a glance and would be preserved for posterity—and she wanted to be very certain that it was saying the right things.
"This is the sort of thing they considered very important for kunoichi when I was a girl," she said. "So I have a great deal of practice at manipulating the opinion of a room simply be being in it. And reading the room. Though that's an important battle skill for any woman. So you don't have to worry about anything. We know we're important to you, Sacchan," she glanced fondly over at her husband, who was eating the most ridiculously cute cat-themed sundae Sakura had ever seen with so much as a hint of embarrassment. "Let your parents have this day. And look forward to your husband's outfit. This aunt guarantees you won't be disappointed!"
Sakura couldn't help but smile at that, glad the woman who had seemed very small in her sadness was now living every day vividly.
So when they had introduced the child they would be raising in place of the grandson they would never have and expressed their trust for her and their desire for him to receive the seal first, Sakura had felt a responsibility to the boy that went beyond just not damaging him with the seal.
He wasn't a stranger—he and his solemn pale eyes had met Itachi, and senpai, and his child-chubby fingers been careful when he had patted the ninken.
So she couldn't fail him.
And she didn't.
[Kill Your Heroes]
"So how long before we can expect you go on leave?" Watanabe-san—an older male jounin who had been the liaison with the civilian neighborhood councils since the Third—asked conversationally after the Hokage's security council had finished with their official agenda and most of the council had left, though Sakura was lingering to sort the reports she'd received from act-on-it-as-soon-as-she-returned-to-the-office to would-not-matter-if-it-was-lost-why-is-this-a-report.
"Leave?" Sakura repeated, baffled, as she finished collecting her papers and passed them to Yuki.
"You're a newlywed, aren't you?" he chuckled in a way that, combined with the knowing look he gave her, left her feeling vaguely disgusted. "One with a clan that can't really be called a clan anymore, but whose husband rebuilt the ancestral mansion. I imagine that he's planning on plenty of pattering feet in the future. We'll be seeing more of Hatake-san then, eh?"
"Sorry to disappoint, Watanabe-san, but you're stuck with me," Sakura chirruped with the smile she had found herself using when making very professional threats after she had gotten over her initial surprise. "Although if you want me to appoint Kakashi-senpai as your official contact, I'd be more than happy to do so."
And with that, she took her leave, her aides—and that had been an adjustment, having people whose core role was to be nearby in case she might need them, which meant that she had needed to get better at panicking invisibly so that she could at least pretend that her aides thought she knew what she was doing—trailing behind her.
It was really beginning to frustrate her, this attitude of assuming she had married to end her career and have children—one she experienced most prevalently from the largely male shinobi who were legacies of the Third's administration—and not because companionship and intimacy were something that many people wanted in life alongside a job they did not absolutely hate.
But she couldn't help but think that maybe this was the reason that Kakashi-senpai had been so slow to show any interest in her training—had he considered her a bad investment, some sort of guaranteed loss of his time and effort? That whatever her performance and promise at the Academy, it was invalidated by her interest in boys?
That she—with her good grades and good behavior—was more of a waste than the Naruto of those days—noisy and rude and entirely ignorant of chakra theory—simply because she was a fangirl?
If she could step through time as well as she could through space, she'd punch that Kakashi-senpai in the face. Those grades had beenearned while being a fangirl, itself a significant investment of time and energy, so that actually should have made it more impressive, not less, even if in hindsight she did not like the person she had been. Though she might have resented her younger self less if she'd selected someone slightly better as the object in which she'd invested so much of herself. She'd shake him and tell him to look—to look at the sheer dedication, the time-management, the self-sacrifice of a fangirl. Tell him that those things would not cease to exist when she was no longer riding the high of obsession—that those would still be qualities she would possess.
Tell him that her desire to marry would not make her less of a shinobi—rather, it made her work harder, especially in her case, because the safety and security of the village was also the safety and security of her family.
Even if being married was apparently not the mark of a stable and reliable woman, as it had been for civilian men, and she had to work all the harder to convince her peers she was not simply some political statement, a figurehead put in place while Kakashi-senpai was the real power in the force, or some complicated game that Shikaku-sama was playing with the old guard.
