Date: March 4, 2011
The world is still at war. The Clan Wars raged on, out of control, tearing asunder lives like blades of grass and scattering them like ashes on the wind. Eight years in the future, a sister says goodbye to her twin and a daughter says goodbye to her mother. And then they say hello to each other.
"What If? Clan Wars - Human"
Location Unknown - Land of Grass
Rurohashi Ruriko stands on the grassy hill overlooking the ocean, watching the rock she'd just hurled sail off towards the endless waves below. The hill ended in a steep drop-off, terminating into a thirty-foot cliff. It was a beautiful spot, located along the south-eastern border of the land of grass. Though it would have been a lot more beautiful were it not for the crater that had taken off half of the hill in a battle not too long ago. There was hardly anywhere among the greater nations that was not scarred by some measure of warfare. But the eight-year-girl didn't really understand world politics or why everyone was fighting. She just knew they all were, and that she didn't really like it very much.
She had just started her training, but her father had sent her away. Away with this woman. She looked so familiar. Her daddy said she had been named after her, because of how much her mommy had missed her. She was supposed to call her 'Aunt Ruri', but she was just a stranger.
Momma Rinako was someone Ruriko couldn't really remember. She had been told she'd been killed six years ago. That's when they had recaptured some three-tailed thing and put it in her daughter, in Ruriko. She didn't really understand what it meant, but she had been told that it meant she was going to be very strong some day and fight for a lot of people. It was supposed to make her important. It just made her nervous. And a little sad. She wanted to grow up and marry a nice man like her mother did, someone like daddy who didn't like fighting.
…But she couldn't see daddy anymore. She couldn't see any of her friends any more. Otherwise the bad people would make her fight. She didn't want to fight, but she didn't want to leave all of her friends and family! She hated Ruri-baka for taking her away from them. She hadn't said more than a few words in response to direct questions since they'd left. She had already decided she would never call her 'Aunt Ruri', no matter what daddy had said.
It was shortly after sunrise, and the girl who was the spitting image of Rurohashi Rinako at eight years old looks away from the ocean to frown over her shoulder at the lop-sided piece of stone sticking out of the ground. It wasn't supposed to be lopsided, she figured, but the blast that had rocked this hill had probably done that. Etched into it was a name: 'Rurohashi Rinako'. As the little girl places a hand over the strange symbols, she knew they were called 'seals', on her stomach, she wonders if that was where mommy was sleeping. Daddy had told her mommy was finally at peace now, and one day they would all be together again.
Ruriko just wished she would wake up and come back. She didn't remember her mother, but she remembered a smile. Sometimes when the seals on her stomach started to feel funny, almost like they were burning, she would calm herself by remembering that smile.
This woman was supposed to be her mother's sister. She wondered if she had that smile, too. Daddy had been almost speechless when he'd first saw her. He had even called her 'Rinako'. But Ruriko had her doubts. This lady frowned too much. She didn't smile at all! With her own little-girl scowl, the dark-haired jinchuuriki bends down to pick up another piece of rock.
Ruri parted with her sister on poor terms. Rinako had seen herself as a weapon and Ruri had seen her as a person. Her desire to free her sister from the fate she had been shackled with had been all-consuming… And the only solution she could see was to remove the Three-Tails and to make sure the one responsible for putting it in her twin in the first place never had the chance to do it again. She had failed on both counts. Sousa was too well-protected. All her attempts to get to him had only resulted in her being branded a criminal. They had no idea that she was actually a would-be assassin. And they would never find out. Because she gave up.
She realized that she didn't NEED to kill that old man. If she just kept the Bijuu AWAY from him then he couldn't do anything. So she went back to find her sister, to apologize to her and to tell her that they could find a way to control the monster without relying on anyone else. Just the two of them.
It took a lot of searching and a lot of intense questioning of reluctant individuals, but eventually Ruri found out where her sister lived. Very much past-tense. She hadn't known the man that greeted her. But she knew the face of the girl. Just as the man had been stunned to see her, Ruri had been stunned to see that girl. Many wild thoughts and theories had flown through her head then. Was Rinako reverted to the form of her younger self somehow? Was this a Henge no Jutsu? A Genjutsu? Some other kind of trick!? But it has been none of those. Just her sister's daughter.
