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I was a mother, yet I was a child. I knew this the instant I opened my eyes again, after what was supposed to be the last time. I was a mother, and I'd died holding my child in my arms for the first time. My little girl who will get nothing but a name from me. She will never know that I love her, she will never know who her father was, or the story of how we'd met and how he'd died.

I woke up knowing, instinctively, what'd happened. That I was someone else now. I knew, but I'd rather not have known. I'd rather have forgotten, and not known what it was that I'd lost. Seeing every time I closed my eyes that one brief glimpse of her perfect little face, a tiny little hand curled against her cheek, a few strands of wispy blonde hair peeking out from the baby blanket she was so tightly swaddled in. I woke up every day with her name on my lips, aching, but I couldn't cry. The pain took my breath away.

It was just as well that I was silent, because this new place I was in wasn't kind. For the first month my mother cared for me, gentle and careful in everything she did, and a part of my ache was soothed, determined that if I wasn't going to be able to raise my daughter, I could at least allow this woman that. The woman who so clearly cared for me deeply. But then one day I woke up in another's arms, a man that smelled of booze and sweat and drugs that held me too roughly, and for the first time, I cried. I cried and the man's harsh voice growled at me menacingly, but my body wouldn't listen to me and I couldn't stop, the fear escalating into full-on terror. This man wasn't right, I didn't like him. He was going to hurt me, and it wasn't safe.

Then he slapped me, and I choked on a wail, shocked stupid. I was one month old. ONE MONTH. How dare he treat a child this way! Suddenly I was glad that he'd taken me, because if it hadn't been me it would've been another child and they couldn't withstand it like I would. I wasn't really a child, after all.

So I was silent, as quiet and complacent as I could be for the man and the fluttery, airheaded woman. It didn't help, though. They still fought and argued and forgot me, and I was often left without being changed until I developed sores. Sometimes I went hungry for long enough that I prayed I could survive until I was big enough to get away. I learned to crawl as soon as my body was strong enough, and walked very soon after that. I had no illusions of running away, not yet. Not when I still didn't know the language very well, not when I didn't have a cent of my own. I learned to cook and clean, and I did everything to make things easier for my parents and keep their attention away from me, but it still wasn't enough. When the man came home from work, cursing out his boss, his coworkers, the neighbors, the village, the woman, he'd storm through the house pushing  the furniture away from him and sometimes I couldn't get away fast enough. Sometimes it didn't stop at pushing.

I was three when I learned where I was, this world. I was three when my father started cursing shinobi because a retired chunin had taken his job at work, and the beatings got worse. At first I couldn't understand, refused to believe, because this place was just a story to me, one I'd watched in the long months stuck in a hospital bed with my daughter in my stomach and not allowed to leave because the pregnancy was hard enough to make it dangerous. A little girl from the oncology ward would come and sit with me every day since the one time she got lost and ended up in the wrong room. Naruto was her favorite show, gave her courage and occupied the long, painful hours. Comforted her when her hair started falling out and when sometimes the whole night was spent bent over the toilet. It amused me, and since I had nothing else to do I watched the whole thing with her, listening to her chatter on about her favorite characters as I played with her hair and rubbed circles on her back to relax her. And then, when she stopped coming, I watched it again to honor her memory. My daughter has her name.

I looked into the mirror for the first time three months after the revelation and I couldn't believe what I saw. The man broke all of the mirrors early on in a drunken rage and the woman wouldn't let me out of the house, so I'd had no chance, really, to see what I looked like. My hair was white, cut very short in an almost boyish haircut the woman forced me through as a sort of 'makeover' when she came home smelling like poppies once. Really, really white. Straight and soft, incredibly fine. My eyes were a shade of grey I'd always particularly liked, the color of a storm cloud's underbelly. I looked pale, sickly, my skin an unhealthy yellowish color that looked even worse with the bruises, the black eye and the split lip. What grabbed my attention, though, were the two red streaks that went from the middle of each eye to the bottom of my jaw

Jiraiya. I thought immediately. I look just like Jiraiya.

And then I had hope. I could leave sooner now, if I was near enough Konoha. I had enough money saved up that I could travel a while, if it wasn't too far. Knowing this, I now had not only a destination, but if I could find him soon enough I'd have protection. Only if he wasn't dead yet, though. Isolated as I was, I had no idea what part of the timeline I was in, though if I was his daughter (and the resemblance was close enough that I had no doubt) then at the very least Naruto should be alive. If he hasn't been born yet, though, then I had a problem. Jiraiya was a traveler for years before he came back to Konoha and trained Naruto. Still, my best bet to find him is Konoha, and with Jiraiya I'd have protection and a place to stay, at least until I could live on my own.

Then the woman left one day when I was four, and for the first time the man deliberately sought me out. When after the third day she failed to come home, he came after me, his face red with anger, veins bulging, and for one, terrified moment I prayed for someone to help me. For someone, anyone, anyone at all to make it stop.

And in the next instant when the heavy fist fell and I heard my ribs break, I realized. No one can save me now.

I curled in on myself as I'd learned to do, and waited out the pain. The blows fell on my back, my sides, my legs, and I waited for him to tire. I waited and waited, but they just kept coming and coming and I realized, He's not going to stop this time. A kick in just the right place made my whole body go limp, and I fell out of my fetal position just in time for him to stomp on my arm, full force. There was a crack, and then a blinding pain, an incredible pain shot through me, and I screamed. I screamed and when another blow fell I was flooded with adrenalin.

I'm going to die. I'm really going to die!

I reached out blindly with the arm that wasn't broken for something, anything, and my hand closed on the neck of an empty beer bottle he'd left lying around and I swung. It hit his temple and he staggered and fell, but he was still conscious so I swung again and again and again in a blind panic with one thought going through my mind: Idon'twanttodieIdon'twanttodieIDON'TWANTTODIE!

When I finally calmed down enough to stop, I realized there was blood. There was blood everywhere and I couldn't breathe, I couldn't breathe because I was crying too hard and I couldn't see either because one eye was swollen shut and the other was blurred with tears but I knew. I knew there was a dead body in front of me, and I threw myself backwards, away from the violence and the pain an the fact that I just killed a man.

Falling back, I tripped over an overturned chair and twisted, trying to catch myself, and ended up landing on my broken arm. I screamed as black spots filled my vision and there was one, long moment where I writhed in agony before it was too much and I knew no more.

