Unlike other people, what I got after death wasn't eternal sleep, nor was I presented two doors to Heaven or Hell, but instead I was thrust into a second life without my consent.
Which meant that I was forced to start over, forced to meet a new family. I didn't mind that I needed to learn how to control my body again, but loving two new strangers as though they were my own parents ?
Admittedly, it took me a while to realise that I’d even died in the first place. That wasn't exactly unusual, because after ‘waking up again’, your first thought wasn’t going to be: well, I guess I’m now an infant. It was more along the lines of: Where am I? What happened? Why am I blind, deaf, paralysed? WHAT IS GOING ON?!
Eventually, I did figure out what was happening. Namely, I’d been reborn. Reincarnated. It immediately raised the question of, how did this happen? Why did it happen? Was there a sick God who wanted to laugh at my misery, or was it a cosmic accident? It didn't make any sense.
The one thing that stood out the most out of all pile of endless questions was, why me? I hadn't been anyone important. I’d had a small circle of friends along with a job in a nameless office. To put it simply, I hadn’t done anything memorable. I'd mostly lounged on my sofa all day long after returning from work, and had spent most of my time watching movies and reading manga instead of going out and actually do something to change my mundane life. Hell, I knew more about game characters than my actual friends.
So why had I been damned like this?
Yes, that sounded whiny and pathetic, but at the time, my second life didn’t feel like a gift. It was a curse, a tragedy, the cruelest thing I could imagine.
The reason I had so much trouble accepting my new life was because I’d died too abruptly. My life had ended too quickly for me to realise what was happening, too fast for me to feel regret over all the things I wanted to do, but couldn't because of my death. I’d thought that I was invincible.
Not in the literal sense of course, everyone knew they were mortal. But the deepest part of me, the part I hadn't been consciously aware of, had just... assumed I would have years and decades stretching out in front of me to find out what my dreams and ambitions were so I could work to realise them.
But I didn't, and that was too much for me to handle. I didn't want to accept this new life. I didn't even want it in the first place, because while it might not have been a glorious one, it had been mine. My parents, my friends, my flat, mine .
So I spent every waking moment in denial. In a truly astonishing display of willpower, I rejected this reality and replaced it with my own, in which this was all just a horrible nightmare I would eventually wake up from.
As anyone could guess, that didn't happen.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't keep ignoring the voices that told me I was alive and not in my old body. The big hands that rocked and patted me so I’d stop crying, and the shadows that always loomed over me made it very hard to look the other way. I couldn’t continue ignoring the need to eat, to breathe, to live.
This caused my denial to turn into overwhelming rage and sorrow. I simply couldn't close my eyes to this reality anymore. And since my body was utterly useless in providing me an outlet for my emotions, I did the only thing I could do.
I wailed and screamed against the injustice of it all, then I fell asleep from exhaustion, after which I woke up and started the cycle all over again.
Yet no matter how many times I cried, time kept passing, and eventually I just… gave up. I had no more energy to spare. I couldn’t remain so furious and full of grief, couldn’t drown in my misery forever.
I was confused, scared, angry, sad, but still alive.
So without any true reason, without any great revelation whatsoever, I simply let it go. I found my inner zen and accepted that I was now a baby, that I wouldn't see my loved ones ever again. I made peace with what had happened.
I wasn't someone who was so bitter over the past that it ruined their future. I didn’t want to waste my second chance with my bitterness. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. What I wanted was to live each day as though it was my last.
That didn’t mean I stopped being full of sorrow. I’d lost my entire life after all, I was entitled to grieve. However, grieving or not, I was determined to stop being so miserable. Which meant I had to find ways to both distract and entertain myself.
That new resolve led me to entertain myself by observing the two shadows caring for me, to learn more about them out of need. Yes, I knew they were my new ‘parents’, but while I mostly didn’t feel resentful towards them anymore, that didn’t mean I could simply accept them even as replacements.
I already had a mum and a dad, even if they were forever lost to me. I didn’t need nor want new ones. There was a problem that stopped me from fully learning about them as well. Two actually.
I was practically blind, only able to make out colourless blobs, and my hearing was so wonky I might as well be called deaf. Which meant observing them was kind of difficult, if not impossible. Which led to another problem.
I got bored.