It had taken every ounce of willpower she had not to beat the father of her neice black and blue for the crime of touching Rinako. Instead she remained remarkably calm in front of the young girl and tried to discern what was going on. Once the identity issue was resolved, Ruri stayed the night. She considered her options. Then she made an offer. "From what you tell me, my sister died fighting other people's battles. I was wrong to try to take away the monster within her… But I was right about her being a person and not a weapon. I thank you for showing her that at least that much of what I said was true. However, your daughter — my neice — will be subjected to the same fighting and suffering that Rinako was if she stays here. With your consent, I would like to take her somewhere safe. Somewhere she can learn to control the monster and choose her own destiny. I sorely hope it is one without fighting involved, but Ruriko is a person just like her mother. She should pick her path on her own."
"Though with the proper guidance, of course."
And now here they were. A stone protruding from the earth, near the coast. Ruri was a lot stronger than she had been 8 years ago. She has learned so much, seen so much… CHANGED so much. And she wishes with all her might that her sister was still alive to see it. Ruri stands before the gravemarker, and looks at it. Is this really all that remains of her sister? For a moment, the mad idea of trying to resurrect her somehow with the power of the Three-Tails flits through her head. She dismisses it immediately but feels ashamed anyway. That's selfish. The same selfish thinking that lead to her not seeing her sister in more than a decade. A decade and a half? She couldn't remember. It was too long, no matter what. And now she was too late.
Sighing, she draws a brush and ink from a pouch at her waist and begins painting the stone. She crouches down and paints for several long minutes that turn into dozens of minutes. When she is done, an hour has passed. Her knees are a bit sore but she doesn't care. This is the least she can do for her sister's memory. Focusing some Chakra, she charges the intricate designs upon the grave marker with her energy. The ground rumbles and shifts. The grass weaves together, growing and reshaping itself as earth rises upwards into a mound. Ruri steps back and watches as the gravestone is righted, and further… It is turned into a throne — a throne surrounded by blooming flowers gathered from all over the fields.
And then a Barrier Technique snaps into place, freezing the throne, its flowers, and all the rest in a stasis field. It will remain untouched by time, weather, violence, or anything else, until the day Ruri herself dies.
The large chair with the epitaph, 'Rurohashi Rinako' 'Sister; Mother; Human' engraved on the gravemarker in faintly glowing letters stands tall. The enormous wreath of flowers adds color to the stone that would otherwise be lacking.
Ruri feels this is still not enough, but what else can she do? She turns her head to look back at Ruriko.
The little girl frowns as her aunt bends down and begins to writeon the tomb. Ruriko knew about death. She knew her mother wasn't coming home ever again. You didn't go through the loss of these endless wars and not know that. Still, she wished for that smile. And she wished that woman would stop doing things to what she was pretty sure was her mother's grave. She didn't know what had happened. She knew that that woman and her mother had apparently fought. Her daddy had told her that her mother had loved Ruri very much, but never talked about her. He said it had made her sad. That mommy had regretted a lot of the things that had happened.
She could almost hear mommy talking, somewhere in the back of her mind. A half-remembered voice coming to her from over her crib late at night…
Rurohashi looks down into the crib, a smile on her face. Slowly, a hand reaches out to touch her daughter's face, the six-month-old sleeping fitfully late at night.
"I have to leave tonight, little Ruri-chan. I will miss you." A bittersweet smile as her fingers traces the outline of the hair just beginning to grow on the child's head. "I have lost so much, but I have you now. I will be back."
The dark-haired girl watches as the throne erupts from the stone it used to be, becoming something more than it once was. Flowers blooming all around it, out of season, held frozen forever in time by the power of this other woman. She watches with wide, uncertain eyes. At the display of jutsu, something stirs from within the symbols around her bellybutton. Almost like she was hungry. And then their eyes meet as her mother's twin look at her. Another half-hidden memory surfaces…
Rurohashi Rinako looks down at her almost two-year-old daughter in her lap, in the living room of their modest home. "No baby, I'm just… thinking."
"Why?" It was one of Ruriko's favorite questions. One she asked almost no matter what the subject.
"Because baby…" A sigh. Then that bright smile, the one meant only for her that promised warmth and comfort and safety. "I'll tell you a story!" That brought a smile to the little girl's face. Even if she couldn't understand all the words, she loved stories. "A long, long time ago, two sisters loved each other very much. They did everything together, and even wanted to get married when they grew up. But one of the sisters had something awful done to her…"
The tiny girl turns and hurls the rock she was holding at the water. She knew her mother had loved the water. Daddy had told her. She liked it, too, but she didn't know why. She figured it was because her mommy had. When she turns back around, she has her faced scrunched up, as though deep in little-girl thoughts, the exact scowl Rinako had when she couldn't figure something out, but in miniature. She's still looking at the grave, now more impressive and beautiful than it had been before. A fitting tribute to the woman who lie beneath it, she thought, her little arms crossed as she walks slowly, in stunted, measured steps towards the stranger-woman.