 

When I became aware of myself again, I was in a different place and nothing hurt any more. There were trees all around me, ancient cedar trees with elegant limbs, the soft needles forming a beautiful canopy like umbrellas above my head. I'm in a hammock, swaying softly back and forth with a whisper of a light breeze through leaves, which was funny since cedar's don't have leaves but it seems to fit, somehow. Confused, I swung my legs around and stepped on the forest floor, unnaturally soft beneath my feet, and I noticed that the limbs were my limbs, from before I died.

As if that were a signal of some kind, a sharp cry pierced the serenity and sense of utter peace. It cut through me with a stab of pain, a baby's cry. My baby's cry. I ran towards it, heart pounding to find… me. The other me, that I was now. She was so small, so terribly, terribly thin and pale, deep circles beneath her eyes but otherwise free of bruises and blood. And in her arms… was my baby. My little girl, and she was crying.

I made to step forward, to snatch her out of the other me's arms, but when I was just twenty feet away my body froze. The girl looked up at me then, her eyes tired and infinitely sad, and she spoke.

"So you're here." Did my voice sound like that, so thin and breathless?

I felt the paralysis peel back from my mouth. "Who are you? Why do you have my baby?"

She staggered a bit, and her eyes unfocused slightly, but she caught herself and replied in a surprisingly steady voice. "I'm you. The other you, the part that was wiped clean when we were born again, your childish side. This," she gestured to the clearing we were in and the surrounding trees, "is your mind, or mindscape, if you prefer."

"Mindscape?" That sounded familiar. "Like… Naruto's sewers?"

"Well, yeah. Everyone has one and this is yours."

I looked around at the soft, muted colors. "It's beautiful, but why are there two of me?" I asked, unable to tear my eyes away from the pink bundle in her arms. "Why is my daughter here?"

She shrugged. "The conflict of mind and body, I'd say. This isn't really her, either. She's made up of your memories of her. I'm probably here as a sort of defense against your memories, our memories of our first world. Your longing, your pain, it's tearing us apart. You need to make a decision." She shifted in place, adjusting the squalling baby in her arms with strain visible on her face.

"A decision?"

She nodded. "One of us has to take the memories and let the other one take the body." Seeing the alarm in my expression, she laughed a little, a stressed, tired little huff. "Don't worry, it's not permanent. The one that stays behind will still be able to see through our eyes and support the other and eventually we will merge again, but for now we aren't strong enough to handle the strain of being both."

"I- I'll take her. It will be better for us to act like the child we are supposed to be if you were in charge. You should be allowed to be a child and I- I just want my baby." She smiled at me, a little more lively than before, and the paralysis broke, letting me lurch forward in five, purposeful strides and take my baby. The moment I did, the bags under her eyes lightened and the sickly hue to her skin faded somewhat, and she seemed less tired.

I held her carefully, her small body just as soft and warm as I remembered it was, just blissfully happy for one precious moment, pretending it was real. That she was real. The moment I'd settled her into the crook of my arms she'd stopped screaming. Oh, my beautiful baby, I miss you so much…

Hefting her up onto my shoulder, bouncing a bit, I asked the other me, "why do you still look so tired?"

She smiled a painful smile that I didn't want to see on a child's face. It didn't feel like my face, yet. It still didn't feel like me. "Because I'm not strong yet. Because… because it hurts and I'm sorry and I know I'd do it again because I don't want to die!" Her volume rose as she spoke, until the end where she broke out into sobs, crumpling to the ground.

My maternal instincts basically kicked me in the heart. I crouched down awkwardly, careful not to jostle the baby, and wrapped her in my free arm. "No, no, it's okay. Shhhhhh, it's alright honey, we did what we had to. You'll be safe soon, I promise! I will always protect you."

She shook her head violently even as she trembled in my arms. Gruesome bloodstains appeared on the simple white nightgown she had no that went to her knees. "You can't promise that! You don't know!"

"No," I told her firmly, "no, I do know. I know because we-" I shook us gently, "are one tough cookie. 

She looked up, the sobs that wracked her tiny frame stilled, and she looked up at me, tear tracks under her eyes parallel to the markings, and gave a shaky, wavery smile. Then she snaked her arms around me, leaning into the hug, and everything went black again.

 

 

The smell was what woke me up, the cloying, metallic smell of blood and feces in the air that made me gag, only to wince when the abrupt motion aggravated my ribs. My arm burned and stabbed me in sudden, sharp pinpricks of agony, and I rolled over instinctively only to have to hold back a scream. Sitting up carefully, taking stock of all the pains and figuring out which needed immediate attention, I tried to open my eyes only to find that one of them wouldn't listen, so I went to rub it and with my good eye saw my hand caked in blood, and it all came flooding back.

Instantly my stomach heaved, and I turned my head to throw up, bile stinging my throat as my mind processed it all. Oh god, I killed someone. He's DEAD and it's my fault. God his blood is all over me, it's on my hands and I'm filthy and-

Shaking, I tried to pull myself up on the chair I'd tripped over last night and staggered towards their bedroom and private bathroom, which I knew had been well maintained by the woman when she was here. The only mirror in the house was in there, and I'd never been allowed anywhere near it before, though that didn't matter now.

There she was, that stranger in the mirror. I made for a macabre sight, such a small little girl, thin and sickly looking, covered in bruises that turned my skin purple where it wasn't a sallow yellow color, or streaked with brown. My thin, white hair I actually kind of liked was matted and caked in dried blood. I looked terrified and half dead.

It wasn't me, that reflection. That girl is a murderer and a victim. She lives as an anomaly in a make-believe world, a pathetic thing that can't protect herself or her baby. I wanted to scream that this wasn't fair, what did I ever do to deserve this? I wanted to scream that I never wanted to hurt anybody, never wanted to have to live without my daughter or leave her there all alone in that other world. I wanted to have disappeared after I'd died, because I didn't want this and it has to be punishment, living in a stranger's skin, for abandoning my baby. I wanted to fall to my knees and beg the man for forgiveness because even if I hated him, even if I wanted him to pay for treating me this way, I never wanted him to die. I never wanted to be a murderer.

And then I got a hold of myself, holding back the hysteria. The other me in my head sent a wave of calm, telling me that I had to move on and take care of myself right now. This wasn't the time. If someone heard us last night they might be coming any minute now, and we couldn't be here when they did. Just take it step by step.

