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To kindle a Flame

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Reishi was born in a winter night, which would have been considered important, if Konoha wasn't in a perpetual summer.

This is unexpected.

Not because her mother, a bony-faced woman with hard eyes and languid hair called Fuhaku, hadn't been aware – God forbid – of her own pregnancy. Or because she had been born earlier than she should.

No, the surprised party is, in fact, Reishi.

You see, when you die, the last thing you expect is to open your eyes again; that's not what people do normally. Or at least that's what she used to think.

The first days of her new life had passed by in a blur, quite literally; as it turns out, babies can't see very well right after being born. She spends those days laying in what she supposes is a crib, slipping in and out of a deep sleep by some unknown criteria.

She will still have to wait another week to meet her father.

Ryouji is a kind man, don't get her wrong, her mother is kind too, just not as warm. However, the thing that strikes her the most is the big, shiny and very real Hitai-ate that her father is sporting on his forehead.

Now, Reishi hadn't been the biggest fan of the Naruto series, to be honest, but she could recognize that chunk of metal anywhere. Not to mention that he is also wearing the standard flak jacket and the blue sandals.

At first, she thinks that her new father is a hardcore cosplayer, after all, the standard ninja uniform isn't the most difficult cosplay she could think of; but her dreams of being a normal girl – as normal as you can get when you've died and reincarnated – are crushed the day her parents decide to take her for a stroll around town. If this isn't Konoha she will eat her diapers.

There are many ninjas roaming around, one of them even starts to walk on the wall to avoid a group of loud children that comes barrelling down the street. She also spots a weapon store, sitting innocently between a book shop and a tea shop, as if selling kunais is a normal thing to do.

Maybe another person would have taken this opportunity to live the dream of being a shonen protagonist, or they would have attempted to 'fix the timeline' and save their beloved characters from their future disgraces. Reishi isn't this kind of person.

Her plan is to avoid the main events like the plague, maybe even defect from Konoha and go live a peaceful life as a hermit in the mountains. Naruto is going to save the day anyways, so who cares? Not Reishi.

She isn't a hero or a knight in shining armour, and these people certainly doesn't need either, they can fight their own battles. It's not that Reishi hates violence, in fact, she doesn't mind getting into a fight if it is for a good reason, this just isn't her problem that's all. And hell will freeze over before she starts taking orders blindly from a man she neither knows nor respects.

The first problem she encounters in her new life, aside from the rather obvious dissonance between her mind and body, is chakra itself.

She's barely one year old when the pinpricks start, like thousands of ants running under her skin. She doesn't panic, instead she frowns, drops the book she has been trying to read and calmly walks to her father to explain the situation. Apparently, those are the chakra coils forming inside her – the core itself was made in the uterus along with the rest of the body but the coils wouldn't start developing until much later, when the chakra reserves were a little higher – this makes enough sense, so she drops the subject and comes back to her book, trying not to think about the alien sensation.

It soon becomes apparent to her that she won't make any progress in reading unless she asks for help and her mother is happy to oblige. The two of them start spending at least one hour a day in this project, sometimes joined by Ryouji. It almost feels like they're a normal family. Almost.

Reading doesn't come so easy to her as talking did. She had always been good at memorizing sounds and associating meanings to them in her past life – or so she thinks she remembers, the memories are there but she can't quite reach them; like trying to remember a dream after waking up, and she can only see brief flashbacks when something triggers them – but the kanji are proving to be worthy opponents.

At least this gives her something to do, life as a toddler is incredibly dull and she refuses to play along with the other kids 'her age', so she desperately needs something to occupy her mind with, or else she will go crazy. It is an odd feeling, to be trapped inside one's body. Extremely frustrating, too.

This is a source of worry to her parents, who seem to think that her lack of a social life and her obsession with learning the language aren't exactly normal behaviour for a little kid. The possibility hadn't crossed her mind before but her parents probably think that she's some kind of genius.

This would have been a fatal error on her part if they had been just a little more eager to get her into the ninja academy, but as it is, they want her there as much as she does. Granted, they probably are planning to 'enlist' her in there at a later date, like most little kids with at least one ninja progenitor, but for now she is safe. (She carefully avoids to linger in the fact that she barely has any fucks to give; her state is balanced between apathy and a state of constant stress).

Her father, however, seems to think that this is a golden opportunity to start teaching her early.

She isn't thrilled by this, but in the end, she has to admit that she will need at least a modicum of self-defense skills in a world like this, so she begrudgingly starts paying attention and learning some basic ninja skills.

Thankfully she's still too young to be learning how to throw kunai or shuriken and her father knows better than to let her play with such dangerous weapons, but she is old enough for some chakra control exercises.

Her favourite part though, is learning how to walk silent as a cat. By her second birthday, she has assimilated it like a second nature and can walk as silent as a shadow almost without thinking, startling the ever-loving shit of her parents – though she has to be actively trying to catch her father unprepared – and any non-ninja visitor.

Chakra is a world on its own, waiting to be explored, as she hasn't tapped into it since her coils started forming. Lately, she has been trying to locate her parents at all times via sensing their chakra signatures, memorizing them and trying to follow their movements when they leave the house. The first time she tries to follow her father, she almost has a panic attack – she tries it with him because he's easier to locate due to his bigger chakra reserves, apparently her mother is a civilian –, as all the chakra signatures of the people surrounding them in the neighbourhood start to overwhelm her. She can feel every one of them, see them as tiny stars in her mind's eye. There's suddenly a whole universe around her and it is engulfing her, collapsing her senses and preventing her from feeling anything else.

Deprived from her five basic senses, all she has is her own mind and the brush of foreign chakra signatures against it. She has a sensation like free falling, like floating away and lucid dreaming. Of losing herself.

She is brought back by her mother shaking her by the shoulders. Luckily, she's there with her when it happens, and she is quick to take her to the hospital, where they confirm that she is just a very good sensor and that this isn't uncommon or unheard of. She gets instructions to meditate regularly and to expand her radius of chakra-awareness slowly. She's also supposed to come back for check ups. She refuses to those, throwing the only tantrum Fuhaku will ever experience from her child.

That night her parents have their first fight.

After that her mother starts forcing her to go to the park to play with other children no matter how many times she tells her she doesn't want to. It's a pain in the ass. The other children are perfectly capable of sensing that she doesn't want to be there though, so at least they tend to leave her alone.

As a side note, if her mother hadn't been so damn stubborn, she would have never met Obito.

Reishi is sulking while sitting in a swing when she notices him playing alone in the sand. He is small and adorable and she wouldn't touch that plot clusterfuck with a ten-meter pole thank you very much. So the dread she feels when they make eye-contact is completely understandable.

It is a very awkward moment, really; first she looks at Obito, then she notices that Fuhaku has noticed, and then she knows that if she doesn't go to 'play' with the boy right now she will never hear the end of it.

Honestly, Ryouji is cool as a parent but Fuhaku could be so annoying sometimes. Reishi could be their mother, she doesn't need them bossing her around all the time. She is a damn adult. She had grandchildren, for fuck's sake. Maybe. Her memories aren't the most reliable thing.

Back to Obito, it is almost painful how his face lights up when he realizes that she's walking towards him, only to turn into a darker expression of worry half a second later. He must think that she is going to bully him, which is sad on many levels, but mostly because she's two and a half years old and she couldn't bully anyone even if she wanted.

The moment she considers she is near enough she plops down in the sand in front of him. She must've looked downright weird, with her head cocked to the side while observing this seemingly innocent child, more so taking into account that the blank expression she is sporting hardly matches her tiny body. Finally, she decides that the best way to approach a kid is to be blunt and that she doesn't want to make a lasting friendship anyways – just get Fuhaku off her tail – so whether she makes a good first impression or not doesn't matter. In the end she settles for 'curt and to the point'.

"Hi, do you want to make a sand castle?" Kids do that right? She's pretty sure that sand castles are a thing, probably.

"Y-yeah, sure!" Obito either doesn't care about her obvious social ineptitude or he is that desperate for company – seriously though, this village has a problem with 'socially starved orphans', they should fix that –, whichever it is, they end up making a pretty decent sand castle, even if they lack the proper tools to do so.

Reishi doesn't talk much, mostly because she doesn't think Obito would understand or even like any of her preferred topics. The boy, on the other hand, seems to have no problem with filling the void she has left. He has a surprisingly good diction for a boy his age – he's what, four? Six maybe? – and she blames his incessant blabbering for this; he has to get good at it if only due to all this practice.

By the time Fuhaku decides it has been enough socializing for the day, Reishi knows all about Obito's old neighbour and what flowers she likes – because of course Obito would go with her to buy flowers if she asked nicely enough – and what food she cooks better and how many cats does she have. Reishi politely nods and answers with monosyllables whenever he stops and looks at her expectantly.

On the topic of his eyes, she was taken aback by just how black they are. She expected them to be a very dark brown at least, or maybe a very dark something, but not plain black. They do seem to take a reddish hue when the sun hits them just right, but that might be just her imagination.

The rest of him is pretty normal, by comparison, a perfectly normal kid. That is, if she completely ignores what she knows will happen to him in the future and that he's going to be an S-class ninja.

She bids him goodbye when Fuhaku picks her up – literally, she scoops her up without her permission – and feels a pang of guilt upon noticing that he is the last kid in the park and that nobody is going to come for him.

She smothers the thought, refusing to care for the tiny child in front of her. He is just a trouble hazard, nothing more.

Fuhaku, on her part, gives her a solemn nod of approval after her first 'successful friendship' and Reishi is very tempted to answer with her own serious 'The deed is done boss'. She refrains, knowing that Fuhaku won't get the joke and it will only be a waste of saliva. Instead, she nods back, making a small smile tug at the corners of her mother's mouth.

It's odd for her to smile nowadays. She had done so a lot, at first, when Reishi was still little and it wasn't apparent yet that she wasn't a normal child. She has never tried to hide that from her 'parents'. Why would she? She could try and seem even a little attached to them, but what for? In the end, they will realize themselves that it has all been a farce, or they will just think that as she grew up she stopped loving them and that would only make them more miserable in the long run.

It's better if she is honest with them from the beginning, like tugging an arrow free with a swift motion. At least, that's what she wants to think. It's better than to keep tossing and turning at night thinking about how she has robbed them of having a perfectly normal loving child just by existing.

She doesn't love them as a normal daughter would, that much is true, but she admittedly loves them, even if just a little. She does worry about Ryouji every time he lefts the village to do a mission – knowing very well that the third shinobi war started not long before she turned two, it isn't a full blown war yet, they are in that period in which the involved parties subtly push their boundaries and wait for the others to snap so they can blame the first attack on each other like quarrelling children – wondering if this is finally the time when he doesn't come back, and she also worries about the growing shadows under Fuhaku's eyes.

While Ryouji has adapted to Reishi's overall weirdness and abandoned his expectations about raising a normal little girl, Fuhaku seems to be having problems letting go. She had been so happy when she had seen her baby girl for the first time, thinking of dolls and dresses and fake tea parties… and instead she got a freak with dead eyes that seemed to peer into your soul when you make eye contact. It's hardly fair, Reishi is aware of this, but she doesn't like the situation more than Fuhaku does.

As Fuhaku's mood turns sourer and sourer, Ryouji's mood improves, that is, because as Reishi grows older he can teach her more and more of his ninja repertoire.

Much to Fuhaku's demise, he decides that, at three years old, Reishi is old enough to practice with at least one throwing weapon. He lets her practice with shuriken, kunai and senbon to see which one she likes better and she choses senbon, for the mere reason of them not having multiple edges with which she could – and probably would – cut herself. They are pointy, but pricking herself in a finger strikes her as less harmful than a cut, that and she might have harboured the secret hope that she would be so bad at throwing senbon – they seem to her like the most difficult projectiles – that Ryouji would just give up on training her already (he had also started a training regime to better her endurance and she wasn't thrilled about it).

Maybe just to spite her, fate decides to provide Ryouji with an infinite amount of patience, though she is as bad a she had expected at throwing senbon. Not only do the oversized needles never hit the target, but they doesn't even reach half the distance they should. Ryouji assures her that with practice she will get better. She doubts it.

Fuhaku, on the other side, decides that if Ryouji can double his efforts to drag her daughter into the ninja world, so can she regarding her social life. So she resolves to bring Reishi to that same playground in hopes that she will make more friends, or at least find the one she had made that one time.

It had been pretty out of character for her daughter to take notice in any other child. Granted, it wasn't the first time she stared at someone with an undecipherable expression, only to huff and pointedly ignore their existence a moment later. Fuhaku liked to think that she has grown accustomed to her daughter's… eccentricity over the years, so she decided to ignore that and instead let the child know that she approved of her decision to approach the lone boy. However, her daughter detests any form of physical affection – she swears she has heard her hiss – and though she tolerates Fuhaku and Ryouji, she much prefers to be left alone. So she decided to give her a curt nod, which Reishi returned, and buy her a new book.

The first two days of coming back to the playground don't bear any fruit, but to her luck, the third's a charm, and the third day the boy is there.

Her daughter purses her lips with a sour expression – she does this everytime she finds something displeasing and Fuhaku wonders if she's aware of this, probably not –, like seeing the boy isn't exactly something she wants to do today (or ever), but Fuhaku gently pushes her in his direction and gives her a pointed look.

She can't run away from this.

Reishi sighs, resigned to her fate, and plops down in front of the boy like the last time. Even though they have only played one time and it has been months since that, they easily fall back on their routine, with Obito chatting her ears away and Reishi politely nodding along. That is, until the boy falls silent.

It takes Reishi a moment to register the lack of chatter, but after a moment she looks at him questioningly and realizes that he has been observing her.

"Is there something wrong?" She asks, hesitant. She didn't expect to see the boy with a pensive expression. Ever. She feels the sudden need to squish his cheeks to make him stop looking like that, but in a magnificent show of self-restriction she refrains.

"Nee, why's it that the other kids don't like you?" Because when they look my way I do my best to scare the shit out of them via glare, she is tempted to say, or Because they can feel that I'm not like them, you're either too stupid to realize that or you don't care. Instead she settles for shrugging. When it's apparent that she doesn't plan on giving him any explanations, he continues. "That's okay, I will be your friend." He says with a face splitting grin as bright as the sun, as if reassuring her.

That is the moment when Reishi realizes that she has fucked up somewhere along the line and that there is no way her dreams of reclusion in a far-away mountain will come true now. Because this is Obito, and if he has decided that she is his friend, he will just go looking for her and talk her ear out until she comes back, she just knows it.

She considers the possibility of never coming back to that playground again, cutting all contact with Obito and hoping that he will forget about her; but something tells her that Fuhaku will never allow that and she will drag Reishi to the park everyday if she has to. You don't get many choices when you're three, even if you're a creepy weird kid.

The next year and a half will be a constant battle between Fuhaku and Ryouji to push her into Obito's friendship and ninjahood respectively.

This game of tug will end abruptly upon Ryouji's death, Fuhaku being dragged into a spiral of depression, rendered unresponsive to the efforts of her sisters or Reishi herself.

A month after her fifth birthday, Reishi will decide to enter the academy.

Chapter Text

There's a ladybug creeping up her index finger. Reishi observes it with the bored gaze of a lazy cat until it reaches her fingertip and flies away. She closes her eyes and follows its small chakra signature until it's outside her range and then remains with her eyes closed, feeling a slight breeze play with her bangs. Her hair has been getting too long lately, perhaps she should cut it.

Days like this, sunbathing in the back garden, are the ones that bring memories of her past life. The memories come as figments, never a complete memory, but enough to bring with them a feeling of nostalgia. The images in her head and reality overlap, a shadow taking the place of someone in real life, a building that suddenly turns into another...

Reishi has no idea why she can remember some things perfectly, but her family remains such a distant memory. Maybe they weren't close?

Something blocks the sun over her eyes and she opens them to find Ryouji smiling down at her, for a moment his face seems to be that of another man, and the ghost image trails behind him as he moves, as if trying to imprint itself on him. After a few seconds the image gives up and dissolves.

"Hey there, Rei-chan."

"Hi, dad, do you need something?"

"Awww, can't I just want to see what my precious daughter is up to?" He sits down next to Reishi, she shrugs. "So, what were you doing?"

"There was a ladybug, but it flew away."

"Ah! Those treacherous bugs!" He says, shaking his fist in the air at what Reishi supposes is the escaped ladybug. It's the wrong direction. In a lower tone, he adds, "don't tell any Aburame I said that."

Reishi snorts.

"Dad..."

"Alright, alright, just- Follow me, I have something for you."

Ryouji gets up and starts walking towards the house and Reishi takes a few seconds to follow. He leads her into his studio; the shelves are full to the brim with books and scrolls and the smell of ink permeates the air as if he had just spilled an inkwell. Reishi suspects that he may be a fūinjutsu specialist, but she doesn't want to ask in case he decides to start teaching her that too.

She doesn't notice the small package on the table until Ryouji reaches for it, he looks at it fondly for a few seconds before extending it to her.

Upon picking it up, Reishi realizes that it's soft and malleable, some kind of clothing perhaps? She looks back at Ryouji, who is smiling at her expectantly, and opens it. Inside there is a violet haori with dark blue flowers and black details, on its back there's a symbol Reishi recognizes. It's the symbol emblazoned on Ryouiji's clothes.

"That is our family's crest," he explains, "we might be the last members of the Ikotsu clan, but we must honour our ancestors and wear our crest with pride."

Reishi lets the memory fade away, and contemplates her reflection. The haori is still too big for her despite a year having passed, Ryouji probably bought it thinking that she wouldn't wear it until she graduated, maybe until she made chūnin. If that was the case, why would he give it to her so early?

She wonders if he knew already that he wouldn't be coming back from that mission. She wonders if it was a goodbye present, something to remember him by.

Whatever it was, it doesn't change the fact that the haori is still too big to be worn by her, so she folds it and returns it to its rightful place in her closet. Before closing the door, she inspects her face yet again, she doesn't think she will ever get used to it.

Reishi has never thought of Ryouji and Fuhaku as parents; biologically speaking, yes, she accepts that, but that and acknowledging them as parents-parents…

It's a complicated relationship.

But now, as she looks in the mirror she can see more clearly Ryouji's prominent cheekbones and jawline and Fuhaku's dead eyes in her still baby face. The thing that remind her the most about Ryouji though, is her hair. It is grey; not a pretty silvery grey or an almost white elegant hue, no, hers is dark like tempered steel. She can never stand looking at herself in the mirror, knowing full well that the image she will find isn't the one she expects. It's wrong, but still…

She isn't going to lie, she misses Ryouji. Perhaps not as a father, but maybe as a particularly close uncle. So knowing that she carried something of his within herself was comforting, in a way.

She also doesn't know what to do with Fuhaku, the woman never seems to leave her room nowadays and when she does, it's to rummage through the kitchen cabinets in search for more sake, or wine, or whatever it is that is keeping her drunk at the moment.

Fuhaku's sisters come by at least twice a week to check on them, though they are really bad at covering how unnerved they are by Reishi's presence. Like she is a possessed child of some sorts. Reishi hasn't completely discarded that possibility, but she leans more on the reincarnation theory. Not that they have to know.

Even though Fuhaku doesn't press her for it anymore, she keeps hanging out with Obito, who has quickly ingrained himself as a constant in her life. Like a persistent fungus. Or a chronic disease.

After she joined the academy, they had started training together, though they are still way away from sparring, as Reishi hasn't yet started to learn taijutsu, or any kind of jutsu for that matter. Their training sessions consist on running laps, push-ups and various other exercises to gain muscle and endurance, as well as throwing practice.

Reishi hasn't miraculously decided that she wants to be a ninja or that she wants to become a damn hero, but Ryouji's death has helped her to see this world as it is, helplessly violent. She has realized that the only law here is the law of the jungle – big animal eats small animal – and self-defence will just go so far in the 'keeping herself alive' department. Her shift in plans consists in her making it to genin, and staying there. You could say it's Plan B.

Genin aren't sent to the front line, instead being kept close to the village to protect Konoha in case of an invasion – something that will only happen twice, whether she is a civilian or a genin, if her memory is correct – or to take D-Rank missions.

She will have to make sure to be busy during the chūnin tests so she won't have to partake in the fighting, and nobody is going to die permanently during Pein's invasion as far as she knows.

It's the perfect plan, fool proof. She will have a regular income and, being the daughter of a chūnin and a civilian, nobody will have great expectations for her so she won't be pressured to go up in the ranks. Except Obito, but he doesn't count, he sees the best in everyone.

It takes Obito weeks of nagging, and agreeing to go with her to the library to study, to get Reishi to agree to train with him. She doesn't plan on getting freakishly strong, just enough, so she hadn't planned on adding to the training the academy already provided, but saying no to Obito is very difficult.

Right now, she is sitting with her legs crossed and her eyes closed, practising her chakra sensing with Obito. The exercise mainly consists on Obito just going about his katas as he normally would while she tries to follow the way his chakra flows inside his coils.

She had only told him that she was meditating because she didn't want to seem creepy, which she is being anyway, and because she didn't want anyone in the academy to know she is a sensor.

Frowning, she swats that thought away as she would with a fly and tries to focus on Obito's chakra, – breathe in – there is a chunk of chakra flowing through the coil parallel to the Brachial Artery – breathe out – and steadily making its way forward, apparently dispersing upon reaching Obito's fingertips. If she had to imagine the movement of chakra, she would have pictured it like waves generating in the core and making their way through different channels until they lost force.

Judging by how the chakra is moving along his right arm, he must be practicing some form of haishu over and over. It seems repetitive.

She tries not to let her mind drift and think too much about how Obito's chakra feels almost like Ryouji's. He probably had been a 'fire type' like Obito. If she had to compare both, she would say that Ryouji's is like the embers of a dim fire on a winter's night; warm and comforting, whereas Obito's feels pretty much like sunrays on your skin in a Spring's evening.

She wonders how her own chakra feels; she is so used to it that it just feels like a shapeless blob, which sucks balls because she is curious about it.

After chakra sensing she decides to practice with senbon and Obito joins her with some shuriken of his own. They are both terrible at it. Obito had actually tried to 'teach her' how to properly throw senbon once. They don't talk about it.

The moment they are finished with their training session, she sits in the grass to study. It's a beautiful day, so cramming in the library would be a waste, besides, Obito seems to think better under the sun. Maybe the Uchiha have some kind of secret photosynthesis technique they snatched from the Senju or something.

She ignores the thought and focuses on the book in her lap, a task that is getting more difficult by the second, with a certain Uchiha peering over her shoulder.

She sends him an accusatory glare, probably not as scary as it should have looked, because she is five and has baby cheeks, and because he is used to her by now. Obito smiles sheepishly and shrugs, clearly unfazed.

"I was just curious. What are you reading? That's not an academy textbook." As a response, she closes the book and shows him the cover, making him grimace. "Ugh, Clans of Konoha? Seriously?"

She shrugs back. "It's more interesting than the textbooks," she says with a blank stare. Obito groans.

"That's not the point Rei-chan, that book is as thick as my forearm, why on earth would you want to read it?!"

"Ow, shut up, you don't have the right to criticize me, your grades are lower than dirt." He makes a hurt face, moving his hand to clutch his chest in mock agony. "Rei-chan, how could you?"

Reishi rolls her eyes, but lets herself smile a little. He wasn't like that in canon, was he? Maybe she is a bad influence.

"Besides," he adds, "you're one to talk, you're dead last in the physical stuff."

She lets the smile fall from her face, annoyed. "It's not my fault that the rest of the kids in the class are little freaks of nature. They're too fast and strong to be human. What the hell do they eat?" She fumes, and Obito pinches her cheek.

"Language."

"I know, I know," she says while swatting at the offending hand, "It's just… how do they do it? It's not natural."

"Maybe they just enhance chakra better than you? It used to happen to me all the time because I would use too much-"

Obito keeps rambling but Reishi isn't listening anymore. Of course. Chakra enhancement. Duh. She hadn't remembered that. Why hadn't she? It's so obvious… She resists the urge to smack her forehead.

How does people do the chakra enhancement thing anyways? Their teacher hasn't taught that yet at the academy, has he? Is it like a natural thing all ninjas do or something? Again, why couldn't she remember any of that from the series? Surely, they must have had explained it in some episode.

She glances at Obito, who keeps talking alone, unaware of her lack of attention. Maybe she should ask him?

No. She will try to learn on her own first, if it doesn't work she will ask him.

Satisfied with her decision, she manages to get Obito to stop talking and start doing his homework, he still complains about it being unnecessarily difficult from time to time but she is pleased to see that he is actually making progress.

Unlike her, Obito isn't against asking for guidance when there's something he doesn't understand – if you aren't a pint-sized jerk like Kakashi, that is – and she had explained to him most of the math problems a few days ago.

At first when she offered her help he was sceptical of having his kōhai explain anything algebra-related to him – which also, what the hell; why was he learning algebra already, he was, what, seven? – but he had warmed up to the idea soon enough.

To her surprise, Obito isn't nearly as stupid as he was portrayed in the series, he actually learns pretty fast and when she points out a mistake, he barely makes it again. It must have been something to do with the way his teacher explains things or maybe it's just easier for him to focus on her, she isn't an expert in that aspect though so the only way she has to help him is tutoring him.

After this they go their separate ways, Obito had suggested to go eat some dango before returning home but she didn't want to keep walking around all sticky and sweaty so she had turned him down.

He leaves with a pout that makes her feel a bit guilty – because Obito is essentially a puppy and you do not say no to puppies without feeling bad about it – but she has better things to do, like figure out how to use chakra enhancing, so it couldn't be helped.

When she arrives home one of her aunts is sitting on the couch with her mother, and going by the sounds that are coming from the kitchen, the other one is raiding the cabinets from any alcohol bottles she can find. Joke's on her though, Fuhaku is very good at hiding her secret stash of wine. Reishi would know, she had tried to get rid of it several times already.

She takes in the form of Fuhaku, slumped on the couch with the eyes lost in some random crack of the ceiling. It is frustrating, even for someone as apathetic as Reishi, to see her crumble down this way. Even if they tried to help her, ultimately only she could help herself.

She nods at her aunt as a form of acknowledgment and makes her way to her room, where she picks a new set of clothes to change into after taking a shower. She has never had a good relationship with her mother's side of the family – her father's side of the family could be found engraved on the memorial stone –, they don't like her, and she doesn't like them. They tend to be frivolous as only civilians can be.

Her mother is the younger daughter of a rich merchant, and the family as a whole considers the shinobi life unworthy of their status. They hadn't been happy about Reishi's general weirdness before, but their already strained relationship snapped the moment she decided to follow the steps of her 'father'.

That is… acceptable. After all, Reishi doesn't have any interest in being tied to a family again, not because of bad past experiences, but rather the opposite. She still carries the family she left behind in her other life close to her heart, and she will never be able to consider this new one nothing more than close acquaintances.

It is for the best that she keeps her distance, as she won't be able to give them what they deserve. By distancing themselves from her, they are just making things easier for both ends, so Reishi is pretty satisfied with this outcome.

Once she gets out of the shower, she changes into some comfy looking pants her mother had bought for her, and a simple shirt. Ryouji's outfits always used to be different combinations of purple, black and grey; he had explained one day that those were the colors of their clan, and that even if it was a small clan and they were the only members left, they should honor their ancestors. Reishi wears those colors too, less because of the ancestors' thing and more because it's something to keep him close.

Her clothes doesn't have the Ikotsu's crest emblazoned on her clothes yet, mostly because she fears Fuhaku might have an anxiety attack if she saw the symbol that had always belonged to her husband's back again.

Reishi picks one of the books in Ryouji's library – it's hers now, Fuhaku doesn't want anything to do with them because they are about ninja techniques but she doesn't want to sell them either – and lays it open in the floor of their back garden by the pages depicting some of the easier katas.

She practices the movements before trying to use her chakra, until she is comfortable enough to do the motions with her eyes closed. Once she has memorized the motions, she closes her eyes and concentrates on the flow of her chakra.

She tries guiding it through the fourth and third gates and discovers that every time one of the chakra 'waves' passes through a gate its force intensifies, like a weird snowball effect. That couldn't do. Her use of chakra has to be precise and she can't afford wasting it unnecessarily, she will have to take the gates into account and draw less chakra from the core to compensate.

She doesn't know how much she needs yet, but taking her discovery into consideration will probably be useful in the future. She doesn't want to end up exhausted at the minimum effort if she can help it.

She directs the chakra wave through the coils of her right arm as she slices through the air with her hand, immediately noticing the difference. She had let the chakra disperse too early though, and she had used too much. Of course, she isn't expecting to master Tsunade's pinpoint accuracy or anything – mostly because she is sure that she will never get to those chakra levels –, so as long as it works it doesn't really matter. And it doesn't need to be perfect due to her planning on just staying in the genin corps forever.

However, Reishi is of the belief that if you're going to bother doing something, at least you have to do it well. Or as Yoda said once 'do or do not, there is no try'. So she refuses to just let it be after some half-assed try. That and that it takes her too much conscious effort to do it, and she needs to use chakra enhancement as a second nature like the other kids if she wants to at least graduate. Besides, it's not like she has anything better to do.

She spends the rest of the evening practicing again and again her chakra control until she can do it without thinking with a set amount of chakra, then she tries to get used to using more and less respectively until she is satisfied.

It still doesn't come as naturally to her as she would have liked, but she has just started and she is sure she will get better the more she practices. Like with the senbon.

Aaand she has to take another shower. Honestly, why had she showered before, knowing that she was just going to keep practicing? Well, no use on dwelling on it so she might as well get going.

It's already late, almost night, by the time she is done. She walks past Fuhaku's bedroom, who has fallen asleep with the door open, and watches her silhouette sleeping on the bed. Every time she sees her she half expects to see the woman's chest stand still, and she waits one, two seconds for it to rise and fall again as she breathes. Once she makes sure that she is alive, she makes her way to the kitchen. Then she makes dinner, eats it and leaves a plate on the counter for Fuhaku; for the inevitable moment every night in which she would get up to drink. At least she won't starve while at it.

It is a routine now; make sure she's alive, make dinner, leave dinner on counter for Fuhaku and go to sleep. Reishi is good at routines.

During the next weeks she adds the chakra enhancement training to her routine, right after hanging out with Obito and before shower time. During that time, her performance in the academys keep getting better, like a geometrical progression, until she reaches the middle of the ranks… and stays there. That is, until the spars start.

She had been beaten to dust for four days straight because those little beasts didn't know the meaning of moderation. For them it's all or nothing. She isn't particularly skilled at performing the katas, nor does she learns them as soon as she sees the teachers do it. But she has an almost perfect chakra control, and she demonstrates as much the moment she knocks her opponent down with a well-placed kick to the gut.

You see, lashing out savagely might seem like a good idea at first, but it falls short when it faces precision. And Reishi had been studying anatomy – she just picks Ryouji's books randomly and reads them when she's bored, which is always – and practicing her chakra control every afternoon during three weeks now, so she has a shitload of precision.

She isn't going to lie and say that seeing the kid's ugly face when he starts crying isn't the most satisfying thing that has happened to her all week. Because it is. It feels damn good. But the assessing look her instructor has when he looks at her afterwards puts a damper in her good mood. She can't stand out too much if she wants to be just an average student.

She resolves to work on her blocking or dodging from then on – she is sure that Obito will be glad to finally have a sparring partner –, she isn't going to kick any more ass from now on but that doesn't mean that she will just let the monsters in training use her as a punching bag.

Luckily, the written part of the academy holds no secrets for her, and she even finds interesting the most 'foreign' lessons like 'Ninja history' and 'War Tactics'. She always makes sure to write enough content to pass the tests without getting high grades, completing the picture of the perfectly average student.

Life is good.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Kunteki Oushi fidgets, sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting room before the Hokage's office. She is pretty sure that this is an important matter. Positive. It probably is.

That or she is just imagining things and making Hokage-sama waste precious time during a war. That sounds like a bad idea, maybe she could come back another time, when the war is over… Or not.

The decision is made for her soon enough when her turn comes up. She rushes to the now opened door and hurries inside, immediately bowing before the Hokage.

"You are here because you have concerns about one of your students, yes?' He says, looking at the papers sitting on his desk. She is sure those were the reports on one Ikotsu Reishi she had prepared for him.

"Yes sir, I-I think there's something off with the kid, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. It's just… her behaviour doesn't quite match with her grades, and I've noticed that she uses words in her written exams that an average student wouldn't know." Oushi fidgets under the Hokage's gaze, she has barely been in his office since she started teaching at the academy.

"And you say her grades are low?" The Hokage's brow is raised in scepticism, making her rethink her purpose for being here. Is the odd behaviour of one of the students important enough to bother the Hokage? Yes, yes it is, she reaffirms to herself; a possibly talented student is holding back for some reason and it is her duty as a teacher to ensure her students' success.

"Not low sir, average, like she's scrapping by, both in her physical and written tests. It doesn't add up, the other day she knocked one of her teammates out with one kick, but ever since then she just dodges all attacks until the time is out."

"That does sound odd. Perhaps a visit to a psychiatrist would be in order. Not a Yamanaka though, I'm sure a civilian one will suffice, make sure they report to the Yamanaka clan if they find something important though."

"Thank you Hokage-sama." Oushi bows again and the Hokage smiles.

"It is good to see the teachers worry about their student's well-being," he nods.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Reishi almost has a heart attack when her teacher – a fidgety woman with short fluffy hair – comes up to her during recess to inform her that she has an appointment with a psychiatrist.

She immediately starts analysing her behaviour in her last weeks, trying to understand what had prompted her teacher to think that she needed a psychological evaluation, but comes out empty handed. The most she can think of is that one sparring session a week ago, but that alone isn't enough to justify it. Has she done anything out of character lately? It is hardly possible, since she hasn't made any effort to hide her aversion for the company of the rest of the kids ever since she started at the academy. She had seen other kids do it in the show, like Sasuke, and nobody had suspected him of anything.

True, his entire clan had died so it was more or less expected that he would have some kind of trauma, but her 'father' died too, so she should be excused. Besides, as far as she's concerned, teachers tend to let the students do whatever as long as their grades aren't unsatisfactory. Hers aren't, they aren't good either, but definitely not failing grades.

Something is amiss here, or rather, she has failed to see something.

There is nothing she can change now anyways, so for now she should focus on trying to act as normal as possible in front of the psychiatrist. Luckily, it won't be a member of the Yamanaka clan, those creeps. She shudders just thinking about the possibility of having one roaming free inside her head.

Yeah, not happening.

Obito, who has been sitting with her and stealing food from her bento without any shame, looks at her with a worried expression.

"Is there something wrong, Rei-chan? Are you okay?"

Reishi just shrugs. Not knowing what this is about herself, there really isn't any explanation she can give him. This, of course, doesn't stop Obito from mothering her until the fated day arrives, sharing his sweets with her and doubling his efforts to make sure nobody bullies her. Not that anyone would ever dare to bully her, the other kids are rather creeped out by her, but Obito doesn't seem to notice.

Fuhaku walks her to the address Oushi-sensei had scrabbled in a note for her, she gave up on holding Reishi's hand while they walked some time ago, so now they just walk side by side in an uncomfortable silence. Once they reach the psychiatrist's lobby, Fuhaku sits on one of the chairs while Reishi is ushered inside the office by a gentle-speaking woman. The woman shot Fuhaku an incredulous glare, unsure of why wouldn't she want to come inside with her daughter to support her.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Hisoka has been a psychiatrist for twelve years now, she's had a long career and she is very proud to keep being useful to Konoha, even if she can't fight like ninja do. Her job might not be flashy like theirs, but everytime a ninja breaks, everytime the PTSD becomes too much, it's her they look for. And while ninjas get old and their abilities worsen due to tired muscles and stiff joints, she only gets wiser and better at her job. She is quite proud.

Reishi seems to be proud too, for what she gathers of the posture of her shoulders, confident despite their stiffness. Perhaps not proud on the same sense as herself, Hisoka notes, but proud nonetheless. This is a dangerous trait that needs to be taken care of. Proud people don't follow orders well.

She waits until the child is standing and she has her attention, and offers her the seat in front of her and some cookies and tea her assistant had prepared earlier in the afternoon.

Reishi's mouth twitches, barely perceptible if you're not looking for signs of discomfort, and eyes the offered food warily before filling a cup to the middle and taking one cookie. She keeps the cup on her lap, careful so as to not spill it and sips from time to time, sometimes accompanying it with a small bite of the cookie.

Her posture keeps being stiff for a few seconds more before Hisoka notices her taking measured breaths and relaxing.

The woman wonders why hadn't they sent this child to her earlier, it's obvious that this isn't normal behaviour, and once again she reminds herself of the impossible standards ninja impose upon their children.

She watches as Reishi risks glancing behind her shoulders at the door, clearly unnerved by having the main entrance at her back and out of her line of sight. Most ninjas do this, though admittedly they have normally had some field experience before becoming neurotic.

The file provided by her teacher and other academy employees states that she lost her father a few months ago, and also that there are some unspecified problems at home that they're keeping watch on, but there is nothing about a field mission in it. This is most inconsistent with her past experiences, Reishi has never left the village or been exposed to ambush training yet, so she has no reason besides raw instinct to be so nervous about her unfavourable tactical position. She takes note of this on her notebook for further analysis.

"Hello," she decides to start the session, smiling at the small kid sitting in front of her hoping she will open up when seeing a friendly face. It doesn't work, the child doesn't smile back, she just stares at her with unblinking eyes, "do you know why are you here?" The kid seems to bite back whatever she was going to say and shakes her head no, could it be that she's shy? She tries to reassure her with a smile yet again, to no avail.

"Do you like to read Reishi?" She asks, bringing up a topic she knows the girl enjoys, perhaps this will make her loosen up a bit. Sure enough, Reishi nods, "and what do you like to read?" This is, in part, a trick question. The library keeps record of all the books and who borrows which. Hisoka wants to see if the kid will lie, as lying would mean that she has something to hide.

"I like history books." The confident tone with which the girl states this rules out her being shy. It is also a vague answer, as 'history books' is a wide range and they cover many things from bloodlines and when they were discovered, to the tactical strategies used in the previous shinobi wars. Hisoka wonders if the girl did that on purpose. She decides that she will have to read through the list offered by the library.

After making a few more annotations on her notebook she decides to move forward.

"And what do you like about history?" The girl twistes her face, it's for a fraction of a second, but Hisoka sees it. It's a good thing that she has had twelve years of experience, because this girl barely emotes at all. Hisoka has to recognize that her stare is starting to make her a little nervous.

Reishi's eyes are black, and they give the impression of absorbing the light rather than reflecting it. There are dark circles under them, accentuated thanks to her very pale skin. The girl looks like she hasn't slept in years and, if you couple this with her grey hair, she has the appearance of a ghost.

"The old ninjas were very strong," the ghost-girl answers with conviction. She is leaning forward slightly on her chair, making Hisoka deduce that she is actually very interested in this topic. Finally, something she can use.

"And who was your favourite?" You can glance a lot from a person from the people they admire and look up to. Firstly, they are probably identifying in some way with them; and secondly, they are projecting what they want to be like themselves onto these 'idols'. By extrapolating the most famous traits of the person the girl most admires, she could gleam a lot about her personality and motivations.

Apparently though, this seems to be the wrong question, as Reishi frowns and keeps the cup closer, meaning she's retreating into herself again. Hisoka decides that it's better to change the subject than to lose her completely. She takes note again and asks the next question.

"Do you get bored at the academy?"

Reishi seems to consider this for a few seconds as she nibbles absent-mindedly on the cookie, and Hisoka is happy to have her haunting stare away from herself. Finally, the girl shrugs.

"Do you like your teachers?"

"They're fine."

"What about your classmates?" Hisoka is starting to feel very frustrated, this kid isn't answering any of her questions, she just shrugs or gives her vague answers. She needs something to work with. "What do you think of the Hokage?"

"He seems nice," Reishi says, though her posture seems to say otherwise; she's gripping almost unnoticeably the cup on her lap, her posture has gone stiff again and she is looking at a fixed spot on the wall behind Hisoka, "he's also very strong."

The woman nods and, after a few seconds of awkward staring she asks another question, looking at the door.

"Do you love your mom?"

She knows she has hit a gold mine with this one, because the girl tenses and also appears to shot her a murdering glare for a second, as if angered that she would dare to question her relationship with her mother. It's clearly a sore spot.

Reishi looks to the ground, apparently mulling it over. Her gaze focuses on her hands again when Hisoka tries to pry the tea cup gently from her fingers. At some point they had started shaking, pent up anger perhaps? Maybe frustration? A reason why the kid is almost unresponsive and clearly detached could be that she's been neglected emotionally.

Hisoka discards this almost immediately, neglected kids show very loud and expressive behaviours, trying to catch people's attention, and Reishi is doing quite the opposite.

Maybe she has been receiving the wrong sort of attention and so she wants to make herself invisible to the rest of the world? That is also unlikely, ninja are very sharp and her teachers would have noticed any new bruise and asked her about it, as fighting without supervising is forbidden in the early stages of training for fear of a lesion or more serious injuries. They would have reported it if the kid went hurt to school without a reason.