"You knew my mom." She states, doesn't ask. She already knew that much. "Why didn't you ever come visit?"
Ruri looks back to the beautified grave once Ruriko comes over. She's not frowning so much now as just looking sad. Miserable, really. But she doesn't look angry like she normally does either. At the question, she takes a moment to think, and then says, "A few reasons. None of them very good. I was too proud, I was too afraid, I was too stupid…" She sighs. "I didn't want to come back to your mother without proof that I was right about a bad man needing to be punished. I didn't want to come back and face the fact that I may well have been wrong, and that I would need to admit I was wrong to my sister. I was too stupid to realize the whole fight we had was completely idiotic and we could have spent our lives together and been HAPPY if we'd just stuck together. But neither of us wanted to admit the other might be right. I think that's the biggest evidence we were sisters right there. We were both stubborn dumb-heads." She turns her head and tosses a psuedo-smirk at the tiny image of her sister.
She looks back to the stone and says, "I realized Nee-chan was right eventually. I realized I didn't have to punish anyone, and that the…" She pauses and then just continues. No point in lying or hiding the truth. "…Monster she had inside of her could continue existing inside of her without the world ending. If I'd stayed… Maybe she'd still be alive. Maybe TOGETHER we would have been strong enough that no one could have hurt us. Maybe you'd still have your mother if I'd been around to protect her."
She isn't the type to get weepy, but though she does not sob or show other signs of crying, her eyes are becoming overbright with gathering tears, that then spill forth and down her cheeks. She seems not to notice. "It's my fault. You know, she was supposedly the 'dumb sister' of the two of us? But it was me who was too dumb to come back and say I was sorry before it was too late. I wish I knew if she was still angry at me at… The end." She lowers her head and closes her eyes, trying to take in several deep breaths to calm herself. When she lifts her head, she rubs her eyes dry with both hands. "Maybe she was called the 'dumb' twin, but she was also the 'pretty' twin. Maybe she was the only one who called herself that, but I look at you…" She turns her head to look at Ruriko. Now she's smiling. "…And I have to agree now, she WAS the pretty twin. And you look just like her."
The day was bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. It wasn't fair. It didn't feel like it should be all bright and happy. Not when Ruriko felt so down and miserable about the WHOLE DAMNED WORLD. She had only the vaguest memories of her mother, other than what her father had told her about her, of course. Daddy had talked about Mommy all the time. He had told her a lot. But it wasn't the same. It wasn't the same as her smile. She couldn't even remember what she looked like. Her Daddy had told her she looked just like a younger version of Rinako. But Ruriko couldn't picture her mother when she looked in the mirror and tried to imagine herself as older. It was just a smile. That was all she had.
"I hated her." The little girl says abruptly, looking away from the older woman's tear-laden face and towards the stunning new marker showing the last remains of her mother. "When she left and didn't come back. I was very, very mad at her. I didn't like that she had died and didn't come home. It wasn't fair. She left me and Daddy and… And she wasn't SUPPOSED to! She was SUPPOSED to be strong!"
The tiny brunette had her hands clenched and her eyes narrowed towards the grave. "Daddy said she was stronger than him, but she WASN'T. It makes me… SO MAD!" Those tiny fists come up, as if she wished she had something to HIT with them. "I just want to yell at her! I want to yell at her, but she's DEAD! I want to YELL at her… but …I really just want to see her again."
The child's hands fall down to her sides, poking her index fingers together over the seal across her stomach. Her chin was quivering with the effort to hold back the same emotions that her aunt was boldly showing, brushing off. She was glaring at the ground, which was rapidly becoming blurry.
"Why did she have to die, Miss Ruri? It's not fair." A sniffle. "…Daddy said you're her sister. You look just like her and you loved her and you're supposed to love me and you'll take care of me and keep me away from the bad things. A-And tell me about The Other I hear sometimes. B-But I just wanna hear more about Mommy." A toe scuffs the dirt. "Was she really dumb?"
Ruri is a good listener — or she has learned to be, at least. Eventually, when it seems Ruriko has said her piece and asks a question, Ruri doesn't even hesitate to answer. "Yes. Very dumb. But sometimes in amazingly wonderful ways. If someone told her she couldn't do something — not that she wasn't allowed, but that she 'couldn't'… She'd do it anyway. 'You can't control the monster without our help!' so she went and beat up an army by herself while her 'teachers' were off posing in front of mirrors or whatever the he—heck they did." She sighs. "An entire town was almost wiped out. Surprise attack. Rinako was supposed to stay put until her 'lessons'. She got bored, ran off, encountered an enemy army, and beat them all up before they even got within range to attack."