Mechanically, I took a washcloth and started to wash the blood off. Numb, I pushed away the horror and all the irrelevant thoughts and lost myself in the task at hand. Later, I'd deal with it later, right now don't think just do. So I washed out the blood and then stripped off my pants and contemplated doing the same with my shirt, but with my arm the way it was it would have to stay. Pulling on another pair of pants, I rummaged around in the man's clothes as the woman took hers when she left, and I half pulled on one of his jackets to cover the bloodstains after bracing my arm to the best of my ability. One sleeve hung empty and it wanted to slide off, but it was big enough that it'd stay on while moving and that was good enough for now.

Then I mulled over the problem that was my backpack, a pack I'd had ready since I was two of things I'd need on the road in case I ever had to leave abruptly. It was a two strap backpack that I'd be unable to put on properly, but I needed it, so instead I slipped the extra sleeve through the empty strap and tied it around me, helping to stabilize my arm and keeping the backpack on at the same time, though it was a bit awkward.

As soon as I was ready I was out the door, refusing to look back. I knew what was behind me, the evidence of what I'd done, and I could only be thankful my vision was impaired enough last night to not have seen very much. That man had scarred me enough, I didn't want that image burned into my eyes to haunt me for the rest of my life. It was him or me, and I couldn't bring myself to fully regret what I'd done.

So I set out, following the lone road away from the nearby village, in case someone saw me or came looking for the man. It was hard, forcing myself to move when my entire body wanted to just shut down and a large part of my mind wanted to curl up in a ball and cry myself to oblivion. Movement helped the stiffness, though, when the soothing repetitive motion of walking distracted me from the pain of some of the larger bruises. The other me, a vague, comforting presence in the back of my mind that watched attentively, gave me strength, pushing away the dark thoughts and telling me what I needed to do. For one thing, I avoided anyone else I met on the road, ducking into the trees on the side of the road whenever I saw someone- or, actually, sensed someone, somehow?- and following along parallel the road until they were gone. I couldn't risk someone recognizing me (or rather my father's features in my face) or noticing my wounds and taking me back to my village to get to the bottom of things. It was half a day before I reached another village and came close enough to eavesdrop on them, learning that I was indeed fairly close to Konoha.

As the day wore on and night began to fall I wanted to stop, my entire body screamed at me to stop. Not the least of which my arm, which throbbed and spiked with sharp pain at each jostle. I refused to stop, however, because I knew that if I did, in all likelihood I wouldn't get back up again. I was used to moving through pain, I could do it. So I walked through the first night and into the afternoon of the next before I finally found myself at Konoha's intimidating front gates.

I was cautious, nervous, hanging back far into the tree line to observe the comings and goings. What do I do now? What do I say? When I first set out for Konoha I hadn't thought about how I'd make it through the security screening, and now it seemed a glaring oversight. If I just walked up and asked to be let into Konoha without any sort of papers, I'd immediately be taken as an infiltrator, and an inept one at that. An hour or so past before I spotted one of the groups approaching the gate and made a snap decision, darting from the trees to mingle in the back of the large group of children. None of them noticed, and I was rather surprised that somehow, miraculously, neither of the two chunin guards for the group of- I quickly learned- orphan ninja-wannabes noticed either.

Tense, anxious, I felt my heartbeat in my teeth as I watched the chunin approach the daydreaming guards with papers, and felt one of them scan the group intently. There was a moment when I was sure his eyes lingered on me, but then he turned back to the guards and motioned for them to go through, allowing us to stumble into Konoha with wide, curious eyes.

I couldn’t believe my luck. It's true that since I don't have any training there wouldn't be any indicators in movement or chakra strength that I was in any way unusual, and I had used the one of the woman's abandoned makeup containers to conceal the worst of the bruises on my face and hide my markings, but surely they should've noticed my posture? The way I hid my face with the hood of the denim jacket? Security here was rather lax, and from that I deduced that it must be a peacetime of sorts. Between which wars I wasn't certain, but I was relieved at the high possibility that I wouldn't be thrust into combat and die young when I chose to join the Academy.

Not having any better ideas on how to proceed from here, I followed the group a ways until we were in the heart of the Village and the Hokage Monument was highly visible overhead. Four faces, but was I before or after Naruto's birth? Was Minato only recently instated? No, it was obviously peacetime or I never would've made it through the gates unchallenged, so it has to be somewhere in Naruto's childhood between his birth and the disastrous Chunin Exams. Great, so I was close to the Fourth Shinobi War, then. Just peachy. And now I have to decide whether or not to interfere.

I broke off from the group then when I spotted an inn off to the side. If I kept following them then I'd be discovered immediately when they started taking attendance. The inn was called Summer Breeze, a bustling inn with a restaurant on the bottom floors that seemed to be pretty popular with shinobi, if the senbon-covered dartboard was anything to judge by. The receptionist at the door was nice enough too when I asked for a room. I had to make up a cover story pretty fast when she noticed my swollen eye, but easily let it go when I told her I had an accident while training to be a ninja. Kind of worried me, actually, that she so easily accepted that, but I guess since it's a ninja village they've probably seen worse.

Finally- relatively- safe in my room, I sluggishly stripped off the backpack, fumbling for at least a minute with the knot keeping it in place before I flung it off and dropped onto the bed. I was out like a light the minute my head hit the pillow.

Chapter Text

"Who is she? Where did she come from?"

"We don't know sir, no girls matching her physical description have been seen around town until yesterday. Judging by the state of her clothes, she's travelled for no more than two days. The blood on her shirt came back male and not even distantly related to her."

There was a pause. "And the other test?"

Pregnant silence. "Congratulations, sir. It's a girl."

There was a choking sound, and then, "And the mother?"

"Unknown."

"So, not a kunoichi. Possibly not even from Fire." A sigh. "Everyone always told me it'd come back to bite me in the ass. I should've listened." Another lull in conversation, and then he spoke again, voice strained and worried. "How are her injuries?"

"The main cause for concern was the internal bleeding in her arm and torso, a slow leak that caused it to take time to manifest symptoms and bought us time to recognize and fix the problem. It's a miracle she was capable of travelling like this, she had to have fought through a great deal of pain. Other than that, she has two fractured ribs that aren't cause for immediate concern, but her broken arm has already started to heal out of place and it'll need to be rebroken and set. There's bruising along the majority of her left side, where the rib fractures are, but it should cause no complications beyond some general stiffness and difficulty moving for a week or so."

"Rebroken?" His voice came out a little strangled, and there was a sound of knuckles cracking.

