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Hear the Silence

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Her first few memories were fuzzy, indistinct, with brief moments of clarity in between.

Like the dark eyes of the man who would sometimes hold her with infinitely tender care, as if he was quietly terrified of accidentally breaking her.

Or the warm voice that would hum to her when she was feeling particularly distressed and uncomfortable.

Full self-awareness, as it turned out, wouldn't come until shortly after she turned one.

”Kyo-chan!” A familiar voice called out, drawing her attention from where she'd been contemplating the baby blanket she was sitting on.

It was a soft yellow, like the sun in early spring.

Or at least what had passed as such in her memories.

Looking up at the smiling woman who was crouching in front of her, she once again took in the clean, familiar features, the smile that softened dark, otherwise sharp eyes.

”Kaa-san,” she returned clumsily, her tongue feeling thick and uncooperative in her mouth.

Her voice was high, light and unrefined in a way she still wasn't used to, and it'd been months since she realised what all this was.

What it must be.

”Are you hungry, Kyo-chan? Kaa-san's made you breakfast,” the woman said, in a shade too dignified to be a croon.

She managed a nod, lifting her arms in the universal request to be lifted.

Something the woman, her- her mother, gladly answered, effortlessly lifting her off the floor and into strong, secure arms.

As she was carried to the small kitchen table, she couldn't help but compare everything she was now experiencing to what she could remember before... Before.

She was reluctant to call it a different life, because she couldn't remember dying. But what else could it be?

Not that her previous existence had been perfect, or anywhere close to it, the thought of having actually died...

God, her mother must be a wreck.

Had her siblings cried for her? Where they doing so even now, more than a year later?

Were they even alive? How much time had passed between her supposed death and rebirth?

Not that reincarnation was a new or at all foreign concept to her. She'd been a rather firm believer of it, it fact. In an off-hand, casual sort of way.

But she'd never actually expected to experience something like this herself. Not with memories of half a life-time intact.

Ra- No. The woman who was her mother here called her Kyo, and that was what she must go by. At least until she knew for certain what was going on.

She'd always remember her real name, of course. The one her mum had given her, that everyone had always had trouble pronouncing -for some inexplicable reason, it wasn't like it had been that hard- and everyone always asked where it came from.

Kyo was nice enough, even though it sounded strange in reference to herself.

At least the food was good; she'd always loved rice.

Stubbornly ignoring the woman's attempt to feed her, Kyo stuck a poorly coordinated hand into the bowl of the soft white grains and brought a small fistful of them to her mouth, sucking them off her fingers with what was without a doubt abysmal motor skills.

She didn't mind as much as anyone else in her position probably would; she'd always loved eating with her hands, and her 'kaa-san' made sure to keep her relatively clean, so it wasn't like her fingers were filthy.

Ah, well. Some dirt went a long way to clean out your stomach and build up the immune system. It'd always been a strong belief in their house, Before.

“Such a stubborn little lady,” kaa-san mused, not so much as blinking at the less than stellar table manners she was displaying. “Don't forget the fish; protein is important for growing children,” she smiled, pushing another plate a bit closer.

Kyo eyed the fried fish with interest, even as she stuck another handful of rice in her mouth.

She ignored the minor mess she was making, focusing instead on more important matters. Like the fact that she didn't have enough control of her own hands to grab the fish without crushing it.

Well. It would look worse in her stomach, so.

As she ate, kaa-san gave a pleased hum, leaning back in her chair to observe. Taking note of her every move.

Kyo wasn't used to this level of attention fixed on her person; not even when she'd been a child the first time.

Having been the middle child, born between two loud, very demanding siblings, she'd gotten used to being content to amuse herself in the background. Intervening occasionally -or a lot- as mediator when her older sister had reached her limit with their baby brother.

Someone had had to stop her from accidentally harming him when tempers and emotions ran high and there wasn't an adult conveniently close at hand.

Most of the time nowadays, she felt like she was living with a spotlight following her every move.

There wasn't anything of the sort, of course, just her kaa-san's hawk-like gaze.

“So,” kaa-san said once Kyo had decimated her breakfast. “What would you like to do today?”

“Park,” Kyo piped back, turning towards the woman to make it easier for her to wipe her face clean.

Toddlers were messy eaters, and Kyo was determined to regain her hand-eye coordination as soon as possible, which meant she wanted to do as much as possible by herself.

It had been something of a personal motto already her first time around, and she saw absolutely no reason to change that now.

God, the story with the soup had haunted her even in her twenties. Eat soup with your thumb instead of a spoon one time as a baby and everyone insisted on bringing it up for the rest of your life.

It had been done with love and warm amusement, but still. It got old after the hundredth time or so.

Her kaa-san tilted her head, eyeing her thoughtfully, before flicking a considering eye towards the living room window, visible through the doorway to the kitchen.

“Very well then, Kyo-chan,” she said, picking her up and taking her into 'her' room.

She was dressed quickly and efficiently for a day spent outside, a white, rather nice little sun hat shading her eyes, and a shoulder bag was packed almost too fast for her to see what went inside.

When they were both ready, her kaa-san picked her up again, carrying her on one arm so that she was leaning comfortably against her chest and shoulder, and then they were off.

Kyo watched everything with wide, intent eyes.

She'd only been outside a few times so far, that she could remember clearly, and she found it equal parts fascinating and mildly unsettling.

It was warm here, far more so than back home. The sky was a deep blue it'd rarely even gotten at the hight of summer Before, and the people looked different.

Oh, it wasn't anything blatantly obvious, but little things here and there. Things that were just ever so slightly off.

The way some people dressed was foreign. And she meant that in a literal sense. Combined with the food -almost always accompanied by rice- and the seemingly constant heat, she wondered if she'd been reborn somewhere in Asia.

The language, somewhat familiar, seemed to enforce the impression.

Soon enough, the busy street changed into soothing greenery, with far less people hurrying about and less noise grating on her small, sensitive ears.

Kyo took in her new surroundings, though they were slightly more familiar; she'd been here twice before already.

She was soon enough sat down on pleasantly cool grass, and amused herself by pulling up fistfuls of it while her kaa-san took out the yellow blanket, shook it out on the grass and then settled herself on top of it.

Kyo looked up to meet the woman's gaze, wondering if she'd be relocated away from the grass, but her kaa-san seemed content enough to leave her at it.

Bolstered by this development, Kyo continued her quest towards fully functioning, dexterous digits and pulled up another clump of grass.

She could admit, when she stopped to think about it, how little it took to fascinate her nowadays. Just the sight of the butchered blades of grass falling from her pudgy fingers was enough to near-entrance her.

They were a very pretty green, admittedly, but she was used to slightly more exhilarating stuff.

The soft rustling of paper drew her attention away from her own activity back to her kaa-san, who had withdrawn a book from the bag and was now scanning the pages with the quiet competence she did almost everything.

Shit, she was so vastly different from her mother it wasn't funny.

She couldn't help but love her, though.

Kyo was aware that she was a very young child, and that this woman was her biological mother. It was only natural for there to be a connection, for there to be love, there.

And it wasn't like she'd ever been zealously guarded with her love Before, not in a familial sense, but... it didn't feel quite right. She could remember her mother bringing in strays left right and centre, their home always open for those who needed it, and she'd always aspired to grow up to be like the woman who had shaped her entire being; who had made her the person she was.

She'd been proud to be that woman's daughter. Had thought the world of her mother even after she was old enough to realise she was just as fallible, just as human as everyone else.

Reassured that her kaa-san was where she'd indicated she would be, Kyo turned her attention to the rest of the park.

There were a few other mothers around with one or several children that presumably belonged to them, all running around or playing in the sandbox.

Hm. She'd liked playing in the sand when she'd been little.

Why not give it a try?

Actually, to be entirely honest, she'd liked playing in the sand even as an adult. It was fun, and strangely therapeutic.

With a new spark of determination, Kyo slowly managed to push herself onto wobbly legs, keeping her hands on the ground for as long as she needed until it felt like she wouldn't fall right over if she tried to stand up properly.

She could walk, thank you very much, she just... needed a bit of time to get upright. Once she was there, however, she was mostly good.

“Kaa-san,” she said, attracting the woman's attention instantly.

“Yes, Kyo-chan?” She asked, holding the book open with one hand.

Scrunching up her face as she tried to remember the word for sand, she eventually just pointed in the direction of the sandbox with an inquisitive expression, even though this was more along the lines of her telling her kaa-san where she was going.

Something the woman seemed to appreciate and approve of.

“Of course,” she said with a slight smile. “Go have fun.”

Kyo grinned at her kaa-san and then made her way across the grass until she could pull herself over the wooden frame keeping the sand from spilling all over the place.

There were already a couple of kids there, one of whom seemed to be eating the sand more than playing with it.

Kyo was perfectly happy to ignore him in favour of burying her hands as deep in the sand as she could get them, smiling a little to herself at the feeling of the tiny, tiny grains of rock against her skin.

It didn't take long at all before she was gathering sand in a steadily growing pile in front of her, determined to attempt to build one of the huge sandcastles she could remember making with her mother and little brother in the sandbox they'd had in their garden when she was little.

Her brother had been more of a hindrance than a help, to be honest, as he'd been mostly interested in tearing the thing down than help build it, and she could remember how frustrated and angry she'd been with him, no matter how silly it seemed in retrospect.

Frowning a bit as she patted the sand to make it more compact, Kyo contemplated her own feelings.

Missing people hadn't really ever been something she'd done. Much to her sister's despair, but it'd just been how it was. She supposed she'd always lived very much in the present when it came to the people around her; enjoying the ones she had close while it lasted.

She could feel the gaping absence, though. No one was just a phone-call away any more. Not here.

As she didn't have any tools to work with save for her hands, she began to painstakingly dig out a cave at the bottom of the mostly cone-shaped pile she'd made, finding herself wishing for the impressive collection of toy cars she'd had as a child.

This would have made a perfect garage.

Kyo had just started on a smaller cave, or maybe a window, higher up on the sand construct when a foot came down on the thing and sent the sand cascading down into a sad-looking pile that didn't look like anything other than a crumbled ruin.

Staring dispassionately at the mess, Kyo wasn't exactly heartbroken at the loss of the less-than-impressive castle she'd attempted, but it was still annoying.

When she looked up at the gleeful, smug boy who was still stood before her, she felt her annoyance tick up a few notches.

He was older than her, by at least a year, more likely two, she estimated critically; she wasn't exactly an expert on children. And he was grinning to himself, all but dancing on the spot.

“Mean,” she told him quite bluntly.

The kid paused, and then turned to her to give her a mildly confused and dismissive look. As if she didn't matter.

Frowning at the boy now, Kyo pointed at the pile of sand. “Help fix,” she demanded firmly.

“I'm too big to play with babies,” the boy declared with a sniff.

And oh, that was just insulting. Who was the baby, destroying other people's projects?

With a scowl, that no doubt looked more like a pout -toddlers' faces weren't made to scowl- Kyo scanned their immediate surroundings until she spotted what she'd been hoping for.

Getting to her feet, indifferent to the amount of sand clinging to her bottom and clothes in general, she reached out to grab the boy's shirt in her pudgy, dirty hand, Kyo put all of her rather inconsequential weight into pulling the boy with her out of the sandbox.

“Hey! What are you doing? I don' wanna,” the kid whined, trying to get her to let go, though she was pleased to note that he was largely unsuccessful.

If that was because she'd managed to build up enough strength in her hands during the last few weeks to make it difficult, or because he was just incompetent, she didn't know.

The boy tried to jerk away from her, and while it was enough to disrupt her balance and land her on her butt, she didn't lose her hold on his shirt, which she was pleased to see looked a bit stretched as a result.

Without a hint of remorse, she used it to pull herself back onto her feet and continue her trek.

When she reached the bench placed strategically close to the sandbox, she slapped a hand onto one of the women's knees to get her attention. And why wasn't she keeping a better eye on her son, anyway?

The kid sure seemed to need it, if his actions had been anything to go by.

The woman in question blinked her brown eyes and then turned to look at her, having to look down even when she was sitting.

“Ah, yes, dear?” She asked tentatively, taking in the sight of her son struggling to make the little child let go of his t-shirt.

“He breaked my sand,” Kyo told her quite clearly, even though she was pretty sure she'd gotten something wrong. Such were the hazards of learning a new language, she knew, and that wasn't even mentioning the fact that she was learning how to speak again in general.

“Er-” the woman looked quite blind-sided, to be honest.

Not that Kyo cared overly much. She'd gotten enough of spoiled children at work, and she really thought this woman ought to put in more effort into raising her spawn. Instead of gossiping with her friend, she should keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't terrorise the rest of the playground.

Not that she had any actual proof this wasn't his first offence, but it was best to nip these things in the bud.

Presumably.

Kyo was aware that it might be a bit hypocritical of her, considering the fact that she hadn't had any children of her own, but it sounded like common sense.

“Where's your mother, little one?” The other woman asked, leaning over her with an overly concerned look on her face that made Kyo want to frown uncomfortably.

“That would be me,” kaa-san's familiar voice said smoothly from a little ways behind Kyo, and she instantly relaxed. “Your son was bothering my daughter in the sandbox, infringing upon her personal boundaries with no provocation.”

Kyo nodded, because yeah, that was one way to put it.

Now that she'd brought the issue to the adults' attention, she gratefully released the hold she had on the boy's t-shirt, feeling the strain in her ridiculously fragile fingers.

The two women shrank back when they looked up and laid eyes on her kaa-san.

Kyo blinked, took in their suddenly rigid postures, the way Sand Boy's mother made an aborted move to grab her child, as if to pull him behind her.

She wasn't stupid, but she couldn't quite grasp the reason for the sudden fear.

Her kaa-san hadn't done anything to warrant it; hadn't so much as raised her voice or puckered her brows into the mild frown she sometimes got when she was displeased with something.

Looking over the two women carefully, Kyo took in the feminine dresses they were wearing and their long, loose hair, reaching half-way down their arms. They had simple sandals on their feet, more leather straps securing soles to the bottom of their feet than anything else.

In comparison, her kaa-san was wearing sensible trousers, a t-shirt similar to the one Kyo herself was wearing and a pair of sturdy-looking almost-boots. Admittedly, the toes were bare, but it was warm and it really only made sense to try and let some air in.

“We're very sorry to have disturbed your day,” the woman hastily apologized, pushing her son's head down in a rushed bow.

Kyo blinked.

Okay?

Her kaa-san made a soft noise she might have been tempted to call a scoff, though she looked more amused than anything.

“Kyo-chan?” She questioned, crouching down to be closer to her level, ignoring the two women and the boy now, focusing instead fully on her own daughter.

“Was rude,” she grumbled, disgruntled, wiping her hands on her shorts in a half-hearted attempt to make them less dirty. Her kaa-san held her hand out expectantly, and Kyo happily held out both of her own hands in response, perfectly pleased to let the woman wipe them clean with the wet-wipe she'd pulled out of somewhere.

“There are a lot of rude people, Kyo,” she said calmly. “There'll be plenty of time to work on how to handle them, though.”

Kyo peered at the woman who was her mother, trying to take the words to heart.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Life moved on, as it always does.

She slept a lot, which shouldn't really come as any kind of surprise, though she dreamt startlingly little.

The few hours a day she was actually awake were mostly spent inside their home, whether that was spent playing in her own room, exploring the kitchen and living room, or being cared for by her kaa-san.

Then their comfortable routine was nicely invaded.

Kyo woke up with her face pressed into the pillow and slowly pushed herself up until she was sitting in the middle of her bed. Crib? Thing.

The thing wasn't quite a crib, but there were bars, reaching almost to her chest if she stood up. Supposedly to prevent her from falling out of bed, she gathered.

Waiting a few moments, her kaa-san didn't come to collect her, like she usually did.

Considering the virtues of staying put, compared to trying to get out of bed on her own, Kyo eyed the wooden bars keeping her securely in place.

After some contemplation, she grabbed the railing, pulled herself to her feet and then carefully crawled over the edge and slowly lowered herself as close to the floor as she could get. Which meant that her toes touched the floor by the time she finally let go of the smooth wood.

