A one Yui Sakai was in a house, a house that was effectively her house, as hard to believe as that was. She was in a kitchen in the house that was effectively her house. Before her were spread all sorts of domestic goodies; knives and graters and seasonings to complement anyone's taste, as well as all the food those seasonings were going to be going on setting out ready to be prepared. Outside the window of the kitchen, her five year old son sat building towers with the rocks he found in the backyard. It still amazed her every day that she had popped a real, living, breathing human being out of her body, but there he was. She was expecting her husband home for dinner - her husband. She had to chuckle at herself for being so amazed at all of this, even after it was a life she had lived for a while now. Still, it wasn't a place she'd ever imagined being in a million years.
Though domesticity wasn't all sunshine and roses. While Yui had a family, it was still as much a dysfunctional and awkward family as it had always been. The husband and son were there, but so were many others at varying degrees of warmth within the unit. That was the part that Yui had always been used to, and also couldn't see any other way. One of the somewhat family members - not by blood but rather by strong association and bond - was the subject invited for dinner that particular night with Yui, her husband, and their son. She was waiting to start for Shingen to get there; she'd had it in her head that it'd be a fun little activity to have him help start dinner before Satoru returned. She was wearing just a normal robe one might wear around the house, her hair half up and hardly done, looking like a totally normal housewife - which a reader may come to find she was anything but.
For all his friendliness, compassion, and good spirits, it was accurate to say that Shingen didn't have very many friends. Partly because of his eccentricity, but mostly because of the fact that he had spent a lot of time almost constantly under surveillance by the village ANBU. Such intensive "care" often led to many people falling under the false assumption that Shingen had done something wrong, when really his only "crime" was being a human prison. Still, that didn't mean that he didn't have any friends. His closest friend was Akatsura Rensu, a boy of about his age, and the son of one of Shingen's two teachers, Sunba Satoru.
Being under such constant surveillance, and having only been free of it when he was around one of his teachers, Shingen developed a habit of spending a lot of his time in to Sunba household, so much so that it had become a kind of second home for him. It's why he ended up developing such a close relationship with Rensu. Shingen even began his medical studies with Satoru's daughter, Tori. Shingen even thought of Satoru and Yui's youngest child, Kyon-Kyon, as a kind of younger brother. Little Kyousuke even called him "Onii-san!" and everything.
Rensu was away on a mission today, and Tori was now living with her uncle in the Sandcastle, but Shingen was still frequently invited over to dinner with the Sunba household. Today, it would just be Satoru, Yui, Kyon-Kyon, and himself, but Shingen didn't really mind. He cared about all the members of the Sunba household. With how much care they had given to him over the years, he cared about all of them in return. They were the reason that he had any kind of semblance of being normal at all.
Walking in through the front door without knocking, as typical of someone who considered a place their home, Shingen loudly announced his presence. "Oba-chan, tadaima!"
Yui heard Shingen's call from the kitchen. She'd been watching Kyousuke through the window as he built his rock tower even higher, sipping on some bitter tea and reflecting on the moment as she so often did. When the young jounin came through the door, she turned and yelled, "Kon'nichiwa! I'm in the kitchen." She would wait for the boy to come into the room before smiling and giving him a slight bow of greeting. "Good to see you, Shingen-kun. Satoru isn't home yet, it's just me and Kyo for now..." she took another deep sip of her tea and then, looking at the counter and remembering, made a grand gesture toward all of the ingredients laid out. "I thought you could help me cook today!"
Waltzing his way into the kitchen (he knew the layout of the house just as well as he knew the layout of his own home), Shingen beamed at Yui and gave her a big grin and a thumbs-up in greeting. She asked if he could help cook, which through Shingen for a bit of a loop. He had never really tried cooking before, at least, not outside occasionally helping his parents or Yui chop some vegetables. Well, it wasn't like Shingen wasn't a helpful person, and after everything that Yui and her family did for him, who was he to say no?
"Sure," he said, his voice containing all of his usual excitement as he walked into the kitchen, looking around in some kind of attempt to take in what was happening. Yui was a vegetarian, so many of the foods that littered the kitchen to be cooked into dinner were similar to what Shingen ate at home, so he was at least familiar with the ingredients. From the looks of it, they would be having of salad, probably with the daikon radishes that were set out, and some kind of miso soup. Pretty standard Japanese stuff.
Still, Shingen wasn't sure how to make miso, so he settled on making the salad.
