Death led Carry out of King's Cross, into the darkness. They were walking for quite some time, neither feeling the need to speak. To be honest, the young witch was still reeling with the shocking aftermath of her second death, at age twenty-three.
Hermione and her had managed to push through the laws that protected the new government against nepotism, corruption and incompetent employees. They had revolutionized and installed child protection services. An anti-discrimination law was written and approved by the Wizengamot, so future and present generations would never have to endure what they had survived.
Carry had anchored her expectations of the Wizarding World in her public will. The private one was much shorter, less of a plea to uphold and follow through with the changes.
She had never married, never been able to conceive her own children - thanks to the Horcrux. So she left letters, as well as some gold, to those dearest to her heart. Some money was placed in a fonds for the research into magical diseases plus the first Wizarding orphanage. (Hermione would make sure that they actually used the budget wisely.) Everything else went to her tiny godson.
Officially, the witch had been diagnosed with the magical equivalent of cancer. Very few ever survived it.
However, Carry had known ever since the Final Battle that she was dying. Slowly, painfully. But it had been worth it to watch Teddy grow up, Hermione and Ron marry and turn the Wizarding World upside down on the side.
So no, the last Potter didn't feel too regretful of her life. It hadn't always been easy, but it was hers.
Death slowed down, sitting quietly in front of a campfire. Two silver-haired males had been deep in conversation opposite from them.
"Hatake Sakumo, Hatake Kakashi, this is Tsubasa Hari. Death owes her a favor for services rendered in life. With her, one of you shall return - but beware: you will not awaken in your old bodies. Nor necessarily a place you are likely to recognize. It is recommended to continue your journey together," the ageless being stated calmly.
The two strangely-dressed males exchanged a glance before the one with shorter hair nodded. "I'll go," he offered quietly, deep voice wrapping itself around the words.
Death acknowledged the younger man's volunteering by nodding once. "Tsubasa Hari is not of your world. She has suffered greatly and fought as the leader of one fraction in a civil war, which they only won through a costly sacrifice of hers. Do not reject her presence," the entity warned ominously.
- Chapter 2:-
The newly named Tsubasa Hari woke in a sparsely furnished room. A sliding door was situated on one side of the wall, directly opposite from her new bed. Memories rushed back to the forefront of her mind, as she examined her bedroom.
The Tsubasa clan had been extinguished by the Uchiha, except for her, on the orders of the Cloud Daimyō. Thanks to her mother, a half-Uzumaki, the then three-year-old had been perfectly hidden and protected. However, Hari still had to watch as her red-haired, green-eyed mother was murdered in front of her hiding place.
Afterward, the young girl had sealed every little thing she knew was important into the storage seal inked on her left arm. (Her mother's idea.) Kaa-san had impressed the need to keep clan secrets secretbefore she could walk.
The last item she sealed was the Owl Contract. It had belonged to her father and his father before him. Their clan all summoned some type of bird, hence the name.
Following that, Hari got as much food as she could carry, as well as her favorite clothes, weapons and the Tsubasa heirlooms.
Kaa-san had ordered her to go to the Hatake clan, where she would find a new home. Alongside her betrothed.
The Hatake Clan of this Era was larger, counting at least twenty members, and renowned for their ability to wield any sword skillfully.
So Hari left the compound of her new ancestors.
She must have made quite the sight, blood-splattered, wide-eyed and exhausted, when the young girl had arrived at the border to Hatake land. Especially because she had collapsed right in front of a concealed guard.
Three days later, the young girl had woken again. In the meantime, someone had bathed and dressed her in comfortable clothes, removing Kaa-san's blood from her little form.
A boy around six or seven years old watched her, sympathy in his eyes. No pity.
She decided he was alright - for a boy.
Hari sighed softly, silently swinging out of her futon. The girl freshened herself up and dressed in one of the identical everyday kimono she owned. It was dark blue, tied with a grey obi.
As always at this point, a knock sounded at her door. She beckoned the person inside. Usually it was Tora-san. The older woman always corrected her clothes as necessary and then led her to the dining room.
At the moment, Hari looked like a female seven-year-old version of her father: unruly black hair, pale skin and an aristocratic nose. Only her glowing green eyes disrupted the iLouisiana of her being a female clone.
However, this morning Tora-san instructed the young girl to dress in a formal kimono. "We expect important guests. Ringo-sama has ordered Joji-sama and Hari-sama to sit in when they shall arrive. Do not embarrass yourself or the clan. There will be consequences," the older female informed her charge heatedly.
Joji-sama was Hari's betrothed. He looked like a miniature version of the Kakashi Hatake Carry had met in Limbo.
So, the ravenette changed into one of the few kimono of the Tsubasa clan she still owned. It was sky-blue, decorated with white feathers and tied with a broad white obi. A delicate fuchsia rope was placed in the middle of the white obi.
Discreetly, Hari placed five sharp needles (disguised as feathery hair pins) into her long tresses, so the latter were pulled out of her face. It also had the neat side-effect that the needles formed a loose sort of tiara, as well as offering some form of protection.
Tora-san approved the outfit shortly before they were off.
Hari was only allowed to eat a quick meal of an omelette before she got summoned to the clan head's private sitting room.
She bowed respectfully to everyone present, then Ringo-sama ordered her to sit next to Joji-sama.
"Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara are going to visit today. They have founded a village together, Konohagakure. It is located in the Land of Fire. They wish for the Hatake Clan to join this Hidden Village. We should hear what they offer, however I am leaning towards accepting an invitation to move. The Land of Iron does not look favorably on us," the clan head told his nephew.
He was old in terms of ninja, over twenty-five. An old injury had prevented him from siring his own children, therefore he had adopted his orphaned nephew as his heir. Joji would become the new leader of the Hatake Clan after his uncle's death.
In the meantime, Hari kept silent. She honestly didn't want to meet an Uchiha, but understood they had been ordered by someone else to take out her entire family. Including her baby brother.
If her father had been less of a proud braggart and more sensible, Noboru-chan might have been alive as well.
Still, she had not forgotten or forgiven the Uchiha for murdering everyone she loved.
However, Hari also decided to treat the Senju and Uchiha clan heads the same way. Joji-kun had told her quite a bit about the two men whenever they managed to be completely alone. (Which had become increasingly difficult to achieve over the years. Likely, nothing except their eventual marriage would change that.)
Senju Hashirama turned out to be a jovial, good-natured brunette with reddish armor and long hair. He was apparently very competent in battle, yet too honest for negotiation - something to consider in the future.
In contrast, Uchiha Madara portrayed himself as a moody, serious, silent male that rather grunted than used his words. He had a wild mane of bluish-black hair, spikes pointing in every direction. At the moment, he sighed and seemed to stare in a long-suffering, annoyed way at his supposed old friend.
After the pleasantries were out of the way, Ringo-sama listened avidly as the Senju described their dreams and intentions for the Hidden Village.
Hari approved of his wish to provide shinobi children with a childhood and some safety - before throwing them headfirst into the dangerous lifestyle of their ancestors.
Senju-sama was very charismatic, so it didn't surprise Hari at all when Ringo-sama (who had obviously previously looked over and double-checked all the relevant facts) agreed to join their village.
The Hatake Clan received a medium-sized compound where they could live once the builders in the family were able to erect a house of suitable size.
Thus, the Warring Clans Era came to an end for the Hatake Clan.
- Chapter 3: -
Two years later, the minor clan had settled into their part of Konoha. Joji-kun loved to see the buildings he knew from his first life come into existence, always watching when something new was added.
Sometimes he even dragged Hari along, to show her something that held a lot of meaning to him.
Ringo-sama personally trained Joji-kun, refining his chakra control and sword-fighting abilities, sharpening his instincts and honing his mind.
Meanwhile, Hari apprenticed under Tora-san. She learned all kinds of tricks a capable kunoichi was required to know, from turning everything in reach into a weapon (even if said thing might turn out to be a paper fan) and a little tessenjutsu as well.
Hari could flawlessly infiltrate a palace by the time Tora-san was done. And get out of it alive, too.
On the side, the young girl also expanded her chakra reserves in techniques known only to her family. She wanted to sign the scroll as soon as possible.
It was a rite of passage in her clan. To effectively use such techniques in battle though, one had to have the chakra levels of an experienced fighter - or nearly flawless control.
Thanks to her rigorous training, duties as future Hatake Matriarch and extra exercises, Hari usually fell into an exhausted, dreamless sleep at night. More often than not, her body was beaten black and blue, small cuts littering her arms and legs whenever Tora-sensei felt she required some visual encouragement.
At least her inner witch didn't feel the loss of her magic so fiercely whenever she utilized her chakra.
Joji-kun sometimes sparred with her, to keep both of them from growing too used to another partner. Additionally, he seemed to force himself into spending time with her.
Life sped by.
Their first actual mission for the village was fairly easy. Joji-kun, Hari, and an Inuzuka clan member were supposed to scout out the roads in a certain sector around Konoha, due to a few rumors of a rising bandit population. Those seemed to favor attacking weary travelers, especially of the civilian merchant variety.
Hari slipped into her mission clothes: sensible pants, bound by hidden bandages, a long-sleeved shirt and her armor. All of it was dyed in various shades of the traditional Tsubasa (dark-)green, incidentally masking her fairly well in the large, shadowy forest.
Joji-kun was wearing his infamous mask, and a blue version of her own outfit. He carried two swords though, and more shuriken. (Those the former witch could barely stand to throw - she preferred knives. As Lady Black, Carry had been required to be proficient in other dueling forms, additionally to using spells. It was a rite of passage and a requirement if she wanted to lead the quite diminished House.)
The Inuzuka turned out to be a wild-haired, grey-eyed teen with a pair of red fangs tattooed on his cheeks. His dog's name was Gin, after his fur. The man himself was creatively called Kiba.
He sniffed them twice, then told the other two: "You smell alright. No cat lovers though, right?"
Hari snorted quietly, slightly amused by their new temporary partner. His easygoing, ice-breaking question showed he clearly didn't place too much importance on formality. "No, the Hatake Clan favors canines over felines - just like you Inuzuka do. This is Hatake Joji-sama and I'm Tsubasa Hari, in case you were wondering," she explained readily.
"You smell like birds," Kiba-san commented curiously.
Joji-kun rolled his eyes, apparently also amused by the new guy. "Hari-chan adores all kinds of raptors, especially owls."
The mission went fairly well from then on. The three youngsters got along fine, easing the tension between new acquaintances quite quickly. Therefore, they had few difficulties with removing the bandit problem, almost automatically protecting each other from unnecessary harm.
Kiba-san somehow caught on to their relationship, but he didn't comment. He simply glanced from one to the other, then shook his head in a pitying manner. Gin-kun snorted and barked something at his partner, but that was it.
In the end, they concluded running missions with each other would definitely not be something they would mind repeating in the future.