Feeling pleasantly accomplished, she walked to the door. It was lucky her kaa-san always left it cracked open, because she wouldn't have had a chance to reach the handle. Kyo grasped the door and pulled it further open and peeked out of her room into the living room.

Her kaa-san wasn't anywhere in sight.

Pulling the door open enough to let her through, Kyo padded across the wooden floors until she reached the carpet, from where she continued into the kitchen.

Which was also empty.

Frowning uncertainly to herself, Kyo wondered what was going on.

He kaa-san had never not been there, not so far.

She was just a year and a few months old; you weren't supposed to leave children that young alone and unattended, even she knew that.

Wrapping a hand around one of the kitchen table legs, Kyo leaned a little to the side to peer at the door to her kaa-san's room, but it was stood ajar like usual, open just enough for her to get a glimpse of the floor and the far wall, but nothing more.

Kyo wasn't allowed in kaa-san's room, and she'd respected that rule so far. There was probably a good reason, she'd reasoned.

Hesitating for a long moment, she walked in under the kitchen table -and boy was it strange that she barely had to duck to fit under there?- grabbed one of the chairs and pushed it over to the counter.

It didn't make much in the way of sound, because basically all the furniture in the whole place had been outfitted with little fabric cushion-like things on the bottom of the legs, to prevent noise.

That done, Kyo set about the task of crawling... dragging herself up onto the chair.

Being this small was a marvel. Especially when she could clearly remember being tall enough the seat of a chair was situated in the region of her knees, rather than her shoulders. It was honestly more fascinating than annoying, which she found to be a bit strange in itself.

Reaching her goal of standing on the seat of the chair, she could actually see the top of the counter. Yay! Mission accomplished!

Grinning a little at her own thoughts -and success- she realised the next issue.

The were no glasses within reach, which sort of ruined her plan.

Since her kaa-san still hadn't come running, Kyo frowned at the clean, shiny metal sink. Reaching a hand out to touch it, it was cold and smooth and really shouldn't be this fascinating.

Soon enough, she'd managed to position herself so that she was actually sitting in the sink, which she found amusing.

It was a comfortable fit, and she could sort of remember this from Before. Her mother had used to bathe her like this when she'd still been small enough.

Not feeling in the mood to make herself wet, Kyo pushed the tap thing until it was situated over the other sink, and then managed to push up the lever that made the water run.

It was all hard work when you couldn't make your fingers and hands do what you wanted them to, half the time.

Making sure the water was cold, she leaned down and drank straight from the tap. Or, more accurately, from the steady flow of water below the tap.

When she was satisfied, she slapped a hand on the lever to turn the water off and wiped the excess liquid from her face with both hands.

The hands that slipped under her arms and lifted her out of the sink were quite the surprise, and made her let out a small, startled squeak.

Heart beating furiously in her chest, she flailed a bit, making a loud, distressed sound that was almost a sob.

By the time she was brought to a warm, solid chest, she realised she was full out crying, which, was a bit embarrassing. If not very surprising.

She'd had countless episodes of acting like an actual child already, so this was just part of the deal, apparently.

A large hand rubbed up and down her back, and deep voice murmured soothingly at her, and it wasn't until she calmed down that she realised two things.

One, this clearly wasn't her kaa-san.

Two, this person was almost familiar.

Taking deep breaths and trying to make the tears stop dripping from her eyes, Kyo dragged her forearm under her runny nose and blinked up at the person holding her.

“Ah, sorry,” the man murmured quietly, still rubbing her back. “Didn't mean to scare you, Kyo-chan.”

She blinked, taking in the brown hair, the smooth, young face and handsome features she couldn't say she recognized.

“Kaa-san?” She asked, voice wobbling pitifully despite her best efforts.

“She just stepped out for a moment; she'll be back soon.”

Kyo blinked tearfully up at him and he gave a wan, tired smile.

It made her feel a bit guilty for her outburst, to be honest, because he looked like he hadn't slept in a week. At least not anywhere near an appropriate amount, judging by the bags under his eyes.

The man wandered out of the kitchen and into the living room, where he gracefully sank down on the sofa, sinking into the soft cushions in an almost boneless manner.

Kyo settled quite comfortably on his chest, and she tentatively rested her cheek against his shoulder. The sound of his slow, steady heartbeat was calming and doing its best to lull her back to sleep.

Her eyelids grew heavier with every blink, until she found herself snuggling closer to the warm chest, curling up slightly and one hand fisting the soft, well-worn fabric of his shirt.

When her eyes opened again, it was to the sound of her kaa-san's soft, amused laughter.

“Oh, would you look at that,” she teased gently, which was followed by the crinkling of plastic and a thunk of something hitting the kitchen table.

Kyo lifted her head, peering blearily around, trying to determine what was going on.

“Kaa-san?” She asked around a yawn.

“I'm here, now,” her kaa-san assured fondly. “And you were afraid she wouldn't recognize you,” she added, though clearly not directed at Kyo.

“I've been gone a while,” a deep voice responded, originating from the chest Kyo was still mostly lying against. She could feel the vibrations clearly. “I found her sitting in the kitchen sink, Isshun.”

“Hm?” Her kaa-san turned around from where she'd been packing groceries away into their appropriate cupboards. “Well, I usually notice when she wakes up, so she was probably confused when I didn't come get her for breakfast. Is that what happened, Kyo-chan?”

Kyo nodded slowly, blinking up at kaa-san, and mulling over what was quite obviously her name.

Isshun? Sounded a bit weird, if you asked her. Not that they had. Asked her.

“Kaa-san gone,” Kyo said quite primly, in her opinion.

The man holding her snorted softly.

“That's one way to put it, I suppose,” he mused, a warm undercurrent to his voice. “And why where you in the sink, Kyo?”

“Thirsty,” Kyo answered promptly.

“You had to sit in the sink for that?” The man wondered amusedly.

“No glass,” Kyo defended herself with a slight pout. After a brief pause, she grudgingly added, “And fun,” because that was true.

The man chuckled softly, one of his hands rubbing up and down her back once, as if he couldn't help himself, and Kyo hadn't noticed it was still there, like a warm blanket.

“Well,” kaa-san laughed, “we'll let your tou-san sleep a few hours more, and then, if you feel comfortable enough,” Kyo wasn't sure if she said that part to Kyo or her tou-san, “you two can spend the day together.”

“Isshun?” Her tou-san questioned after a slight pause.

Kaa-san turned to finish her task, busying herself by putting away the last of the groceries. “Your mother's been pestering me about spending time with Kyo-chan,” she eventually said.

Her tou-san -and what was his name?- hummed a little, before he rose to his feet with a sigh.

“I suppose I can take a few hours to go visit them,” he said. “What do you think, Kyo?” He asked, looking down to meet Kyo's gaze.

She tilted her head, feeling a bit confused. “Okay?” She tentatively offered. She had grandparents? And her kaa-san didn't like them?

“There you have it,” kaa-san said, sounding vaguely amused.

Tou-san sighed, but didn't say anything about it. “I think someone mentioned something about breakfast,” he said.

“Food!” Kyo agreed, turning her head to look expectantly at her kaa-san.

She was hungry, and kaa-san's food was delicious.

“Breakfast,” her kaa-san repeated, and it sounded like a promise.

.

A few hours later, tou-san had slept a while longer, disappearing into the room he no doubt shared with her kaa-san, and Kyo had amused herself with some of the toys she had at hand and then eaten again.

“I'm not sure how long we'll be gone,” her tou-san said, standing off to the side and watching kaa-san -Isshun?- putting a pair of tiny shoes on Kyo's equally small feet. “Anything specific I should keep in mind?”

Kaa-san hummed thoughtfully, and Kyo craned her neck to see her face. She looked almost pensive.

“Nothing I can think of. I will most likely not be here when you get back, regardless,” she said, standing up and handing Kyo over into her father's arms.

Kyo didn't mind.

Her father from Before had been nothing like this man; shorter, with black hair and pale blue eyes. Her new tou-san was taller, as far as she could tell, younger, with brown hair and warm brown eyes. Like chocolate.

Looking at both of her parents, Kyo blinked and, for the first time, wondered what she looked like now.

She highly doubted she would look the same; different parents would equal a different appearance.

“You enjoy your time to yourself,” tou-san smiled, and he still looked pretty tired, though nowhere near as worn as he'd looked this morning.

Her kaa-san smiled, reaching out to caress Kyo's chubby cheek. “You two get to know each other better,” she leaned down to press her forehead to Kyo's, who blinked at her kaa-san's dark, almost black eyes. “And, Kou, remember that Kyo's too young to use anything other than the roads.”

And with that cryptic reminder, Kyo and her tou-san were off.

Once they were down on the street, Kyo blinked up at her dad, wondering where they were going.

“You're remarkably agreeable, little one,” tou-san said, glancing down at her before he went back to scanning the somewhat busy street around then. “My sister's son was far fussier the few times I visited,” he muttered to himself.

Kyo tilted her head and patted her tou-san's shoulder before she was distracted by all the people moving about.

She could admit that she was a bit surprised by how at ease she was with this man, whom she couldn't quite remember.

He'd no doubt been around a whole lot before she'd... come back online, so to speak, and that must be what influenced her responses now. The most important thing was; she felt safe.

A world away from her father from Before, at least so far.

She'd withhold judgement on that part, because not all men were the same and until this man did something to terrify her, she'd tentatively classify him as a far better father than her Before one had ever been.

Leaning her head against her tou-san's firm, steady shoulder, she snuggled into his hold and watched the rest of the world from the safety of his arms, feeling perfectly content to wait out the moment and see where they were going.

She wouldn't say he relaxed, because there was still something about the way he held himself that made Kyo think 'tense', but it felt like something in his shoulders slowly unwound itself.

Measuring time had proven a bit difficult, like this, but she supposed he must have been gone several months. And kaa-san had mentioned something about him having thought she'd forgotten about him?

Had he been afraid she wouldn't let him hold her?

Well. It was a well-grounded fear, she supposed, because her little brother had been the biggest mama's boy and had done nothing other than cry and scream for his mum whenever their father had tried to hold him, back then.

Not that it'd been strange; her Before father had worked a lot and the few times he'd actually been home, well. Let's just say it hadn't been surprising.

Eventually, her tou-san turned down a much calmer street, moving away from the shopping district and into what looked like a mainly residential area.

Kyo watched the free-standing houses with some interest, the gardens looking to be relatively well-tended and cared for, sporting everything from flowers to vegetables and what else you could think of.

Soon enough, her tou-san was walking down the stone path towards one of the houses, clearly aiming for the front door.

He shifted his hold on her ever so slightly, and then raised his free hand and knocked.

A moment later, steps approached on the other side and the door opened.

“Kou-kun!” The woman who opened the door exclaimed, her whole face lighting up when her eyes landed on him. “Oh, it's been so long,” she gushed, enthusiastically ushering them inside, not noticing how tense her tou-san got and how uncomfortable it clearly made him.

Kyo leaned more firmly into the man's hold, listening to the woman -her grandmother?- prattle on about what sounded like everything that had happened since she'd last seen her son. Which involved anything from her own daughter, her children and the neighbours' latest projects.

“Kaa-chan!” Kou, her tou-san, finally managed to get a word in edgewise, bringing the woman's steady stream of words to a stop. “Isshun told me you've wanted to spend more time with your granddaughter. Well, here's Kyo,” he said with a small, almost indistinguishable huff, moving Kyo so that she was standing on his thighs.

They'd all sat down by the kitchen table, and Kyo wasn't especially comfortable being put on display like this, but she was willing to bear it if it meant that her tou-san got a bit of breathing room.

“Oh, she's just adorable, almost doubled in size since I saw her last,” the woman gushed, smiling at Kyo, who blinked back. “Such a sweet little girl.”

“Hi,” she greeted politely, trying to ignore the desire to squirm out of her tou-san's grip and duck under the table. Not that she was shy, she was just a tad overwhelmed by the veritable storm of words that had been flung in her general direction.

Was she really being used as a meat shield by her own father?

The woman all but squealed and leaned over the table to pinch her cheek.

Kyo stared, rubbing one hand against her now-tender cheek. No one had ever done that to her before.

She couldn't stop herself from craning her neck to give her tou-san a wide-eyed, slightly accusatory look, because whatever that had been about, she hadn't liked it and she certainly hoped it wouldn't happen again.

The man's gaze flicked to her, and she'd like to think he looked sympathetic to her plight, but he didn't say anything about it.

“How old is she now?” Her grandmother continued to ask, not having noticed anything off about Kyo's reaction. She poured the two adults a cup of steaming tea each, and then seemed to finally settle down properly in her seat.

“Seventeen months,” tou-san said evenly.

“Such a wonderful age,” the woman instantly returned. “I remember when little Kenji was that little, and Kana gave birth just the other month!” She added, as if just remembering. “You must go visit her and Ichirou, congratulate them.”

“Yes, kaa-chan,” Tou-san sighed. “What was it this time?”

“Another son,” her grandmother practically beamed, and should Kyo feel insulted? “They're naming him Taichi.”

She was well aware of the fact that daughters weren't valued very highly in some parts of the world, but she hadn't gotten that impression from either her kaa-san or, brief as their acquaintance had been so far, her tou-san.

“I'll make sure to take the time to pop over and visit them,” her tou-san promised, though Kyo thought he sounded tired.

Thankfully, he took the opportunity to shift her so that she could sit back down on his lap, leaning her back against his front. Which also freed up the man's hands so that he could pick up his tea.

“Are you staying for dinner? I could ask one of Suzume's boys to run over to Kana's and tell them you're here; they'd all love to see you, Kou-kun,” her grandmother said, perking up at the idea.

“Very well,” her tou-san said, perfectly evenly and agreeably, but Kyo felt like he rather would have liked to go back home.

It was the first day he was back from wherever he'd been; shouldn't he be resting? He seemed pretty tired, still, if you asked Kyo.

The two adults chatted a while, but Kyo wasn't paying all that much attention; she'd let her gaze and attention wander when her grandmother had started talking about the family business. Which, apparently, Kana's husband had taken over and was running together with her grandfather.

And then her grandmother said something that made Kyo's attention snap back into focus.

“I've been offering to babysit, but that woman keeps turning me down,” she said, sounding disapproving and looking mildly insulted. “As if she thinks I don't know how to care for children,” she groused.

Tou-san sighed. “You're well aware that's not the case,” sounding like they'd had this conversation several times before.

“I still don't see why you couldn't have married a nice girl from the neighbourhood, Kou,” his mother said, a small frown pulling on her brows. “A nice, sensible woman to care for the house while you're gone, to take care of your every need when you're actually home.”

And wow, that sounded both inappropriate and highly insulting. To both of her parents.

“I'm not talking about this again, mother,” her tou-san said firmly, and for the first time, the woman blinked and seemed to really look at her son.

“I know you've said you're fond of her, son,” she said, almost cajoling. “But I'm sure you can find yourself a woman who doesn't deal with quite-”

“And what if Kyo wants to follow in her mother's footsteps?” Tou-san returned calmly, though there seemed to be a thin, hard edge to his voice as he cut his mother's words off.

Her grandmother looked quietly horrified.

“But surely you must see that that isn't something a little girl should get involved in, Kou,” she stared at her son, who looked supremely unimpressed when Kyo glanced up at him.

“Kyo is my daughter, kaa-chan. Mine and Isshun's. And the two of us decide how to raise her, and any other children we may or may not eventually have,” he said firmly, quite clearly closing that line of conversation.

Other than the fact that she wasn't sure what it was, exactly, they were talking about and kept referring to something they refused to state out loud, which was incredibly irritating, Kyo couldn't help but approve of her tou-san's words.

She loved her kaa-san, and she was quickly realising that that was no doubt true about her tou-san, too.

Seeing nothing wrong with how they were caring for and raising her so far, Kyo was most definitely on their side in this.

Her grandmother looked like she'd tasted something sour, but relented and started talking about something else.

.

An exhausting few hours later, Kyo was carried home by her tou-san, who walked home with a quietly fatigued sense clinging to his form.