A sociopathy, psychopathy or some level of autism could explain her detachment. They seem unlikely, but she has already ruled out the rest of the options.

She notices how Reishi balls her hands into fists and tightens them until her nails dig into her palms, it looks painful.

With a sigh Hisoka decides that it will be best to move on. She will dig into it after their session.

"That's enough personal questions for now, how about we talk about mission scenarios from now on? Do you think you can do that Reishi-san?" She watches as Reishi forces herself to lift her gaze from her white knuckles to look at her, taking a deep, shaky breath. She nods yet again.

"Okay."

"Let's say that you're stranded on enemy territory, all of your teammates have been snatched by enemies, but different ones, and you have to choose one to save. Which one do you go for?"

This is a standard question, you see: if she asks about the rank of each teammate, it means that she puts this before anything else, and that she will respond well to orders and authority figures; if she asks for her teammates roles and abilities, it shows that she is prone to critical thinking and strategy; asking for each of their whereabouts and/or the enemies abilities displays situational awareness and a priority for information gathering.

Those are statistically the three most popular answers, and it was very odd for a ninja to give another, though not unheard of. Mostly it was either a combination of the three or they would give the three answers but in priority order.

"Who would my teammates be?"

That's not... this is not a question people ask. It's irrelevant to the mission and completely superfluous. Ninjas don't think this way. Kids raised by ninja don't think this way. They have a thinking pattern, Hisoka has been studying it her whole life, and so did her father before her, and his father before him. She wrote a book.

The worrying part is not that it's unusual, it's that she shows a belief in individuality. Such beliefs are dangerous on a martial society in which the village and the mission come first. Individuality leads to questioning and questioning leads to uprisings. An ideology like this, with the potential to contaminate an entire generation, must be nipped in the bud, so to speak. The ramifications and consequences are too unpredictable to leave it unsupervised.

This, coupled with the fact that the girl has shown no loyalty of interest towards anyone she has asked for in the last hour, labels her as a high risk of becoming a missing nin.

This questionnaire goes on for about another half an hour, in which Hisoka only confirms that the only loyalty she has is towards an Uchiha outcast, which makes him change from medium risk of becoming a missing nin, to a high risk merely by association with her.

She should notify the Hokage immediately. She might not be a ninja, but she knows that the risks a missing nin poses to their former village are not only physical; there are a lot of secrets and techniques that cannot be divulged.

 

 

 


 

 

 

When Reishi finally gets out, Fuhaku is nowhere to be seen, she had probably left some time ago, tired of waiting. Fair enough. Besides, Reishi is completely exhausted in a way she hasn't felt in a long time, as if she was a jar and she had just emptied all her contents on that office. She just wants to crawl into her bed and sleep for a while.

She is still reeling from The Question, that psychiatrist had hit deep with that one.

'Do you love your mom?' Does she? Fuhaku had been there since she was a small mushy blob of meat, and she had endured her weirdness even after it became obvious that Reishi wasn't a normal child. She respects her 'mother', but she hardly ever calls her mom anymore, opting instead for calling her by her name and Fuhaku has started doing the same.

That makes her feel... guilty. She doesn't love her, and she knows that that's fucked up in a way. She is also angry, not exactly at Fuhaku or herself, but at... something. At how things have turned out. Under any other circumstances, Fuhaku would have had a normal little girl to light her days when Ryouji died. Instead she got a burden and a problem with alcoholism.

She walks aimlessly for a while, not wanting to go back to the house and deal with Fuhaku just yet, and before she can notice it she's in front of a park and near a chakra signature she knows very well. She must have followed it unconsciously.

She spots Obito not too far away; he is the one listening for once, and a pretty girl seems to be chatting happily about something. A distant part of her brain registers her as Nohara Rin, and starts offering her little bits of information that Reishi decides to ignore at the moment.

Though she doubts this is a date, she doesn't want to interrupt her friend's quality time with his crush, so she starts to turn away to leave. Obito has already spotted her though, so her token effort is pretty useless.

"Rei-chan, over here!" Reishi looks at the boy, who is waving at her excitedly, and at the girl, who clearly seems confused but welcoming. She walks over to the bench they are sitting in and sits down beside Obito, leaving him in the middle of the three.

She doesn't have the strenght to avoid meeting Rin, and though she knows that getting attached to yet another character – and one who is going to die, no less – is a mistake on her part, she can't find it in herself to care right now.

"Hey." It's not her best greeting, but she's mentally exhausted and hey, it's better than nothing. Obito seems to have noticed that there's something wrong and is trying really hard not to ask, knowing fully well that she won't answer with Rin here, if she decides to give him an answer, that is. Reishi very pointedly stares at Rin, hoping that Obito will get her barely disguised clue and offer some kind of introduction.

"O-oh, yes! I almost forgot! Rei-chan, this is Rin-chan; Rin-chan, this is Rei-chan."

"It's nice to meet you Rei-san! Obito-kun is always talking bout you!" Rin says with a bright smile, making Obito's ears turn red in embarrassment.

"T-that's not-!" He protests at Rin, "t-that's not-!" He protests again, now looking at Reishi. But they never get to know 'what wasn't' because Reishi interrupts him with her natural sense of consideration and empathy.

"He talks about you a lot as well, he says you're very good at chakra control." She still doesn't manage a smile, but that doesn't seem to matter to Rin, who seems very pleased with this bit of information. Obito, in contrast, is mortified.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Hiruzen sighs, the perfect portrait of a tired man, and looks at the psychological evaluation of Ikotsu Reishi that sits innocently on his desk.

This isn't a problem itself, more like the origin of a possible one, but it is more work for him nonetheless.

The girl is more than she lets on, that much the psychiatrist had assured them, though her full potential is still unknown. She also has a distinct lack of ties to the village and a sense of patriotism that shines by its absence. This is pretty dangerous, as it brews dangerous ideas, and ideas can spread among unhappy crowds like a fire on dry grass (and what crowd would be more unhappy than one that faces war?).

It isn't a wonder why the girl failed to form a sense of patriotism, he has read on her file that her father had been one of the first ninja to die in the front lines. A death like that was bound to brew hatred, though he should make sure that it isn't directed at Konoha. A ninja with a grudge can be very useful in the battlefield, yes, but also very dangerous if pointed in the wrong direction.

Then there is the question on whether she is a genius or if this is just a fluke. Everything seems to point to it – there is no doubt that she is more intelligent than her grades show, though there's still the question about her battle prowess –, but he still doesn't understand why is this kid holding back.

Usually children in general seek attention by any means possible, more so if they are down one parent and – if the information he has been given is correct – are on the path of losing the second.

He is also worried about the complete disregard of the hierarchy she shows in the psychiatrist report. Can it be explained by her merchant part of the family?

The Yamanaka in front of him cocks his head to the side when Hiruzen lets out a deep, tired sigh – yet again –, obviously curious as to what is going on in his head but trying very hard not to ask. Hiruzen dismisses him with a vague hand motion, once the door clicks shut behind the man, he serves himslef some tea, hoping it will help.

Getting rid of the girl as in killing her is out of the question, besides the fact that he refuses to give an order of execution for a child – sending them to fight and directly sentencing them to death is different, he tells himself – if word got out of it he would risk backlash from the clans and Konoha couldn't stand divided, even a little, during war times.

However, he needs to get her out of the academy as soon as possible, lest she influences the other kids in her year.

If she is a genius after all, it won't be suspicious if she gets tutored by a jōnin, even this young. There are precedents for it, like Hatake's kid, though it's true that being his father who it was, the boy had no trouble finding a jōnin sensei of his own.

Finding one for the girl will be more tricky than that, most jōnins are out on missions and those who aren't are suffering from injuries that prevent them from exercising or using chakra in any way.

The only ones available inside of Konoha would be the higher ranks, the... heads of the clans.

He can feel his headache worsening.

Chapter Text

"No." The curt man standing in the Hokage's office seems almost offended. After remembering who is he talking to though, his shoulders relax a bit and his eyes lose their piercing edge. "Hokage-sama, an apprentice that doesn't belong to the clan is completely unprecedented, the elders will not approve-".

"The elders can't contradict the word of the Hokage. Besides, I am not asking you to pass down your clan jutsus to anyone, just to supervise her training and teach her what you see fit," the Hokage replies with a calm voice.

Fugaku is sure that there is something behind the 'child prodigy' excuse he is being given. Usually these so-called prodigies came from renowned clans, and that means that they could be trained by a jōnin of their own family; which in this case is impossible, as the girl in question is the last member of her clan so it's not an out of line petition.

This is too sudden though, and usually the Hokage would gather a few jōnin and see which one had the time to take in an apprentice. Being this selective is... odd. Unless the Hokage wants her to learn something specific from Fugaku, but in that case he would just have him teach the girl the thing in question, not just dump her on him.

Fugaku doesn't like to be kept in the dark and he'd rather have the Hokage just tell him what he wants from him, but he is sure that Sandaime must have a good reason for this and he wouldn't ask him to do it if it wasn't in the village's interests.

"Very well, Hokage-sama, I trust your judgement."

Hiruzen relaxes visibly; in truth, he wants the girl to join the Uchiha police force in the future. That way she will be kept at all times within the village and the risk of her defecting will be lower. Besides, in a few months Fugaku will be a father and he thinks that that kind of atmosphere could benefit Reishi. Also, women grow attached to kids very easily right? Maternal instinct and whatnot. If she sees the little Uchiha as a little brother or something of the sort the chances of her becoming a missing nin would be lower. He hopes.


Obito is chatting happily with Rin about the progress he has made in the great fireball technique. Reishi has seen him practice it a few times during their training sessions and she can't say that he's the best at it to be honest.

Most times the fire disperses too quickly to resemble a fire ball or even a flamethrower –she had noticed that Obito had some difficulties compressing the chakra to form shapes–, and in some cases he can only manage to breathe smoke, somehow. When prompted about this Obito just shrugged and said that it happened sometimes when the technique didn't have enough chakra poured into it, so she supposes it's nothing to worry about.

She looks at the leaves rustle peacefully in the wind, tuning out the conversation. It's still odd to her how the trees are green during the whole year, the worst weather they get is rain during spring and wind on autumn and winter, not a single snowflake. She misses the cold weather, being warm the whole year has its perks, true, but she misses huddling in a blanket and sipping hot chocolate.

For an instant another image overshadows the trees; another treeline, another sky. The trees in the impromptu memory are still, not being affected by any wind, and the light has a pinkish hue, like a sunset. A man's voice echoes in her memory.

"Rei-chan?" Obito's voice startles her and the image disappears, she should have been paying more attention, now he looks worried again. He has been giving her worried looks the whole week, probably because she's more pensive than usual.

"U, yes? Sorry, I kind of zoned out..."

Rin pouts, making her feel kind of guilty that she's been ignoring them. This is the third time – maybe? Reishi hasn't been keeping count – that they've hung out together since she met her and the girl is kind and gentle in a way that unnerves her. Reishi knows, deep down, that her dislike from the girl stems from her likeability. Meaning that she is only trying to hate Rin because it's terribly easy to get attached to her and that girl is going to die and then Reishi will be sad because she lost her and then she will feel guilty because she knew about it and did nothing.

Not that there is anything for her to do in the first place. How is she supposed to prevent Rin from being kidnapped? She has no idea how it happened, or when exactly. She knows that it's somewhere between Obito's 'death' and Naruto's birth but that can only take her so far.

Obito is different, she rationalizes, because even if after the Kannabi bridge incident she doesn't see him anymore she will know that he's okay. Physically. Kind of.

Well let's be honest here, she still can severe any ties she has with Rin before it's too late, but Obito is here to stay. He has been her only friend besides Ryouji for three years now and he has grown on her like a cancer. She's going to need some hard ass chemo to get rid of this one.

"Rin was saying that she has to go home now."

"Sorry," Rin says, dejected, "it's getting late and my parents are probably waiting for me." She gets up, dusting her skirt; they've been sitting on the grass of training ground 12 and they didn't bring a blanket this time.

To Reishi's surprise, Obito doesn't get up to accompany her home like always, instead he waves her goodbye from his spot near Reishi. Rin also directs a small wave for Reishi, to which she responds with a nod of acknowledgement.

To his credit, Obito waits until Rin is out of sight and earshot to turn to Reishi. He seems upset. "What's going on?"

"I don't know what you're talking about Obito."

"But Rei-cha-"

"Obito, we've talked about this, just Reishi or Rei is okay."

Obito frowns, clearly frustrated about her attitude. "That's not the point right now! You've been acting weird!" Reishi snorts and rises an eyebrow at him. "You know what I mean, weirder than usual. And you're ignoring Rin; just- You were so nice to her the first time you met her, what changed?"

Reishi crosses her arms and frowns, looking at some random point besides Obito's foot. "You know I don't- I just don't feel very comfortable around new people okay?"

"But you were so nice the other day..."

"Yeah well, she's your friend; and I thought I wasn't going to see her ever again so, yeah," Reishi says awkwardly. They stay silent for a few uncomfortable seconds, Obito picking at the grass.

After a while he starts talking again, quietly.

"I've seen how you act when you don't like somebody, that's not all there is, is it?" He waits for Reishi to answer but she stays silent, her mouth drawn into a tight line. "Is this about the psychiatrist thing? Did... did something bad happen?"

"No, no, she just asked me about things and stuff."

"Reishi if you ever need someone to talk-"

"I know," she interrupts him; because she knows that, and because she doesn't want to be reminded about how everyone in this world seems to be a better person than she is, even if they've been raised by a military society and are trained to kill.

"Okay, good. That's- That's good... Uh, then, about Rin... Do you want to stop hanging out with her? I mean, I would like to spend time with both of you but, if you're going to be uncomfortable..."

Reishi thinks about it, it will probably hurt Rin's feelings if she says she doesn't want to hang out with her anymore, and it will definitely make Obito sad. They'll get over it though, life goes on and Rin doesn't seem the type to resent someone for a long time, or resent them at all.

"I'd like that," she says after a pause. Obito nods, clearly not very happy with that but respecting her decision, he's such a sweet boy. She doesn't deserve to have him as a friend.

The apology dies in her mouth, she was never good at saying 'I'm sorry', she is too proud for that. "Do you know what you're going to have for dinner yet?" She asks instead.

"I think I have some leftovers in the fridge, why do you ask?"

"Well, I still have to make dinner, and there are a lot of vegetables that will spoil soon if I don't cook them so... If you want you could come over?"

She wants to think that she's offering him to compensate, or because she's worried about him not eating healthy, but in truth she's just tired of coming back to a silent house and maybe she wants some company. It's a mix of the three, of course, but mostly the last.

Obito lights up at the offer. "I'd love that! Your cooking is the best Rei-cha- I mean, Reishi."

They both start walking at a slow pace towards Reishi's house, it's almost night already and the street lights are starting to turn on. This isn't the first time Obito has had dinner or lunch at her house, she started to invite him over even before Ryouji left for his last mission. Both Ryouji and Fuhaku used to be delighted when the boy came visiting and Fuhaku even smiled sometimes, a rare sight those days.

He started to invite himself after Ryouji's death, Fuhaku had been on the first stages of her depression and Reishi seemed to have closed off to the world around her even more than before, so he had been very worried and reluctant to leave Reishi alone, knowing that her aunts were unlikely to take care of her.

Obito sneaks a glance at Reishi, who is walking beside him without looking where she's going; her neck is craned at an impossible angle to look at the sky.

He still remembers the week after Ryouji's death. He hasn't seen much of Fuhaku since then, she is always holed up on her room now, though he could hear her cry through the thin walls back then (now there's only silence).

Reishi had been very silent, but she had never cried, not a single tear. He doesn't remember having seen her with red puffy eyes either, just those horrible shadows under her eyes that kept growing and that seemed to be here to stay.

He remembers the funeral, Fuhaku was absent, and Reishi had stood alone as Ryouji's teammates and friends paid their respects. When the ceremony was over she had stayed behind, looking at the memorial stone with a blank expression and he had stood by her side.

She had grabbed his hand and held it so tight it had hurt, but he hadn't let go of it.

"You're very silent. What are you thinking about?"

Reishi's voice startles him, making him lose his train of thought. He can't possibly tell her that he was thinking about her father's funeral, that will put a damper on her already taciturn mood. But what is he supposed to tell her then? He's not good at making up lies on the fly. Reishi is the good one at that. He has to think of something quick, though, or she'll get suspicious.

"Do you remember that time I almost set training ground 28 on fire?"

She snorts. "I brought marshmallows and you insisted on trying to roast them with a jutsu. You set the forest on fire."

"And then a stuck-up jōnin started scolding us for practising fire jutsu on a training ground with a forest but he ended up being chastised by you for having been drinking during work and chickened out."

"I was completely bluffing, he just smelled of alcohol so I took a chance. Can you imagine if he hadn't been on duty? Awkwaaard."

"Then you wouldn't have been able to blackmail him and we would have been-"

"Fucked," Reishi finishes for him in mock solemnity.

"Language," Obito reaches to smack her in the head but she dodges under his arm, one of the perks of being so short.

"Ha!" She yells triumphantly.

"Oh no, you don't!"

Obito starts chasing her, and it quickly turns into a game of tag. They run over rooftops, jumping on the street lights and using the posts to launch themselves back into the air. The chase is exhilarating and Reishi soon finds herself smiling as the night air blows her bangs off her face, she can hear Obito laughing somewhere to her right.

She loves Obito's laugh, unbridled and free; it's so odd to her to hear it from someone who's suffered through so much, who's been alone for most of his life. She wonders if he will laugh like this when he's older and madness has taken over and her smile turns sour.

Dinner is a quiet affair because they don't want to wake Fuhaku up, she tends to get up in a foul mood these days.

Obito cuts the vegetables while Reishi seasons the meat and sets it over a low fire. They have a routine now, and Obito already knows where everything in the kitchen is so they don't need to talk much. The way Obito moves and moulds his movements to fit hers has a nostalgic feeling to it, like family gatherings on Saturdays on another life, like her grandson peeling potatoes and telling her about school and placidly watching a movie with her daughter when she was younger.

It's common for her to see the reflections of her past life when she's cooking with Obito, but by now she has learnt to ignore them. She will never be able to regain the life she lost so it's useless to dwell on them. Like finding the pieces of an already burnt puzzle.

When they are finished eating, Obito helps her clean up the dishes and the kitchen and not for the first time she regrets not being able to tell him to stay, to not go back to an empty house. She knows that he wouldn't accept it though, and that the proposition would be very odd, as it's not unusual for ninjas to live alone and Obito – even if he isn't a full fledged ninja yet – is no exception.

It still baffles her to see how this society has just accepted children living on their own. She supposes that, weren't he an Uchiha clan member, he would be on an orphanage, being taken care of. However, as an Uchiha he is expected to take care of himself as long as the clan provides him with enough money to get a roof and food. It's just bizarre.

She watches him leave, waving absent-mindedly from her doorstep.


The next morning an ANBU agent appears and scares the shit out of her. Apparently, she is to report to the Hokage's office at once. She is not required to take her mother with her.

She glances over her shoulder at Fuhaku's room, which has been closed since she arrived home yesterday, and decides that it's better that she goes on her own. She tries to take a peek at the inside of the room, as yesterday with Obito's presence she forgot to make sure Fuhaku was okay, and verifies that she is alive and breathing. Then she takes a shower, puts on the first clean clothes she finds – fuck it, she's not going to wear anything formal to meet with that man, she might have to follow his orders but it's the small acts of rebellion that count – and steps outside.

The ANBU is still there, waiting for her when she closes the door behind her. He, or she, she isn't sure, guides Reishi to the Hokage tower at what must be a leisure pace for them but is actually a nightmare for Reishi. She considers falling behind to keep up appearances but something tells her that that isn't an option. That, and her pride won't let her.

The ANBU lands elegantly in front of the front door and glances over their shoulder to see Reishi land in a crouch a few seconds later, panting. They cock their head to the side, as if evaluating her, and then proceeds to enter the building.

She's starting to hate them a little. What is their mask supposed to look like anyways? It looks stupid.

The inside of the building is bustling with activity, she supposes that it's due to the war that's currently happening, as it was never so crowded in the anime.

A few of the younger ninjas do a double take when they see her, no doubt surprised to see a five year old here, but they go back to their jobs immediately after, too busy to care.

The Hokage's office is on the top floor so they have to climb a few sets of stairs to get there. This has a few perks, well, just one. The ANBU's ass directly in front of her face looks amazing. Never before had she been grateful of looking like a five year old, because she supposes it would have been awkward if anyone caught her staring appreciatively at an ANBU's ass.

Is that a thing here? Do people here have an ANBU kink?

She isn't able to continue her train of thought because when they arrive at the designated floor she is ushered inside the Hokage's office immediately. That is good because she doesn't want to wait and also bad because it means that whatever the hell has she been called for is important.

Reishi hadn't had much time to think while coming here, as she had been pretty busy concentrating on not falling off a rooftop – jōnin can do it effortlessly without even thinking about it and she's so jealeous of this – and she wonders if the ANBU did it on purpose.

When they enter the room the ANBU disappears from sight, though she can still feel them somewhere on the roof. Show-off. She deliberately tries not to look in the direction she knows the other ANBU are hidden.

Sarutobi Hiruzen is sitting behind his desk, giving her a warm smile that she immediately abhors. You don't get to act grandfatherly while sending children to the war. She remembers Obito's laugh and how it's partially this man's fault that she won't get to hear it anymore in a few years and her hate towards the man grows (how old is Obito again? Was he seven or nine? Did she ever ask him? She should do that next time she sees him).

She schools her features like her first father taught her when playing poker and hopes that she hasn't lost too much practice. They look at each other in silence for a few moments.

(Hiruzen sighs internally, he had hoped that by meeting with her one on one he wouldn't appear as intimidating. If her stiffness is anything to go by, he didn't have such luck.)

Finally the Hokage makes the first move, motioning to her to get closer and Reishi obliges. She suspects that she's fucked anyways so who cares anymore? Not her. She can feel her plans for the future slowly crumbling before her.

"Your teacher came to see me a few weeks ago, do you know why?"

"No, sir."

"She was very worried about your grades at the academy, she thinks she might have to make you repeat the year," he says with feigned worry.

Bullshit, all of it. She isn't even close to failing, she is almost in the middle of the rankings and not even the ones below her are close.

This manipulative asshole.

If she wants to keep up her appearances as a child – albeit a very quiet and weird one – she will have to act guilty and confess that she hasn't been showing her full capabilities because most children just crumble when adults catch their lies. That and they start ugly sobbing. She hates that.

If she just calls him out on his blatant lie, that will say by itself that she is smarter than she lets on.

Either way it's game over for her, he knows, and he knows that she knows.

Smart monkey.

Reishi might not like him on principle – not because he uses child soldiers, but because he is a hypocrite and if he is going to be a monster he should act like one – but she knows a good player when she sees one and he is undoubtedly better than her. Deep down she had known that even if she had always been a good liar there was no way she could lie to a full fledged shinobi, though she had hoped that by the time they realized her 'ruse' she would be already on the genin corps and that that stain would be on her file forever, making it hard for her to get promotions.

Reishi lets herself smile bitterly, she has already been caught, if the Hokage's subtle smug face is any indication, so what does it matter? He will probably have her punished somehow, maybe he thinks she's a spy and her fate is T&I.


She glances at the head of the Uchiha clan. Seeing him so young feels very weird, more so because he still isn't showing those horrible lines at the corners of his mouth so she's having a hard time reconciling the real him and the image she has on her head.

Fugaku is more subtle about his staring, doing so by the corner of his eye. Sometimes he will be walking, looking ahead sternly and then looking at her like he had forgotten for a moment that a little girl is walking beside him, or like 'Woah, you're still there? I thought the heavens above had heard my prayers and you had vanished from this plane of existence'. Whichever it is, he doesn't look pleased about it.

"Must you stare at me that way, child?" He asks with barely restrained annoyance.

"Sorry." It's more of an automatic reply than a truthful apology. "But, uhm..."

"Speak your mind, child."

"Shouldn't I be at the academy now?"

If Fugaku is annoyed by the lack of 'sir' when she reffers to him, he doesn't let her know. Instead he glances at her for a second, frowning, before answering.

"The Hokage has trusted me with the task of testing you." His tone is final, letting her know that he'd rather bite off his own arm than have a conversation with a kid (she's sure Hiruzen just dumped her on the poor bastard, she doesn't hold it against him).

This is a really unexpected turn of events. She was prepared for a full on interrogation, maybe a Yamanaka reading her mind... but she wasn't expecting for someone with the same chakra signature as the ANBU that had guided her to the Hokage's office to enter said room again, without the ANBU uniform. Nor for them to be Uchiha Fugaku. Much less for the Hokage to present him as her jōnin 'personal tutor'.

She had stared at Fugaku's ass.

She had stared at Fugaku's ass and she had thought it was a good ass. Fugaku's ass.

Reishi suppresses a shiver, earning her yet another frown from Fugaku, but she honestly can't find it in herself to give a shit about anything anymore. She is going to die. They are all going to die. What is she supposed to do? Actually fight as a shinobi and change the timeline? No thanks, that's risky as fuck. Hell, the moment they leave her out on the field and she's sure no one is paying attention she is defecting from this god forsaken village. What does she have here anyways?

A part of her mind she usually tries to keep silent suggests Obito. It is true, but for how long? How long does she have until he 'dies'? How long until the Kyuubi attack? She really needs to ask him how old he is. He's going to be so pissed that she doesn't know.

Despite being enraptured in her own musings, Reishi notices Fugaku stopping in front of a house – more like a mansion, it's thrice as big as her own home – inside of what she recognizes as the Uchiha compound. She wonders when did they get there.

Fugaku steps inside, not glancing behind. "Come in," is all he says, and she follows.

The inside is not the blend between modern and old that she has seen in other houses before, but rather a 'classy' Japanese style. It suits the Uchiha's strict behavior.

To be honest, she would have preferred any other 'tutor' as long as it didn't belong to the Uchiha or the Hyuuga. Like Shikaku Nara, for example. He's a chill guy, he takes naps and stuff. Instead she gets to train with the guy with a pole up his business. Great.

The only perk is that he seems as thrilled about it as she is. Who knows, maybe if she is belligerent enough he will quit, or kill her, then she'd be done with this shit. Or would she? Would she reincarnate again in another world?

Her head starts pounding, she needs an aspirin.

They sit down on a table in what appears to be a living room and his frown deepens when she crosses her legs instead of sitting seiza style. She doesn't particularly care.

Correctly sensing that she isn't going to change her posture anytime soon, Fugaku decides to move on and slides a stack of sheets and a pen in her direction. No explanation. Well... Okay then.

She inspects the sheets and it becomes clear that those are exams belonging to the higher levels of the academy. A look at Fugaku tells her that he's probably waiting for her to start writing and that he isn't going to move from there until she finishes, which is very stupid because it's not like anybody told her about these exams beforehand so obviously she didn't come prepared to cheat but whatever.

The exams vary from advanced algebra and theoretical physics to biology, history and the most famous strategies used in said history. It's a walk in the park. Studying those things is the only activity besides Obito that has kept her occupied and sane ever since she learnt to read, so now that the cat is out of the bag she aces them effortlessly.

Fugaku manages to find faults in them anyways, and they debate for a few minutes on whether or not the Daimyo of the land of Wind was the political instigator in the shadows of the second shinobi war. In the end Mikoto enters the room with a tray of tea and Reishi completely forgets about her discussion with Fugaku in the midst of the sweets that are accompanying the tea.

"Woah, this is some good dango, ma'am," she says, because nowadays the only thing that can drag her out of her apathetic state are Obito, sweets and very very annoying assholes. Like Fugaku.

"Why thank you, what a polite little girl!"

Fugaku lets out a huff, letting her know what he thinks of that statement, and Mikoto looks at him sternly. Fugaku clears his throat and looks away.

"Did you find the exams to be too difficult, Reishi-san?" Mikoto asks with a smile.

"They were fine, ma'am." She doesn't want to brag about how easy she found them because she's no prodigy, not truly, she's just a bored adult so that doesn't count.

Mikoto praises her profusely. It's clear that she really likes children and that she's ecstatic about having her own. Reishi wonders if she isn't using her to get used to little kids. She's not really the best subject for this, to be honest, but obviously Mikoto has no way of knowing that she's having a conversation with an adult woman and Reishi isn't going to tell her either.

When Fugaku finishes his tea, Mikoto takes the tray and the cups – and the very nice dango – away and he leads Reishi to a training ground, still inside the Uchiha compound. It's an arid place, well away from trees and she can see what seems to be a lake in the distance. This is probably the place where they train with fire-based jutsus, though she doubts he's going to teach her anything today.

He walks until he's in the approximate middle of the training ground, then stops and faces her without changing his stance.

"Attack me," is all he says, as if she has the will to attack a full fledged jōnin that can roast her both figuratively and literally without breaking a sweat. When it's apparent that she isn't going to make the first move – no thanks – he lunges forward.

Reishi barely has time to avoid him, jumping to the side while she keeps the scream of surprise from leaving her mouth.

She doesn't manage to completely avoid him though, and he grabs her by an ankle and throws her away.

Reishi rolls once on the ground and manages to turn the second roll into a crouch. She hurriedly scans the training ground again for some type of cover that would let her try to ambush him or at least limit his movements but, as she saw before, there are no trees to speak of in this place. She is sure now that Fugaku's plan was to force her to confront him head on from the beginning. Probably to test her taijutsu abilities.

She balances her possibilities, which are... none, really. She knows no jutsus, her taijutsu technique is quite lacking because she just started having taijutsu matches a few months ago in the academy, and she didn't bring any kunai or senbon because the first year students aren't still proficient enough to have permission to carry those around. She's pretty fucked.

The thought occurs to her that she doesn't really have to win the fight, just attack Fugaku and pray for the best, probably. There's no way he'll go all out on a kid; well, not on a kid from Konoha anyways.

The only thing left for her is to go head on with everything she has.

Reishi concentrates chakra on her legs and arms, trying to regulate it as best as she can for fear of chakra exhaustion, and breaks into a run towards Fugaku, who has been waiting patiently for her to get her shit together.

She has never moved this fast before, having suppressed her capabilities during her time at the academy. She likes the feeling.

She fakes a punch to his gut – a safe place to punch, soft enough not to break her hand and low enough so she doesn't have to jump to reach it. Fighting tall people can be a pain – but when he moves to catch her hand she jumps over him instead, hoping to kick him on the back of his knees.

The jōnin is too fast for her, however, and he has better reach than her, so he quickly twists and his open palm slams into her ribs. He's not trying to do real damage, as he could have easily broken her ribs had he used his closed fist instead. She will have a brush tomorrow though.

Reishi takes this opportunity to latch onto his extended arm and swings on it to land a kick to Fugaku's face that he avoids at the last minute. Her foot collides instead with his shoulder.

She's about to let out a small cry of triumph when a hand grabs her by the ankle again and she tenses, prepared to be thrown away.

She finds herself dangling by her ankle, watching Fugaku's frown upside down. Being upside down it kind of looks like he's smiling... Nah.

"Enough," he says curtly, and turns her upright with his other free hand, setting her on the ground firmly. She feels like a kitten.

He starts walking in the direction they came from and she trots to catch up with him. When she reaches him he glances at her, but otherwise makes no further comment; not that Reishi cares, she's always in a good mood after exercising.

"Did I pass the test?" She asks smugly when she sees Fugaku rub his shoulder absent-mindedly.

Fugaku sighs.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Reishi isn't really the most popular kid at the academy, as you could imagine. She's not approachable. She's not fun. She doesn't try to make friends either, and the only time the other kids saw her smile was that time she made a boy cry with a kick to the gut. If they knew the word sadist, they would have probably used it to describe her.

So it's completely understandable that, to her, it's a mystery why suddenly the other kids seem very interested in her person.

She decided to come again this morning as if nothing had happened because nobody told her not to, basically, and she's already regretting it. The moment she sets foot on the academy all the kids on her class gather around her, excitedly asking questions about her 'special training' and how did she get so good so fast. She's very confused for a second, until she realizes that news of her evening with the Uchiha clan head must have spread and reached her classmates.

Wow, for people that lives off of secrecy, Ninjas aren't very discreet, are they?

Her teacher practically saves her from the swarm when she comes in and announces to her in a kind voice that she will skip a few years ahead and that she's moving to a new class. She looks genuinely happy on Reishi's behalf.

Reishi herself isn't so happy as she is resigned to her fate, but she forces a smile through anyways for some reason. The rest of the kids suddenly look unsettled; she knows she doesn't smile much, but damn, it doesn't look that scary, does it?

Oushi-sensei, who doesn't look near as unnerved as the rest of the class – but could be faking –, guides her to a class on the second floor, and asks her to wait for a while until she is called in.

Reishi tries to direct some chakra to her ears to hear what is happening on the other side of the door, but fails at it. The sound comes and goes constantly like trying to find a radio channel, which is something normal because she hasn't been training that sort of sophisticated chakra enhancing yet, so she's not too disappointed.

She can hear a male sound on the other side, muted. She deduces that it belongs to his new assigned teacher, he's probably informing the class about her.

After a few minutes more of waiting, the door opens and she gets a glimpse of the classroom from behind a burly man; there's at least three rows of curious children staring at her. On the far end of the room and sitting on the first row, she sees Obito and Rin sitting together. While Obito seems ecstatic at seeing her and waves enthusiastically, Rin seems fairly uncomfortable with the situation.

Reishi doesn't blame her, this is very awkward.

When she finally looks up at her new teacher, she finds him frowning down at her. She probably took too long to scan the room and he felt she was ignoring him. Boo-hoo, what a tragedy.

"I take it you're the new addition to my class?" He takes out a sheet of paper and reads something in it with an arched brow. Like hell he didn't read it earlier, he's just making her wait because she ignored him. "Well, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and introduce yourself to the class."

She feels the urge to punch that man. She feels the urge to punch him very hard. This is the beginning of a beautiful relationship based on hate and spite, she just knows it, she can see it in his eyes. What he doesn't know is just how petty can she be. He probably won't know until she graduates, but he'll know, eventually. Probably. If she remembers (she probably won't even remember his name after a week).

The moment Reishi walks to the front of the class and sees all the eyes looking at her, all the anxiety and fears she used to have as a child in her first life came back. There's just something terrifying about talking in front of a crowd, it doesn't matter the experience you have in life.

She takes a deep breath and focuses her eyes on Obito, who is beaming at her, and mechanically speaks the memorized speech. Thank goodness that the introduction thing has somewhat of a script or she would have started to stutter, she was never good at improvising in front of a crowd.

She scans the room in search of an empty seat and finds one at the back of the class, near a boy that's giving her the worst glare she has seen coming from a kid in a long time. He is wearing a black bandanna and a simple black outfit over some mesh and his face looks like somebody had just farted an inch away from it. Still, that's the only empty seat left, so she'll take what she can get.

Soon enough it's apparent that his constipated face isn't because of her; he has, in fact, a bad case of the resting bitch face. Reishi is glad that she's not the only one with that problem in the class. She's also glad that their combined aura keeps the rest of the children at bay, she's not in the mood for their curious stares.

The class is nothing special, the teacher is explaining the concept of guerrilla warfare, and she has already studied about its uses and probably about any strategies or tactics the teacher can come up with. It's not that she likes the subject, but the library has a depressing lack of fiction books and she gets very bored really fast. It's not like she has anything better to do than reading or hanging out with Obito, usually adults don't get into interesting conversations with kids. It's usually 'what's your favourite ice-cream flavour?' or 'what do you want to be when you grow up?', which is a stupid question, because at least seventy percent of the children in the village answer 'ninja' anyways. It's a fucking ninja village, what were they expecting, an archaeologist? She would pick that over mindless soldier anytime, but it's not like she has a choice.

At recess the teacher insists on her staying behind so he can make sure she's keeping up with the class. It's mind-numbingly boring, so boring she wants to pluck her eyes out with a kunai, but she's a grown up woman and she endures. Also it's a very good excuse to avoid Obito and Rin. She doesn't like awkward situations and she doesn't want Obito to feel like he has to pick between her and Rin. It would be nice if he just picked Rin and got it over with, but knowing him having to pick at all would tear him apart.

After recess they have the more physical classes, like throwing weapons, sparring and physical tests (to keep track of their growth). Now that she can stop holding back – because what would be the point now – she is pleased to see that she is in the top ten of the class. She's not in first or even second place, mind you, but considering that the rest of the class has been training two years more than her it's not so bad.

All in all, the day ends without her having to interact with Rin and Reishi is pretty satisfied about it. She feels satisfied, that is, until she sees the ANBU waiting at the gates of the academy. She hopes it's not for her. She really hopes it's not for her.

But alas, life is pain and destiny is a cruel thing so the ANBU – this time it's easier to tell that it's a man – walks up to her and asks her to follow him. At least he isn't Fugaku. And he is going at a normal-ish pace that she can follow without dying.

To her surprise, he leads her into the Uchiha compound and then into Fugaku's house and then just- he leaves. He leaves her alone. In front of Fugaku's house. Alone. She's starting to hate ANBU. Creepy sexy bastards, the lot of them...

She has no instructions an also nothing better to do because it isn't like Fuhaku is waiting for her home or anything, so she rings the bell and waits until the door opens.

Fugaku looks in front of him and frowns when he doesn't see anybody, then looks down and sighs when he spots Reishi. He seems resigned and Reishi is quite offended, to be honest, she also doesn't want to be here but at least she isn't showing it. There's this thing called 'being polite', he should try it sometime.

He ushers her inside, where the smell of something delicious wafts from a nearby room, probably the kitchen, and guides her to where a very busy Mikoto is. She seems to be cooking some sort of stew. She also seems to have some difficulties reaching a wooden spoon that is on the counter while she stirrs something in a frying pan so it won't get burnt.

Reishi rushes in to help with whatever she can, remembering how she would help her own mother in her first life. For a moment Mikoto blurs and a shadow takes her place, the shadow thanks her when she hands it a wooden spoon that it was trying to reach, but the voice sounds wrong. She realizes that it's Mikoto talking to her and the shadow vanishes, a wave of nostalgia washing through her.

"I'll finish that, you should rest," comes Fugaku's voice from behind her. For a moment she had forgotten he was there. Mikoto smiles at her husband and goes to sit at the kitchen table, squeezing Reishi's shoulder as she walks by. "Ikotsu-san, please set the table," he says.

"Uh, okay," she says, a little confused. Apparently, they expect her to eat with them? Well, not that she minds much, but she would have appreciated some sort of notice. Not a formal invitation via letter but an 'hey, so, tomorrow you're eating at my house' would have been nice.

When she's finished setting the table she hands three plates to Fugaku, once he has filled them she puts the first one in front of Mikoto and the other two to her left and in front of her respectively. This way Fugaku is at the head of the table with Mikoto by his right and Reishi at his left. Who would have thought that the lessons about protocol that Fuhaku insisted on giving her would be useful one day?

"How was the academy today Reishi-chan? Fugaku told me you had skipped two years!"

Of course he knew, why wouldn't he? "It was... interesting. Thank you for asking Mikoto-san." Reishi doesn't really know what to say about her academy experience today, other than it was rather boring, so she sets on being polite.

Mikoto isn't deterred by her evasiveness, so she keeps asking about things. About her friends, about her favourite subject, about her life in general... about her family.

"Oh! One day you could invite your mom over! We should have a girls day!" She says enthusiastically, until a look from Fugaku makes her frown. He must be trying to convey what a messed up event would that be with his eyes alone. Reishi agrees internally with him.

Mikoto looks at Fugaku, and then back at Reishi, who looks like she has retreated back into herself and is now moving a piece of carrot from one side of the plate to another. After that, Mikoto tentatively tries to lift up the mood, and Reishi smiles politely at her, if only to reassure the woman that she isn't mad at her. It was an honest mistake, not everybody knows that her 'family' is basically broken.

They clean the table together, Fugaku and her, while Mikoto goes to rest – or that's what Reishi guesses – after eating. It's an awkward silent affair, because Fugaku barely acknowledges her presence unless he has to instruct her to do something and because it feels oddly domestic for Reishi and she finds herself thinking about Ryouji. In four months it will be the anniversary of his death. It confuses her, how time passes so quickly and yet so slow. She feels as if it had happened yesterday, and still, it's like a decade has already passed with how different her life is now.

Fugaku distracts her from her thoughts by calling her, he has already finished washing the dishes and is waiting for her at the doorstep. His face is carefully neutral but she knows she has been too many time lost in thought, because his eyes say that he's thinking. He's trying his best not to frown.

Reishi follows him to the room where she took the tests last time and sits on the table in front of him.

"I had a talk with Lord Hokage," a pause, "about your skill level." He pauses again, this time to see if she has anything to say on the matter. She doesn't, and so he goes on. "Your intellect is clearly above that of your peers, way above any student at the academy," he adds almost begrudgingly, "though your reflexes and physical prowess have still to improve. You haven't had anyone to train you outside the academy, so it is expected that you wouldn't have reached your full potential. However, with this in mind, the Hokage decided that it was best to put you in a class with your skill level, so you could spar with your peers. I take it you took the physical tests today?" He makes a pause so Reishi can answer and she nods. "What did you rank?"