"I'm afraid so, sir." There was a hesitant breath, and then the doctor's voice came out quieter, almost sad. "There's… there's evidence of chronic malnutrition, and her body's weakened because of it which makes our job that much harder. From the x-rays we took, it's obvious that this isn't the first time she's broken a bone, and that the other times she received no medical care. I'm sorry, but it appears that she has been abused, and from a very young age. Anywhere as young as one year old, younger. I'm… not sure what she's going to be like when she wakes up."

Something shook, and somewhere close metal groaned under what had to be immense pressure before there was a high-pitched squeal like car brakes and I heard something snap.

 

 

He's standing beside a hospital bed and for the first time in over a decade, he's floundering.

She's so small. He thinks, dazed. How could anyone hurt someone so small, for no reason?

She's tiny in a scarily fragile way, bones clearly defined beneath a sallow skin so pale he'd believe she hadn't been outside once in her life before a few days ago. Completely colorless aside from the mottled tapestry of violence that was far too colorful, the dark shades of red, purple, green, and blue that take up most of her body make him shake with barely suppressed rage and he makes sure his hands are free of anything breakable before he allows himself to think of the bastards that did this to her.

His daughter, and fuck, what is he supposed to do? He's not the fatherly type, the most contact he'd ever had with children were a few D-ranks from back in his genin days literally decades ago and a run-in once or twice with Tsunade's bratty little brother before he was lost to the war. And Nawaki had hated him.

Jiraiya's eyes slid inevitably to her face once again for what must've been the hundredth time in the past hour, and this time he looked past the bruises and saw. He wasn't there much, in the lines of her face. He could see a ghost, maybe, in the shape of her eyebrows that were just a little more shapely than his, and the breadth of her face was similar, if more rounded and delicate than his strong features. It was only really obvious in the color of her hair and the marks on her face that proclaimed her parentage for all to see.

His. His daughter, and fuck he's failed her already. He should've known better. It was pounded into their heads in the Academy during one of the few lessons they'd had when their sensei was sure the girls were all off at kunoichi classes: relations outside of Konoha on the way back from missions or for mission purposes were condoned, but it was stressed over and over again to follow up on them, each and every time to make absolutely sure it didn't result in a child. To be careful. But Jiraiya, raw and sore and aching from every loss and failure, he just hadn't cared. Actively tried not to care, because they were just an indulgence, just a way to lose himself and forget. So he'd ignored his duty, his responsibility, and left his daughter alone to be abused and neglected. Even if she had grown up in a normal family that cared for her, she still would've been in danger because of who he is. The moment someone recognized her- and he was far too well known for that not to happen- she would've been abducted and used for leverage or killed in revenge for some misdeed of his.

Absently he was studying the shape of her eyes and trying to remember what color they'd been, attempting to sort out the slew of mangled, unidentifiable emotions he'd been steeping in the past three, four hours, when he realizes they're open and looking at him. Grey, he thinks with a mild hysteria, trying to fight back panic as he hadn't felt since the day Orochimaru left. Quite a bit lighter than his black eyes, and shot through with streaks of silver.

And she was staring at him, blank faced. She was three years old, she shouldn't have that look in her eyes, like she expected him to hit her. Fuck, what is he supposed to say?! Pressured by the silence, he blurted out without thinking, "You okay, brat?" and winced the moment the words left his mouth at how callous he sounded.

She blinked once, and moved to hug her knees, shifting ever so slightly away from him as she kept her eyes glued to his. Mouth dry, he licked his lips and coughed awkwardly, not knowing what else to say. A minute later her gaze flickers away to study the sheets and she squeaks out in an almost inaudible voice, "I'm fine." before she starts to cough dryly herself, and he hesitantly hands her a glass of water left on the table next to the bed, bringing her eyes back to him. She doesn't move for a second, scrutinizing his expression to gauge his intentions, before taking it from him with a muttered thank you.

Her hand brushes his, when she grabs the glass. Her fingers are just so tiny he can't wrap his head around it, and pure emotion like nothing he'd ever felt before practically disables him. It's soft and warm and intense, and he feels like a puddle of goop on the floor. There was this incredible urge to wrap her up in his arms and make sure nothing ever touched her ever again, and before he even consciously considers it his hand is reaching forward to ruffle her hair like he remembered Sarutobi-sensei doing when he was little and she flinched, pulling away from him and swaddling herself in sheets like she was trying to hide.

Shit. He thinks, because of course she's going to feel that way because even if she knows he's her father- which she does, because what are the chances they'd just bump into each other like that?- there's still no reason for her to trust him yet, and what have adults ever done but fail her? But it still hurts like hell and he feels like he's swallowed acid, his stomach twists in a way that has him feeling almost nauseous and there's an incredible rush of shame because his daughter's rejected him. No matter the reason behind it, he still feels like he's been kicked in the chest by a horse. He looks away and out the window in an effort to conceal his emotions with his usual level of mastery, but he can't quite manage it.

"I'm sorry." he says, but it's for a lot more than making her uncomfortable. It's I'm sorry for not knowing about you, and I'm sorry someone hurt you, and I'm sorry I have no idea how to help, how to be a father. God damn he wished Tsunade were here to punch him through a building or four because fuck knows he deserves it for his sheer stupidity.No, actually, he just wishes Minato were here because the gaki's always had a way with brats and surely he'd know what to do.

It's silent for a moment, and he's too busy fending off sudden surges of self-loathing to realize she's moved before he feels a tug on his sleeve and sees her half hanging off the bed, burying her face in his arm even as she stiffens a little because the effort jostled her half-healed bruises and broken bones. Quickly he moves closer to the bed so she doesn't have to stretch so much and she moves from his arm to snuggling his side.

"'S not your fault. Not your fault at all. I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't exist, it's not right and not your fault!" She hisses out vehemently, with the conviction of one who's thought this way for years.

"No." he breathes, because everything is wrong with that statement. "No! I don't know what they," the word comes out sounding like a death threat, "told you, but there is nothing wrong with you! You hear me? Nothing."

She shakes her head and pulls away, retreating to her blankets and swathing herself in them like armor until only her eyes can be seen. "I killed him." she says, voice as monotone and expressionless as her eyes. "That man, I killed him."

Fuck. He thinks yet again, because he'd rather she'd forgotten that and repressed the hell out of it or not understood what death means, like Inoichi said is possible with kids her age. But no, he only has to deal with a three year old who's just had her first kill. Fuck.