My mood improved immensely once I’d regained my vision. Even if it only upgraded from colourless blobs to actually seeing colours. Specifically, the colour red. I was truly and ridiculously happy about this.
Being rebirthed taught me to appreciate the small things in life.
It improved with leaps and bounds after that. Which meant life for my caretakers, both of whom had unbelievably vivid red hair that my awful eyesight could easily catch, became much easier as well, seeing as I stopped crying so much from the sheer boredom I’d been feeling.
As the days passed by, I was able to interact more with my caretakers. And as they started to play and cuddle with me, I saw how they so obviously adored me and loved me…
It caused me to start loving them in return. They weren't my old parents, and they never would be. But they were my parents nonetheless, and for the first time in what felt like forever I was truly happy. I started smiling again.
It seemed that the more positive my outlook became, the more the universe rewarded me, because it soon returned my ability to hear. Slowly, the incomprehensible buzzing around me gained tone, distinction, and clarity. When that happened, I discovered the family in which I'd been reborn into spoke Japanese.
I’d really lucked out in that department, given that I’d studied the language in college. Still, even with my knowledge of the language, it was hard at first. My ears still had that annoying buzzing in them.
Accompanying this development was new information. I learned that my new name was Uzumaki Kayo. It was written with the kanji for beautiful and gift . Well, I assumed it was at least, seeing as my parents kept using those two words as endearments. And yes, part of why I liked it was pure vanity. It was nice to have a name that meant you were precious.
I also found out that babies have built in sensors to locate where their parents were, because whenever the two got closer to me, I could actually feel them in all their warm and fuzzy glory. I started associating the feeling with security and comfort, and it made me even more open towards them. Although I got a tad bit confused when I was able to feel this warmness coming from a guest too whenever they were right in front of me, but I just chalked it up to my new and mysterious baby powers.
It was nice to always have an inkling of where everyone was in our house. It always ensured a new source of entertainment for my easily distracted brain, because my parents were very… quirky. Imagining what they might be doing when they were in different parts of the house was fun. Although when I could see them, and thus, they could see me, they always took their quirkiness to a whole new level.
For instance Subaru, my father, had a habit of regularly kidnapping me from my mother, Hinomi. It was honest kidnapping. He ran away with me as my mother chased after him while yelling that you’re stealing my child, you bastard!! My father just cackled in response.
As I said, quirky. Especially because, while my parents did fight over the silliest of things, the rest of the time they acted like love-struck teenagers.
So whenever I got kidnapped by him, I always laughed with pure delight. Not just because of the hilarity of the situation, but because my father’s running speed was absolutely dizzying in the best of ways, making my stomach tingle like mad. It was amazing as much as it was bewildering. I guess their running probably just seemed unnaturally fast because of my infant body. My senses weren’t fully developed after all.
After escaping from mother, my father would walk around the village for a change of scenery as he loved to put it. In truth he was just showing his only daughter off to his friends. Look at my daughter, isn't she precious? Isn’t she the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? She rolled to her stomach yesterday! Isn’t she a little genius?
And at first, the people he brought me to see had been mostly amused. But when he just kept doing this, over and over again, they turned exasperated. At least she looks like her mother, was one of the most frequent things I’d hear from them. My father would just laugh, childishly stick out his tongue, and keep beaming with pride.
Really, it was enough to give anyone an ego. I didn't need to do anything, and I was still held up by my parents like I was the most wonderful thing to ever exist. It caused my love for them to grow.
The trips out into the town were fun and interesting for other reasons too. After I slowly began to be able to see further and further away, I saw people jumping across roofs .
I was fairly convinced I wasn’t living on Earth. Not just due to the people running across the rooftops, but also because of the people themselves. More specifically, the fact that the overwhelming majority of people I saw had bright red hair and a veritable rainbow of eye colours. They also spoke a bastardised version of japanese.
Honestly, it felt like I’d landed in an anime.
Later I would look back at this thought and laugh about it. But right now, it was nothing more than a fleeting muse, soon discarded for much more interesting things.
Seriously, I had the attention span of a goldfish. I blamed my infant body for that.
My parents were also endlessly amused by my curiosity when I started exploring our house after I learned how to crawl. Then they started freaking out when they realised just how many sharp edges the tables had, how the stairs were a deathtrap all by themselves, and that was without even mentioning their reaction to the cleaning products after they saw me opening the cupboards with my tiny hands.