"I'll make the salad," Shingen offered, dancing around the kitchen and gathering the ingredients that he assumed he would need. Some Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, and other little things. He also produced a large chopping knife and a cutting board, and set about shredding the cabbage and cutting the other vegetables into thin little slices. It wasn't particularly fast paced, but Shingen made decent progress. Learning how to use a kunai at least somewhat translated into decent kitchen knifeworking skills.
After a few minutes of working in silence, the only sound the rhythmic chopping of the knife on the board and the bubbling of miso soup, Shingen eventually spoke. His thoughts had been dancing back and forth lately, especially after his near-fatal experience in the desert. Dropping his guard for a moment, he sought out the advice of his always-serene aunt. "Oba-chan, what would you do if Satoru-sensei died?" He asked out of nowhere, giving voice to his nagging thoughts. After a moment, he followed this question up with another, this time his voice barely above a whisper. "What would you do if I died? I'm afraid."
Shingen began his work on the salad, chopping up the vegetables at a decent pace. She smiled lightly to herself. Small moments like these she enjoyed more than most things, much to her surprise. She’d never seen herself as someone who would be making family dinner, waiting for her husband to come, but here she was. And she enjoyed every moment of it. She went to work on making the miso soup, something she had learned to do long ago for the monks in the monastery and had become quite proficient at. Yui even started humming to herself slightly, glancing up toward Kyon Kyon still playing outside every now and then, losing herself in the moment. Her quiet comfort was disrupted by a simple question from Shingen, though a jarring one at that. She looked up from the miso, her face switching between a surprised expression, a concerned on, and contemplation. She opened her mouth, then closed it, unsure whether she should jump at answering her favorite kind of question first, or be concerned for why the boy was asking.
“Well, I uhh…” she started, most articulately. Normally she didn’t stumble over her words, but this wasn’t a question from Shingen she had expected. Though she didn’t know why, she supposed it was a frequent thought of those in their line of work. “Long ago I accepted that death is a natural part of the path we all tread. It has never been something to worry me, or bother me, as all stages of the journey are to be appreciated and cherished. If Satoru were to die…” though she believed in her heart what she said, and knew one day it would happen, the thought still caused her discomfort. “Of course I would be sad. I would grieve. But his spirit and his will would not be gone. I would always take comfort in that.” She smiled reassuringly. “The same goes for you as well, Shin-kun. Now, tell me, why are you afraid? Why this sudden question?”
"It's just something that's been bothering me since my mission in Kumo, you know, when it happened" Shingen said, referring to when his bijuu nearly took control. Scratching the back of his head nervously, Shingen finished speaking. "I'm afraid of dying... When I was there, helpless, feeling like it was all over... I don't want that to ever happen again, and I don't want people like you and sensei to have to cry and mourn over me. I've been looking for ways to circumvent all of that..."
He was embarrassed to bring this all up now, but Yui's words did give him some comfort. In particular, he latched onto a couple of words that she said. "What do you mean that his spirit and will live on?" He asked, ceasing his vegetable-chopping and turning to face his haunt, giving her his full attention. His voice was a little hoarse, perhaps from excitement, and his eyes were wide slightly, as if he was desperate to hear her answer to the question. For months now, Shingen had agonized over the possibility of dying. He had developed techniques and worked to prevent it from happening. Was there really such a simple answer, one that people already had access to?
Shingen could feel his heart beating a mile a minute, and his voice was caught in his throat. Surely, such an endeavor couldn't be easy? Was his teacher the recipient of some kind of secret technique, or the result of some kind of complex ritual? He had to know.
Shingen had not to explain about his incident in Kumogakure; Yui had heard most of the details previously. It was a grim thing, and clearly it had shaken the boy more than she had initially guessed. He explained that he couldn’t stop thinking about death, and worried about people mourning him. Shingen then became somewhat frantic, begging for her to tell him what sort of thing would allow him to do live on like Satoru. If it weren’t Shingen and she wasn’t pitying his desperate state, Yui might have laughed. The sheer misunderstandings of people about her religion amused her, but it also excited her. There were few things Yui liked to talk about more than her lifestyle, and her main goal in life was to lead others to enlightenment. If it happened to be someone as close to her as family, it was all the more better.
Yui would lower the miso to a slow simmer where it would sit for enough time that she could draw attention away. She cupped her hands around Shingen’s face, and her face was soft and comforting. “No one escapes death, my dear. Not you, nor I. But the very being of who you are will move on. Those who have lived their life with compassion and peace will find another life, or – as is the hope of us all – the peaceful eternity of heaven.” She pulled away, returning to her miso to stir it. Shingen had never asked about her practice before, and it wasn’t something Yui regularly forced on people unless they asked, but she was thrilled to share if he wanted to know more. “Grief is a natural part of the process. But we must all accept the inevitable, and do our best with what we have before us.”