Hari was quite grateful that the Inuzuka did not (openly) discriminate against kunoichi - or simply dismissed a female ninja as the stereotypical seduction-/assassination specialist.
Although the Tsubasa heiress had been taught the arts only a kunoichi could learn, she proved to be a capable ninja on the battlefield. Due to her long linage of raptor Summoners, the young teen could track others fairly well, had improved vision, in daylight and at night, and the larger Summons would occasionally allow her to ride on their back. (Mainly due to their mutual love of flying.)
The Inuzuka were one of the few clans who trained their males and females almost equally, only caring for the individual strength of their Alpha - not his or her gender.
The Hatake clan differentiated more noticeably between kunoichi and shinobi, although they provided a general foundation in the beginning of their clan training.
Joji-kun had progressed much faster than anyone else in his training, surpassing their age-group very easily. At age twelve, nearly thirteen, he could efficiently take down shinobi much older than himself, even if they had more (recorded) experience than the clan heir did.
Ringo-sama always paid special attention to his needs, drilling his nephew to perfection. It had been needed when the careless or reckless would be killed much too easily on a mission gone wrong.
In comparison, the younger kunoichi was required to know ikebana and the flower language, traditional dances, how to play several popular instruments, and dressing correctly for whatever event her sensei could cook up on a whim.
All of these were requirements for infiltration, but otherwise not particularly useful if one was caught.
Time flew by.
Joji-sama often received assignments alongside Hari, but usually ran missions with whomever was at hand or specialized in a certain field. He was treated respectfully by most of those their age, with a few exceptions. However, his professional and efficient attitude while 'on the job' quickly earned him a favorable reputation within the village. He could work alongside pretty much anyone, despite his personal opinion of that person.
In contrast, most Uchiha and Hyuuga looked down on Hari whenever they were paired up. After mastering the Summoning technique, the last Tsubasa was more often assigned to tracking missions, usually either with an Inuzuka, Hyuuga or Aburame. (Depending on the respective mission rank and target.)
She never flinched away from the insect-hosting clan, which led to a quiet friendship between Hari and Shie, an Aburame kunoichi. The Inuzuka accepted that the young teen was a submissive Alpha female, but they respected her impressive work ethic and strange love for dogs.
Most Hyūga, rather condescendingly, considered the petite, lithe kunoichi useless in the ninja business. She didn't appear to be much of a fighter, her stature too childish, too weak on first and second glance. Then, they activated their eyes and saw her chakra reserves for the first time - which usually served to stun them into speechlessness. Around age thirteen, Hari's reserves equalled or surpassed those of competent, older shinobi. (As long as they were not of Uzumaki blood.)
Nevertheless, she was still hopelessly outclassed by her future husband.
After a particularly grueling two-week-mission, Hari returned home to the Hatake compound, exhausted to the bone. She barely managed to disrobe and lightly wash up, before falling asleep onto her futon.
The following morning, Tora-san came to wake the fifteen-year-old for breakfast. Still tired, Hari barely protested when she was dressed in a traditional kimono and all 'dolled up' for some unknown reason.
However, the emerald-eyed ravenette slowly became more conscious when a silvery hair ornament with bells was fastened in her bun. That particular ornament was only ever used for special occasions within the village walls. (A delicate heirloom inherited from her paternal grandmother, which could also double as a thin dagger in emergencies.)
Tora-san informed the younger kunoichi with her usual levels of enthusiasm: "Ringo-sama has finally set a date for your wedding to Joji-sama. We will be acquiring your attire today."
Hari nearly groaned aloud. She absolutely hated the seemingly endless fitting sessions which were required when shopping for new clothes, especially fitted kimono, in this world. It was a much longer, more complicated process than buying new school uniforms from Madam Malkin's ever had been.
After forcing herself to swallow some breakfast, exchanging an acknowledging glance with her soon-to-be husband, and slipping into her traditional sandals (which reminded the former witch of flip-flops), the redhead obediently trudged after her MacGonagall-esque caretaker.
A small group of women, consisting of Ringo-sama's wife Hoshiko, Tora-san's niece Emiko (a younger copy of the older woman), and a dignified redhead Hari had never spoken to before, met them in front of an obviously new seamstress shop. This one was specialized on quality traditional Japanese attire, including wedding kimono of all styles and sizes. All clan heads and heirs, as well as their close family, usually bought the required clothes from the same seamstress.
Tora-san took over the role of the bride's mother, seeing as her actual Kaa-san was no longer available for the occasion herself, and introduced the stranger to said bride: "Hari-sama, this is Uzumaki-Senju Mito-sama. She has honored us with her presence today."
The future Hatake Matriarch bowed respectfully, initiating the exchange of the traditional words reserved for such an (unlikely) event.
In all honesty, Hari was not exactly sure how to react to the presence of the Shodaime Hokage's wife during her wedding kimono hunt, but thought the intelligent woman must have had to want something to intrude in such private matters.
"None of that, dear. We are first cousins, after all, so no such formalities are required on your part, Hari-hime," the older, much more dignified redhead declared delightedly.
For a brief moment, the younger quarter-Uzumaki was stunned by the newly provided information. Then, she allowed a small smile to cross her lips, hoping to all known deities that her eyes wouldn't betray her in front of these gossiping vultures. "Please, no such formalities are required from your part, at all, Mito-sama," the orphaned Tsubasa retorted effortlessly, a mere hint of her inner torrent of emotions in her voice.
Tora-san evidently approved of how her charge handled the situation and they entered the store.
Immediately, a shopkeeper bustled over, much too formal and subservient for Hari's tastes. Promptly, a nearly disrobed ravenette found herself being measured, poked and wrapped in various shades of white or red.
Having expected nothing less, the former witch retreated into her mind, to go over her latest missions for future improvements.
Eight hours later, all the layers and different outfits had been decided on - naturally without much input from the bride in question. She honestly liked the last kimono she was required to change into for that overly formal Shinto wedding, but could care less about all the pompous posturing that accompanied the occasion. She hated formality and the circus the clan made the wedding of their heir into.
If anyone truly cared to ask for her opinion of a perfect wedding, the fifteen-year-old would have described it like this: "The groom and I will elope in the most comfy clothes our trunks contain, with the required number of witnesses in attendance, and maybe a few friends, before running for the hills until Tora-san has cooled down again."
The most comfortable article in her entire collection was actually an old training shirt she had nicked off of her betrothed, which the teen secretly used as sleepwear. Said cotton shirt had been washed too many times; it felt very smooth and soft now. A very faint note of Joji-kun's scent clung to the fabric still, in spite of time and heavy duty laundry soaps.
The ladies reconvened in a small teahouse for dinner, to commemorate the momentous occasion.
At least there, Hari could actually order what she liked. Herself.
Friendly chit-chat about their own weddings filled another hour, until they had to return to their respective clan compounds.
Surprisingly, Tora-san waited for everyone else to leave and accompanied her charge to her private rooms. She ordered some strong tea from the kitchens, seating herself in a perfect seiza-position.
Dread began to churn in Hari's gut. She had an idea what this might be about. Although presented with a bare minimum of information - she was a kunoichi, after all -, no one had bothered to clear up the 'facts of life' for the teen. Yet.
Apparently, Tora-san chose this particular evening to breach the topic: "Hari-sama, tonight I am to explain your wifely duties to you."
Barely restraining a blush, the younger female settled in a more comfortable position. This would probably take a while and require even more patience to endure silently. "Of course, Tora-san," the teen replied obediently, swallowing her instinctive top five retorts.
The following hour could be summarized as follows: retire from active service, never reject your husband's advances, provide an heir quickly, pop out some more spares, and raise them. In this order.
The Hatake Matriarch was responsible for baby production, child rearing, and connected inter-clan business. Lady Hatake took care of the initial training of her children, managed the household and was supposed to network with other clans' Ladies to improve the Hatake standing within the village.
All this at fifteen years of age.
Thankfully, Hari could view her first life's memories. Those memories provided a great deal of practical examples of her new role in life, hopefully preventing a full-blown breakdown.
Outwardly, the young kunoichi blushed to the roots of her midnight-black locks, masterfully pretending to be incredibly embarrassed by the act of procreation as lined out by her caretaker.
Tora-san uncharacteristically petted her shoulder before leaving, muttering something along the lines of 'you'll come to enjoy your wifely duties much more with less resistance'. Or something equally as obnoxious.
Hari finally found out the date of her own wedding; it would be officiated in four months, on her fiancé's nineteenth birthday.
- Chapter 4: -
Those four months flew by incredibly fast, vanishing in the face of endless grooming or fitting sessions, visits to medics to ensure fertility, and hours of tutoring in more etiquette, child rearing classes and - to Hari's utter horror - seduction.
Conducted by, how could it be anyone else, Tora-san.
For the sake of her dwindling sanity, the bride attempted to blot out any and all scarring memories dealing with the lectures regarding sex in some way. If MacGonagall would lecture you about sexual intercourse, all thoughts of washboard abs or broad shoulders would disappear immediately from your mind as well.
The whole circus was officiated by a high-ranking Shinto priest, in front of over two hundred guests, including the much renowned Mito-sama and her (in)famous husband.
Joji-kun did appear to enjoy the attention heaped upon them for hours as much as Hari herself; that's to say: not at all. However, he stoically bore it anyway.
Countless hours and an eternity later, the couple found themselves alone for the first time in four years, awkwardly standing in front of each other wearing only nightclothes. They had been moved to a larger suite of rooms, noticeably containing only one bedroom.
Joji-kun's eyes travelled languidly up and down her new body. His expression closely mirrored that of a dangerous predator considering his prey.
However, Hari would never submit as easily as that.
So she grinned mischievously for the first time in what had to have been years, deliberately projecting boredom instead of fear. "Catch me - if you can," the teen huskily whispered into her new husband's ear. Then, she used her modified Apparition technique to escape his clutches.
Joji-kun stood there for the fractions of a second, quite obviously stunned speechless for a moment. Then, he smirked dangerously, indulging his new wife.
Naturally, he caught her easily. But the chase had riled him up quite a lot, additionally to her casual, underhanded teasing.
Hence, Hari received her first kiss in this life pressed up against a wall and what might as well have been another, lips clashing passionately. Somehow her special-ordered nightgown got ripped in the process.
Eventually, the ravenette fell asleep in her husband's arms. Despite her exhaustion, she was incredibly content with her husband. Secretly, the teen hoped to begin building their own little family soon.
The last thing she felt before finally nodding off were gentle fingers combing lazily through her long, wild tresses of midnight-black hair. Joji's wonderfully deep voice rumbled through his chest, under her ear.
This, the teen decided, she could get used to.
Of course half the clan's female population was up with the sun, just to check the white sheets for evidence of successful consummation of their heir's marriage. It was disgustingly nosy and so very predictable.
Other than that, no one disturbed the newlyweds.
Joji had been spared from running missions for a week to commemorate his new status as Hari's husband. So, they spent an awful lot of time teasing each other, trying to spawn the next generation of silver-haired warriors, and comparing notes.