"I'll let Hatake-san know of the change," Honoka-san assured her once they were well clear of the chambers. "And, I don't know that you need to hear this, Uchiha-sama, but I'll tell you anyway. Don't ever let them make you feel guilty. Having both has always been a privilege men have enjoyed, but you're not stealing anything from them by wanting the same. If anything, you're giving the men who found the 'always the provider' role pretty thankless the chance to give being the nurturer a shot. People aren't as simple as the checkboxes for sex on the registration forms. If the hero can save the day and get the girl, there's no reason a heroine can't have her man and the world as well.
And if people say it doesn't work, it because they don't realize that it doesn't injure a man's dignity to put on an apron every once in a while. It's not just me saying this, either. You might not hear it from them personally, since you're considered hard to approach, but a lot of your female officers appreciate being able to both use their combat skills and be close to their children. Most children don't enter the Academy until they turn five and five years is a long time to be out of the field."
It was a long time. The body changed over time even with consistent and rigorous training. Without it—and she imagined it would be very hard for a new mother to maintain that sort of level of training intensity on her own—it could be very difficult to recover the level of capability and skill you had once possessed. Even if you did manage to do so, you were a full five years behind your male counterparts for promotion and advancement.
Sakura, who already had complicated feelings on having biological children with Itachi—and it wasn't merely because of the Sharingan or who he was or his history, but also the idea of dealing with pregnancy and a young child against the backdrop of this fledgling institution—was feeling more and more certain that it wasn't a battle she was willing to fight day after day, week after week, year after year.
Being an adult seemed to be about picking how many battles you wanted to fight all at once without leaving yourself too exhausted to enjoy anything about it.
She did not want—was not willing—and she knew that the popular perception wasn't at all true for some women or even most of them, but children seemed the point where it was assumed that she would cease to exist as herself and become only someone's mother. And someone's mother would not be their problem any longer, because she had chosen to become an Uchiha and she would not so much be Sakura as a vehicle to carry forward her husband's name, like all those women in the history books whose only name was the name of the sons she bore.
Once upon a time, she had been a Sakura willing to be subsumed by the sheer intensity of Sasuke, to fade into a pale pink afterthought happy with what little affection she could glean from the barren field of his feelings.
That Sakura was dead somewhere in the battlefield of her childhood, just a corpse of tattered memories and sugarsweet dreams gone sour, and the Sakura that remained had been rebuilt on her bones.
This Sakura was writ in red.
And as she replaced her cover and stepped out beneath the boundless sky, capelet fluttering in the cool breeze to show the red beneath the black, that was how she wanted to be remembered.
[Kill Your Heroes]
Kakashi-senpai seemed to have found his calling. The ability to go out in a plainclothes disguise and read in public and bill the department for his meals and shock the hell out of criminals on a regular basis seemed to suit him better than anything else Sakura had seen him do, even if it was an uphill battle to make him do the paperwork associated with being her second-in-command. Luckily, Honoka-san and senpai's own aide seemed to take a special delight in this duty.
It certainly suited him better than being a jounin-sensei ever had and it seemed to make him far happier than the work they'd done together after, which had been an exhausting necessary evil. This could have been as well—and sometimes Sakura felt like it was—but it seems to fulfil and energize senpai and the ninken had been absolutely thrilled to be freely utilized on a daily basis, surveilling and trailing and restraining.
[Kill Your Heroes]
With the distraction of the wedding and getting the house in order, with the buying of bedding and the choosing of kitchen tools and a thousand other tiny tasks, Itachi had not realized how empty and echoing this house he had built was.
How much it felt like a mausoleum when no one else was home.
The weight of memory here was crushing, even if the house he had lived in with his parents hadn't had anything like the scope and scale of this house, the grandeur of the Uchiha which had already been a generation gone.
In the silence, in every whisper of the wind that wasn't caused by a human passing by, in the settling creak of the floorboards made by no footstep, he heard an accusation.
It hadn't been so bad, back when he thought he would get to die for his sins. That he could make some sort of atonement for the awful work he'd agreed to do.
