How I Met Your Father
Chapter Ten: Part Two: Stranger
Please don't, ever become stranger whose laugh I…could recognize anywhere
War, my friends, is a beautiful thing. Anyone who says differently is losing.
I withdrew my sword from the rogue ninja's chest and let him slip to the ground in silence, he bled into my portal, his body disappearing away. I waited a breath, my back pressed into the cold stone wall. I couldn't even hear my own heart. I could hear the rhythmic drip, drip of water and the hush of low murmurs in the distance—
I heard a footfall.
I pushed my sword out into the hall, meeting flesh immediately. Pulling it away, I slashed the blade against the unknown's neck, grabbing the head and letting the body drop soundlessly to the ground. The cut was clean, almost flawless. Almost.
This peace of ours was making me sloppy. I let the head drop down into the portal like a coin tossed into a depth-less well. Nothing impressed me more than my own power…why should it not?
I listened for another step. None came. I slipped into the hallway, taking care not to announce my presence as I would have preferred. I moved with the quiet, swayed with the shadow, taking care not to linger in the presence of the lamplight for more than what was necessary. This was nothing more than a dance, one I could execute in my sleep a million times over. Many did not understand this, but the stakes, or the lack thereof, should not make a dance more hurried or more slow. A dance should be just that, a dance, one that came as naturally as breathing. And for me, gifted as I was in the many arts, it did come naturally. Always.
I understood assassination well. Knew it was silent, slow work. But, alas, I am impatient by nature, and if I didn't end this soon, I would start to make noise. But, there was no time to rush, nor was there any time to waste. A little girl's life (among others of course (not that they mattered to me))hung in the balance, a casualty of the war I adored. But, seeing as I would not lose this particular war, I saw no reason to turn my back on my old friend.
When I spirited close to another assailant, slitting his throat before he could react, I greeted my friend war with kindness, knowing it had never and will never abandon me: Rinmaru Terumi Asakura. Why would it? Had I not been loyal and kind? Did I not offer it so much blood without pause? Did I not understand its necessity—
Enough, Rinmaru. I thought to myself with a girlish giggle. I was starting to get angry. How silly of me. Really.
Eventually, after talking to myself most ardently—I am quite the conversationalist, you know?—I was able to clear the entirety of the lower two floors. What was left now was the floor above where the misguided little miscreants decided to keep my Asa.
Ten minutes had passed. I opened a portal near my feet, and stepped through it.
I allowed Ichigo to rush forward and throw her arms around me, squeezing my torso tight. "Did you really doubt me, Ichigo? Our time apart has made me forget how cruel you can be. It's so refreshing to be so aptly reminded."
"Oh, hush, Rinmaru." She released me and held me by my shoulders, looking over my form for marks or bruises. She wouldn't find any. Unlike many of my spoiled, 'enlightened' counterparts, I was actually good at my job. But, she didn't do it to insult me, I know. Ichigo was just kind in that way, endlessly loving even when given very little reason. She reminded me of that little girl, my Asa-Dear. That, of course, reminded me of those reckless little vermin still scuttling around the hideout I'd just left. It reminded me that I had, in fact, left those insects alive…breathing.
As if she sensed my thought process, Ichigo hooked our arms together and led me to the main tent in our little camp. It was rather plain, bland beige, the Sand's favorite color, and towered above the others. Two anbu stood guard outside the tentflaps as we approached, ignoring the ninja that milled about it, waiting for the call to action.
I hated black ops forces. Well, I hated incompetent black ops forces, you know, like the ones they have in the Sand? Yes, those kind.
With a wave of my hand, they stepped aside. They should be thankful they did it so quickly, had they not I would have been tempted to draw my swords once more.
Inside stood the Kazekage, my aunt, Chojuro, Temari and Kankuro, all huddled over the hideout scematics. Not that it would do them any good to look it over anymore, I had it memorized down to the last speck of dirt.
Their gazes fell on me immediately, Ichigo shrunk away from their attention, seeming to forget that she ranked just as high as Kankuro and Temari.
I sighed. Humility, what a dreadful thing. Thankfully, I was never afflicted with such a disease. I'd rather cut out my own heart…and eat it.
"You wanted to see me?" I say like it wasn't the most obvious thing in the world. I pull a bit of a tease onto my lips, I can feel it slipping, my right hand burning with heat. I held my eyes closed for a second, trying to expel the sudden need to take action, to leap, to draw. When I open them, I ignore everyone but my aunt. Her electric eyes tell me one thing: perform. And so I do.
I give her a slow nod as she speaks: "Phase Three."
What I adore above all else about my beautiful, naïve Aunt, is that she doesn't ask if I completed my mission. She knows she doesn't have to. One glance at my flawless personage told her I did it without a hair out of place. She assumes my perfection, which, of course, is one of the highest compliments she gives—second only to her lustful attentions.