"I'm on the top ten, the eighth." At this Fugaku frowns and rubs his shoulder, the same shoulder she incidentally kicked yesterday, and she sees that there's a bruise peeking out from under his kimono. It's nice to know that she's not the only one that ended a little bit purple after their spar. Fugaku notices her staring and their eyes meet for a second, he rises an eyebrow, daring her to comment on it, and she looks away and clears her throat loudly.

"That is something I can work with," he concedes. She forgets for a second what they were talking about but recovers instantly. Right, the class ranking. "In case you haven't realized already," he pauses to glare at Reishi when she snorts, then he clears his throat and keeps talking as if nothing happened, "I am going to be your assigned tutor, or shishō, until further notice. To do that I am going to need you to tell me what do you think are your worst flaws so we can work on them. I trust that you are mature enough to at least do that?"

He phrases that as a question but Reishi knows that it's actually a statement: if you're going to be my student you must show at least some lever of intelligence and/or maturity. It seems like a sensible standard, but Reishi would have respected it more if he had said it out loud instead of being passive-aggressive. As it is, she's slightly offended. However, she doesn't let this show when she answers.

"I have to work on my endurance, I can stand short bouts of action but I falter in the longer spars. I have to work on my senbon throwing skills and I have zero experience with jutsus," she lists, and Fugaku acknowledges each one with a nod.

"We will work on your chakra control for now and later we might move on to throwing practice."

They go to a training ground, this one a different one from last time, and he hands her a paper. Before he has any time to explain she channels a wisp of chakra into it, making it scrunch up between her fingers, and she looks at him expectantly. Inside her head she's shouting and doing cartwheels because she finally knows what chakra nature she has, a question that has been stored on the back of her mind for five years.

"Lightning," Fugaku states, "it has piercing capabilities, as well as being able to paralyse your enemies and travelling through conductive materials."

Reishi nods along his explanation, she had already read on it but she isn't going to interrupt him over something so small. When he's finished, he guides her through some chakra exercises, activating his sharingan to make sure she is doing them correctly. The leaf exercise is a given, and she passes that test with flying colours. He also has her try picking up bigger objects, like twigs, with short chakra strings. This takes her almost an hour to get correctly, but when she does she gets a grunt of approval and, surprise surprise, more exercises.

The new exercises turn out to be tree walking and water walking, at which she shows various degrees of success.

At tree walking she fails, she fails horribly everytime and she would swear that during one of her falls she hears Fugaku snort, though when she looks at him he has the same neutral face as minutes before her ass met the ground. By the end of that particular exercise she is proud to say that her butt cheeks have developed quite an intimate relationship with the ground. They are going steady, some are talking about marriage.

To her immense surprise, and Fugaku's, even if he doesn't show it, she is decent at water walking. She isn't sure why has Fugaku made her try it, given her terrible failure at tree walking, but she has managed to keep a steady enough stand on the surface of the nearby lake. After a few minutes of silence and her not moving, a kunai cuts the air inches away from her right ear, making her lose control and sink to her knees.

"Dodge and don't sink," is all Fugaku says before throwing three more kunais at her.

She quickly scrambles to keep herself afloat, her instincts kicking in, and dodges the attack. Two of the kunais have been thrown way off-target, on purpose, no doubt, so she only has to worry about one. Fugaku is decided to not leave her space to breathe though, and he throws two more, this time both directed at her.

They keep this for a long while, until Reishi's breaths come short and puffy and her lungs burn. She has fallen into the cold water several times and even though she's freezing, she's too stubborn to stop.

Finally, Fugaku calls her when the sun has set, examining her wet appearance with a critical look. They both walk back to his house, mostly because Reishi left her bag with the books – that she has already read because she has too many free time on her hands – of the academy there and she kind of wants them back. Or at least that's what she thinks is the main motive until she's gathering her things and Fugaku walks back into the room she was in with a towel and looks at her... offended? Alarmed? She doesn't know, she's confused. And what is that towel for again?

Her last question is answered when Fugaku sends her – it's a command, not a suggestion – to take a bath upstairs. She's not going to disobey the man that has been throwing pointy objects at her the whole evening so she rushes upstairs, where she finds a single room with the lights on. Mikoto must have already gone to bed then, just how late is it?

She leaves her wet clothes on the room right before the bathroom and sinks into the hot water, suppressing a gasp of surprise at how hot it is. Against her cold skin it feels like it's boiling. She relaxes in the tub, feeling her muscles loosen up with every second, until the water doesn't feel like it's boiling, and then begins to scrub. Usually you clean yourself before entering the tub so you don't dirty the water too much but she was in a rush and she forgot so she'll have to make do.

When she comes out to the room where she left her clothes they're nowhere to be seen, and a small kimono that definitely wasn't there before is resting on a chair. When she tries it on, she confirms that it's her exact size. She can't decide if this is thoughtful or creepy.

She goes back to the room with the table, where Fugaku is sipping some sort of warm beverage, probably tea. He takes a look at her and nods almost imperceptibly.

"It's Mikoto's. A welcome present."

"I will thank her when I see her." Thoughtful it is then.

Fugaku suddenly frowns and leaves, making her think that maybe she said the wrong thing, or that maybe he went to wake his wife up, though that's ridiculous and she doesn't know why would he do that. Is it that important to thank her right now? Has she offended the entire Uchiha clan because she wasn't going to thank her right away?

The Uchiha clan head comes back a moment later, without his wife and with another, smaller, towel in hand. Then he sits in front of her and proceeds to dry her hair. Or try to. He's trying his best but he's not very good at it. She wants to tell him that she can do it herself but she is too weirded out to do so.

"From now on I expect you here all evenings at five sharp," he says, like he's not drying her hair as he speaks, "on saturdays you will be here from eleven in the morning to six in the afternoon. Sundays are off, but I do expect you to keep a minimum training routine."

"I usually train with a friend on sundays," she mutters, still very confused. He hums non-committally, he seems to be getting the hang of drying children's hair, because it isn't as disorienting as before and he is being gentler. She wonders if the only reason he accepted to have her as an apprentice was to use her as training for his future son. She is still weirded out.

"Is he good?"

"He's an Uchiha."

"Is he."

"Obito uchiha."

"...I see."

Fugaku doesn't say anything else until he is finished and examines his work – Reishi's hair – with a frown. She is sure that it has puffed out and looks fluffy like a cloud, it doesn't help that her hair is the colour of storm clouds.

He produces a comb from... somewhere, and tries to tame the mess she calls hair. With various degrees of success. The same degree as her tree walking, to be precise. He doesn't seem satisfied with this outcome when she finally leaves the house to go back to her own.

This has been... a weird incident, some would say. Though when she thinks about it, she does look like a five year old, with big eyes and pudgy cheeks and the like. She examines her reflection in a shop window and remembers that she is also wearing the kimono Mikoto gave her. It's simple, of a yellowish orange with an orange sash. Some autumn leaves, the same colour as the sash, swirl on the sleeves and lower part of the kimono. She guesses she has been adopted by the Uchiha family, albeit temporarily (she hopes).

Reishi sighs, it seems like the more she tries to avoid people – people that is going to die and ohgodpleasnomore – the more they flock towards her, as if they smelled her reluctance in the air.

She keeps walking, trying not to think too much about the Uchiha massacre. It's none of her business. Her one and only priority would be Obito, but he will be long gone by that time, so she has no reason to feel bad about it. She doesn't know that people, that's it. Not. Her. Problem.

The kimono she's wearing seems to double its weight.

When she arrives home, Fuhaku is up and well dressed, seemingly ready to go out. The woman spares a glance at her when Reishi stops to stare at her, notices the orange kimono, and frowns, but makes no comment about it.

"You're home late," she says instead. It's a fact, not an accusation. An invitation to explain why, to make some cordial small talk. Reishi doesn't answer for a while, watching the woman fumble with her purse, no doubt making sure she doesn't forget anything.

"I've been busy... And it looks like you have too."

"My sisters convinced me to go have dinner with them," Fuhaku answers, once she would have said 'your aunts'.

"That's good."

There really isn't anything else they have to talk about, and it doesn't seem like Fuhaku wants to elongate this conversation, so Reishi takes her leave and goes to her room to change into her pyjamas. She hears the door open and close while she's changing.

After heating up some left overs from the day before – because right now she isn't in the mood for cooking – and eating them while reading a book, she decides it's time to go to sleep. Tomorrow she has to go to the academy, and apparently now she will have to incorporate 'training with Fugaku' to her personal schedule.

She's already exhausted after just one training session, she doesn't want to even imagine what is going to be like doing that every day of the week. Like hell, probably.

A door slamming shut wakes Reishi hours later, and she's up and ready for a fight in seconds. Her brain tells her that it's just Fuhaku, that is back, her adrenaline tells her it's a threat. She hears the familiar clinking of glass coming from the kitchen, confirming that it's Fuhaku, pouring herself a glass of wine probably.

Even though all she wants to do is crawl back under the covers, she decides to go and make sure that everything is alright.

When she arrives at the kitchen, Fuhaku is slumped over the counter, the glass now forgotten as she clutches a wine bottle with her right hand. She seems to be having some sort of panic attack.

Reishi walks towards her slowly, with the intention of... something, she's not sure what but she'll figure out something when she's close enough. When she is besides Fuhaku, she tries gently prying the bottle from the woman's fingers, just to have her jolt upright and send an accusatory glare her way.

"You!" Fuhaku is mad and Reishi doesn't remember having ever seen her like that, not since the day she had to take Reishi to the hospital in a hurry. "Of course you are, why wouldn't you? You're so... sso..." Her words are slurred, making it difficult to understand them, though Reishi has no idea what she's talking about.

"Fuhaku, please-"

"No! This is my house, with my rules, and you- you can't, you can't just-!"

"What are you talking about?!"

"I told you I didn't want you to be one of those- of those rats! Always- always crawling in the shadowss like, like verrrminss! Like your father. He was always- aaallways away, doing who knows what, coming back filthy with blood and- and guts! Dis- disgusting!"

"You don't talk about Ryouji that way! Don't you dare! He was- he was a good man and-"

"And look what it got him!" Fuhaku accompanies those words by flinging the wine bottle to the wall behind Reishi, leaving a red stain on it. On the darkness of the room it looks like blood.

The silence after that is deafening, Fuhaku's eyes are wide open, as if she surprised herself with the seething rage and spite that came with those words. Or maybe she remembered who was she screaming at, and saw her daughter for the first time since she opened the door. Either way, tears begin to gather in her eyes and she covers her mouth, as if that would prevent her from hurling more hurting words at everyone in her vicinity. She rushes past Reishi and into her room, closing the door quietly behind her. The house is very silent.

Absent-mindedly, Reishi takes note of what must be cleaned and tries to remember the best way to scrub wine stains. She wonders if it will work on a wall. She also notices that the panel window that leads from the kitchen to the back garden is open, and that an ANBU is standing there, apparently he – he's the same one that came to pick her up at school, Reishi realizes – has yet to decide on a course of action. He must have come hurriedly when he heard the broken glass, expecting to have to break a domestic fight or something like that, and now he isn't sure of what he should do.

"Pick up the glass shards and throw them on that trash can over there," she instructs him. He starts working almost instantly. If it is because he feels like he should help a little kid, or because commands work very well with confused people that have been trained to follow orders mechanically, Reishi doesn't know, and she doesn't really care.

Meanwhile she gets some paper towels to start dabbing at the wall so the stain isn't too deep rooted. A small touch on the shoulder makes her turn her attention back at the ANBU, who has a broom in hand and is signalling her to move over so he can sweep under her feet. She doesn't know how did he find the broom but she decides that it doesn't matter. Less work for her.

Once he's finished she goes back to clean the wall with a mix of clear soap and some chemical she can't pronounce and cleans it as best as she can, though she supposes that she will have to finish it up tomorrow, maybe with bleach. Probably with bleach.

She is surprised to find the ANBU still waiting behind her, he is handing her the paper towel roll. Reishi is very confused until the ANBU motions to his face and she reaches to touch hers. Her hand finds a wet substance and she realizes that she has been silently crying. She wipes the tears away as best as she can, angry at herself for showing weakness in front of a stranger. She doesn't want anyone pitying her. She feels the sudden urge to yell at the ANBU to mind his own business, but she knows that that would be uncalled for.

"Thanks," she says curtly. The ANBU gives her a nod and suddenly he is no longer in the room.

Chapter Text

The next day she is so tired that she's almost late for class, almost. She walks in at the last second, earning a glare from her 'seatmate' – though he's always glaring so it doesn't count – when she takes her seat.

"One would think that a genius would know how to set an alarm clock," he says, startling her.

"One would say that someone who's on the top five of the class would know how to mind his own business."

The kid chuckles, something very disturbing coming from him, if you ask Reishi, and rises his hands in front of him on a pacifying gesture. "Just kidding, just kidding. Seems like someone got up on the wrong side of the bed," he says smirking.

Reishi snorts, slumping on the back of her chair and letting her head loll back. "You don't know half of it."

The kid huffs a laugh and extends his hand. "Morino Ibiki."

Reishi shakes his hand, feeling that this conversation wouldn't be out of place in a seedy bar like the ones she used to go to. It's odd, coming from a little boy, but she's not one to judge. She doesn't say her name back, and he doesn't ask for it. It would be pretty stupid, considering that she introduced herself to the class just yesterday.

They spend the rest of the class in a companionable silence, which again, she appreciates. He rises an eyebrow at her in a mocking manner when he peeks at her notebook, only to see that she has been drawing on it instead of taking notes. She shrugs at his unspoken question, it's not like she needs to take notes anyways.

When she peeks at his notebook near the end of the class, he has doodled one of her drawings on the top left of the page. She supposes the old dick-butt never gets old, even in different dimensions.

All in all, she likes the kid, and she knows that he isn't going to die. That's a plus. A safe friendship right there.

True, he's going to be tortured sooner or later and end up fucked up, but aren't they all in one way or another? What's a little bit of sadism in a world ruled by violence? She can live with it.

She dedicates recess to avoid meeting with Obito and Rin. Maybe she's being stubborn about it, maybe it's very stupid and she's overreacting by avoiding them. Does that matter though?

No, the answer is no, because there's no one to stop her from being stubborn and stupid.

When she finally goes back to class she sees Obito shoot her a hurt look by the corner of her eye and she tries her best to act like she didn't see it. She hopes she was convincing enough.

Apparently, she's so busy worrying about this that the next thing she notices is being paired up for sparring against a boy with sunglasses and a very odd styled hair. It's like the wind had blown it sideways once and now it was stuck that way.

The boy introduces himself as Ebisu, there's a surname in there as well, but Reishi stopped paying attention the moment she recognized him as that uptight guy that tried to train Naruto once.

Her wave of realization is interrupted when the boy decides to kick her in the ribs. It's only thanks to her reflexes that she manages to get out of the way in time to avoid the kick. After having been struggling to avoid kunais while not sinking the day before, this isn't nearly as difficult, or stress inducing.

She has to give it to him though, even if he isn't the quickest or stronger, his form is perfect. He probably looks just like the picture shown in the book from an outside perspective.

Avoiding that last kick leaves her open though, which is an opportunity Ebisu takes eagerly.

The punch to the solar plexus comes swiftly and without mercy, and she's lucky he hits her just as she was moving backwards, because if she had been just standing it would have blown the air out of her lungs.

As it is, she coughs a little and prepares for a counter attack.

As he lunges for another hit, she ducks under his arm and steps forward, punching him in the gut in the process. It's a low blow and probably not something they would approve at the academy, but she learnt to fight in a bar first and in the academy second, and there's some habits that you never get out of your system, even in a second life. It's nothing personal, just her instincts kicking in. Also it's very hard to feel guilty for punching a kid in the stomach when that kid is technically two years your senior and also attacked you first.

Ebisu jumps back while nursing his damaged stomach, and they both start circling each other. He's probably re-evaluating her and she's happy to use that time to breathe. She might be faster and stronger and maybe have better reflexes, but after just a few seconds she is already breathing erraticaly. She tries to force herself to breathe normally in hopes that he won't notice, because if he tries to turn this into a stamina contest she doesn't stand a chance.

Thankfully he doesn't notice this and she ends up winning the friendly match. She's so happy she has finally won that she actually smiles and offers him her hand to help him get up. And apparently it's not a scary smile either, because he doesn't seem too put off by it and gives a small smile of his own.

Her little moment of happiness doesn't last long however, because when she turns around to walk to her next match she notices Obito looking at her with a frown on his face. The moment she looks at him he changes his expression to give her a smile and a thumbs up, but she has been around him enough to see that the smile doesn't reach his eyes.

The matches go on as normal though, and she doesn't get paired up with him, so she doesn't have the chance to push his buttons to figure out what's bothering him.

Her partners end up being Kurenai and Gai. She wins the match against Kurenai, though this time she has more trouble; Kurenai turns out to be very good at blocking and also more resilient so it's a very close match. Against Gai she loses, obviously. Still, it was interesting to compare her abilities against him, and she's proud to say that she lasted more than one minute, which was her true objective.

By the end of it she's pleasantly tired and satisfied with her sparring abilities. She's not the best of the class, but she's good enough to be decent. Her happiness is interrupted when she remembers that she has to be from five to who knows when at the Uchiha compound training with her new shishō.

Hopefully, if she runs to her house, she might still have some time to take a shower and nap before going.

She arrives at home out of breath and ready to drop anywhere and never get back up again, but instead she heats up the tonkatsu she prepared yesterday and tries not to eat it too quickly. Before promptly passing out on the couch, Reishi notices the lack of Fuhaku's chakra signature in the house and the now pristine wall where the wine stain was the night before.

At least she doesn't have to clean that up.


Fugaku hopes that being late won't become a habit.

Reishi arrived ten minutes late to their first official training session, muttered a barely audible 'sorry' – she doesn't look sorry at all; more like she hasn't slept in her whole life, which isn't so rare for her, though today it seems oddly pronounced – and proceeded to stand in front of him while staring off at something in the distance for the next five minutes.

He has checked the direction she's staring at twice now. There's nothing there, just trees. She's staring at the trees.

He's pretty sure that he could knock her down with a mild shove.

Fugaku snaps his fingers in front of Reishi's face, who startles and looks up at him with wide eyes. He wonders if someone can fall asleep while standing and sighs, suspecting that he has probably witnessed the answer.

"Today's training will be dedicated at throwing practice," he announces.

It's not an immediate effect, but the girl seems to be more awake now, keeping her back straight. Good.

He notices something tense in her posture, as if throwing practice has some sort of hidden importance that he has missed somehow.

He's not complaining at her sudden interest, it's much better than her usual apathy is. It's always easier to teach someone willing to learn, wether they're a genius or not.

He finds a little odd her choice in weaponry. Usually kids are eager to throw kunais or shuriken and the senbon go unnoticed in favour of the more flashy weapons, but when he tries to suggest that she tries first with something easier she looks almost offended. The girl seems to go on the defensive and close in on herself and Fugaku knows that he lost this battle even before it started.

(Just how stubborn can a five year old be? She actually debated with him the answers of her tests and now this? Is his kid going to be like this too? He doesn't know if he will be able to deal with this on a daily basis.)

Perhaps it is for the better, if she is so adamant in learning to throw senbon he sees no problem with it.

He is curious about where does her insistence come from though, he will have to read her files more thoroughly in case it has escaped him. It's nothing to worry about, but it's still good to know.

As he sees her struggle with the oversized needles, he decides that she isn't entirely bad at it. She isn't good, but she isn't bad either. And by this he means that at least half of the senbon hit the mark, which is pathetic, by his standards.

Mikoto would poison him if she knew that he had called his new pupil 'pathetic' though. She says that he must be patient with children and that he can't talk to them as if they are adults – it doesn't matter how much he insists on how Reishi speaks basically like an adult –, not to mention that he would hate to make Reishi lose interest in the only thing she's been invested in so far, so he tries to be more gentle in his delivery.

This is met by a rised eyebrow and a sceptic look from Reishi, which means that at least she is aware of just how bad she is at this.

He makes some little adjustments in her posture and has her throw again, and they repeat this process during the rest of the evening. The rest of the week will also be dedicated at throwing practice, and Reishi will find herself hating the needles more and more with each passing day.

By the end of it at least seventy percent of the senbon hit their mark, which isn't the best rate, but it's some improvement so Fugaku will take what he can get.

It's on the evening of the third day when it happens.

"Holy Fuck!"

Fugaku's head snaps up, ready to chastise his pupil for such rude language – where does she pick up those words anyways? – when he sees a single senbon wedged into the center of the target; a bull's-eye.

And Reishi is beaming, smiling in a way that lights up her face and makes her look like the child she is supposed to be. Alive. She's practically bouncing on the balls of her feet, looking at him expectantly.

He decides that they can talk about her speech faux pas later.

"Good job," he says, and her smile stretches a little bit wider, just before suddenly fading at the corners, like an old photograph that's been under the sun for too long. She keeps the smile on for a little longer while she goes to retrieve the senbon, but Fugaku can tell that it's for the sake of appearing normal, it isn't genuine anymore.

By the time she's back at the throwing line Fugaku drew on the ground (he makes her throw from greater distances when he thinks she's ready), she has let the smile fall off completely and it has been replaced by a look of determination.


Sunday comes surprisingly fast, in Reishi's opinion.

She's in an unusual good mood today, the lack of free time means she hasn't had the time to feel existential dread during the whole week. She has been so distracted by training that she has almost forgotten about how fucked up everything about her is and, honestly? It feels so good to zoom in from time to time and stop seeing the bigger picture, just let life pass by.

She has also missed hanging out with Obito. She hasn't seen him at all during recess, mostly due to her choosing to use that time for senbon practice, and she hasn't been able to train with him after class because of her training with Fugaku.

She hasn't felt lonely during the last week though. Thanks to her winning streak at the sparring matches in the academy, she's suddenly popular amongst her fellow students – yet another reason to spend the recess holed up in the gym – and she's proud to say that she has collected a small amount of allies. Or friends. Or whatever it is that people call it.

The first one was Ibiki. After their small exchange the day she was almost late he seems to have taken a liking to her, often hanging out with her in the gym and mocking her throwing attempts while reading a book.

She feels tempted to use him as a target instead.

For some unholy reason, Hayama Shirakumo; a boy with gray hair just a shade darker than hers and a very serious attitude, has decided that he must join her efforts at target practice.

They don't talk. They haven't shared a conversation ever. He just showed up one day, nodded at her, and started practising with kunais. There is something about him that makes her hate him, makes her try to throw better than him, fight better, run faster. He reminds her of someone of her past life but she can't remember who.

Maito Gai has joined them twice now, and she expects him to waltz in and out of their little recess club more often in the future. She hasn't tried to understand his motivations, she's pretty sure that he won't ever show a pattern in anything, and perhaps that's what makes his fighting style so effective and terrifying. It doesn't have a pattern, it's unpredictable, just like Gai.

Sometimes Ebisu comes in too and sits with one of the academy books in his lap, sneaking glances at Reishi from time to time. She's sure he thinks he's being sneaky. He's not. At all. Though she can't tell for her life what it is that he finds so interesting.

They're a bizarre group but the dynamic works, so she's not complaining.

She finds Obito in their usual training ground; it's practically hidden in the forest and not many people know of its existence. Because of that, the place is usually full of weeds, sometimes they get as tall as Reishi's waist, though it's not that often and the center of the training ground is always clean.

Obito seems to be in the middle of practising some katas when she arrives, and she decides to remain silent until he decides to take a break. It's not like she's in a hurry to start training, she hasn't done anything else in the whole week.

After a few minutes of waiting, Obito stops and leans down to pick his water bottle and Reishi takes this chance to approach him.

"Hey."

Obito seems startled for a second, then looks at her as if he's surprised to see her here.

A pang of guilt starts to surface but Reishi pushes it back to whatever dark corners of her mind it was in and forces herself to smile at her friend.

"So, you come here often?" She jokes. It's admittedly not the kind of humour you would expect a kid to understand, but she's been quite the bad influence on Obito and the damage has already been done. Thanks to this, the comment earns a snort from Obito, whose expression morphs from surprise to 'I'm glad to see you but where the fuck have you been'.

It's a smile. You have to learn to read the differences between his smiles because the damn kid spends smiling eighty percent of his time, but Reishi is proud to say that she's an expert at this.

Reishi decides to pretend she hasn't seen this silent question and walks to the tree where Obito left his bag to leave hers there too. She hears some shuffling behind her and when she turns around she sees that Obito has resumed his katas.

Reishi decides to meditate, it has been a while since she practised sensing chakra and she doesn't want to get rusty. Besides, it's easier for her to feel the chakra around her when she's not physically exhausted.

They both fall back into the easy rhythm of routine they had, and Obito's repetitive motions lull her into a sense of peace.

It has become a ritual by now; he practices katas while she meditates, then they stretch together using some of the yoga positions she knows from her past life and some new she saw in some book in Ryouji's library. After that they'll move on to one exercise or another, perhaps sparring, and finally they'll end by running some laps.

She starts by tentatively brushing her mind with Obito's chakra, as always it's warm and welcoming, a feeling she has come to associate with 'home' (not that she's ever going to tell him that).

In the evening chill it's almost like having a small sun near her.

After following Obito's movements she decides that it's time to expand her radius of awareness a little, see if she can find something interesting.

If she concentrates she can feel an anthill not too far from the training ground, she follows the trail of little ants until they stop somewhere a little bit to the left of the anthill. They must have found a food source there, as there's a constant stream of ants going from there to the anthill and back.

She gets distracted by the ants for a few minutes until some sort of flying insect 'pings' her radar, she can't tell exactly what it is. Nonetheless, she follows its movements until it gets... stuck? It's too small and also too far away for her to make out its movements but it seems frantic.

Suddenly she notices a second chakra signature near the insect, it seems to be another one, slowly approaching the one she was following moments ago. The first insect becomes more and more frantic as the second one comes closer until both signatures collide. Then the first chakra signature dissipates.

Reishi opens her eyes, curious as to what exactly she just witnessed with her mind's eye, though she has a theory.

She walks to the place she last felt the insects and, sure enough, there she sees a small spider web. A spider seems to be enveloping some insect in the web for later consumption.

When she comes back to Obito, he's looking at her with a rised eyebrow, probably asking where did she go so suddenly. She hasn't told him about her being a chakra sensor yet, so she can't just tell him. She settles for shrugging.

"I thought I heard something back there."

They don't talk much today, even when they start practising their throwing skills and Obito makes an appreciative noise at seeing how she has improved in a week.

She makes in his posture some of the adjustments Fugaku did in hers and they continue on.

By the end of the day they're both exhausted and sweaty, making them shiver in the cold night's air. November is almost over and winter is right around the corner, she considers starting to wear one of those ninja onesies under her usual clothes, like the one the adult version of Gai wears, just not green.

"You seem to be getting pretty popular at the academy lately."

Obito's voice startles her, making her look back at him. They're sitting under a tree, still in the training ground. They usually stay there for a while after they've finished training, it's a silent understanding between them that they'd rather not come back home. Though usually they would be chatting and not drowning in an oppressive silence.

"It's annoying, I don't like it when people pay attention at me."

"I know."

They listen to the rustle of the leaves for a while, Obito looking at the stars that have just started to appear in the sky. For the first time since she can remember, Reishi can't tell what he's thinking. She has learnt to differentiate his smiles and categorize them but his more serious expressions are still a mystery to her. A reminder that he's a much more complex person than the anime or manga could ever convey.

This time Reishi is the one to break the silence.

"I'm going to be busy from now on. I've been assigned a tutor for the evenings, so we won't be able to hang out every day like before." A small crease appears between Obito's eyebrows; a shadow of a frown. "I'll be finished by eight though, so we can still see each other after that, and I'll be free on Sundays so..."

"We will still be able to have dinner or lunch together, right?" His tone is neutral, and he's looking at her now. He's trying to smile, but his smile comes out as bitter and Reishi feels like free falling into the abyss. Like something somewhere went wrong but she doesn't know what is it that she has to fix. What part of their friendship is leaking.

"Uh, yes, of course. Actually, we should stablish a routine! Like you can come have dinner at my place, uuuhh... Tuesdays? And I'll go eat lunch with you at your place-"

"On Thursdays."

"Yeah, Thursdays sounds good."

There's silence again, there seems to be an excessive amount of silence around them lately, like an infestation they can't get rid of. Then Obito seems to finish thinking and a smile returns to his face, this time a little more lively.

"Hey we never celebrated you skipping two whole years at the academy!"

"No? I don't think so, why?"

"Let's go and have dinner somewhere to celebrate, my treat!"

Reishi sighs, it's already late and they should go to bed because they have class tomorrow. The terrible feeling of them drifting away from each other gnaws at her though, and it doesn't matter how many times she tries to convince herself of not caring, it just won't go away.

Besides, how many years does she has left until...?

"Let's go to that yatai that's usually near the main street," she says.

"The oden one that also sells that amazing yakitori?"

"Yeah, that one. Though I don't know if they still sell the yakitori, I overheard some of the boys in class say that the owner wasn't selling it much and was thinking of just sticking to selling oden."

They start walking to the yatai, Obito complaining about his stupid chicken sticks the whole time. Reishi can't find it in herself to be annoyed though, it's true that it's some good yakitori. She makes a mental note to try and copy the recipe in case they truly stop making it so she can cook it sometimes. Not because that would make Obito happy, or anything. Cough.

When they arrive at the yatai the owner just gives them a nod in acknowledgement. The amount of freedom people give to children in Konoha still baffles Reishi to this day. True, they have eaten here some other times so the owner is used to them, but she's still five and Obito is... Obito is...

Oh, right, she never asked him, did she?

"Hey Obito," Obito looks at her with a mouthful of oden and makes an inquisitive noise, there's a little bit of grease in the left corner of his mouth. She hands him a napkin, "exactly how old are you?"

Obito almost spits his oden, keeping it in his mouth only thanks to the napkin Reishi had handed him before. "You don't know?!"

"Well, we never- we never talked about it! I mean, I know that you're older than me but-"

"I was two years ahead of you in the academy! Two. Years!" Obito wriggles two fingers in front of her face and she slaps his hand away, he sticks his tongue out at her.

"Hey! There's people older than seven or eight in our class, alright? That's not a valid method of calculating it."

"Ugh, fine. I'm seven."

"Huh."

"'Huh', what?"

"Nothing, nothing."

There's a pause in the conversation, in which Obito happily stuffs his mouth some more, this time with yakitori. Meanwhile Reishi nibbles on a fishcake and thinks on the implications of Obito's age. Four to five years before he's... gone.

For a bizarre moment she thinks on doing something about it, she has already been roped into being a 'genius ninja' so, might as well, right? Maybe she could train harder and graduate as fast as possible, she has already caught up with him in terms of academy year so It wouldn't be that difficult to surpass him, right?

And then what? Pester the Hokage into sending her with him to Kannabi bridge?

Maybe she could make sure he gets an injury before the mission, that way another team would be deployed...

But what if they still send Rin and Kakashi and they die? Obito would never get over it, it would break him.

Besides, the outcome of that mission will directly affect the outcome of the war and tip the balance towards Konoha. Can she really risk that for the sake of one person? Can she let hundreds of hypothetical deaths happen just to try to avoid this?

If Konoha loses the war Ryouji's death will have been for nothing.

In the end, there's nothing she can do to prevent it.

The rest of the dinner Obito happily chats with her, telling her everything she has missed the last week, but the smile still isn't reaching his eyes. Reishi suddenly feels very tired and all she wants is to sleep for a few days. She's sure that Obito has noticed.

She goes home that night with the feeling that their friendship has been twisted in some way and there's no way to fix it so it's the same as before, like a wire that remains out of shape after it's been bent and can't be completely straightened.

She can't get Obito's fake smile out of her head, it looks like betrayal, not his, but someone's. He has never used it with her before.

Her mouth tastes bitter.

Chapter Text

“Again.”

 

Reishi forms the seals again, concentrating her chakra around her throat and focusing her mind in one thing: fire.

 

A giant cloud of black smoke comes out of her mouth, covering her head and its surroundings.

 

This is not what was supposed to happen.

 

“Again,” comes Fugaku's voice from somewhere to her right, a little further away she hears someone snickering. She can't tell if it's Katsuo or Masato, not that there's a difference between the two, they're both equally insufferable.

 

The two Uchiha started joining her for training two weeks ago (and she has hated them ever since). Apparently, Fugaku thought it would be good for her to have some notion of how to work with a team. He seems to be considering arranging the genin teams so she ends up in theirs, if she has been reading the clues correctly.

 

If she ends up having to deal with those two every day for the days to come she's going to instigate the Uchiha massacre herself. The sooner the better.

 

Winter came and went, and with it, her birthday. She's had Fugaku as a shishō for five months now and he seems to think that she's prepared to learn her first jutsu. The fireball jutsu, no less. And she's failing miserably.

To be fair, her principal affinity is lightning – fire being a close second – so it was obvious she would have more difficulties learning it than someone with a fire affinity. That said, for all her chakra control she sucks at ninjutsu. Mostly because of her small chakra reserves.

 

When it is obvious that they won't get any progress during that day, Fugaku makes her join Katsuo and Masato, who are focused in throwing practice. Katsuo had decided to specialize in kunais, while Masato preferred Shuriken, they both had sneered at her choice of weapon, as it doesn't really do all that damage unless it pierces a very specific point.

 

That wasn't a problem for Reishi now however, because Fugaku has been training her relentlessly until at least nine out of ten senbon hit the bullseye, and has now moved to using moving targets with the help of some sort of contraption based on flywheels that she doesn't quite understand yet.

 

(It had been hilarious to see him put it together, it was like seeing your father wrestle with Ikea furniture).

 

She still isn't as good as a so-called-genius should be, but she's slowly getting there. Fugaku, for all his stern composure and Spartan training, is turning out to be a very patient teacher. Not as kind and encouraging as Ryouji had been, but he knows not to discourage and slowly guides her in the right direction, which is something Reishi really appreciates even if she doesn't let him know.

 

“Hey, nuku, your loser boyfriend is coming today to pick you up, right?” Katsuo whispers this so only she and Masato, who is at his other side, can hear it.

 

“Yeah, he always picks her up on Tuesdays,” quips Masato, “why don't you marry him already? You only want him to get into our clan anyways and you make a nice couple of idiots.”

 

Reishi grits her teeth, reminding herself sternly that she's an adult and she shouldn't be affected by anything two snot-nosed brats have to tell her. Besides, if she wants to kick their ass she just has to store all that pent up anger and keep it under lock and key until Saturday, which is the day they use for sparring.

At first they usually won their matches, but as her stamina kept getting better and better, she started to be able to stand up to them and now they're pretty even in their abilities.

 

She ignores them for the rest of the day, focusing instead on throwing, and watching from time to time with satisfaction how their weapons fail to hit the bullseye. She's not better than them because she's a genius like everyone thinks, she has no delusions of grandeur, but she does take training more seriously than them. If they also knew what was to come in the future they would be training day and night like her, no doubt. Well, probably. But they don't, so they mostly fool around and it shows.

 

The sky gets darker and, as every Tuesday, Obito appears at the entrance of the training ground, silently watching her until Fugaku considers she's done for the day. It amazes her the punctuality he shows, knowing his proclivity to be late, and she is kind of touched about it. And also a bit weirded out because she doesn't remember him ever being late to an appointment with her, well maybe for ten minutes but when it comes to him that's nothing. Has she changed his core so much that he's not the same person from the Naruto series she remembers? He's still late for class now and again, which makes everyone groan as the teacher pauses his lecture to send him to his seat, so she's sure that he's still chronically late...

 

She decides that overthinking it will lead her nowhere.

 

They leave together as Katsuo and Masato make kissy noises behind them, which are interrupted with a dull slap, probably due to Fugaku smacking one of them. It doesn't bother her too much but when she looks at Obito he's flustered and pointedly not looking in her direction.

 

She flicks him in the arm and he turns to look at her, startled. “Don't pay attention to them, Bito, they're just messing with you.”

 

He nods and flicks her back absent-mindedly as retaliation, though he still looks annoyed by it. Katsuo and Masato are his main bullies, if she has guessed correctly, and they seem to have a special ease to get under his skin. They've never tried anything with her being present, but that's probably because Fugaku is also there, she's pretty sure that words aren't the only thing they've ever used to hurt Obito. As it is though, every time she tries to broach the subject Obito clams up and refuses to answer, and with the things as they are between them now she doesn't want to press too much.

 

Their relationship has been steadily eroding ever since that Sunday months ago and, whatever she tries, it doesn't seem to get better. They still hang out and she has kept her promise of having dinner/lunch with him twice a week, but that apparently isn't enough.

 

“So, how was training?” Obito says, trying to spark a conversation.

 

“You know, as always. First two hours went well, Fugaku started teaching me the fireball jutsu but I'm terrible at it, I can't seem to put enough chakra into it.” Reishi frowns. “I was making progress until the double trouble showed up and fucked up my focus. What about you?”

 

“Language,” Obito scolds, only by force of habit, he gave up that long time ago, “you'll get it in time, don't worry. You're a genius, after all. As for me, I've been trying the transformation technique,” he sighs, “but I'm no good at it.”

 

“Fugaku has been teaching me that one before the fireball one, if you want I can try to help you this Sunday? Don't ask me to help you with the clone technique though, I still haven't practised that one once.”

 

“Cool, let's do that then.”

 

They soon arrive at Obito's apartment. They stopped having dinner at Reishi's house a few weeks ago, tired of Fuhaku's silent displeasure and icy glares.

It's a small place, but it's enough for one person and Reishi envies Obito's independence. She's been itching to finally live alone, not that Fuhaku's presence on the house is very noticeable, as lately she's been staying at her family's place more and more, but she'd like a place to call her own. That, and she hates that someone else is supporting her economically.

 

His apartment consists on one principal room that ties with the kitchen and a bathroom; the living room becomes the bedroom by pushing the table to the far corner and unrolling a futon. Obito seems ashamed of it the first time he takes her there, probably not having thought of what she would think about it until that moment. But she tells him that she thinks it's cozy and that she likes it.

It's a pigsty though, so she sets to tidy it despite Obito's protests until it looks like a decent enough home. From then on Obito tries to keep it clean and tidy, either for fear of her tidying up again or because he doesn't want her to worry about him, she doesn't know.

He starts to add plants to the lone balcony too. The first one was a small succulent she brought him one day – he named it Hiru, because she brought it at lunchtime and he's that original –, and now his balcony looks like a small piece of jungle, she can tell that he's proud of his plants. He told her the names of every plant as he added them to his balcony collection, but she can't really remember.

 

Today he made some omelets before going to pick her up, rather than waiting for her to cook dinner together, and the smell reaches her through the open balcony. Knowing him he probably did it thinking that she would be tired from training and wouldn't feel like cooking, but she's a bit disappointed that they can't cook together today.

 

Somewhere between the day she started coming to his house weekly and today he purchased a TV, it's not in the best condition and she suspects it's second hand but it works and that's all that matters. The table is already set and they sit to watch a movie in a companionable silence while having dinner. Reishi doesn't have a curfew, so movie nights have become a habit by now.

Once they've finished dinner, they clear the table, cleaning the dishes while the commercials act as background sound, and then huddle together under a blanket to watch the rest of the movie.

It's not unusual for Reishi to fall asleep on Obito by the end of the movie; the first time he woke her up, red as a tomato, but now he's used to it and usually let's her sleep until the movie finishes. On the rare occasion that she visits on a Saturday he just lets her crash at his place, she doesn't have to get up early the next day and her only appointment is with him, so it doesn't matter anyways.

 

Knowing this, one would think that their friendship is at its best, and they would be wrong. Even though they are undoubtedly more comfortable in each other's 'personal bubble', Reishi can tell that there's still something bothering Obito, though he refuses to give her a direct answer when asked about it and Reishi keeps growing frustrated.

 

Today's movie is about a samurai princess, Reishi isn't paying much attention, to be honest, and she can feel her eyelids already closing. Ninjutsu always leaves her exhausted, more than normal, that is.

 

“Oh, come on, don't split!” Obito's shoulder, who has been acting as her support throughout the movie, jerks as he speaks, startling her. She looks at him reproachfully, still somewhat dazed, and he smiles apologetically upon noticing. “Sorry, it's just, you know, they always do that.”

 

Reishi grumbles something unintelligible under her breath and settles back on Obito's shoulder, letting the sound of the movie lull her back into a state of half-sleep.

When the movie is over, Obito nudges her to wake her up and she grumbles some more, snatching the blanket from him and rolling herself in it like a ninja burrito. Obito huffs and begins to painstakingly pry it from her to send her on her way home. She whines throughout the entire process.

 

She walks home more or less awake, she's pretty sure that she looks like a zombie, pale in the moonlight, and has a small moment of amusement before she notices that there's something wrong.