But now he was living with it.
He knew that he should go outside—outside the estate, not merely outside the house—more often, but it was…difficult. Outside of the Land of Fire, the streets had been full of strangers, and if his cloak told a story, it wasn't his story.
There was no such mercy of anonymity here, though it was a strange thing, just a sort of cold knowing look and never an outright confrontation, though surely there must have been those who'd had friends cut down on that red night.
No one yelled, or cursed him, or told him what a wretched excuse for a son he was. Sometimes he wished someone would.
Itachi was self-aware enough to know that these feelings were also a kind of disease, could also eat him up from the inside, but it was hard when he was alone with his thoughts.
It was better when Sakura was there. It made it easy to pretend then, because it almost was actually good, because she dragged him into her moment with her, and her moment was focused and ferocious even when she exhausted and couldn't tell him what she was working on.
He felt purer then, cleaner, because he was not tangled in his own guilt and memories, but it was an imperfect solution.
Sometimes, he just desperately did not want to be Itachi, the ill omen that his own parents had named, as if they could sense what would happen from the moment of his birth.
So he asked, as one particularly difficult day shaded into evening, if Sakura would mind not calling him by his name. Just for one night.
She'd peered down at him narrowly. "…not somebody else's name, just not yours?" she clarified. "Because I don't mind calling you by a pet name, husband mine, the other is…"
He breathed a shaky laugh. "No, not someone else's name. That would be…not something that I'm interested in. Just…not Itachi."
Sakura hummed her understanding, tucking her hair back behind her ear from where it had fallen forward to brush across his chest. "I don't really have a dedicated pet name for you, though. Maybe we try them all out?"
On the balance, probably more laughter than lovemaking followed that, but he felt less heavy after—even as he threatened to withhold sex if Sakura ever compared him to extra-firm tofu again. Less weighed down by Itachi, though it was journey, not a destination.
Life was like…walking through the forest, where it seemed the trees cast everything into shadow, but if you bothered to look up, there were a hundred thousand tiny glimpses of sunlight gleaming between the leaves and if you kept walking, there was a clearing just ahead, absolutely awash with sunlight. And you could bask in it, feel the heat of it on your skin, and linger there for a little while before going ahead. To realize that the shade of contentment wasn't all that dark at all, that it was necessary so that one did not burn out in the hot light of happiness, and to know that you would see sunlight again before the truly dark places stole all the lingering warmth.
But it was also about the choices you made, because while the forest did shift and change around you, it was you, in the end, who decided where your footsteps lead as you were walking through it. There were paths that led to ugly places and you had no one to blame in the end but yourself for taking them.
He had chosen his path into the dark, gotten accustomed to it, thought it was his place, so much so that standing in the sunlight made him feel guilty. But as long as Sakura kept holding his hand, so long as he was useful to her—because it was hard for him, who was so accustomed to thinking of himself as something that could be discarded, to treasure himself on his own merit, but it was fine, to value himself through Sakura's eyes—he thought that one day he would be able to enjoy the sunlight without any thought but for its splendor.
Two days later, he found Naruto at his door.
"Sakura says you're molding in here," Naruto said resolutely, arms crossed and legs spread. The older daughter of the Hyūga clan head finger-waved at him as she stepped to one side to be seen, since Naruto was blocking the door.
"I highly doubt Sakura actually said that," Itachi countered bemusedly, stepping aside so Naruto could enter, but the blond remained where he was.
"Uh-huh. Well, Sakura meant you were molding in here when she asked me to introduce you to the lady who supervises all the volunteers for the orphanages meant for kids with kekkei genkai or whose parents were shinobi. The civilians have a separate system and it's weird. Anyhow, go change clothes. Those look hard to wash. You want to wear stuff you can wash. And that you don't mind weird stains on. Like, I swear, sometimes you just look at a kid and—"
Itachi held up a hand to forestall him. "Sakura asked you to introduce me to the…director of orphanage services?"
"Not the director. She's the…coordinator something?" Naruto said, scratching at his whisker marks and relaxing from his aggressive stance, though he was still rudely standing in the doorway. "I don't remember her formal title. Anyhow, she'd the one who you have to go through if you want to volunteer. Which you do. Because that's what we're doing today."