She glanced over to Gaara, "Now, we can move."
The plan was simple. Send the Lady Rinmaru in to set portals and take out as many rouges as I was able and then, we fall upon them like the plague and snuff them out of existence.
Well, that's what I heard when Gaara presented it. He may have said something about 'take them prisoner if at all possible', but, you know me, can't be bothered to listen to everything he says, can I? He's so terribly monotone, you know? Difficult to pay attention, honestly.
So, in truth, I'm not completely sure what everyone else did. The majority of our forces focused on getting the nobles out of the prison. I had a different set of priorities.
As you know, I am not one to forgive tresspassers.
I hunted down their 'brain' easily enough. He didn't try to escape, good for him. He tried to fight me in the open, high above his underground hideaway. The ground was rocky, lightly dotted with grass sparingly placed. The air, was filled to the brim with moisture, a perfect potion for those born in the Mist.
Not that it did him any good.
I had decided to take this slow, steady. The plan was to just take the tips of his fingers…then his hands…then his arms….you get the idea.
I had taken the tips of his hands and he was kneeling before me when that damn, Gaara decided to show up.
"You're so kind, Lord Kazekage," I told him my blades at the ready to strike, rolling with heat. "Were you worried about me?"
"I thought I'd remind you of your promise to me." He dryly told me, stepping closer to my back. My gaze didn't leave the rogue. I stared deep into his amber eyes, dissecting the poorly combed brown hair with my scrutiny. A poor leader if there ever was one. The least he could do was look the part.
"Promise?" I smiled, and lulled my head to the side. "What promise?"
I blinked, my name had not sprung from Gaara's lips. No, it came from this rogue, whose eyes had widened tenfold as he stared at me.
"Rinmaru," he started again, "Terumi Asakura. Do you remember me?"
Should I? "No." I told him, "Not that it would make a difference either way."
He closed his eyes as his lip trembled, "We went to the Academy together. You saved me from being bullied…remember?"
I blinked. "No. Besides, I was only in the Academy a year before I graduated."
"I know but—you saved me that day." His voice cracked, his eyes gone bleary with tears. "You told me that if I wanted to be strong, I should stop whining and be strong."
The best advice! The kind that is easier said than done. "Doesn't ring a single bell." I said, but, it had the desired affect. Since Lord Kazekage showed up, I no longer had the stomach for torture, less I risk being lectured and stared at for days on end. Plus, he was such a poor criminal. He wasn't good enough to deserve my careful torture. "You must forgive me. I have such a terrible memory. This terrible brain of mine only remembers important things."
"Do you remember Atemi? The girl you saved during our first exercise?"
Where the hell was my head in the Academy? I remembered none of this. I probably still wouldn't, days after this had all ended. I'd forget him too, him and his little rebellion.
"She was my fiancé, killed ruthlessly by one of theirs—no justice. Now, we have peace and her killers walk free." The man shook, his fists biting into his palm. "How can you ask me to do nothing?"
Knowing him as I do, I hear Gaara take a step forward, listening to the man's sob story. So easily moved, by so little. Perhaps I would be too, if I could see this man as a person—someone I care for—rather than another face in a mindless crowd.
Perhaps, if I had been in a better mood, I would have felt something. Who knows?
I sighed, "I'm not asking you to do anything. I don't ask. I'm not even telling you. It's not even a demand, really, because what I offer does not require our mutual agreement. It requires only a sword—my swords."
"You see," I begin in a professional air, slipping more of that hatred off of me by the second, slipping back into me: Rinmaru. "You're trying to prevent a peace that someone I love has wanted for a very long time. I hold no grudge against you, you realize, it's only that I can't forgive trespassers. Your death isn't personal, and I couldn't care less who you are, if you know me, or where you come from. I'm killing you because my Mizukage's wishes are my blood and the Mist is my bone. Unfortunately for you, I don't make exceptions just because I hear a sob story." She raised her blades. "Good-bye."
With that, I quickly took his head, letting it sit atop his shoulders until his legs gave out and it finally fell behind him. How anticlimatic. I want to say this to Gaara, but I stop, and just look at him.
Slowly, as if moving through a foggy dream, he kneels and closes the nameless man's eyes.
I feel it then, this strange sour biting in the pit of my stomach. It growls as I watch Gaara's eyes grow heavy, his browless brow draw together. Regret. That is what I see on his melancholy face. I can't erase it. I won't try to. Especially since, even after hearing that he knew me personally, I still felt nothing. Still, I put my weapons away, stepping to his side, as he sat staring at the man's head. Personally, I'd seen a million heads…they were all the same to me. But, for some reason, this head meant something to our little, naïve Gaara.