I wouldn’t eat any of the poisonous products of course, no matter how often I had the irrational urge to put, well, everything inside my mouth. Baby instincts at their finest. I usually satisfied them by slobbering on my own fist.
Hey, I was a baby, I didn’t need to be dignified in any way.
And so, our home was swiftly child-proofed. Well, it was mostly child-proofed, because one of the oddest things about our house? I found knives lying around. Not kitchen knives, but kunai. As in, actual weapons.
An even odder thing? Every time, and I meant every time, I found dangerous objects, not just kunai, mother or father would magically pop out of nowhere and gently take it from my hands. It was both incredibly amusing and fascinating. I literally could not grab anything sharp without them knowing. Same with trying to climb the stairs, trying to sneak out of the gardens, or trying to hide random things that were deemed too dangerous for me.
No matter where I was, no matter where my parents were, they always knew what I was doing. And the fuzzy, warm feeling I’d grown used to? It only grew in intensity whenever I did get myself into some minor mischief. I got the feeling it would be impossible to hide anything from these two.
I was starting to suspect that whatever world I’d ended up in might have magic . If that wasn’t wonderful and amazing, I didn’t know what was.
My parents soon grew impatient about me not speaking, and made a bet about me saying my first words as a way to spice things up. The bet itself wasn't unusual, but they kept bringing it up. Not a day passed by without them mentioning it, and the longer I kept quiet, the more heated they got. Not in a fighting kind of way, but in a way that said this was Very Serious Business.
They reminded me of a comedy act, except this one never ended.
For example, one time they'd spent an entire afternoon arguing about it as they were cooking dinner. The heated conversation somehow led to an all out food wa, and by the end, everything was covered in our dinner. The thrown rice was sticking on the ceiling, oil dripping down from the walls, vegetables sticking out from my mother's hair, meat dropping out of my father's dark blue trousers. Both of them were as white as ghosts as well, courtesy of the flour. In fact, there was only one single thing that hadn’t been covered in food.
Nothing of that entire mess had touched me.
I was in awe.
The best part about this entire thing was that my continued silence was only making their ridiculousness rise to incredible, astonishing, positively beautiful heights. Really, it was impossible to be bored with parents like these.
The fact that I had a hand in this made me incredibly happy. You see, my zen-like state had turned me into something of a troll. I always had a slight mischievous streak, but now it was so much more than that. It was a need I couldn't deny. I didn't want to either.
Besides, this bet was too hilarious for me to pass up on.
“C’mon Kayo-chan. Say Kaa-chan !” my mother cooed, and I gave her an unimpressed look when she poked my cheeks. Her smile dropped and her head hung low, gloomy and despairing in a completely over dramatic way. It almost made me want to laugh.
But in order to get what I wanted, I needed to keep my act up.
So I humphed and ignored her, then turned my gaze to father. He glowed when I looked at him with a sweet smile, practically beaming with an internal light. A part of me wondered whether or not he actually was. He was just so… sparkly .
“See, Hinomi? She loves me more. Isn't that right, honey?” he asked while taking out a handful of candy from his pocket. My eyes flashed with triumph, something my mother didn't fail to notice.
I was craving sweets, and my father was always willing to indulge.
Father flashed a smug smirk at my mother when my smile widened. Although to his visible surprise, my mother smirked back just as smugly. I had learned this sweet smile from her after all, you would think her husband would recognise it by now.
I clumsily took hold of the candy and brought it up to my mouth to suck on the soft dough, savouring the delicious taste. My parents seemed on edge as they waited for me to finish my tiny dessert, with mother watching father as he smiled encouragingly at me.
But I’d lost interest in them shortly after the last sugar drop vanished from my mouth. I turned my back and crawled to my toys. The result of my small action was a teary eyed father sobbing quietly in despair, and a grinning mother cackling in pure glee.
Pure comedy gold.
Eventually, my parents stopped trying to coerce me into talking every day. There were even some days when they no longer brought up the bet.
After an entire week had passed without them mentioning it, within my hearing at least, I decided now was the perfect time to strike.
I now had the element of surprise.
I moved my jaw to test my mouth, and ran my tongue over my tiny front teeth. I hummed a couple of times to test my vocal chords, and when I deemed it safe to speak, I did so without hesitation, no matter that my parents weren’t near. They had supernatural hearing after all.