 

The street lamps in the zone she's in don't work, save from the rare flicker of one in the distant. The council has been wanting to fix that for months now.

 

Reishi presses to one side of the street, hoping that the shadows will hide her, though she's still not sure what she's hiding from. She scans her surroundings, it's very late and there's nobody else here except for her, at least, nobody that she can see.

She tries to calm down and closes her eyes, searching for a chakra signature nearby. She's not sure if she wants to find one.

 

Sure enough, she feels someone coming closer, running through the rooftops at high speed, alone. The chakra feels agitated, hostile, and she gets a bad feeling from it. The signature isn't like any other she remembers from any ANBU she has previously sensed; it's true that she hasn't memorized every signature in the village, so it could be anybody that's in a rush, but she can't help but be suspicious.

Whoever it is seems to feel her suspicions, because they're heading her way, and fast. Suddenly an alarm pierces the night air, and she recognizes it as the warning for 'enemy within the village's walls', then everything gets out of control.

Another two signatures appear on her radar, running after the first. The first one she noticed reaches the street she's in, frantically looking around for something; it's a man in his thirties, his clothes are torn in some places and she can see bandages under them. By the difference between the clean bandages and his dirty clothes, she deduces that whatever wounds are under those are recent. He's wearing an Iwa hitai ate.

 

Her breath gets caught in her throat, suddenly aware that there's an enemy here, in front of her. A dangerous one that for some reason has managed to infiltrate the village, and she tries to make as little noise as possible.

Her efforts turn out to be for nothing though, because the man practically materializes in front of her in the blink of an eye and hoists her up in front of him with a kunai on her neck, a second later two ANBU land on the street.

 

“Stay back, or the kid dies!” His voice is rough, like he's been screaming continuously on days on end up until now.

 

The ANBU seem to hesitate for a few intense seconds, in which Reishi fears they will choose to kill the intruder over her life, after all the safety of the village is more important that a single kid with no clan to complain about her death.

To her surprise, the ANBU jump back to a roof a little ways farther on the street, as if to give space to the man, and he takes this chance to run, taking her as hostage.

 

The shock of everything happening so fast keeps her from trashing or trying to escape, though a tiny part of her mind that's still able to think rationally tells her that trying to escape would be a bad idea.

The man surpasses Konoha's outer walls without trouble, getting lost in the forest. His footsteps are silent.

When he deems it far enough for a break, he stops and unceremoniously throws her at the ground. She rolls until her back hits a tree, then slowly sits up, never taking her eyes away from the man, who has started to pace and mumble in the meantime. If she wants to escape, this might be her only chance, she's not going to wait for a rescue that might never come. On the other hand, if she makes a run for it, the man will see her and most likely kill her instantly. If she wants to escape, she has to incapacitate him somehow.

 

Her mind feverishly goes over all the possibilities, trying to come up with a plan. Finally she is left with one possibility; it's based on luck and the man not being a sensor, but it's the only one she can think of right now.

 

She takes a deep breath, and, when the man is looking away, goes through the seals needed for the fireball technique as quickly as she can. She makes a mistake on the Boar seal, and she has to wait until the man is distracted again to try once more. It's not easy, because her hands are trembling and she's starting to sweat, she has to try this four times. By the fifth though, she finally gets it right.

 

She feels the smoke building in her throat and visualizes it as a black mass, like ink underwater. Then she releases it as fast as she can, and she can feel some going through her nose. Her eyes grow watery as her surroundings are covered with thick, black smoke and she hears the man curse.

 

Two kunais find the tree she had collided with earlier, and she makes an effort to hide behind it while smoke is still spilling from her mouth. Once she feels her chakra reserves almost empty and the area around her is covered in smoke, she scrambles up the tree, trying to be as silent as possible. Under her the man is still cursing.

She can't see a thing through the smoke, but that doesn't matter; she closes her eyes and makes an effort to feel the chakra signature below. It feels frantic, the core spiking with stress. The smoke around also has traces of chakra, probably due to it having been created with it, and thanks to that she can feel that he hasn't left the smoke covered area yet. He must not be a sensor then.

 

She reaches with a trembling hand for the pouch where she stores the senbon, for a terrifying moment the needles threaten to fall and give out her position but she manages to get a hold on them. Her hands are so sweaty that she's not entirely sure she will be able to throw anything, let alone aim well enough to hit the target.

She readies a senbon and gets a feel of the chakra signature below, he seems on guard, waiting for her to make the first movement so he will be able to find her. Thankfully the fog-like black smoke persists.

She aims and throws, hearing a dull thud and a curse, but there's no indication of it having hit the intended target, rather, it sounded like it had it the ground.

She tries again, trying to get the feeling of the man's chakra etched in her mind's eye as perfectly as possible. She doesn't even know why she thought that aiming with her eyes closed was a good idea.

This one graces him on the arm, but it's still way off, plus the man knows the direction she's in now, and she can't get down the tree or jump to another one thanks to the poor visibility.

 

The man below turns so he's facing her and tenses directing chakra to his legs, she instinctively knows he's going to lunge for her and tries to pull another senbon from the pouch as quick as possible, making a few fall in the process. The man is already mid-air and there's no time to worry about that, or to aim properly, she knows that if he gets to her it's game over.

She throws and holds her breath as a body slams against her, throwing them both off the tree and out of the cloud of smoke. She stays on the ground and watches as the man gets up, the smoke still clinging to him as if it was alive.

 

There's a senbon protruding from his left eye.

 

The man looks at her, confused, while a thin trail of blood runs down his eye and falls from his chin in small droplets. Then he tentatively reaches for the needle and picks it between his index and thumb and starts pulling.

The senbon comes out of his eye painfully slow and seems to have no end, Reishi doesn't remember them being that long, or that red. She can't look away, as much as she's screaming inside at herself to look anywhere but at the man in front of her.

 

With a clear sound, like a bell's, the senbon falls to the ground, and after a second so does the man, face down. There's a pool of blood forming underneath his head.

 

Reishi waits for him to get up and attack her for what feels like hours, drawing shallow breaths while her eyes are glued to the lying body. She's afraid that if she stops looking he'll move.

Finally, she tries to search for his chakra, and finds that it's slowly leaving the body, only a few wisps remaining, not enough to support the life of a grown adult.

 

As in auto-pilot, she gets up, walks around the man and retrieves the senbon that fell before, then the two ones she threw first – one of them has blood on the tip, she wipes it on the leg of her pants and puts it with the rest –. She debates wether or not to retrieve the last one, but the image of the man slowly pulling it out of his eye stops her and she promptly throws up, leaning on a tree for support.

 

It's then that the ANBU arrive.

 

They are different from the ones that let the Iwa nin run away with her as hostage, and she recognizes one of them as the one that helped her clean the wine stain those months ago.

He hesitates for a moment, seemingly torn between approaching her or the enemy ninja, but the decision is made for him with the arrival of a third person.

 

Fugaku takes a look at her – she's still trembling, when is she going to stop? It feels like she will keep trembling for the rest of her life. She can't breathe – and at the body lying face down a few meters away, and strides decisively towards her, only stopping a mere step away when she flinches and steps back.

He frowns and kneels in front of her, opening his arms. Reishi doesn't have to think about it, in a second she has already latched to Fugaku's neck and he scoops her up. She's not crying, but now that her body knows she's safe, she starts taking big gulps of air.

 

“Don't breathe like that, it will damage your lungs,” Fugaku scolds her, though it lacks any heat, “breathe in, count until three, and release the air while counting until seven.”

 

Reishi follows his instructions until her breath comes back to normal and the tremors wrecking through her body are barely noticeable. Then Fugaku starts walking away from that unholy place, back to Konoha, and the body enters her field of vision. The two ANBU are crouching beside it, they've turned it up and the man's remaining eye stares vacantly into the night sky. One of them is inspecting the bloodied senbon while the other looks closely at the damaged eye.

Standing beside them is Danzō.

 

The old man smiles, sending a chill down Reishi's spine.

 

“I think this calls for a field promotion, don't you agree, Uchiha-dono?” He says, in a tone way too cheerful for the situation.

 

She buries her face into Fugaku's neck.

 

“We will talk about this at a later date,” he states in his formal-voice-that-also-sounds-deeply-annoyed. Then he resumes walking.

 

Instead of taking her home, as Reishi expected, Fugaku takes her to the hospital, where a flock of worried nurses fuss over her. Fugaku says something, she doesn't pay attention to it, but it sounds like he's scolding them for being too loud, and some of them scatter, leaving her with just two.

The two nurses, a man and a woman, lead her to a room and make her sit on a bed – everything is too white and her eyes hurt – where they examine her for injuries. Aside from some scratches from when the Iwa nin threw her, and a small cut in her neck from the kunai, she's fine.

 

“She should stay overnight in the hospital, though, just in case,” says one of the nurses.

 

“She just had a traumatic experience, what she needs right now is a familiar enviroment and someone to comfort her, not a hospital bed,” Fugaku argues back, he sounds annoyed, almost angry. Reishi has never seen him angry before.

 

He argues with the nurses some more, careful not to rise his voice but firm in his statements, and finally they let him take her to his house for the night.

There's light coming out of the kitchen's windows, so Reishi deduces that Mikoto is home, waiting for them; and true enough as soon as she hears the door open, the woman throws herself at Reishi, hugging her so tight she thinks her ribs might break.

A wet substance starts spreading on her shoulder, and she notices that Mikoto is crying, her tears staining the fabric. Reishi holds her back, trying to comfort the woman, though her body is still moving out of habit, without any thought put into it.

 

She goes to bed soon after, and she hears Mikoto's and Fugaku's muffled voices through the door, then footsteps going in different directions and the front door opening. She can feel Fugaku's chakra signature leaving the house. She hadn't realized that she hadn't stopped feeling chakra around her.

 

 


 

 

That night the council argues with the elders while the Hokage looks on with a defeated expression that almost resembles guilt. The council is very vocal about what they want: they want Reishi to be an example, a symbol of hope, the youngest war hero.

 

It's obviously a scheme to get people's spirits up and to say 'we have nothing to worry about, see? Even our young can kill their jōnin level shinobi'.

It's pure propaganda, a way to keep the population under control. The carrot on the stick, if you will.

 

By morning the debate has reached its conclusion and Reishi is made genin at age six.

 

 


 

 

Reishi looks at her reflection, trying to see any changes, but her appearance remains the same, even though she feels completely different than the night before.

 

The images keep appearing before her as if it was happening now, the incredulous face of the Iwa nin burned into her mind. The thought occurs to her, that that man is positively dead. She has killed a man.

 

She has killed a man.

 

And yet, she doesn't feel bad about it.

 

Shouldn't she be wrecked by guilt? She has committed the worst sin imaginable by men, she has deprived someone from their most basic right. Maybe he had a family waiting for him back home, children. Maybe there are some orphans right now in Iwa asking when is their father going to come back home, but he won't, Just like Ryouji never came back.

 

And she doesn't feel a thing.

 

It had been so easy, a blink and he was gone. Dead. Just because a glorified needle had perforated his eye and most likely the brain. She had been aiming for the eye, true, but it still had been such a shock when the senbon hit just where she wanted to. A bullseye, her mind provides, and she bitterly snickers at the dark humour.

 

Mikoto is already up and about, and greets her with a cheerfulness too forced to be believable, but Reishi decides that it's better not to comment on it. Fugaku is nowhere to be found.

Reishi nibbles on her breakfast, not feeling hungry but also not wanting to worry Mikoto over it. She forces it down with a gulp of orange juice, and immediately feels like throwing up. Luckily, Mikoto doesn't see her gag and she is able to reign in her stomach until she is finished and goes back upstairs with the excuse of having forgotten something in the room. Once she has reached the top of the stairs she rushes to the bathroom and empties her stomach.

 

Back downstairs, an ANBU is waiting for her. She takes note with disappointment that it's not the one she knows.

She follows them to the Hokage tower and into the Hokage's office, receiving odd looks from whoever they encounter on their way there. News do travel fast in ninja villages.

 

Inside the Hoage's office, she finds Fugaku, the Elders, Danzō and the Hokage himself.

 

She takes in the Hokage's tired expression and the bags under Fugaku's eyes, the Elders and Danzō look eerily happy to see her.

 

Everything happens in a blur; the Hokage announcing to her her new status as genin, his empty words of congratulation, Danzō, smiling like the cat that ate the canary, proud. In that moment she knows that he had had something to do with this, that he had planned this somehow.

 

“The ninja you killed was an escaped prisoner,” the distant voice of one of the elders informs her in a tone too sweet, “we don't know how he escaped but he had stolen a very important scroll,” bullshit, he had no scrolls with him. They're making that up so she will sound like a hero, “and, if it wasn't for you, he would have ran with the secrets of the village. You have done a great service to Konoha, you should be proud.”

 

The elders keep praising her, but she has stopped listening, looking outside the window. That praise isn't meant for her, it's meant for the persona they have fabricated. Their words are hollow. A small child might have believed them, but not Reishi.

 

She leaves the Hokage tower with a sensation of floating, like she's going to become one with the air around her and dissolve. It doesn't sound like a bad idea.

 

Fugaku guides her through the streets and keeps the exhilarated civilians that want to congratulate her away until they reach her house. Once inside, all hell breaks loose.

 

She has never seen Fuhaku so livid, screaming in the Uchiha's face like he's not some sort of killing machine (though she supposes she is one too now). Reishi doesn't know what she's saying, she is tuning everything out, looking at the stark white place where the wine stain had been. It's whiter than the rest of the wall, now that she looks at it well.

 

Fugaku makes some sort of signal with his hand and the ANBU she knows comes inside, another signal and he nods and picks her up. Reishi doesn't oppose resistance, she's too tired for this, too tired, and she has slept very little. She lets the ANBU carry her away from the house and into a nearby park. He puts her down carefully on a bench and stands guard, probably waiting for Fugaku to pick her up.

Reishi can't stand the silence though, not after that, she needs something to distract herself before she starts thinking.

 

“Hey you,” upon hearing her voice, the ANBU turns to look at her, “what's your name? I mean, your ANBU code name, not the real one. What's your animal spirit or whatever?”

 

The ANBU makes a sound that can only be compared to a surprised snicker before answering in a deep, amused voice.

 

“You can call me Bear.”

 

“You do look like one.” This earns her a short bark of a laugh that reminds her of her father, her first one, not Ryouji. He was a monstrosity of a man with fiery red hair everywhere and shoulders wider than any shoulder should be. Reishi doesn't know what colour this man's hair is, but he's got narrowed down the shoulder part.

 

It turns out that Bear likes talking. A lot. So she's fairly entertained until the moment Fugaku arrives with a furious face that he's obviously trying not to make – and failing at it – and her sports bag.

 

“From now on you're staying at the Uchiha compound,” he states with an angry undertone.

 

Chapter Text

To be honest, Reishi has been expecting something like this for a while now. Kind of.

 

Fuhaku's hostility had grown during the last months, never as bad as to physically harm Reishi, as the woman had enough self-restraint not to. However, her hate for the ninja profession, spurned by her sisters words every time they came to visit her or everytime she went to them, had made Reishi start to wonder when would she finally snap.

Reishi doesn't blame Fuhaku, rather, she has come to the understanding that there's just so much the woman could stand before breaking. Having a monster of a daughter that looks almost exactly like your dead husband living with you and becoming the thing you hate the most – a ninja – must have been a low blow for Fuhaku.

Understanding this doesn't mean that Reishi thinks that what Fuhaku did was okay, or that she would react in the same way were she in Fuhaku's shoes, but it does prevent her from hating Fuhaku for kicking her out. The woman needs time away from her to heal, and Reishi is fine with that.

 

Fugaku's spurt of the moment decision hasn't sit well with the Uchiha elders, who consider that letting Reishi stay at the compound, coupled with teaching her Uchiha techniques, is too much. They refuse to agree with Fugaku's decision unless Reishi is adopted into the Uchiha and engaged with a member of the clan.

 

(The lengths to which the clans try to secure their members marrying into the stronger individuals to secure a capable new generation utterly disgusts her.)

 

Despite Mikoto's and Fugaku's insistence, she doesn't plan to stay at the Uchiha compound more than necessary. The moment she has enough money to get an apartment she's out.

Thankfully, now that she's a genin, she should be able to do a few missions here and there, though she's not sure if not having a team will affect the missions she can take.

 

It's been two days since the incident and all the village is talking about it, she'd like to scream and let the world know that it was a fluke, that she just won by luck, but what good would that do? They would probably take it for modesty.

 

She walks downstairs from the guest room they have prepared for her and finds Fugaku in the kitchen, he's the only one there. If Reishi remembers correctly, Mikoto had to go early today to the hospital for a routine examination; to make sure everything is going well with the baby, and Kushina was going to accompany her. Because girl's day out, or something.

 

Reishi and Fugaku have different plans today though, she has an appointment with Hisoka, her psychiatrist from last time. As much as she has assured him that she's okay, he has not budged in this, and while she understands that he's worried, she can't help but feel a little betrayed that he's taking her there against her will. She does not have good memories of her last time there and if that woman asks about her mother again, she can't promise she won't set the building on fire. Strangers have no business in her life.

 

Fugaku looks at her worriedly when she ignores the eggs in favour of only drinking a glass of orange juice and she shrugs, she can't help it if she's not hungry and she doesn't want to risk throwing up again.

Thankfully, he lets it go, and soon they're both ready for her appointment. She'd rather go alone, and she doesn't see why does Fugaku want to come with her, he's not allowed to be in the room while Hisoka 'interrogates' her, so his presence is not required. However, she has to admit that having him by her side soothes her, if only a little.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Hisoka had been surprised when she heard that a six year old had killed a man last night, she was not so surprised when she learnt who this six year old was. Not that she thinks that Reishi is some sort of psychopath, as she lacks some of the most prominent symptoms of this affliction – a sociopathy wouldn't be out of place though – but it is true that the kid is... creepy. Like there's an older being inside a body that does not belong there.

Hisoka wouldn't be able to explain it, but there's something very wrong with that child and it has nothing to do with the individualistic mentality everybody seems to be worried about.

 

And here she is, sitting in front of her and looking rather displeased. That's not a face that a six year old should be able to make.

 

“Hello,” Hisoka greets her, forcing a smile. The kid gives a nod in acknowledgement, it seems that she will be as quiet and uncooperative as the last time she saw her. The bags under her eyes have gotten darker. “Are you sleeping well?”

 

Reishi shrugs, her hands resting on her lap like before. “I've been sleeping a lot these days, I haven't been having dreams or anything, I've just been tired.”

 

That's probably the longest phrase Hisoka has heard from the girl up until now.

 

“I see, and besides tired, how are you feeling?”

 

“I'm fine.” This comes out defiantly, like she's daring her to say otherwise.

 

Hisoka realizes that rather than drawn in, like last time, Reishi's posture seems to be hostile. Probably, she supposes, because she didn't want to come here in the first place; which is another oddity, because most children, unless they are very shy, love to talk about themselves.

 

“That's commendable,” she decides to try prising her, to see if maybe her sense of pride will open her up, “most people tend to get very ill when this sort of thing happens to them.”

 

The girl scoffs, seemingly offended, though Hisoka doesn't exactly know what is it that offended her. “It's okay,” Reishi says bitterly, “you can say post-traumatic stress disorder.”

 

Oh, so attempts to talk to her like the rest of the children are seen as an insult. Interesting, perhaps a new take on this patient would be more beneficial; she decides to try treating her as she would a normal adult patient.

 

“Reports say that you stopped a war criminal from escaping the village, I would like to hear what happened from you personally.”

 

The girl seems to give it some thought, then proceeds to speak with practised calm. “The man caught me when I was coming home, it was late. He used me as a hostage to leave the village's walls, once we were a good distance away he stopped, presumably to formulate a plan, and I incapacitated him.”

 

Reishi describes the event with clinical detachment, there is just one thing wrong with her description. “You killed him.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Do you feel guilty about it?”

 

“No.”

 

Hisoka frowns, usually, when confronted with this question, people pause and think about it. Even then the conclusion they usually reach is along the lines of 'yes, but it was necessary for my survival and I would do it again'. The answer Reishi has given came too quickly, too natural.“Would you mind elaborating your answer?”

 

“He chose to be a ninja, he knew that dying was a risk and that the probability of a violent death was high in that job. If I die because I chose a dangerous path in the mountain and a landslide crushed me, it's my responsibility, not the landslide's.”

 

“So you're saying that his death is his own responsibility?”

 

“Exactly, I would feel guilty about killing a civilian, but someone who chose the path of war knew the repercussions. As a ninja, I am responsible for my own death and the ones of the people I fail to protect, no more no less.”

 

 

 


 

 

 

Reishi finishes her chat with the psychiatrist in less than an hour, and when they're done Fugaku is still waiting outside, sitting on one of the chairs with a perfect posture. Hisoka asks him to enter her office for a private talk.

 

Reishi decides to wait until he's done, taking the lollipop from the kind assistant when offered and putting it away in her pocket for later.

 

She hasn't answered truthfully to Hisoka's questions, obviously, and she's proud of the fact that she's getting better at lying. She didn't lie per se, she does think that people ought to know the risks when taking a job like this.

But how to talk about the soul crushing numbness? The feeling of being hollow inside, being only a husk that could crumble down at a mere touch? The terrible tiredness and the inability to eat?

She's not telling that to a stranger, even if she's a psychiatrist, she has no business with Reishi. She will talk about it when she feels ready, not when somebody else deems it opportune.

Her mind is the last thing that truly belongs to her, and she's not going to give it up.

 

Fugaku comes out of the office in about ten minutes, he's paler than usual and when he looks at her it's with different eyes than before. Then he sighs and it's gone, he just looks tired and maybe a little bit older.

Reishi is... a little upset about it. Somewhere along the line she started worrying about Fugaku's opinion of her, and as much as she tries to deny it, he and Mikoto have become pivotal on her daily life.

 

Fugaku walks to the exit and signals her to follow him. Reishi rushes behind him with the feeling that she has disappointed him somehow. Her stress levels are rising and she feels again like throwing up.

 

To her surprise, instead of going straight for the compound they take a detour through the more commercial area of Konoha, where Fugaku enters a small patisserie. She follows him inside and revels in the smells and how pretty the displayed sweets look. This must be a fancy place.

 

“What would you like?” Fugaku's voice startles her.

 

“Huh?”

 

“I'm going to get Mikoto some dango, would you like something too?”

 

Reishi isn't sure; there's a high chance of her throwing up whatever she eats. However, declining his offer might be rude. “Maybe a few mochi?”

 

Fugaku nods. “What flavour?”

 

“Red bean paste is okay.”

 

He pays and they come out of the patisserie with two boxes full of sweets. To be honest Reishi just wanted one mochi, maybe two. Not twelve.

She stares at Fugaku as they walk, analysing his stance. His shoulders are stiff, stiffer than usual, and he walks fast; she has to consciously make an effort to keep up. He only walks that fast when he's agitated. His free arm is hanging parallel to his body, always proper.

She ogles the hand, pondering, and thinks 'fuck it'.

 

Fugaku startles when Reishi grabs his hand, actually showing a surprised expression for a few seconds before his face returns to his normal state of severity. Reishi, for her part, is trying not to look at him, too tense with the fear of rejection to say or do anything.

 

Without a word, Fugaku's hand tightens around hers and she lets her shoulders fall, relieved.

 

They walk back to the compound, Fugaku adapting his steps to Reishi's, and she finds herself smiling like an idiot. Ryouji used to walk holding hands with her, she won't ever replace him, but it feels good, this feels good.

 

They sit at the kitchen table to eat a few mochis accompanied by green tea. Reishi hates green tea, but in six years she hasn't been able to find black or red tea anywhere. When she has her own house, she's going to make her own blends.

 

After a few minutes of silence, Fugaku broaches the subject.

 

“I know that you weren't completely honest with the psychiatrist. She told me what you said, and you might believe that on some degree, but I know you enough to know that that's not all.” Reishi opens her mouth to say something, but he rises a hand in a placating manner. “I'm not going to pressure you into talking about it. Killing is a very traumatic experience, and on top of that you went through a hostage situation and the argument with your mother. Talking to a psychiatrist doesn't always work, however, you do need to talk about it with someone.” He seems to think about it for one second before adding, “Mikoto and I are here for whatever you need.”

 

Reishi fights against the tears trying to come out, a battle she was meant to lose, apparently. She can't believe that somebody who isn't her family, who has known her for less than half a year, would accept her fully, even when she's not being truthful. He doesn't even know her, none of them do. If they knew that she has been planning to let them die like a coward for six years, would they stay by her side?

 

Of course not, she doesn't deserve them. She doesn't deserve Obito, or Mikoto, or Fugaku.

 

And yet...

 

The tears run down her face and she finds herself ugly sobbing, her vision becomes blurry and she hides her face in her hands. She hears shuffling and the distinct sound of a chair being dragged, and then she feels a hand drawing circles in her back.

She reaches for Fugaku and he instantly wraps his arms around her. He smells like iron and the perfume Mikoto bought for him two months ago.

 

 

“Awwwww! Mikoto, come here, quick! They're being cute!”

 

The click of a camera and a female voice Reishi doesn't recognize interrupts the moment, making Reishi confused enough to stop crying.

Fugaku tenses, clearly itching to put some distance between them, but decides against it in the last moment and sighs.

 

“It's a pleasure to see you again Uzumaki-san.”

 

Reishi risks a glance at the newcomer and, sure enough, the sight of Kushina Uzumaki greets her. She's busy seeing how the picture she just took is coming out of her instant camera – Reishi didn't even knew there were those in this world, though she has seen photographs before so it makes sense – picking it up and shaking it excitedly. Once it's revealed she shows it to Mikoto, who has just entered the room, and they both gush about what a good dad Fugaku is going to be and how cute Reishi is.

 

Reishi sniffles, slightly offended – she's not cute god dammit – and nestles more comfortably against Fugaku, his chest rumbles in a silent laugh. She's kind of glad that Kushina defused the situation.

She's glad, that is, until both woman see her face and realize that it wasn't just a cute hug and she had been crying.

 

Kushina starts apologizing profusely, while Mikoto starts firing question after question 'are you alright? Did something happen? What happened?'. Both women are talking over each other, making it difficult to understand what they're saying. Reishi gives a long suffering sigh.

 

“I'm fine, really,” then, to divert attention from herself, “Fugaku bought sweets.”

 

“I wasn't sure which dango flavour you wanted so I brought a bit of everything. Also a few mochis for Reishi,” Fugaku adds, and Reishi is grateful that he's helping her change the subject. It's good to have another emotionally constipated person on your side.

 

Both women seem reluctant to let it go, but in the end they give in to the temptation of sweets, though Reishi still sees their inquisitive stares from time to time.

Kushina stays for lunch, and she turns out to be very good at carrying conversations all by herself. She's funny, Reishi thinks, and finds herself smiling back at the woman. This time she is able to eat half of the plate before her stomach refuses to let any more in.

 

She won't have training for a week, it's Konoha's standard for when one of their ninjas goes through a traumatic event. Reishi laughs in the face of whoever thought a week was enough, but at the same time, she itches to practice again. It has only been two days and she has already ran out of ideas about what to do with her sudden surplus of time.

She decides that it's time to leave the house. She has been holed up inside, avoiding everyone, until this morning. And even then she just left to go to her appointment with the psychiatrist.

 

She resolves to pay Obito a visit. He must be home already after the academy.

 

The smell of stew greets her when she lands on the roof of the house in front of Obito's window, where she can see that his plants have gotten even bigger. For a moment she debates whether or not to enter through the window like many times before, but she decides that at those times he was expecting her and it would be rude to enter somebody's house without telling them beforehand.

 

She jumps to the ground and enters through the communal space of the building, climbing two sets of stairs until she arrives at Obito's floor. She hadn't realized how much she had missed him until now that the familiarity of the building makes her feel nostalgic.

 

She knocks on the door and waits for Obito to answer, bouncing on the balls of her feet, but when Obito opens the door, she suddenly doesn't know what to do.

Obito freezes in the doorway upon seeing her, looking like he just saw a ghost, and then thick tears start to roll out of his eyes and he pulls Reishi into a tight hug.

She lets him sob on her shoulder, though it's an awkward posture because she is a head shorter than him, and pushes him gently towards the inside of the house, closing the door behind them.

 

She hugs Obito back, hesitant at first, but soon she is clutching her friend like a life saver in a raging sea, which isn't that far from reality.

For his part, Obito seems to be stuttering apologies. For what exactly, she isn't sure, but she holds him until he calms down anyways. She isn't very good at comforting words, so a hug is the least she can grant him.

 

“I'm so glad you're okay!” It's the first intelligible thing she hears Obito say.

 

“I'm sorry I worried you.”

 

“Damn straight you are! I haven't seen you in two days! I thought you had been injured, we even went to the hospital after class!”

 

Reishi frowns, confused. “We?”

 

“Yeah Ibiki and Shirakumo were very worried. I mean, they're never going to admit it out loud but I know they were. Gai and Ebisu wanted to get you flowers,” Obito explains.

 

“Oh, that's- that's nice. Thanks.”

 

“Well don't thank me, thank the guys when you come back to class.”

 

“Haven't they told you?”

 

Obito cocks his head to the side, confused. “Told us what?”

 

“They decided to give me a field promotion. I'm a genin now so...”

 

“You won't be coming back to the academy,” Obito finishes for her. He forces a smile and tries to look cheerful, but it's obvious that the news of her graduating have upset him. “Woah that's amazing Reishi! Genin at six years old! You really are a genius, huh?” Obito punches her arm playfully.

 

“Yeah, it's great,” she says with a forced smile of her own. She suspects that hers isn't as convincing as Obito's.

 

“Hey! Why don't we go tell everyone the great news? I'm sure they'll be thrilled to know you're fine!”

 

Reishi doesn't have the heart to tell him no, in fact she doesn't think she could ever deny anything to this child with his stupidly bright smile, so she surrenders and lets him drag her to the park where apparently everyone from the academy goes to play after lunch.

She kind of remembers Gai inviting her to this 'social gathering' once, but she had declined. Besides being busy training with Fugaku, she doesn't really like playing childish games, she'd rather hole up inside with a book.

 

Their classmates, well Obito's classmates, stop what they're doing the moment they see Reishi enter the park and freeze for a moment, as if not believing their eyes.

The spell is broken soon though, when Ibiki decides to greet her by grabbing her in a headlock and giving her a noogie. He knows she hates noogies, the asshole.

 

“Look who came back from the dead! If it isn't the brand new village's hero herself!”

 

“Ibiki I swear to god, either you let me go or-”

 

Ibiki interrupts her before she can finish the phrase. “Shove it, girlie. This is your punishment for disappearing on us. Now, suffer!”

 

While Ibiki is busy giving her the noogie of death, Shirakumo walks closer and gives her a nod of acknowledgement and a small smile. “I take it you'll be back at the academy soon? I'm looking forward to continue with our friendly rivalry.”

 

God why does he have to be so formal, she just wants to deck him in the face every time he opens his mouth, and it's really frustrating too, because she doesn't even know why. Besides, “I've told you already, we're not rivals!”

 

Ever since she started training with Fugaku and climbing in the rankings, Shirakumo seemed to have adopted her as his rival for some reason. Well, mostly because after Kakashi left he was the best of the class and now Reishi had started to be a threat to his title, but still, a rivalry? Really? Were ninjas just unhappy without a rival at school? Because everybody seemed to have a rival for some reason.

 

Gai laughs in her proximity, somewhere to her left that she can't see because she's still in Ibiki's headlock.

 

“Obito,” she yells, “help me out of here, you traitor!”

 

“Can't do Rei-chan, they've outnumbered us. There is no hope,” he says with a defeated sigh.

 

“Don't worry Ikotsu-san, I shall save you with the power of youth!” Gai yells, and suddenly a green blur collides with Ibiki, making the three of them tumble down. Reishi is so tired.

 

“Guys!” Chastises Ebisu, “you have to be more respectful with Ikotsu-san! That is not the proper way to treat a lady!”

 

Somewhere behind him, a voice she doesn't remember hearing before starts laughing. It seems to belong to a boy and, sure enough, when Reishi looks up from the human pile she's a part of, she sees a boy from her class.

The boy walks to her and offers her a hand, smiling. He is wearing a navy bandanna tied in the front of his head and a navy hoodie. His brown hair is as long as hers but, unlike her unruly sea of waves, his is straight.

 

“Heya,” he says when she is on her feet again, “I don't think we've ever talked before.”

 

“You're Genma, I remember you beating my score at throwing senbon,” Reishi says as she dusts herself and discreetely makes Ibiki trip while he's getting up and make him fall back down, where he belongs. She isn't going to let the noogie pass that easily.

 

“Yup, that was me,” he smirks, a facial expression that looks painfully wrong in the face of a kid his age. She kind of remembers him being older than Obito for two or three years but still, wrong, “you pay attention to everyone outside your group of friends or just me?”

 

“Hell no, please don't do that, just- No,” Reishi can't resist but cringe. This boy is way too young to be flirting with her. This boy is too young to be flirting, period.

 

Genma laughs it up and, with that, he has successfully joined the group. Hooray.

 

They all insist in throwing a celebration for Reishi's field promotion to genin, and against such a big crowd she can't really say anything against it. Well, she can, but they sure as hell won't listen to a thing she says.

 

They are a bizarre group, that's for sure. Gai keeps crying 'tears of youth' because he is very proud of Reishi, or so he keeps yelling. He lacks an indoors voice.

For his part, Shirakumo keeps reminding her that even though she has won this time by graduating before him (she hasn't won anything? They're not rivals!), they shall have a showdown fight when they are both genin. And it will be epic, and full of honour. Ibiki supports him, happy to enable anything that annoys the shit out of Reishi.

At some point or another of the evening, Rin joins them, and she and Ebisu nerd out on their own.

Obito and Genma have surprisingly hit it off right away, and they seem to be bonding over genjutsu and other jutsus they think are cool.

 

As much as Reishi hates to admit it, right now, surrounded by this pack of idiots, is the time she has felt more at peace ever since the incident two days ago.

 

Chapter Text

It's an odd feeling, how the fire coming out of her mouth doesn't singe her lips. She does have to squint though, the source of light is too close to her eyes for comfort and she doesn't see how this would be a good thing to do in a battle. Somehow blinding yourself doesn't seem like a good idea.

Two months have passed and, even though she doesn't go to the academy anymore, she hasn't been wasting her time.

As per Fugaku's advice, she has perfected the trick she used against the enemy shinobi that kidnapped her those months ago to create a smokescreen jutsu.

She has been experimenting with different combinations of the seals used in the fireball technique, and she has discovered that, by eliminating the monkey seal, she doesn't have to regulate her chakra to prevent it from becoming fire and the smoke comes out naturally. This is an improvement in terms of concentration, as she needed too much to get the smokescreen she wanted and by the time she pulled it off the enemy was too close for it to matter.

A smokescreen isn't very useful if you can only use it once you're already hidden, it would make no sense.

Thankfully, after many a headache, she has finally mastered it. To her immense pleasure she had managed to, in one memorable occasion, blow the smoke directly in Katsuo's face. She would swear that she had seen Fugaku actually smile, amused, at Katsuo's coughing fit.

She has also mastered the fireball technique, to Fugaku's immense satisfaction (and a proud smile that he will never admit). It has taken her more than she would have liked, that much is true, but she is quite happy with the results.

She can't melt rocks like Fugaku yet, but she will get there eventually.

Even though she has graduated (forcefully) from the academy, she isn't nowhere near the genin level yet in some aspects, and Fugaku has made it very clear to her that she isn't ready yet to participate in the chūnin exams, just in case she wanted to.

She has been taking some D rank missions though, they are very easy and she can actually take care of those alone, as they usually consist on babysitting or helping old people buy groceries and such. All in all, small jobs that no one else takes care of, but they're slowly filling her pockets.

After a specially good performance of her current technique repertoire – they have been working on her jutsus and chakra reserves – Fugaku announces that her morning training is over and she rushes back to the house, Obito must be about to finish his classes and she doesn't want to make him wait.

Fugaku and Mikoto had both offered to accompany her today, but Reishi had refused. This is... It's complicated. She feels like she has to go alone, though Obito has earned his place beside her and she can't deny this to him.

She runs upstairs to take a shower as quick as possible and puts on her black clothes. She had considered wearing the haori Ryouji gave her, but it's still too big for her and she somehow feels like she has to earn the right to wear it.

When she comes downstairs again, hair still dripping, Obito is already waiting for her. He seems to be having a conversation with Mikoto, though this consists mostly in her asking him about the academy and him giving timid answers. Talking to the wife of the head of his clan is probably intimidating.

Mikoto hands them their bentos that Reishi prepared yesterday night – she has added some mochis as a surprise to Reishi because she knows that they will lift her mood – and they leave the house promising to be back before dinner.

It's a sunny day and Reishi takes her time watching the high clouds fly away lazily. Obito is silent, watching her carefully for signs of distress.

Reishi sighs, he always worries too much about her.

They arrive at the memorial stone an hour later. Reishi won't admit it, but she has been taking the longest path possible hoping to make some time, to postpone her visit for a few minutes longer. It's not like somebody is making her visit it, it was her own idea, but it's still hard to come back. It makes things too real for her liking.

She searches for the familiar kanjis of Ryouji's name, finding them almost effortlessly. She hasn't visited since last year, and it's bizarre for her to think that today will be exactly two years since Ryouji died.

Reishi crouches besides the stone, tracing with her fingers Ryouji's name. "Hey dad, it's been a long time, huh? Sorry I don't visit more often, it's not my thing... I've been training a lot, you know? And I haven't stopped using senbon, it's like what you said, practice makes perfect. I've been getting way better at it, I think you would be proud... Also I wear black and purple, see? Just like you," Reishi stops talking when her voice breaks and she falls silent for a few minutes, "just like you..." she trails off.

She sits in front of the memorial stone, with Obito by her side, until sunset. They don't talk much, just eat in silence, basking in each other's company and eating their bentos.

"I think he would be proud," says Obito after a while, "I didn't knew he was the one who first taught you how to throw," he adds quietly.

"Yeah, we used to spend entire evenings throwing," Reishi pauses, and smiles softly, "he used to say that a good ninja commits to one throwing weapon, because each one has a different way of throwing and learning more than one method 'ruins your technique'," she says using air quotes.

"Wow, he sounds strict."

"Nah, not at all," she snorts, "he used to throw food in the air and pierce it with a senbon to make skewers and peel apples with a kunai he always had with him, even in civilian clothes. I don't even know where he put it. One moment you blinked and the next it was already in his hand."

Silence takes hold of them again, until it's time to go back to the house. Obito holds her hand while they walk and gives her a friendly squeeze, to remind her that he's there for her. Not that he needs to, she thinks, he has always been. Reishi squeezes back.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The summer breeze moves her bangs and Reishi sighs contentedly. She feels more or less at peace, here in the garden. There's a stream that runs nearby and the sound of rushing water helps her relax and leave her mind to wander, devoid of specific thoughts.

The garden inside the Uchiha manor is her new favourite spot to meditate, a practice that Fugaku approves of and that Mikoto finds adorable for some reason.

She has been getting better at sensing chakra around her, even when she isn't meditating, but she still likes the sensation of losing herself in a galaxy of chakra signatures, each person's energy shining like a star in her mind's eye.

She notes with amusement the ANBU posted nearby. There's been always an ANBU following her since she got Fugaku as a tutor, for some reason she can't comprehend. Today, though, is one of the good days.

"Hey," she calls out, "are you going to stay all day on that roof or are you going to come down and say hi?"

Bear's signature moves and suddenly she can feel him in front of her. When she opens her eyes she sees him cocking his head to the side, a sign that he's amused. "Hi," he says, deadpan. Reishi picks a small pebble she had nearby and throws it at him for being an ass, it bounces off his mask.

"So you're going to be like that, huh? Not even going to avoid the pebble. Fine, be that way, I suppose I can share the cookies Mikoto made yesterday with someone else," she says.

"Woah there, shorty, let's not make harsh decisions," he says with barely contained laughter. He never stays long to talk with her, but at least the days he's on guard he usually comes by to say hi and see how is she doing.

Reishi huffs, aggravated. "I told you the next time you called me that I would break your kneecaps."

"Well it's not like you can reach much higher, can you?"

Reishi stares him down, unimpressed. "Look at you, talking like that to an innocent six year old. Very mature."

"Does that mean I get no cookies."

Reishi leans in, still sitting cross-legged on the grass, and whispers, "the cookies were a lie."

Bear gasps and covers the lower part of his mask with a hand, taking the other one to rest over his chest in mock shock. He takes half a step back too, for maximum effect. "How could you?" He whispers back, "not the cookies."

Reishi snickers and gets up. "Just follow me, dingus."

"We need to have a conversation about your lack of respect towards authority figures," he comments. Reishi, who had been walking ahead, turns around to look at him with a rised eyebrow. "Okay. Me," he concedes, "we have to talk about your lack of respect towards me."