Kyo was draped over his chest, head pillowed on his shoulder, and she was practically asleep.

“Home, now, please,” she mumbled sleepily once they finally left the house of her grandparents.

Her aunt and her two sons, her cousins, had arrived and wow, it had all been exhausting. At least her grandfather seemed likeable enough; quiet, composed, almost withdrawn. But he'd had kind eyes, and Kyo hadn't had anything against sitting on his lap for a while, letting her tou-san catch up with his older sister.

“Yeah,” tou-san agreed, shifting her a little so that she lied more comfortably against him, “home.”

And that was that.

Kyo didn't remember getting back home, and over the next few weeks, tou-san stayed home, spending quite a bit of time with Kyo and her mother.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

She didn't realise quite the severity of her situation until a few weeks after her second birthday, which, funnily enough, was still on the last of December.

Interesting how that had worked itself out.

Anyway, back to her situation.

She may or may not have figured out exactly where she had been reborn by now. Maybe. Possibly.

Supposedly.

She had trouble even thinking it, because, just- what. Okay, she could accept the idea of her old self dying; everyone died. She could even accept being reborn, with her old memories intact. It had taken some time to digest, but she could accept it.

The thing that was giving her some real trouble, however, was the small, fascinating detail of the fact that she seemed to have been reborn in the world of a story she'd once read.

Just.

What the hell?

Was this what happened when you died? You were reborn into an alternate reality that had been nothing more than a story in the last place you'd been?

Oh, and also; she hadn't just been reborn in the Naruto-verse. She'd been reborn to actual shinobi parents!

Her new parents were professional killers. Mercenaries. Soldiers. Whatever you wanted to call it.

Her Before mother had been a goldsmith, then an art teacher, and her father had been a waiter before his joints had gotten bad enough he'd taken a job at the local school!

There may have been clues here and there; the way both of her parents tended to disappear a few hours every now and then -not to mention for weeks at a time, in tou-san's case- and how incredibly fit they both were. Things they'd mentioned in casual conversation.

The way her tou-san might have mentioned 'the Hokage' within her hearing when he talked to her kaa-san before leaving this morning.

In her defence, Kyo hadn't expected this.

Being reborn, fine, but she'd been expecting the good old world of back Before! She hadn't seen either of her parents in whatever served as uniform, and she hadn't seen any sign of shinobi around the town.

Village... whatever!

Then again, Kyo had grudgingly accepted that she was more child than adult right now; a child's brain was only so developed, memories of being a grown-up or not.

Okay, so. She'd realised she'd been reborn into a story she'd read and loved back Before, that she now lived in the Naruto-verse. In Konoha.

And thank all the Gods for that blessing. She dreaded thinking of what would have happened had she ended up in, oh, say, Ame. Or Kiri. Enough said.

She had already established that her parents were both shinobi, but they were quite clearly not part of any prominent Clan from the manga. Kyo had had to think back on everything that'd happened since she became aware of herself almost a year ago, and, well.

Her tou-san definitely seemed to be a civilian-born shinobi, what with his parents being as they were. Running some sort of merchant business with her Aunt's husband.

Her kaa-san was a bit harder to figure out, because she hadn't met a single member of her new mother's possible family.

Then she learned her surname, three days after finding out the name of the country she now lived in.

Shiranui.

Her name was Shiranui Kyo.

Shiranui.

The one problem she had with this fact, Kyo mused mildly hysterically, was that her father's name wasn't Genma. His name was Kou.

Had Genma had siblings in the manga? She didn't know. Didn't have the first clue.

And no matter how much fanfiction she'd written about the many and varied characters in Naruto, she quickly realised she didn't remember everything. The author had screwed up the time-line, too, so who knew what the hell could happen!?

And that was even assuming that her birth here hadn't changed something astronomically huge.

...what if she somehow ruined everything and all of humanity was doomed to fall to Black Zetsu's nefarious plan.

Holy shit, she might have doomed mankind. Somehow.

Where in the time-line had she even been born?

Had Genma procreated after the series officially ended and Kou was somehow the man's son? No, wait, she'd already established that her grandparents were civilians.

Fuck.

Kyo was all of two years old and she was having an existential crisis.

With good reason, but still.

She didn't realise she was crying until her mother, Isshun, swept her up into her arms.

“What's the matter, Kyo-chan?” She asked softly, pulling a hand over her short hair in a soothing gesture.

Kyo buried her face in her kaa-san's shoulder, wished it was her mother from Before and sobbed against the dark t-shirt the woman was wearing.

“When's tou-san coming home?” She eventually managed to ask, more for something to possibly blame her somewhat uncharacteristic outburst on, than a burning desire to know.

Kaa-san sighed. “He's not going to be back until next week, I'm afraid,” she said, carrying Kyo into her room.

She pulled out one of the books from the small bookshelf they'd put against one wall, and then sat down in the chair beside her bed.

“Come now, Kyo. I'll read you a story,” she offered, no doubt as a means to cheer her up.

Isshun and Kou had both started teaching her how to read, and Kyo loved it.

She'd actually studied a bit of Japanese in her past life, but she hadn't known enough to get by. And even if she had, she had a feeling that there were distinct differences between the languages, even though they were similar enough she didn't have any concrete proof.

But getting to learn real things again made her feel more like a real person and not just some sort of echo of the woman she'd used to be, floating in a strange dream. A very long, incredibly detailed dream.

Kyo sniffled and tried to calm herself down enough to stop the waterworks and even out her ragged breathing.

“Okay,” she managed, sounding truly pitiful, even to her own ears.

Isshun let out a small sigh, but helped her settle down in her lap so that she could see all the pictures. And, more importantly, the words.

She always tried to follow along when either of her parents read to her, to familiarize herself with the characters.

Hiragana and Katakana were relatively familiar, and the more she practised the more secure she became in the knowledge.

Kanji, however, were a bit more difficult.

Listening to her kaa-san's voice, Kyo slowly managed to calm down, even though one of her hands were clenched in her mother's shirt and the other was clasping the back of her hand.

When the story was over, Isshun slowly closed the colourful book and put it aside, giving Kyo a considering look.

“How do you feel about going on a little trip with me, Kyo-chan?” She asked.

Kyo wiped a forearm over her eyes and peered up at her, feeling curious despite herself.

“Trip?” She parroted softly.

Her kaa-san nodded. “A little trip, just you and me,” she smiled encouragingly.

“Okay,” Kyo sniffled again and then decided she was done crying.

Crying could be good, cathartic and emotionally healing, but enough was enough. She couldn't just sit here and feel sorry for herself for the rest of this life. Whether she wanted it or not, she'd gotten a second chance here, and she knew with all her heart that her family from Before would have wanted her to make the most of it and try to be happy.

“Come on, then,” her kaa-san said, picking her up and preparing for this impromptu trip.

Isshun took them away from the apartment complex they called home, walked briskly through town until they reached the Village gates.

They were even larger and more impressive than they'd been in the manga, because these weren't drawn with ink on paper, Kyo mused dazedly as she stared up at the massive wooden constructs as her mother walked through the opening.

“Can you hold on tight for me?” Isshun asked, having moved her from her hip to riding piggyback.

“Yeah,” Kyo returned firmly, wrapping her small arms around her kaa-san's throat, careful not to obstruct her breathing.

One of Isshun's arms was under her bottom, making sure she wouldn't slip off, and it felt almost like something glued itself to her front and, oh, was that chakra?

Kyo barely had time to blink before they were running through the trees, far faster than what should be possible, but her kaa-san didn't seem to find it even mildly physically straining.

When the woman leapt up to a low-hanging branch on one of the trees, Kyo had to press her mouth against her kaa-san's shoulder to prevent an exalted squeal of laughter from escaping her.

By the time Isshun came to a stop in a small, peaceful clearing, she was still giggling helplessly to herself.

“Liked that, did you now?” Her mother asked amusedly when she swung her off her back so that she could look at her.

Kyo grinned, unable to help herself.

It'd been like going on a roller-coaster! Only the roller-coaster could go wherever it wanted and was her mother rather than a machine, bit still!

That was awesome!

“It felt like we were sticky,” she said once she'd caught her breath a little, looking around when Isshun put her on her own two feet on the grass.

The woman hummed, “That was to make sure you wouldn't fall off,” she said after a moment. “I used my chakra.”

“Chakra?” Kyo chirped, staring up at her kaa-san, hoping for an actual explanation. For all that she had read a lot about what you could do with the energy, she couldn't remember reading anything about how to go about it, or what it actually was.

Isshun stopped walking and crouched down in front of her. “Chakra is your life-force; it's something every living being has. It's physical energy,” here, she touched Kyo's solar plexus, “and mental energy,” and she tapped her gently on the forehead, “and with training, you can mix it and use it for things like sticking onto all kinds of surfaces.”

Kyo blinked a few times. “Like magic?”

The question was out before she could stop it, because it had always sounded a bit like magic to her. Not like the kind in Harry Potter, but pretty damn close.

Isshun laughed, low and quiet but clearly delighted.

“Not quite,” she smiled. “What you use it for is rather personal, but you can do anything from walking up walls, to healing yourself and others.”

And she'd conveniently skipped the 'using it to kill people' part, which, admittedly, was rather sensible considering Kyo was supposed to be no more than two years old.

“Can I learn?” She wondered curiously.

If she'd now been born here, that meant she could, right?

“I suspect,” her kaa-san began fondly, straightening out of her crouch to resume walking, “that you've been using it a bit subconsciously for a while now, Kyo.”

Kyo froze.

Because, what?

Isshun paused and looked down on her, raising one eyebrow slightly at what must have been the positively befuddled look on her face.

“When?” She eventually asked, though it may have come out more like a demand.

Isshun eyed her thoughtfully. “Chakra can be used externally, and internally,” she explained.

They had stopped walking again, and her kaa-san gracefully sank down to sit in the grass, mentioning for Kyo to do the same.

Kyo eagerly did her best to copy her mother's posture and position. She doubted she managed it with anywhere resembling the same amount of fluid grace.

“Close your eyes, Kyo,” Isshun instructed in a slow, calm voice that was soothing and comforting all at the same time. “Take deep, slow breaths and turn your focus inward.”

Kyo did her best to do as told, even though it felt a bit like she was listening to one of those meditation CDs that had been pretty popular a while in the Before.

“Now, everyone feels their chakra differently,” her kaa-san explained softly. “Mine feels cool and fluid, like water, while your tou-san's said his feels like scorching winds.”

Kyo took a deep breath.

“There should be a pool of energy at the base of your stomach,” Isshun said after a few minutes, and Kyo suspected that there was a frown growing on her childish face. “You are very young, Kyo-chan. There will be plenty of time for this later, if you can't feel anything right now.”

Her frown grew. Her kaa-san thought she'd already been using her chakra subconsciously! She should at the very least be able to feel something then, shouldn't she?

Kyo was full out scowling by the time she felt a small stirring of... something in her gut. As if there was a live fish in the middle of her stomach that had just flipped its tail.

Kyo was so surprised she almost fell over.

“I felt something!” She exclaimed excitedly, opening her eyes to stare at her kaa-san with eyes as large as saucers. “That was chakra, right?” She added, because what if it'd just been gas or something?

“Hm,” Isshun hummed. “What did it feel like?”

Kyo jumped to her feet and excitedly explained the sensation she thought she'd felt.

Isshun gave her a small, but positively glowing smile. “My little girl,” she said, and quick as a snake, pulled her into her arms for a hug, planting a quick kiss on her cheek while she was at it. “Now, come. Let me show you what we're here to do.”

Kyo practically skipped after her kaa-san, melancholy mood all but forgotten at the moment.

“Ah, here we are,” Isshun murmured quietly, crouching down at the base of a tree and waving Kyo over with a wave of one hand. “Look here, Kyo,” she said, gently running her fingers over the fuzzy leaves of the plant growing in the shade of the massive tree trunk. “We're collecting this plant, but don't put anything in your mouth, you hear me?”

“Yes, kaa-san,” Kyo dutifully replied, curiously watching from behind and slightly to the left of her mother.

Isshun gave her a quick look, withdrew a small, sharp-looking knife and cut off the whole plant a little over the ground.

“Pick the leaves off the stalk, without tearing them, if you please, and put them in this,” she instructed, producing a small basket seemingly out of nowhere.

Kyo wondered if this meant her kaa-san had fuuinjutsu seals somewhere on her person. That was a possibility, right? She was in the Naruto world; anything was possible, wasn't it?

With her instructions clear in mind, Kyo crouched down and began to carefully pull the leaves off of the slightly prickly stalk.

She paused momentarily when kaa-san began to dig into the dark soil, no doubt to get the roots.

A slight itch made her glance down on her palms, and she blinked at the bright red skin that met her sight. Raising one hand to her face to inspect it, the itch grew worse, as if it knew she was looking at it, and the skin definitely looked irritated.

Casting another look at Isshun, Kyo decided that the woman knew what she was doing, and didn't say anything. Instead, she determinedly finished her task.

“Done!” She announced when the last leaf landed in the basket, lifting her gaze and taking in the surprisingly large and lumpy root her kaa-san had just pulled from the earth. “What do I do with this?” She asked, lifting the sad-looking, naked stalk.

“Put it in with the rest,” Isshun said warmly. “Very good, Kyo.”

Kyo grinned, for some reason ridiculously proud of her accomplishment, even though she rationally knew it hadn't been anything special; she'd just picked the leaves off a stalk, for crying out loud.

She was still proud, though.

“Let me see your hands,” kaa-san said once she'd removed most of the dirt clinging to the root, and then put it away in a bag she'd produced from presumably the same place she'd gotten the basket.

Kyo held out her hands, her palms and fingers an angry red and a little swollen.

They hurt a bit now, pulsing dully in time with her heartbeat, but most of all, they itched. A lot.

Biting her lower lip in an attempt to keep still, she watched her kaa-san inspect her hands quite intently, running her fingers experimentally over her much smaller ones.

It felt a bit like stinging nettles, Kyo mused, but worse, because the rash-like reaction seemed to spread out from the spots that had touched the plant.

She frowned at her kaa-san's hands, taking in the complete and utter lack of any sort of reaction, and her face pinched into a slight pout.

“You didn't turn red,” she pointed out, and she wouldn't go so far as to call it a whine, but it came close.

“I've handled this plant since I was a little older than you, Kyo,” Isshun smiled amusedly. “It takes a bit of time, but you will build up immunity to the poison.”

Kyo's eyes boggled.

Poison?

Well, she thought rationally, stinging nettles were technically poisonous, too, so... that was what her kaa-san meant, right? Right.

“Don't put your fingers in your mouth until we get home and we can wash your hands, alright?” She said next, making Kyo's heart skip a beat.

Silently wondering what the woman who was her mother was thinking, Kyo allowed herself to be picked up so that they could return to the village.

.

Once they were back at the apartment, Isshun sat her down on the kitchen floor, having pushed the table and four chairs to the side to give them more room to work.

“How are the hands?” She asked, throwing a quick glance up at Kyo, before turning most of her attention back to what she was doing with the plant they had left the village to collect.

“Itchy,” Kyo told her bluntly, very determinedly not scratching at her palms.

Her kaa-san smiled, as if it was amusing and not highly annoying and uncomfortable.

“It'll go away before bedtime,” she told her instead, and slightly mollified, Kyo turned her attention to the plant parts her kaa-san was laying out onto the floor. “Listen now, Kyo-chan. The leaves are the least poisonous, while the root is the most potent. The stalk can be added to the leaves to make them a bit more effective, or to the root to make it more slow acting, understand?”

Kyo, feeling a bit wide-eyed, but genuinely intrigued, nodded.

“Go get me the big pot from under the sink, would you, dear?” Isshun asked, and Kyo quickly did as asked, though she struggled a bit with the pot due to the size. “Thank you. Now, this time, I don't want you to touch the leaves, but watch how I tear them, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo said, leaning forward slightly to watch intently as her kaa-san tore each leaf up into strips that were about as wide as Isshun's fingers. All going into the pot.

For the next hour, Kyo listened intently while her Kaa-san taught her how to brew what she called her most basic poison.

Which was... interesting.