“ Uw-suw-ma-ki! ” I said our family's name very slowly and carefully, trying not to mess up any syllables. I was both proud and amazed at how well I’d managed to articulate, because infant mouths weren’t exactly made for clear speech.
A loud crashing sound echoed throughout the house, and judging from the noise, one of my parents had just dropped some plates. As expected, this was followed by both of them materialising out of nowhere and staring down at me in utter astonishment, their jaws slack.
“Did she just...” my father trailed off in a stunned voice, while mother burst into delighted laughter. I was so proud of myself.
“She did!” she lifted me in her arms and threw me upwards, “Her first word, and our family name to boot!” she gleefully exclaimed as I giggled like mad. Not just from the happiness I felt from their words, but also because of the butterflies in my stomach caused by being thrown into the air. The buzzing excitement under their skins only helped my giggles become louder.
After that, because my parents always made a big deal out of everything, we had a huge party involving dancing, yelling, laughing, and two ripped open pillows to twirl through the feathers. The party ended with a very bizarre artwork painted on the outside of our house. Well, paint wasn't really the correct word. Most of it was made by a mixture of crayons and blood.
It wasn’t in a self mutilating kind of way, they just bit their thumbs and added a little blood to the entire thing as they were drawing it. It had actually glowed for a split second before showing the actual painting. I, of course, didn't question it, just attributed it to the magic I was now pretty convinced existed here. Curious or not, I’d only end up getting a headache if I tried to find a logical explanation behind all of their supernatural abilities. Though I was hoping very, very, very much that I’d be able to use magic too. Still, first things first. Like learning to talk. And walk.
Later, after the cleanup was finally finished, my father took me out again and told everyone about what I had done. He kept coaxing me to repeat the act, which I did, because I liked the pure joy the people here showed over the simplest of things. Generally speaking, everyone here was always in a good and cheerful mood. They were also crazy in the best of ways.
My parents might be wacky, but given some of the things I’d seen when being carried through town, I was pretty sure they were considered normal in this place.
I absolutely adored it.
Honestly, after I managed to get out of my depression, life just became better and better.
Then I turned one year old.
My birthday party was, as expected, a Very Big Deal to my parents. I definitely wasn’t complaining.
It was also when I was introduced to the very first infant I’d ever interacted with. No, really, the very first. I’d seen babies in my previous life, obviously, but no one in my immediate circle of friends had children. Which meant I hadn’t ever needed to interact with one. Until now that was, because one of the guests invited over held a tiny infant in her arms. More specifically, a red haired woman was holding her red haired daughter, who I was expected to play with.
I was very wary and hesitant about this. After all, I literally knew nothing about infants. Well, I knew things like babies drink milk and they poop in diapers , and a few other things I’d learned from being one myself. Like how bright colours were ridiculously distracting and how teething was an absolute bitch .
So, no relevant experience with babies, and now here was one as a guest to my birthday party. One I would be expected to play with.
The fact that, after mother carried me closer to the infant, the very first thing the baby did was to take a handful of my own bright orange hair and yank at it did not help my apprehension. And of course, the second thing the baby did was jam the hair held inside her tiny fist into her own mouth.
How was I supposed to play with this strange creature?
Fortunately, this wasn’t a question I had to ponder for long. Unfortunately, the reason for that was because I received information that temporarily broke my brain.
“Let's put Kayo-chan and Kushina-chan down in the playcorner.” my mother said with a bright smile. The woman holding the infant said something in return, but I couldn’t understand it as my brain crashed to a halt.
I stared at the little girl, utterly frozen. I was barely aware of her laughing loudly, of my mother putting me on the carpet as she continued her conversation with the woman, who was placing the infant down as well. The baby named Kushina. The small, red haired, grey eyed baby, who was called Kushina .
Except Kushina should be a common name, right? It couldn't be the same Kushina, right? It was just a coincidence, right?
Oh who was I kidding, this was Kushina. The baby looking at me with huge eyes, the baby who had grabbed hold of my hair again so she could slobber all over it, who kept trying to reach for my hair with a pout as I pulled away, was Uzumaki Kushina .
I did the only possible thing I could do in response to this revelation.
I cried and sobbed, completely losing it because this was Uzumaki Kushina .