I said nothing for a moment, and then asked, because I knew he knew, I asked, "What was his name?"
His voice comes to me slow, almost as if relieved, and low. "Hirako Higarashi."
With a sigh, I surprise myself by saying, "You know, Gaara, if you had met in any other circumstances…the two of you would have been friends. A real annoying pair."
He chuckled, pulling his eyes away from the head, back to me, "How do you know that?"
I roll my eyes at his obvious question, "Why do you think? Because I know you, Gaara."
His lips pull at the corners, and I force my eyes back to the rogue so quickly it feels as if I've strained my eyes.
I need rest, I thought. What a strange day.
I held Asa in my arms.
She sniffled, "You came for me."
"Dear, my love, my angel…everyone here came for you." And they did, along with everyone else.
She shook her head, dismissing them as easily as I would have. I was such a bad influence. "You…you came for me."
Bad influence or not, I pulled her into my arms and kissed her soft, rust colored hair. "Always."
She pressed her forehead to my neck, and I wrapped her legs around my waist so I could carry her all the way home. "You're mine." She murmured.
Under normal circumstances, I always felt the need to remind people I cared about that they never had me. I had them, sure. But they could never have me, never truly.
But, since this was not under normal circumstances, and that reminder would have been false. I chose instead to echo her sentiments and accept her possession with a laugh, "I'm yours."
Her fingers tightened on me, and she spoke sternly, "I mean it."
I couldn't help my giggle. So cute. So small. "I know."
She nodded and then, softly, she asked, "Am…am I yours?"
Without hesitation, I told her the truth, whispering so only she could hear. "From the day that I met you."
I could feel her smile against me, her heart speeding before she relaxed and curled into my grasp. I felt her face warm and I knew she'd begun to cry. I let her, pretending I had no idea.
Asa's father was most ecstatic to have her back, as I was. We had that in common. He spared no expense in languishing me with gifts, gifts I later traded to Asa. It didn't offend him. He only laughed, his dark eyes holding my gaze, his lips parted—breathless.
I had to stifle my laugh. Men. Even those with precious little girls, were so easy, so predictable.
Asa crossed her arms, "Don't stare father. Strange men do it all the time. Are you a strange man, Father?"
I almost died laughing, but he joined me. How strange, a man with humor.
I returned to the Sand Village to finish my report, my Aunt only giving me a few days to return.
The Sand siblings looked at each other and then found the resolve to look over to me. I forget sometimes how cute they were, separate, and even then even more so together. It almost makes me wish I wasn't an only child. Almost.
I giggled, and curled a few fingers beneath my chin. "Is there something you three aren't telling me? I thought we'd agreed that there would be no secrets between us."
Temari snorted, "We agreed to no such thing."
I leaned back, "I remember differently."
Adamant, she crossed her arms.
"Come now, my Temari. What is it? The suspense is killing me." I say with a sigh, "I'm going to cry, you know?"
Kankuro rolled his eyes, "You don't cry."
I held a finger up at him, "You don't know that. The absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence."
Kankuro blinked hard at me, "But you don't."
I threw my hands up, "Irrelevant. Tell me this secret, now, or else I will be forced to find lodgings elsewhere. I have several offers already. You know I'm not bluffing."
Gaara's lip curled in that way that told the few that knew him best that he was smiling. Anyone else probably would have thought he was trying to hold in a sneeze. "We were discussing throwing you a going away party."
I took my time examining their expressions, each poised, awaiting my answer. Expectant.
I closed my eyes, I'd already declared I loved them. I saw no point in hiding this fact any longer. "I'll pass actually."
"What?" Kankuro sputtered, "But, why? You love parties."
"You love food and chaos and men and smiling children." Temari added on, making me chuckle.
"I love the attention." I opened my eyes, and gave all three of them a teasing smile. "But…I think I get enough of that from you three. I'd prefer it if I could spend my last few days here…with you. Maybe if you all tried your hardest, I could learn to hate you all over again."
Kankuro and Temari laughed at that, shaking their heads. But I could see understanding there. I could see happiness, I was more than glad that I could cause it. "So," I almost whisper the word like a caress, a secret told in the dark. "Where you want to go?"
Gaara stepped forward, toward me and outstretched his hand, palm up for me to take. I eyed it before looking up into his seafoam eyes. I could see myself reflected there. His eyes were much too distracting for his own good. They'd get him in trouble one day. "I have an idea."
I moved to take his hand, but paused, turning my head slightly, "You don't mean your greenhouse, do you?"
His face erupted with this child's smile, a flowery kind of joy that would—under normal circumstances—look strange on him. Now, it just made me want to look away. "I do. I have new ones now."
I pursed my lips, but nodded, "Of course you do." I force myself to look back, not bothering to question why I needed to look away in the first place. I probably need some air.