“After it's reduced a few hours, it can either be used directly, or left to dry,” Isshun finished, disposing of the last of the soggy, boiled out plant residue. “Once it's dried, it can be scraped out and made into a powder. I'll show you how to do that once you're a bit older,” she concluded with a small, almost secretive smile.

Kyo blinked, trying assimilate all the information she'd been given.

“What about the root?” She asked, throwing a quick glance at the bag with the mentioned item, lying on the kitchen counter.

“That's a later lesson,” Isshun laughed lightly, lovingly running a hand over her hair.

Which, Kyo belatedly realised, was probably only something she'd done because she'd rinsed her hands quite thoroughly in the sink a while before.

At the thought, she lifted her hands until they were in front of her face to inspect her palms and fingers. They were just an irritated pink now, instead of angry red, which was clear progress. The swelling had gone down, too.

“Look!” She said, holding them out to her kaa-san, who dutifully inspected the offered limbs.

“Very good,” she praised. “You've managed not to scratch them, too.”

Kyo grinned. It'd been hard, but she'd managed. The last hour and a half, she'd been too engrossed in kaa-san's lesson to even notice the itch, but other than that, it'd been nothing more than stubborn determination.

“Let's clean everything up, and then it's time for dinner,” Isshun declared.

Something Kyo was more than agreeable to.

It didn't even occur to her that all thoughts of her situation and everything it brought with it had been chased out of her head. Which had, without a doubt, been kaa-san's intention.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

By the time Kou came back from what must have been his latest mission, kaa-san had brought her out of the Village several more times on similar excursions.

Her hands no longer got quite that red whenever she handled just the leaves, but the one time Isshun had let her help with the root, her skin had gotten aggressively red all the way up to her shoulders, and it hadn't faded entirely until the next evening.

Her skin was back to its normal self now, though. Something she was grateful for, no matter how interesting she found her kaa-san's lessons.

The itching sucked.

The only consolation was the promise of becoming immune. Eventually.

Despite -mentally- being an adult, that sounded pretty cool. And useful. Especially in a world where someone thought it necessary to make their two year old kid immune to poisons.

“Tou-san!” Kyo exclaimed when the door opened and Kou came trudging inside, looking rather worse for wear.

She didn't care one wit, though, because she had honestly missed him.

Being an only child was weird, but Kou was a great dad. If a bit awkward at times. Or a lot. But at least he tried his best, and Kyo was mature enough to appreciate the effort he put forth, and the love that was behind it every time the man did something he wasn't very comfortable with, even when that might be something as inane as going to the park with her to push her on the swings.

Kyo was, admittedly, perfectly capable of using the swings on her own, even though she was a bit too small to get very high right now, she got higher every time she tried. But she hadn't been able to resist asking her tou-san the last time he'd been home.

“Kyo,” Kou said quietly, and despite his obvious exhaustion, the dried blood splatter covering parts of his clothing, he readily enough bent down to scoop her into his arms when she ran up to him to give him a hug.

If he held on a bit tighter than he normally did, pressing his cheek against her hair, Kyo said nothing and just hugged him back, her short, thin arms barely making it around his neck with the sturdy Chuunin vest in the way.

“Missed you, tou-san,” she said, quite honestly.

“Ah, I missed you, too,” he sighed, kicking off his sandals and going further into the apartment until he could collapse onto the couch, letting himself fall almost flat on his back, head pillowed on the armrest. “Tell me about what you've been up to with your mother while I was gone?” He requested wearily, rubbing one hand over his face before he scrounged up the energy to smile at her.

If the man needed her to be his innocent little two year old daughter right now, then that's what she would be.

“Kaa-san took me to the park, and she pushed me on the swings, but not as good as you,” she began to prattle, keeping her voice soft but cheerful. “And there was this lady at the market that was very rude, so kaa-san maybe was a bit scary to her, but she deserved it.” Kyo told him solemnly.

Because Isshun definitely did not deserve to be called a whore, to her face, and in front of her daughter, just for wanting to purchase a few wares.

That woman had been a bitter, mean old thing, and she had clearly not appreciated the sacrifice her kaa-san made for her country when she went away on missions, rare and relatively short as they had been so far.

Kyo hadn't lived in a country that prided itself on its' military force, Before, but even she knew that you respected people who put their lives at risk to protect others. And that's what she liked to think Konoha's shinobi did.

It was perhaps a bit naïve, but she preferred it over the alternative.

By the time she had told her tou-san about everything she could think of, including the lessons Isshun had begun to give her, Kou had tucked her head quite neatly under his chin and seemed to have fallen asleep, arms wrapped securely around her.

Falling silent, Kyo took a moment to contemplate the smell of old and new sweat, of forest with a slight hint of smoke that clung to her dad. There was a shadow of stubble on his chin and she didn't know if she was imagining it or not, but he seemed a bit thinner than she remembered.

“Kyo-chan?” Isshun's voice asked from the direction of the kitchen.

Kyo wondered if it would wake her tou-san up if she said anything, and she didn't want that; he looked like he more than deserved the rest.

She did look up when Isshun leaned ever-so-slightly over the sofa to peer down on the two of them, though.

“Tou-san's tired,” she said quietly.

Her kaa-san eyed her husband -or was that boyfriend? Were they even married?- with solemn eyes and then reached down to tap his shoulder gently.

“Kou, you should take a shower and then sleep in a proper bed,” she said kindly when he jerked awake, his hold tightening almost painfully on Kyo for a moment, before he sat up with a deep sigh.

“Yeah,” he muttered, and then lifted Kyo and handed her over to kaa-san, seemingly purely by automatics, before he rose to his feet and disappeared into her parents' shared bedroom. He reappeared a moment later, having discarded most of his clothes and slipped into the bathroom.

When the door closed behind him, Kyo turned to Isshun.

“Tou-san looked bad,” she said seriously. Because he had never showed up at the apartment with blood on his clothes before, at least not when she'd been awake and there to see. And there had just been this look in his eyes that suggested this was something more than just fatigue.

“I'll talk to him once he's gotten a chance to rest a bit,” Isshun assured her, though she seemed distracted, still staring at the closed bathroom door. “Let's go to the kitchen; we'll take a look at our project.”

Seeing the distraction for what it was, Kyo still allowed the woman to carry her off for yet another -unplanned- lesson. Hopefully, her skin wouldn't get quite that bad this time.

.

Kyo woke up early the next morning, like she always did this time around.

Back Before, she'd always had a tendency to sleep in, had done so even as a child, no matter how much she'd resented it and wanted to get up as early as everyone else. Mainly because of the kid's show on TV on Saturday mornings.

But even when she'd been older, she'd always wished she'd been an early bird, and not a night owl.

It looked like she'd gotten her wish, now, as she sat up in bed and glanced around her dark room.

Admittedly, she didn't usually wake up quite this early; the sun wasn't even up yet.

Scratching absently at her arms, Kyo finally stood up and climbed out of bed, deciding to go looking for either of her parents.

Reaching up to pull the handle on the door to her room, Kyo paused, taking note of the murmur of voices on the other side.

Straining her ears, she could just about make out the words.

“-s not just increased activity on the border, but they're expecting a declaration any day now.” Kou's voice said tiredly.

“So that is the direction we're moving in,” her kaa-san answered on a sigh, as if she wasn't really surprised.

“We're both going to be sent out a lot more,” Kou said pensively, and he didn't sound happy about it.

“Kyo?” Isshun said, and for one second, Kyo thought she was addressing her.

“I'll talk to my parents,” Kou said, and Kyo grimaced. “She's a bit young to start school already, and I'd like to avoid placing her at the orphanage when I've got family.”

“She won't like it,” Isshun warned, and Kyo silently had to agree, though she was more than distracted by what she'd overheard.

The way they talked; it sounded bad. Really bad.

Heart fluttering like a sparrow in her chest, Kyo finally pushed the door open and padded out into the kitchen, crawling up into her dad's lap without a word.

“What are you doing up, sweetheart?” Isshun asked, though neither of her parents looked the least bit surprised to see her.

“Woke up,” Kyo said simply, curling up and tucking herself firmly against her tou-san's front. Warmth spread through her chest when he automatically curled one arm around her, holding her securely against him. “You're going away,” she said, because she didn't want to pretend not to have heard anything.

“Not right now,” Kou promised, though there was a resigned quality to his voice.

“I don't wanna stay with obaa-san.”

“I know,” Isshun said, a small, sad smile pulling on her lips. “But it will hopefully not be for very long periods of time. The Hokage knows Kou and I have you to care for, so they'll try to make sure at least one of us is in the village whenever it's possible.”

Kyo took in that information with a small measure of comfort.

That didn't change the fact that what they were talking about was, without a doubt, war.

She'd known, of course, that the Naruto world was dangerous, that people died all the time in the fighting and conflict. The Village system was very young; not even a century old, and that had been at the start of the manga. She still had no idea when exactly she'd been born.

Which war was this?

Shivering a little at the thought, Kyo tried to bury herself deeper into her tou-san's hold.

“You're coming back, right?” She asked, and there was no denying how small she sounded. “Tou-san?”

Her parents were silent for what felt like a long moment, exchanging a long look over the table, before her mother let out a heavy sigh.

Kyo's heart skipped a beat.

“I can promise you that both of us will do our very best to come back, every time,” she said solemnly, meeting Kyo's gaze intently.

When she looked up at her dad, he nodded in agreement. “Absolutely, Kyo.”

Kyo took a deep breath, determined that that would have to be enough. She knew that no one could promise not to die, but-

The breath came out as a sob, and Kyo buried her face in her dad's shirt.

She'd been wondering for a while if she had somehow usurped Genma's place in the series; if she should have been born a boy and named Genma instead of Kyo.

And if that was true, then she couldn't even console herself with the fact that her mother, at least, would survive long enough to bear another child.

She hated not knowing.

Had Genma's parents still been alive in the manga? Had both Isshun and Kou survived the war?

With too many questions she couldn't answer swirling around in her head, Kyo cried herself back to sleep and when she woke up later that morning, she found herself, for the first time in this life that she could remember, lying in her parents' bed, wedged between her kaa-san and tou-san.

It made it both better and worse, because right now, she had them both beside her, feeling warm, safe and content. But it just emphasized how much she didn't want to lose either of them.

“Are you awake, little one?” Isshun asked softly, raising one hand to smooth back her hair.

Kyo made a small, affirmative noise.

“Come, let's go make breakfast,” her kaa-san said, lifting her up and getting out of bed.

Kyo slumped tiredly against her mother's shoulder, taking in the simple bedroom with tired, sore eyes.

Kou's eyes cracked open a small fraction, taking in their departure, but he just closed them again and rolled over to go back to sleep.

In the kitchen, Isshun put her down in her high-chair, and set about whipping up something simple for breakfast.

Kyo watched dispassionately, feeling like the familiar routines were making a mockery of her feelings.

Nothing and everything had changed.

Kyo and her mother ate in silence, and when Kyo finally finished the last of her vegetables, Isshun collected the plates and put them in the sink, and then returned to her seat, giving Kyo a considering look.

“Your father and I both love you very much, Kyo,” she began firmly. “And it's unfair to put this on you when you're so young, but you've always been more observant than anyone could've expected.”

Kyo chewed on her lip, feeling a bit guilty, on top of everything else, because it wasn't like she was particularly smart or anything. She just had the advantage of having memories of a life, of being an adult, before being Kyo.

“Things will most likely not escalate right away, so we still have time,” Isshun smiled reassuringly, but Kyo couldn't quite return the expression. “What do you say about more lessons?”

“Okay,” Kyo said, dragging a forearm over her eyes and taking a deep breath, determined not to make things harder on her parents.

They couldn't be that old, either, and this was without a doubt harder on them than on her.

Kyo paused. Was she... mentally older than her parents?

Wasn't that a frightening thought.

She eyed her mother, considering, trying to gauge how old she might be. Isshun most definitely wasn't older than thirty, but was likely not even twenty five.

...she probably was mentally older than her parents. Because she could remember being twenty six, and that wasn't even taking the foggy, uncertain stretch of time before her supposed death into consideration.

Kyo had her suspicions about that, too, but she tried not to think about it.

“Let's take a look at your arms, then,” Isshun said, holding out her hands expectantly, and Kyo dutifully placed her much smaller hands in her mother's.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo was a bit too busy to worry after that.

Lessons with her kaa-san escalated until it was something they spent at least a few hours on every other day, and that included getting her used to the poison of the plant they'd started with.

Kyo was now consuming very small amounts of it daily.

It made her feel a bit queasy at times, but she was honestly used to worse. Accidentally eating gluten in her past life had been about three times worse, and the poison at least hadn't made her puke yet. So there was that.

The marvel of being able to eat whatever she wanted, without having to worry about it making her sick was enough to leave Kyo almost ecstatic whenever she stopped to think about it.

She wasn't quite two and a half years old here, but she was healthier than she'd ever been back Before.

And wasn't that sad?

The lessons didn't stop there; she was still learning how to read and write, which was fun, and tou-san had begun to teach her, too.

“I don't want you coming here without me or kaa-san, understand?” Kou said as he set her down on her feet in front of him.

Kyo blinked around the sunny clearing, taking in the field of bare, packed dirt and gave a distracted nod.

This was somewhere she hadn't been before, and that was interesting enough on its own to entertain her. But she was more curious about what tou-san had planned, though.

“Okay,” she chirped.

When the sun was shining like this, and everything was peaceful and both her parents were home, it was hard to remember that there was a potential war brewing outside the Village walls.

“I'm going to show you something, and I want you to try and copy me as closely as you can,” Kou said, and he smiled briefly when Kyo nodded seriously.

And he then proceeded to show her what she instantly knew were katas.

Katas!

This was something she was purely excited about. Because she'd always wanted to learn martial arts, and the few styles she'd tried back Before had never worked out. The one style she'd found that she'd loved hadn't been possible for her to continue, because she'd had to move away and lessons in that style hadn't been offered anywhere close to her new area.

Kou had to correct an arm here, a foot there, but overall, she didn't do too poorly, if she dared say so herself.

It was hard, though, and her limbs were all but shaking from effort when they were done.

“You did very well, Kyo-chan,” tou-san praised as he helped her back to her feet from the pile she'd collapsed into the moment the man had said they were done. “Now, your kaa-san gave me strict orders to show you how to stretch,” he continued, an amused spark in his eyes.

Kyo giggled and dutifully did exactly as Kou showed her.

Being so young, stretching wasn't much of a chore, but she knew it was in preparation for when she got older; to make sure she'd get in the routine and get used to it.

“Tou-san, I'm hungry,” Kyo informed him when they were walking back towards the town proper, away from the training fields.

Kou glanced down at her, and it was a bit weird to see him in full shinboi gear; he was even wearing the green Chuunin vest, with the hitai-ate proudly displayed on his forehead.

Or was that Jounin vest? What rank did her parents have?

Not that it really mattered, she was just curious.

“I suppose we could get something before going back home,” he mused, as if he hadn't quite decided yet. “What would you like?”

“Dango!” Kyo instantly chirped. She'd wanted to try for years and now that she could actually eat the treats without getting sick... there was no reason to resist.

Kou snorted, held out his hand for her, which she latched onto with both of her own. He sent her an amused look, and then swung her up onto his hip.

“Hold on tight,” he warned.

Kyo wrapped both arms around him and couldn't help but let out a muffled squeal of delighted laughter when he leapt up onto the roof of the closest building.

The effortless manner with which he navigated the roof-tops of Konoha, not to mention the inhuman feat of leaping the distances he did, was something Kyo might have lingered on more if she hadn't loved the thrill of it so much.

It reminded her a bit about the one time her uncle had taken her on a ride on his motorcycle, once upon a time. But ten times better.

When tou-san jumped back down to the ground, Kyo was flushed with laughter and joy, and she couldn't wipe the exhilarated grin from her face if she so tried.

“Again!” She cried before she could stop herself, and it drew the attention of more than one stranger passing them by, which included the occasional shinobi.

Kou gave her a wry, thoroughly amused look. “I thought kids were supposed to scare easily,” he muttered jokingly.

