Creaking his eyes open, Shingen's blue eyes immediately squeezed back shut as the rays of sunlight through the window assaulted his face. Eventually, after a long groan, he pushed himself into a sitting position, glancing around what appeared to be his bedroom. What...? He wondered groggily, managing to slip out of the bed and stumble to his feet. Was it all a dream? He could vaguely recall some rainy memories, a snowstorm, and a masked figure. He raised a hand to his face, pushing some of his blonde locks back behind his ears as he walked over to the kitchen and turned on the faucet, splashing some cool water into his face to help clear his mind. Looking up into the mirror at his reflection, Shingen noticed his ANBU mask sitting on the counter behind him, featuring its usual blue horizontal lines and a single crack running down its length.
Wait, a crack? He thought, as memories came flooding back to him. It wasn't a dream... He realized, his legs growing weak as he leaned against the sink for support. No, it wasn't, came a saddened reply.
What happened? How did I end up here? I thought I...
She returned the Bijuudama, it hit you point blank. I was able to heal you, but you were knocked unconscious. She brought you back to Sunagakure.
What? But why...?
I am uncertain, Matatabi said, unwilling to reveal the truth of the matter.
The fact that the Fox had not only spared him, but returned him to his village, filled Shingen with a heavy mix of emotions. He was grateful to be alive, but did he owe the Fox a debt? Did she spare him out of some amount of kindness and compassion, or for more practical reasons? Perhaps he was simply so weak as to not be worth killing at all; but then why would she bring him back to the Land of Wind? His head was spinning with these thoughts, until a sudden realization hit him.
The village... Was it damaged?
Several buildings were destroyed, including part of the outer wall, but no lives were lost. Not as far as I could tell. The boy you met didn't make it out of the blizzard, but the Fox's fire technique heated the air enough so that he would not have died before help arrived. Such would be the same for the unconscious one.
Though Shingen was relieved to hear that there were no casualties, he couldn't help but feel a deep shame welling up inside him. He had been so reckless, so angry when he had seen the Fox appear so suddenly, that he had been unable to control himself. Though he was fortunate enough that the military district had been mostly deserted that night, and that the two witnesses had survived, neither of those two things were through his own actions.
Tears welled in the blonde's eyes as he looked back at his reflection in the mirror. Who was it that looked back at him? It was hardly the pacifist that he had proclaimed himself to be. How could he be worthy to carry on the legacy of Hagoromo when he let his emotions get the better of him? How could he bring about world peace when he was the first to cast stones?
I am not fit for this. What would the others think? To know that their so-called leader was so weak. I hurt people, I was willing to kill...
Shaken to his core, Shingen looked down at his hands. They were shaking, and his breath was uneven. He was so willing to cast aside his ideals, having broken every promise that he had made to him-
Snap out of it! Hissed Matatabi's feline voice. You are human, Shingen. You err, you stray from the path. That is natural. Is that not part of your beliefs?
But I'm a hypocrite, he thought bitterly, casting his glance down at the floor.
You're only a hypocrite if you falter now. You know that failure is part of life, the point is to overcome. Did you expect to cast aside all of your anger instantly? Is achieving enlightenment not a process? I do not think any Buddha would fault you for failing as you learn. The important part is that you learn from it, Shingen.
Learn from it...?
It was the first time that you had seen the Fox since you heard th news. You weren't able to handle it. The fact that you feel distraught about what you've done means that you know it was wrong. You started walking the path to enlightenment, Mangetsu Shingen. You're only a hypocrite if you let your first failure along the way deter you. Did you think it would be easy?
Even Sun Wukong was cast from Heaven, Matatabi whispered, her voice softening like a mother comforting her child. You made a mistake, and hardly the worst one in the history of Buddhism. You can atone for your sins; the question is, are you willing?
Shingen was silent for a moment, left in a stupor by Matatabi's lecture. Slowly, he clenched his fists, wrestling with the feelings that fought inside of him. His guilt, his anger, his pride. As tears flowed down his cheeks, he struggled with those feelings. For a moment, he felt like the tide of negativity was going to consume him. Could he really forgive the Fox for what she had done?
Suddenly, Shingen felt the presence of a hand on his shoulder. The feeling lasted only for a moment, snapping him out of his daze as he turned to look behind him, only to find no-one there. The touch felt familiar, and he knew he had felt a touch, and his nose was vaguely twinged by the scent of cream and smoke. The sensations only caused more tears to build at the corners of his eyes. Sensei...? He thought, a gasping sob leaving his body. What is it you wanted me to know...?
Your loved ones care about you, Shingen. I... care about you. None of us want to see you walk down this dark path. You can change the world, so please, don't cast your dreams aside. Please!
The Blue Tiger collapsed to his knees, his arms and hands going limp at his sides. In that moment, all of his hatred and his anger felt so meaningless. Aunt Yui was right; those negative emotions had brought nothing but pain, and not just to Shingen. It had brought pain to the two bystanders, it had brought pain to his loved ones. Perhaps, even, it had brought pain to the Fox, too. I have committed a great evil, for which my soul has been stained... He thought, as Matatabi's heart began to sink. I still can't forgive her... Not yet, at least. It still hurts so much. But with time, with effort... I think, maybe... He went silent for a moment; even now, though he knew what he wanted to say, the wounds still hurt too much to finish the thought, even if the sentiment was there.
Slowly, Shingen reached up to his face, wiping away his tears with the back of his hand. I must repent for what I've done.
Yeah, Mata-tan. I'll keep walking this path, to wherever it will lead. I won't let my failures deter me. I'll learn from them. It's just... He paused for a moment, before proceeding. Am I worthy? Can I still lead the Akatsuki? Can I carry on Hagoromo-dono's legacy?
Oh, Shingen. Of course you're worthy... No one is perfect. Not even my father. He made mistakes, too, favoring one son over another. It took him hundreds of years to learn the right path. Tell me, if Metsuke-san or the brothers had done what you did, would you forgive them? Could they be redeemed, if they were truly sorry?
Yes, came Shingen's instant reply; even now, there was no hesitation. People could always be redeemed.
If you won't abandon them, Shingen, why would they abandon you?
The words warmed Shingen's heart as he slowly stood, walking back over to the sink to begin again the process of washing his face. His eyes were all red now.
I'll need to apologize to them.
Yes, that would be good.
Will you forgive me? I didn't just endanger myself, I endangered you, too. Will you keep walking this path with me?
Matatabi was silent a moment, a soft smile spreading over her face. ...Yes, you fool. Now get dressed, we have a lot of work to do.