At the end of the week, Hari found herself unable to sleep without having to playfully fend off grabby hands and hearing some amusing lewd remarks whispered into her ear.
On the second morning in a row, Hari felt absolutely miserable, so she suspected either a poisoning or pregnancy to be the cause of the helpless vomiting into a handy chamber-pot.
However, Tora-san seemed absolutely delighted to find her charge continuing to valiantly attempt to retch out her soul, as she had done at all hours the previous day. Without accepting any (token) protest, the strict MacGonagall of this world ordered a medic to check on their future Matriarch.
As it turned out, she was indeed pregnant and not suffering a particularly nasty version of the flu.
Hari restricted this information to her husband, clan head, and Tora-san for the time being, so as to prevent a wave of disappointment should she lose the baby or something equally as unpleasant.
However, the sneaky, sneaky caretaker increased the guards her Lady was required to take anywhere outside of their compound which basically signaled to the rest of the excited clan what was going on.
When Joji returned from his mission only to receive a round of congratulations from his clansmen and assorted friends, the silver-haired shinobi was incredibly confused.
He had no clue for what exactly he was being congratulated - until he caught the first whiff of his increasingly miserable wife's scent.
She had lost weight in the weeks he had been gone, was perpetually pale - more so than usual - and confined to their bed, as per orders of the medic.
"You're pregnant?" Joji managed to squeak out faintly, sounding hilariously like a shocked fangirl.
Hari would have been able to appreciate the hilarity of this moment much more if she had not been feeling too miserable for words. Or moving.
Cautiously, her husband settled down next to his wife on the bed, running his fingers through the dark hair and cupping her face gently. His thumb stroked her pale-greenish cheeks comfortingly, while he leaned forwards to take in more of her enticing scent.
"Yeah," Hari croaked hoarsely, exhaustion clear in her tone and body language. "I can't stop puking for the life of me. Tora-san nearly threw a party right after finding me vomiting again. You okay?"
He chuckled quietly, finally kissing her temple in the most loving manner yet. "Yes, dear. Just appreciating the irony of how I became my own grandfather."
At that, the young woman managed to crack a mischievous grin. "You're quite handsome for an old man, what with your grey hair and all. But I love the abs. Don't ever lose them, even if you're forty or something. I couldn't stand their loss, husband mine."
His chuckles grew louder. "I will take it under consideration, wife."
As soon as the morning sickness left, Hari became nearly addicted to touching her husband. She couldn't stand to feel his chakra around her without trying for more. Joji happily fulfilled her arduous desires, the kinkier the better.
No Hatake clansmen opened closed doors without repeated knocking any longer. (However, they could forgive all transgressions of that nature for the sake of an actual heir.)
Joji loved to rub her ever expanding belly, feeling for their child's tiny appendages. He made sure she ate healthy foods whenever he could and growled at everyone else that came within touching distance of her womb.
Hari cried the first time she could feel the flutter of her baby. All of her life as Carry, she had wished for a family of her own and now she finally got it.
The nursery was quickly readied for their child, room filling with presents from other clan heads and a few good comrades.
One night in April, Hari woke at three in the morning. She was a bit confused as to why at first, until liquid ran down her thighs. Surprisingly, due to her high pain tolerance, she had slept through the earliest stages of labor.
Perhaps scenting her distress and the amniotic fluid, Joji woke as well, within moments. He jumped out of bed, kissed her haphazardly and rang the alarm.
After that he was banned from their bedchamber during the birth, unfortunately. So his uncle took him to one of the public training fields to blow off steam.
Hari wished she could have followed his example. However, becoming a mother differed vastly from becoming a father, so she had no such liberties.
Ignoring everything and everyone else, the young wife endured the excruciating pain to the best of her abilities.
The ravenette distantly heard someone curse that she was losing too much blood at one point. Another voice ordered everyone to control themselves, barely audible over the mother-to-be's muffled screams.
An eternity later, it was over. Hari only managed to catch a short glimpse of her newborn baby latching onto her nipple before she lost consciousness.
Joji's soothing baritone lured her back to reality. He was by his wife's side in an instant, quietly taking in her face. She could actually read his relief for once, without having to dig too deeply. He kissed her lovingly, before asking for the midwife.
Tora-san helped to establish a sense of normalcy when she bustled into the room as usual. After the midwife proclaimed the future Lady Hatake on the road to recovery, Joji ordered everyone to leave them, holding their infant in his arms.
Hari's eyes were glued to the tiny baby. She could barely look away. "Is - Is he...?"
"Hush," her husband demanded softly, helping to gently situate the baby in her trembling arms. "We have a healthy son, love."
Hari cried a bit in relief when their son grabbed her finger while satisfying his hunger. She took in the chubby baby cheeks, soft, pink skin and already gravity-defying, silvery hair. "He's beautiful," the ravenette whispered, staring at the miniature version of her husband.
Joji kissed the crown of her hair lightly. He had crawled onto their bed behind her, supporting their son's weight as well as her own. "I know, love."
"Have you named him yet?" Hari whispered, unwilling to speak louder and potentially disturb the little miracle in her arms.
To her surprise, Joji had not. He nuzzled her neck, admitting quietly: "It seemed wrong for you not to give him a name after nearly dying in the process of delivering him."
She kissed his cheek reassuringly. "I would never leave you like that. Now, what do you want to name him? He doesn't look like your father."
He snorted softly. "No, he doesn't. I thought Inemaru might fit him better? It means valuable young stalks of rice, so the name obliges clan tradition. And he shouldn't be too noticeable with a name like that," Joji explained patiently.
Hari smiled warmly at her husband, to her baby boy. "Just so you know, I will name the next one."
Joji laughed quietly.
Teen moms had a hard life, Hari decided, two months into her newfound motherhood. Joji, the lucky bastard, could flee in the name of village safety, but the black-haired teen was chained to the compound.
Thanks to her persistent health issues, she had been unable to leave the suite of rooms for more than a minute and it was driving her absolutely nuts.
Additionally, her recently born baby boy woke her at all hours during the night, demanding a feeding or diaper change. She mercilessly forced her husband to complete the latter when he was actually inside the village, too exhausted to care much for 'proper' etiquette.
Hari suffered through the hovering of her fellow clansmen, graciously accepting all good wishes and congratulations, and still managed her duties well for a confined new mother.
Finally, three months after his birth, Inemaru and Hari were allowed to leave the clan compound for the first time. She carried her adorable baby boy in a practical sling on her front, letting him sleep against his Kaa-chan. Occassionally, their son would snort in his sleep, cutely scrunching up his tiny nose.
Joji proudly walked by her side, keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings. He undoubtedly loved his son, with all his heart.
They bought the needed groceries and a small treat to celebrate her rediscovered freedom. Mito-sama noticed the small family and smiled at them, receiving a warm one in return.
Life went on.
- Chapter 5: -
Suddenly, only three days before Inemaru's third birthday, the Shodaime Hokage was killed in an ambush. In short, this development sparked the First Shinobi World War.
Hari worried about her husband, who was ordered to the front-lines, due to his status as one of the most capable shinobi the village had to offer.
She would have followed his example, but the Senju medic that examined her at the hospital for the mandatory physical discovered a new pregnancy. She was only four weeks along, barely even noticeable, but the clan breathed a sigh of relief at the news of another child. It kept her from joining the active shinobi corps once more, on top of providing some insurance of continuance to their clan, as life expectancy for shinobi children was low, so no one complained.
Tora-san took to guarding Hari at all times, herself, due to the reduced manpower available at the compound.
Joji seemed to despair about missing so much of the pregnancy and their firstborn's milestones, but he would never even consider playing the clan heir card.
And Hari loved him for it. (And resented it a little as well, but she understood his reasoning.)
The night before he was to move out, Joji held his wife tightly. He could not refrain from touching her, resulting in several bouts of love-making. In the early hours of the new day, he kissed her tenderly.
"Please be careful," Hari whispered softly, biting her bottom lip to ward off the tears.
Joji tightened his hold of her. "You too."
She nodded sharply. "Just... I - I love you, despite everything. I don't want to lose you to some war. Not before our second baby is born and we could horribly embarrass Inemaru in front of his first girlfriend. That won't be as much fun if I have to do it all by myself, understood?"
He chuckled softly. "I'll try my best to come home, princess," Joji replied gently, "that's a promise."
A slightly crinkled, hastily scribbled note lying innocently on top of her underwear (the only drawer no one but Hari touched regularly) read: I love you too.
"Haha-ue, where is Tou-chan?" Inemaru demanded to know, grumpy from Daddy Withdrawals.
His five months pregnant mother gently transferred the unhappy toddler to sit in her lap, Inemaru having completed an exhausting exercise regime a few moments earlier.
Tora-san had taken over the physical part of his education, ever since Hari's baby bump had grown too much to continue the demanding training exercises herself.
"Tou-chan is on a mission right now, Ine-chan. He protects the village and our clan with his life at the moment. Remember? I told you about the declaration of war. Nidaime-sama is fighting as well," the black-haired reincarnation explained patiently, for the tenth time.
His little nose scrunched up adorably. "But why isn't he home yet?"
"Hasn't come home yet," his mother corrected absentmindedly, lovingly combing through his short, silvery hair. "In a war, the missions take much longer to complete. It would be surprising if your Tou-chan was home for the arrival of your baby brother or sister."
"Shinobi get deployed for a long time, four or five moons at the least, before they get to go home for a bit. Then they'll be sent back out again. Like all of your drafted Hatake Oji-san and Oba-san."
"Why not you too?"
Hari kissed his nose - it was too tempting to resist - and lightly tickled her son. "Because I am carrying your baby brother or sister in my belly, my little rice stalk. It's not safe for me to fight in a war. Your sibling could get hurt pretty badly and that wouldn't be good at all, would it?"
Inemaru cuddled a little closer into her embrace. "No! Don't want you hurt," he protested loudly, although his voice was muffled slightly by her yukata. The toddler sounded sleepy, indicating it was time for an afternoon nap.
Soon enough his breath evened out, showing that he had indeed fallen asleep in his mother's arms.
Tora-san smiled at her former charge. There was approval shining brightly in her eyes.
Hari returned the smile with a warm one of her own.
Even though she desperately missed having her husband home.
Joji returned two weeks later, for two weeks of recuperation and reequipping his pack. After submitting the mission report, the young man followed his nose while tracking down his sorely-missed wife.
To his surprise, she was waiting in the ante-chamber of the Hokage's office.
"Hari?" Joji asked softly, itching to touch her beautiful baby bump. Pregnancy hormones always made him a bit crazy.
Instead of an explanation, his much missed wife simply hugged him tightly, discreetly kissing his chest. Both of them ignored the large bulge that got between them, rather enjoying the moment.
Hari barely managed to suppress her tears - they were in public -, but he could probably smell them anyway. Instead, she smiled warmly at her tall husband. "Nidaime-sama has asked me to appear before him. Do you want to wait for me or go ahead to the compound?"