Kyo snickered quietly, pressing her hands to her mouth in an attempt to smother the sound.

“But it's fun,” she told him as seriously as she could manage, despite there still being a wide grin on her face.

Kou shook his head as he walked into what looked like a small restaurant with one wall missing, which left it mostly open out towards the street.

“Sit. Don't move,” her tou-san instructed, gave her a firm look, and then walked over to the counter to order.

Kyo watched him avidly, legs swinging back and forth where they hung suspended in the air between the bench and the ground.

The man who may or may not be the restaurant owner greeted him cheerfully, listened to whatever he said and then whipped together the order with quick efficiency. Which he then handed over to Kou in exchange for a few coins.

“Here you are, princess,” tou-san said when he sat down next to her, placing the paper plate on the table in front of her.

Kyo wrinkled her nose. “'M no princess,” she said firmly. She hadn't even wanted to be a princess the first time she was a child; why would she want to be one now?

“No?” Kou asked, and there was laughter in his voice. “I though all little girls wanted to be a princess.”

“Sounds boring,” Kyo said frankly, peering at the dango with curious interest. It looked good; some sort of fried dough with sauce on top. “And I like me better,” she added, because that was true.

She might not know all that had happened to result in her being here, but her life was far from horrible. She had two parents that loved her and did everything they could to take care of her and prepare her for whatever this life might throw her way. She was healthy, hale and relatively happy.

Nothing to complain about.

“Are you going to try the dango or just stare at it until it gets cold?” Kou asked, gently ruffling her short, soft hair.

“I'll take this one,” she decided, picking the closest one and then pushed the plate towards her dad with the remaining two. “Those are yours.”

“Generous, too?” Kou mused teasingly. “I'm gonna have to beat the boys back with a stick when you're older.”

Kyo grimaced, giving her tou-san a sceptical look. Then she finally tasted the dango and was sufficiently distracted.

A few days later, tou-san took her on another excursion.

Katas were something she practised about every other day, it seemed, with at least a day in between for her to rest, recuperate and play in.

Some days, there wasn't anything in particular planned, and other times, Isshun would give her poison lessons or either of her parents would teach her some sort of game.

She'd learned a whole host of them by now, and Kyo was intellectually aware of the fact that they were all, in some form, supposed to prepare her for a life as a shinobi. Kunoichi, whichever.

That didn't stop them from being fun.

Like the game that was like a more complex variation of rock-paper-scissors, which was without a doubt to help her practise her dexterity, for the day when they began to teach her hand seals.

Or the bastardized version of Hide and Seek.

“What are we doing today?” Kyo asked as she slipped her hand into her father's, walking beside him down the street from their apartment.

“We're going on a little trip,” Kou said, which didn't really tell her anything.

That could mean anything from going to the training fields for katas, collecting herbs and plants with Isshun outside the Village walls and anything in between. Her tou-san had even said that when they'd just gone to his parents' house, once.

“To do what?” Kyo pressed, not worried, but definitely curious.

She absently jumped over a small pothole in the road, and then looked up at her tou-san's face.

Kou hummed, eyeing her thoughtfully a moment, before he leaned down to scoop her up with one arm.

“I guess there's only one way to find out,” he said, and jumped up onto the closest roof.

Kyo quickly latched onto her dad's shoulder with both hands and gave him an accusing frown. It was ruined slightly by the wild smile she was also sporting.

“That's not true! You could tell me,” she argued.

“I suppose,” Kou agreed gravely. “But I won't.”

Kyo's pout lasted for all of two seconds, before tou-san make a series of jumps that made her break out in thrilled giggles.

Soon enough, they arrived in a forested area that looked almost like it could have been outside the wall. She didn't think that was the case, though, because they hadn't passed through the massive gates.

“I'm going to show you how to make camp, today,” Kou said once he had put her down on her feet, giving her an intent once-over.

Kyo blinked, but nodded readily enough.

Wasn't this a bit too early? Really, she was just two years old, but... who was she to question the plan her parents had made for her potential shinobi education.

And yes, she did realise that that was what they were doing.

Kyo wasn't sure how she felt about it, but she'd decided not to think too much about it right now, and just enjoy the time she got to spend with both her new parents.

Learning new things had always been something she'd loved, and it hadn't ever mattered all that much what it was she was learning so much as the fact that she soaked up new information like a sponge.

That held true even now.

“Okay,” Kyo said, sitting down on the dry grass to watch.

Kou nodded and then began to gather fallen branches, telling her exactly what he was doing while he was at it, explaining why the branches had to be dead and dry -to avoid smoke- and what to do if dry wood wasn't available.

Then he got out a knife, kunai, and cut out a circle in the grass, pried up the thick top-layer of dirt, grass and grass roots, and then dug what he called a fire-pit. All with the ease of years of practise.

“How deep you make it depends a little, but it's to make sure the light from the fire is harder to spot,” he said seriously, starting to place a few of the smaller branches and a few twigs in the bottom of the hole.

Kyo nodded; it all made perfect sense so far.

She still wasn't quite sure why they were doing this already, when she was so young. Wouldn't it have been better to do this later, when she could actually help dig the fire-pit and everything?

Regardless, she did her best to be an attentive student, listening carefully to her dad's lecture.

“Now,” Kou said once he had set up the fireplace, where flames were eagerly licking at the dry wood. “I need you to keep an eye on the fire for me, Kyo. I'll be back in just a few minutes, okay?” He said, pausing to give her a look she knew meant he was waiting for any potential questions she might have.

Kyo hesitated. “You'll be back quickly?”

“Yes,” Kou said without pause. “I need to go get us something for the next part of our lesson,” he explained.

Feeling sufficiently reassured, Kyo nodded and watched as her tou-san turned around and stalked off without a sound, quickly and efficiently disappearing between the trees far faster than he should have.

Kyo had always liked the forest, Before, but there was just something about this whole situation that made her slightly nervous.

It didn't help that she'd hardly spent more than a handful of minutes alone since she'd 'woken up' after she'd turned one.

Instead of staring out between the trees for her tou-san, who she no doubt wouldn't spot until he stepped back into the small 'camp' they'd made anyway, she settled for staring at the fire.

She'd just put another piece of wood in the fire-pit when Kou jumped down from a tree, landing two metres away from her with nary a sound, making her jump.

“Tou-san!” Kyo smiled, jumping to her feet and bouncing over to him to wrap her arms around one of his legs in a semblance of a hug. He hadn't been gone long, but it was nice to see him!

“You kept a close eye on the fire?” He confirmed warmly, smoothing back her hair with one calloused hand. Kyo nodded. “Good job,” he praised, smiling faintly and guiding her back to the fire, where they sat down. “I've gotten us lunch.”

Kyo blinked and finally noticed what he was holding in his other hand.

A pair of rabbits dangled from his fingers, held by the ears and- they were trembling with fear, blinking dark, shiny eyes at her.

Still very much alive.

Kyo watched the two small animals solemnly, feeling like she knew where this was going now.

Kou gave her a considering look, before he tucked one of the petrified bunnies under one of his thighs and put the other one on the grass in front of him, effortlessly pinning it in place with one hand.

“Come here, Kyo,” he said, nodding down at his lap.

Kyo quickly crawled over her tou-san's thigh to settle in his lap, staring down at the bunny with clear curiosity and almost-fascination.

She was well aware of where her food came from, whether that was vegetables or meat, and she had never understood people who proclaimed to love animals, were particularly squeamish about slaughter and then still gorged themselves on meat.

Kyo preferred to know exactly what she ate, and it may have something to do with the food allergy she'd had Before, but she felt it was just common sense. If you ate something, you should know and acknowledge where that food came from.

Doing otherwise was rather insulting to the animal that gave its life to feed you.

You should at least acknowledge that it was a formerly living being you were consuming.

“Hold it down for me a moment,” Kou told her, and his voice was soothing, as if he was expecting a tearful tantrum any second now.

“Okay,” Kyo said seriously, burying her fingers in the soft, brown fur on the bunny's neck, pressing down.

She could feel the frantic pulse fluttering under her fingers, and the bunny's chest rose and fell rapidly, over and over again as it panted in clear terror.

“Hold with the other hand,” Kou instructed softly, waiting until Kyo had done as told. “Good, girl. Now take hold of the handle of the kunai, Kyo-chan.”

Kyo did so, feeling reassured when tou-san's large, warm hand closed around it over her small fingers, guiding the knife until the tip was resting over the bunny's throat.

“We cut the throat quickly and smoothly, Kyo,” he said, holding the little animal firmly in place with the hand not helping her hold the knife. “That way, it dies quickly and with as little pain as possible.”

“Okay,” Kyo said again, feeling a bit out of her depth but perfectly willing to learn.

She'd contemplated gaining a hunter's license back in the Before, but her health had gotten in the way and this was something she would have had to learn back then if she'd gone through with it. This was part of life, really.

With no further delay or fuss, Kou brought the knife down on the bunny's throat, slicing through it with hardly any resistance.

It was easier than cutting up a half-frozen chicken fillet, though the bunny did twitch a few times as it bled out.

Kyo would like to think it was a pretty peaceful way to die; far better than being transported for miles and miles to a slaughter house by car and then killed that way.

“Is it dead now?” Kyo asked quietly, staring at the bunny's unmoving form.

“Yes,” Kou wrapped an arm around her in a half-hug. “You did very well, Kyo.”

“What about the other one?” She asked, overly aware of the second bunny caught under her tou-san's thigh.

Kou eyed her a moment, taking in whatever expression she was currently wearing. “We could either do the same thing, killing it together, or you can try to do it by yourself.”

Kyo blinked, turned the offer over in her head and then glanced down at the dead rabbit, then the still alive one she could barely see from her position.

“You'll help me if I can't do it, right?” She asked. She didn't want to hurt the animal and then not be able to go through with it; the bunny would be their lunch, but that didn't mean it had to suffer needlessly.

“Of course.” Kou smiled, though there was a look in his eyes she couldn't quite name.

He ruffled her hair with one hand and then moved the dead rabbit to the side to replace it with its' still-living companion.

Like chopping chicken, Kyo thought determinedly, taking hold of the kunai.

It was awkward, because it had clearly been intended for an adult's use and it was heavy, but with both hands, she could make it work on her own.

Leaning forward, Kyo placed the wickedly sharp tip over the bunny's throat and then pushed down.

She may have ended up pushing the tip of the knife into the ground under the rabbit, but at least it got the job done.

When the bunny stopped twitching, Kyo leaned back with a relieved sigh.

That hadn't been too bad, she told herself, ignoring the way her fingers trembled ever so slightly. Which was most likely because of adrenaline, she realised.

“Very well done, Kyo,” tou-san praised kindly, rubbing a hand up and down her upper arm, before he pulled up the kunai and slit the bunny's throat properly. “Now watch while I skin them and prepare the meat, okay? What do you say about stew for lunch?”

“We can bring the leftovers home to kaa-san,” she offered with a somewhat weak, but sincere smile.

Kou smiled back and nodded. “That sounds like a great idea.”

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Tou-san had left again; after almost a month at home, he was gone. And this time, kaa-san said he wouldn't be home until three months later.

Kyo wasn't exactly looking forward to the long wait, but she wasn't planning on making things more difficult for all of them by throwing tantrums.

Halfway through the long wait, Isshun got a mission of her own.

“I'll just be gone for two weeks, Kyo,” her kaa-san assured her softly, patting her comfortingly on the back when Kyo buried her face in her mother's shoulder. “I'll be back before you know it.”

“Don't like it,” Kyo muttered softly, clinging even tighter to the woman.

What if she didn't come back? What if neither of her parents came back?

What would happen, then? Would she have to stay with her grandparents until she was a legal adult?

Whether that was as a Genin or a civilian, she had no idea, and frankly didn't have the energy to contemplate right now.

“I know, dear,” Isshun sighed softly. “Your ojii-san's promised to look after you properly and I've prepared a training schedule for you.”

Kyo smiled a little.

She wasn't even three and her kaa-san had already thought to make her a schedule.

“Can I see?” She asked, lifting her head and shifting in her mother's hold to better see the paper the woman slipped from one of the pockets on her vest.

It was colour-coded. Red for katas, blue for chakra meditation, purple for poison training, and green for reading and writing practise.

Fairly simple, but it made sense, with how young she was.

“I've prepared the dosages for our little lessons, and I need you to follow the rules carefully, Kyo,” Isshun said seriously, giving her a firm look. “If you take the wrong one, or feel sick, I need you to tell an adult to bring you to the hospital right away, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo nodded, looking the schedule over one last time, before she relented with a sigh. “Come back home, okay?”

“I'll do my very best,” Isshun swore solemnly, and then turned to knock on the by now familiar door to her grandparents' house.

“Isshun-san,” her grandmother greeted when she opened the door, stiffly polite.

“Haname-san,” kaa-san returned evenly, not so much as blinking at the less than stellar reception. “I want you to do your best while I'm gone, Kyo,” she continued to say, setting Kyo down on her feet outside the door.

“I will, kaa-san,” Kyo promised, eyes burning suspiciously and her hands didn't seem to quite want to let go of her mother's clothing.

“Here's your bag; I packed your favourite books, and enough clothes to last you,” Isshun helped her sling the dark blue bag over her shoulders so that it settled comfortably on her back. “Here's your schedule, and what you need for your lessons while I'm gone.”

And she handed over a decently sized bag that looked like it could be comfortably worn by a child a few years older than Kyo, strapped onto the small of your back.

“Okay. Thank you,” Kyo returned, almost automatically as she accepted the bag with both hands.

Isshun leaned back fractionally, watching her intently.

Kyo glanced up at her grandmother, whose face looked slightly pinched; as if there were several things she wished to say that were less than charitable.

She was grateful she held her tongue, though.

Setting the bag down on the doorstep, Kyo turned around and threw herself into her mother's arms, wrapping her in the tightest hug she could manage.

“Be careful, kaa-san,” Kyo asked. “Love you,” she added, because everyone deserved to know that they were loved and she quietly resolved to tell both her parents more often.

“Oh, Kyo,” kaa-san sighed, though she sounded a bit affected, her arms tightening around Kyo's back. “I love you, too. Be a good girl, and I'll be back before you know it.”

Kyo reluctantly stepped back and with a last smile, Isshun disappeared in a small, quickly-dissipating cloud of smoke.

Kyo blinked.

Had that been a shunshin?

When the last of the smoke had dispersed in the wind, Kyo sniffled a little, took a deep breath, and then turned to her grandmother.

“Hello, obaa-san,” she greeted, subdued.

“Hi, Kyo-chan,” Haname-obaa-san cooed, leaning forward to peer at Kyo's face. “Let's go inside and get you some lunch; you look like you hardly eat, dear!”

And Kyo was ushered inside.

It didn't even take a day before Kyo realised how fortunate she really was, having the parents she did.

Her grandmother treated her like a baby. Acting like she couldn't even understand normal conversations.

Kyo felt like tearing her hair out, and she had to stay here for two weeks.

Would it be morally reprehensible to accidentally-on-purpose poison her own grandma?

Not that she'd ever do it, but the thought was enough to get her by.

Barely.

“Kyo-chan?” Haname called into the garden and Kyo unashamedly scrambled to get to a hiding place before her grandma spotted her.

Slipping behind one of the large bushes she didn't know the name of, Kyo peered under the foliage to watch the older woman's slippers as she walked by.

“Kana and the kids are here, so come out and say hi,” she added, raising her voice, as if she thought Kyo hadn't heard the first time. In the end, she gave an aggravated huff and then returned to the house.

Soon enough, Kenji came wandering out into the garden.

Feeling it was relatively safe to come out now, Kyo left her hiding spot and approached the boy. Her cousin.

“Hi, Kenji,” she said on a sigh.

Kenji was two years older than her, but you wouldn't know that by looking at how he acted.

“Hey, Kyo-chan,” he returned, blinking at her, as if he hadn't expected to see her. “Obaa-san called for you.”

“I know.” Kyo shrugged and fell into step next to her cousin.

Kenji's eyes widened, as if the thought of not listening to what their grandmother said was outside the realm of possibilities.