"Weird, right?!" Naruto said cheerfully. "Strange how much work I did in school to avoid anything that looked like work, but it turns out that work is a lot less like work when it's something you want to do. Anyhow, there's still stuff I don't like and I'm not real great at, but I have to do anyway to be a fully qualified Academy teacher. Having a good reputation and being considered level-headed and dependable are apparently things you want when you're teaching children to run with sharp things and I have some, uh, "perceived short-comings to improve upon"," he said, making air quotes with his fingers. "Which I guess is fair. Super public acts of vandalism committed in my childhood and all."
He sobered a little when Itachi continued to simply stare at him. "C'mon. If you're worried about the whole," he waved his hands vaguely at him, "these kids are too young to know anything about…well, anything. Some of them aren't even going to be able to pronounce Uchiha. It'll be fine. Sakura says you like kids. And you're the scariest person I know who doesn't look scary at all, so they'll probably like you right back."
Naruto yelped when Hyūga-san jabbed him in the side.
"Ow, Hina-chan, what was that for?"
"That was rude," she said.
"And he's deceptive," Naruto muttered. "Sorry," he apologized more loudly, scrubbing his hand through his hair. "Anyhow, it really will be okay. Bad things happen to take you to an orphanage in the first place and people make a really big deal when bad things happen in them, because it makes them feel better about not actually being helpful themselves, so people have a negative image of them to begin with, but mostly it's people trying to makes things not awful for the kids.
"I didn't magically grow up all my own, y'know, even if they emancipated me early from the orphanage 'cause of reasons. When I was a baby, there were suddenly a whole lot more orphans, so it must have been hard, but when I was old enough to start remembering things, most of them are pretty good memories, y'know? It was really only after we started at the Academy and the other orphans started hearing from the students, who'd heard from their parents, that I had something to do with the reason they didn't have families anymore that it became a problem. Which…I guess they weren't entirely wrong about that."
Hyūga-san tugged at his sleeve. "What happened that night wasn't your fault," she said firmly.
"I know," he reassured her. "But still…they were hurting too, y'know? Their real families were gone. And with the destruction from the Kyūbi, there weren't a lot of families that could afford to support more kids than they already had. It's not that I don't get why my parents wanted to have me. And I'm grateful to them for that. It's just…all it would have taken was making arrangements to have a medic-nin and a security team ready in a secret location outside the village.
"If the forecast is cloudy with a chance of monsters, you're going to take an umbrella no matter how low that risk is, right? And even if the seal wasn't considered a problem, all your enemies were. Iwa hated my dad and that was back when Iwa was bold enough and powerful enough to try kidnapping the Hyūga heiress right in her own village only a few years after he died. And we're not even counting Danzō and that damned Orochimaru…," he trailed off and shook his head. "They say he could step across half a country in a second, but he couldn't take his wife outside the village when she went into labor? Even only going as far as the Valley of the End would have been enough to turn it into a massive logging operation instead of a catastrophe."
"It's easy to say so now, because it's easy to see behind us, but it's hard to see what's right in front of you," Hyūga-san said. "We probably won't ever know what made Namikaze-sama and his wife make those particular choices, but I think that they were probably made with the best of intentions."
Naruto sighed, shedding his serious mien as the corner of his mouth quirked. "It is what it is. And what this is is a kidnapping, so get changed and let's go. We're going to end up being late."
[Kill Your Heroes]
The week before Neji was meant to move into the estate in fulfilment of the weird semi-feudal bargain that the Hyūga family had made, Sai showed up on their doorstep, surrounded by boxes and bizarrely resembling an abandoned cat. "Every house this size needs komainu," he replied blandly when Sakura stared incredulously at him. "I won't take up much space."
Sakura was still working her way past the idea that Sai, much like said cat, had just decided that he lived here now, that it was Itachi who responded. "Well," he said at her shoulder, voice deep with amusement, "estates this size were never meant for just a single family. And it's not as if we don't have the space."