He smiled at her, concealed by the dusty, blue mask. Hari relaxed, then turned to the office.
A secretary led her inside. "Nidaime-sama is willing to see you now," she said blandly.
Hari watched the secretary leave, bowing properly to the Hokage. After the man got over seeing her obviously pregnant condition, he ordered her to sit in the visitor's chair.
"I have asked you here because I hear that you are a good teacher," the white-haired Senju bluntly opened the conversation.
Hari blushed faintly, a bit embarrassed her clan had been out, bragging about their future Matriarch again.
Tobirama-sama watched her very carefully. "I want you to lead the Ninja Academy, Lady Hatake. You have experience training young children in the basics," he explained, to the point.
For a moment, Hari thought she heard him wrong. "Pardon my interruption please, do you really want someone like me teaching?"
He nodded curtly. "Yes. You have experience in the field, the new ranking system would classify you as Chūnin-level. The training of your clan's children proved useful and prepared your charges well for our bloody world. I want you to lead the Academy. We need someplace where the civilian-born shinobi will receive quality training, as well as offer a standard education for everyone. You have experience as a kunoichi as well as a teacher, therefore would be perfect for the job."
Hari bit on her bottom lip, contemplating this strange turn of events. "So, you wish to provide a general education for all possible future shinobi of the Leaf? Will there be a standardized test to measure them by? What exactly am I to achieve during my tenure at the Academy?"
Hokage-sama smiled faintly, hidden behind his large hat. It must not have happened often, to be questioned like this. "I expect you to formulate a plan for a functioning training system for future shinobi from a civilian and clan background, so they may be adequately prepared for their work. I expect you to train your helpers and establish a standard curriculum for subjects necessary for survival. You have a year to start this project. It is of vital importance to the new ranking system."
Hari would ask her husband later for more information. "Understood, sir. I will try my best for the future of our village."
The white-haired Senju nodded. "Thank you, Lady Hatake. Please accept my apologies for keeping you from your home."
And husband, but that went unsaid.
Hari simply smiled politely and bowed respectfully, before leaving the circular office.
She had children to teach, a husband to interrogate, and a school to establish. For ninjas.
Joji combed through her hair again. They had carefully made love, after Inemaru finally fell asleep.
"So, what did Nidaime-sama want?"
Hari observed him through half-lidded eyes. "Do you remember who founded the Academy?"
Joji shook his head. "I only know that the Nidaime established it. So you were asked to figure something out?"
She chuckled tiredly. "Something like that. I'm supposed to come up with a whole new system for training ninjas of all backgrounds in the basics. He pretty much gave me a carte blanche as long as it's completed within a year."
Joji halted in his soothing ministrations for a moment. "Did he?"
Hari sighed, snuggling a bit more against him. "Yes. I was thinking of asking you what you remember and then start planning."
It turned out he didn't remember much. Only the three standard Academy techniques, that there was a basic set of mandatory katas for any Taijutsu beginner and a lecture log. Apparently, only Chūnin taught regularly, the Academy was located in an annex to the Hokage Tower, and graduation age varied a lot during war times.
"What about the baby?" Joji asked concerned, when he was done explaining all he would.
"It's gonna be fine. I can hatch this one perfectly well while whipping people into shape. I learned from the best," Hari assured him, an unholy light shining in her unique eyes. "Besides, I won a civil war before. At seventeen. And reformed a society with too many sheep and ostriches into something remotely resembling humans with common sense. This - this is nothing in comparison."
Joji chuckled softly, dragging her closer to his side. "If you say so."
Hari was not lying. From Carry's memories of primary slash elementary school and Hogwarts, she could use a lot for her new village-wide DA. Joji had explained what his Academy was like, and she appreciated it.
However, this was her chance to change things up a bit:
First, the young woman compiled a list of subjects which needed to be included into the curriculum. Such as Maths, reading and writing, history, survival and PE. However, she also added Drama, classical dances and ikebana. Not just for the girls. Boys would have to use the flower language as well, to decipher hidden messages. She made a passing grade in Shinobi Sex Ed mandatory for applying for graduation.
Children or not, the genin would need to know what might happen to them in the field. Sadly, such fates were not restricted to adults.
Hari also prioritized guest lectures of Jounin and non-Academy Chūnin, to talk about their varying, respective specialties in Year Two.
Year One was designed as a general testing period to better predict the future development of the kids. It would also help with predicting what students would be suitable for what fields as they grew older.
Year Two would expand on the PE and weapons training, add new lecture courses and survival courses, including basic first aid. During this year children interested in the medical field would be able to seek out an apprenticeship with someone from the hospital.
Year Three would finally utilize the chakra control exercises, introducing the official Academy Three, additionally to Sex Ed.
Working with Hermione had shown her how to word something sneakily when writing a new law. Hence, by making Sex Ed mandatory, but only available for children at least nine to ten years old, she prevented anyone from graduating ridiculously early and dying in the field before they could actually live.
Genius or not, that was not a good way to go.
Joji simply kissed her temple when he found her rough draft and chuckled. Then, he wished her luck for pushing all those clauses through.
Also, First Aid II would round off the rest of the workload she expected the children to master.
Graduation would test any hopefuls in their theoretical and practical knowledge of the Academy Three, weapons training, first aid, the world around them and something that would depend on a guest lecture.
Nidaime-sama was impressed by her ideas and approved her plans. He very much liked her vision of ensuring a child's survival to the best of their resources. Construction was already in progress, after she outlined what was needed in her Academy.
Sometimes, Sarutobi-sama sat in when the "older generation" plotted for the Academy, although Hari was actually only a year younger than the shoe-in for Sandaime.
Her planning sessions halted temporarily when Hari went into labour for the second time in her life, right in the middle of discussing the fine details of how a classroom should look like with Sarutobi-sama, a couple of workmen, and a representative of the Council. As predicted, Joji couldn't attend to the birthing, being stationed somewhere in Kiri at the moment.
Inemaru-chan was plenty excited about becoming a big brother. Tora-san took him out to play for most of the day though, to prevent him from getting underfoot.
After an excruciating ten hours, Hari gave birth to another silver-haired baby boy, in the clan compound and under the watchful eyes of her trusted medic-nin. This time, there were no immediately noticeable complications at all.
Hari smiled as she studied her son's features. He looked exactly like his older brother - a tiny, adorable mix of mainly Joji, but with a few of the classic Tsubasa traits.
Inemaru would love to have a smaller mini-me running around, the exhausted mother thought. She kissed her newborn son's wrinkled skin.
"What will be his name, Milady?"
- Chapter 6:-
Inemaru-chan was enchanted by his little brother. He turned awfully shy whenever around the newborn and only very cautiously touched him. Tora-san reported that the toddler had begun to train more vigorously, in order to "protect Kama-chan" from all sorts of enemies imaginable.
At night, when Hari missed her husband the most, she often cradled her sons close, singing to them or combing through their soft locks. She knew what it was like to grow up during wartime, so she never complained out loud about the strict training regime assigned to the next heir presumptive of the Hatake clan.
If they would have to risk their lives on battlefields, well, then the young mother expected her sons to receive the best preparation possible. She would never accept anything else.
Because it would mean these two precious little ones had a viable chance to actually survive this harsh life.
The construction finished eventually, leaving perfectly clean, gleamingly new classrooms in its wake. Inemaru was excited to tour the rooms alongside his mother and Sarutobi-sama.
"May I ask why you chose such a lay-out of the rooms?"
Hari inclined her head respectfully. "All children need a clear view of their teacher. The slightly elevated, circular rows of seats allow everyone to have a good vantage point. Teachers require something similar, to keep the children in line and notice if they are paying attention," she explained patiently, pointing out several other advantages from a shinobi perspective.
The young Sarutobi followed behind her, listening attentively to her thoughtful explanations. Inemaru never strayed too far.
Slowly, Hari began to understand why some would one day come to call this curious, intelligent man The Professor.
Tora-san accepted her new babysitting duties gracefully, to free Hari from having to watch her babies as well as the few Chūnin chosen to aid her in establishing a standardized educational system for shinobi.
There was a retired seduction specialist, Mimi, who would be responsible for the kunoichi-orientated lectures as well as Shinobi Sex Ed, at least for the girls.
Then, she had several elderly paper-ninjas who would be responsible for preparing lectures on history, both of the Fire Country and other nations.
She found a crippled Taijutsu specialist from a minor clan who would lead the different classes in PE. He would be assisted by the main teacher of whichever group of children were scheduled to learn under him.
For now, those would have to be enough. However, neither of them expected many children to join them - yet. Nor could the village afford to lose many battle-capable shinobi to teaching jobs.
"Welcome," Hari began, after everyone had found a seat in the sparsely furnished teaching lounge, "to the Academy. Nidaime-sama has tasked us with one of the most important aspects of the Will of Fire: teaching our children. By this I mean all of the village's children, no matter the clan affiliation, background, or other superficial factors. We are responsible for giving them the tools of our trade to the best of our abilities, so they may carry the Will of Fire to future generations, protecting our new home. Therefore, I will not tolerate bias or other misconduct. If maltreatment of any of our charges comes to my ears, be it through malicious sabotage, negligence or misinformation, there will be a reckoning."
Hari allowed one of her most placid, sweetest smiles to cross her face, accented by a liberal amount of focused KI.
A paper-ninja actually gulped in fear. All of those present saluted her, recognizing her as one of the few all-around capable kunoichi.
"Very well. Now, we are the first generation of hopefully a long line of dedicated teachers. Success or failure lies in our hands. We cannot afford more good shinobi to die due to substandard training if we have the means to save them. That's why we are here."
Everyone agreed to her words, subtly hanging onto her lips.
Hari cleared her throat, handing out copies of the curriculum, individual schedules and a sheet listing rules and regulations, both for students as well as teachers.
"I realize you have read these already, but I would like you to have copies at hand all the same, in case of an emergency. As you know, the lectures will provide most of the theory the students will need in their function as Leaf-nin. Some have age restrictions, which are there for a good reason. If someone wishes to graduate early, the student, his or her guardians and I will have to meet separately to determine if the student in question is mature enough to enter these lectures early."
"What about prodigies? Will they be held back?" Mimi wondered politely. She obviously asked the question burning on several tongues.
Hari sighed, the only outward sign of her deeply-rooted annoyance with the old timeline's system. If anyone needed a bad example for what could go wrong with a child's development if left unchecked and let loose in a demanding, gruesome job, they only needed to look to her still-traumatized husband.
"That depends, Mimi-san. The Academy is supposed to be a place where children are able to get to know their future comrades better, in order to avoid enemy deception later on. It also furthers teamwork and hones other abilities important for several specialties. If a prodigy graduates within a year and never actually bonds with his or her age-mates, how will they realize their respective strengths during a battle? Or if an infiltrator is impersonating them? By no means am I purposely coddling anyone. Konoha prides itself on working together to protect the village for the future generations. Our children will not be thrown onto battlefields before they are ready, before they actually understand the risks and dangers presented, by an enemy or recklessness. That is why we, each of us, have joined this village after all."