The answer, in part, was disappointing to Shingen. It wasn't the key to eternal life that he had been hoping for, though he knew that he had been foolish to have expected it to be such a thing. He worked hard to not let the disappointment show on his face, not wanting to offend Yui. Her hands were a slight comfort, though they did little to comfort his restless spirit. Looking at his aunt, watching her stir the miso soup that simmered on the stove, she seemed so content. She seemed relaxed and happy, as if she wanted for nothing at all in her life. Shingen envied that feeling, to be able to feel so whole, but ever since that night in Kumogakure, he felt empty.
How could he even be sure that a peaceful heaven existed? Even if it did, why would he wanted? He wanted to be here, now, with the people that he knew. With his family, his teachers, even with Rei, though he knew that the last one was but a wistful thought. Shingen's fists clenched tightly, and he could feel his nails digging into his skin. He fought back the tears that wanted to come tumbling out. Nothing in life was every easy. Everything always had to be so hard. Yet, despite all that, Shingen still wanted to cling to life.
"But..." He began, his voice choking for a second and failing him. He had to swallow hard to force the rest of his thoughts out, as his voice wavered. "But what if we aren't c-content with what we have before us? What if we feel like we can do more? Do better! There's so much I want to do... How can I be content with what I have? And then, how am I expected to give it all up someday? I'm taught to make friends and love people and care for others, but it's not fair! It hurts so much, and it's so unfair, to learn to love only to know that it will end. Either they'll die and I'll mourn them, or I'll die and they'll mourn me," he muttered resentfully.
Though he tried to hide it, Yui could tell Shingen was disappointed with her answer. That didn’t bother her. Many people came to the monks seeking something and having a preconceived notion of what they were going to hear; when they heard the truth, they were rarely pleased with it. It was something others had to come around to on their own time, usually. She added the last bit of flavoring to the miso and continued to stir as she listened to Shingen’s desperation. The poor soul, she could almost feel how affected he was by everything, how involved he made himself in the harsher matters of the world. As he finished talking, she finished stirring, and took a moment to pot the miso so she could focus her full attention on him.
“I want to tell you something,” she began quietly, softly, in a more serious manner than her usual jovial way of speaking, “that will bring you comfort, and sometimes it pains me to speak the truth to those I care for… as you see, there is nothing I want more than for you to be happy, Shin-kun. I know you love this life you have now, but it is finite. It is one of many before your spirit ventures to the eternal planes. There is nothing anyone in this whole world can offer you that will stop the inevitability of giving up all that you have gained. Some people will try, but all they offer are deceit and lies that will cause you more suffering.”
It was around this time that Kyon Kyon came back in from playing. The young preschooler looked an awful lot like his father, with dark hair and dark eyes and a serious face. He wandered into the kitchen and saw Shingen, and his eyes lit up. He moved to hug his cousin immediately, throwing his little arms around the boy’s legs. Yui couldn’t help but smile, watching her son. “Shin-kun!” the boy cried as he hugged him. When their greeting was done, Yui called to Kyousuke. “Kyo, mama and Shin-kun were talking about mama’s favorite topic! Can you tell Shin-kun the first noble truth?”
Kyousuke pulled back for a second and put on a serious thinking face, making a ‘hmmmm’ sound as he did so. His face lit up once more when he seemed to come to the answer, and he turned on heel and proudly said to Shingen: “Life is bad, and we die!” in a very bright and happy manner. Yui had to thrust her head into her arm to keep from bursting out laughing and to hide the expression that came over her face. Once the initial desire to cackle had passed she pulled her arm away, nodding her head with a grin. “Yes, yes baby that’s good. But it is life is suffering. Can you say suffering?”
The boy thought for a moment once more, and then said, “suff-rin”. Yui smiled, and nodded. “Close enough. Kyon Kyon, dinner will be ready shortly. Can you play in the main room until then?” The boy answered with a smile and an “okay, mama!” and was off to enjoy the simplicity of childhood. Yui watched him go, a smile on her face, her eyes lingering on the doorway for just a moment before turning back to Shingen. Her expression was bright, but her eyes were almost solemn and watery.