[Kill Your Heroes]
No one who knew Danzō would believe he would totally dismantle his organization, so it would have been more suspicious for Root to exist in its entirety as an underground organization. Danzō had selected with care those with both innate charisma and a high level of skill to be the public face of his forces.
If she had met Ren on the street, Sakura would have never guessed he belonged to an organization like Root. In terms of appearance, he was good-looking, somewhat fashionable, with the kind of charisma that made him seem more handsome than his features merited when he was in motion. That same charisma made him seem easy and approachable and he had the gift for making you feel like you'd been friends for forever without seeming slimy or invasive.
He was one of their best plainclothes officers, despite being not much older than Sakura, and his one annoying habit was that he never seemed to go home. He chose instead to spend a lot of his off-duty hours loitering in the public spaces of the station, reading on the couches, lingering by the windows of the cafeteria, and on their designated training field.
Sakura wondered why this was, but she did not ask. Even former Root members—maybe especially former Root members, deserved a measure of privacy.
Since he seemed so eager to work, she made free use of him, since some days it seemed she didn't get to go home either, and as she delegated more of the time-consuming human resources management to Honoka-san—this despite having a department which was supposed to deal with such matters—Ren became first an unofficial aide and then came to join her in her office as one of her "fetch boys" as Kakashi-senpai had taken to disrespectfully calling Ren and Yuki.
Senpai was not similarly disrespectful to Honoka-san.
He would not discuss why.
[Kill Your Heroes]
Jiraiya was tired from traveling and annoyed that he was tired and generally feeling grumpy about getting older, so after he arrived in Konohagakure and had one of the gate guards send word to Shikaku that he'd see him later, he fully intended to treat himself to a little something for all his hard work.
For most people this would be a steaming hot bath or the guilty pleasure of a snack with lots of calories, but he preferred his snack and bath in combination. And eaten with his eyes.
He liked it both sweet and sour—the guilty thrill of watching when no one knew he was there, now, that was sweet, but sometimes that felt…incomplete somehow, without the equal excitement of being discovered. So he paid the fines if someone bothered to turn him in and ignored the lectures issued by the self-righteous officers and joked with the salacious ones, both of them resentful of being made to do something so far beneath them, and went about his day refreshed and occasionally inspired—most of the women in his novels were based fairly faithfully on real women he'd encountered during his adult sightseeing tours.
The last time he'd been in Konoha, it had still been in a pretty rough state, but as he wandered through his old hunting grounds, he was happy to discover that it was beginning to feel familiar again. The same restaurants and foodstalls, ryokan and bars, apartments and public baths. All of them gleaming with newness, clean and orderly, with none of the rubble piles or ever-present dust remaining.
Some of them even looked better than before. One of his favorite bathhouses now had the exterior painted with a linework of flowing, frolicking koi that extended even across the fenced in area toward the back, where the onsen were, and he lightly ran his hand across it as he began eyeing the wood for likely viewports. He grinned as he heard a brief burst of feminine laughter, but as he went to step forward, he found something had caught his hand.
As he glanced back, he found a line of ink had looped around his wrist and as his gaze followed the line up, he saw a koi—who somehow looked disapproving—peeling itself off the fence.
"I thought it would take longer," a faintly scathing female voice came from behind him. "We'd hardly even gotten word that you'd arrived and yet, here we are."
Jiraiya twisted, startled because he had not sensed the presence of anyone else, and found himself looking at two black-clothed shinobi. They were wearing unfamiliar uniforms, which were strangely flattering, for being uniforms, though maybe that was just because Jiraiya was not entirely immune to the vague dominatrix aura that he got from the tall woman standing in front, with the red of the inner part of the capelet peeking teasingly beneath the somber black, the chains looping across her shoulder, the high boots—he was even thinking that he didn't usually go for service caps as a look, but this was kind of like special service when he met her eyes.
The warm mood that had been building at the thought of indulging in some sightseeing vanished, because her eyes were the coldest shade of green he had ever seen and her pupils were narrow upright slits. There was not a hint of deference or amusement or hesitation in her expression, though she had addressed him in keigo.