The group of Chūnin nodded approvingly.
"Now, I will not tolerate bullying. Teasing is acceptable, but bullying may cost us capable, talented shinobi. Insecurity is one of the greatest pitfalls of a developing mind, so I suggest you keep an eye on your students outside and inside of lessons. Those who are not able to push aside their differences won't be capable of achieving a simple mission objective. Subtly discourage it or point it out somehow. Students are still civilians and should be able to concentrate during lessons on the actual lectures - and not worry themselves sick about their comrades. The same goes for other intolerant or ignorant behavioral patterns, for example fangirls. A crush is all well and good, but if girls choose to become ninja solely to be closer to a boy and neglect their own training, or even health, they have picked the wrong profession. ..."
The meeting lasted for a good three hours, Hari detailing her expectations and plans for the new colleagues.
These teacher meetings could always be called if it is deemed necessary by a sensei to address a problem which others might also have difficulties solving. Otherwise, teacher conferences would be scheduled every two months during the term.
Afterward, the small group decided to have lunch together, to commemorate the beginning of something exciting and new.
Joji returned three months after Kama-chan's birth, staying only a few weeks to recuperate.
Hari woke in the middle of the night when a shady figure slipped through her window. Quietly, she gripped her favorite dagger, ready for action while seemingly continuing her sleep.
"It's alright, love," a familiar voice whispered hoarsely. His eyes were glued to the three cozy inhabitants of the western-style bed right in front of him.
"Joji, where did we meet the first time?" Hari demanded harshly, hoping the boys wouldn't waken.
Her husband pulled down his mask slowly, grinning appreciatively: "By a campfire, along with my father and a companion of yours."
Only then did the young woman relax. "Welcome home, husband."
"Thank you, wife. It's good to be back."
She beckoned him to come closer, sandwiching Inemaru between them. Kama-chan had fallen asleep on her chest.
"Meet your sons, wayward husband. You've been sorely missed by all of us," the ravenette whispered tiredly.
"Ine-chan has grown, the little rice stalk. Maybe we should have named him after bamboo?" Joji teased softly, kissing his sons' temples lazily. Hari rolled her eyes, but smiled warmly at her husband. "And who is this?"
She smiled at her precious little family. "This is Kama-chan. Hatake Kamahiro, born exactly three months ago. He inherited your horrible sense of timing too. My water broke right in the middle of an important meeting."
Joji chuckled softly, languidly kissing her hello. None of the children woke up, thank the Gods, so she returned the gesture equally joyously.
He slung an arm around her hip, encompassing Inemaru and Kama-chan as well, and simply took in their scents with his enhanced nose.
"Thank you, love," her newly-returned husband whispered against her warm skin.
Hari smiled sleepily. "Talk in the morning."
Kama-chan woke his mother for his morning feeding with the same adorable little snuffles his older brother had employed to signal an incoming bout of hungry screaming.
Joji twitched awake as well, but calmed down immediately when he saw the two 'bonding'. Inemaru continued dreaming the dreams of the innocent and blissfully ignorant.
Hari happily reciprocated the gentle kiss good morning from her husband who was combing his fingers through their unaware firstborn's hair.
Kama-chan had his eyes closed, singularly focused on quenching his hunger.
"Are you alright?" Joji wondered quietly, perhaps remembering the disaster of Inemaru's birth.
His wife sighed softly, lovingly stroking Kama-chan's chubby cheek. "There were no immediate complications," she explained quietly, unwilling to wake her first son. He deserved to get all the rest needed before Tora-san came to torture him. (Unfortunately, Hari was still prohibited from strenuous activities.)
"But?" Joji prodded gently, worry melting into his voice.
The younger ravenette sighed in frustration. "I'm still banned from any kind of training. Even if I was just working with Inemaru, the wounds could apparently open again. I won't ever understand Medic-nin, but that's the gist of it. I'll probably never be able to return to the field," she explained quietly, eyes focused on her nursing baby.
Joji gently pulled her in a sideways hug, something she had taught him when they were still children, and kissed her head. "I'm sorry."
Hari rolled her eyes. "There's nothing to be sorry about, you closet-worrywart. After all, I wanted a large family and the medic-nins aren't yet skilled enough in certain non-battle-orientated areas. This way at least, I will be able to watch our children grow up - without the risk of dying in the war. After Kama-chan has turned two, I want another baby, but then we're good, from my side. Unless you want more brats?"
Joji stared at her for a long moment. Then, he kissed her again, on the lips this time, smiling faintly. "I already have more than I ever thought I'd deserve, wife. Don't spoil me too much. I might get used to it."
Hari fondly rolled her eyes at him, smiling warmly. "Before, I had something like a bad seal placed on me by a madmen obsessed with his own immortality, ever since I was a baby of fifteen months. It made me infertile and fatally ill. My parents were murdered the same night, trying to defend me. The first time I was killed in battle, I went back to end that man's reign of terror, to save my friends from oppression and certain death. However, it also meant I had only a limited number of years to live, and I was slowly dying in agony, but I got to see my best friends' wedding, and my godson grow from a tiny baby to an adorable six-year-old. I got to say goodbye, that time. We made sure to prohibit someone like that madman from happening again, and tried to give all those orphaned children a future to look forward to. It was a good life, all things considered, but I've always wanted to have a family of my own. And you've given me that, so I'm quite willing to pay any price required of my body and me. Understood?"
Joji pulled her closer to his side, gently cradling Inemaru-chan, and kissed her so very tenderly, admiration and respect in his eyes. "Understood," he replied, tone conveying his gratefulness for sharing all that information with him.
Hari kissed his cheek, content with her life at the moment. "You know what our counterpart to the Professor once told me? 'To the well-prepared mind, Death is just the next great adventure.' And surprisingly, he was as infuriatingly correct and cryptic as ever."
At this, her husband finally chuckled, too amused by her mock-offense.
As soon as Hari was cleared for light duties, the young woman organized the opening of the Academy. She wanted the villagers used to the institution as soon as possible. Joji managed to be in Konoha, holding their two sons during the hastily thrown-together opening ceremony.
Sarutobi-sama also attended, as did all notable clan heads, heirs and councilors. Some noteworthy merchants had turned up with one of their brood, possibly to further their own influence or something equally infuriating.
However, Hari had mastered her volatile temper in her last years as Carry while facing stubborn, old socks in the Wizengamot. Therefore, none of her emotions showed on her face, which portrayed simply a polite, welcoming smile.
She was dressed to impress in one of the new Chūnin uniforms, under an armored flak vest. (Noticeably without the red swirl that had been stitched on Kakashi's back in Limbo.) With her long, plaited midnight-black hair and the blue headband depicting a metal plate, engraved with a stylized leaf, she looked like a serious, strict kunoichi.
Only the delicate ruby-necklace Joji had given her on their wedding day, currently hidden under the navy-colored uniform, as well as the feather and fang earrings (one of each) symbolized her clan affiliation.
Her favorite Summons, a white snowy owl named Haruka, sat on her shoulder, surveying the masses. No doubt taking everything in with those intelligent, amber eyes.
After Nidaime-sama finished his speech, the Head of the Academy was required to add some words of her own. Despite hating public speaking.
Joji sent her an encouraging nod, simultaneously shushing Kama-chan and keeping Ine-chan occupied (and from throwing a tantrum, incidentally). It certainly impressed several nearby females who sent Hari subtle, envious looks.
"Welcome to the Academy. This institution is meant to provide an opportunity for our children to develop vital survival skills alongside bonds of friendship and trust to potential comrades, before being sent out into the world. We hope our broad education will help to raise the life expectancy of new genin considerably, so they may become strong enough to teach the next generation themselves. If there are any urgent concerns, please feel free to address them, the Academy can only improve with your suggestions. My office hours have been posted in the classrooms. Thank you for entrusting your children into our care."
Then, she bowed respectfully, but carefully never deep enough to portray submissiveness or weakness. (It was an art-form.)
As far as public speeches went, this one could have been much worse. Joji smiled warmly at her, applauding alongside Ine-chan. Her boys beamed proudly from their honorary seats, although Kama-chan seemed a bit drowsy. Ine-chan waved excitedly, bright eyes glued on his mother. Until Joji ruffled his hair affectionally.
Hari smiled at her little family, genuinely, before herding the children to their respective classrooms for orientation day.
The First Shinobi War ended shortly after Nidaime-sama sacrificed himself on a covert suicide mission. Consequently, Sarutobi Hiruzen was named the Sandaime Hokage, to few shinobi' surprise.
The village mourned its late leader, as well as relatives and friends that had been lost in the so-called Great War. Joji and Hari already knew there would be more than one 'Great War'. Therefore, they trained their children into the ground (sometimes literally), despite the official declaration of peace.
Joji took over when Inemaru-chan had a good grasp on the basics, beginning his instruction in kenjutsu and several more advanced chakra control techniques. They also played a lot of strategy games, honing Ine-chan's mind.
Kama-chan was inspired by his older brother's determination and proved that he inherited his father's brains while breezing through the lessons his mother taught him.
In the meantime, Ringo-sama succumbed to some poisonous fumes he had breathed in during a battle against Kiri-nin. He had adored his heir's children and happily taken on the role of proud grandfather, so the loss was felt strongly by the two silver-haired boys.
Surprisingly, Hari had found herself pregnant again, only half a year after Kama-chan's birth, cursing Joji and underdeveloped kunoichi birth-control. (Much to her husband's not so secret amusement.)
When Inemaru joined the Academy at age six, he was accompanied to the opening ceremony by his proud father, his cute little brother and welcomed by his noticeably pregnant mother.
Surprisingly, Senju Tsunade, Orochimaru, Jiraiya and several other noteworthy future shinobi were in the same year as the young Hatake heir.
Joji had told his firstborn to observe everyone around him and attempt to predict their strengths and weaknesses. While doing that, the younger Hatake was also supposed to try and befriend others, never judging them by what he knew of their background.
Due to their father (and general clan mentality), the two youngest Hatake sons strongly believed in working with others to reach a common goal. Teammates were very important, an additional extended family in some cases, and never to be left behind. Ever.
Hari slyly slipped that into her lectures as well, impressing onto the young children the need to trust each other. If they could communicate silently, knowing each other's strong and weak points, then they would always overpower their enemy.
Even the Nara couldn't quite protest those claims.
As her pregnancy progressed, Tora-san often helped out during lessons. Kama-chan was looked after by whoever was at the compound at the time, learning all sorts of things about agriculture and a diverse range of topics which hardly touched on weaponry. (No one wanted an irate, hormonal Lady Hatake after them for corrupting her precious baby boy outside of training hours. She tended to get really meanabout such things.)