And suddenly so many things fell into place. The headbands my parents wore, the spiral symbol on it, their seemingly superhuman abilities. The knives, kunai , laying around the house. How my parents always knew when I grabbed one. The people jumping across roofs. It was suddenly so obvious, and I couldn't understand how I’d missed this.
Except of course I had, because who the hell ever expects to be reborn in a freaking manga? No one, that was who, so of course I hadn’t made the connection.
But now I did. Now it all made sense, and I had to face the facts.
I was an Uzumaki. I was living in Uzushiogakure, the village hidden by whirling tides.
And it hurt, it hurt so much, it was terrifying , because all these people were going to die. My parents were going to die, all their friends would die, all the people that had come here to celebrate my birthday would die. Everyone would die. I was going to die.
I’d promised myself to live my life with no regrets, and I was going to die again. Soon.
So I cried. There wasn't anything else I could do. It made Kushina immediately start bawling her eyes out as well.
That's how our mothers found us as they came rushing back. Wailing loudly and being a general mess of snot and tears. We put babies to shame, and the fact that we were still infants ourselves was completely irrelevant. I hadn't cried like this since the first weeks I'd finally figured out just what had happened to me. In fact, I was pretty sure I hadn't even cried like this even then.
I’d tried so hard to focus on living in the now that I hadn't really cared about where I was. I hadn't connected the name Uzumaki to the manga because, what, you think that was something your mind automatically did? That it’d just go: oh, I guess I was reborn in a freaking fictional world!
No. No it did not.
So I screamed. Huge, gasping sobs escaping me while snot flew everywhere. In short, I had a mental breakdown. Because zen like state or not, this was…
Really, I'd have been more worried if I hadn't had some kind of breakdown.
As my mother picked me up and I continued my hysterical crying on her shoulder, I realised that it would take a lot of work to work through this breakdown, to start thinking about the future and what I would, should, could do with my future knowledge. But I would work through this.
I’d promised myself I wouldn’t have any regrets in this life and I intended to keep that promise.
No matter what.
Interlude 1: Kushina meets Kayo:
They liked the pretty colour, it was so bright! So bright and light and different than the colour of their big people!
They tried to catch the pretty colour, but the little less big person moved, and the pretty colour moved, and they couldn't catch it! They didn't like that. But then the little less big person came closer, and they could catch the pretty colour!
They wanted to taste the colour. They thought it would taste sparkly .
The little less big person made a noise as they caught the pretty colour. This little less big person was strange, a little less big than normal big. This little less big person was even being carried by another big person! Like them! Except they weren't being carried by a big person, they were being carried by their big person.
They liked their big people the most, but they liked the little less big person almost as much as their big people. Because the little less big person’s colour was so bright! And they caught it!
They tasted the colour. It didn't taste sparkly, it tasted tingly . Like the colour of their big people, but not, because their big people's colour tasted tingly and tinkly, and this bright colour was only tingly.
The little less big person let out another noise and moved, and the colour moved, and they couldn't taste it! They didn't like that. But then the big person holding the little less big person made sounds, and they heard the sound that meant them! They liked that sound.
"– Kushina-chan –"
They laughed. Their big person looked at them and smiled, and they laughed more, because they liked it when their big people smiled. Then their big person made sounds, and there was the sound that meant them!
"– Kushina-chan –"
They laughed, and their big person laughed too, and they felt happy and bright and tingly . They felt like the little less big person's colour!
Then their big person put them down, and they didn't like that. Then the big person put the little less big person down too, and they could catch the tingly colour!
They tasted the tingly colour.
Then the little less big person moved, and the colour moved, and they didn't like that, and they tried to catch it, but is was so far! They couldn't catch it! They wanted to catch the colour, so they kept reaching, but it kept being so far, and they couldn't catch it!
Then the little less big person cried.
They didn't like that sound. They didn't like that sound at all. So they cried too, because they wanted the sound to stop, but the little less big person cried harder and the sound became louder, so they cried harder because they wanted the sound to stop!
Then their big person picked them up and made nice sounds, and even though the little less big person was still crying, they stopped crying, because they were with their big person, who was making nice sounds, and they liked that. Their big person always made them feel better, and they knew their big person would make the bad sounds stop, because that's what their big people did.
They liked their big people the most.