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Loyalty.

The single concept a Konoha ninja’s life revolved around. It was not wished for, or asked for, but demanded. Konoha ninja were loyal. Always. It was a fact of life. Konoha ninja were born loyal, were raised loyal, and died loyal. Always in service of their village and their Kage, always following orders like they’d been raised to do. There was no alternative.

Those whose loyalty faltered, those who doubted Konoha and its leader, were made loyal again. Often by enforcing strict indoctrination and propaganda, sometimes simply by sending them to a Yamanaka and having their very minds twisted and broken until they fell back into line and once again became what they were meant to be - loyal until their very last breath.

Those who got out before they could be remade were branded traitors. They were painted as the scum of the earth, their names and reputations blackened and spat upon, the family they left behind made pariahs and often detained for interrogation. Sometimes, when it was deemed they knew of the ninja’s waning loyalty, the families were executed for treason. Just like the ninja. The traitors, those who ran to save themselves, were hunted down like dogs, loyal hunter-nin tracking them down and killing them one by one, until none were left.

Loyalty was the most prized character trait in Konoha, ninja or civilian.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was five, when she first came to understand the fact that her loyalty to the village of her birth might end up being her death sentence. They were at war - the whole world was at war, all five major hidden villages slaughtering each other’s ninja and citizens in a bid for superiority - and Konoha needed manpower.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was five, and a ninja came to her house and drafted her into the ninja corps to serve in the war. Her parents could not fight, they were civilians and their chakra coils had atrophied and dried up due to the lack of use. Nanao was young and her chakra coils were still developing - still mouldable. She could use chakra, if she were taught to do so. And she was. The ninja took her from her home, away from her mother and father, and brought her to a training camp, where she was given a crash-course in warfare, combat and chakra manipulation. In six months, she learned martial arts and how to use weapons, how to mould her chakra and use lethal techniques, how to set traps and interrogate, how to torture captured enemies who wouldn’t talk until they would, how to encrypt and decrypt messages - how to be a soldier, who was, above all, loyal.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was nearly six and her team was deployed to go fight at the front. She was loyal when she was six-and-a-half, when her team got slaughtered by Iwa nin and she only barely got out alive, crying, traumatized, dragging the remains of her teammate behind her and her guts nearly spilling out of a hole in her stomach.

She was loyal when she was seven and one of her new teammates betrayed them to Kumo. She was loyal when she was subsequently captured and kept imprisoned at a Kumo base, and she was loyal when the Kumo nin burned her teammates alive. (Her teammates were the lucky ones.)

She was loyal when, two weeks later, the Kumo base was raided and she was rescued, tortured, violated in the worst of ways and delirious with pain and fear and infection.

She was loyal through years of battles and killing, years of fear and pain, years of fighting for her life and the lives of her comrades. She was loyal through years when she was actually lucky when an enemy’s kunai got stuck in her flesh, because that way she had an extra weapon when supplies were scarce and hard to get by. She was loyal through years when dying on the field of battle was actually considered a pretty good alternative to being alive.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal, because she was a Konoha ninja, and Konoha ninja were nothing if not loyal.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was eleven and the war finally ended. She was loyal when she got to go home for the first time in almost six years and stepped into her childhood home and found her parents staring back at her as if she was a stranger. She was loyal when she counted her battle scars in the mirror, and when the nightmares wouldn’t allow her to sleep and the paranoia kept her awake in fear of being slaughtered when she was at her most vulnerable. She was loyal when her parents couldn’t deal with the panic attacks and the dissociative episodes, and she had to go and live in the barracks because she’d nearly murdered her own father in a blackout haze of rage when he’d accidentally startled her.

She was loyal when she drank away her pay in a sleazy bar because the images in her head were too vivid and too sharp and made her want to introduce a kunai to her throat. She was loyal even through the dying screams of her comrades still ringing in her ears, which even copious amount of alcohol and the occasional hit of opium couldn’t drown out.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was thirteen and the Nine-Tailed Fox attacked the village. She was loyal when she went out to fight a literal demon and struggled to function through the flashbacks and the panic attacks and the wish to just lay down and let the beast kill her in an attempt to kill something she could literally not defeat. She was loyal when she saw her village crumble and burn, when her comrades were smashed into paste on the pavement or burned to death or ripped apart, when civilians were slaughtered by the dozens and the streets ran red with blood. She was loyal when the Yondaime, by some divine miracle, manages to seal away the Nine-Tails. She was loyal when she stumbled across her childhood home and found the roof caved in with the crushed bodies of her parents lying in already cooling pools of their own blood. She was loyal even when, after the bodies had been cleared and buried, a medic informed her that, if her parents had lived, she would have been a big sister in another few months.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was drafted into ANBU when she was fourteen, even though she didn’t understand what Special Ops wanted with a fourteen-year-old alcoholic drug-addict with severe PTSD and suicidal tendencies. She was loyal, and it was not her place to question orders, so she went and moved into the ANBU barracks and did as told.

She was loyal through the training, when she was made to train until she literally could not train anymore, when the demands and strain and brutality threatened to break her already fragile mind and sanity, when the torture training very nearly shattered her completely.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was handed her mask, a year later, and received her first mission, and she was loyal when she followed orders and killed a family of five who were suspected of being traitors (there was no evidence), including their four-year-old triplets. She was loyal, and it was not her place to question orders.

Hayashi Nanao’s loyalty faltered when she broke and tried to kill herself when she was sixteen, and ended up being sent to a Yamanaka to have her mind messed with. She was made loyal again when they reinforced it in her very mind. She was loyal even when they placed mental blocks that would not allow her to make a second attempt at suicide, and she was loyal when, instead of sending her to therapy, they put her back on duty the moment she was no longer considered a suicide risk and continued having her run missions of the most horrific natures.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was discharged from ANBU duty when she was eighteen because she was no longer capable of functioning correctly in the field. She was loyal when they stripped her of her rank and put a big red stamp in her file that said she was unstable and a risk to her comrades. She was loyal when the Yamanaka strengthened the chains in her mind and when they twisted her until she could not even think anything not-loyal about Konoha and its leader. She was loyal when she was reassigned to the Black Band Team, the one better known as the Walking Dead or the Corpse Party, because the Black Bands had only one purpose, and that was to die.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when she was nineteen and her division of the Black Bands was called into action, and she was loyal when the mission details confirmed that, yes, her loyalty would be her death sentence like she had thought it would be so many years ago. Nevertheless, she was loyal when she left her village for the last time, and when she got her final shot of sake from her team leader, and she was loyal when she drew her ninjato and moved into a combat formation for the last time and readied herself for her last fight.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal when the katana of her enemy struck a fatal blow, and she was loyal when she bled out in the dirt, lying in a pool of her own fluids with her guts spilling onto the drenched-with-blood ground. She was loyal when the katana was ripped from her dying body and her enemy left her to slowly expire, and she was loyal when the agony raced up and down her spine and her throat was too clogged with blood and tears to scream.

Hayashi Nanao was loyal, because she was a Konoha ninja. And if there was one word to describe a Konoha ninja, it was loyal, even when their village did nothing but take and gave them nothing in return. It was a fact of life.

Hayashi Nanao died, loyal to her last breath, because there was no alternative.