So maybe Sen grows up a little rough. She and her girl gang intimidate boys who insult her single mother and grope her classmates unasked. Her hands are calloused from working beside her mother and learning the art of brewing. Her eyes, tempered with time and kindness, are still sharp and still wary. When she is twenty, there are rumours on the horizon of war with Ame and the newly arisen Sound. She thinks of her teenage brother, of the children that play in her village, and makes her choice. The first time she steps into Konoha, she brings her steady eyes and steadier hands, her multitude of merchant contacts - some inherited, some made by her own hand- and the certainty of a child who killed her father to protect her family and herself.
Or maybe Sen grows up prettier than anyone might have expected. And by prettier, I mean refined and elegant, from fashion to manners to flowers - a lady. From her first introduction to Hikouto at her mother’s side to her court entrance as an assistant to a merchant liaison, Sen loves the capital and its shifting socio/political/economic landscape. She loves how she needs both her ruthlessness and her excellent manners to thrive here, that her scar means nothing and her wits are worth everything. And then she goes to Konoha, because it’s scary seeing tensions rise and fall without knowing if you’ll be smart and lucky enough to ride it out; Sen wants to help keep the peace. And this too is familiar territory - Sen has been doing what she can to protect the people she loves since she was ten and signed that IOU.
In all of the ways Sen might grow up, this stays the same: she loves her family, and her family loves her. Maybe her mother sends her off to Konoha with her blessings and Tadaichi helps her pack. Maybe her mother disagrees with her decision, and it becomes one of the few permanent causes of strife between them, Tadaichi caught between them. Even so, they refuse not to love each other - either way, Harubi kisses her daughter on the cheek when she leaves, and Tadaichi sees her off on the road.
(A side note: the tanuki, who know what she did, keep their distance. Sen does notice them peripherally, making little bits of good luck for her mother - and a few making little bits of mischief with her brother. She is thankful to know her mother will be taken care of, and prays her brother will be smart enough to stay out of serious trouble. She always leaves tokens at tanuki shrines when she can - always better to err on the side of respect and gratitude.)
Or maybe Sen doesn’t go to Konoha at all, but that is not the story I am telling. In my story, Sen gives her proof of death to the Hokage, tells a short tale about fathers and false suicide, and says, “A Konoha shinobi once told me there was a place for me here.” In one world, she offers a merchant’s perspective - contacts and slower but steady information. In another, she offers herself with no strings attached.
In the first world, Sen and her company feed Konoha information during the Sound-Rain skirmishes. Their updates on food distribution lines help to give Konoha a solid landscape of the conflict and eventually enables Konoha to deescalate the situation.
She meets Tousaki again about six months before the skirmishes would be over - he bargains for discreet transport from the same convoy she is travelling with. Of all the shinobi she has met, she still likes him best. It was Hatake that had first accepted her half-ryou mission when he owed her nothing, but Tousaki had given her a promise that it would get better from someone who had been there, and a reminder her to keep living, to not let her father steal her ability to trust too. Tousaki seems looser and yet steadier now, more self-assured than her years-old memory of him. He says he’s thinking of trying his hand at teaching. Sen looks at the smile lines on his face and honestly thinks he’ll be good at it. He laughs when she tells him.
Sen’s informant work reaps another unexpected benefit - she meets a young man when helping a Konoha spy escape enemy territory. He is a shinobi whose mother had been taken in by Orochimaru for her clawed fingers and the scales patterning her temples - whose mother had been called in to meet with the Otokage for some kind of important mission and then disappeared when he was twelve. His neighbours had hushed his questions in public, and privately told him to keep his head down and hide his scales, lest he catch Orochimaru’s interest and end up in a lab too. He’d met a deep cover Konoha spy in Sound and had become a willing ally - and the spy, in repayment, and smuggled him out of Sound during her extraction. His name is Haku.
Sen falls in like between drop points and business meetings, between rumours and hope, between morning coffee banter and late night conversations. She likes his gentleness, his fierce protection of small creatures and kids alike, and the way he sneezes is the cutest thing she has ever seen. After the skirmishes, he comes to her with an official asylum granted from Konoha and tells her he has retired. His name is Haku, and he loves the river that runs near her home village.
In the second world, Sen’s manners and court knowledge mean that she is most useful in a flowery and political setting. They start her slow, assisting the assistant of a fairly minor politician. Unfortunately, the whole situation goes FUBAR when said minor politician gets trampled by a deer or something equally stupid and dies en route to what is apparently a much more important meeting than one would expect of a minor politician. Sen does her job and assists his assistant in handling the situation as diplomatically as possible, if there’s even a diplomatic way to say, ‘Oh, sorry, we’d love to continue with this tentative political truce of ours, could you please hold while we replace our diplomat? The previous one died in an unfortunate incident that was 100% an accident, no foul play at all, we swear.’
Sen’s actions aid in preserving the rickety political peace long enough for a firmer political agreement to be hammered out, and Sen’s skills are relocated to... assisting the assistant of a more important politician. The pattern continues even as Konoha’s trust in Sen and her skills increases; Sen is an invisible breeze, ghosting around as the backup for a backup in high risk political situations, always vital but rarely seen. Sen finds herself enjoying her work - it takes all of her ruthlessness, diplomatic know-how, and no shortage of common sense to handle her work problems.
Sen gets a new assignment and is told that this one will likely be much longer than her previous ones. She is to become part of the personal retinue of a highly ranked Konoha diplomat to [Redacted], which is honestly one of the simpler ways of saying that she’ll be assisting an assistant again. However, unlike her other assignments, everyone in her retinue are spies, many of them long-term with deep cover experience. Sen revises her expectations - it isn’t an assignment, but a posting. And given that she recognizes her new lady’s family name, she suspects her lady-to-be is also a spy. When she goes to meet her new team, she takes a deep breath, lets her shoulders relax, and holds her head high as she walks into the room.
“Welcome, Nakamura-san,” greets Hatake Sadayo, with a hint of a smile.