Kyo didn't agree.

Especially when Haname had tried to take the bag with the poison her mother had given her away from her the first night here. That was not okay. And it didn't endear the woman to Kyo any more, either.

“Wanna play?” Kenji finally asked, giving her a hopeful look.

“Sure,” Kyo chirped. Anything was better than being alone in the house with Haname. “What do you wanna play?”

“Tag?” Kenji offered eagerly.

“Okay!”

It might seem silly, but tag could be fun. And it was good training, actually.

Kyo was definitely more coordinated than her cousin, but Kenji still had the advantage, being two years older; four years old to her two.

And that was how Kyo spent her second afternoon after both her parents had left on missions at the same time, for the first time.

After a few days, her grandfather brought a set of crayons and paper home with him when he returned from work, and if Kyo hadn't already been fond of him, then that definitely would have confirmed him as her favourite grandparent.

She'd been passably decent with a pen Before, so she was a bit disappointed to learn that the skill hadn't transferred over.

Not that it was particularly surprising; all it boiled down to was practice.

Kyo still enjoyed drawing again.

.

“Kyo-chan,” a familiar voice called from the direction of the hallway.

Two weeks had passed and Kyo was more than ready to go back home.

“Kaa-san!” Kyo all but screamed and scrambled down from the chair she'd been sitting in, in the middle of eating dinner.

A second later, she threw herself into her mother's waiting arms.

“Hey, baby,” Isshun murmured against Kyo's hair, folding her tightly into her arms.

“Welcome back, Isshun-san,” ojii-san said, rising from his seat by the table and waving her over. “Come sit down, have some dinner before the two of you go back home.”

“Thank you, Kentarou,” Isshun returned, and she sounded tired.

Though not as tired as tou-san had been the last time he came home, but still enough for it to be audible in her voice.

She kept Kyo on her lap when she sat down, something Kyo was more than happy with as she dug into her dinner with renewed enthusiasm as her grandmother served up a portion for Isshun.

It had gotten so late, she'd thought she'd have to wait until the next day before her mother came to collect her, assuming there'd been no serious delays.

The thought that she wouldn't come at all had been firmly squashed, ruthlessly pushed to the back of her head where it had been left to collect dust until next time.

.

About two months before Kyo turned three, her father was supposed to come back from his latest mission.

She hadn't seen him for three months and she was itching to tell him about everything she'd learned in his absence. Commiserate with him about his mother.

Kyo hadn't realised how much her parents didn't treat her like a two year old; seemingly going much more by maturity rather than age.

The same could not be said about her grandparents.

Kyo was amusing herself with a few of the toys she actually owned, sitting on the carpeted floor in the living room, when it knocked on the door.

Pausing what she was doing, Kyo turned to stare at the door; it was the first time in her memory that anyone had ever visited their home. She hadn't actually thought about it, but surely her parents must have friends. Right?

Isshun came out of the kitchen, a small frown on her face as she walked to the door, so she clearly wasn't expecting anyone.

Kyo quickly got to her feet and trailed after her mother, which meant that she got a good look at the shinobi standing on the other side of the door. He was just a bit taller than her kaa-san, with dark brown hair, just as dark eyes and what could only be the Uchiha crest sown onto his uniform.

“Shiranui-san?” He asked, though he looked like he knew he was at the right place. “I'm here to inform you that your husband is at the hospital for surgery,” and that was about how far he got before Isshun rushed back into the apartment. No doubt to turn off the stove and put the food she'd been cooking for lunch to the side.

While her mother was busy, Kyo put on her shoes.

“Kaa-san,” Kyo said, raising her arms the moment Isshun skidded back into the hallway, which resulted in her being swept up and automatically settled on her mother's hip.

Isshun stepped into her sandals and then slammed the door behind them, barely taking the time to lock the thing before she was running down the stairs. Leaving the Uchiha behind, though Kyo didn't think he'd hold it against her mother.

The moment they were outside, Isshun took to the roofs, and while it still made her stomach flutter with excitement, she didn't so much as smile.

Her father had been hurt, was at the hospital. For surgery.

Which could basically mean anything. Had he a badly broken leg? Had he almost died?

Kyo clutched at her mother and stared unseeingly at the familiar scenery that rushed passed them faster than ever before.

It seemed she hadn't more than blinked before Isshun jumped down to land in front of the hospital front doors, striding inside with enough purpose that the few people they met steered well clear of her, despite the fact that she wasn't in uniform and had a child on her arm.

Isshun was a kunoichi on a mission.

It was the first time she was in the hospital that she could remember this time around, and Kyo was a bit too distracted, taking in their surroundings and by her own thoughts that she missed entirely what the lady at the reception desk said in response to her mother's sharp questions.

Not that it mattered, because they were striding down a corridor before Kyo had even gotten a chance to take in all of the reception area and the connecting waiting room, leaving the nurse at the desk staring after them with a sympathetic frown.

Kyo turned away from her, focusing instead on what was in front of them.

She lost track of how many turns they'd taken, and she was pretty sure there'd been a flight of stairs too, before they finally came to a stop in front of what was quite clearly an operating theatre.

They weren't the only ones there, either.

“Isshun,” one of the men sitting on the benches along the left wall said. He looked exhausted; like death warmed over.

Kyo took in the dirt on his uniform, the tears in the cloth and the bandages she could see peeking out at the edge of his sleeve and at the neck of his shirt. His clothes were also covered with blood.

A lot of it.

Most of it looked old; either rust red or brown, but there were stains that looked newer, too.

“Yuuta,” Isshun all but sighed, walking up to the man, who stood to his feet, never mind how much he looked like he really should've remained sitting. “What happened?”

Yuuta grimaced, his lips twisting down in an unhappy frown.

“It's pretty bad,” he ran a hand through his dirty hair, giving Isshun a deeply apologetic look. “He took a wind-jutsu to the chest, in my stead.”

“Which was no doubt fortunate, or you would've died,” Isshun returned sharply, keen eyes taking in the bandages and drawing what was no doubt the correct conclusions. “What did the medics say?”

“We got him here as fast as we could, but he's lost a lot of blood,” Yuuta murmured, gaze sliding away from her mother's face to land on Kyo. He blinked, as if noticing her for the first time.

Isshun took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a second, and then released the air in her lungs and moved to take a seat on the bench next to the only other man aside from Yuuta, who looked like he was seconds away from falling asleep where he sat.

Kyo noticed that he looked to be in a similar condition to Yuuta; dirty, exhausted, covered in mostly dried blood and with bandages covering parts of his body.

Isshun sat down, leaning back and settling Kyo in her lap, clearly prepared for a long wait.

Yuuta stood for a second longer, and then joined them, retaking his seat next to Isshun, boxing the two of them in between what must be her dad's teammates.

Kyo curled up in kaa-san's lap and tried to be as silent and still as possible.

Almost two hours of mind-numbing, soul-deep anxious waiting later, the door to the operating theatre opened and a nurse paused in the doorway, looking over the small group.

“Shiranui-san?” She finally asked.

Isshun stood, handed Kyo over to Yuuta with minimal fanfare and then followed the other woman through the door.

Kyo blinked at the man her kaa-san had just handed her off to, taking in the almost deer-in-headlights look on his carefully blanked face.

He had brown hair, a few shades darker than tou-san's and eyes that looked almost violet in the light from the fluorescent lamps shining down from the ceiling. There was currently stubble shadowing his chin and cheeks and his skin was pale and clammy with fatigue, pain and worry.

He frankly looked like shit.

“Hi,” Kyo greeted awkwardly.

Yuuta blinked at her, where he was holding her suspended over his lap, hands wedged securely enough under her arms. As if he'd accepted her from Isshun purely per automatics and then didn't have the first clue what to do with her.

“Uh, hi there, kid,” Yuuta said, clearing his throat and casting a quick glance at his friend, who was watching them with a quiet sense of weak amusement. “I'm, ah, Oueda Yuuta. Your tou-chan's teammate.”

Kyo tilted her head. “Kaa-san must trust you a lot since she just handed me off to you without a word,” she said sagely.

Which was perhaps a bit of a weird response, but it'd been the first thing that popped into her head. And Yuuta also looked like he could do with a bit of reassurance.

For some reason, Yuuta didn't look all that comforted by her words.

“So don't piss off the poison specialist,” the other man murmured with a quiet laugh.

Kyo blinked, looking from one to the other and back again. “Kaa-san's too worried about tou-san right now, anyway,” she said. “I don't think you have to worry very much.”

“How old were you again?” Yuuta asked, sounding vaguely uncertain.

“Almost three,” Kyo returned, not missing a beat.

“Shouldn't you be crying or something?” Yuuta muttered speculatively, looking like he was trying to figure out the answer to some obscure, complex question.

Kyo blinked. “Do you want me to?”

“No,” the man returned quickly, looking mildly panicked just at the thought. “That's fine,” he hurriedly added.

“Okay,” Kyo said, feeling tired of this already.

Her gaze wandered over towards the doors her mother had disappeared through, and then, in an attempt to distract herself, turned to watch the other man, who calmly met her gaze.

“I'm Ryota,” he said simply.

Kyo nodded. “How come I haven't met either of you before?”

“Isn't really something you do,” Yuuta muttered, exchanging another look with Ryota. “Most people wait at least until the kids start the Academy to introduce them.” He shrugged minutely, as if to say it was what it was.

Kyo tilted her head as she thought it over.

It sort of made sense. A little. If you tilted your head and squinted.

“You can set me down,” she told Yuuta quietly when it didn't look like the man was going to do anything of the sort anytime soon on his own.

“Right,” Yuuta muttered to himself and gingerly sat her down on the bench next to him. After a long, awkward pause where he glanced down at her with a slightly conflicted expression, he finally leaned back against the wall with a sigh.

When he silently offered her his hand, Kyo gratefully slipped her own small one in between his rough, calloused fingers without hesitation, accepting the wordless comfort for what it was.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“Should you really be doing this, tou-san?” Kyo asked dubiously, watching her dad rather sceptically as he gingerly moved around the kitchen. “Kaa-san won't be happy.”

Kou winced quietly when he raised one arm too fast, giving her a quick look over his shoulder.

“I can't stay in bed for the rest of my life,” he said simply, as if he hadn't almost died a little over two weeks ago. Been released from the hospital just the other day. “I'm taking it easy, Kyo,” he added when she continued to stare worriedly at him.

“Okay,” she reluctantly followed him to the door. “Will you tell me what we're doing?”

“You'll see soon enough, kitten.”

Kyo made a disgusted face.

She still had no idea where the sudden nickname had come from; it wasn't like her tou-san had called her that before he went on that disastrous mission. It was like he had just woken up from surgery with it in his head.

She hadn't been able to make him stop using it, either, and she figured that the bigger the fuss she made, the more amusing he'd find it.

So.

“If you start bleeding, I'm telling kaa-san,” she decided firmly, taking tou-san's hand and all but bouncing down the stairs from their apartment door, taking care not to tug on her dad's arm while she was at it.

“Fair enough,” Kou mused.

Kyo was both excited and worried when the man steered them in a familiar direction.

The look she gave him when they walked onto the training field they usually used to practice katas made him snort.

“No worries, I'll just observe, today,” Kou promised with slightly exaggerated solemnity.

Kyo squinted up at him, but eventually shrugged. He was supposed to be the adult here.

“So what are you teaching me today?” She asked, all excitement now.

It'd been a while since she'd learned anything new; it'd all been either repetition or lessons building on earlier ones. Kaa-san had been busy and stressed enough to deal with tou-san, his hospital stay as well as taking care of Kyo, to focus very much on anything else.

Kou smiled and carefully eased himself down onto the ground, crossing his legs and pulling a carefully wrapped package from his hip pouch.

Instead of handing it to her, he put it on the ground between them, mentioning for Kyo to sit down as well. When he opened it, the thick paper peeled back to reveal a set of-

“Kunai?” Kyo asked slowly, blinking with surprise at the shiny metal knives.

“Exactly,” Kou said, sounding rather pleased with himself. “I asked Yuuta to get them for me.”

“Why?” Kyo asked, curious despite herself.

After a look at her father for permission, she reached down to pick one of them up, and it wasn't until then that she realised how well they fit her hand.

They were small; child-sized.

“To get you started on target practice,” Kou said. “But first; the grip.”

And he proceeded to gently correct her hold on the weapon in her hand, positioning her fingers just so before letting go.

Thankfully, the knives had been blunted, Kyo was distantly pleased to note.

“Is this my birthday present?” She asked, because her birthday was just a little over a week away, so it would make sense.

“Yes. One of them, at least; I've received some very reliable intel that your mother's planned something, too,” Kou whispered conspiratorial, even going so far as to add a wink.

Kyo grinned and turned back to her gift.

Or, part of her gift, at least, because she would definitely count the lesson her dad planned to give her to the gift. Especially considering his less than perfect health.

“Now,” Kou continued, “stand up and get into the starting kata I showed you, Kyo.”

“Okay!” Kyo chirped and jumped to her feet, eagerly getting into position, the kunai still held in hand.

And it felt weird to do it with the added weight in her hand.

Hopefully, she wouldn't end up accidentally stabbing herself.

Considering how clumsy she'd been in her last life, especially as a child, it was a legitimate concern.

After going through the katas she'd been taught, which all served as an excellent warm-up exercise, she realised, Kyo bounced back to her dad with a wide grin.

Kou gave her a pleased nod. “You've practised,” he commented, smiling approvingly. “Okay, see that wooden post over there?”

Kyo nodded. “Should I try to hit it?” She asked, tilting her head, considering, as she peered over at the post in question.

“That is the plan,” tou-san mused. He looked her over once, still sitting in the same spot he'd first settled down in. “Widen your stance, make sure you're holding the kunai like I showed you, take aim and give it a try.”

“Okay,” Kyo said, squaring her shoulders determinedly.

She'd had a decent aim in her Before life. Mostly because her then-father's side of the family had all been nuts about competitions and games. Much to her ever-lasting exasperation and despair.

She might get something out of it, here, though.

Kyo was well aware that nothing other than her memories had really transferred over into this body, but that didn't mean she didn't have a better understanding of some things than another child in her position.

Taking careful aim, Kyo raised her arm, threw the knife and-

Missed by a long shot.

Grimacing, she sent her tou-san an apologetic look.

Kou didn't even look mildly surprised, though, and merely smiled back at her. “Go get it and I'll show you how to do it properly this time.”

“Sneaky,” she mumbled before she ran off to get the kunai lying on the ground a little further than halfway between where she'd been standing and the post.

It was covered in dust and had gotten a few shallow scratches from sliding on the ground, and she felt a slight twinge of regret. It was more than a bit ridiculous, she knew, because the kunai was meant to be used. Didn't change how she felt, though.

“Okay,” she said, skidding to a halt in front of her dad, giving him an expectant look.

Kou's smile grew. “Take your stance again,” he ordered.

Kyo quickly did so, and then paid careful attention while her tou-san poked and prodded her into the correct position.

“Now,” he said once he appeared to be satisfied with her stance. “There are several ways to throw a kunai, but we'll focus on the most basic one for starters, okay?” He waited long enough for Kyo to nod before he continued. “The over-hand throw,” and he proceeded to show her how to bring her hand almost up to her shoulder. “The trick is to flick your wrist,” he finished, leaning back and rubbing a hand absently to his chest, studying her stance critically. “Try again.”

Kyo nodded, following her dad's directions as closely as she was able and tried to end the motion with a proper flick of the wrist before she let go of the kunai.

“Better,” Kou said. “Again.” And he pushed the package with the rest of the kunai closer to her.

Kyo determinedly grabbed a new one, and turned to stare the wooden post down. The kunai had gone wide, missing by well over a metre and falling slightly short.

She wasn't sure how long she kept at it, throwing again and again, pausing only long enough to collect the knives when she'd thrown all of them and starting anew. She kept at it until her arms ached.

“Last throw, Kyo-chan,” tou-san finally said, watching her throw the final kunai. Which veered way off target. Out of all the attempts, she had managed to hit the wooden post once, and the kunai had buried itself just off the ground; not even close to where she'd been aiming.