To everyone's surprise, this time Hari bore her husband a daughter. He was ecstatic and even more deathly afraid of messing her up. In whichever way he could picture.
They named her Umeko, which roughly translates to 'plum child'.
Umeko had inherited a very light version of her grandmother's hair, almost pastel pink, which darkened several shades to white tinted with red over the next years. She would be the only one of her children that inherited her eyes.
Joji adored her - Ume-chan was very obviously a daddy's girl - to high heaven. Much to the amusement of his friends/comrades.
Strangely enough, Joji had befriended an Uchiha, a Nara, Tsunade's father, a Hyuuga, two Uzumaki and several other ninja on his missions. Uchiha Kagami was his favorite from them all for no apparent reason.
But they got along like a house on fire.
Then, around the time Inemaru was scheduled for his last year at the Academy, the Hatake couple announced their fourth pregnancy. The poor boy had just suffered through the Sex Ed lectures when his parents sat Kamahiro, Umeko and their firstborn down for a talk.
His younger siblings worried about him having a fever when the nine-year-old couldn't stop blushing furiously.
(Joji later took his overwhelmed heir aside for a private father-son-talk, leaving the poor child unable to meet his mother's eyes for a week afterward.)
All in all, life continued on as normal.
The moment Hari held her third son in her arms, she knew his name. He had white hair, four shades lighter than the silvery-white of his older brothers, and already showed the same strong Hatake bone-structure his spiritual grandfather had sported in life. Joji took one look at him, sighed and kissed his wife's temple.
"Sakumo," they whispered simultaneously when their eyes met.
A fierce promise passed between them. This was their youngest son and they wouldn't let him die of anything save old age.
The midwife obediently scribbled the name down on the birth certificate.
All of Sakumo-chan's elder siblings took curious looks at their youngest family-member.
Inemaru, the most experienced at welcoming new babies into their lives, commented: "He is tiny."
"You were even smaller when you were born," his father enlightened them, inwardly amused.
Kama-kun hesitantly stroked his baby brother's cheek. "Soft," he noted curiously.
Sakumo yawned adorably and sleepily gummed on his brother's finger.
"Cute," Ume-chan decided happily, beaming at her family. "We will protect otouto. Promise."
Their exhausted mother smiled warmly at them all.
Somehow, the years flew by in a whirlwind of missions, Academy terms, and changing seasons. Joji had a couple of close calls during two of his most dangerous missions, but those severe injuries also led to being doomed to him teaching a new team of genin.
Hari had chuckled at some of his first Team Seven's misadventures, yet hoped this time around none of his students would desert the village. Or die on a mission before making Chūnin.
Inemaru was on a team with a Hyuuga and Aburame, specializing in tracking and interrogation, under Inuzuka Kiba.
Kamahiro also graduated at nine, being slated to work with a civilian-born and an Uchiha under Sarutobi Mamoru. They were groomed as a trio of heavy-hitters - for front-lines or first response.
When Umeko was ten and Sakumo eight, about to turn nine, Hari found herself pregnant once again. And once again, her birth-control had failed her.
This time however, her health was endangered pretty much from the beginning. Aged fifteen, Inemaru got a first taste of what his mother had suffered through to bring him safely into the world. Joji hovered over his wife more than ever, worried beyond all previous limits.
On one occasion, the couple had quite a row about possible termination, to save her life. It was the first time the Hatake clan Patriarch and Matriarch fought in sight of their children.
Hari was lying with her back to the door, steadfastly ignoring her husband's presence which lingered behind her. She had been crying, as evidenced by her red-rimmed emerald eyes.
Joji soundlessly walked into their bedroom, kneeling by her night-table. He gently grabbed her hand, despite her attempts to fend him off, and kissed the pale skin, cradling it against his pale cheek.
The absence of his omnipresent mask conveyed how serious he was at that moment.
"Hear me out, please," Joji murmured softly. "Admittedly, our marriage started off as an arranged one. We were distant friends who were suddenly required to build a life together. But over the years, we've always had each other's backs. We were a team. You gave me four beautiful, healthy children that I love more than life itself. You gave me your heart and a home to return to. And you made me fall in love with you. Over the years, our team grew stronger and stronger. We're nearly invincible together. I could not bear to lose you. Not even for another child. It would destroy me, just after you put me back together again." The silver-haired Jōnin's tone wavered noticeably. Joji was nearly begging desperately when he continued: "Please, Hari, please don't die. Without you, I would have no idea how to handle our children. What about Ume-chan? She'll need you in a few years when the hormones hit..."
To his utter mortification, Joji was actually breaking down completely against his pregnant wife's bedside.
Hari tugged him upwards, allowing him to embrace her. She was so tired of fighting with her husband. Both cried for a while, then the ravenette kissed him gently.
"I will survive this. The baby will survive this. All of us will be just fine. Anything else will not be acceptable. Joji, I have no intentions to leave you and the children. But don't ask me to kill our baby for my own sake. Please don't ever ask me to choose again," she whispered hoarsely.
All of the children breathed a sigh of relief that evening. Their father was disgustingly attentive to their mother for the entire meal, but at least they reverted back to normal.
Inemaru turned faintly green whenever he caught them making out or undressing each other with their eyes, but he couldn't help but smile when his parents spent some quality time together again.
Their fifth child was another girl. She was born with reddish white hair just like Ume-chan's. Excepting the hair-color, she looked just like her mother - but with her father's eyes. Hatake Azami would never be able to become a ninja - she was deaf and mute. No medic-nin would pass her physical.
All four of her older siblings vowed to protect their little sister from all possible harm.
The first time they saw her was behind glass windows in the hospital, due to her premature birth.
Azami had been even smaller than Sakumo.
In the meantime, Kagami-san tried to calm down a nervous Joji from wearing a hole into the hospital floor. Tsunade-san, as well as two other highly-qualified medic-nin tried to save the life of one Hatake Hari.
Then, Tora-san, older and much more intimidating, came to his rescue. She unrepentantly whacked her clan head with a rolled-up stack of paperwork, stopping him dead in his tracks.
"That is my student in there, Joji-sama. As her husband, I would have thought you'd know better than to expect her to give up so easily. Hari-chan is strong, so get your shit together and take care of your children. Or else I will whack some sense back into that hard head of yours," the old kunoichi threatened sternly.
Kagami smirked gratefully when it worked. Joji disappeared, collecting his wayward children for a friendly spar, as his uncle had once done for him, some fifteen years ago.
"Uchiha Kagami, at your service," the raven introduced himself politely.
Tora-san approvingly returned the gesture. "Hatake Tora."
"You trained Hari-sama?" The Uchiha wondered curiously. "I was under the impression your clan didn't condone marriage between cousins."
The grey-haired kunoichi scrutinized him for a long moment. "We don't. However, Hari-hime is not a born Hatake. Ringo-sama approved their betrothal on Hari-hime's first birthday. They have been married for over half of their lives now," the MacGonagall-substitute explained rather blithely.
Kagami-san drew his own conclusions from that bit of information. It certainly provided insight into his friend's uncharacteristic display of anxiety. "I see," he muttered absentmindedly.
Tora-san sighed. "You do not. Lady Hatake has been Lord Hatake's constant companion, since they were three and seven years old respectively, Uchiha-san. When Hari-sama was still an active kunoichi, she was his partner, even before the founding of this village. If - Gods forbid - our Matriarch passes due to these complications... I fear the consequences for the clan will be most dire."
Subtly, she told him to take care of Joji-sama. Or else.
Kagami nodded thoughtfully. "Understood, Tora-san. Thank you for this insight." I will, he implied. Thank you for trusting me.
A week later, Hari had been stabilized and was no longer in danger of dying due to either an infection or blood-loss. However, she was still weak, unable to stay awake for long periods of time - and had been sterilized by the chaotic birth of her second daughter.
The whole clan breathed a sigh of relief when she regained consciousness for the first time.
Azami had been born quite early, but she would survive. Although the medics confined the newborn to the hospital for two months.
It was a miracle she was alive at all.
- Chapter 7:-
Tsunade smiled at her erstwhile Academy-sensei, helping her with the feeding of her smallest daughter. Hari stroked her mute child's cheek and sighed. She would insist everyone treated her little Aza-chan just like the rest of her siblings. Joji would teach her how to defend herself, doubtlessly, despite their youngest so-called 'unfitness' for shinobi-life.
"May I ask you a personal question, Hari-sensei?" Tsunade wondered quietly.
The ravenette motioned for her once-student to sit in the visitor's chair by her bed. Then, she erected a privacy seal of her own creation. (It was an adapted version of the Muffliato.)
"I may not answer, but you may always ask," the Hatake Matriarch replied warmly.
The blonde Senju bit her lip, uncharacteristically uncertain. "Why did you end your career so early? You could have been one of the strongest kunoichi out there..."
Hari considered the teen with an absentminded air of amusement. She smiled down at her nursing baby, wondering if Tsunade would pass judgement. "Did you know that I was born a Tsubasa? Long before the founding of the village, my entire clan was murdered in a single night - by a Fire Country clan. My sensible mother saved my life, protecting me to her last breath. Everyone from my baby brother to my grandmother was killed."
The ravenette stroked her youngest child's tiny limbs, trying to collect her thoughts.
"My mother was the daughter of Tsubasa Jun and Uzumaki Umiko. She told me to seal everything I might need from the compound and to never look back. To move on, because the life of a shinobi was never meant to last long. So I left. The Hatake clan was allied with the Tsubasa clan during those times, so much so their heir was betrothed to me at a ridiculously young age. They took me in, at only three years of age, and raised me. Joji-kun was my friend, my confidante, and my partner on missions. When your honorable grandfather and Madara-san came to speak to our clan head, we were told to sit in and learn. Joji-kun had been ten, to my seven. A village to protect the next generation of children from our childhood, well, it sounded like a wonderful dream."
Hari smiled at the blonde kunoichi, remembering that day perfectly well.
"In the beginning, nothing quite turned out right. Many of the clans were prejudiced against female front-liners or combat-ready kunoichi. You wouldn't believe how many condescending, patronizing remarks I have heard over the course of my career. Even now, I still receive so-called constructive criticism on a daily basis. But I also befriended some great people outside of my small clan. We proved that being a kunoichi didn't automatically equate to being infiltration/seduction specialists. I am not comfortable with the idea, so I specialized in tracking and intelligence, mainly. Sadly, to the Hatake clan at large, I was still an outsider."
Tsunade appeared to think over her words. "So you married for acceptance?"
Hari chuckled at her ex-student's righteous fury. "No. The wedding was planned and organized without much input from myself, true, but I married my childhood friend. Not many girls had the luck to get to know their husbands before the wedding night, or that the gap between ages was only limited to three and a half years. I could have ended up with some old geezer, the age of your late great-uncle. At fourteen."
That obviously was a hard pill to swallow for the temperamental blonde.