Reishi snorts as they enter the kitchen, then hands him a small plate and he takes a cookie. Reishi sees the cookie disappear behind his mask, wondering how he looks behind it.

"It hurts my feelings," he whines, still eating the cookie.

Reishi sighs, "how old were you again?"

Reishi hears the intake of breath Bear takes before answering, but she never gets to hear an answer, because Mikoto walks into the kitchen right in that instant. She is very pale and her eyes are wide open.

"My water just broke," she states in a serious tone. Bear's cookie falls to the ground.

"Oh, oh dear. Uh," he looks between Reishi, who is frozen in her spot of the kitchen, and Mikoto, "oh no."

"Get your shit together!" Mikoto shouts at him, and he immediately straightens his back.

"Ma'am, yes, ma'am."

"Okay, you," she points to Bear, "help me get to my room upstairs," she orders, then her voice turns softer, "Reishi honey go and alert the medics in the hospital alright?"

Reishi nods and hesitates for a moment while she sees Bear throw Mikoto's arm over his shoulders and gently pick her up to carry her, then she takes off as fast as she can in the direction of the hospital.

Fugaku had been insisting these last weeks for Mikoto to go stay there so they would be prepared for when the baby came, but she had refused, saying that she wasn't giving birth in a place that smelled like antiseptic and that she was staying home, and Fugaku had never stood a chance in an argument against his wife. ( To be fair, nobody ever stood a chance against Mikoto in an argument.)

Reishi arrives there short of breath and practically tackles to the ground the first nurse that crosses her line of sight. In ten minutes, a medical team is organized and ready to go and, for the first time, Reishi is glad for Konoha's military-like society. At least they get to work quick and know when to cut the paperwork.

She stays behind when offered to go back to the house with them, saying that someone has to tell Fugaku.

The man in question is in the police's main building, supervising the training of some of the new recruits. She rushes towards him and he frowns. "Reishi you shouldn't be running inside buildings, it's not proper."

"I know, I know, but-"

"No buts, you could bump into someone, people here are busy and it's impolite to-"

Reishi interrupts him, half yelling from the stress. This isn't the moment for this conversation. "Your damn wife is in labor!"

Somewhere in the background a kunai clatters to the ground and everything is silent for a second before chaos ensues. The other Uchiha present congratulate Fugaku, who is frozen looking at Reishi, then he turns at who Reishi deduces is the second in command and excuses himself before hastily leaving.

He doesn't run inside the building, though Reishi notices with amusement that he walks awfully fast. The moment they are outside, he picks her up and runs faster than she has ever seen him run. She is kind of grateful that he thought of picking her up at all, because she would have been mildly offended to be left behind.

When they arrive at the house he lets her down gently and runs inside.

Reishi takes her time to walk into the house, where she can hear a ruckus coming from upstairs, she has ran all the way to the hospital and then to get Fugaku and – though her stamina has been improving under Fugaku's tutelage – she needs a moment to breathe.

She finds Bear awkwardly standing around inside, back in the kitchen. There are no cookies left.

"Nice weather, huh?" He says with a hint of humour. From upstairs comes the shrilling scream of a woman, probably Mikoto's.

"Yeah, it's very sunny... very nice yes." Reishi answers. Another scream fills the air. And they are both silent for a few seconds.

Bear turns at her. "Please give me an excuse to leave."

Reishi laughs. "Well if you're going to beg like that... I'll let you invite me to sweets and tea."

He hums, as if thinking about it, then gets up and offers her his hand. "You are an evil being inside a kid's body," he states.

Reishi slaps his hand playfully, she knows that he offered it to tease her about being a kid, and walks to the front door. "You got me," she says solemnly, "now I'll have to kill you. After the tea, of course," she adds. He laughs and follows her through the door.

To be honest, she wasn't expecting him to be such a good 'banter partner', she is a little kid, after all, and most people act weirded out by her or simply don't realize that they are talking to a fully developed adult mind. Bear though, she feels like he gets her. Ever since they talked for the first time, he just took her weirdness in stride and adapted to it.

It's refreshing to have someone to talk with as an equal.

It's not like she can't talk with Obito freely, but there are jokes he wouldn't understand as a kid, and topics she doesn't want to breach. With bear though, she can be herself, and she appreciates that. It does wonders for her mental health to not have to think about everything she wants to say and turn it again and again in her head in case it's not proper to say in front of a kid that, let's face it, is mentally older than he should thanks to a fucked up society.

It's not like she can blurt out anything, she still has to keep a facade, but the filter she uses for Bear isn't as thick as the one she uses with the rest of the people around her.

They walk side by side, ignoring the odd looks of the people around them at the sight of an ANBU operative walking in the street openly and chatting with a kid. It's not like he isn't doing his job anyways, as he's supposed to keep an eye on Reishi and that's exactly what he's doing, right? Right.

They find a tea shop not too far from the house and sit inside, waiting patiently for the waitress, who is hurrying from one table to another like a hummingbird between flowers. It seems to be a busy day for the poor girl. When she finally gets to the table, she gives them both a tired but genuine smile, not even reacting at the ANBU mask.

"What would you like today?" She asks Reishi, who has been here before in other occasions, brought by Mikoto.

"For me the usual, plus a dango ration for take-away please."

The waitress the turns to Bear, who is cocking his head in his usual amused manner, and he asks to have a green tea coupled with a cinnamon pie slice. "What is the takeaway ration for?", he asks when the waitress is gone, then adds with amusement, "couldn't resist to empty my wallet?"

"Nah, if I wanted to empty your wallet I would have taken you to the patisserie two streets over. They put tables outside now that the weather is warmer and their prices are ridiculous. The dangos are for Mikoto, for later," she explains.

"Awww, look at you, caring about people. Maybe you aren't as dead inside as you look."

"I have always been dead," she says with dry humor. It's a pity that nobody will ever find out how funny that statement truly is.

"You are just," he pauses, and sighs, "such a delight to be around, you know? A ray of sunshine."

"That's not how you were going to finish that phrase," she deadpans.

"Nope."

Reishi levels him with an unimpressed stare. "Do I even want to know?"

"I sure as hell hope not, I'd like to keep my kneecaps."

Reishi snorts, kicking his knee under the table, and Bear lets out a little high pitched yelp that sounds ridiculous coming from someone with such a deep voice. Reishi stares at him, thinking, before talking again. "Hey, you never told me how old were you. Are you hiding something or what?" She jokes.

Bear snorts. "Yeah right, all that?" He jabs his thumbs towards the Uchiha manor's direction, "I planned it, I'm a mastermind, you got me," when Reishi keeps staring at him in her patented creepy way he adds, "seventeen, I'm seventeen okay? Just stop looking at me like that, I feel like you can see my sins or something."

"Seventeen?! Are you kidding? You're massive!" Reishi exclaims, surprised. She thought that he was twenty three, minimum.

"That's what she said."

"You are disgusting," Reishi says shaking her head in disapproval.

"And yet you smile, milady, I sense a contradiction here," Bear answers in his most obnoxious impression of a nobleman.

Soon the waitress is back and they enjoy their sweets. Bear seems to find the cinnamon pie delicious, though Reishi is only deducing this based on the scarce sounds behind the mask and he could very well hate it for all she knows.

She lazily takes a bite of her red bean paste filled mochi as she observes the sky, it must have been an hour since Mikoto went into labor, maybe two. She wonders how is it going but she doesn't want to go back to the house yet, there are too many people there for her liking and she is pretty sure that Mikoto won't be done for a while. Childbirth does tend to be a long tedious thing.

Once they have finished their tea – Reishi still hates green tea with her very soul but it's not like there are more tea options – they go separate ways, mostly because Bear's shift is about to end and he doesn't want the next ANBU to find him having tea with the person he is supposed to be monitoring.

Reishi decides to go to the library, it has been a while since she visited, and there were a few books she wanted to take a look at. Her plans are thwarted, however, when she crosses paths with a familiar figure. She is about to scurry off, hoping she didn't see her, when Rin turns around.

"Ah, Ikotsu-san, wait!"

Reishi halts, and turns to look back at the girl, who is fidgeting nervously. "Uh, okay?"

Rin looks at her feet, timid, before looking up again with a look of determination. "I have been meaning to talk to you," she nervously tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear, "if you don't mind, that is."

Reishi stays silent for a second, doubting. On one hand her initial intention was to avoid the walking corpses that inhabit Konoha at all costs, on the other, she is already in too deep anyways. She is living with Fugaku and Mikoto Uchiha, for crying out loud, it can't get any worse than that.

Besides, even though their relationship doesn't feel as strained as before, Obito is still acting weird for some reason and she can feel the awkwardness. Maybe she can patch up whatever hole their friendship is slowly bleeding out of by making it right by Rin, she is very important to Obito right? He would probably be happy to learn that they are in good terms.

"Uhm, yes, of course," Reishi says. Rin's face splits into a timid smile.

They walk to the nearest park and sit on a bench and Reishi waits for Rin to say whatever it is that she wants. The waiting is terrifying because, now that she thinks about it, it's very possible that Rin hates her, or at the very least dislikes her. She would be in her right to do so, as Reishi practically told a third person – Obito – to tell her that she didn't want to associate with her. She didn't even do it herself, which was, Reishi recognizes, a dick move on her part.

What if Rin convinces Obito that Reishi isn't a good friend to him? What if she takes him away from her? If she is like the Rin she saw on the show it's unlikely, but what if she isn't?

"So I have been thinking," Rin starts, and Reishi holds her breath, "and I wanted to apologize."

Wait. What? "Come again?"

"I wanted to apologize to you, if I said something that hurt you or offended you in any way. I'm sorry," Rin says, her voice full of sincerity. It's obvious that she means it and that she has been feeling guilty about it, even though she has probably never done anything wrong in her life.

Reishi sighs, feeling very tired – and a lot like the bad person like she is – and does her best to come up with an excuse that lays all the blame on herself and doesn't sound like 'sorry but you're going to die and I was afraid of being hurt when you were gone because I'm too selfish to even try to prevent your death'.

"Look, I just," she starts, then sighs again, not knowing how to phrase it, "It's not your fault, okay? You didn't do anything wrong. I was just- I'm not very good with people, you must have already noticed that much. And it was a little bit intimidating to socialize with another person."

Rin's smile grows wider, relieved. "We did notice that you only hung out after class with Obito, but we didn't really know why. Ibiki did mention that you didn't seem to like crowds though."

"You guys... talk about me?"

"Well, no, I mean, nothing bad! It's just, Obito talks a lot about you... a-and the things he says doesn't really match with who you are in class so... w-we just..." Rin stutters, flustered.

"You were curious," Reishi finishes for her. She isn't mad that they talk about her, just a little confused. She isn't that interesting, she just trains and reads all day, that's it, "it's fine, I don't mind."

"S-so... we're good?" Rin asks, hopeful.

Reishi nods, giving her a small smile. "Yeah, we're good."

"So do I get a hug?"

"Don't push it."

She arrives at the house at sunset and sees Fugaku sitting in the stairs with a wide eyed look and his head between his hands, Mikoto's screams, while weaker and now broken, still fill the house from time to time.

She was going to get something to drink, but she guesses that can wait.

Reishi walks to the base of the stairs and sits a few steps down from where Fugaku is, resting her head on the side of his thigh. Fugaku lays a hand on her head and leaves it there absent-mindedly.

They wait like that for a long time, until the sun has set down and the hallway is so dark Reishi can only see Fugaku's silhouette against the moonlight. The house has been eerily quiet for the past ten minutes or so, until suddenly the cry of a baby pierces the silence.

Fugaku tenses and they both look at each other in the darkness before sprinting upstairs. Reishi has the intention of letting Fugaku in first, but he gently pushes her inside the room before he enters and closes the door once the last medic is gone and he has been assured that everything went well.

Inside, Mikoto is laying on the bed, her forehead is covered in sweat and some hair strands stick to her face, she looks exhausted.

A tiny gurgle, barely a sound, draws Reishi's eyes to the small bundle Mikoto is holding in her arms.

Fugaku walks to the bed and sits on it's edge, softly kissing Mikoto on the top of her head, and she smiles back at him.

Reishi feels terribly displaced. She isn't part of this, she doesn't know why did she even come upstairs in the first place. Fugaku and Mikoto are living the happiest moment of their lives and she's ruining their perfect picture by lurking in the sidelines.

She can't leave now though, that would be rude, wouldn't it? They would probably think that she doesn't want to meet the baby or something like that, and she doesn't want to be rude to the people that are housing her. Because she doesn't want to get kicked out and because she does, indeed, want to meet the baby.

Mikoto notices her awkwardly standing near the door and gives her a reassuring smile, motioning for Reishi to get closer to the bed. Reishi walks slowly, trying not to make any noise in the wooden floor that could wake the baby up.

Upon closer inspection, he looks... ugly, like all newborn babies. Honestly, she should have been expecting that.

His eyes are open though, looking right at her, though she doubts he sees anything more than a blur. When he sees her he gurgles again and grimaces. She decides to interpret it as a smile, because newborn babies aren't very good at facial expressions anyways.

"Hi," Reishi says, and the baby gurgles once more.

Mikoto laughs, albeit weakly, after all the efforts of the evening. "I think he likes you."

"I am obviously his favourite person in the room," Reishi jokes.

Fugaku let's out a bark of laugh, and Mikoto lightly jabs him on the ribs with her elbow. "Sorry," he whispers.

"Oh, before I forget," says Reishi, and takes a package from her pocket, leaving it on the bedside table nearest to Mikoto, "Bear and I got you some dango when we went to the tea shop."

Mikoto looks at her, confused. "Bear?"

"The ANBU that was here this evening after lunch, the one that carried you upstairs," explains Reishi.

"Ah, yes," Mikoto says, "I remember him. But what was he doing here?"

Reishi scratches her cheek, she thought that Mikoto and Fugaku already knew about the ANBU monitoring her, but she sees that she was wrong. "Oh well, he's supposed to keep an eye on me. I mean not just him, there are other ANBU. He's not like, all day working, he has the evening shift lately I think."

She can visibly see Fugaku tense. He and Mikoto interchange a look. "And this man, how long have you known him?" Fugaku asks.

"I don't know, a while I guess. A little bit after I met you."

Fugaku nods slowly. "Does he buy you things?"

"Uh, yeah, he invited me to tea and mochis while I waited for, well, for the baby," Reishi answers getting more and more confused, she doesn't understand why are they so interested in Bear, he's just a friend. They don't ask that many questions about Obito or the guys in her class.

Fugaku and Mikoto seem to be getting more and more uncomfortable by the second. There's a tense silence in which they doesn't seem to know what to do until finally Mikoto asks, "does he play with you?"

Everything clicks into place and Reishi's face contort into a grimace of disgust. "Ew no, he's not molesting me, he just says hi sometimes and we talk a bit and he leaves to his post. I mean having him monitoring me is creepy but it's not like he wants to, it's his job. At least I know who he is, not like the other ANBU."

"Oh, oh, I'm sorry honey-," starts Mikoto.

"We didn't mean-," Interrupts Fugaku, who seems flustered.

"I'm sure he's a very nice man," finishes Mikoto.

Fugaku heaves a long-suffering sigh. "Let's never mention this again."

"Agreed," says Reishi nodding vehemently. She will cringe when remembering this for the years to come, she just knows it.

 

 


 

 

 

Fugaku hastily walks down the corridor of the Hokage tower; not long ago he requested a meeting with the Hokage to talk about the vigilance of his student, and he has been waiting for a week now.

He isn't too annoyed by that though, he understands that the war has priority and it's not like he is in a rush.

He would like to know why nobody told him that his student was under a twenty four hour surveillance though. That seems like an important bit of information.

The person inside the meeting room isn't the Hokage, and he's mildly surprised for a second before recovering and greeting the man sitting in one of the armchairs. Danzō greets him back and motions for him to sit on the armchair in front of him.

"What a pleasant surprise, Danzō-sama, I wasn't expecting to see you here today."

"The pleasure is mine. I'm afraid Hokage-sama is busy at the moment, he hasn't been able to meet with you today."

"That is alright." It's not alright, not at all. He requested a meeting with the Hokage, and as a head of one of the most prominent clans it is disrespectful to, not only not grant his request after a whole week of waiting, but schedule a meeting with somebody else without noticing him. He can't say that to Danzō's wrinkled face though.

"May I ask what seems to be the issue? I have been informed that it is related to your tutorship of Ikotsu Reishi, but little details were given," continues Danzō, "is she giving you any trouble?"

"No, not at all. She has progressed at a fast pace and is a very polite child. The issue is, rather, that I hadn't been informed of her being under surveillance."

Danzō frowns. "I thought the Hokage had told you already. She was deemed to be a high risk missing nin by a psychiatrist evaluation, backed up with the analysis of the notes taken by said psychiatrist by a member of the Yamanaka clan belonging to T&I."

"Risk of missing nin? She is only six, she must have been five by the time she was diagnosed," says Fugaku, sceptic. It is true, however, that after his chat with the psychiatrist two months ago, he has been increasingly concerned about Reishi's behaviour, but that was more related to her barely eating than anything else.

"I understand your concern, Uchiha-dono, but I read over the report myself and I can confirm it. That risk played a big part on why the Hokage wanted her to have a good influence outside the academy, thus choosing a tutor for her," explains Danzō.

"Still, so young..."

Danzō nods solemnly. "It is a pity, yes, and so talented as well. I would understand, however, if you refused to keep tutoring her now that you know the truth. When you agreed to it you didn't have this information, after all, and now with a new impressionable addition to the house... Well, we wouldn't want little Itachi to be influenced."

Fugaku doubts for a moment, being marked a missing nin risk, however low, is a terrible stain on a ninja's record. Then he tenses, horrified at his own doubts. "I am sure that Reishi-san will be nothing but a good influence on my son, she has proved to be a very bright child and I trust the Hokage's judgement."

Danzō, who had been leaning in, seemingly eager, reclines back on his armchair. "I see, that is commendable of you. However, there was something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"Of course."

"The girl, as you must have noticed thanks to the incident a few moths ago, has a natural talent for the abilities necessary for, say, the ANBU forces. I personally think that she would benefit of starting ANBU training early on, as it would help bringing a structure to her life that she has lacked as a child due to unfortunate circumstances," explains Danzō.

Fugaku frowns. "With all due respect, Danzō-sama, I think she is still too young for ANBU. Even if during war times the age for entering is lower, she is still six."

"Six with the mentality of a full grown adult, you know that better than I do, you have lived with her."

Fugaku shakes his head. "Even if she is intellectually mature, she is still a child, and her abilities are still that of a genin."

"Very well," Danzō concedes, "I was merely suggesting an option, but as her tutor, I understand that you have the last word. I will ask you to keep the possibility in mind though, the doors of ANBU are always open for your student."

"I will think about it," says Fugaku, though he has already made up his mind about the subject.

Danzō nods and watches like hawk as Fugaku leaves the room.

Chapter Text

"I'm gonna eat you," Reishi says with a straight face, and stuffs Itachi's baby foot in her mouth. He giggles, delighted. "Hey," she whines, "you're not supposed to have fun, cannibalism is a very serious matter."

"Shi!"

"Exactly," Reishi agrees, and nods solemnly.

Fugaku, sitting on the table nearby, sighs. "What are you teaching to my son," he asks in a flat, exasperated tone.

"I'm showing him the cruelties of the world early on, so he doesn't get depressed when he discovers them himself."

Fugaku looks at her with the tired stare of a man that hasn't slept or given a shit in ages and decides against commenting. He has long ago accepted that Reishi lacks the ability of being normal, so why bother. He shakes his head and turns his attention back to the book he was reading.

"Isn't it a little bit weird to be the head of the police force and come back home and read crime novels?" Reishi asks.

"No," comes Fugaku's curt answer. He won't admit it but he's a little bit defensive about his crime novels.

Reishi turns to look back at Itachi. "It is," she whispers.

"I can hear you."

"No he can't," she whispers again to Itachi, who laughs and grabs a strand of grey hair that has escaped from Reishi's ponytail.

"Fugaku your son is attacking me with his tiny baby hands," she complains.

Fugaku rises his head from the book to stare at them. "Get her, son," he deadpans.

"Wow, rude."

Reishi gently pries Itachi's hand from her hair and tucks the strand behind her ear. She can't believe it has already been a year and a half since the little meatball was born. Kids do grow up awfully fast. A few more months and she suspects the ankle-biter will be walking around the house on his own. She has already found him crawling behind her in more than one occasion, silently too, the creep.

"Don't you have to get ready?" asks Fugaku, who has closed his book and is looking at her with disapproval. He takes punctuality very seriously.

Reishi, who is very busy blowing a raspberry on Itachi's belly, looks up at him as Itachi laughs in the background. "Ready for what?" she asks with a confused face. Fugaku frowns and opens his mouth, ready to berate her. "Just kidding, just kidding. I'm on it." She interrupts him at the last second and gets up to go to her room. Itachi whines.

She hears Fugaku grumble as she runs upstairs to change her clothes, the last year of academy students graduated just a few days ago and she has been informed that today she will be meeting her new team.

Reishi is quite excited by this, though not as much about finally meeting a team as she is about being able to participate in more complex missions. For all her prior talk of wanting a peaceful civilian life, she has come to realize that after the incident with the Iwa shinobi a year ago and her newfound abilities, civilian life is quite boring.

Don't get her wrong, she doesn't suddenly want to participate in dangerous missions, but she does feel like something is missing.

She examines her attire in the mirror, nothing too flashy, but she finds comfort in the familiar colors of her clan, even though they amplify her resemblance to Ryouji.

Her things have already been packed in her pouch. Inside there's a ridiculous amount of senbon, all wrapped so they won't make a sound when she's moving, and the obligatory explosive tags plus two kunai that Fugaku insisted she should always keep with her just in case (even if she doesn't plan on using them).

She was surprised to learn that Fugaku would not be her sensei, but apparently there is a rule that prevents jōnin from personally taking part in the teaching of their own children. Reishi didn't thought she would fall into this category, for obvious reasons, but Fugaku's decision of taking her into his home changed her 'status', or so the higher ups must have thought.

She is sure that those stuck up Uchiha elders had something to do with this, wanting to prevent Fugaku from teaching her any more Uchiha techniques and trying to distance her from the clan. She understands that their priority is to keep the clan secrets under wraps, and her not having formalized her alliance to the Uchiha is an inconvenience, but she worries about her new teacher.

What if they aren't as patient and understanding as Fugaku? What if they are too strict? What if they are too lenient?

It all comes down to her routine being messed up, she can't stand that. Having to adapt to a new routine and not being able to predict and plan around some future inconveniences is very stressing for Reishi. She isn't a planning freak or anything, but she does like to know what to expect in her daily life. Is that too much to ask?

And now she has to adapt to a new schedule, with new people – people is a dangerous variant in her carefully structured view of the world around her and she can never be calm when she's around someone she hasn't figured out yet – that might or might not have been in her class. Great.

When she arrives to the restaurant marked as their reunion point – she feels like it's odd for their new teacher to have picked a restaurant for their first meeting, but she doesn't really know what's the norm in these situations – she sees that one of her future teammates is already there, waiting.

Shirakumo greets her with a formal bow – that she finds more annoying than anything. for some reason she has yet to understand. He just irks her, that's all. She even feels a little bad about it because, besides deciding on his own that they are rivals, he hasn't done anything to her; and that annoys her even more. It comes full circle.

Their other teammate is Ibiki, as they discover a few minutes later when he arrives to the meeting point. It's not that he's late, Shirakumo and Reishi just arrived too early.

It's a pleasant surprise that her teammates will be people she already knows, it simplifies the whole process. Their jōnin-sensei is still a mystery though, Reishi hopes he isn't as late as Kakashi used to be in the series, because she hasn't brought anything for reading during their wait.

Though Ibiki tries to strike a conversation two or three times, they are so tense that they barely grace him with monosyllabic answers, and he gives up soon.

"Well, at least you're not late," comes the drawling voice of a man behind them, startling the trio.

Reishi turns around to find a tall man – though everyone is taller than her so she isn't sure if her opinion counts in this matter – wearing the standard Konoha flack jacket, plain black trousers and a shirt. She can see mesh under the shirt and he has wrapped the lower part of his pants in bandages, like most shinobi do. His brown hair is tied in a high ponytail.

 

 


 

 

"Hey," greets the future jōnin commander in the uncomfortable silence. They all have ended up staring at him and he's beginning to feel creeped out. "You are team three... right?"

"Yes, sir," answers politely one of the kids in front of him. He has gray hair and good posture. Actually, now that Shikaku takes a good look they all seem to have grey hair, which is very funny. Did the teachers at the academy just group their students based on hair colors this year?

Shikaku claps his hands with a smile; relieved that this is, indeed, his team. And not just some children that look like his team and that he scared randomly on the street. "Perfect, perfect. Then let's go inside and start the introductions, shall we? My treat."

They follow him inside like little ducklings, and he sees the Akimichi waiter smile upon seeing them, calling his co-workers to see the new cute genin. Shikaku sighs, the Akimichi can be such gossips sometimes...

He weaves through the tables full of customers until he gets to a booth and signals them to sit, choosing for himself the seat with the best view of the room. The girl frowns for an instant and then it's gone; he suppresses the urge to chuckle, it seems like he took her spot.

"Very well then," he says once the waiter has taken their orders, "who would like to start?"

There is a silence in which the three genin look at each other, not knowing very well who should speak first, and then the polite boy apparently decides that it's not polite to keep their sensei waiting. "Sensei," he says rising a hand as if they were still on the classroom. It's kind of cute, Shikaku thinks, amused. "What would this introduction entail?"

Shikaku gives a lazy shrug. "Your name, likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams for the future... It's the standard."

The boy nods. "My name is Hayama Shirakumo, I like training my kenjutsu, I dislike people who doesn't put effort in what they do, my hobby is..." Here he seems to falter a little, thinking. "My hobby is the blade, and my dream for the future is to be a reliable jōnin of Konoha."

Shikaku nods, he was aware of the Hayama clan descending from samurai, so it doesn't surprise him much. Then he turns his attention at the other two, waiting to see who will be next.

Shikaku perceives some movement from the girl, then the remaining boy gives a sudden jolt and frowns at her. She must have punted him under the table.

"My name is Morino Ibiki, I like knowledge, I dislike brats." Here he shoots a pointed look at the girl, who rolls her eyes. "One of my hobbies is people watching, and in the future I want to be a badass jōnin," he says. Shikaku chuckles and focuses his attention on the girl.

"Uh, right," she starts. "I'm Ikotsu Reishi, I like uh... mochis? I dislike a lot of things, my hobbie is reading and my dream for the future is..." She gets stuck for a moment, not knowing exactly what to say. The silence stretches as she frowns, thinking.

Shikaku laughs to diffuse the tension of her shoulders. "It's okay, you don't have to have your whole life planned just yet," he smiles, "you tell us when you're ready." Then he turns to regard the three of them. "I guess it's my turn now. I am Nara Shikaku, I like playing shogi, I dislike unnecessary effort, my hobby is stargazing, and in the future I will be the head of my clan."

The waiter comes back with their order and they dig in. Shikaku has been working all morning with the preparations for today and his future duties as a clan head, and he's starving.

"So what now?" asks Ibiki around a mouthful of beef. Reishi and Shirakumo grimace at their team-mate's table manners.

Shikaku quirks an eyebrow.

"Are we going to start doing missions? And if so, will we start this evening? Or tomorrow morning?" elaborates Shirakumo. Reishi stays quiet, waiting for an answer.

"Oh no, no missions until you pass the test," Shikaku says.

He isn't going to deny that actually watching the faces of the genin when you reveal the existence of an extra test is kind of funny, in a terrible, cruel way.

He does notice that the girl, rather than looking surprised, turns her attention back to her plate. Huh, weird. Had she known about the test beforehand? If he remembers correctly, she is under the Uchiha's clan head tutelage, but it's very unlikely that he has informed her of the test.

Shikaku sends this question to the back of his mind to be answered at another date.

"What?! Why did nobody told us that?!" Ibiki shouts, seeming torn between angry and frustrated.

Shikaku shrugs. "Tradition, I guess, I had to go through this as well."

"What will our test be then? And when will we take it?" asks Shirakumo in a business-like tone.

"We will meet tomorrow morning in front of the hokage tower at nine, don't be late. I'll explain what the test is about tomorrow." Shikaku looks around the table, expecting complains, but the boys seem to have taken it in stride (no use in complaining about something you can't change) and the girl is paying more attention to her plate than to the conversation. He is sure that she has been listening, but still, to be so unconcerned with the test... well, it's unusual.

The meal soon is over, but luckily he is able to see some of their team dynamic and, given that they pass the test, it doesn't seem like they will be an overly troublesome or loud team.

Shirakumo is a serious boy, down to earth and very polite, and he seems at ease with the other two, though Shikaku isn't very sure if he is friends with them or if he considers them acquaintances.

Ibiki is a tad more boisterous than the others, but there is a glint in his eyes that says that he is smarter than he lets on. His relationship with the girl is friendly, it's obvious that they tended to be close in the academy. Not best friends, but close. He seems to be able to draw her out of her shell, at least.

The girl is... odd. Like there's something wrong with her behaviour that he can't pinpoint. He had read over the analysis her psychiatrist provided because it came with the copy of the file, and he remembers some annotation referencing the apparent disparity between her mental and physical age, but he had thought it would be more subtle. Looking at her is like seeing a tiny adult. Like there's something inhabiting that body that isn't a child. It's wrong and somehow makes Shikaku feel uncomfortable.

Aside from that, they seem promising. If what their files say about them is accurate, their abilities seem to balance each other and they would be good for information gathering and stealth.

It had been a surprise to him to find out that Reishi's stats were only slightly above average. With all the fuss about her a year ago he had expected her to be like that Hatake kid when he had graduated, and yet it seems that the only unusual thing is her unnatural intelligence, everything else had been gained during the last year of training thanks to Fugaku's tutorship.

They finish their lunch and go their separate ways. Shikaku thanks the heavens that he hasn't gotten some over excited kids, that would have been troublesome. All in all he's quite satisfied with them and is already thinking about useful strategies that adapt to their fighting styles. If they pass the test tomorrow, that is.

 

 


 

 

The next morning Reishi arrives at the meeting point ten minutes earlier, Shirakumo is already there and so is Ibiki, who greets her by bumping his shoulder against her as soon as she lands beside him.

"Hey," he says.

Reishi gives Shirakumo a nod of acknowledgement and then turns to Ibiki. "Hey."

Ibiki changes his weight from one leg to the other in a tense silence before deciding to strike a conversation. "You nervous?"

"Nah," she shrugs, "whatever happens, happens."

Ibiki snorts. "You are a beacon of hope in these trying times. Maybe I'll frame your speech in my bedroom to look at it every morning."

Reishi decides not to comment on Ibiki's sarcasm, he gets like that whenever he's nervous and she doesn't want to make it worse by pointing it out. "How bad can a surprise test – that none of our teachers in the academy thought was important enough to mention – be?" she asks instead.

"Well, I'll let you know that not everyone passes the test," comes Shikaku's voice from behind them.

While Shirakumo and Ibiki are a little bit startled at his sudden appearance, Reishi felt his chakra signature arrive just a few seconds ago, stopping in a nearby roof. He must have been listening in to their conversation to make an entrance, the show off.

Reishi turns towards him almost sluggishly, giving him the unimpressed stare that everyone has told her looks like the dead eyes of a fish. He gives the impression of wanting to grimace for a millisecond.

"Anyways," he says pulling three small scrolls out of his pouch, "this test is in reality a B-rank mission."

"A mission?" This time, it's Reishi who interrupts his explanation, frowning. She isn't aware of tests being missions, less so high ranked ones.

"Yes, a mission," he drawls, she can almost hear the 'how troublesome' in the air. "There has been rumours of a member of one of the lesser noble families of the land of fire having sided with Kumo," he explains, "currently, we have three suspects, and they happen to be visiting Konoha. Your mission is to monitor them throughout the day and tell me if they do anything suspicious; you cannot be seen, as that would be considered a violation of their privacy and Konoha would have to respond to the daimyo. Being discovered by their bodyguards or even the nobles themselves will result in immediately failing the test."

"So," says Shirakumo, "this is a stealth mission, and we can only fail by being found out."

Shikaku nods. "Exactly."

The three of them take a scroll from Shikaku, going their separate ways once they know what their respective target is. Reishi is happy that she thought about packing ration bars, as the mission won't be finished until their targets leave the village tomorrow morning and she isn't supposed to leave her post.

Her target is the father of two sons – they are the ones Ibiki and Shirakumo will be monitoring –, a middle aged man with squinting eyes and wrinkled hands that he tends to rub in a cartoon-like fashion whenever he gets nervous.

She follows him and his two bodyguards, alternating between walking through the crowds and the rooftops, bored to death. She wonders if this is what Bear and the other ANBU that have to follow her around feel. They have done nothing but walk around like tourists all morning.

To be honest, she doesn't expect to find anything suspicious about this man. She doesn't even know how is Shikaku going to 'grade' this test. He has told them what would have to happen for them to fail, but he didn't say anything about what they would have to do to pass. It can't be as simple as just follow their target twenty-four hours without being found, because he and his bodyguards are nowhere the level of a ninja, and sneaking around them is obscenely easy.

It cannot be by finding out who's the mole either, because there is just one mole and even if they uncovered him, only one of them would pass.

Having gotten their scroll randomly, this would be very unfair. Not to mention that even in the event of getting the correct scroll, the decision of doing something suspicious is entirely up to the target, as they cannot interact with them in any ways, only observe. Ultimately, this would mean that who passes would be decided by luck rather than skill.

She decides that she doesn't actually care all that much, she wanted to get into the genin corps anyways, so passing or not is not something that worries her. True, Fugaku would probably be disappointed if she didn't at least try – and he would know if she didn't – so lazying around is out of the question. If she fails because of something out of her control though... well, who could blame her?

As long as she remains hidden, everything will be fine.

It's not until a little after midnight that this assumption is proven to be wrong.

Night falls, and the nobleman goes back to the room he is staying in during his visit, followed by his guards. While he dines, Reishi decides to follow his example and eat one of her ration bars. She is hidden in the space between the ceiling of the room and the roof of the building, making sure not to make any sound on the boards separating her from her target, when she absent-mindedly notes the chakra signature of the guards leave the room.

"I know you're there," comes the voice of the nobleman from under her, startling Reishi, "come down now, I've sent the guards away so don't worry."

Reishi weighs her options; on one hand she could just leave, then the nobleman would know that somebody was spying on him but not who, and he couldn't put the blame in the village. On the other hand, she could come down and ask him how he knew she was there, maybe even strike a conversation with him and possibly gather relevant information.

Whatever she chooses doesn't really matter, she has been spotted so she has already failed, Shikaku will know about this regardless of her staying or fleeing.

In the end, her curiosity wins and she moves one of the boards to jump down onto an empty part of the table he was dining in, staying in a crouched position. At least she can say that she knows how to make a dramatic entrance.

The man's eyes widen for a fraction of a second in surprise and then it's gone. Reishi stares him up and down, waiting for him to talk first. He smiles at her.

"My my, you must be very talented to be a ninja already at your age," he praises with a sickly sweet voice. "Now, why are you here, little one?"

Reishi almost frowns but schools her face into her usual blank stare, if he is capable of knowing he is being watched despite being a civilian, it's highly probable that he is the mole Shikaku was talking about and he knows why she's here. Knowing this, he's probably just asking to make sure that Konoha has found out and that Reishi isn't here for some other reason. She isn't about to give away information about her mission though, Fugaku taught her better.

"You don't know?" she asks, feigning confusion. It's better to let him reach his own conclusions, he'll tell her if he's guilty or not based on why he thinks she's here.

Her question seems to take him aback for a moment, but he clears his throat and composes himself, smirking. The smirk looks wrong on his face, and if his wrinkles tell the truth, he doesn't do it that often. "I bet your Hokage finally heard the rumours about me being a spy and sent you to investigate." He stares her down. "Aren't you a little young for such a mission though?"

"Are you saying that you're a spy?" she picks her words carefully, still trying to look like she isn't here because of that. He hasn't confirmed anything yet.

The man sighs mockingly. "Kids nowadays are always rushing, so impatient..." he mutters, Reishi stays silent, still crouched. He waits for a few moments, probably expecting her to say anything, finally he talks again. "Listen, girl, I have a proposition for you."

Reishi lifts an eyebrow, the only face expression she has made ever since they started the conversation, and straightens a bit her back while still crouched on the table (she doesn't know if she will have to bolt out of there and it's better to be prepared). He takes this as his cue to keep talking.

"You seem like a smart girl, and as you can see, I have many contacts and power that I could use to... ahem, give you a small incentive; to stay out of my business I mean."

"You mean bribery."

"Yes, see? I knew you were smart. Here's the deal: you will probably have to follow me around for a few weeks right?" Reishi doesn't bother correcting him, she was only going to be here until morning, and he would probably get assigned an ANBU from then on, but he doesn't need to know that. "So what we do is, you write in your report that you haven't seen anything suspicious, and I get you whatever it is that you want, deal?"

Reishi thinks about it for a moment, she isn't going to be assigned to him, but he doesn't know that. She could fake it, right? And in return she could ask him to give her a fake identity, fall under the radar and live her hermit dream somewhere in the mountains. She has no way of getting out of Konoha undetected tomorrow though, no excuse, and the problem stands that if she left tomorrow they would send someone for her. Then she wouldn't be able to fulfill her part of the deal, he wouldn't help her disappear and she would be fucked.

In the end, even if she wants to take the offer, she can't. Besides, she would have to be very ungrateful to leave after everything that the Uchiha have done for her, and she would miss Obito too, and little Itachi would probably cry his lungs out if she didn't came back home.

As a side note, it is a little suspicious to her that he decided to address her while still inside Konoha. Isn't it too risky to openly admit that you're a spy in the very heart of the village you're spying from? It smells fishy, if you ask her.

"I am afraid I cannot accept your offer," she says. She inadvertently changes her position on the table, so now instead of being prepared to flee, she is prepared to pounce. She doesn't want him escaping now that he has confirmed being the mole. Even if she has no interest in serving the village, it would be a pity to let him go after all the effort of following him all day.

The man also shifts, though his posture indicates that he's at ease and doesn't have the intention to run away any soon. How odd.

"Are you sure? I could give you tons of money. I could- I could even adopt you! Think about that, you would be a princess!"

"I already have a family, thank you."

"That's not what I've heard," he says with a sly smile, "didn't your mother kick you out?" He clicks his tongue disapprovingly and shakes his head with a mocking pained expression. "The Uchiha aren't your family, little girl, you were only the substitute for a child, but they have one of their own now don't they? How long until they forget all about you?"

Reishi had admittedly been asking herself that same question lately. Mikoto and Fugaku were being very nice to her ever since she came to live with them, but she still had feared that she was intruding. She has been living there over a year now, how long until they get tired of her invading their house? They aren't going to kick her out like Fuhaku did, but that's mostly because they are very polite and it would probably make them look bad as clan heads.

She would understand it though, she probably isn't the best influence to little Itachi, and instead of seeking out the company of 'decent members of the clan' she spends the time with the outcast. Not really the person you want your child to grow up with, right?

Hearing somebody else say it out loud solidifes her thoughts into a reality. Not that she wasn't looking into cheap apartments to leave as soon as possible anyways, but it still would hurt if they got tired of her.

A voice in the back of her head wonders how does this man posses such information and she latches onto the thought, desperate to think about anything else.

"Think about it," the man continues, "you would have everything you asked for and you could wear the prettiest dresses and have the most expensive toys. We would never kick you out, my wife has wanted a girl for some time now, you know? Though all we've had are boys," he says the last part jokingly, thinking that he has at least swayed her determination. However, dresses and toys are not things Reishi cares about, and she couldn't care less about having a new family. A normal little girl that has been shunned? He would be doing an amazing job of convincing that person. Reishi is not a little girl though.

"I'm not going anywhere," she says, and she can't avoid the note of dejection that contaminates her tone. She prepares to knock him out.

The man, who had been smiling previously, straightens. His face takes a more serious expression, almost solemn and proud, before smiling again, gentler this time.

"Congratulations, you passed the test."

She receives instructions to reunite with the rest of her team that same night, and she is the second one to arrive at the designed location. Shikaku is already there but there's no sign of Ibiki or Shirakumo.

Reishi is livid, sending them on a fake mission to see how they would react to bribery is one thing, but feeding their targets personal information is too much. Has Shikaku been analysing her for the occasion? How many time did it take him to find out about her insecurities regarding the Uchiha family? Had he known who his team would be beforehand or had he just prepared it all yesterday?

Independently of the answer, she can't help but feel violated somehow, naked. He shouldn't have known all that, at least not how she felt about it. Is she that transparent? Can everyone else see her fears on her face just like Shikaku did?

The man in question rises a hand in a pacifying gesture when he sees her walk up to him and she wants nothing more than to rip it apart from it's socket and slap him with it. He had no right. No fucking right.