He eyes slid to the side to take in her male colleague, but he was standing deferentially behind her and only gave Jiraiya the emptiest customer service smile he had ever seen when he noted the Sannin looking at him.
"Hey now," he said, raising his free hand. "I think we have some kind of misunderstanding going on…"
The woman—Kakashi's student, the very unimaginatively named Sakura—frowned at him. "When you hang fly strips, you can catch birds by accident, but what you get are mostly bugs," she said flatly, and her language remained polite even while the content wasn't. "But we're going to go talk about this in any case, so please come quietly."
Jiraiya didn't resist as the eerily smiling dark-haired man came over and placed his hands over his wrists, leaving some sort of inked seal in their place that Jiraiya examined curiously once the koi-trap was removed. "This doesn't seem to be a restraint…?"
"No. It's pointless to use normal chakra inhibitors on a sage." That was all the explanation offered before he gestured like he was hotel waitstaff and Jiraiya allowed himself to be led back to a large modern building that proudly bore the same sakura insignia that they wore on their uniforms, above the more prosaic lettering that declared that they had, in fact, taken him back to the central station of the military police.
The inside was a reflection of the investment that Shikaku was making in the resurrection of the institution they'd let lapse all those years, but as they led him deeper into the building he noticed with real disappointment that, from the secretaries to the officers, there was not a single woman wearing a skirt. And the uniforms had looked so promising, too.
"Do you have something against women wearing skirts in this building?" he muttered, not really intending for his escorts to hear the complaint. "Or at least heels?"
"Would you like to wear a skirt while dealing with criminals?" came the reply. "Wear a skirt for yourself or your boyfriend, but I won't require it or allow it as part of a dress code for a job that largely deals with the kind of people who think rules are a nuisance and social niceties like consent are getting in the way of what they deserve."
Jiraiya laughed awkwardly. "Now, that's kind of a harsh stance. After all, not everyone who comes in here is all that bad. And the sight of a cute girl in a short skirt lifts a man's spirits, you know."
"Then should I ask all my attractive male officers to come to work with their shirts unbuttoned to raise the spirits of the women who have to visit the station?"
"That seems a little unprofessional," he replied after a moment of shock.
"Because it's not their job? Neither is it the job of the women who work here to make men feel anything but that their documents and cases are being processed quickly, accurately, and fairly. We're here," she said abruptly and opened a door that led into a spacious room that was largely empty except for a well-padded conversation set in the middle.
"This doesn't exactly scream interrogation room," Jiraiya commented as he was waved into a seat and the dark-haired man broke away to stow their service caps and make tea at a little station near the door.
"It's not for normal criminals."
"That's good, because I'm not a criminal. I didn't do anything," he said as he relaxed into the surprisingly comfortable seat. "If I have done things, I've already paid the fines. You can't prosecute me twice for the same time. And I doubt anybody took the time to come forward in the chaos to accuse me of anything…" he trailed off leadingly.
"So if there's no victim willing to testify, there's no crime?" Sakura asked dryly as she received a cup of tea from the young man, who then placed a cup on the table in front of Jiraiya before retreating to stand behind Sakura's shoulder.
"Isn't that how it works?" Jiraiya joked. "You're supposed to know better than me."
Sakura hummed, then met his gaze squarely, still holding her teacup in her hands. "The village of Konohagakure has charged you with being a detriment to public morals. You've been sentenced to spend the next three days with me for reeducation."
Shikaku, that punk. Jiraiya sighed and slumped back in his seat, spreading his arms across the back and spreading his legs more comfortably as he glared at the ceiling. "So, what, you're going to lecturing me for three days?"
"Lecturing? No. I'm not that free, though I do have a few things to say." He dropped his gaze to find her watching him with an unnerving kind of look. "Jiraiya-san, you're the kind of man that justifies what seems to him small bad things on the excuse that you also do great things. But do you know what my first impression of you was outside the history books? You were encouraging a prepubescent boy's precocious interest in pornography by exchanging shinobi lessons for voyeuristic sessions of said prepubescent boy in a naked female guise.