Slowly enough she can't mistake him for a threat, he kneels down to eye level and carefully pulls the blankets away. Unlike before she doesn't tense up or move away, and he thinks of it as a silent victory. Locking eyes with her he takes one of her hands in both of his and starts talking, a modified version of what he said to Minato when his day came and he hopes to hell it will work with a kid more than half the age he'd been at the time.

"Kid, I'm not going to say that killing is a good thing, ever. Even the very worst men in the world have people who love and care about them and hurt when they die, and it's never just one person that suffers from it. I'm not going to tell you that it's alright because you're probably not going to believe me if I do, but defending yourself does not make you a murderer or an evil- or even bad- person. Yeah, I bet you wish you'd done things differently, but what's done is done and letting it drive you down only brings that much more pain into the world. I want you to think about that." He feels ridiculous and inadequate, doing this, because she's three and obviously she's not going to understand it, and of course it's not going to fix everything. He's surprised, though, to she her expression change into something with a little more life to it, the understanding and comprehension of someone much older than three. She nods thoughtfully and in the next instant he finds himself asking, "how old are you?"

"Four." she answers promptly, then tilts her head to the side with a look of concentration and revises that. "No, wait, I'm five now. I forgot I had a birthday last week."

Jiraiya's clenching his teeth and trying to breathe through the rage, because she's far too small for a five year old because of that bastard that slowly starved her to the sickly-thin shadow of a child in front of him. That motherfucking bastard better be glad he's already dead, because if he were still alive he wouldn't be recognizable as human by now. Then he thinks of something and his rage fades completely to the desire to find out more about his… daughter.

"What's your name?" And how has he been talking to her for as long as he has without knowing that? Oh, right, emotional angst. He should just leave that shit to Uchihas and all the other emotionally constipated pretty-boy bastards, because in the last half-hour he's begun to regard it as a legitimate mental handicap. Which would explain some things. Again, Uchihas.

She blinks at him again, as if she too just realized they'd yet to exchange names, and then for the first time she smiles a little. It's just a slight upward twitch of her lips, but it makes him feel like dancing around the room in celebration because that kids got the eyes of someone three or four times her age and it just ain't right. "My name is Shion. Shion…?"

She looks at him expectantly and he realizes that she's waiting for him to fill in her last name, which is a problem because… "Sorry kid, I don't have a last name. I'm an orphan, so I never knew if I had one and I've never needed one before."

Shion looks vaguely disappointed at this and he scratches his head, considering. "I guess I will have to take one now that I have a kid and a… family." He doesn't have to look into a mirror to know that his face has the same wondering expression that Shion's does at that word. "I'll think about it."

It's… kind of staggering, the thought of having a last name. When he was younger he'd always hated it, especially when they were doing role call at the Academy, because it always reminded him that he was different, that he was an orphan. He'd felt alienated enough without having that difference rubbed in his face every morning. Having a last name meant being a part of something, meant having a family, and it… well, he didn't know how he felt at the thought that yeah, he actually does have one now, however small. He's Shion's family, and that's just as terrifying as it is amazing.

"So… you know what happened?" she asks, voice shaking ever so slightly as she returns to contemplating the thread count of the sheets.

He nodded grimly. "You've been out three days, kid." She looks up at him, startled at that. "It wasn't all that hard for an Inuzuka to find your trail, what with all the blood you had on you. Wasn't hard to piece together what happened. And you know you almost gave me a heart attack, kid! Collapsing like that all covered with blood and coughing up more aside. Scared a few years off Teuchi, that's for sure."

She flinches at that, trying to curl up even smaller than she has and then wincing at that, because though the medics have patched up her injuries the best they could there's only so much they can do since her chakra network hasn't fully developed yet. They can introduce only so much foreign chakra at a time before they risk damaging her chakra coils, which is why they have to heal in stages and leave the last stretch to her body. "Sorry." she mumbles again, and it's kind of infuriating now how easily she blames herself for things she has no control over. He's torn between wanting to snap at her to grow a spine and blaming himself for everything she insists is her fault, so he settles on something in between.

"Yeah, well, a little warning would've been nice but it's not your fault, kid." He says with a grin.

"I… I felt… normal. Well, sort of. Normal for me. A little cold maybe, and dizzy, but I didn't think…"

"Yeah, internal bleeding isn't always obvious." To his surprise her eyes widened and she paled, like she knew exactly how dangerous it was, even though she'd never been to a hospital before.

"A-and they… fixed it?" she whispered, eyes wide.

Jiraiya hid his confusion behind a grin and a flippant wave of his hand. "Eh, it's common with ninjas, so of course medic-nin are going to know how to deal with it. Your case was pretty serious since it was left for so long, but it's still no problem for a medic."

"Wow." she whispered under her breath, and then asked, "If they fixed me up, then when can I leave? I left my stuff at the inn and the hostess is going to be worried about me…"

Jiraiya snorted. "You think we haven't found out where you were staying by now?" He pointed over his shoulder to a pack in the corner of the room. "It's all over there."

"Oh." Shion started fiddling with her thumbs, glancing up at him every few seconds or so nervously, and suddenly he's pretty nervous too. What is he supposed to say?

To his relief the silence is broken by the door sliding open, the medic scheduled to give Shion her next round of healing. "Oh!" she gave Shion a bright smile. "You're awake! That's good to see, how are you?"

"I'm fine." Shion replied, voice remarkably steady for someone who's been stammering for the past half hour. Inclining her head in acknowledgement, she went on, "My name is Shion, nice to meet you. Thank you for taking care of me."

Jiraiya blinked as the nurse fussed over her, chattering away cheerfully. "My, you're very polite for someone so young! No need to thank me dear, I'm just doing my job. Now, let's get you all better, okay?" A second of concentration and her hand flickered green and she lay it carefully on Shion's arm with a distant expression on her face as she healed. Immediately Shion relaxed somewhat, and for a moment everything was fine. Then the medic started to look confused, which turned into a scared bewilderment and the soft green glow grew brighter.

Shion screamed.

Chapter Text

I watched in fascination as the nurse's hands started to glow green, giddily excited because to me it seemed like magic. She gingerly grasped my arm and the second she touched me I felt something burn without heat, something soft yet intangible that sank into my skin and ate at the pain and it was bliss. With the feeling, I suddenly became aware of the of the chakra inside me, the extra set of veins that pulsed slow and steady in time with my own heart. But, as the green chakra began to trickle into my systems, it was as if my sudden awareness made my chakra aware of the intruder to my system. It twitched, digging excited tendrils into the green energy, because far from seeing it as a foreign invader, for some reason I recognized it as food.