"How dare you," she says in a calm tone that sounds to her like a stranger's voice. She shouldn't be addressing him calmly, she should be yelling and biting. This is a flagrant invasion of her privacy.

"Before you say anything, let me talk," he says, talking like he's trying to pacify a feral animal, and she might as well be. She distantly wonders if that's how he talks to the Nara deer, but the anger squashes the thought. "This test was not meant to hurt you in any way, okay? Just to, well, test you. The words were supposed to get to you to see how you would react, that's all."

Reishi waits for a second to see if he will add something, but he doesn't, he just stares at her as if expecting her to attack him or something. She would like to, to be honest, if she knew that this was a battle she could win. "That's all?" she asks, incredulous. "That's all? That doesn't give you the right to- to divulge personal information to strangers!"

"The men participating in this test are very professional and are shinobi of the Nara clan-"

"I don't care! That's not the point!" She is yelling now, feeling like she's about to explode. There is a tense silence in the air in which he just stares blankly at her, no doubt analysing her again. She hates it.

"You feel attacked," he states, finally. "You are used to keeping a wall up and when somebody sees through it you feel threatened."

Reishi keeps quiet, feeling her face flush red with embarrassment. He just hit the spot. There's nothing she can retort to that.

Shikaku lowers his eyes to the ground and sighs, scratching the back of his neck. She sees him open his mouth to say something, but he is interrupted by the arrival of Ibiki, shortly followed by Shirakumo. They don't seem bothered at all.

"You passed too, eh?" ssks Ibiki with a smirk, he seems to be in a very good mood. Reishi knows that he can tell that she's angry, the question is just to confirm that she isn't angry because she failed. She reassures him with a nod, she doesn't trust herself to talk right now, she needs to cool down.

Shirakumo gives her a small bow. "I see you finished before me again, congratulations."

He is probably talking again about their non-existent rivalry but she doesn't have the energy to direct her anger at him, compared to invading her inner thoughts, his obsession with besting her is a mere nuisance. It isn't that annoying anyways and he is very graceful about it so she guesses that it's harmless. She mutters a 'congratulations to you too' because she is pretty sure that he passed and lets it be, glad that she has managed not to snap at any of them.

Shikaku claps to grab their attention. "Very well, I see that you all managed to pass the test, does anyone want to share their thoughts on what it was supposed to be testing?"

Shirakumo rises his hand to talk and Shikaku nods to him as if granting him permission. "Our loyalty to the village," he states.

"That is part of it, yes. Ibiki?"

"How we react under stressful situations, such as being found out while spying on the enemy in their 'base of operations'."

Shikaku nods, then looks at Reishi, who frowns. "To see our reaction to the enemy showing knowledge they shouldn't have," she says, and the venom must be apparent in her voice because the two boys give her a quick glance of concern and surprise. Shikaku acts as if he hasn't noticed.

"Yes, that too. This team has been picked with the purpose of gathering information primarily, so infiltrating enemy territory will probably be the kind of mission that will be assigned to you the most once you all become chūnin. It is important that you show resilience to the enemy's taunts and bribery in case of being found." At this he risks a quick glance in Reishi's direction, as if making sure he drives the point home. "And that you are able to remain calm in such situation. I will analyse your behavior during the test as well as your stealth capabilities and we will go over your mistakes and how to correct them on Monday. Same hour and place as yesterday. Dismissed."

Shikaku leaves before Reishi has the time to jump him and she feels a growl of frustration grow in her throat. If he thinks that she will let this go with time he is very very wrong. She doesn't care if she gets punished for insubordination, if he is going to be her jōnin-sensei she needs to trust him, and she can't do that if he doesn't know how to respect basic boundaries.

She forces herself to appear normal to the boys while saying goodbye, though she is sure that Ibiki has already realized that she isn't very happy at the moment, and decides to take a walk before heading to the Uchiha compound. Shikaku had told them that morning that their parents – tutors in Reishi's case – would be informed of the duration of the test, so nobody is waiting for her anyways.

It's pretty late, past midnight, judging by the position of the moon. She wonders if Obito will be awake at this hour.

Chapter Text

The lights of the apartment are off and Reishi stands around for a while, slightly put off. It's not like she expected him to be awake at this hour, but she had been harbouring some hope that he would be watching TV until late today.

Her hand hovers over the window, suddenly unsure. It's true that Obito is her best friend (though she still hesitates to call him that, given that he is only nine and she might be as old as time itself. Her mind is still a little foggy on the matter), but they had never woken each other up in the middle of the night. Was this over-stepping their boundaries?

And what would she do if he opened the window and let her in? Vent to him? She can't just dump her anger on a child. Even if she did, what would it solve?

"If I didn't knew any better, I would think that you're a particularly ugly statue." Bear's voice comes from somewhere behind her, startling her. She takes a deep breath, hoping he didn't realize her reaction. She's not in the mood for his teasing.

"Fuck off, Bear," she says without turning to look at him, though it lacks any heat, instead sounding tired.

"Wow, that bad huh? Did you not pass the test or what?" It's this comment that finally earns him her full attention; Reishi turns around to glare at him, she is silent but he can see the cogs whirring inside. "Usually everyone is aware of the day the jōnin test their genin teams, not everyone knows who's in what team, but it does make for a lot of gossiping," he answers her silent question.

Reishi snorts, her face contorted in anger looks terribly wrong in a small child. "So tomorrow all the village is going to know, great. Just wonderful."

"Know what?"

She stares at Bear, craning her neck to look up at his perch on a nearby lamppost, she hates how the light prevents her from seeing more than his silhouette. Knowing him, he probably did it on purpose. Drama queen.

If he doesn't know yet, she decides, he will hear it tomorrow from all the gossip going around. Everyone is probably very interested in her even after a year of 'child prodigy' and all that bullshit, so her performance in the test will probably spread like wildfire. She tries not to think about how will Fugaku and Mikoto react.

"Forget it," she says after a while. "I'm going to sleep."

She jumps down from the small balcony and starts walking towards Fugaku's house – not 'home', never hers, she bitterly reminds herself. It had been so easy to forget after all this time staying there – and hears the soft noise Bear makes when he lands beside her and starts walking by her side. If she hadn't been listening for it she wouldn't have heard a thing.

"So, uh," he says awkwardly. It occurs to her that if he had looked for her tonight right after her test it's because he wants something. He had never sought her out on purpose outside his shift before. She stops walking and looks up at him, frowning. "Here," he says while tossing a package of some sort in her direction; he seems to have decided against giving an explanation.

The package is almost as long as her arm – which, true, isn't very long on account on her being seven –, thin and wrapped like a present in a silver paper, it even has an orange bow in one of it's extremes.

She looks back at Bear, rising an eyebrow. He huffs, a sound between amused and exasperated. "Just open it already, it's not a bomb okay?"

"What's the occasion?" she asks, hoping that she sounds nonchalant despite the burning curiosity she is feeling. She starts tearing the silver paper carefully.

"What do you mean 'what's the occasion'? You passed your test, right?" Reishi shrugs. Despite everything, she guesses she did pass the test. "You're a full-fledged ninja now, people celebrate that shit!" he continues.

"Awwwww," she coos teasingly, "you caaare."

"Shut up and finish unwrapping, who takes this long tearing paper anyways?"

The last of the silver wrapping comes off and she distractingly sticks the orange bow to Bear's ANBU uniform while inspecting the wooden box inside. He snorts but otherwise makes no attempt at getting rid of the ridiculous thing, rather than that, he picks it and sticks it to the upper side of his mask.

He watches as Reishi finally opens the box and stops walking, eyes fixed on what's inside. She makes no discerning expression to let him know if she likes it or not, so he waits patiently for her to examine her present.

Inside the box sits a sheathed sword of some kind; she can't tell if it's a tantō or a wakizashi, it seems to have been crafted with Reishi's stature in mind rather than just bought in a store. The sheath and handle are both black, though she can see the Ikotsu clan crest, metallic purple against iron, on the pommel. There is no guard to be seen, and the blade inside seems to be straight rather than curved.

She picks it up carefully, handing the box to Bear so she can twirl it in her hands with ease. She draws the blade out, watching it glint with awe. It's a beautiful thing, perfectly straight with a lone edge. The point, unlike most blades she has seen up until now, isn't thinner than the rest of the blade. If it wasn't for the obviously sharpened edge on the point, it would look like the blade of a normal katana had been cut diagonally clean halfway.

It's as if someone took all the soft curves from a katana and somehow this reminds Reishi of herself, of how the process of coming back from death left her with only sharpness and cutting, jagged edges.

It's not uncommon for shinobi to order personalized weapons, so it might not be as expensive as it was in her past life, but it is a thoughtful present nonetheless. She doesn't know what she did to earn it, surely passing a stupid test isn't worth it.

"Do you like it?" Bear asks in the silence that follows.

She opens her mouth and closes it, like a fish trying to breathe out of the water. What exactly is she supposed to say? She still barely understands the reason behind this gift; she had come to consider him a close acquaintance, true, but the thought that he might consider her a friend in turn never crossed her mind until now.

She looks up at him, unconsciously glaring and making him flinch.

This asshole. This absolute idiot.

Not only did he give her a thoughtful, useful and beautiful gift, oh no, on top of that and as cheesy as it sounds, he gave her a friend.

And the best part is that he has no idea, does he?

It must be so nice and simple to just- decide that somebody is important to you. Just like that. Without worrying that the other person is secretly just putting up with you for ulterior motives, not needing the certainty and reassurance of hearing it out loud, constantly wondering when will they leave.

This amazing, wonderful, marvellous imbecile.

How does one put all this into words? The feeling of suddenly discovering a friend you didn't knew you had.

"You are an idiot," she states, and immediately resists the urge to kick herself. Of course that's the first thing that comes tumbling out of her mouth. Of course.

Bear lets out a hearty laugh. "I'm glad you like it. After all that silence I thought I broke you."

She lets out a shaky breath, glad that he knows her well enough to not be offended by her utter inability to express feelings out loud. "Thanks," she mutters.

Bear claps her in the shoulder with his massive hand, almost making her lose her balance. "So how about I teach you a few things, hmm?"

"What, right now?" It's true that probably nobody is expecting her until tomorrow morning, and that now that she feels the weight of her new weapon in her hand she can't wait to learn how to use it. They never taught more than the basics at the academy and the Uchiha style she has been learning with Fugaku doesn't include swords or anything simmilar (even though there must be a special Uchiha kenjutsu or something like that).

"Well?"

"Fuck it, let's go," she says, making him laugh.

They start walking towards the training grounds, and Reishi lets him lead the way, feeling way happier. She wonders when will Bear ask her about the test and her obvious bad humour from before; he's not one to let things slide so he's probably waiting to ask while sparring, if only to tip her off balance or distract her.

They have been walking for a while when the question assaults her: why now?

"Hey, Bear."

"What?"

"How did you know that I had finished the test? You found me awfully fast, suspiciously fast, some would say..." She stops walking and crosses her arms when he turns to her. They have some sort of staring match that he loses despite wearing a mask, and his shoulders slump in defeat.

"Your jōnin-sensei might or might not be aware of us being close and he also might or might not have suggested that I go find you right away instead of waiting until tomorrow to congratulate you when we crossed paths earlier tonight," he says in one breath. "I think he was worried about whatever it is that riled you up and wanted me to take care of it, but I'm not sure. I just found him in the Hokage tower with another three Nara, and he said that it might be a good idea to go looking for you."

"And you just did what he told you without asking anything else? How does he know about you anyways?"

"The fuck if I know. He's a Nara, alright? They're creepy like that. They always know shit."

Being Shikaku the person involved, she doubts that it was a mere coincidence that he found Bear, as ridiculous as him having planned it is. She has no time to ponder this though, because as soon as they arrive at the training ground, Bear reveals his true self as an evil sadistic teacher.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Shikaku knows that somehow he has fucked up. He doesn't know well how or why, because he followed logic and logic hardly goes wrong, if never at all. All he knows is that he did. He must have, because nobody gets that angry when all is well and good, and oh boy was his new student angry.

Had the girl known how, she would have been spilling killing intent all over the place.

He sighs, what a drag.

It's fortunate that Chōza and Inoichi insisted in going to the bar after his test was finally over – they had taken care of their own tests in the morning but were eager to chat about it – because they made for very good sound boards, not to mention that it is common knowledge that Inoichi's clan has a certain expertise in psychology. They will probably know what the hell went wrong, or at the very least help him figure it out.

It won't do to have one of your students hate you from the very first day, those things tend to be counterproductive.

The bar, of course, belongs to the Akimichi (why would they go to one that doesn't when the future head of the clan is going to be with them?) and it's full to the brim. It's one of the most popular places in Konoha, tied with other one called the temple or the shrine or whatnot, he doesn't know, he has never been there.

His friends are waiting for him already, sitting on a more private area where they can talk without being heard. It's one of the perks of coming here with the 'owner', Shikaku guesses. Shinobi can be very nosy sometimes.

"Hey."

They both turn to look at him when he plops down on the unoccupied chair and Chōza greets him by patting Shikaku's shoulder. Which wouldn't hurt if his hands weren't as big as they are. Love hurts sometimes.

"Glad you could join us, we were starting to think that your new students had killed you," Inoichi says, and Shikaku can't help but grimace at that.

"Yeah well, one of them almost did."

"What? What happened? I thought your test didn't involve fighting?" asks Chōza, sounding alarmed.

Inoichi is frowning, probably already trying to guess what happened by reading his face. "Did they get angry at not passing?"

"Nah, they all passed without a hitch. The girl got angry at the test itself, I think. Or something. I'm still not sure what was the problem. She is aware of her status and hasn't shown any hostility towards the ANBU following her so I don't think it's related to that," he muses, talking to himself.

"Okay, woah, wait a second. I think," Chōza looks between Shikaku and Inoichi, hoping that the Yamanaka is also not understanding a thing. "I think we're going to need you to start from the beginning."

Inoichi nods his agreement and Shikaku takes a deep breath, thinking about the best way to start. "Alright, so: my students. The boys are normal but the girl is one of those geniuses, you know, like the Hatake kid, but different."

"Different," echoes Inoichi, prompting him to go on.

"Yeah. She is... less than what I thought but also more," at his friend's blank faces, Shikaku tries to put his thoughts into order. He always has a hard time slowing his train of thought to explain it to everyone else, it's much easier if people just accepts his conclusions. Inoichi and Chōza are always very patient though, he appreciates that. "Physically speaking she isn't very special, she is better than the average on account of the strict training she has been undergoing with the Uchiha-"

"Oh, that girl!" interrupts Chōza. "Yeah I remember hearing about her last year. Sorry, go on, I just couldn't put a face together with her, that's all."

"The thing is, that I expected her to be some sort of pocket sized perfect soldier or something, but she has nowhere near the physical abilities that the other so-called child prodigies usually have. And well, the thing that's relevant to what happened, and you can't tell a soul about this," he debates whether or not to tell them, but to be honest, the Hokage must know by now that to tell one of them something is to tell the three. "Is that she apparently has been on the list of risk of missing nin since she was five, which is one of the reasons she was assigned someone so important as a tutor."

"I always wondered why would they put a kid from a nearly extinct clan with the head of the Uchiha..." muses Inoichi, Chōza nods his agreement.

"Because of that, I decided to take advantage of the test and make it into a loyalty test. The kids were supposed to follow a noble suspected of being a mole for a whole day, so that they would think that I was testing their stealth abilities, and then that same night the fake noble would try to coerce them into betraying the village-"

Inoichi, who has that gleam in his eyes that means he has finally understood something Shikaku is missing, interrupts him. "And how, exactly, did you plan on baiting them?"

"Well, I wrote a full report on their personal fears and desires and gave it to their intended target for study," Shikaku replies confidently. He is very proud of having finished those reports with only a day of notice. Chōza facepalms. "What? What is it?"

"Shikaku," Inoichi says with a patient tone. "What did they use to get to her?"

"Well," Shikaku starts, unsure of where Inoichi wants to go with this question but trusting in his friend's people skills. "She is staying with the Uchiha; because there were problems with her biological mother and she refused to house her any longer, and they had a kid recently, so I told my agent to play on her fear of being rejected again and substituted for the Uchiha baby."

"Shikaku she's a kid-" Inoichi protests.

"She's as smart as an adult-"

"-you can't just have someone prod at her insecurities like that! You invaded her privacy-"

"-and shinobi on the list of missing nin risk aren't supposed to have privacy."

"-and reminded her of the trauma of rejection by her own mother, what did you thought that would happen?" Inoichi finishes, and looks at Chōza for help.

"Okay," says the man in question, heaving a sigh and dragging a hand down his face. "Shikaku I have to side with Inoichi on this."

Shikaku frowns but otherwise doesn't say anything else, he understands that dealing with people isn't his strongest skill and he respects his friend's advice in the matter. He motions for them to elaborate.

"Shikaku, we know of the protocol of missing nin risk, we know that the adults are supposed to be supervised and that they must expect and endure whatever tests their supervisors deem necessary to earn their trust. This, however, is a kid we're talking about, and as smart as she is, kids are still developing their minds and they are very delicate," Inoichi explains. "At such a young age it's easy for them to be traumatised-"

"Which is why teachers usually ease them into their role as shinobi," points out Chōza.

Inoichi nods at Chōza and continues. "What we mean is that you are her sensei first, and her superior second. Even if she is under suspicion, you are supposed to look after her. That is what they are told at the academy. The kids are supposed to feel safe with you."

Shikaku bites his thumb, he thinks he knows where this is going. "So what you're saying... is that she felt that I betrayed her trust...? So she was mad because she was hurt..." he trails off, uncertain.

Inoichi makes a so-so gesture with his hand, but neither him nor Chōza elaborate further so it seems like he has reached a good enough conclusion.

Ugh, feelings, what a drag.

"So what now?" he asks. "It's not like I can just apologize, that would undermine my authority as her sensei."

Chōza snorts. "Man, authority doesn't mean shit if they don't trust you."

"I mean," says Inoichi. "Shikaku has a point." He raises a hand in a placative manner when Chōza goes to protest. "Just hear me out. What if you talk with Uchiha Fugaku? He's part of the problem right? If her insecurity has been festering since the birth of his firstborn about a year ago it must be because he doesn't know about it. Inform him and let him sort things out with his ward, then she will see that even though you were the one to open the wound you also helped to close it. That would make you trustworthy again because she will see the incident in a positive light now that the problem is solved."

Shikaku scratches his chin, there's a bit of stubble growing again, he should shave. "Huh, that's sneaky... and worth a try."

Chōza huffs. "I still think that this warrants an apology," he says unconvinced.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Reishi arrives at the Uchiha manor at four in the morning and tries to sneak in without waking anyone despite her sore muscles working against her.

It turns out that she didn't need to though, because Fugaku is sitting in the kitchen, sipping from a steaming cup and reading the same crime novel as yesterday. He has almost finished it, which tells her that he has been here reading for a while, because he had started it barely two days ago. The kitchen is also not his usual reading spot, though it is a great place to keep an ear both on the front door and the back door. Has he been here waiting for her to return?

Fugaku rises his gaze from the book and stares at her, unimpressed. Reishi feels like she has disappointed him greatly.

"So?" asks Fugaku after a tense pause.

Reishi is at a loss for a few seconds, thinking that he was for some reason asking about her training with Bear, before realising that he must mean the test. "I passed," she says simply. Fugaku nods.

"Of course."

Another tense pause that stretches for an eternity. "Were you waiting for me?" she asks, hoping that he wasn't, because that means that he has been waiting for hours on that kitchen. Fugaku merely rises an eyebrow, as if saying 'what do you think?' and something inside her snaps. "You didn't have to," she says, bitter, biting.

Fugaku's eyes widen for a moment, barely a second. "I wanted to," he replies calmly, as if he's afraid to upset her. "I wanted to know how things went."

"Well, you trained me well and I passed. Congratulations." She doesn't know why she is saying all this, why is she so angry at Fugaku all of a sudden. It's not his fault that she has fooled herself into thinking that the Uchiha were her family for the last year.

Fugaku frowns. "It's not about that."

'I know', she wants to say. 'I know that and this isn't your fault'. But frustration and hurt keep her mouth shut tight and her eyes glare at Fugaku, who slumps his shoulders. He seems to be grasping for words.

"I'm proud of you," he says, finally. It sounds somehow like a plea.

"I'm not your daughter," she spits out.

Fugaku looks like an invisible force slapped him across the face and Reishi wants to take it back. She wants to physically grab the words as they leave her mouth and cut her palms open as she shatters them, never to be heard. But none of that happens, there's just her, Fugaku and the look of hurt in his eyes. 'It's a feat to make him emote at all,' says a cruel part of her mind, 'now this is something to be proud about'. She wills that part to shut up and tries to say something, anything, but instead she turns around and leaves the house in a hurry.

She feels her eyes burn as she runs, the cold air of the night drying them and making her blink furiously.

What is she supposed to do now? How is she supposed to show her face again? She can't go back to the Uchiha manor after this. Does she have enough money to rent a small apartment by now? She will be scrapping by each month but at least she won't be living in the streets, and now that she finally has a team she should start to get better paid missions like C-ranks instead of the stupid D-ranks she has been doing.

Her train of thought collapses quite literally as she crashes against something.

"Woah, you okay there?" asks the unknown obstacle, alerting her of its very alive and sentient status.

Reishi gets up – thankfully she didn't land on her recently acquired sword – and looks up, and up, until she finally sees who she crashed into. It's a big man, more on the round side of things, if you ask her. His hair is wild and furiously red. Two purple marks, looking like tentacles, start under his jaw and work up until they reach his cheeks. She recognizes Akimichi Chōza almost instantly.

Panicked, she looks behind him and, sure enough, she sees a very surprised Shikaku. Beside him stands Yamanaka Inoichi, and the moment she makes eye-contact with him she knows she's fucked.

"I'm fine," she says detachedly, schooling her face to look as blank as possible and hoping that her voice was devoid of emotion. She might have gotten good enough to lie to Hisoka, but is she good enough for Inoichi?

Se sees Shikaku take a step forward in her periphery, though she does not dare to break eye contact with Inoichi yet. "Shouldn't you be home by now, Reishi?" the Nara asks. The word 'home' sends a pang through her chest.

"I don't remember us being on first name basis, Shikaku-sensei," she retorts instead of an explanation. She isn't in the mood to be treated as a child right now.

Inoichi rises his eyebrows, the same way people do when she lets out a particularly crude word when she's frustrated, but otherwise says nothing. He turns to look at Shikaku, never changing his expression.

Relieved at not having Inoichi's keen eyes on her, Reishi turns her attention towards her sensei. Shikaku is frowning and looking at Inoichi, who is very pointedly telling him to do something about the tiny angry child with his eyes alone. Shikaku's frown deepens, though this time he's looking at Reishi, as if planning a course of action.

"Did you run away from home?" he asks after a tense silence. A slapping sound comes from where Chōza is standing.

"...No," she says, ignoring the part of her that itches to ask 'what do you care?'.

"You did."

"If I say I didn't it's because I didn't," she insists, practically snarling.

Shikaku presses his lips in a thin line. "There was a pause before that 'no', you're lying."

Well, he does have a point, but she hadn't been expecting him to catch on so quickly. She should probably get used to that, now that he's her – she feels ill just by thinking of the word – sensei. Reishi crosses her arms and starts unconsciously shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Is there any point in lying about it though? What is she going to give him as an excuse anyways? She can't say that she's taking a stroll at four in the morning, he won't buy it.

"I was just coming back home after spending some time with my friend. You know him right? Bear? Rings any bells?" she attempts. She might not be able to run from this conversation but she sure as hell can shift it to different territory.

Shikaku runs a hand down his face and mutters something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like 'troublesome'. Inoichi shoots him a look that says that they will be talking about this later, and Chōza has his arms crossed and is looking up at the night sky. Reishi suspects he might be dissociating.

Shikaku sighs. "You were running the opposite direction. Listen, just- I'm going to walk you back home," he says with an air of finality. Before she can protest he turns around to say goodbye to his teammates, who have been suspiciously silent until now. They furiously whisper something to him, sometimes talking over each other. Before leaving, Chōza roughly ruffles her hair with an enormous hand and gives her a bag of candies that she is too stunned to reject.

Once alone, they both look awkwardly at each other for a moment, unsure of how to interact without someone else's presence acting as a buffer between them. She is pretty sure that he half expects her to jump on him and try to tear him limb from limb.

She would have tried, before, now she is just very tired. She just wants to go to sleep somewhere dark and not wake up in a while.

Shikaku clears his throat and looks like he is going to say something, but then he thinks better of it and merely turns to walk in the direction of the Uchiha manor. Reishi internally winces, she doesn't want to go back there after lashing out at Fugaku but she knows that she can't outrun a jōnin like Shikaku. Her only option is to follow and hope for the best.

By the time they are at the manor she feels the telltale heat behind her eyes that tells her she is about to cry and she wills the tears back out of spite. She isn't going to let Shikaku see more of her if it kills her. If he can tear through her walls then she will just have to build them higher and stronger and surround them with barbed wire. Fuck him.

Even though Reishi has keys, Shikaku insists in knocking on the door, even though it's four am. He also insists that he wants to talk with Fugaku and the pit of dread in her stomach becomes deeper and threatens to swallow her.

Fugaku frowns when he opens the door, probably not having been expecting a fellow jōnin to come knocking this late at night. He looks tense and the bags under his eyes are more pronounced, he's already starting to look like his future self. His shoulders sag when he spots Reishi behind Shikaku. She avoids his eyes.

"May I come in?" asks Shikaku politely. "I am aware of the hour but-"

"It's fine," cuts in Fugaku.

They follow him inside as he heads towards the living room and offers a seat to Shikaku, who accepts it graciously. Reishi is also going to sit but is stopped by Fugaku.

"Go to bed, you shouldn't be up this late."

"But-"

Fugaku places a warm hand on top of her head, usually this would help her relax, but today it only makes her flinch. Fugaku must have noticed it, because he takes a step back and she instantly misses the warmth on top of her head. "Go, have some rest."

Reishi presses her lips in a thin line, but doesn't argue any further and walks back to her room without saying goodbye to Shikaku.

She doesn't get any sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Fugaku sits across the Nara, trying to look collected despite the late hour. The jōnin fidgets under his gaze; he smells like he just came out of a bar, which is frankly off putting when Fugaku thinks about how this man is supposed to be his protégé's sensei.

"Fugaku-san," he finally starts. "I'm sorry to importunate you at such a late hour-"

"It is quite alright," Fugaku interrupts. He is not in the mood for pleasantries and, even though some part of him registers that he should be more polite with a future clan leader, his sleep deprived brain – coupled with the incident with Reishi barely a few minutes ago – gives his reply a more snippy tint than it is polite. In summary, he is worried, tired and he wants to get this over with.

Shikaku seems to catch on. He quirks an eyebrow, perhaps in surprise, and clears his throat. "It came to my attention during the test that Reishi-san has some... issues, concerning you and your family."

'I'm not your daughter.'

The words echo in his head, making him frown. He had known that Reishi was... difficult. Not difficult in the loud, obnoxious way that other children demand attention, just- easy to push away, quite ready to bolt at the first sign of hostility.

He likes to think that lately she has been more comfortable in his – their – house, more at ease. Her shoulders relaxed and not constantly ensuring a route of escape like she had when she first came.

It seems like he was wrong. Fugaku nods, prompting Shikaku to continue.

"Watching her behaviour, I've been led to believe that she isn't completely sure of her place in your household, that is, she isn't sure she is welcome."

Fugaku bristles. "Are you implying that-"

"I am not implying anything," Shikaku interrupts. Tact was never his forte. "Reishi is... a complicated child, after all that happened it's normal that the trauma led to sequels such as trust issues and feelings of being inadequate in everything she does," he says, repeating almost word for word what Inoichi had been explaining before. Shikaku is good at knowing just where to hurt but Inoichi was always the one that knew why.

"And how, might I ask, did this come to your attention?" Fugaku asks, suspicious; it could be that the Nara had wanted to know his students well, but in that case they wouldn't have been having this conversation at four in the morning, so something must have happened.

Shikaku changes his posture, a movement barely perceptible for a civilian, but Fugaku sees the fidgeting nonetheless. "The test I put the team through had some psychological elements, so gathering information was necessary." This answer is as evasive as it gets, but he hopes that Fugaku won't question him further.

"I'm not telling you to fully adopt her because I won't assume your feelings on the matter," Shikaku adds, knowing that the matter at hand will distract Fugaku at least for now. He desperately needs to take the conversation into a different direction and, seeing how protective Fugaku is of the girl, this is probably the one that will get Fugaku off his tail, and also spurn him to solve the problem. "I am just saying that she has been seeing you as a father figure for a while, and letting her think that if you want to keep your relationship professional could be misleading. I'm sure that you never intended-"

"Of course not-" Fugaku says, offended.

Shikaku trudges on, ignoring him, though he is happy to see that his tactic has been successful. "Naturally, if this attachment makes you uncomfortable, the Nara would be happy to have her. I understand that keeping your business life and your personal life sepparated while living under the same roof can be difficult, especially while taking care of a baby."

"That won't be necessary," says Fugaku with a firm voice. His expression has been turning from a slightly alarmed one, to an aggravated one and finally to the stern countenance he uses when speaking with the council. The stone mask responsible for giving him such a severe reputation. "I am grateful that you brought this to my attention and I will see to it so that it won't interfere with her performance, as I'm sure is your concern."

Shikaku knows when a conversation is over, and excuses himself politely, all the while trying not to look satisfied that his plan worked. Reishi might tell Fugaku about his... social faux pas later, but by then he will have counterarguments prepared and it will look less like he's being scolded and more like they had a disagreement in their teaching methods.

Shikaku can't help but feel a little shitty about being manipulative, but this is the best for damage control, and in the end what matters is that Fugaku will fix the miscommunication with his ward and this fuck up will be over and forgotten soon. Such is the ninja way.

Fugaku, on the other hand, is tired, angry at himself and wants nothing more than to set Shikaku Nara on fire. Hearing the jōnin low-key accuse him of neglecting Reishi is one thing, but having the balls to even suggest giving up his guardianship is too much. After how much Mikoto has worked to make her feel at home in the Uchiha manor and how overprotective is his wife of the girl... well, if she had been the one having this conversation instead of him, Shikaku would have left the house with a distinct lack of tongue. Or a little scorched around the edges, at the very least.

He silently berates himself for not having pursued his initial line of questioning, he is still sure that there was something Shikaku wasn't telling him, but he let anger cloud his senses and now the conversation wasn't salvageable without further damaging the relations between the Uchiha and the Nara. He didn't trust himself to keep being polite.

On his way to the room, Fugaku stops outside Reishi's room, maybe it would be a good idea to talk with the girl as soon as possible. Then again, after a whole day of stress she must have fallen asleep almost instantly out of exhaustion and he wouldn't want to wake her up. Tomorrow morning will probably be a better time.

In his room, Mikoto is awake, with a look that says that neither of them will sleep until he tells her what happened. He regrets waking her up when Reishi ran away, but he didn't know what to do, running after her had been his first instinct but then he had thought that if the girl was running away from him, then running after her would just stress her further. He couldn't just let her go like that though, could he? So he had woken up his wife.

Great job, Fugaku.

They discuss how to broach the subject tomorrow in hushed whispers, mindful not to wake up Itachi, who is soundly asleep in his crib. Trying to talk about feelings with Reishi is like trying to get the trust of a feral cat, you can't approach it too suddenly or it will bolt away and never trust you again, you have to make the cat want to approach you itself. However, that has been their tactic for a year and clearly, even if it's working, it's being too slow.

The next morning both of them share apprehensive looks when Reishi isn't up for breakfast, and their apprehension turns to worry when she is still unaccounted for an hour later. She has never slept late before.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Reishi would like to stay in bed forever, if possible, if not possible she would like to stay anyways.

The situation on the other side of the door is bound to be awkward at best and hostile at worst, and her bed is so warm...

She is spared the decision on whether to get up or roll over when there's a hesitant knock on the door, followed by Fugaku's voice announcing that he is going to enter.

Well, fuck.

She looks at her pastel orange pyjamas decorated by koi drawings and then at the window, weighing the pros and cons of escaping through it before Fugaku can say 'good morning', and finally decides to stay. She can't avoid this conversation forever.

She doesn't bother to get out of bed when the door opens, squinting at the sudden change in light and feeling very much like a creature of darkness. If her levels of anxiety weren't skyrocketing she would hiss as a joke. As it is though, she just waits for Fugaku to enter the room in silence.

He stays for a moment at the door, unsure, then sighs and carefully kneels beside Reishi's futon. She notices that he deliberately leaves open an escape route for her in case she wants to exit the conversation and thanks him mentally; though the fact that he did it means that he doesn't expect her to enjoy what's next. Maybe he has finally decided to give her the boot. She was pretty rude yesterday, after all.

"Morning," she says. He has been thinking of what to say ever since he entered and she supposes she can help things move along by adding a little familiarity to the situation. A script.

Fugaku gives her a nod of acknowledgement. "Did you sleep well?"

"More or less, yeah."

"You're staying in bed a little late today," he says. It sounds like an observation but she know it's a question.

"I'm just tired, I came ho- I came back pretty late last night."

Fugaku hums non-committally. "I talked with Shikaku."

"Ah." She isn't sure what to answer to that so she waits for him to continue.

"He said..." Fugaku frowns and clears his throat, looking to the side as if thinking. She can barely make out the outline of his face in the darkness of the room but he seems frustrated. Finally, the sound of Mikoto's steps save him from saying whatever it was that he was trying to force out. Her shadow blocks the light coming in from the door that Fugaku left open and Reishi sighs contentedly.

It doesn't last for long though, as soon as Mikoto enters the room, she gives baby Itachi to Fugaku and opens the shutters, letting the morning sun viciously attack Reishi's eyes. Reishi groans and tries to rub her eyes, then she feels a weight beside her and finds that Fugaku has decided that her futon is the best place for Itachi to be right now.

The baby is sitting and looking at her with his huge eyes, like a tiny owl. For a moment he seems to be thinking about something, then he comes to some unknown conclusion and tries to crawl on Reishi's lap. With a long suffering sigh, Reishi sits cross-legged and picks him up, placing him on the small space her legs are forming. Itachi seems satisfied.

"Awww," coos Mikoto. "He looks so cute with his big sis, doesn't he, Fugaku?"

Reishi nearly chokes at the implication, she looks down at Itachi, who is keeping his eyes trained on her (does he even blink?) and he gurgles something incomprehensible.

Mikoto takes this opportunity to sneak on her from behind, hugging her and Itachi (carefully, mind you) and making them roll on the bed, blankets and all. She blows a raspberry on Reishi's unsuspecting cheek and Itachi giggles at the sound. Reishi's protests fall on deaf ears and she looks at Fugaku for support, but he only shakes his head with a half smile. Reinforcements won't come today.

When Mikoto decides to start tickling her she gives up. "I yield! I yield!"

"You heard that, Itachi? We won!" Mikoto cheers, Itachi squeaks happily. "Daddy's team lost, so now they have to make lunch!"

Fugaku looks at her alarmed. "My team?" he asks, quirking an eyebrow. When he looks at Reishi, who is still laying down, she lazily turns her head towards him and mouths the word 'traitor'. Fugaku sighs, defeated. This is the very reason he married Mikoto; she managed to lift Reishi's spirits, make her feel included and also make sure the two of them have some alone time to discuss things later. What an amazing woman. Not to mention that she got out of making lunch herself too, sneaky.

The atmosphere, as light as it is, turns a little awkward when Mikoto leaves to change Itachi's diaper (he's one smelly, smelly baby). Fugaku clears his throat, suddenly unsure of his footing again. Finally, when Reishi is going to get up, he speaks.

"I know that you want to move to another house as soon as possible," he says, abruptly. Reishi freezes. "You know that that is not necessary."

"I don't want to impose-"

"You are not," he interrupts her with a firm tone. "This is your home as long as you want it to be, we are happy to have you here."

"I- Okay," she says, unsure of what to answer. "Okay," she repeats while standing from her former position in the floor, as if assuring herself.

Fugaku gets up too, ready to leave the room, but seems to rethink it at the last moment and turns around to face her again. He shifts his weight and frowns, then awkwardly lifts one arm.

Reishi is... confused, at first, then she understands the gesture and tries very hard not to laugh at this awkward, awkward man. She closes the space between them and snuggles to Fugaku's side, feeling his arm wrap around her shoulders and give her two clumsy pats for reassurance. It's good that she hit a growth spurt a month ago or so, because it would have been weird to just hug his leg.

At least the pit of blackness in her gut seems to be receding to a small spot, barely noticeable if you don't know that it's there in the first place, and the beast goes back to sleep for now.

"You are so bad at this, old man," she says, her voice muffled by his clothes. She feels him snort.

 

 

 


 

 

 

She hasn't seen Obito for a while now. Well, she saw him on Thursday and the rift between them almost seemed nonexistent with how thrilled he was at having graduated and at being in the same team as Rin ('can you believe it?! Rin! This is the best day ever!'), but his team started training together that very Friday and they had also trained together during the weekend so she hadn't been able to train with him on Sunday as always.

She guesses that now that they both have their own teams, it's normal to train with their teammates, but she still wishes that she had a moment to go find him and figure out a new schedule so they can see each other. She misses that stupid idiot already.

It's not like she herself has much spare time though, she is supposed to start training and doing missions with her team daily from now on, so she doesn't know when she would be able to sneak out.

Speaking of the devil, if she doesn't hurry up she will be late for her first training session with her own team. She doesn't know why Shikaku wanted to wait until Monday to start, probably because he's a lazy asshole, she figures.

She is the last one to arrive to training ground 3, though she's barely late, more like the rest were too damn early. She can't blame them for being eager though.

"Yo, Reishi!" Ibiki waves at her the moment he spots her, making her wince at his lack of an inside voice. How this boy will manage to get into T&I, she doesn't know. He's as loud as it gets.

"Reishi-san," greets Shirakumo when she lands near them. "Good morning."

"Morning," she says absent-mindedly. She takes a few moments to scan the training ground in search of the garbage pile that is supposed to be her sensei, but she doesn't see him anywhere. She quirks an eyebrow. "Sensei?" she simply asks. Ibiki shrugs.

"He hasn't arrived yet," provides Shirakumo. Reishi hums.

It isn't long before Shikaku arrives, yawning miserably and muttering something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like he's insulting whoever invented mornings. The boys greet him enthusiastically and he winces. Reishi hopes he has a massive hangover. Petty, she knows, but imagining his suffering still makes her feel better, so she doesn't particularly care.

"Alright team, gather around," he says, sitting on a rock nearby and flipping open a green folder. "We're going to talk about your performance on the test; what you did well and what you didn't. Who wants to start?"

The three genin sit in a circle around him, feeling like they're in an improvised classroom. Ibiki's hand shoots up so fast that Reishi fears for a moment that he has dislodged his shoulder. Shikaku nods and flips a few sheets until he finds the one he's looking for.

"Alright... We'll start with you then. Generally, all of you did very well in the stealth part, you did it by the book so there's not much to talk about in that regard, what you need now is practice. What we will be talking about is the second part of the test. Okay?"

Two 'yes, sensei' resonate around Shikaku, Reishi just stares blankly, apparently waiting for him to start talking. He sighs, of course it wouldn't be that easy.

"Ibiki, you were too forceful on your questioning, you can't just start asking as soon as you face the mole. You need to be more patient than that or you'll just get a kunai to the face. The key in interrogations where the subject can escape at any moment is to make them believe that they have the upper-hand."

Ibiki frowns. "But if I don't ask questions how am I supposed to get information?"

"You let them talk until they become careless and say something useful," he uses the folder to point at Reishi, startling her. "She did a good job on that, she gave the target evasive answers and let them reach their own conclusions and answer in kind. If you keep your answers vague enough their subconscious will do the job for you," he explains, Ibiki nods thoughtfully.

In the pause that follows, Shirakumo rises his hand. "I would like to be next, sensei."

"I think you already know what you did wrong though," Shikaku says with a small smirk.

Shirakumo purses his lips and frowns, his ears take a reddish hue. "I attacked the target as soon as he discovered me..."

"Yes, and that lead to him escaping. I know that the ideal situation would be to capture the target to later interrogate them in a controlled enviroment, but sometimes we don't have that luxury." At Shirakumo's crestfallen expression, he adds, "however, you were able to see your mistake for yourself, so that is already some progress. We can make mistakes, the problem would be not learning from them."

Finally, Shikaku turns to address Reishi. "Ikotsu-san, your turn. What do you think you did wrong in your test?"

Huh? She didn't thought she had done anything wrong.

'I already have a family, thank you.'

Reishi is hit by a wave of realization.

"I let the enemy get under my skin and unknowingly gave away personal information," she says remembering the clipped tone with which she delivered that phrase, "and they used that against me."

Shikaku nods. "Exactly," he says, but he doesn't elaborate on it. His eyes tell her that they both know what she is thinking about. She is glad that he decided against talking about that with her teammates present, and at the same time mad that he has information about her he can use somehow. She knows that he isn't going to blackmail her with it, this isn't about that, but she still hates that he has the possibility.