"The Hatake clan and the former Tsubasa clan have similar mentalities. We protect what is ours and would cheerfully sacrifice our lives for our precious people. When I married Joji-kun, I knew what was expected of us. He was nineteen years old already, almost ancient in shinobi terms - the life expectancy averaged for males at about twenty or twenty-two. And above all, I wanted a family of my own. So, I didn't mind."
Tsunade frowned, but didn't comment.
Hari interpreted her gaze, then chuckled. "Tsunade-chan, I would have married Joji with or without the contract. He's my best friend and knows me inside out. How else was I supposed to keep the blackmail-scale balanced?"
It didn't lighten the mood too much, unfortunately.
Azami was finished with her meal, falling asleep after being burped.
"Listen, I would have rejoined the active-duty roaster if Inemaru-kun's birth wouldn't have nearly killed me. Medic-nins have improved quite a bit in the last decade, or Azami-chan and I would be dead now. I was very lucky to survive then, with the state of the hospital as it was. His birth crippled me, even if you can't see it from the outside. I would have been unable to cope with light field injuries and would have bled out before returning to the village. Nidaime-sama ordered me to take on the Academy, because Hatake clan children were exceptionally well-adjusted for our lifestyle. If he hadn't, well, I might have gone crazy."
Hari smiled tiredly.
"Would I actually get a choice, I would still do it just like I have. All of my eldest children survived passed their tenth birthday. Do you realize how few shinobi mothers can claim that? I'm still a kunoichi, not cut out for playing homemaker. I still love teaching more than field-work. If there's anything I would change in this world, I would love to prevent more children's deaths. No parent should ever outlive their child."
The ravenette cuddled her daughter a bit closer. She would break if one of her beloved kids died before her.
"So that's why I could never complain about my early 'retirement'. Besides, how many of your classmates are disrespectful towards female team-mates or superiors? How many of you still think shinobi are mere tools of the Hokage? How many of your age group are unwilling or incapable of successfully working together? How many of you graduated before reaching your ninth birthday?"
Tsunade's eyes widened in realization as she connected all the dots. Then, genuine respect shone in her cinnamon eyes. "You arranged that?"
Hari smirked proudly. "The clever councilors tried to dictate the way I run the Academy. They wanted battle-ready genin that graduated fresh out of their diapers. I couldn't push for a minimum age for enrollment, but due to writing the by-laws for the various courses a certain way, no child - prodigy or not - could apply for graduation before turning at least nine years old. That's why you did not graduate aged six, but were able to study under the medic-nin in the hospital in your free time. Other advanced children occupied themselves with various other pursuits, subconsciously preparing themselves for genin-rank. The Academy was only meant to separate the hopeless cases from those suited for our lifestyle, to provide a standard education all Leaf-nin were supposed to be aware of, and promote unity between clans and civilians."
Tsunade stared at her quiet Academy-sensei as if she had never seen her before. Then, she laughed heartily. "I will never underestimate your cunning again, Hari-sensei."
The woman in question winked conspiratorially at her student. "Sometimes it helps to play the meek and slightly crazy female airhead. If you can't bash through the walls, there's always the back-door. You just have to find it. What is your dream Tsunade-chan? What do you want to do with your life?"
The blonde Senju contemplated her teacher's words for a long moment. "I think - I think, I want to learn all I can about medical ninjutsu. And then I want to make sure no other clever kunoichi die in childbirth. Or must end their careers due to substandard medic-nins. Even if I have to bash Sensei's head in."
Hari smiled warmly at the young woman she just shared her life story with. "That's a nice goal, Tsunade-chan. Now, how are you going to reach it? Don't tell me. Just think about it. Maybe write down some small steps, make a list. My best friend always wrote everything down, researched until she was sure of her chosen plan of action - and all of its numerous contingencies - and pestered acquaintances for more information. Ask for advice if you need it. Strong, smart women use their head, not just their fists," she lectured playfully.
Tsunade saluted her absentmindedly, thinking about everything she had been told that afternoon.
Inemaru-kun was promoted to Chūnin the year after Azami's birth. Joji took him aside and drilled more katas into his eldest son's head. Then, he proceeded to soundly beat him into the ground via spar, and subsequently pounding the necessary humility back into place. Arrogance killed more good ninja than kunai ever did.
Kamahiro-kun followed his brother's example and was also promoted during the same exams, showing off his larger-than-average intelligence a bit. (Only to receive an even harsher version of the same treatment his older brother was confronted with.)
Their siblings and mother, as well as those of the clan that had survived the First War, sat in the audience of the Chūnin exams to provide moral support.
Azami had grown into herself, small white-red locks curling adorably around her round baby face. She had gotten startlingly blue eyes, a trait of her late paternal grandmother's. Ume-chan and Sakumo-kun bracketed their mother, beaming proudly at their siblings.
Their white-haired father was seated in the Jōnin section of the arena, as he was an active duty shinobi and considered the runner-up for Jōnin Commander. Many of the younger shinobi treated him with great respect, albeit quite grudgingly in some cases, and the older generation acknowledged his presence with a nod or a polite smile.
Kagami-san clapped his back in congratulations when Inemaru and Kamahiro fought their respective opponent with great skill (for Chūnin hopefuls) and clever tactics.
Nara Shikadai smirked slightly when he analyzed the little emotion he could read from his masked friend. "Troublesome. I pity your boys."
Joji just graced him with a disbelieving look. The schadenfreude was quite audible in the other man's voice. "Maa, my cute little boys have nothing to fear - except for their mother's wrath, occasionally."
"Of course," Kagami agreed much too cheerfully, "because Hari-hime is so fearsome they already quake in their sandals at the mere thought of inviting said wrath on their heads."
Shikadai grunted in agreement, snickering quietly.
Joji raised an inquisitive eyebrow at them. "Maybe you should come over for dinner more often," he muttered to himself, remembering when his wife had found his hidden stash of porn. (Old habits died hard.) It wasn't the porn that had set her off, but keeping it where the kids could accidentally stumble over it. He had been exiled to the hard, cold floor for a week. A week!
His friends seemed unable to take his warning seriously. Indeed, many had forgotten that Hatake Hari had not always been an Academy teacher or a 'paper-nin'. Joji allowed them their illusions.
Hari would show them why mocking her was never beneficial for their health perfectly well on her own.
In the meantime, Sakumo graduated the Academy. He was placed on a team specialized for infiltration and tracking, as was the norm by now for all Hatake. Ume-chan had received the exact same team constellation: an Aburame and a Hyuuga.
When Inemaru was nineteen years old, he shyly introduced his parents to the very lovely Fujimara Hanako, a brunette kunoichi from a civilian background. They were married a year later.
Kamahiro seemed to be as asexual as Kakashi had been, until his parents caught him with a Sarutobi in the process of making out.
They didn't say anything or interfered with whatever went on in their middle son's room. Instead, Hari calmly reminded her second son to invite his friend for breakfast, keeping her position on the other side of the door. "I taught you better manners than that," she had added in her mom-voice, deriving quite a bit of nostalgic amusement from the quick fumbling of the two boys.
(And they always would be boys in her mind.)
Joji kissed his wife lovingly, whispering: "You are evil."
Hari simply smiled placidly, petting his elbow gently. "I know."
"I love it."
Kamahiro blushed in embarrassment - catching your parents flirting, after they discovered the existence of your secret boyfriend, in the process of making out with you, just added a new level of humiliation to the situation - and sheepishly introduced everyone.
Azami loved that her family expanded. She had everyone wrapped around her pinky; even, or especially, her father. However, she also inherited her mother's innate kindness, so thankfully she wasn't spoiled or (too much of) a brat.
For her benefit, everyone used the official Konoha-version of genin sign language, translating everything they said so she could take part in the conversation.
Ume-chan had discovered that she could put her hair into an intricate braid and dazzle boys for fun. Her father despaired of his oldest daughter, but could appreciate her deviousness.
Sakumo slightly hero-worshipped his older siblings and strove to emulate their achievements. His skills in kenjutsu already outshone those of his older siblings.
Consequently, the proud parents decided to gift him with a tantō tailored to his needs. Joji had forged it himself, according to the Hatake traditions. (There was a good reason for the clan originating from the Land of Iron.)
In the process, Inemaru, Kamahiro and Ume-chan were all taught the clan's secret sword-crafting techniques.
If anything happened to Joji, they were responsible for teaching their younger siblings, especially Inemaru and Kamahiro.
Inemaru became a father himself a year after his wedding. His wife Hanako bore him a handsome son.
Joji's eyes appeared to be suspiciously wet when he held his grandson for the first time. Hari grinned unrestrainedly at her touched husband - who was hogging the baby. But she knew why and what he was feeling, so she let him be.
Instead, the ravenette kissed his masked cheek, tightening her hold on his hip and smiled at her grandson.
"His name is Moyashi (bean sprout)," Inemaru told his parents proudly.
Hari's lips twitched with well-concealed amusement. If anyone from her first life had ever bet on the names of her future children and grandchildren, she was almost 100% certain none would have ever considered the agricultural theme. Flowers and royal names must have been a popular choice.
Nevertheless, she adored her family - especially her first grandchild.
Only when Joji gently wiped the tears from her cheeks, did the ravenette realize she was actually crying.
A quick glance at her husband assured they both knew the other was thinking of their respective first life; the loneliness and longing and sudden fulfillment of at least one deeply buried, wistful wish.
Joji kissed her temple in a loving gesture, drawing her into a half-hug of his own.
"It's a good name, son," the Hatake clan head commented softly, absentmindedly stroking his wife's hip-bone in a soothing motion.
Inemaru smiled proudly at them, accepting his family's well-wishes and congratulations with much grace.
Joji waited until they were alone to kiss Hari properly. "Are you alright?"
The ravenette smiled at him, leaning against his toned body. "I am. Just wondered what some of my old friends and associates would have said if they knew I had a grandchild of my own now..."
"One would imagine they would be ecstatic for you," her clever husband replied gently, pulling her a bit closer to his chest. "Although I am not certain how your menagerie would have reacted to the news of your first pregnancy."
Hari swiftly stifled a snicker, her mind painting very amusing images. "Ah, yes. That. Threats of castration, maiming and potential death, all in the realm of possibility..."
She felt him placing light kisses down to the junction of neck and shoulder. It evoked a pleasant, content tingle all over the ravenette's skin.
"I feel old," Hari admitted quietly, glad she was not facing her husband at the moment. "The next war is already on the horizon and I fear for our children. Our clan. This is our home so of course we shall protect it, but I do not want to bury any of our babies - no matter how old the may be, they will always be our babies first - or you, husband. The mere thought - it hurts. And I know we have changed some things and have long surpassed any shinobi life expectancy... What if we all, except for Sakumo-kun, die? What if we haven't changed enough? What if, what if, what if?"
Very tenderly, the silver-haired shinobi tugged his wife around, so she was facing him. There were tears streaming down her face. Then, he proceeded to embrace her protectively, possessively, and so tightly that there would be no space left between them.