Instinctively my chakra latched on pulled it farther in and when I focused my attention on it, curious as to how exactly it worked, it was like I was looking through a microscope. The innermost workings of the chakra appeared as a series of complex, three dimensional threads that wove themselves into a certain shape. To my surprise, I found myself able to read them. This clump over here means the owner of the chakra is female, this bit over here says that she's earth natured but training with water as her secondary. This abnormality over here, this break in the pattern… she's suffered a close loss recently and has yet to get over the trauma. Her mental state is affecting her chakra and causing it to not work as efficiently as it could.

With a start, I realized that's exactly what this is. Chakra is made up of spiritual and physical energy, so when one of them is affected their chakra is affected too. Chakra is a manifestation of who a person is, and as people are shaped by their experiences major events in their lives leave an imprint on their chakra. And somehow, I have the ability to read it, like the rings on a tree. What is this?

The deeper I went into the chakra matrix, the more I saw. She started training in medic-nin techniques at around thirteen years old, so probably when she was a genin. She focused on taijutsu almost exclusively when she was at around Academy age. When she was about three she broke a leg and fractured two ribs in a fall. Eventually I went so deep into her chakra, I saw her most base characteristics. Empathic, impatient, selfish, but determined enough to override all that.

When I reached the core, I started to feel uncomfortable. These… are all private things. Things the nurse wouldn't tell anyone else, much less a stranger like me. It was… it was wrong on a fundamental level. Ashamed, I was making my way out when I noticed the cluster that turned this sample from regular, ordinary chakra to healing chakra, an imprinted knowledge of how the body should be, and without conscious thought a tendril of chakra found that clump and ripped it out, absorbing and incorporating it into my own. That tendril of chakra raced through the rest of my system, plugging it into my base chakra code and leaving a raging stream of fire in its wake as I changed.

And then I wasn't inside my mind and body anymore, wasn't aware of my chakra pathways. No, instead I was screaming in pain, writhing in my bed sheets wishing for something, anything to make it stop. My body flailed, straining against the hands on my arms and legs that held me down because it wanted to hit something to defend itself, and I'm pretty sure I just clipped someone's jaw with my fist. Gradually the pain began to fade, easing to a dull burn and then transforming into the cool fire of medical chakra at work, flaring once briefly to throw off the residual injuries from the beating before finally calming down to normal levels, receding into its usual slow, steady pulse of life, if slightly weaker.

Groggy, I opened my eyes to find a terrified Jiraiya staring down at me and… feeling?... a whole lot more people in the room than before, making loud noises that just didn't seem to register through the veil of exhaustion that sent me careening into unconsciousness.

 

 

So it seems my mother, whoever she was, was most likely related to the Akado clan, who have a kekei genkai that absorbs chakra. My variation on it is slightly different though; stronger. I don't have to concentrate on it to absorb chakra, I do it constantly and often on accident. When we experimented with it after the first fiasco, we realized that every time I touch someone I take very tiny amounts of chakra without even realizing. Never as much as that first time, though. Probably because the nurse was actively channeling chakra into me. As my first ever exposure to chakra, she inadvertently kick-started my kekei genkai and also left me with the ability to turn all the chakra in my body into healing chakra. This is not necessarily a good thing.

You see, what healing chakra does is speed up the division of cells. To do this, it speeds up metabolic processes to produce more energy that the cells need to divide, which means that healing chakra requires the use of the body's natural storage of fat to work properly. Normally it doesn't need enough to be a significant loss for the body. Most of the time it doesn't even have to delve into those emergency reserves and the energy needed is more or less equivalent to what you gain from a meal, so if you just take care to eat afterwards you'll be fine with no lasting ill effects. With more dangerous injuries, however, you run the risk of actually starving the body to death by using up all the energy it needs to live. It's especially a concern with ninja, because not only are they being healed frequently as a matter of course but their strict training regimen leaves very little excess fat on the body to be used in healing, and it is for this reason that medics are always pushing ninja to eat as much and as often as possible.

Therein lies my problem. I can't simply turn only one part of my chakra into healing chakra, it's an all or nothing thing. However, turning all of my chakra into healing chakra puts an immense strain on my body's reserves further compounded by my malnutrition and small stature, and by the damage already done to me in my formative years it isn't likely that I'll ever gain enough weight to be able to use the technique regularly and will probably struggle to keep a healthy weight my entire life. It's also for this reason that I can never be a medic-nin, because I'm now incapable of converting only part of my chakra into medical chakra and am also further unable to project that chakra into someone else because the moment I flip that switch my chakra automatically starts healing me.

From what I've heard from Jiraiya, the way the Akados' abilities usually work is that they automatically absorb and convert all chakra they come into contact to into something their body can use, they don't take on the traits of that chakra like I did. When I described how I was able to read the medic's chakra Jiraiya told me he'd never heard of something like that before. He promised he'd poke around a little but he was hesitant to really dig into the issue because  the Akado clan has a questionable reputation and some nasty suspected affiliations. Considering that the only Akado I ever saw in the anime was Orochimaru's disposable lackey, I agreed with that assessment wholeheartedly.

I had already been in a fairly delicate state when I used my abilities for the first time, and the shock of it sent me into intensive care for the three weeks I'd lain unconscious and I stayed for two more after that to get some nutrients in me and wean me back onto solid foods. For having been on the verge of starvation for so long the huge bowl of ramen I'd had before I passed out had not been a very good idea. Luckily for me my body hadn't really registered it before I'd passed out and it'd been used up fairly quickly with the healings I'd needed, but if it hadn't been for that my body very likely would've gone into shock because it simply wasn't used to so much food.

So I'd had to stay in the hospital. I don't really mind hospitals for the most part because whenever I'm in them I remember the time I'd spent in one in my old world waiting for my baby to be born and it always gave me a sense of comfort because I knew if anything went wrong I was in the best place possible to be. I didn't have to worry I wasn't eating the right foods or that something would happen leaving me unable to get help in time. It left me with a sense of comfort and safety that even now I associate with hospitals. Still, I can only stand them for so long before I go stir crazy, especially with my unnaturally energetic child's body, and the hospital food is really terrible.