Shikaku claps twice to get their attention, and she snaps back from her contemplative stupor. When she rises her gaze, her eyes meet with Ibiki's. He looks at her, then at Shikaku and then back at her, rising his eyebrows in a silent question. Reishi shakes her head and he shrugs, she doesn't think he will drop it so easily.

"Alright, let's see what you guys can do. You're all going to spar with me in turns, don't worry about hurting me, go all in. I want to see all of your tricks, even the cards in your sleeves. Everything, understood?"

The first one this time is Shirakumo. Thanks to his kenjutsu he is the best of them at hand to hand combat; even if Ibiki is physically stronger and has a better stamina, Shirakumo isn't far behind. This, coupled with a level of agility to rival Reishi's own, makes him a formidable opponent. For another genin, that is.

Shikaku is able to parry all his strikes with a kunai, making it look effortless. Sweat beads start to drop from Shirakumo's temples, and Reishi is sure that his forehead would be full of them if it wasn't for the hitai-ate. All in all, Shikaku overpowers him easily and Shirakumo lets himself drop beside her, too exhausted to care about being appropriate or polite. Reishi throws her water bottle at him and he nods at her gratefully.

Next up is Ibiki, his stile is less straightforward, using clones upon clones to confuse Shikaku and constantly trading places with a few kunai he threw at the beginning of the battle. Reishi hadn't known why had he thrown them at first, but she was surprised by how cunning Ibiki could be when his plan was apparent. Still, using the substitution with an object as small as that one takes a huge chunk of chakra, so she is surprised by how many times he is able to use it before exhausting his reserves. It looks like out of the three genin Ibiki is the one with more chakra, which makes sense, knowing that one of his main jutsus is a summon contract of some sorts (it's the only one she has seen that doesn't summon living creatures though).

Speaking of which, Ibiki slaps his hand on the ground and trails of ink sprouts from his touch; three chains shoot out of the earth trying to trap Shikaku, to no avail. Shikaku flickers away and looks surprised at the construction, he probably wasn't expecting a genin to have a summoning contract already.

Ibiki yields between taking big gulps of air, apparently that was his last shot.

Reishi is last, which is the best position because Shikaku is bound to be at least a little tired by now, even if he is a jōnin. Well, to be fair, two genin don't make much of a difference against a jōnin, but it's better than nothing.

Reishi decides that trying to fight him head on is a waste of her time, so the first thing she does when he announces the start of the spar is to cloak the training ground in black smoke. She has been practising to make it denser and has a mask made out of cloth to make the breathing easier. She is pleased to feel his chakra spike out of surprise while she puts on said mask, it's a pity that she hasn't figured out how to see in it yet because his face must be priceless. What she is better at though, is at throwing inside the smoke.

Two senbon soar towards Shikaku and she smiles wider than ever when she hears a yelp and two clangs of metal. He has been fast enough to deflect them but at least she has managed to throw him off even if only for a few minutes. Besides, there are no shadows in the smoke.

Soon, it becomes obvious that she can't land a hit on him despite the terrible visibility, and everytime he gets close enough to attack her she slips out of his grasp like the smoke itself. If the smoke could last forever, it would be a draw, however, it soon dissipates and Reishi finds herself forced to yield just as Ibiki had minutes ago.

"How did you know where I was and when I was throwing my senbon inside the smoke?" she asks while removing her mask.

Shikaku coughs a little and tries to wave at the remaining smoke. "Senbon are good for stealth because their shape doesn't disturb the air around it like kunai or shuriken do. Your sleeves, on the other hand..." he trails off. "Why didn't you use your wakizashi?" he asks, curious, pointing at the weapon strapped on her back.

"I only got it recently and barely have trained with it."

Shikaku nods at the explanation. "Do you have a mentor?"

Reishi cocks her head to the side, wondering if Bear counts. "A friend offered to practice with me once a week."

"That isn't enough," Shikaku frowns. "I'll pair you up in kenjutsu spars with Shirakumo, only wooden swords for now though. Alright?" he asks, looking at Shirakumo. It seems like Reishi doesn't have a say in the matter, though it's not like she would say no either.

Shirakumo gives Reishi a small bow, having recovered his breath and with it his formal demeanor."It will be my pleasure."

"That's taken care of then," mutters Shikaku, taking a gulp of water and grimacing. He is probably still tasting the smoke in the back of his throat.

They spend the rest of the morning learning the tree climbing technique and Ibiki is way too amused at Reishi's incompetence. For all their training, this is the one thing that Fugaku was never able to cram into her head.

After some unsuccessful practising, her tree is so mangled that she can barely look at it without feeling pity. She saw Shikaku actually wince looking at it.

"You know," says Ibiki while thoughtfully staring at her work. "You could try to climb your enemies..."

His expression is serious, so Reishi can't tell if he is mocking her or if he is really suggesting she try to climb people, but she absent-mindedly hurls a chunk of bark in his direction for good measure.

"She would peel their skin off," chimes in Shirakumo, grimacing at the mental image.

Ibiki turns at him with a grin. "Exactly."

Reishi frowns. "Do you think that would count as psychological warfare? I mean, imagine-"

"Children, please, don't be creepy," pleads Shikaku from his spot a few meters away. He sighs exasperated, mutters something under his breath about sadistic genin nowadays, and walks to where they are. "You keep using too much chakra," he says, contemplating the now bark-less tree. A sad drop of sap slowly forms on its surface, as if crying from the mistreatment. "Also maybe you should try with another tree."

"I know!" Reishi gestures at the base of the tree, which doesn't seem as peeled off as the rest. "I start okay but then I keep telling myself that I have to compensate for the gravity and shit and I keep increasing the amount of chakra subconsciously," she explains, exasperated.

Shikaku frowns. "You don't have to increase the chakra the farthest you are from the ground..."

"The human brain understands that, the monkey brain doesn't," she snaps back. She can hear Ibiki and Shirakumo, who had gone back to trying to climb the trees, gasp behind her. Shikaku's frown deepens.

"Snapping at your sensei-"

"Having a pack of children following you around doesn't make you a sensei," she interrupts. "Knowing how to teach does."

There are a few beats of silence in which he observes her, turning some kind of puzzle piece around in his head, before he speaks again. "I'm still trying to understand what went wrong with your upbringing," he states, more like this is something that he has been asking himself than an insult.

Reishi is offended nonetheless. "My mom didn't hug me as a child," she says in a mocking tone. She has to admit that her fuse is shorter around Shikaku and that, were he any other person, she probably wouldn't be acting as a spoiled brat.

"You should write a list and send it to me," he says sarcastically. She is surprised to see him stoop at her level of pettiness, then again, this Shikaku isn't the same as the adult one. This one is younger, just as intelligent but not as wise yet.

"I thought you liked playing therapy, sensei," she answers, her voice mockingly sweet.

For a moment she expects him to snap back or something, but instead he closes his eyes and takes a calming breath. When he seems to have calmed down, he speaks again. "Try not to think that you're going up, just forget that there's directions. Wherever you decide to set your foot on is your new down and the rest of the world's gravity shifts with it. Just take a moment to convince yourself and then try climbing the tree again, alright? From what I can understand, what you have is a mental block, not difficulty controlling the chakra, so this should work well enough."

Reishi sees him walk back to his spot, thrown off by his sudden change of heart. She is a bit disappointed at not being able to argue with him further, and also a bit disappointed that he isn't as much of a dick as she expected him to be. The advice isn't half bad either, so she huffs and sits cross-legged at the base of the tree. Meditation always helps.

She tries not to think about the chakra around her this time, just on the sensation of floating, of being suspended in a void. When she tries the nest time, she can climb the tree just fine.

 

 

 

 


Bonus Scene (because I want the chapter to leave in that last note but also I have no fucking clue how to insert this shit in the next chapter. Wtf, it's so short. What do you want from me):


"You have beef with the sensei," is the first thing that comes out of Ibiki's mouth when he catches up to her after training. Shirakumo is trailing behind him, a mild frown in place. Reishi huffs and keeps jumping from roof to roof, but otherwise she doesn't deny it. The argument from before was pretty obvious after all.

"He calls you 'Ikotsu-san', he doesn't do that with any of us," he continues. "Besides, I've never seen you snap like that with anyone, is this about the test? Did something happen?"

"Why do you think it's about the test?" comes Shirakumo's voice, curious, behind her.

"She was fine with him when we met him, she started being annoyed with him after the test. That and he didn't talk about her mistake in the test like he did with ours, which means that he was avoiding the subject on some level," explains Ibiki.

Ibiki runs until he is beside her. "What did the guy tempt you with?" he asks. Reishi stops, making them outrun her and have to come back.

"I don't want to talk about it, It's personal."

"But-" Whatever Ibiki was going to say is interrupted by Sirakumo.

"I think that if Reishi-san was hurt enough by it to snap at our sensei, then we should respect her privacy," he says. Ibiki frowns, but doesn't make another attempt at asking.

Chapter Text

[Codex Entry: Tora the Cat

The entity known as 'Tora the cat' is formed by an amalgamation of various cats.

It all started with the first Tora, a few years even before Konoha was founded.

As legend goes, while the carriage of a noblewoman passed through the fire country, which was being ravaged by the constant war between the ninja clans, it stopped to rest near a calmly flowing river.

The noblewoman, resting under the shadow of a tree then saw a cat, a little thing no bigger than her own hand. Pitying the poor animal, and seeing that it was alone, the woman fed it the leftovers of her lunch.

During the course of her journey, the cat would follow the carriage, growing strong thanks to the constant feeding the noblewoman provided and the never-ending travelling.

/Note scribbled in the margin of the historic record by a scholar: though Tora's fur has been described in many stories as luscious, flowing and long, we should take into account that the Fire country most common breed is the longtail cat, known for its short mottled fur and brownish coloration. The long-haired breeds, such as the whitecoats from Mist country, wouldn't be introduced to our country until years later, thus making it almost impossible for the first Tora to have had long fur./

After months of travelling together, the carriage was attacked by bandits. The woman, already pregnant by then (though the story never states why she was travelling while pregnant, where was she going or where was her husband), could only run a meager distance while the bandits and her guards massacred each other.

In the end, only one badly injured bandit remained, though he was more than enough to end the life of the defenceless lady. However, when all seemed lost for her, the feral cat valiantly leaped onto the attacker, hissing and clawing at the man, who desisted his attack in fear of the wild beast and ran away.

The noblewoman would then be miraculously saved by ninjas in passing, who had heard the ruckus but were too late to the fight. Grateful towards the noble animal, she would decide to adopt the cat and, in future years, the tradition of adopting a feral cat into the noblewoman's family and name it Tora would be established.

The child that the woman bore would grow to become the ancestor of the Daimyo's wife, who would continue with her family's legacy.]

 

 

 

This, Reishi decides, is bullshit. Of course the damn cats keep escaping from her, you can't just capture a feral animal and not expect it to run away. Of course, no one has had the balls to tell this to the Daimyo's wife, so her reign of terror will probably go on unhindered.

This Tora is the ugliest thing Reishi has seen in all her life. It has long black hair full of dirt and matted in a way that makes it look like it has dreads in some parts of its body. The stupid vermin is also missing an eye and has a limp on its left hind leg, like a cat pirate. It also has a flattened face and its only eye seems full of hatred.

All in all, it's a fucking ugly cat. And it's their mission to catch it.

Or it had been, ten minutes ago.

Remembering what team seven had gone through to capture 'their' Tora, she had almost been expecting to chase the cat all over Konoha to finally drag it 'kicking and screaming' into the Hokage's office.

What she hadn't been expecting was for the cat to leapt to her arms and, emboldened by its new position of advantage, proceed to hiss at Ibiki and Shirakumo every time they tried to edge closer. It had been hilarious to see it scratch Shikaku's hand when the man had tried to grab it by the neck like a kitten.

Reishi, meanwhile, had frozen like a statue with the cat awkwardly in her arms, afraid that any move would make it turn on her. Which leads us to the current situation.

Reishi stares at the cat, the cat stares back with it's lone yellow eye.

Honestly, if the Daimyo's wife was looking for the grumpiest, most mangled cat in the streets, they could have just sent Danzō.

"I think..." says, Shirakumo, whith a tone both uncertain and amazed. "I think it likes you..."

"I don't know man," answers Ibiki, "I think he looks like he hates." They are both talking in an almost whisper, trying not to disturb Reishi's staring match with The Creature.

"Hates," Shirakumo asks in a flat tone.

Ibiki makes a vague hand gesture. "Yeah just- Hates. Generally." Shirakumo humms and nods, as if understanding a very serious matter.

The cat's ear twitches and Reishi tries to stretch her arms – slowly – farther, making a strangled sound. The cat looks offended. "Uh, guys, could you just be useful for a second- Just for a second, and get this thing off me?"

"It doesn't look like it's going to attack you, why don't you try giving one step and see what happens?" Shikaku, who has had his injured finger in his mouth up until now, suggests.

"Fuck no."

Ibiki sniggers while Shirakumo frowns at her choice of words.

Shikaku insists. "Maybe it won't do anything."

"Or maybe I'll lose an eye, you don't know. It's easy to talk from a safe distance," she says bitterly.

Ibiki starts rummaging in his pouch, looking for something, and pulls out one of those camouflage cloths to blend in with walls. He holds it up with a triumphant grin. "I have an Idea."

Shirakumo looks at him skeptically. Shikaku, whose whole teaching method is to watch from the sidelines and offer advice and corrections when needed, stays quiet and looks on curiously.

"Okay, so hear me out. Shirakumo and I will grab the cloth so it's spread wide," Ibiki says, Shirakumo and Reishi nodding along. "And then you throw-"

Reishi interrupts him, shaking her head vehemently. "Oh hell no. I don't like this plan."

"It'll just be a moment-" Ibiki insists.

"This thing will gut me, I see murder in its eye. Look at it, it's already planning how to hide our corpses," she yells-whispers.

"Reishi-san," Shirakumo cuts in. He has learnt to be tired of their constant bullshit during the last few D-ranks. "With all due respect, it's not like we have any other plan."

"Ugggghh, fiiine."

Shirakumo grabs two of the cloth's edges and Ibiki keeps the other two, opening it wide and angling it diagonally in front of Reishi, while Shikaku discreetly takes a few steps away for good measure. Ibiki clears his throat. "On three. One... Two... Three!"

Reishi throws the cat as fast as she can towards the makeshift cloth-trap and her two teammates close it as soon as the animal touches it, tying the four edges with a rope so it can't escape again. The Creature yowls, enraged, trying to escape. They can see it's claws piercing the cloth, though luckily it doesn't seem able to cut through it. That would have been terrifying.

"That isn't a cat," says Reishi, breathing heavily. "It's a monster."

"I'm not carrying that," says Ibiki, and the three genin share a Look of understanding. A moment of connexion, of mental transcendence.

Ibiki picks the bag by the rope and throws it at Shikaku.

The jōnin is able to grab the cat only by sheer reflexes and curses loudly when the sharp claws of the animal dig into him.

"Thanks for offering Sensei!" Ibiki yells over his shoulder while the three run towards the Hokage tower.

"It's very nice of you to do this for us poor, weak genin!" Joins Reishi, barely concealing the laughter.

"It is very honorable, indeed," adds Shirakumo, surprising the other two with his complicit smile. They thought he would be displeased at throwing an animal at their sensei. It seems that the boy has finally relaxing around them, Reishi decides.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Hiruzen has seen many things in his years as a ninja, which is why he doesn't bat an eyelash when three giggly genin enter his office with a very grumpy jōnin full of scratches – and holding a screaming bag? – behind them.

Shikaku Nara glares at his students for a millisecond before squaring his shoulders, clearing his throat and stating the purpose of their visit. "Tora," he says, lifting the rabid bag in front of him. The three genin dissolve into a fit of silent giggles behind him and his left eye twitches.

"I- uh, well done," says Hiruzen, looking warily at the bag now that he knows that that demon cat is inside it. This has to be the worst Tora the Daimyo's wife has picked until now, and his team was the first one to catch a Tora when he was a genin, so he should know.

With a flick of his wrist, an ANBU appears and carefully takes the bag from Shikaku's hand, trying to keep it as far from their body as possible. When the ANBU leaves, the office seems eerily silent, now that the infernal yowling has stopped.

Hiruzen clears his throat and, for the first time, he notices that the girl in the genin team is actually the little girl that he assigned to Fugaku some time ago. He lifts an eyebrow and she seems to sober up instantly, pursing her lips in apparent distaste but giving him a nod of acknowledgement. She has never bothered hiding her distaste from him or the council, has she? What an interesting little girl.

However, he has things to do, so he can't stay here thinking about some side puzzle he found until he resolves it. "You have been doing D-ranks for a few months now..." he trails off, scratching his chin. Shikaku quirks an eyebrow.

Hiruzen nods to himself and pulls out a scroll from a drawer in his desk. "I have a C-rank for your team, should you think they are prepared for it," he says, extending the scroll towards Shikaku, who frowns and starts reading it. The two boys behind him seem to simmer with excitement as they watch their sensei read, while the girl stares at Hiruzen with an unreadable expression.

"Huh," comes Shikaku's voice, snapping him from his sudden stare contest with the girl. "I think we can manage it," he says with a smirk.

Hiruzen nods. "Then it's yours."

The boys start cheering, as the girl looks at them with an exasperated but fond smile. Then, as if remembering where they are, the boys bow and so does the girl, albeit reluctantly. After bowing too, Shikaku ushers his team out of the Hokage's office, uttering a quiet 'don't you think I've forgotten about the cat' to them while he does so. One of the boys groans, the sound becoming muffled as the door closes behind him.

Hiruzen sighs, feeling very old. Someday he will have to send these children to fight in the war.

 

 

 


 

 

 

"What's the mission about, sensei? Come on, spill it!" Ibiki is practically bouncing on his feet, unable to contain his excitement. Understandable, Shikaku supposes, this will be their first 'real' mission outside the village. However... "I'm not telling you anything until you run ten laps around the village." There's a chorus of undignified complaints. Shikaku can feel a vein start to swell in his temple. "No buts! Next time, think it through before throwing a demon at your sensei!"

The three genin snigger a little, trying to stop smiling when Shikaku glowers at them. Eventually they start running, and Shikaku uses this time to read through the mission scroll more carefully. It seems like it was tailor made for his team, considering that he was planning on making them an information gathering unit.

The part that he doesn't like that much is the placement. He was hoping that he wouldn't have to take his genin outside the first patrol ring at least in another year, but it seems like that was too much to hope. They are stretched thin and barely have enough chūnin to run the village as it is, so he supposes he can't be picky. At least it's not the seventh ring. The third isn't that bad, is it? It's not like anyone could get past the first four rings, right? Right.

His genin are back, thankfully, before he can start hyperventilating. They all look at him expectantly, barely containing their excitement. Well, it's not like Ikotsu ever shows any emotion that is not anger or annoyance when he's around, but he supposes that deep down she is excited.

Deep, deep down.

There must be a reason why the demon cat seems to like her, he's just saying.

"Very well kids, our mission consists on investigating the disappearances in Tomogui village. As per the procedure, we will interrogate the people that were close to the villagers missing and see if we can find anything suspicious about their behaviour," he explains. Shirakumo rises his hand.

"How many people have gone missing?"

"Five up until now."

Reishi scrunches her nose. "Why had nobody issued a petition of investigation yet? Five seems like a big number in this case."

Shikaku nods with approval. That is a good question. "It's not unusual, during war, for people of the smaller villages to flee the country in search of safety. They must have thought that these people left on their own volition. However, we will have time to ask all those questions when we arrive there, that's what the investigation is for."

"What should we take with us? Is it far?" asks Ibiki.

"The mission will be taking place in the third ring, about a day and a half from here. The weather is not cold enough to warrant a tent yet, so a bedroll should be good. We will likely be there for two to five days, so prepare accordingly." Shikaku dismisses his genin after the explanation, they have to be ready to leave tomorrow morning, so there's no use in busying them with training this afternoon. They must be rested for the journey.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Reishi decides that it is time she buys some decent ninja gear. Up until now she has been wearing sports clothes, which are comfortable to move in and give enough protection for D-ranks, but are not adequate for real missions.

Besides, what Shikaku said about her sleeves has been bothering her; it's no use having a jutsu that makes your enemy practically blind if they can still hear you. Either she magically acquires the stealth level of a jōnin or... the sleeves have to go.

Luckily, the lessons at the academy taught them to manipulate their body temperature at will so the weather wouldn't be an obstacle. Of course, that doesn't mean that they are immune to snowstorms all of a sudden; the body still needs the pertinent caloric input for the energy spent, and it's an exercise that uses chakra (if by a minimal amount with the right control). It should be enough with an energy bar though.

She had always wondered how could the women of the Narutoverse wear outfits meant for summer in the middle of winter and now she knows; apparently, this technique is perfect for making Fashion Statements.

With this in mind, and the need to find a better place than her forehead to wear the hitai-ate (because wearing it in the forehead is horribly uncomfortable, let me tell you. It slides right off! How is she supposed to keep it from sliding off?), she sets course for the shopping district.

The shopping district is different from what she expected. She thought that the normal stores and the ninja stores would be in different sectors, sepparated for the commodity of the civilian perhaps. However, what she found was a completely heterogeneous street; ranging from fruit vendors announcing their wares, to stern blacksmiths working on the new batch of kunais.

It is towards one of these last shops that she goes first, hoping to get her hitai-ate modified into a, more comfortable for wear, version. After a little bit of consulting with the blacksmith, in which he asks about her fighting style and dominant hand, he decides that the best place she can wear her hitai-ate for now is her neck. As he takes her measurements, he assures her that it will fit snugly, not hindering in any way any jutsus that come out of her mouth (the smoke, as the fire, generally generates in the back of her throat, so it isn't like it would bother her too much anyways), and asks her to come back in two to three hours.

Next is the clothing, then. She has already eyed a store not far away, it was where Ryouji used to buy his ninja clothes when his old ones got torn and the woman was always very nice to her while she waited. Besides, the prices aren't too high.

Entering the shop brings back memories of her time with Ryouji and Fuhaku here. Ryouji seemed to take great pleasure in embarrassing his wife and daughter by being as silly as possible. Twirling as he came out of the fitting room and making the most ridiculous poses. Fuhaku still laughed back then.

Imagine her surprise, when she finds none other than Rin inside.

"Rei-chan?" the girl says, clearly not having been expecting her.

Reishi gives her an awkward wave as way of greeting. "Hello, it's been a long time."

Rin smiles sadly. "About two weeks, I think."

"How is training going?" Reishi moves to examine the clothes to the left of Rin, holding a pair of pants up and discarding them after a brief moment.

"It's... good."

Reishi frowns. "Just good?"

"I- do the boys on your team get along well?" Rin asks.

"Yeah? I mean Ibiki likes to tease Shirakumo about being too formal and such, but they work well together. Why do you ask?" Reishi knows that Obito and Kakashi must be getting along like water and oil, but she isn't supposed to know yet, and hearing Rin complain about it seems like a fun enough way to entertain herself while looking for a new outfit. Huh, that shirt looks good.

"Well, Obito and Kakashi... they aren't very nice to each other..." Rin explains, unaware of Reishi just lending half an ear. Reishi gives a non-committal hum.

"Does it affect the teamwork?"

"It does!" It's obvious that this distresses Rin greatly. Curious, Reishi thought that she was more or less oblivious to the boys' rivalry. "And the worst is..." Rin bites her lip, looking uncertain. "It's really affecting Obito, you know?"

Reishi's attention snaps from the skirt in her hands to Rin. "How so?" she asks, trying to sound nonchalant.

"He's been training non-stop, even out of our training sessions. You know how bad that is, he can't push his body like that! It's not healthy!"

It is quite disconcerting how vehemently Rin waves her hands when she is passionate about something, and she is quite passionate about her teammates' health, Reishi realizes. "Uh, have you talked to your sensei about this?"

Rin sighs. "Minato sensei already told him that training too much isn't good, but he just keeps saying that he doesn't want to be left behind, you know? I think... I think that seeing the level gap between Kakashi and himself, and then you... that must have been hard..."

Reishi frowns at a pair of knee high socks reinforced with mesh. "Me? What about me?"

"You got into the academy two years after us, and still graduated before us! You progressed so quickly!" she says, excited. Then she adds in a quieter tone, "I think he feels like you're leaving him behind."

Reishi huffs. She didn't chose any of that. She didn't chose to be forced to kill a man so she could survive. If he wants the blood on her hands for himself then she'd be happy to oblige. "I'm not the one that keeps cancelling plans or coming up with excuses." It's hard to recognise it, but it bothers her that he would choose training over spending time together.

Rin looks at her with a saddened expression, but doesn't rebuke it, she knows better than anyone that he has been getting more and more distant lately. "I just miss the old Obito..."

Reishi purses her lips. "I miss him too."

In the end they both part ways with new clothes but the same old problem. Reishi wishes that she had known about this earlier, and not the day before she leaves for a mission that will take a week or so to complete. She had merely thought that he wanted to spend more time with Rin, being as he was smitten with the girl, and though it bothered her, she hadn't paid it any mind. Things hurt less if you try to forget that they exist.

Besides, she had been so caught up with what had happened during her test and her new training sessions with Bear that she had almost managed to forget Obito. Almost.

The damn boy is always in the corner of her mind, like the shadows in the corner of someone's eye. Persistent yet easy to lose the sight of. Elusive.

She hates that she can't just forget it. She hates that she has ended up surrounded by dead people and she is too weak to do anything about it. She had lost sight of the greater picture some time ago, blinded by the nostalgic feeling of a long lost family and evenings plagued by the clanging sound of metal against metal.

The death of Obito gets closer every day she spends drowning in her new life, and she still doesn't know what to do about it.

She goes home to change into her new clothes; a black, sleeveless, kimono-like top part, simmilar to what Kushina had worn as a kid. Except for the pants, the slits at the sides of the 'skirt' and the stuffy-looking (but actually comfy) grey and purple obi with an orange front bow. The obi is perfect for hiding weapons in it and, being tied in the front, it doesn't make having her katana in the back uncomfortable.

Speaking of which.

"Hey Bear!" she calls. "Bear!"

No response.

"Agent Bear likes big, fat co-!"

"Alright, alright!" comes a voice from somewhere in the roof above. Reishi laughs and opens the window, giving Bear a smug look when he perches on the windowsill. "What does the bratty, bratty lady of the household want?"

Reishi sticks out her tongue, which earns her a huff of a laugh while he shakes his head. "I have the rest of the evening free," she says, "entertain me."

Despite her demanding tone there's a wicked smile on her face. Bear, still on the windowsill like a glorified bird, attempts a bow that threatens to make him lose his balance. "As the lady wishes, would her highness accept a very much needed training session? Or would she rather empty my wallet as usual?"

Reishi snorts. "Hey, I'm not that bad at using the sword!"

Bear makes a so-so motion with his hand, if she could see his face, he would probably be grinning like an asshole.

They have been growing closer lately, training together seems to be the ninja way to bond or something. She would have rather gone to a bar together and drink their worries away, but alas, she is but a little girl, and she is not allowed anywhere near her forbidden love: beer. So training it is.

Her swordsmanship, though she doubts it can be called that with a wakizashi so small, has improved greatly since she started having her daily training sessions with Shirakumo and some extras with Bear. (For someone his size, Bear is surprisingly agile, she expected him to be a 'smashy smash' kid of guy, to be honest.)

She is still a beginner, but at least now there's no risk of poking someone in the eye with it by accident. A pity, she thinks, Shikaku would look just lovely with an eyepatch.

In the end she takes Bear's offer of a training session, if only to test her new clothes and see if he can hear her in the midst of her smoke. The results are immediate, and Bear spends at least half an hour whining about a scratch in his shoulder afterwards.

"Look at this!" he complains. "It's right on the ANBU tattoo! It looks terrible!"

"Bo-hoo, what a terrible tragedy. At least I could have had the decency to pierce your neck!" she mocks back. The joke makes her wince, reminding her of the blank face of the man she killed; a red eye and a white one looking at the void, but he doesn't seem to notice.

"You. Are. Terrible."

Reishi places a hand on her chest. "Me? I'm not the one fighting a little girl. What will the people say! What a bully!"

Bear grumbles for a while, probably pouting under his mask, if his tone is anything to go by. A comfortable silence makes itself at home between them as they stretch.

Reishi forgot to stretch once and it is not a mistake she wants to repeat. Ever.

"So," he says after drinking water, then pokes her shoulder with the bottle. Reishi, who had been looking away in an effort to respect his privacy, turns to get it and take a gulp herself. "Have you named it yet?" he asks.

Reishi wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. "Name what?"

"The wakizashi, duh."

"Ah, no. Should I?"

Bear splutters indignantly. "Of course you have to name it! It's not a kunai that you're going to lose sooner or later!"

"I have no idea what to call it though, any ideas?" Reishi looks up, trying to come up with a good name, but only finds the night sky. She hadn't realized that it was that late.

"Hmmmm... What about 'Slasher'?" Bear proposes excitedly.

"Hell no."

"What about 'Gasher'?" Bear accompanies the name with jazz-hands. He is ridiculous.

"No."

"Pokey?" he asks, sounding hopeful. Reishi looks at him with a deadpan expression. "Alright, I give up. Just tell me if you ever come up with something yourself, Miss Picky."

They part ways and she goes home to a very pouty Mikoto, who whines about her not having called her to go shopping together. Reishi shudders, remembering the last time she went with her and Kushina; the orange frilly dress is still in the back of her dressed, waiting to be worn. (It will never happen.)

She has dinner in a hurry – lest Mikoto ropes her into going shopping with her again – and goes to sleep, exhausted. Once in bed she tries not to cringe remembering that past evening's encounter, she will never be able to look at Gai or Kakashi in the eye.

Chapter Text

Reishi walks through the fog, she can barely see before her, or even her own feet, but she can see branches sometimes. The insinuation of foliage here and there.

The forest is quiet. The only sound being her footsteps.

She should be able to walk without a sound, just how Ryouji had taught her all those years ago, but she can't seem to do it. Every time she tries to concentrate on the way she moves, on the way she spreads her weight on her feet, the leaves and branches seem to only grow noisier.

She needs to be quiet though, she needs to. Or else the man will hear her.

A snap reaches her ears and suddenly the fog disperses. Reishi finds herself in a perfectly circular clearing, surrounded by thick tall Hashirama trees that seem to look down upon her in judgement. In the center is the man, his back to her.

Reishi starts breathing quicker as the man turns around to face her, seemingly in slow motion, as the trees around her seem to grow taller and more imposing. Her heart rate picks up and her ears start ringing louder and louder and louder-

There's a senbon protruding out of the man's eye.

Reishi wakes up, disoriented. The first thing she sees are the stars above her and she tries to count them as her ragged breath evens out.

"Bad dreams?" Ibiki is sitting on his bedroll, hugging one knee to his chest. It must be near dawn already, if he is the one on watch duty. Reishi was lucky today and got the first shift, Shirakumo being the poor bastard that got the turn in the middle of the night.

"Not really, just weird," she dismisses, stretching. No point going back to sleep now, she wouldn't be able to relax for a while yet and they are going to be getting up soon anyways. Ibiki shrugs, but keeps his eyes on her anyways as she gets up to continue her morning stretches.

She tries not to think back to her nightmare, back to how the thin trail of blood rushed from the man's eye to fall from his chin in little red droplets. She didn't have these nightmares before, though it's true that she hadn't been outside the village since the incident. She wonders if the nightmares will follow her back to Konoha once their mission is over, or if they will be held back by the walls of the village, only to pounce again when she inevitably leaves on another mission.

The crisp morning air does wonders in helping her clear her mind while they run. Ibiki has thankfully not mentioned her rather erratic sleeping patterns, though she doesn't fool herself thinking that a genius like Shikaku hasn't noticed. As it stands, she figures that he thinks it's nothing worth bothering her about. A lot of ninjas probably experience recurring nightmares, which says more about Konoha's treatment of its soldiers and less about their mental fortitude. Reishi snorts derisively, earning a rised eyebrow from Ibiki, the closest in formation. She shrugs, a little embarrassed by her outburst, and continues running.

The small village – Tomogui, if memory serves correctly – in which their mission is to take place in turns out to be comprised of barely twenty houses huddled together.

They meet with the man Reishi supposes is the leader, or Mayor, she isn't sure how the people address their leaders on the small villages surrounding Konoha. She wonders if they are little more than a spokesperson for the village or if they have any political power at all. Probably not, if she remembers correctly, the Land of Fire is ruled by a feudal system – an aberration of a government, if you ask her, but who would ask a seven year old?

The man, flanked by a lanky boy of her teammates' age, greets them with fidgeting hands and a sweaty brow that betrays his nervousness. Were it not because this is the usual demeanor of civilians outside Konoha towards shinobi, this would have led Reishi to suspect of him somehow. However, by the looks of the rest of the villagers, this seems to be the general reaction.

Dabbing his forehead with a handkerchief one last time, the man finishes his explanations and leaves them with his son, Taeru, as a guide to find those who they think are worth interrogating. Not that they really need him, with how small the village is (the only points of interest being a small inn that doubles as a bar for the locals and the healers house, where she treats her patients), but it would be rude to refuse his help and the villagers will probably be more open with them if they see a familiar face.

The five missing people, in the subsequent order, have been two farmers (Farmer 1 and Farmer 2 in Reishi's head, as she hasn't bothered to learn their names), the healer's daughter, one of the merchants that came with the last caravan and a young hunter, barely fifteen years old; the youngest one thus far.

The healer, a stocky woman who had been tending to a vegetable patch at the back of her house, eyes them with wide surprised eyes when they ask about her daughter. "Do you think that- that maybe she didn't leave like everyone says?" Her voice breaks by the end of the question, and she takes a moment to compose herself, taking a handkerchief from somewhere in her kimono and cleaning her dirt covered hands.

"We cannot tell as of yet," Shikaku says, placatingly. "We have merely been sent to investigate."

The woman nods gravely. "My baby would have never ran away like that. I tried to tell them, but they wouldn't listen! Said that everyone in the village had seen her with that merchant." She spits out that last word like a curse.

"The merchant?" repeats Shikaku.

The woman sniffs, it doesn't look like she needs much prompting to talk. "Yes, that boy that disappeared too. Rika, Noriko's daughter that lives in the hose near the inn, told Akane that she had seen my girl talking with that boy the day she disappeared, and the next day the merchant was gone even though the caravan was still here. They didn't even went missing the same day! It's true that they got along very well, but my girl wouldn't have left me without saying anything! We were very close, you see, and she wouldn't have abandoned her orchard like this."

Shikaku, that had been looking around, lets his gaze sweep over the plants appraisingly. Probably a show for the woman, who seems pretty proud about the vegetables she's standing over. "It is very well tended," he says, and let's his eyes linger on the only plant that isn't a vegetable. "Why the tea roses? If you don't mind the indiscretion."

The woman startles a bit, and looks over to the roses that are currently germinating with a bittersweet smile. "I- I planted those after my daughter- After she left. They were her favourite..."

They leave soon after. Shikaku had encouraged them to ask questions of their own if they thought of something he hadn't, but Team 3 had stayed silent. To Reishi's standards, it had been a thorough interrogation, and she hadn't felt the need to add anything, and it seemed like the boys had also been satisfied with their sensei's questions.

Taeru, who had also been silent save for the occasional sniffing sound (he must be coming down with a cold), letting the ninja do their job, snorts. "Everyone knew they were together, you know? They left one after the other; my dad says that she was probably waiting for him outside the village or something." he comments, to no one in particular, then sniffs again. Reishi wishes he would just blow his nose instead of making that terrible sound, but resigns herself to herself. It wouldn't do to be rude with the son of the guy that's paying them.

Ibiki who is walking slightly ahead of the group, looks over his shoulder. "You mean the healer's daughter and the merchant?"

"Yeah, they spent their free time together everytime his caravan rolled around." He grimaces, then mutters, "they were sappy too..."

Shikaku hums non-committally and keeps walking.

The rest of the day is spent talking with various villagers; they hardly get any new information, and the one they get seems horribly superfluous. So far all they have is this:

-Farmer 1 went missing six months ago, three months after that Farmer 2 was gone, followed only one moth later by the healer's daughter and the merchant, then, two months after that the hunter disappeared.

-All missing people were young, between twenty three and fifteen years old.

-All of them had mentioned wanting to flee Fire country to avoid the war at one point or another, except the hunter.

"Well?" asks Shikaku, rising an eyebrow. They are currently in their room at the inn, having gathered after dinner to discuss the information they have so far.

Shirakumo is the first to speak. "It does seem like they all left except the last one. Perhaps he is the one we should be focusing on."

Ibiki, who had been frowning blankly at the table, nods in agreement. "The hunter seems to be the key, maybe he stumbled upon a trap in the woods while hunting? There are wolves in the area, so it wouldn't be surprising if that's why nobody has found the body yet."

Ibiki's theory is sound, they know that the hunter had used to hunt and sell or trade the meat, and that his mother had been worried about him venturing further into the forest to hunt. While ninjas usually avoid setting traps near civilian settlements, it is possible that the boy had been unlucky enough to find one if he had gone far enough.

However...

There is something that isn't sitting well with Reishi. Shikaku must have noticed it, because he sends a pointed look her way, making the boys turn their attention towards her.

"You don't agree with Ibiki's theory?" he says.

Reishi purses her lips. "I think that it's a possibility worth investigating."

"You think something else might have happened," states Ibiki.

She isn't keen on sharing her theory; it's improbable and far fetched, but still... there's no harm done by investigating it. Right? "I think that Ibiki is probably right, but... it kind of seems like a serial killer to me." When no one speaks, she elaborates. "The pattern of disappearances, with shorter and shorted periods of time without each missing person coincides. Serial killers get more confident with each victim, more cocky, and that makes them kill more often. I know that it's been two months between the double disappearance of the healer's daughter and the merchant, but it was also the first time that two people went missing at the same time and it makes sense that the killer would be satisfied for longer. The missing people also were in the same age range and shared body type and other physical similarities, except for the girl. If not because there are no bodies to be found, this would read on paper more like a series of murders than mere disappearances..." she trails off.

"It seems far-fetched," Shikaku points out.

"Yeah," she says, defensive, "but we wouldn't be doing a good job if we didn't investigate all the possibilities."

Shikaku nods, seemingly satisfied with her argument. "Than tomorrow Ibiki, Shirakumo and I will search the forest, and meanwhile you can follow up on any clues you see pertinent."

Reishi agrees, despite the protests of her teammates at the prospect of leaving her behind. It is a logical decision, they need more people to form a search party than to ask a few questions around. It doesn't escape Reishi that he is probably also doing this as an oh-so-magnanimous show of trust, leaving her alone and trusting her information gathering abilities.

If she wanted to, she could run away and put at least half a day of distance between her and her team, as they won't probably be back until lunch. She could also stay and feed them false information... for whatever reason, though she doesn't see the point in doing that.

Essentially, she feels like she is being tested again, or like he is giving her enough rope to hang herself; and though the possibility of leaving is tempting, she isn't stupid enough to believe that a jōnin wouldn't be able to catch up to her effortlessly. Not to mention that he could inform the patrols constantly running around and she would be bound to bump into one of them sooner or later.

That he thinks she would fall into an obvious trap like this is honestly offensive. Not only is she going to stay in this stupid village, she is going to conduct a perfect investigation and he will have absolutely zero mistakes to write about in his stupid report.

She doesn't know why his attitude annoys her so much, or why she feels such determination to prove his assumptions wrong. He is completely right in thinking that she feels no loyalty towards the village or the Hokage, though the judgement of every gesture she makes is at best tedious.

Maybe it's because she finds the mere thought of leaving Obito, Fuhaku, Mikoto and Itachi abhorrent, says a small voice in the back of her head. She pushes it down, down, down until she can't hear it anymore.

That's not it. It must be her pride acting up, she just wants to be contrary, that's all.

The next morning she decides to speak with everyone that might have known the young hunter, every lead can be useful, after all.

She starts with his mother, asking about his closest friends and acquaintances in hopes of learning something new, though that lead proves to be a dead end.

However, this had been investigated as a missing person case, and not a series of murders, so it is possible that the first person to dissappear had done something to 'trigger' the murderer, even if the subsequent victims hadn't done anything to their aggressor.

Hmmm...

Maybe she should be investigating the first one instead of the last one. That was, if her memory serves her right, one of the farmers, right?

She files the information the hunter's mother gave her away for later and goes to talk to the first victim's brother.

"Good evening," she says.

The young man, who had been nursing a drink at the bar, looks at her, startled. "G'day," he answers, while she climbs one of the stools to sit beside him.

"I'm Ikotsu Reishi, one of the ninja sent by Konoha to investigate the disappearances. May I ask you some questions?"

He nods with a befuddled expression, she supposes it's not everyday that a little girl sits beside you at the bar with the intention to interrogate you. She isn't used to being treated as a tiny adult herself, and she is an adult. Mentally speaking at least. "I know," he says, "I saw you and your team yesterday walking about."