Ruri snickers a bit. "The expressions on the faces of her 'teachers' were priceless. She also would protect people even when it meant she might get hurt. It didn't matter if there was a 'smarter' or 'easier' way to go about it. If someone was in danger, she would put herself between the danger and that person. And then I'd call her stupid and we'd fight over how she could have gotten — or DID get — hurt and then we'd, uhh… Apologize. And then I'd tell her how great it was that she protected those people. We were both kind of weird."
She shrugs and then turns away from the grave marker. "Death happens to everyone eventually." A flicker of darkness and fear flashes across her face for a moment as she remembers the stories of one PARTICULAR creature that seemed to remain untouched by death… A certain Ghoul… But she casts those fears aside quickly. "We don't know what kind of people we truly are until the moment before our deaths. As death comes to embrace us, we will realize what we are. That's what death is, don't you think?" Kind of morbid to be talking about this…
She scratches at her cheek with one finger and then says, "Your mother died protecting people. No matter how dumb she may have been, she always seemed to know the difference between right and wrong. So I'd say that what she was… Is a hero."
As she listens to the woman speak, Ruriko's hands twist together and stares at the ground between her feet. She tries to piece together a picture of her mother from the events being described, imagining her tall and proud, standing up for everyone around her, beating up bad men wherever she went. She tries to picture her mother with the adoration of thousands, selflessly putting herself in the way of dragons, speeding trains, bloody-clawed demons, and other things that might imperil those around her. Furiously, she uses the backs of her wrists to scrub the threatening tears out of her eyes.
Then she finally turns from the tomb to scowl like a smaller version of her mother up at the taller woman. "I want to hear ALL about her. I mean it. I want to hear all about she lived, NOT how she died! My daddy said you would tell me." That wasn't necessarily true, but Ruri didn't have to know that!
"I'm not gonna think about her death ever again. I'm not gonna think about ANY death. I'm gonna be strong with The Other like she was." In a classic Rinako move, the dark-haired girl stands with her hands clenched, shoulders back, a steely-eyed glare of defiance for her aunt. "I'm going to get so strong that NO ONE I love will ever die again! I will protect everyone that's close to me. And even those that aren't! I'm going to help people even if they don't help me back, just like my mom! And you have to teach me! You HAVE to."
The steam finally begins to run out of the little dynamo, but not the determination in her glare. It was going to be her against the WORLD, but she would win. And when she was strong enough, not even being dead would keep her from her mother. The pint-sized jinchuuriki slowly reaches up, seemingly almost reluctant, but she takes her aunt's hand in hers and moves to start walking away.
"Daddy says Momma Rinako loved you very much. He said she loved you more than she could ever love anyone, and that sometimes the only reason she married him was because no other woman could live up to you." Another frowny-faced pause. "She used to smile for me. When she wanted to make me feel better. That's all I can remember. Daddy says… he says you look just like her, too. W-Will you…" The little girl looks up at her mother's sister. "…smile to make me feel better?"
Ruri doesn't know how to respond to most of this. The fierce determination from Ruriko causes Ruri to stare simultaneously in a mix of shock and awe. She feels tears threatening to overcome her once more. But in the end, she fights them back and is already grinning when Ruriko asks for a smile. She closes her eyes and tilts her head back. Amazing the things that kids say. 'No other woman could live up to me, huh?' Ruri thinks to herself. Then she tilts her head forward again, and smiles broadly and lovingly at Ruriko. She looks like Ruri, and she looks like Rinako. But she's neither. She's her own wonderful, miniature person. She'll have to remember that when she trains her. "Of course, squirt. I'll smile anytime you ask."
Then her smiles slips away and turns back into a frown as she points a warning finger at Ruriko. "Unless you poke me in the eye! I don't smile when I get poked in the eye! I just tickle the heck out of you!" Then she lunges in and tries tickle her niece's ribs as her smile returns full-force. She knows her sister hated being tickled because she was so ticklish that she couldn't even fight back. So is Ruri, technically, but Rinako never initiated it.
Regardless of if Ruriko is ticklish or not, she kneels down and hugs her niece eventually. "I'll tell you anything you want to know about her. …Well, almost anything. I don't know what your dad told you already but what your mom and I did in private is our own business!" With that, she plants a kiss on Ruriko's forehead. "When do you want to start your training?"