With an unhappy, tired frown, Kyo walked to collect every single one of the scattered kunai and then returned to her dad.

“Here, kitten,” he said, holding out a holster that looked almost identical to the one he was wearing, if smaller in size.

Kyo accepted it and tentatively began to put the knives in it, shooting her tou-san questioning looks every now and then to make sure she was doing it right. When she was done, he helped her strap it onto her leg.

“Now I want to see those hands of yours,” he said, holding out one hand expectantly while the other one reached into the pouch strapped on the back of his right hip.

Kyo dutifully held out her sore hands, fully aware of the blisters she'd gotten during the last few hours.

Kou rubbed experimentally at one of the worst ones, giving her a speculative glance when she winced.

“You work very hard, Kyo, and that's good; something to be proud of,” he said, finally withdrawing a jar from his pouch. “But you also need to take proper care of yourself.”

“Sorry, tou-san,” she sighed, watching while the man rubbed some sort of fatty salve into her palms, coating the skin and making sure to get every blister and cut. “I'll do better.”

“We'll continue tomorrow, and I'll show you how to care for your gift properly, too,” Kou smiled, ruffling her hair and playfully almost pushing her over.

“Hey!” She protested, trying to smooth her now-static hair down with a small scowl, before she remembered her hands were all sticky with an unhappy grimace and stopped.

The smile on her tou-san's face made her pause, though. Kyo slowly lowered her arms, feeling a bit self-conscious.

“Come on; let's go home,” Kou said and stiffly climbed to his feet, and Kyo definitely caught the wince he had to bite back. “Your kaa-san's no doubt waiting and you should get something to eat after working so hard.”

“Okay,” Kyo agreed, slipping her hand into Kou's, and tiredly trudged next to him back home.

.

Her birthday was a quiet affair, followed by her mother being called out on mission.

It would be the first time Kyo and her dad would be left to themselves for more than just a couple of days.

“But when will you be back?” Kyo asked Isshun with a frown, sitting on her parents' bed. She didn't like not knowing.

“I'm not sure, sweetheart,” Isshun sighed, not even pausing in her packing, going through her pockets and pouches and adding things every now and then. “Probably a month.”

Kou was standing in the doorway behind her, watching the two of them with his hands in his pockets and a serious cast to his face.

“But-”

“Kyo, this isn't something we can argue about,” Isshun said firmly. “You know I have to go, and I'd much rather not spend the last few minutes with my family fighting.”

Kyo bit her lower lip, blinking back tears.

“Isshun,” Kou said quietly, and there was a quiet reprimand hidden in his voice, making the woman pause what she was doing to frown at him.

He gave her a pointed look.

“Don't get hurt, okay?” Kyo asked wetly, voice trembling and she was quickly losing the fight against her tears.

“Oh,” Isshun blinked, threw a quick glance at Kou, and then stopped what she was doing to crouch down in front of her. “I'm sorry, Kyo.” She sighed and pulled her into a tight hug.

“Just because I got hurt last time doesn't mean your kaa-san will do the same,” Kou said gently, walking up to them to smooth a hand over her hair. “She's very sneaky, your kaa-san, Kyo.”

Kyo muffled a sob against her mother's shoulder, which wasn't as comfortable as it usually was, because she was wearing the thick, sturdy green vest that either designated her as a Chuunin or Jounin. She didn't even care any more which one it was.

“I promise I'll be careful, love,” Isshun told her soothingly, pressing a quick kiss to her temple. “Be good to your father and make sure he doesn't land himself back in the hospital by straining himself too quickly, okay?” She smiled faintly.

Kyo took a deep breath and wiped her face with one blistered hand.

“I'll do my best, but no promises,” she said, managing a weak smile.

“That's my girl,” Isshun cupped her face with both hands, giving her an intent, lingering look. As if she was trying to sear the sight into her memory. “I love you, Kyo-chan.”

“Love you, too, kaa-san,” Kyo returned, and sadly watched her mother finish her packing and then pulled Kou down into a deep, almost desperate kiss.

Kyo wasn't the only one affected by her tou-san's near-death experience.

“I'll see you two in a month,” Isshun said, sounding a bit breathless, and before anyone could say anything else, she was gone.

Kyo took in the heavy silence, trying to catch any hint of her mother, but when a full minute had passed, she turned to her dad, gave him one look and then burst into tears.

Kou sighed, picked her up -despite the pained wince the action pulled from him- and carried her to the living room, where he sank down on the couch.

“She'll be back before you know it,” he said, though it sounded more like a prayer than a promise.

Kyo shamelessly sobbed into her tou-san's shirt.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

The first morning after Isshun had left on her mission, Kyo woke up in her parents' bed.

Which made sense, because she'd asked Kou if she could sleep with him last night when he'd been helping her prepare for bed.

Her tou-san hadn't had the heart to say no.

Kyo slowly pushed herself into an upright position, peering around the room, taking in the soft sunlight from the window. It was clearly very early; barely passed dawn, judging by the light.

“Good morning, Kyo-chan,” Kou murmured beside her, making Kyo glance down at him.

The man rolled over onto his stomach and buried half his face in his pillow, peering up at her with one half-lidded eye.

A moment later, one of his arms had snaked around her waist and pulled her down next to him.

“Tou-san!” Kyo complained, though there was the potential for laughter in her voice.

“What?” Kou grumbled. “It's far too early to get up,” he declared and proceeded to cuddle her like a teddy-bear, trapping her quite efficiently against his chest. Gently.

“It's not early,” Kyo lied, giggling when her father's fingers twitched at her sides.

Kou snorted. “The sun's hardly up,” he pointed out dryly, rolling onto his back and bringing Kyo with him so that she was lying on her back on his chest. “Look; it's practically dark out.”

Kyo dutifully looked at the window, and couldn't help but laugh. Because the sky was a pale but cheerful blue and sunlight was clearly streaming into the room.

“Liar,” she couldn't help but snicker.

“Weird. I can't see anything,” Kou mused drowsily, and when Kyo craned her neck to look up at him, it was easy to see why.

“You need to open your eyes, tou-san,” she managed to get out between helpless giggles and the occasional snort.

“Ah,” Kou sighed. “My daughter is too smart for her own good.” And he cracked his eyes open to peer down at her.

Kyo let out a small shriek and tried to worm out of his hold when he began to tickle her.

A while later, they were both dressed and ready for breakfast.

Kyo curiously watched her father stare dispassionately at the stove, as if it had personally insulted him. He'd already gotten out and prepared the ingredients for a simple breakfast.

“But you know how to cook,” she finally blurted, the words on her mind slipping out of her mouth before she could stop them.

“I can make a perfectly decent meal over a campfire,” her tou-san muttered wryly. “Got less experience cooking in a proper kitchen, though.”

Kyo blinked, slipped off her chair and then skipped up to her dad, twisting the knobs on the stove until the gas turned on and ignited and was turned up to an appropriate level.

“Kaa-san does it all the time,” she explained simply, glancing up at her dad's bemused expression.

Kou shrugged and got the frying pan. “It's a good thing we make such a good team,” he mused, ruffling her hair and nudging her back towards the table.

Kyo grinned and bounced back to her seat.

“Are we going back to the training field today?” She wondered once she'd eaten her fill. Not as good as Isshun's cooking, or even as good as the food her tou-san tended to make during their camp practise lessons, but definitely edible and perfectly alright.

“Yes, so go get your kunai holster,” Kou said, collecting the dishes and putting them in the sink. He looked like he was contemplating whether to wash them now or later, but in the end, he turned the water on with a sigh. “And then I want you to put plasters on all the blisters you got yesterday!” He called after her when she ran to her room.

“Okay!” Kyo shouted back.

She got the holster from the bedside table in her room, then went by the bathroom to get the small medical kit they had there, before returning to the kitchen and putting her armful onto the kitchen table.

“Tou-san, can you help be with the holster?” She asked as she crawled up onto the closest chair and settled down.

“Sure,” Kou agreed easily, not taking his eyes off the dishes he was quickly and efficiently going through. “Get started on your hands, though, and I'll help you when I'm done with this.”

“Okay,” Kyo said, turning her attention to the first aid kit.

By the time her tou-san was done, she had put plasters on the worst of the burst blisters she'd gotten over the course of the last week; she was fairly sure she'd gotten blisters on top of her blisters.

Tou-san was taking care of putting the salve on them after every practise, though, so it wasn't that painful. At least not as painful as it could have been.

“Let me take a look,” Kou said after he'd wiped his hands dry.

Kyo held up her hands, which were mostly covered by white medical tape and the occasional plaster.

Her father hummed. “You'll build up the callouses soon enough,” he assured her at the unhappy pout she knew she was sporting but couldn't really get rid of.

She sighed. “But my aim is getting better?” She perked up a little, and Kou smiled.

“It would be hard for you to get worse, kitten,” he teased, winking at the outraged look she sent him in response. “Okay, stand up,” he directed next, picking up the thigh holster. “Look at how I do it.”

“I know, but it's too heavy, tou-san,” Kyo groused. “If I try holding it with one hand, I drop it.” She scowled.

“You'll grow into it,” Kou assured her, laughing softly.

Kyo rolled her eyes. “That's what kaa-san says, too,” she muttered.

And she knew it was true, but why did it have to take so long? The bouts of impatience were coming more often now that she could do more on her own. Like getting a taste of the real deal before having reality crash down on her head again.

“That's because it's true, Kyo-chan.” Kou smiled and then lifted her down to the floor, keeping any pain he might be feeling at the action off of his face. “Now let's go.”

“Yes, tou-san,” Kyo said, walking towards the hallway, followed closely by her father.

While Kyo practised her aim, throwing kunai after kunai in a dull, repetitive manner that was rather monotonous but necessary, Kou worked on getting back into shape.

It was fascinating to watch him, whenever she had to collect her knives, or when she needed a breather or risk bursting into tears from growing frustration levels.

Kyo kept at it, though. Right up until it felt like the skin was coming off her fingers, her arms ached and it felt like her stomach was gnawing on her spine.

“Tou-san!” She called once she had put her kunai away, hands held to her mouth to help her voice carry. “Lunch!” She added when the man paused what he was doing to glance over.

Kou glanced up at the sky, to get the sun's position, relaxed out of the kata he'd been in the middle of -a different set from the ones he had taught her- and walked towards her.

Kyo eyed him carefully, taking in the perspiration on his brow and the way his chest worked to provide him with enough oxygen.

“Kaa-san said to take it easy,” she reminded him carefully, not completely sure how he would take the sort-of-reprimand.

“I know, kitten,” Kou sighed heavily, grimacing a little, but not at her, she didn't think. “This is it for me today, unfortunately.”

“Okay,” Kyo said. “Should we stretch?” She asked, partly because she thought her arms might need it, and partly because her tou-san definitely looked like he should. “My arms feel like they're gonna fall off,” she added with a frown.

Kou huffed out a quiet laugh. “I'll show you how to stretch them out properly,” he promised.

Once they were done with that, the two of them set off back towards Konoha proper.

“We're meeting up with Yuuta and Ryota for lunch today,” Kou eventually said, making Kyo blink and look up at him.

“Does that mean I'm old enough to meet them properly?” Kyo wondered curiously.

Kou glanced at her. “What do you mean?”

“Yuuta told me I hadn't met them before because it's customary to wait until children start the Academy,” she told him easily, near enough skipping along beside her dad.

She didn't get it; a moment ago she'd been exhausted, but now she was fine? Being a kid again was honestly baffling.

“Did he?” Kou muttered, and there was a small, wickedly amused smirk on his face. “That's interesting.”

Kyo glanced up at him, but when he didn't say anything else, let it go to jump in a water puddle that had survived from the rain they'd gotten two days ago.

Kou led her to what looked to be a bar or restaurant.

When he moved to enter, she slipped her hand into his and made sure to walk close to her dad's leg. That didn't mean she wasn't curious; just a bit cautious.

Her tou-san seemed to know where he was going, though. He even greeted the man working behind the counter-thing like he knew him. Which probably meant he'd been here before.

A lot.

“Kou!” Yuuta called once they'd gotten half-way through the restaurant, and her tou-san steered them towards that table without pause.

“Hey, guys,” Kou greeted them with a smile, helping Kyo climb onto the booth seat with one hand and then sitting down next to her. “I've been told you've already met Kyo.”

“Yup,” Kyo chirped, curiously trying to look everywhere at once, staring around the restaurant and the customers with wide eyes. “At the hospital.”

“Yeah,” Yuuta said slowly, blinking a bit at Kyo before turning to her dad. “What happened to the kid's hands?” He sounded like he somehow doubted Kou's parental skills, now that Isshun was no longer in the village.

“Blisters,” Kyo chirped before her dad could so much as blink.

He sent her an amused glance, before turning back to his two teammates. “I heard that the two of you would've liked to wait with the meet and greet until Kyo start the Academy,” he drawled casually, slumping back in his seat and eyeing his two friends with blatant amusement.

“No offence to your kid, of course,” Ryota returned evenly. “But it's not like we have much in common with her until then.”

Kou snorted. “Kyo, did you remember to bring part of kaa-san's lesson with you?” He asked, not taking his amused gaze off his teammates.

Kyo tilted her head, but instead of answering, she began to go through her pockets. She was pretty sure she had remembered...

“Yeah!” She cheerfully exclaimed once she'd found what she was looking for, holding the small, carefully folded square of paper up for her dad to see. “Should I take it now?”

“You would know better than me, kitten,” her tou-san replied amusedly.

Kyo blinked, thought it over and slowly nodded. “Kaa-san said we're almost done with this one, so it would probably be better,” she mused, and proceeded to carefully open the folded paper packet. A task made harder by all the medical tape and band-aids on her sore, stiff fingers.

Then, with little fanfare, she tipped the fine powder into her mouth and swallowed it down, the bitter taste familiar by now and hardly enough to make her so much as blink.

When she had tucked away the paper into one of her pockets and turned back to the three men sharing the table with her, two of them staring intently at her.

“What?” She asked, blinking confusedly.

Instead of answering her, Yuuta and Ryota turned on her tou-san.

“Tell me that wasn't what I think it was,” Yuuta near-demanded. “Isshun isn't even in the village.”

Kyo tilted her head, peering at the man. “Kaa-san's been giving me lessons almost a year now,” she informed the man primly, smiling sweetly. “Tou-san's teaching me to throw kunai properly, too,” she added happily, proudly showing off her battered hands.

Kou ruffled her hair, making her frown and bat at the offending paw. “What do you want to eat, kitten?”

“You choose,” she returned, not even having to think about it.

If her tou-san really had been here a lot before, then he'd know what was good and it wasn't like she had any dietary restrictions here. Which always managed to send a spark of glee through her.

“So what else have your parents been teaching you?” Ryota asked, giving her a curious look.

Kyo peered back at him, sent her father a questioning look and when he nodded, seriously thought about it.

“There's lessons with kaa-san, which is fun,” she smiled, “katas, camping and throwing kunai with tou-san.” She frowned a second. “Meditating?” She offered quizzically, peering at her dad again.

“Isn't that a bit much? The kid's only three,” Yuuta asked carefully.

“Oh, and the chakra thing!” Kyo added with a grin, having just remembered. It was almost disturbingly easy to forget, sometimes, because chakra was such a normal thing here.

When she practised with her kaa-san it felt like just another game, really.

Kou paused. “What 'chakra thing'?” He asked, peering curiously at her.

Kyo eagerly held out her hands towards her father, palms up. “Put your hands on top of mine, tou-san,” she instructed eagerly. She'd actually wanted to show him, but had forgotten all about it when the man had gotten injured.

Kou readily enough did as asked, sliding his much larger hands over hers so that their palms were touching.

Or, rather, Kou's palms were covering all of Kyo's hands and then some.

Kyo closed her eyes, face screwing up in concentration before she managed to direct a small layer of chakra to her hands.

Chakra was strange; it was a bit like having an extra set of muscles, but at the same time, it was more like an extra sense. Flexing it took practise and focus.

It was getting easier the more she practised, but after having identified it that first time, she was almost always aware of it on some level now. It was just there, like a small pool of comforting warmth in the pit of her stomach.