“Do you think I would ever give that up if I could, Shin-kun? No, of course not. I love this. I love being a mother, and having a husband and a house and cooking dinner and waiting for my family to come home. I love my job. I would never lose this moment if I could. But… this is the first thing we must accept, before we can free ourselves. It is the first of the noble truths: that life is full of suffering, and then at the end, we lose it all in death. But if we know this, in our hearts, we can move on and savor every moment of what we have while we have it. It is only once you are content that you can do everything you want to do. Otherwise your life will be wasted to despair.”
One couldn't say that Yui wasn't dedicated, as it seemed that in her short time as a mother, despite Kyousuke's young age, he was already being taught the philosophies of Buddhism. As Kyon-Kyon had so eloquently put it, "Life is bad, and we die". Shingen's hand had instinctively pet Kyon-Kyon on the head when the kid had wrapped his arms around Shingen's legs. However, Shingen didn't process it too much, as his mind was too focused on the conversation that he was having with Yui. Perhaps wisely, she sent Kyon-Kyon off to play by himself in the living room, giving the two jounin some privacy with which to finish their conversation. Watching his would-be-cousin walk away, Shingen wondered if the little toddler had life more figured out than he did.
After a long moment, Shingen turned to face his aunt. She made everything sound so simple and casual, as if he were just supposed to flip a switch, and suddenly he wouldn't worry about things anymore, as if some kind of off-button would suddenly disable all of his fears. But to Shingen, that all just seemed like a fairy tail. However, if his aunt believed in it so strongly, he at least wanted to hear out what she had to say. Even if her words themselves offered no comfort, the way in which she said it did soothe the spirit. Besides, clearly her belief rewarded her with something. Her faith granted her access to a realm of techniques that ordinary shinobi couldn't hope to mimic. That meant that there had to be something there, right?
Glancing up at his aunt's brown eyes, Shingen's own blue eyes wavered. "What are the noble truths?" He asked, desperate to force any words out of his mouth to avoid crying. If he didn't have something else to focus on, he was afraid that he would have broken down right there.
If the situation weren’t so serious and poor, poor Shingen weren’t about on the verge of crying, Yui might have squealed and done a happy little dance at his question. She just loved when others were curious about finding the same way in life that she did. Few things in life thrilled her more than a good long conversation, especially about religion. But instead she would just softly smile, and move past Shingen for a moment, touching his arm lightly and reassuringly. “Let’s go sit for now,” she said, leading him to the dining area. The chabudai was already set for dinner, but Yui accepted that dinner might be some time off. Satoru hadn’t yet returned home either, so it was safe to assume he was going to be at work late. No matter; this was more than entertaining enough for her to fill her time.
She crouched on the small cushion, fashioning it so she could face Shingen on whichever one he crouched. “Just in case this conversation gets long. We could sit in the living room, but, y’know. I’d rather us be uninterrupted.” She smiled and clapped her hands together. “Now, the four noble truths… these are the most basic foundations of Buddhism. In order to move on to anything else in life, these are universal and immortal truths that must be accepted. Once acceptance is gained, we can move forward into living a better life and… well I’m getting ahead of myself.” She had a tendency to do that when educating newer monks or those unfamiliar with the philosophy. She could almost see the Head Monk, Sachiro, shaking his head in his characteristic exasperated way.
“The first of the noble truths is what I have already told you. Life is composed of endless suffering. There’s disease, war, famine, old age, anger, sadness, loss of loved ones… the endless hardships that create our being. And then at the end of all those hardships, we inevitably succumb to death. No one can deny this. The second of the noble truths explains that – and perhaps this is more applicable to your situation – suffering comes from needless desire and craving. Think of what you are experiencing right now, Shin-kun. All that you want to do, all that you desire, and look at yourself. You’re on the verge of a breakdown. It is eating you inside. Your desires are more noble than most, yes, but they are desires nonetheless. This brings us to the third of the noble truths: the only way to free ourselves is to give up useless desire. We must not think of the future, or the past, or the next big thing that if, oh, if only we had *that* then maybe we could be happy. No. We will never reach enlightenment if we chase something trivial. Ridding yourself of these burdensome wants… this is the way to become content with what you have here, and now. As I said before, it is only then that you can truly experience a fulfilled life.”
She stood from the cushion, having talked for a while. “There is much more, and the fourth of the noble truths is indeed the longest and most complex. But what I have told you for now is a lot to take in. So, I’ll leave you to meditate a moment on that, Shin-kun. I’m going to go finish dinner and check on Kyon Kyon.” She would smile and exit the room to do just those things, hoping Shingen would take her request for him to meditate seriously and actually do so. When she had finished chopping the salad and the noodles were sufficiently boiled and she had given her son a hug and all that, she plated everything but did not exactly serve it yet. Instead she returned to the dining room and smiled to Shingen, offering up the floor to him for any questions.