I take his hand, memorizing the feel of his warm hand against mine. We've done this before, I know, a million times. But, something about this touch is different, I can feel it zap through my nerves. "Lead the way."
I let him pull me to my feet before I let go. Holding on would have a bad idea for all parties involved.
This is what I do for people. I protect them way before they know they need to protect themselves.
I'm so generous. I giggled to myself.
"Something funny, Rinmaru?" Kankuro asked falling into step with us.
I shrugged, folding my arms around my torso in the sweetest embrace. "Oh, just what's always funny."
He grumbled, "I should've figured."
It was early, and I was grateful there was no fanfare to see me off. I liked a parade to greet me, but not send me off. I didn't like to watch an assortment of adults crying. It was embarrassing.
From this distance, no one would be able to see me open my portal to leave. I eyed the three before me. They led me here in silence complete.
"Well, I can't say I'm disappointed." I say flippantly, running my fingers through my hair. "The terrain here leaves much to be desired."
"Is that all?" Temari asked with a roll of her eyes.
"That's all that needs to be said." I tell her, "anything more would be dramatic. And you know how I feel about dramatics, Temari."
She quirked her eyebrow at me in pure disbelief. "You are the most dramatic person I know."
I grinned, I couldn't help it, "Am I really?
She inclined her head to the side. "Come on. The least you can do is say good-bye properly. If it were any of us, you'd chew us out."
She wasn't wrong. I shrugged, "Fine. You've twisted my arm." I looked over the three of them, "Well, come on," I opened my arms up, "Hug me already. I'll die of dehydration if I wait any longer."
Kankuro and Temari rushed forward, pulling me close. I wrapped my arms around their shoulders and gave them a squeeze. They could be so dramatic, these two. Gaara, I could feel, watching me. I gave them a final squeeze, kissed each on the cheek. Temari got two kisses. Kankuro looked offended and I offered him another.
Finally, I turned to Gaara who stood before me with his hands crossed in front of his chest. Gaara had never been a lovely dovey person, but I found it odd that he stood away from me like this—brow drawn together. I could tell he was thinking about something, measuring out his thoughts.
I didn't have all day though. We needed to rush this.
With a sigh, I step toward him and he blinks, coming back to me. "Try not to talk about me too much," I say with a smirk, "It'll make the future wifey jealous."
He doesn't even blink! He just keeps this solemn expression, his eyes bleeding into my face.
I throw my hands up, before I put one on my hip and shift my weight to one side, "What's with that face? Is something wrong?"
"I'm going to miss you." Gaara said, so simply so easily I look to both Kankuro and Temari to make sure it was him who was talking. But, it was unmistakable. No one else could sound earnest and yet so dry. The two of them said nothing. Not watching me, not watching him. They were only there. Waiting for a reaction that didn't come.
I pause, the world strangely silent now. It makes his words seem louder. Almost too big to fill the endless desert. The naïve and their words. I shake my head.
"We argue all the time now, but I never tire of it…not when it's you." He continues.
I'm not completely sure what's happening here, so I'm not sure how to tackle it. But, I manage a laugh, "I guess my lessons stuck after all."
Almost as if he sense my deflection, he trudges on, "You've become one of my truest friends, Rinmaru. I mean that." And so he does. So he does.
Finally, I close my eyes, and when I open them I can meet his gaze. "That's enough sentiment, Gaara. I still don't like you all that much." I smile, stepping close to run my fingers along his hair line to cup his warm, reddening cheek. I sharpen my voice, so he knows I'm not joking. "You better write me…and no boring stuff either. I don't want to hear shit about your boring ass day."
Those words have the desired effect. They all laughed, breaking into the stillness. "That includes the two of you. And Kankuro, if I can't read your chicken scratch, I'm sending it back to you."
Kankuro rolls his eyes, but he knows I'm not bluffing. "Whatever you say, Rinmaru."
I step away from Gaara to look at her next. "Temari…"
She crossed her arms, smiling through her eyes, "I know."
They took a step back as I opened my portal without a look back. When I opened it, I saw my aunt, Ichigo, and Chojuro waiting for me in the Mizukage's office.
For the first time, in my entire life, I didn't want to rush toward them. "What a strange feeling." I comment before I stepped forward, back into my old life feeling like a stranger for just a moment.
Yo! Guys, it's been a while. Thanks for the support.
Imcereal, thanks for the review! I know I'm late, but it was inspiration enough to push this chapter out. I should update in September, but it may come out earlier depending on how motivated I feel. Thanks for everything, catch you next time!
Also, shout out to Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I used one of the quotes from the main character and rearranged the words a bit, but I was inspired by the line in the book. The line is, "War, my friends, is a thing of beauty. Those as says otherwise are losing."
I'd say look it up, but's it's pretty messed up. So...do what you want.