"Listen, wife, you have reformed Konoha in a silent, subtle manner that still surprises me sometimes. I am exceedingly proud of your achievements. Our children are all very capable of defending themselves and others, even in emergencies. That's what all those ambush drills were for. I seem to recall a very beautiful kunoichi who had devised the most adorable plans in training our children for every worst case scenario we could think of. Then, there is the fact that we never grew complacent in the last twenty years. Our students, our cute little babies and our subordinates have been nearly driven into insanity thanks to your uncles' pranks. They are much better prepared to handle a war this time around. Besides," he pressed a gentle kiss on her lips, "I would kill anyone for even thinking about harming a hair on your head. I will not lose any of you to stupidity or complacency."
Hari sighed, but accepted the affection provided. She snuggled closer into his arms, closing her eyes as she nuzzled his shoulder. After about twenty years of marriage, the ravenette had grown used to his scent, much like he had begun to associate the faint scent of lilies, a fresh breeze, and lake with his wife.
"Alright. I will adapt more seals for our use," Hari finally decided decisively. "Then, I won't feel as useless as I do now."
He chuckled lowly. "You work too much, wife. It's a sad day when I have to tell you such things. Remember, we do have a grandson to spoil now."
"You are evil," Hari whispered against his lips, smirking mischievously.
"I love it."
The year Azami turned eight, the Sandaime summoned all able-bodied shinobi and civilians to the Hokage Tower for an announcement. Hari shot a worried glance at Joji who had already been informed the previous night. Mainly due to the urgency and importance of the declaration the Hokage was about to make to the whole of Konoha.
Hanako accompanied her mother-in-law to the meeting place, keeping an eye out for her five-year-old and his two years younger sister. Azami held hands with both her nephew and niece, proving she was quite mature for her age.
"Mother, what is going on?" Sakumo wondered, eyeing his mother with open concern.
Of course all of his siblings perked up when they heard his question, even Azami, although she had to read his lips.
"I am not fully certain my suspicions will be confirmed," Hari deflected readily, appreciating her youngest son's affectionate worry.
Inemaru frowned. He was reminded of a similar conversation from many years ago - before a similar assembly was to take place. His eyes widened fractionally, all the (immense) surprise he allowed himself to show outwardly. "Mother...?"
She gently kissed his cheek. "I am not certain, Ine-chan," the ravenette reiterated softly.
Her eldest son bowed in acknowledgement of her implied request.
By unspoken order, the clan appeared as one. Tora-san, now nearly completely white-haired, used her hand-carved cane to accompany her former charge.
She was the children's unofficial grandmother.
As expected, the Hokage declared war on Iwa. Joji discretely squeezed his wife's hand, heart hammering in his ribcage - despite his own words to Hari, the Hatake clan head worried deeply about their children.
Security measures around the clan compound would be upped immediately, followed by installing new traps and seals to make absolutely certain no enemy would be able to harm his Pack.
Abductions during wartime were even more common than during peace-times. Both Hatake Matriarch and Patriarch contemplated various safety measures for their clan.
Hanako had paled dramatically after the announcement, a hand flying to her abdomen, unbidden. Inemaru had been extremely concerned as well.
Hari had managed to calm her daughter-in-law down, but ordered them to move back into the main mansion instead of maintaining their modest home. For the time being, anyway.
Perhaps for the first time the younger generation caught a glimpse of the formidable kunoichi beneath the Academy teacher. Even Joji obeyed wordlessly when his wife was in a mood. Especially if she was nesting/protecting her 'hatchlings'.
The Hatake clan members received individual tasks, to be completed discreetly. Hari would organize everyone and everything, to prevent food shortages and unnecessary suffering. They had cultivated several field terraces on their land, providing the clan with some rice, vegetables - and occasionally game.
The clan had flourished in the harsh environment in the Land of Iron, growing most of their own foodstuffs. That tradition had not been abandoned upon their arrival at Konoha, mainly due to Joji's subtle interference.
Their agriculturally-themed names were not simply for show. No, the Hatake clan had a great talent in growing everything they planted in spite of the environment, especially rice and vegetables. Their unique chakra nourished and encouraged the plants to grow at an increased rate, allowing multiple harvests, and more nutritious crops.
Many had forgotten this property of the unique white chakra, which the Hatake clan wielded exclusively.
The clan assembled in the large meeting room, for once sliding all the foldable rice-screens out of the way to make the most use of the space provided.
Joji stood next to Hari, back straight, hands clasped and head level. His wife, albeit nearly two heads shorter than him, also proved a picture of strength and unbending will.
The clan head spoke a few words, before his wife addressed the new security measures. Then, she declared that their food would be rationed to avoid unnecessary starvation and prolong the life of each harvest. All kinds of sensible war-time measures.
For the younger generation, the one that had grown up in peace or barely even recalled their early years, it was a shock to the system. None had ever seen their Matriarch in full kunoichi-mode, nor had they been restricted in this manner before.
The older generation accepted the sudden changes with grace, smiling a bit wistfully as they remembered a younger Joji and Hari standing behind their previous clan head, adding much of the same measures for the Great War.
"The Hatake clan has survived the First War, we shall survive the second just as well. When moving out, you are all required to wear masks. Last time, the enemy used poisons and several toxic gases. All of the masks filter anything harmful to your health out, I stitched seals into the fabric. Carry an extra, just in case. Never allow them to be torn or lost."
Their overwhelmed audience scattered a few moments later, leaving only their immediate family.
Hari surveyed all of them. Except for Hanako, Azami, Moyashi and Naemi, all of them would inevitably be drafted.
"Don't die. If possible. Always remember: Constant Vigilance! Or else I will find a way to revive you, pound you into the ground and kill you myself. Don't do anything reckless, stupid or slow. Keep your eyes peeled and head clear."
Joji agreed with his wife's amusing pep talk, simply pressing a kiss against her crown. "We taught you to the best of our abilities. Fight smart, not flashy. If you make your mother cry..."
All five of their children winced at the possibility. None of them wanted to sadden their dark-haired, loving mom. That would be like kicking a puppy, in their opinion.
Joji was rarely sent out on the battlefields anymore. Mainly due to his clan head-status, but also because he now held the position of Jōnin Commander. He organized the troops, strategized with Shikadai until late into the nights and reported to the Hokage in person.
Hari appreciated his presence within the village. Those that had retired or were too old to join the troops required care and attention, often reducing the time she was able to spend with Azami, her daughter-in-law, grandchildren and husband.
However, together they managed to keep everyone somewhat happy and safe. Hanako was pregnant again, so she could only help so much. Additionally to Hari's duties to the clan, she still had to run an Academy to the satisfaction of her own high standards.
To that end, the ravenette was summoned to appear in front of the Council. Joji accompanied her, silently supporting whatever she chose to do.
"Lady Hari, why has the Academy not changed their curriculum to meet war-time standards? We need new genin," Danzo-san demanded brusquely, apparently hoping to unsettle his 'victim'.
In response, the Hatake Matriarch smiled, exposing a row of surprisingly sharp teeth. "The Academy has indeed changed to a war-time curriculum, Danzo-san. We also require more teachers to manage the enrolled students. The classes are growing too big for one sensei to handle," the reincarnation explained helpfully.
Sandaime-sama nodded thoughtfully. He knew she recruited the old, crippled shinobi to encourage feelings of usefulness and keep them in pay. Thus, the ravenette had managed to gain much favor with the older generation, and kept everyone content and loyal to the village.
"What changes has the Academy undergone to fit the war-time requirements?" Koharu-san inquired, shooting her ally a remonstrating look.
"The children are prepared for what they may encounter outside of the village. They receive more lessons in first-aid and weapons-handling, fitness expectations have been increased noticeably, and the genjutsu training now includes mild T&I techniques. Any children that wish to drop out are automatically stricken from those we expect to pass the Jōnin test. Nevertheless, it is not possible to graduate earlier than at nine years old, I'm afraid."
The council seemed stunned by the forthright explanation.
"Why is that so?" Danzo-san barked out, barely suppressing his fury from her trained eyes.
Hari cocked her head apologetically. "The by-laws of the graduation exam as well as our Shinobi Sexual Education lecture series hinder such an undertaking, unfortunately."
Joji hid a smirk behind his mask when he met Shikadai's eyes. The Nara inclined his head in acknowledgement of a point well-made years ago.
"Laws which you have written in the first place," Danzo-san nearly exploded. Apparently, he was the 'bad' cop.
Hari shrugged off his accusation with barely a thought. "I was only following orders from Nidaime-sama."
It was a clever move, Joji thought proudly. No one would be able to question her motives without also questioning the Second Hokage. Which was a summarily bad idea, considering who his students were.
"So, there is no possibility to lower graduation age? Even if a prodigy enrolls?" Koharu-san wondered quietly.
"The student in question would have to apply for early graduation her- or himself. This includes a session with a skilled Yamanaka profiler, to determine if the student is ready, or being pressured into something by an ambitious parent. Then the student, his or her parents and I would meet and discuss the report of the Yamanaka, any potential consequences of early graduation and other possibilities in the student's future. If the student is found mature enough, he or she may proceed to accelerate his or her schooling."
Sandaime-sama hid a smile behind his hat. "How many applicants passed the Yamanaka test?"
Hari smiled politely. "Three of the twenty-five hopefuls."
"And how many passed your text, Lady Hari?"
The black-haired Hatake Matriarch inclined her head in acknowledgement. "None, so far."
That stunned everyone into silence once more.
"How would you know anything about the requirements of a shinobi? You are just a teacher," one of the brasher clan heads demanded to know.
This time, Joji growled warningly. Attacks on his mate were not tolerated. The other clan head blanched, but stubbornly kept glaring at the petite woman in question.
"He is right. You have not fought in the Great War," Hyuuga-dono observed.
Hari recalled running a mission with him once. He had been stuck-up and subtly disrespectful towards her.
"I may have not fought in the Great War, but one can easily forget when the Hatake clan joined the village, Hyuuga-dono, as it was so very early on. The Warring Clans Era was one continuous war," she retorted bitingly, still keeping the placid smile on her face. "I ran my first mission aged five, years before Hashirama-sama united us in Konoha."
Joji sighed inwardly. He remembered that mission clearly. It had gone to hell within the first day. Hari had been captured, but freed herself somehow early on. Then, rogue-nin had cornered them.
"Shinobi requirements change with time. How will you teach the children if you do not endeavor to match them any longer?" Uchiha-dono wondered.
Hari's eye nearly twitched in reaction to her outrage and anger. "If you are implying that we need an age limit for completing our duties, half of the village would be without a job. The Academy staff is perfectly capable of preparing our new genin. Life expectancy of new shinobi has risen exponentially, consequently reaching ten or twelve years of age is no longer considered extraordinary. But if you rather I change the curriculum to include early graduation, just to send out underprepared, underdeveloped children on a battlefield..."
Suitably cowed, the council decided to follow her expertise.