With a sigh I nudge the…whatever it is that's brown and chunky and sort of… stringy? Just the thought of putting that in my mouth makes me want to puke. Grimacing in disgust, I reluctantly scoop a spoonful of the… substance and spent several seconds trying to get up the resolve to actually eat the thing when I feel Jiraiya's signature coming from down the hall and force myself to keep my head from twitching towards the door. It wouldn't do to get in the habit of announcing my budding sensory abilities to everyone at the slightest surprise, now would it? When the door swung open I let the spoon fall back onto the tray with a goopy plop and sent the man a wide, grateful smile.

"Please tell me you're here to get me out of this place. I might just end up staring down this tray for the next hour if you don't, and kami knows they won't take it away until I've eaten the whole thing."

He chuckled, setting himself down in his usual spot with a graceless flop. "Getting a bit fed up with the hospital? I almost thought it'd never happen. Never seen anybody so comfy in a hospital bed before."

I quirked an eyebrow at him, pursing my lips in sarcastic amusement. "I am normal, thank you very much. Just because I don't have that irrational fear of hospitals all ninja seem to have doesn't mean that I'm the weird one." I looked down in disgust at the tray in front of me and commented, "How about we make a bet? If you can identify what the hell kind of meat they made this with I won't bug you about getting out of here. If you can't, you check me out today."

He snorted. "I'm no Tsunade, kid. I know a fool's bet when I hear one. You're in luck, though. I got the go-ahead to take you… home… today." We both tried to ignore the awkwardness that came over the both of us when he said that word, the clumsy, unfamiliar way he said it.

Home, I thought. How long has it been since I've had an actual home? The house certainly hadn't felt like much of a home, not since he died. It was too quiet, with no one there to welcome me. Almost like my childhood.

"Ah, yeah. I'm looking forward to it." And I actually was. Home. Safe.

….For now.

Ignoring the twinge of barely hidden anxiety I had about the future, I happily gathered up my things and bid the nurses a farewell, thanking them for their care under the frankly astonished gaze of my goofy father. What, has he never seen a polite kid before? Outside of the Hyugas, I mean. Thinking back on his genin team, I thought perhaps not. But then, he had had Minato on his genin team, right? I wonder what he was like when he was little. They never really gave him that much air time…

I glanced sideways at him from beneath my lashes, the question on the tip of my tongue, but the silence was… difficult to break. He didn't seem to be paying me any mind either, staring off into the distance, lost in thought until suddenly he  shook his head and sent a smile my way. With a jerk of his thumb, he gestured to a colorful flower shop I hadn't really noticed before and said, "That shop right there is Yamanaka Flowers. They're a big clan here in Konoha with a mind transference kekei genkai. Usually end up in T&I or Intelligence."

I blinked at him owlishly, surprised at the sudden tour, then shrugged my shoulders a little and decided to roll with it. "What do flowers have to do with mind reading?"

One of his hands reached up to ruffle my hair and I just barely shied away, a reaction I'd been working on controlling these past two weeks with limited success. He hesitated for a second, hand hovering for a second too long in the air above my head, before swishing my fine, wispy hair around almost playfully. "Just because they're a clan of mind readers, doesn't mean that everything they do is about that." He chuckled, just the barest edge of strain to his voice. Then he paused and his tone turned speculative. "Well, there have been rumors they've been researching truth serums, but I don't know if that's true or not. That's more the Nara's alleyway, and those clans are so close I don't see why they wouldn't ask for their help in stuff like that."

Continuing down the street, he gave me the low down on the various eateries we'd passed, all of which coincidentally happened to have their own bars attached. We passed by the civilian library and he gave me the gossip and current political standings of various people we passed by. There were very few people he didn't know enough about to comment on.

"…and that man right there, with the eye patch- you know, right next to that bin of apples- he has a kid in the Academy right now. He's pushing for later graduation dates and the Hokage's starting to buy into it. Pretty sure the clans will shut him down though. And- oh! There's Fuji Yamushi. He was on a genin team with Aoba way back. Nice kid, pretty handy with his poisons too, though nowhere near Anko's level. And there's-"

"O-otou-san." I interrupted, struggling with the title. It must've startled him just as much as it had me, because he actually stopped walking. "It's cool you know everybody so well, but who're your friends? Who do you hang out with all the time? I'd like to meet them."

Just like that his bright-eyed expression shuttered, aging before my eyes until he actually did look his age for a split second. "Ah, well, I've been… I've been away from the village for a while…"

Wait, so he has no close friends? Well, I guess there isn't anyone left from his genin team here. They're off being traumatized or traumatizing hordes of children. And of the team he taught, Minato is dead, but did that mean that his teammates are too? I'm pretty sure if they'd survived past the Kyuubi attack they would've shown up in canon, so I guess not… There's the Hokage, but their relationship is more of a mentor-student kind than a friendship of equals, and there's a lot of bad memories between the two, making any sort of conversation between them sad and painful. His generation fought in the Third war, too… Maybe he really doesn't have any friends left here.

I kicked at a rock, suddenly frustratingly sad. It isn't right, that a guy as important and likeable as Jiraiya had no one to really goof around with or confide in here, in his hometown. Feeling emotional, I wrapped my arms around him and said, "Don't worry tou-san, I'll be your friend!" He stiffened for a long moment, but slowly his taut posture thawed, and I looked up just in time to catch a soft, slightly goofy smile on his face that he probably hadn't intended for me to see. Then he cleared his throat and I stepped away, eyes glued to my feet as I felt my face warm slightly in embarrassment.

"Ah, well, um… we're here." My head shot up and I gawked at the small blue one-story house that is apparently going to be my home from now on.

I had seen and gotten used to the fact that Konoha's architectural style is pretty all over the place, but I was still surprised to see how strongly western the house was. I was further surprised to see the small garden out front overflowing with flowers, as I honestly hadn't pegged Jiraiya as the type to like gardening. And isn't he always away from Konoha?

"The house is new," he explained as we stepped inside, "because I hadn't had one here before, so it's a little bare right now, but I had a big enough nest egg stored away to get some furniture. I kind of had to… well, I had to guess at what you might like so… I'm sorry ahead of time if it's not what you'd like to have."

He wasn't kidding. There was a lot of open space and what furniture there was, was mismatched and obviously arranged in a hurry with no eye towards aesthetics or functionality. The rooms themselves were small but in good repair, carpeted in every area but the kitchen and color coordinated by the last occupants to have a presiding red and beige theme that was hilariously close to Jiraiya's usual color scheme.

He lead me down the hall and pushed open a door. "This is your room." he announced.