The young chuunin was left alone to his thoughts, to absorb Yui's extensive, yet passionate, monologue, while the educator herself took to finishing the dinner. Shingen was completely silent, his eyes slightly wide, as he sank back into the chair that he had sat in. He wasn't sure what to think now. Yui was so casual about it, yet she spoke with such confidence. Her words were simultaneously comforting yet infuriating. They spat in the face of everything Shingen wanted. Living forever, according to Yui and Buddhism, wasn't a good thing. According to them, it wasn't something he should want. That left Shingen feeling ostracized. Was he wrong? Was he weird? How many people were there that were like him?
And yet, her words were also comforting. It was more than Yui's compassion and motherly tone that made them that way. There was a sense, too, to the words. Immortality was an unrealistic goal from the start. It was something that would be well-beyond difficult to ever practically achieve. Shingen was afraid that it was something that he would never be able to achieve, which would be quite the irony indeed. Instead, Buddhism offered him a comfort to that fear. There was the knowledge that his soul, the core part of his being, was immortal. It was the knowledge that his path didn't end with death, and that death was simply the next step in the journey of life, not unlike something much more mundane, like graduating the Academy.
The conflicting thoughts, the fears inside of him, it all made his head hurt. It was too philosophical for his tastes. He wasn't sure exactly what to think. For the meantime, he expressly wanted not to. He just wanted to do something else, like focus on the dinner that he could smell. Fortunately, in that regard, he was saved by the bell, as a soft but firm voice drifted from the doorway.
As Yui was just finishing dinner, she heard a voice very familiar to her these past years ring from the door. So he wouldn’t be too late after all. Yui swept into the foyer area, greeting her husband with a kiss and a warm smile. “Welcome, my love, I am glad you were able to be here on time! Shin-kun is here already, and we just finished dinner.” Kyon Kyon, upon hearing his father’s voice, ran into the entry way, one of his toys flailing in his hands, and gave his dad a big greeting hug. Yui watched with a faints mile for a moment and then went back into the kitchen to fix the plates. She listened to the conversation that might be occurring in the other room, pondering over this and what she and Shingen had been talking about. She hoped it wasn’t too much for the boy; he had been quiet while she was finishing dinner. Hopefully a nice meal with family would cheer him up.
She brought all the plates into the dining area, setting the table for everyone first before setting herself. She crouched on the cushion and turned to Satoru. “So, how was your day?” she began, the classic question. She’d listen to his answer, prepped with more questions if need be, keeping an eye on Shingen. He still seemed to be down, but maybe not so much now that they were at the table and eating. It was all well; a good meal could be good for meditating on these such things.
"Ah..." Shingen softly exclaimed, not having time to wallow in his misery as Satoru walked through the door just moments after the chuunin's conversation with Yui had ended. An easy-going grin spread across Shingen's face, manifesting for a few different reasons. The first was simply that he wanted to hide his melancholy from his teacher. The second was that Satoru was like a favorite uncle, so by Shingen's nature, it was difficult to be sad around him. Thirdly, watching Satoru kiss his wife, then reach down and scoop Kyousuke into his arms, spinning the child through the air as Kyon Kyon laughed, was a heartwarming sight. The normally cool and reserved Sunba actually looked human. Satoru had very few softspots, but Kyon Kyon was definitely one of them. He had heard that Satoru was similar with all of his children when they were young; showering them with love and affection during their youngest years, but becoming an unrelenting hard-ass when it became time for their training.
"Yo, oji-san," Shingen greeted, as Satoru set his youngest child on the ground. The cool and collected look returned to Satoru's face, as he nodded a greeting towards his student. "How was your training today?" Not, perhaps, the most personable greeting, but Shingen knew that that was how Satoru cared. If he showed an interest in your training, it was because he cared about your growth and your well-being.
"It went as well as ever. I'll be able to keep up with you soon," the chuunin teased, daring to challenge the fastest shinobi in the village. This prompted a scoff in reply from the ANBU. "Maybe when I'm dead."
Eventually, everyone slowly convened around the dinner table, as Yui began to make plates. Feeling obligated to help, since he was both a guest and assisted in the making of said dinner, Shingen aided her with setting out the food, before eventually taking his seat. Once seated, the three males remained relatively stationary, not beginning to eat until Yui had also sat and joined them (a rule of respect that Satoru had drilled into both Shingen and Kyon Kyon, much to the younger boys' hungry chagrin).
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