"That's transactional in a way that makes that situation very like prostitution. Which is illegal in Konohagakure. And even if his status as a registered shinobi makes him technically capable of consent, most shinobi would find it morally awkward to make their dead student's son posture as a naked woman in exchange for lessons. But I'm certain Namikaze-sama wouldn't feel as if his trust had been abused. Perhaps this is a bond you had with all your students?"
Jiraiya was on his feet in an instant, but before he could do more than stand, the most complicated array he'd ever seen was suddenly visible on the floor beneath him, crawling up the walls, draping down from the ceiling like the drooping branches of a willow, tight chains of characters crawling and wriggling. More slender tendrils escaped from the floor, twisting up around him like an inky cage.
He channeled chakra to his fingers, intending to seek out weaknesses in the jutsu, but then he paused. "Is this legal?" he asked her tightly. Because if it was and he escaped, that would be legal. And it was a sentence handed down by the Hokage.
"Most of our law framework was formalized during the Third's reign. The things one can legally do in the name of rehabilitation are…well. Let us say that it was a product of its time. But this isn't meant as a torture device. Think of it as a…learning tool. This is what a moderately complex genjutsu looks like when expressed as characters infused with chakra rather than merely chakra and intent. It's somewhat inflexible yet, as it's a work in progress, but…I am grateful to those who contributed their memories. I was sorry to have to ask," she said softly.
"Memories…of what?" Jiraiya asked stiffly.
"The things you do…you think of them as little bad things. The people you do them to don't. You like women, don't you? This will give you the opportunity to feel their feelings as your own. It should be useful for an author like you. Enjoy, ne?"
[Kill Your Heroes]
"Ask for what I need…," Sakura murmured quietly. "Then—when Jiraiya-san sends word that he's returning to the village, alert the military police. You said that people needed to feel safe," she said while studying his relaxed body language for signs of a shift in temper. "If he what he does isn't considered a crime, it should be."
One of Shikaku-sama's brows rose. "And why focus on Jiraiya-sama, in particular? I'm not saying no," he clarified. "I just want to hear your reasoning."
"It's a crime everyone knows about and no one does anything about. And all because he's a student of the Third, the teacher of the Fourth, and a comrade of the Fifth, which has made him untouchable. Though I suppose that no one was really eager to fight him either. Or maybe—maybe they didn't really care that much about what a bunch of women had to say about being observed bathing without permission by a man old enough to be their grandfather. Maybe they laughed and said something like 'the pervy sage is at it again, huh?'
"I know that you received some backlash on my appointment. I know that this will probably create more pushback, with people saying that I'm going after a highly visible and highly respected member of the community to distract from the fact that my clan is getting away with significant crimes themselves, since no one really believes that Tsunade-sama assigned Sasuke to even so much as a grocery run, let alone sent on an open-ended mission to pursue anybody. And I'm sorry to trouble you, but this is what I'm asking for."
Shikaku-sama regarded her thoughtfully for a long moment before he rose from his desk, white robe of office billowing around him as he made his way to the window. He clasped one wrist with the other hand. "On one condition, and on the understanding that while you might get to arrest him, you're probably not going to get to keep him for very long," he said. "I'll give you permission on one condition."
"That at dinner tonight, you tell my wife that you're planning on arresting Jiraiya and that I told you that you could. You're going to make me very popular in my house. Yoshino's wanted to hang him out to dry for years." The grin he shot her over his shoulder was positively rakish and in that moment Sakura realized that her Hokage was actually quite good-looking.
A Kage who knew when to move and when to stand still—one with clear vision and who could laugh and stand steadily even when the wind shifted.
Yes, Sakura thought, there wasn't anything bad about serving a Hokage like this.
"You better just get used to that feeling of being unprepared. That going away as an adult is just a lie that we let children believe to make them feel better about growing up."
She took back her kind thoughts as he told her that with a sheepish look.
This one was a trash Hokage too.
But even that was a thought weighted with fondness—and with gratitude.
Tsunade-sama had really done her best, even when she'd thought she had nothing left to give.
She was glad that these were the Hokage under whose vision of Konohagakure she would serve.