Like the rest of the house, the furniture was mismatched. There was a dark mahogany desk in the corner with a small pile of books on it that proved to be basic Academy textbooks. On another wall was a white wardrobe with simple and quite frankly ugly flowers painted a garish fuchsia near the drawer knobs, paint peeling and stained in places. Next to it was a floor-length mirror with a solid iron frame that branched off into decorative curly-cues, reflecting the large queen-sized bed on the other side of the room covered in a soft pink comforter that was… tolerable, I suppose.

It was glaringly empty and impersonal, but I guess I'll be able to fix that in time. It's a lot better than I've had for the past few years, at least. I shuffled slowly over to my bed and flopped down on it gracelessly belly-first, and was surprised to feel something lumpy beneath the sheets.

"This is…" I glanced back at Jiraiya who was watching at the door for my reaction, then back at the doll in my hands. She was a porcelain baby-doll in a soft blue shift like a nightgown, matching ballet slippers on her feet. She… she had curly blonde hair and… and bright blue eyes… just like… just like…

I shifted her from my hold into the crook of my arms, lost in the memories that bubbled up despite the Other's attempts to suppress them. I didn't even notice I was crying until Jiraiya was crouching in front of me, gently wiping away my tears with his thumb. "Th-thank you." I choked out between sobs as they gained force, holding the baby doll tight to my chest. "It's perfect." He didn't know why I was crying, hovering anxiously, hands fluttering around in aborted attempts at comforting me before settling on rubbing small circles on my back, holding himself as far away as possible from me as if afraid that he'd scare me if he moved in closer. From how I'd been acting so far, he was probably right.

Eventually I calmed down, swiping at my sore and puffy cheeks before rubbing my eyes in exhaustion. Nothing quite takes it out of you like a crying fit, something I hadn't done in years, even before I'd died. It was also surprisingly… refreshing, leaving me in a state of emotional zen and general apathy, too drained to really care about anything. By that point I'd taken to the bed, clutching at my pillow like a lifeline while Jiraiya sat on the edge and continued to massage my back.

"You done, kid?" he asked softly, a tender note to his voice I hadn't heard there before.

"Y-yeah." I all but whispered, my voice rasping tiredly from overuse. "S-sorry. I didn't mean to just start crying like that."

"Hey, it's okay. You needed to let it all out. Everybody needs that every once in a while." I felt the mattress move as he shifted to stand up. "You hungry?" Sitting up, I sniffled a little once and nodded blearily, shuffled into the kitchen and sat down at the dining room table, watching Jiraiya dart around the kitchen, making something. It was quiet, an unexpectedly comfortable silence. Jiraiya is an easy guy to like once you get past his eccentricities, and he made sure to tone down his perversion around me, though I doubt the nurses at the hospital would agree with me. It's hard not to like someone who's as endearingly awkward as he is.

Half an hour or so later he poured some sort of noodley soup into a bowl and plopped it down in front of me and took the seat opposite mine. I stared at it for a few seconds before glancing up at him questioningly.

"Udon. You've never had any before?" I shook my head. "Well, dig in then! Food of the gods, I'm telling you. What kind of life have you lived to have never had udon before?" he flinched when he realized what he just said, but I simply shook my head fondly and reached for my chopsticks, awkwardly shoveling some noodles into my mouth. It was my first time using chopsticks since what food I did get before was generally convenience store quality finger foods.

Jiraiya watched me expectantly. "How is it?"

"It's good!" I mumbled around a full mouth. It was, too. Possibly even better than Teuchi's ramen. It was quiet for a minute as I threw down a few more bites before I set the chopsticks down and blurted out, "Tou-san, do you know who kaa-san was?"

He stiffened, grinning awkwardly, a little nervous. "A-ah. Well, I-" he stuttered, suddenly finding the wall-paper fascinating, "No. You see, it was a long time ago and, uh, I had a lot of really good friends and well-"

I couldn't resist teasing him a bit. How many people can say they actually embarrassed the Legendary Pervert? "Is that where babies come from?" I asked, opening my eyes wide. "From really good friends?"

The poor man went about five shades paler than he was, gaping like a fish out of water, eyes just about popping out of his head. "No, well, you see… uh, it takes a very special kind of friend-" he stammered, hands taking to the air again like he tends to do when he's nervous. "I'll tell you when you're older."

Snickering, I picked up my chopsticks again to continue eating and was irritated when the noodles fell back into the bowl. It just didn't feel natural to try to eat with sticks, and my fingers just… couldn't… quite….

Jiraiya snorted in amusement and stood up to walk around to my side of the table and adjust my fingers until they actually felt natural holding the chopsticks. "That's how you use chopsticks."

I clacked them a few times, getting used to how they felt in my fingers, and smiled a thanks at him. "So, tou-san, what do you do for a living?"

He stood up and did his weird kabuki dance introduction right there in the kitchen. Honest to god, he summoned the toad and everything, knocking over several chairs and nearly upending the kitchen table at the same time, smacking his head on the ceiling in the process, sending him sprawling on his back on the floor, clutching his head and groaning pitifully.

I got up and stood up in front of his head, crouching down to hang my head above his. "Tou-san, that was silly." I deadpanned.

He jumped to his feet in one fluid movement, one hand migrating to the back of his head with a rueful laugh. "Ah ha, yeah, I guess I made a mess of the place, huh." he said as he righted a chair. "I'm a ninja, obviously, but I'm also a famous author, known around all the Elemental Nations! Salvation of men everywhere!"

I blinked innocently at him, fighting a smirk. "What kind of books, tou-san?"

"You want me to read one to you?"

Uh, I honestly expected him to change the subject on that one. If he started reading me erotic novels I was so going to kick his ass when I got older. "What's the title?"

"It's my greatest work, The Tale of the Utterly Gutsy Shinobi!" he proclaimed with a flourish, fishing a battered, shockingly nondescript brown and white book out of his jacket.

Oh wow, the famous book! The prophesized world-changer, origin of Naruto's name and catalyst for his resolve to change the world for the better. Inspired by Nagato of the Rinnegan eyes and later a key point to Naruto's argument with him, in the end convincing him to give back the lives he took in the destruction of Konoha.

"Yeah, let's read it! Can you tell me what the letters mean as you read it, tou-san?" I asked, grabbing his hand to drag him into my bedroom.

"Sure, sure kid. Whatever you want." So I climbed into bed and curled up into the sheets, looking up at him with eager eyes as he moved to sit down next to my bed and I scooched towards the edge, leaning forward to rest my chin on the top of his head as he started to read.