She nods, deciding that if "Do you know if your brother had any enemies? Someone who could have been at odds with him, maybe someone he had an argument with before going missing?"

The man shakes his head. "No, he was a kind man, he rarely ever raised his voice, let alone get into arguments."

Reishi purses her lips, she supposes that that would have been too easy. Nothing lost by trying though. "Was he especially close with anybody? Friends? A lover perhaps?"

"There was, well, Yoriko," he says, the sadness evident in his voice. It won't be long, she thinks, before the pain of remembering his brother reduces him to tears. She better hurry.

"Yoriko..." she trails off. "You mean the healer's daughter?"

"Yes, she was... Well, Yoriko liked to flirt, and she and my brother had been... close," he trails off, lost in thought.

Reishi's eyes threaten to widen in surprise, though her training prevents her from it and lets her keep her face in a professional mask. Shouldn't something like this have been in the file? Although it's true that, in such a small village, it would have been considered common knowledge and nobody would have thought of even pointing it out. She adds this piece of information to the puzzle and continues. "Did something out of the ordinary happen before he went missing? Anything?"

The man takes a long swig of his forgotten drink, probably seeking the strenght to keep talking at the bottom of his glass. "Nothing important, really... Well, there was something. A few weeks prior, he injured his foot while hoeing and had to have it bandaged, bled a lot too, though the healer assured us it wasn't serious."

Reishi thanks the man and leaves, it's a pity that the only relevant information was the connection between two of the victims, she hopes that interrogating the wife of the second victim will bring something to light.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

What she discovers is not what she expected.

Again, the file was lacking information about the private life of one of the missing people (or victims, as she has taken to call them in her head). Although disappointing, and very annoying, she understands that the ninja of Konoha are stretched thin as it is, and that the war takes priority over some disappearances, but would a bit of professionalism be too much to ask? Who wrote this report? Did they even bother questioning people?

No matter, if Konoha lets its shinobi do some half-assed job it isn't her problem. She will do a proper job, not for Konoha's reputation, but because she has personal standards.

(And because fuck Shikaku, she'll show him.)

Interrogating the widow reveals that his husband had been distant before his disappearance, which would have fitted neatly into the theory that he had ran away from the village if it wasn't for the notebook the widow had practically thrown at her in a fit of righteous fury. Her late husband, it turns out, had a lover, and she didn't find out until after he had gone missing.

Nobody had gone missing the same day as the man, so it is safe to assume that he hadn't run away with his lover, and from what she read in the notebook (a diary, apparently, filled with love letters and a few smaller notes) this lover must have been from the village too. Maybe she is still here, even.

Reishi spends a while reading through the dead man's thoughts, trying to gauge any clue as to who this mystery lover is, but the only thing she manages to get is her calligraphy on the love letters and some deeply upsetting erotica the man wrote about her. Eugh.

It isn't long after that that Reishi decided to call it a day; besides furthering her knowledge of the love lives of the victims, she hadn't found out anything remotely relevant, and she refused to carry out an investigation based on gossip.

Before going back to the inn for lunch though, she decides to try her luck once more, asking about the hunter and getting only frustration in return. The only new information she managed to gather is that he had been sick a few days before his disappearance, and that by the time he went missing he had been just recovering from the cold. At least this rules out Ibiki's theory; the hunter wouldn't have gone out while sneezing and coughing like an idiot, that would have scared all the prey away. True, he had been getting way better (she had gone back to the Healer to ask for her notes on the patient, just in case his illness had had something to do with him going missing somehow. The woman had agreed to lend her the notebook she usually used for that, though she wanted it back as soon as possible) to the point of barely coughing anymore, but that didn't mean that he was healthy enough to go out in the woods.

She has no way of letting her team know though, and she refuses to greet Shikaku empty handed; she will order her thoughts during lunch and keep investigating afterwards.

Once at the inn she asks for her food to be delivered to her room and starts writing down her observations and all the new information she has gathered, useless as it is.

Reishi is distractedly munching on her food and reading through older notes in the healer's notebook when she sees it: the tiniest note at the margin. The note's content, however, is not what grabs her attention; the calligraphy is.

She scrambles to find the Farmer's diary amongst the mess of papers on the floor and turns the pages until she finds what she is looking for; the love letters from his lover. She compares the calligraphy as she had been taught in the academy and, sure enough, they are the same.

The healer's daughter was the Farmer's lover.

Reishi lets a grin grow as she realizes what three of the five victims have in common: they were all romantically involved with Yoriko.

But what, then, was the connection to the Hunter? Yoriko had been already missing when he disappeared.

Unless...

Reishi lets out a bark of triumphant laughter as everything finally falls into place.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The waiting, Reishi thinks, is the worst part of this plan. Shirakumo won't stop fidgeting to her left and Ibiki's impatience, to her right, is practically tangible. Not to mention the motionless creepy human statue that is their sensei right behind her. She hates this formation.

...is he even breathing?

They have been observing in the shadows for two days now, posted on a rooftop with a genjutsu over them at night and waiting for the suspect to do something. Anything. At this point Reishi will settle for the woman just- dancing naked under the moonlight, whatever, just do something weird so she stops doubting her own intelligence.

It has to be her. It has to.

Two days before, when Shikaku and her team came back from scouting the forest without having found a single lead, she had laid out her new clues and the conclusion she had reached with them before Shikaku, who had nodded and said that he had had his suspicions as well, but had wanted some more confirmation.

(Then why the hell had he left her behind alone to investigate if he already knew? And no, his shitty 'you did well' does not compensate her for the day she has practically lost doing useless research. Asshole.)

The lack of physical evidence, however, had forced them to wait until the woman made another move, and that wouldn't happen with them in the village, so they had pretended to end the investigation and leave the village in the hopes of something interesting happening.

So far the most interesting thing that had happened had been that frog that had jumped at Shirakumo when they had both gone to replenish their water supply in the nearby stream.

So they wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. And nothing happens.

Reishi, despite Shikaku agreeing with her suspicions, is starting to think that maybe they were mistaken, that she had made a mistake and looked at the clues wrong and now they would have to start the investigation from zero again like some fucking amateurs and-

Hands bigger than hers gently pry her fingers from the blanket she had been clutching and Shirakumo peers down at her, frowning. "Are you feeling well? You look tense."

Reishi grimaces, berating herself for not realizing that she had been showing her discomfort. Out of the corner of her eye she can see Ibiki giving her not so subtle glances while he folds his own blanket.

They are back at the camp now, far enough from the village that nobody will find them accidentally and close enough that they will reach the village in minutes if something were to happen. A good spot.

They had decided to take turns sleeping during the day while one of them keeps an eye on the woman, and keep watch together during the night, as the probability of an attack would be higher then. Right now it's Shikaku's turn, the last turn, and both Reishi and Ibiki had been sleeping while Shirakumo stood guard. Night is already falling, and they have to gather their things and hide the camp while they go join their sensei for the fourth time in a row.

This isn't exactly Shikaku's plan, but one they had formulated between the three genin; it's very risky, as they are basically waiting for the suspect to attack a new victim and hopefully step in in time to stop somebody dying. There probably is a better way of doing this, but when questioned Shikaku had merely shrugged in response.

Reishi isn't sure she likes this 'let's let them figure it out on their own' teaching strategy, she can't help but have the terrible feeling that, if left to their own devices, they will probably make a mistake, and in this line of work, that means somebody is going to end up dead.

"I'm fine," she says, in a tone that suggests she isn't in the mood for questions right now. Thank whatever god is out there that Shirakumo is polite enough to understand these things and give her some space. Bless him.

Ibiki, on the other hand, is not so socially aware. "Your mood has been souring since we started the mission, and as your teammates this is something that affects us too," he points out.

"I'm fine," she snaps. Why is it so hard for people to just leave her alone when she's in a bad mood? She obviously doesn't want to talk about it, so prodding will only worsen her mood and make her get mad at them. Can't they understand that?

Ibiki comes to stand right in front of her and crosses his arms. "No you are not. I was willing to put up with it after the test because I understood that Sensei had made you upset, but your temper isn't improving and whatever it is that happened, you aren't closer to fixing it or forgetting it than the night of the exam. So; either tell us so we can help, or let it go."

Reishi takes a step back, because there is, in fact, a kid lecturing her. A kid. She looks at Shirakumo, more to confirm that this is happening than to ask for support.

Shirakumo just stands there, looking out of his depth and utterly uncomfortable in this situation.

"Are you lecturing me?" she asks Ibiki, still incredulous but starting to get angry. They are not entitled to her personal life just because they happened to end up in the same team.

"He's not-" Shirakumo starts.

Ibiki huffs. "Yeah I am-"

Shirakumo gives him a pointed look and Ibiki deflates, looking to the side. "What Ibiki is trying to say, is that teammates are supposed to support each other, and it is frustrating for us when you shut us out. We can't help you if we don't know what's wrong."

"Oh," she says after a tense pause, eyebrows rised. She feels a bit overwhelmed after hearing that, and her anger is gone completely. It is true that they had been told in the academy that a team is like a second family to a ninja, and she remembers how the teams in Naruto had stuck together through everything, but she had completely dismissed that. Thinking it had been an exaggeration. "That is the longest phrase I have ever heard you say," she answers, because being an ass is her default state of being when she feels inadequate. Great going, idiot.

The boys don't say anything, looking at her with pursed lips, though she can tell that Ibiki is itching to smack some sense into her. He can be very brash when he is frustrated and she realizes that this is probably the reason why he has been more aggressive than usual during their sparring sessions.

Reishi sighs. "Look- I don't know what you want me to tell you, shit is complicated alright?"

She is absolutely not talking with her teammates about the constant feeling of being a failure.

Ibiki, who had been getting more agitated by the minute, takes a step forward and opens his mouth, but whatever he is about to say dies in his throat the moment they see the signal; a lone red flare soaring through the night sky.

Their argument is forgotten as they hurriedly pick their gear and run towards the village, where they find Shikaku waiting patiently for them outside of the healer's house. He is leaning on the wall, looking like he's just relaxing and enjoying the night breeze instead of preparing to capture a murderer.

"Taeru is inside," he announces.

"What?!" Ibiki asks. "At this hour?"

His cold, as they had seen while standing guard, had been getting worse; but thanks to the cough syrup, he had been getting better during the last day. It doesn't make sense for him to visit the healer at this time of the night. It isn't too late, only an hour or so after dinner, but the bustling of the villagers has died down considerably and there's hardly anybody walking around.

They hurriedly enter the house and find it empty, which is impossible, because Shikaku had seen them enter himself, so there must be some hidden door inside. Probably a basement of some sort.

True enough, they find a hidden trapdoor under a rug and follow the sound of rustling through a narrow tunnel until they arrive to a small room. The space is filled with what seems to be a table and... butcher's tools? Oh.

Oh.

The smell, like that of a skinned animal – blood and viscera – hits her like a wall of bricks, and she starts to taste copper on her tongue.

This looks bad.

In the center of the room they see the healer and Taeru. The woman has a crazed look, her eyes wide open so the irises are completely visible, her hair dishevelled and sticking out like branches of a leafless tree. She is holding Taeru, one hand over his shoulders and the other pressing a knife to his neck, and she keeps shifting and twitching like a rabid animal.

Taeru isn't even struggling, he seems to be in a daze, eyes glassed over and staring into the distance. Reishi notes that he has probably been drugged, hopefully with something non poisonous that will leave his system as soon as they get him out of here and he manages to sleep it off.

It all happens very fast after that; Reishi stands back while Shikaku tries to convince the woman to let Taeru go. There is yelling from the woman, and a calming voice that comes from Shikaku, but all Reishi can feel is the smell of metal and the taste of copper; everything else feels muted, like hearing it underwater. The colors around her seem brighter, the light shifty, and she wonders if she is dreaming again. If she is going to wake up in their camp again.

Distantly, she observes as the woman grows more and more agitated, and how Shikaku's tone acquires an almost panicked quality. The knife presses closer to Taeru's neck and a small trail of blood-

-like the one that drip, drip, dripped from the man's eye-

-falls slowly down his neck and into his shirt, forming a dark red stain. Her brain helpfully provides a map of the veins and arteries there, like the one she had seen in text books long ago.

Someone yells at the woman, Shirakumo, she thinks. It feels so odd to hear him lose his cool, raise his voice; though it still reaches her through a dense fog. The long haired boy sprints towards the woman and Ibiki follows suit, disregarding Shikaku's efforts to keep them behind him and desperate to get Taeru away from the woman.

Reishi doesn't move. She wants to, she feels the urge to follow her team, she is supposed to follow her team, keep them safe-

She doesn't, her feet are stuck to the ground, like they are slowly sinking in mud.

A shadow slithers like a black snake to coil at the woman's feet, and she pauses mid-action. The knife, instead of cutting all the way through the Taeru's neck, stays embedded in it a few inches before reaching the larynx. The boy gurgles pitifully and Reishi thinks that it might have been kinder to let the woman finish what she started, instead of cursing him to the stillness that is his unfinished death. He must be drowning in his own blood.

(Shikaku flinches as if burnt, knowing that he is doing with his jutsu more harm than good. He hadn't wanted to make any harsh movements, like hand seals, when they entered the room and saw the woman use Taeru as hostage, and now he is regretting it. He releases the jutsu, hoping that the woman will either finish the job and end the boy's suffering or at the very least pull out the knife from his throat.)

A warm red spray had bloomed from Taeru's throat, the colour vibrant in the dream-like quality of the room around her, and hit both her teammates, making them stop in their tracks and look down at themselves. Ibiki's chest has an horizontal dark red stain that starts in his left arm and fades slowly towards the right of his chest. Shirakumo, who had been closer, has been sprayed in his face too; the blood trickles down his cheeks and falls down his chin and into his shirt. He is staring with growing terror at the still bubbling red fountain that is Taeru's neck.

(Some droplets have fallen on Reishi too, and she feels her skin burn under them as if the blood was boiling.)

The woman, taking advantage of their state of shock and finally released from the shadowy trap, pulls the knife out and drops the kid. Taeru writhes in the floor fighting for air and coughing red liquid with a wheezing sound. Then she steps over the boy and towards Shirakumo. Before she can do anything else, Shikaku throws a kunai at her and she falls to the ground, a second corpse added to the pile.

Shikaku angrily sends her teammates outside while he checks the boy's pulse, cursing under his breath when he finds it slowing down. He tries to stem the blood with a cloth, the boy clinging to his arms with small hands and staining the cloth red, but after a few minutes of it the small hands start to lose strenght and they fall with finality. With his back hunched and still turned to her, Shikaku instructs her to explore the room. Probably to distract her, she doesn't see why investigating anything now would be useful; they are both dead, killer and victim, so it isn't like there's anything else they can do.

She sets to it anyways, the stench of blood following her even stronger than before. She doesn't know why everything feels so weird and detached, but at this point she welcomes the numbness that prevents her panicking.

A voice inside her head comments, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, that at least they have completed their mission: find out why there are so many disappearances and stop them. She pushes it down until she can't hear it anymore.

She inspects the room, finding only the butcher's tools, a metal table surprisingly clean and... a freezer. Inside the freezer she counts, between the different body parts, two bodies. The latest ones. Probably the merchant and the hunter, if she is correct. No sign of the healer's daughter anywhere. Reishi frowns, thinking. She doesn't think the woman would be able to chop off her own daughter, even if she had been deranged and had killed her. She seemed to have truly loved her, in her own insane way.

"Where is the daughter?" she asks looking at Shikaku, who had been rummaging through some jars she hadn't noticed before. Her voice sounds even, too lacking in emotions and foreign to her own ears.

Shikaku turns towards her with a mildly surprised expression, but she doesn't speak further, staring at him and waiting for an answer. Finally, he clears his throat. "It's in her garden, under the rosebush."

Her frown deepens. "How did you know?"

"Tea roses bloom after two months of being planted, which is the time Yoriko has been missing. Plus the grave was too shallow and it made a small elevation on the floor, barely perceptible but there. She looked at it out of the corner of her eye every time we mentioned her daughter," he explains.

Satisfied with the explanation, she nods to herself. "Why did you send Ibiki and Shirakumo out?"

If Shikaku is surprised by her change in topics, he doesn't show it. "They were in a state of psychological shock, so I figured they wouldn't be any help here, and it would be better to separate them from the situation..." he trails off, scrutinising her face. Then, he states, "you are acting odd. Are you... feeling well?"

"Yes, just- numb."

"Numb," he repeats.

She looks at the corpses on the floor and the pool of blood forming under them. "...I don't like the smell."

Shikaku looks at the blood and then at her, eyes narrowing. "I think it would be better if you went to see how your teammates are doing, we are almost done here, I just want to have a look at her room and then we'll inform of this and leave."

Reishi nods and leaves the room, walking through the tunnel and into fresh air. She hadn't noticed how nauseous she was before, but now, taking a gulp of air that doesn't smell and taste of blood, she is starting to feel better.

With her mind clearer now, she climbs the stairs and walks out of the house, following Ibiki's voice. The taller boy is rubbing circles on Shirakumo's back, who is hunched and seems to be vomiting the last bits of their dinner onto the dusty ground. Ibiki nods at her when he sees her and she jerks her head towards Shirakumo; Ibiki purses his lips and shakes his head as the other boy spits weakly and a thin trail of saliva dribbles down his lips. It reminds her of herself a year and a half ago.

It doesn't look like there's anything she can do to help, so she goes back into the house to take a look at the healer's room, the sooner they leave, the better. She passes the kitchen and glances at the fridge, wondering if she should maybe look inside, but fearing what she could find. She scrunches up her nose and decides that the fridge is Shikaku's problem, not hers, and walks past it.

The woman's room is littered with clothing and dirt, and it is more reminiscent of a pigsty than something belonging to a human being. There are notebooks strewn about and she picks one up and starts reading. The calligraphy is erratic, as are the words written in it, writhing like dying things trapped on the pages.

Long story short, the healer had killed the first two men for fear of them taking her daughter away, then she had killed her daughter and the third man when she had discovered they planned to leave. As for the last one... you could say that she had developed a taste for murder.

After a bit of reading she feels nauseous enough and decides to put down the notebook, hurrying outside and well away from the asphyxiating walls of the house.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The travel back is silent and grim, guilt hanging over their heads like a sword about to swing down. Ibiki and Shirakumo have both been at the end of a stern talking to, though Reishi suspects that the face of Taeru's father when they had told him about his son's death had been punishment enough for them.

They might have managed to figure out what truly happened to the missing people and put a stop to it, but this mission still feels like a failure and that is something that weighs them down. This mission was supposed to be their first accomplishment on the field, the first mission that isn't a stupid D-rank, and they got someone killed. That has to say something about the kind of ninjas they are.

It's Reishi's turn to watch over the camp while the rest sleep; getting a turn that isn't the first nor the last sucks, because it cuts your sleep in half, but for once she agrees with Shikaku; the boys should take the better turns, they do need some sleep.

Unfortunately, Shirakumo isn't of this opinion, judging by the constant shifting under his blanket.

Reishi sighs, he'd had the first turn, so that means that he probably hasn't slept since Shikaku took over his watch. She debates whether to talk to him or not; on one hand he is obviously troubled, and both him and Ibiki had offered her to talk about her problems with them, so it is only fair that she does the same... On the other hand...

There's no other hand, she has to do it, doesn't she?

She sighs yet again and goes to tap him in the shoulder, startling him. Shirakumo looks up at her, as if surprised that she initiated an interaction, which is fair enough if she is to be honest with herself.

"Hey," she whispers, "can't sleep?"

Shirakumo sits up and looks down at his hands, silent for a few minutes. "I just- I keep seeing it," he whispers softly. "How do you do it?"

Reishi frowns, not knowing exactly what he's talking about. Finally, she asks, "what do you mean?"

"You-," he takes a deep breath and avoids looking her in the eye. "You killed a man, right?"

The question rattles her and she looses foot in her own mind, plunging down to the depths and fighting to breathe. She had, hadn't she? And it hadn't mattered to her when it had happened, so why is it affecting her now? Why does she feel like she can't breathe all of a sudden?

Shirakumo's hand on her arm grounds her and she feels like she is finally resurfacing from the bottom of a lake.

"I did," she answers simply, not wanting to look at him. She realizes that he must be asking her how she dealt with her first meeting with death, not a very surprising conversation topic, given the circumstances. "I-" she starts, and then falls silent, what is she going to say anyways? That she hadn't had nightmares before but now that they are surrounded by trees she can't stop dreaming about the forest and the man with a senbon in his eye? She doesn't even know how she coped with it when it happened. She just lost her appetite for a while and then she cried a little and forgot about it.

"There is no need to talk about it if it will make you upset," he says.

"No. No, it's fine." She swallows and her eyes meet Shirakumo's. "I didn't really felt guilty about it, or bad, or felt- anything. It just happened, and that was it. I guess it's different because..." she trails off.

"He was a kid," Shirakumo says with a pained expression. "If I hadn't- What sensei was doing wasn't working and I just- We had to do something."

He is a kid too, she wants to point out, but doesn't. There is silence, only broken by the wind softly blowing through the leaves and the blades of grass. It is Reishi who breaks it, speaking in a small voice. "Maybe if I hadn't suggested waiting for her to make a move this wouldn't have happened..."

"You didn't do anything wrong," he frowns, "we decided on a plan together, and then I failed to follow sensei's directions and it went wrong. How could you be so calm? You were just- staring. With a blank face, like none of what was happening affected you in any way..."

Ah, so he had noticed. She had been very out of it at that moment, she doesn't know what had happened exactly. It seemed like the smell of blood had triggered something and she had just lost herself. She had considered who to talk to about this problem, but seeing how Shikaku had looked at her before leaving she had realized that he had already made the decision for her and that they would probably have a very interesting conversation once they arrived at Konoha. He is still an asshole, but he is a tenacious asshole that is going to keep poking at her until she gives in, so she will endure it and get it out of the way as soon as humanly possible.

"I was just- you know, a bit out of it. It was a shocking situation, so... I would have leapt with you guys, if I had been able to."

He stares at her for a few seconds and then nods to himself, pulling up his knees and resting his chin on them. The two of them stay a while like that, him curled up on himself and Reishi with her legs crossed, staring into the distance.

She doesn't even realize that she has started talking until she hears Shirakumo shifting beside her.

"I don't think you're supposed to forget about it, and then move on. I don't think anybody can do that, you know? Some people break, some people become addicted, like that woman... some just learn to carry on despite it. It's like death just follows you everywhere once it touches you, like it's got your scent.

"Sorry, I'm not very good at dealing with... stuff. I just tend to ignore it until it comes to bite me in the ass. I don't think I'm the one you should be asking about this..."

"It's okay. Thanks, Reishi," he says. She doesn't know what for, the only thing she did was telling him that he's going to keep feeling like shit about this for the rest of his life. Hearing him use her name without the usual 'san' behind it feels good though, like he has finally forgotten about that pedestal he seemed to have put her in. And all it took was witness a murder together. Joy.

She berates herself, for all she wants to leave Konoha behind and forget it ever existed, she just keeps adopting people.

"Anytime," she says.

Chapter Text

Debriefing at the Hokage tower went exactly as expected: badly.

 

The Hokage wasn't furious, not exactly, but feeling his disappointment is short of humiliating for Shikaku, who is used to always succeeding with his team. Then again, he is perfectly attuned to both Chōza and Inoichi, and this new one... not so much. Obviously, there is much for him to learn about his students if he hadn't been able to predict their actions.

 

Now he knows that he should have listened to Inoichi and Chōza, and, as hard as it is for him to admit it... his father. 'You cannot predict people's actions based only on their fighting styles,' the old man had told him once, 'emotions can cloud people's thoughts and are important to keep in mind.' And he had been right... again, much to Shikaku's annoyance.

 

He had forgotten for a moment that, as Inoichi had told him once, these ninja were not only genin, but children as well; and that had cost him the mission. Perhaps, with an older and more experienced group, he would have done well to let them devise the plan without interfering. With them, however... it had been his mistake. Learning with little guidance might have been what suited him the best as a genin, but he shouldn't have expected them to work the same way as him. He is a Nara, after all. And they... aren't.

 

Reishi, perhaps, would do well with that sort of lax guidance, but she is a special case, and he cannot tailor his teaching method just for one of his students. He knows that Ibiki is very sharp when it comes to tells and body language, and that Shirakumo is good at devising strategies while in combat, so they are obviously not stupid. They all have different types of intelligence and he probably should try to find a way of teaching that suits all of them together.

 

Being a teacher might or might not be more complicated than he thought it would be. Like a puzzle. On one hand, his lazy attitude is pretty annoyed at this... on the other, he is pretty excited about a challenge. He hadn't been very on board when his father had pushed him to be a Sensei for a group of brats instead of joining the rest of the Shinobi in the fighting. He was aware that Clans would want their heirs and Clan Heads close to Konoha, and that he should be useful somehow despite that, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

 

Now though, now he thinks this could even be interesting.

 

...if he can fix them.

 

He's pretty sure that Reishi might or might not be developing PTSD and that the smell of blood might or might not be a trigger, and if the boys aren't traumatised yet he will be pleasantly surprised.

 

(He still doesn't know how that had escaped him, Reishi might have been keeping a lot of things to herself since the test, but this is ridiculous. Why is it that nobody has mentioned any of this? Surely, her over protective Shishō must have been aware of this. More importantly, how could he not see it before? Had she reacted like that in a real battle, he would have already lost one of his genin.)

 

He should speak to them, he recognizes now that he hasn't been the best Sensei, and though they made a huge mistake on the mission, the blame falls on his shoulders. If he had just given them a plan, or even some vague guidelines of behaviour with hostages before entering that damn house...

 

He will be better.

 

Right now what they need is... Okay, he doesn't exactly know how to handle this, but Inoichi probably does. Yeah, he'll ask Inoichi to help him with this mess, maybe even ask him to speak with them as a therapist as a big favour. The one that worked with Reishi didn't do a good job of it, it seems, so he's reluctant to leave them in the hands of some unknown.

 

Speaking of which, she could have ran the moment they left her alone, but instead she stayed and carried out a surprisingly good investigation. He feels slightly proud of her for that, not that the girl would appreciate it if he told her. She still hates him, even after her problems with the Uchiha diminished – he doesn't think they will ever disappear completely, if the books Inoichi told him to read are anything to go by.

 

Maybe hate isn't the best word to describe it.

 

Despises him. Yeah, that's more accurate.

 

Shikaku sighs. How can so much hate fit inside such a tiny person? Why are children, in general, so complicated?

 

… is he expected to still be their sensei through puberty? Oh hell no.

 

“Shikaku-san?”

 

The voice yanks him out of his thoughts and he blinks the surprise away when he sees Namikaze Minato in front of him. “My apologies, Minato-san, I was lost in thought. Did you say something?”

 

Minato chuckles good-heartedly. “It's fine, it's fine. I was just asking if you and your team are here to also get the application form for the chūnin exam?”

 

Shikaku realizes then that Minato came with his own gaggle of kids too. They are standing behind their sensei, the girl is waving at his own kids with a smile, while the small Uchiha does his best to avoid Reishi's stare – Shikaku can relate – and the Hatake kid stares at them with a bored expression.

 

Well.

 

“Not really, we were just coming back from a C-rank that got complicated,” he says.

 

Minato grimaces sympathetically, looking at Shikaku's team for any signs of injury. “Well, at least you guys are okay, right?” he addresses them with a smile.

 

Ibiki agrees, though his smile is clearly faked for the sake of being polite, while Shirakumo nods and Reishi merely crosses her arms and looks away, shuffling from one feet to the other like she does when she's uncomfortable. Shikaku sighs and mouths a 'sorry' to Minato, who rubs the back of his neck awkwardly.

 

“In any case,” Shikaku says to break the silence, “aren't they a still a bit green to be doing the exam?”

 

Minato nods his head surreptitiously towards the Hatake kid so only Shikaku will see it. “I think it will be a good experience for them, there are many things to learn during an exam, even if you don't pass it.”

 

Shikaku hums, out of the corner of his eye Shikaku sees that Reishi has noticed as well, but she doesn't seem inclined to mention it so he pays it no mind. So, Minato thinks that Hatake can pass the exam, even if his teammates can't; well, at least all of them will get some experience out of it. “Can't argue with your logic,” he says, “ though I'd like to train my team some more before tossing them to the tigers.”

 

There's no objections amongst his team, though after what they just went through, he can't imagine they'd be eager to participate in the chūnin exams. He spots Minato eyeing Reishi with curiosity and then looking at him. Shikaku shrugs and Minato rises an eyebrow at him before widening his smile.

 

“Why don't we train together sometimes? It would be good for the kids to have someone else to fight against. It would prepare them for different fighting styles.”

 

Shikaku represses the twitching of his smile. It's not like he has any reason to say no, and it will be beneficial to both teams, as Minato says. Still, when he knows that it's mostly an excuse to pester him about his youngest student... it's a bit annoying. He knows that Minato will find a way to ask his questions sooner or later though; once his curiosity has been piqued he's like a dog with a bone.

 

Finally, he concedes, “that sounds like a good idea, Minato-san. I will make sure to get in contact with you soon.”

 

Minato's curiosity appeased for now, they part ways; Minato and his team to get the application forms and them to finally get out of that tower. Shikaku has never liked it, it's like a beehive, but instead of honey they have paperwork.

 

The kids politely decline his offer of eating together. He can't blame them, they must be itching to go home after such a fiasco. First missions aren't supposed to end like this, they are supposed to lift the group's morale, to make them feel more at ease during missions. During war though, the missions are much more dangerous, so this isn't unusual. As understaffed as they are, they can't avoid sending genin to more hazardous tasks than they would like, but that's how it is.

 

He's still a bit disappointed, he can't lie. He used to always go for lunch with his team whenever they came back from a mission and he misses the easy camaraderie and bantering. He supposes it will come with time, if he manages not to fuck up further.

 

He should probably go talk to Inoichi and Chōza, and ask them how they are managing with their teams.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reishi arrives to a quiet house. It doesn't surprise her, she knows that little Itachi usually naps at this hour and both Mikoto and Fugaku put their abilities as ninjas to use by being as silent as possible, which is really cute of them to do. Knowing this, she isn't surprised – much – when a pair of arms snake around her and she feels a soft cheek rub against hers.

 

“I'm back,” she whispers, and feels the curve of Mikoto's smile.

 

“Welcome back,” Mikoto says, “did you eat yet? I bet you didn't. Go take a bath while I make you something.”

 

Reishi knows better than to argue with Mikoto on this, and she's too tired anyways. She nods and slips away, quietly peeking into the living room as she passes it and waving at Fugaku, who gives her a nod of acknowledgement over his steaming tea. She frowns when she sees that in his hands isn't another crime novel as usual, but some papers with an official look to them.

 

It is very unusual for him to bring his work home. Later, she wonders what they are about while taking the bath, but she cannot imagine what would be so important as to take the little free time he has at the manor. She toys with the idea that it is related to the war, but why would the internal police of Konoha have anything to do with that? Their concern is inside the walls of the village, not outside. Perhaps some of them are being drafted? That could be it.

 

She drifts off after a bit, too tired to keep wondering about it. Whatever it is, she's sure that Fugaku has it under control.

 

Evening comes and goes with her napping, she hadn't realized how tired she was until she dropped like a rock in her futon. Suddenly, she is exhausted, and everything that happened comes to her raw and bitter. The nightmares, the death of a child and a murderer- the images linger in her mind like a bad aftertaste and there's nothing she can do to get rid of them. They seem to know that here, now, it's when she's at her most vulnerable.

 

In the end she sleeps away the rest of the day and doesn't wake up until the next morning, peeling away the cobwebs of a nightmare she can't remember.

 

She doesn't try very hard to.

 

Everyone is already up and having breakfast when she arrives at the kitchen, and she is treated to the sight of Itachi blowing a raspberry – still with mush on his mouth – at his father. Fugaku sighs and tries to ignore the baby's giggles as he wipes the mush from his face with a napkin.

 

Mikoto turns from what she's doing when Reishi sits at the table. “Feeling rested?” she asks.

 

Reishi looks down at her glass of juice, feeling a bit embarrassed. “Yeah, I hadn't realized I was that tired...”

 

“That's normal for first time missions outside the village.” Fugaku is still trying to get Itachi to eat, or at least keep inside his mouth whatever he manages to sneak in with the tiny spoon. It's an exercise in futility.

 

“You don't have training today, do you?” asks Mikoto after a while of watching the scene.

 

“Sensei said we would have three days to rest, so no.”

 

Mikoto nods in approval. “It's good to rest after a big mission. Do you want to tell us how it went?”

 

Reishi thinks about it. Mikoto probably already knows either the whole story or, at the very least, that it went badly. “It... didn't go well.”

 

She sees Mikoto's pursed lips and Fugaku's small pause, but neither of them says nothing, waiting for her to be the one to talk about the mission, if she wants to. She appreciates it, this, but she can't. To talk about it is to relive it, and she isn't sure she wants to do that first thing in the morning. She doesn't want to think about it today. There will be another talk with Hisoka soon, she knows, and she will have all the time to think about all of it then, she thinks with resentment. She doesn't mind describing what happened, but she knows that that woman will keep asking questions and prodding until she finds the part of her that is open and bleeding. She detests it. She detests how vulnerable it makes her feel.

 

Thankfully, Mikoto knows that talking about that wouldn't lift her mood and decides to drop the subject entirely. “That's fine Reishi, not all missions go well! You know what, why don't you come with me and Itachi? We're going grocery shopping, and I could use another pair of hands.”

 

The opportunity to forget the mission is appreciated and accepted, and soon the three of them are leaving the house, Fugaku staying behind with a stack of files for company. Reishi is still curious about those, but she finally decides that it's none of her business and that she already has enough shit to work through. Like the terrible nightmares that seem to have followed her into the village like twisted puppies.

 

The grocery shopping goes well, and Reishi finds herself entertained by Itachi as the boy giggles and points at one thing or another with chubby fingers; he's already starting to mumble half formed words. Mikoto hums quietly under her breath as she carefully picks the vegetables for dinner and some fruits, commenting how they could probably buy some sweets later when they head home.

It's all so normal that one can almost forget that outside the village walls there's a war raging on, that there's people constantly dying out there.

 

Reishi frowns, frustrated for not being able to just forget about all that for one minute to enjoy the evening with her – dare she say it – family.

 

Speaking of which.

 

It has been almost two years now, since she last saw her, and it takes Reishi a moment to recognize her Mother. She is walking with a man, laughing at something he just said, and she almost looks... happy.

 

Don't get her wrong, Reishi is very glad to see her like that, free of the depression and constant anger that had plagued her since Ryouji's death. Right now she looks like a new woman, her cheeks have filled out and her face looks more rounded, more healthy. She has regained some colour, and her eyebags have receeded, even though there are still hints of them under her eyes. All in all, it looks like she is finally building a new life.

 

Reishi, however, can't help but feel a small pang of hurt, of envy upon seeing her like that, after everything. Doesn't she deserve to get that too? Instead, all she has gotten since the last night she saw her biological mother has been death. Maybe that's what you get when you steal somebody's child to be reborn, you get a second life but in return you have to live it surrounded by death.

 

Mikoto, who had been talking to her, notices the stillness in her posture. She follows her gaze to where Fuhaku is, and Reishi can tell the moment she realizes who she is looking at by the tension around her eyes and how the smile that was in her face doesn't feel that warm all of a sudden.

 

And then, as if fate wasn't cruel enough, Fuhaku sees them. It's slow at first, her face goes slack with mild curiosity, as if analysing a particularly odd insect under a microscope. Then it twists into a grimace as she tries to walk past them.

Reishi wouldn't have minded, really, but Mikoto seems to have other plans, because she greets Fuhaku like an old friend and easily engages her and her companion.

 

“Oh my, it has been so long, hasn't it Fuhaku-san? What have you been up to?”

 

Fuhaku looks at her like one looks at an object out of place in a familiar environment. What is this doing here? How did it get here? Did someone leave it and then forgot about it?

Finally, her gaze lands in Reishi with an expression that wants to be disgust but falls short, leaning more on the side of distaste. The subsequent stab of pain in Reishi's abdomen and lack of oxygen are completely unrelated.

 

“-arried this summer.”

 

Mikoto and the man that was walking with Fuhaku seem to have been talking about something, and Reishi can only catch the end of the last phrase. He seems excited, unaware of the tension surrounding him.

Reishi takes a moment to study the man. She could tell, even from afar, that he was no ninja; now that she sees him up close and can appreciate the quality of his clothes and his mannerisms, she concludes that he is a merchant. He is young, probably younger than Fuhaku by a bit, and the lines in his expression tell her that he smiles often.

 

Then she notices the ring in Fuhaku's finger.

 

Distantly, she can hear Mikoto. “Oh, congratulations! You two make a wonderful couple.”

 

What are they talking about? Ah. A wedding. Fuhaku's wedding. With a man that is not Ryouji.

 

It makes sense that nobody told Reishi. She has been a terrible daughter – in fact, she isn't even her daughter at all, is she? No, she never was. It's okay. That's okay. Why would she even care? She didn't think that she would be the only one rebuilding her life, so it shouldn't be a surprise that Fuhaku is doing so as well. She doesn't. She doesn't care. She shouldn't care. This is none of her business.

 

Reishi concentrates on breathing, which is something that she should have been doing, but probably hasn't done for the last minute, because now she feels out of breath and one does not feel like one is asphyxiating when one breathes. That's right, breathing, she should do that.

 

...It's not working. Why isn't it working?

 

She needs air.

 

Reishi turns away from the conversation and starts walking. If somebody were to ask her, later, where was she going, she wouldn't be able to give a proper answer. 'Away', maybe. Or 'nowhere' perhaps, but her feet don't know that at this moment, and so they keep moving. One right after the other. Even when Mikoto calls out behind her, even when they start to carry her faster and faster and the wind blows in her face.

 

Air, she needs air.

 

She doesn't know how long she has been running, but eventually she decides to stop. Not for a particular reason, she just- stops. She unclenches her fists as she surveys her surroundings, shifting from one foot to another.

She is, actually, in a place she knows very well.

 

The park where she met Obito all those years ago is a little worse for wear than she remembers. There is rust in the edges of the slide, and one of the swings is missing, the chains swaying slowly in the soft breeze. She observes them for a bit, and concludes that they capture pretty well her feelings at the moment, as abstract as the concept is.

There are no children playing about, and without them, no adults to supervise them. The park is empty save for a few pigeons and Reishi herself.

 

She decides to go sit on the nearest bench, and she notices, once already seated, that this is the exact bench in which Fuhaku used to sit when she brought her to the park. She would sit here and just read a novel, or observe how she and Obito played with a soft smile. At first, at least.

 

She stays on that bench well past lunch time, thinking about nothing in particular, or at least trying not to, and when the sky starts to turn an orange hue she decides it's time to go back.

 

Mikoto isn't there when she returns to the Uchiha manor, which was to be expected, because she usually spends the evenings either busy with clan stuff (maybe?) or with Kushina, so she isn't surprised. Given that Itachi is nowhere to be seen, she would say she's at Kushina's- or maybe still looking for her, Reishi doesn't want to think about it. Fugaku, however, is sitting on the kitchen table when she arrives, reading. It reminds her of the night of the test, and she feels a pang of guilt at the memory of it.

 

If Fugaku is reminded of that too, he makes no comment about it. Instead, he turns the page without lifting his eyes off the book. “You missed lunch.”

 

“...Yeah.”

 

He hums, then, “are you hungry?” he asks. He continues before she can answer. “There is a plate of gyudon for you in the fridge, you should eat something.”

 

Reishi nods, even though Fugaku can't see her, and walks to the fridge. Fugaku gives a nod of his own and turns another page.

 

She doesn't bother to warm up the gyudon, eating without much appetite. It doesn't taste nearly as good as it would warm, but it's not like that matters to her right now. The air still can't seem to get past the lump in her chest and it's getting quite annoying.

When she is done eating, she distractedly washes the dishes. She hears, at some point, the sound of a chair being dragged, and Fugaku's footsteps walking to the living room.

 

This is what she likes about him, she thinks, that he gives her his silent support by being near her, just a calming presence. She doesn't like to talk about these things, mostly because half of the time she doesn't even know why she feels bad, she can't put it into words, and so, trying to explain it to somebody else is very frustrating. Some part of her, deep inside, understands why she feels like shit all of a sudden. Why it's so hard to breathe. But she doesn't feel like digging for that information right now, and introspection isn't something that has ever interested her.

 

When she is finished she follows Fugaku into the living room; the truth is, she doesn't particularly feel like being alone right now, even if she doesn't want to talk to anyone.

 

Fugaku is still reading, and she pauses by the door, suddenly unsure until he looks at her and rises a questioning eyebrow. Reishi snorts and goes to sit right beside him, leaning her cheek on his arm and feeling her body melt into the warmth.

 

The next time she wakes up, she is in her bed, and there's a box of a dozen mochi in her desk.