Kyo opened her eyes and pulled her hands downwards, grinning with satisfaction when her father's hands were pulled down with hers, effectively stuck together by her chakra.

A small, barely noticeable pulse of chakra from Kou had them separated in a jiffy, and Kyo looked up at him with a wide, proud smile.

Kou grinned right back. “You've been holding out on me, Kyo,” he accused, ruffling her hair again until she couldn't help but laugh.

“Stop it!” She whined, pushing his hand off her head, and she just knew her hair was standing on end now. “You're making it static,” she grumbled, still managing to sound out the word her kaa-san had informed her was the correct term just the other week. “Didn't you bring me here for food, tou-san?” She asked next, trying to make her hair lie flat again. “I'm hungry,” she informed him with a sniff.

Kou sighed with exaggerated disappointment. “Bossy little thing, isn't she?” He asked Ryota, who just blinked back.

“Are you sure you're Kou's daughter? Isshun I can sort of see, but this guy?” Yuuta asked with a small, teasing smile playing around the corners of his mouth, jerking his thumb at Kou, who rolled his eyes.

“I'm gonna order the kitten and me something to eat, so keep an eye on them while I'm gone, Kyo,” he requested with a smirk.

“Okay,” Kyo chirped, smothering a giggle into the crook of her arm, peering up at the two shinobi who were staring after her Tou-san with bemused looks on their faces.

Kyo leaned her arm against the table and rested her head against it. “Are you two doing missions on your own when tou-san's re-cuper-ating?”

Ryota smoothly turned back to look at her. “We can work together with other teams, though not as well,” he said blankly. “So basically, yes.”

“Oh,” Kyo blinked wondering what that would mean for them. “Tou-san's probably going to be well enough to go back to work soon,” she admitted, drooping at the thought.

“We'll do our best to bring him back to the village, kid,” Yuuta said after an uncomfortable lull in the conversation.

“I know,” Kyo returned solemnly. “But if both tou-san and kaa-san are away, I have to stay with obaa-san,” she told them, scowling at the thought.

Ryota began to laugh, a low, rusty-sounding thing that nonetheless conveyed his cheer and good humour well enough.

“Ah, yes. Good old Haname.” He shook his head. “I bet she's happy about you following in your parents' footsteps,” he mused with a wicked grin, showing a bit more teeth than strictly necessary.

“Ecstatic,” Kou said with a snort, putting a plate of something that smelled heavenly in front of Kyo, who perked up, practically drooling at the sight of food.

She was perfectly happy to listen silently to the three adults' conversation while she consumed her lunch.

It felt like quite the feat, but she managed to eat all of it.

When she was done, she put the chopsticks on the plate, pushed it further onto the table, away from the edge, and then crawled into her dad's lap and almost instantly fell asleep.

She wouldn't wake up until the next morning, and she could only hope her tou-san had gotten one of his friends to carry her home, because he really shouldn't carry any weight until his wounds were fully healed.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Another year passed with little change.

The only thing she could think of that was really different was the fact that Yuuta and Ryota came around to visit every now and then now, joining them for dinner at least once between missions.

Something that Isshun seemed to enjoy, too.

Kyo's lessons intensified and progressed, but much of it were things she had to do on her own, because as the year went, both her parents got sent out more frequently and for longer stretches of time.

But that just meant that she cherished the time she got to spend with her mum and dad all the more.

“Kyo, come here,” Isshun called from the kitchen, and Kyo put down the book she'd been thinking of reading, readily enough trotting out of her room to join her parents. For once home at the same time; a rare treat these days.

“Take a seat, kitten,” Kou said, mentioning at one of the chairs around the table.

Kyo hesitated before she did as asked.

Was she in trouble?

She couldn't think of anything she could have done to warrant a serious talk.

Isshun smiled reassuringly as she sat down as well. There were lines from stress and too little sleep on her face, and the bags under her eyes seemed to have become something of a permanent feature.

Kyo knew that she just needed rest, but that wasn't possible with the Village at war.

Her kaa-san always looked better when she'd been home a while, but then she'd be sent out again and it'd start all over.

“You've turned four now, dear,” Isshun began, rubbing one hand against her neck. As if it was paining her. “And since Kou and I are out of the village so much, we feel we can't teach you enough to really keep you occupied.”

“We know you're bored a lot at my parents' house,” Kou added with an apologetic look.

“So,” Isshun smiled, “we've enrolled you at the Academy for the next starting class.”

Kyo blinked, looking from her mum to her dad and back again.

“And when is that?” She asked tentatively, not sure how she felt about this. It was a bit sudden, to be quite honest.

“In a few weeks,” her tou-san said, smiling a little, as if he thought he knew what she was thinking. “It would reassure the both of us to know there are shinobi around you you could ask for help and guidance from when we're not here.”

“We'll keep up our lessons with you whenever we can, of course, so that wouldn't change,” Isshun added, and it felt like they had rehearsed this.

“Okay?” Kyo tilted her head.

“I know your tou-san and I haven't been here a lot this last year, but hopefully, this year will be better,” Isshun said, though everyone in the room knew that that most likely wouldn't be the case.

From the bits and pieces she'd been able to overhear, the war didn't seem like it was letting up anytime soon, and from what she could remember from Before, there would be more difficulties even after it was over.

“You'll get the chance to make friends your own age,” Kou added, and she suddenly realised what it was they were doing.

“I'm not upset, tou-san,” she told him, smiling a little despite everything. “I know why you've been gone so much.”

It wasn't their fault; she knew. She understood it, but that didn't mean she had to like it.

Kyo wasn't ignorant of the fact that both her parents were coming home with injuries more often, either. Not serious enough to warrant an extended stay at the hospital -like before her third birthday- but enough for her to notice their pain.

She'd tried her best to be at her very best behaviour to make it easier for them, but it was hard.

Memories from another life or not, she was currently a child, and that reflected in her behaviour. To some extent.

Her kaa-san sighed. “We know,” she assured her tiredly. “It still makes us feel sad to leave you so often.”

“I like it best when you're both home,” Kyo admitted softly. “But I know-” she bit her lip and glanced between her parents. “I know why you have to leave.”

“You're going to grow up into a frightening woman,” Kou mused fondly, giving her a slightly wry grin.

“She's our daughter; of course she is,” Isshun sniffed, though it was mostly teasing.

“Listen, I'm heading back out tomorrow, and I won't be back until you've already started,” Kou said, leaning forward to smooth a hand over her hair, pushing it out of her face. “Have fun and don't let the Clan kids push you around, okay?”

“Okay.” Kyo smiled weakly, leaning into her dad's touch. “And you do your best to stay safe,” she shot back.

“Absolutely, kitten.” Kou smiled.

And true enough, Kou left on a mission early the next morning, waking her before sunrise long enough to say goodbye and wish her good luck.

Kyo had gone back to sleep, and gotten up at her normal time a few hours later, eating breakfast with her mother.

Isshun had to work even when she was in the village, and that sometimes meant she had to stay away a few days at a time.

As they drew nearer to the start of term for the Academy, Kyo fell victim to a bout of nerves.

She was definitely excited, because school, but also... she hadn't really interacted much with people outside of the small sphere of adults in her life during the last four years. Three, if you counted from when she'd become self-aware enough.

There were Isshun, Kou, Yuuta and Ryota, her grandparents, occasionally her aunt, and Kenji and Taichi, her cousins being the only other children she had regular contact with.

...what if no one liked her?

It made her feel silly, because Kyo had never really cared about what anyone thought of her, now or Before, but. She was a very independent, somewhat introverted person, but that didn't mean she didn't want friends.

And she wanted friends.

She'd be happy with just one good one.

And that wasn't even touching on the rather loaded subject of the fact that the Academy was there to produce the next generation of shinobi and kunoichi. And Kyo wasn't sure how she felt about that.

For now, it worked better if she didn't think on it too much. Or at all; whichever really.

“Ready for tomorrow?” Isshun asked, making Kyo look up from her poison pack. It was the same one she'd gotten from her mother when she was two, though it contained quite a bit more now than it had back then.

“Kaa-san!” Kyo jumped to her feet and ran for her mother, throwing her arms around her. “I was afraid you wouldn't make it back in time,” she murmured.

“I know, but I did,” Isshun kissed the side of her head and rose with her still in her arms. “Thank you for looking after Kyo-chan, Kentarou,” she said, raising her voice slightly to address her grandfather, who was sitting by the kitchen table going over what Kyo had assumed were papers related to his business. “Go collect your things, Kyo,” she added quietly before she set her back down on the floor.

“Be right back,” Kyo said and dashed off to get the overnight bag that was waiting up in the room she slept in when she was staying here. She slung the backpack over one shoulder and then ran back into the kitchen, where she collected her poison kit and then came to a stop before her mother with a happy grin. “Done!”

“Excellent,” Isshun smiled tiredly, picked her up and gave her grandfather a polite nod before she left.

They took to the roofs the moment they were clear of the house.

Kyo clung to her kaa-san, too happy to have her back in one piece to really enjoy the ride.

Isshun didn't set her down again until they had reached their apartment door.

Home was always dark, empty and felt a bit hollow when none of them had been there for a while, but Kyo would rather be here than at her grandparents' any time.

Not that Isshun and Kou would ever leave her on her own if they could help it.

“Have you eaten?” Isshun asked, placing her sandals off to the side and giving her a look. At Kyo's nod she rubbed a hand over her face. “Then go to bed; you've got a big day tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Kyo said putting her own sandals next to her mother's. “Good night.”

And she ran off to brush her teeth and change for bed.

When she paused to glance over her shoulder before going into the bathroom, it was to see her mum standing slumped against the wall, head tipped back and her eyes closed and it tore at Kyo to see her so exhausted.

Hurrying to get ready for bed, Kyo got out her step-stool, and brushed her teeth. Staring at her own reflection, she took in all the differences from the person she'd used to be before she was Kyo. Instead of long blond hair that was an unruly riot of curls, she now had straight brown hair, the colour of chocolate. Her eyes, unlike both her parents', were a deep blue, remarkably like her eyes from Before. Her skin was tan from all the time she spent outdoors, but there weren't any freckles.

She looked like a pretty even mix of both her parents, and she supposed that would mean she'd grown up to be a reasonably attractive woman?

If she survived that long, anyway.

Spitting and rinsing her toothbrush in the sink, Kyo quickly pushed the small step-stool back under the sink when she was done, and walked to her room.

Finally ready for bed, she peered out of her room to see her mum still in the same position.

“Kaa-san,” she said softly, making Isshun open her eyes and tilt her head to look at her. “You don't have to come tomorrow; I can go by myself.”

She even knew where the Academy was; Ryota had showed her once when tou-san had had to leave abruptly when they'd been having lunch together, asking his teammate to take her to his parents'.

“Of course I'll come,” Isshun said, blinking at her a little, before she managed to push herself off the wall. “It's your big day; I wouldn't miss it for the world.”

“But you're so tired,” Kyo mumbled. And she couldn't help but be worried, because being exhausted and going on dangerous missions, going out into the middle of war, didn't sound like a good combination.

“That's just something that can't be helped,” Isshun sighed, caressing her cheek and straightening. “Now, go to bed. I'll feel better in the morning,” she assured her, and Kyo reluctantly did as told.

.

Waking up especially early, mainly due to an interesting mix of nerves and worry, Kyo got dressed with somewhat uncharacteristic care, choosing a dark-green t-shirt and brown shorts that reached her knees that looked pretty good together.

She eyed the kunai holster -which had seen a lot of use in the last year- before leaving it where it lay. She doubted the Academy instructors would be allowing a bunch of children to bring their own weapons on the first day.

Once she was dressed, Kyo left her room for the kitchen, taking care to be extra silent in the hope she wouldn't wake her mother up; Isshun deserved to sleep a while longer, and they wouldn't have to leave for the Academy for well over two hours.

Her kaa-san could sleep.

Kyo spent some time poking around the kitchen for something simple she could have for breakfast, all the while wondering if she should make some sort of lunch for herself, too.

She was pretty sure she remembered the kids in the manga bringing their own lunch...

And that was something of a Japanese custom, wasn't it?

Not that Konoha was the same as Japan; not even close! But it was still something to bear in mind.

An hour and a half later, Kyo had made herself -and her kaa-san- breakfast, eaten, and made herself a simple lunch to bring. She'd even wrapped the bento up in a neat little package using the cloth she'd found in one cupboard.

Bringing it back into her room, Kyo packed her backpack, making sure to add pencils, erasers and a notebook, because she had no idea whether that was something the Academy would supply them with or not.

That her chosen backpack also happened to be the pack that contained her poison kit didn't even cross her mind, and she absently rearranged the various jars and containers to make room for the new additions.

When she was done, Kyo strapped the pack onto the small of her back, and while it was still too big for her, she had just lengthened the straps as far as they would go and wrapped them twice around her middle instead.

It worked out rather beautifully.

Her hair was short, falling around her ears, so that wasn't anything she had to worry about.

Deeming herself to be ready, Kyo left her room and walked to her parents' bedroom. She creaked the door open, stuck her head inside and eyed her mother's form in the bed, and wondered if she should just go alone.

“Is it time to go?” Isshun asked quietly, her voice rough with sleep.

“In a while,” Kyo returned softly, coming into the room and climbing onto the bed, crawling up until she could collapse on the mattress next to her mother.

Isshun drowsily freed an arm from the covers and wrapped it around her. “Did you wake me with enough time for a shower, I wonder?”

“Yup,” Kyo chirped quietly, burying her face in what she absently realised was her mum's chest. “Kaa-san?”

“Hm?” Isshun hummed, and when Kyo glanced up at her, her eyes were closed.

“You still don't have to come,” she said seriously. “I'd much rather you rest, and we could celebrate later.”

Isshun sighed. “You're far too mature for your age, Kyo-chan. You know that, right?” Her words were heavy, though she sounded wryly amused. “Too observant,” she breathed.

“Sorry,” Kyo buried her face in the covers again.

“Never apologize for who you are,” Isshun replied instantly, sounding far more awake than she had a second ago. “What we do, Kyo, isn't something most people understand, or approve of, but there's nothing dishonourable about it,” she said firmly.

Kyo blinked confusedly at her kaa-san.

What were they talking about now? She felt that they had veered off into a direction she hadn't anticipated and was quite off topic from where they'd started out.

“Okay,” she said when her mother clearly waited for her to say something.

Isshun's lips twisted briefly, into something that wasn't really a smile, but she finally sat up and put her feet on the floor.

“Give me a few minutes and then we'll go,” she said, sounding far more cheerful than Kyo felt the situation really called for.

As they were walking out the door, Isshun swept Kyo into her arms and settled her on her hip, pressing a quick kiss to her temple.

Kyo gave her kaa-san a questioning look, but settled into her hold happily enough, relishing the physical contact.

She'd always been rather tactile; never turning down the chance to cuddle.

And being carried was like one big hug that could last for what felt like forever.

Isshun calmly made her way through the village, keeping to the streets and taking her time, enjoying the pleasant morning. Kyo had made sure they had plenty of time, so there wasn't any reason to hurry.

When the Academy building came into sight, Kyo raised her head from her kaa-san's shoulder, unable to entirely contain her growing excitement.

When Isshun finally ambled into the Academy yard, there were plenty of other parents and children around. Some in shinobi uniform, others clearly civilian, the latter category looking an interesting mix of proud and mildly uneasy.

Kyo quickly turned her attention to the children, though. She tilted her head a little, because it looked to her like most of them were older than her.

“Kaa-san,” she said, making the woman glance at her. “Am I going to be the smallest one?” She asked.

“Possibly,” Isshun shrugged, clearly not concerned. “The civilian-born tend to be a little older.”

She supposed that made sense, if the way Haname-obaa-san treated her was anything to go by. The woman still insisted on treating her like there was nothing between her ears, talking to her like she was still one, rather than four.

Never mind that Kyo had never been the average child.

“Name?” A bland voice inquired, making Kyo start and turn to look at the shinobi her mother had approached while she'd been busy staring at what she assumed would be her future classmates. The man was dressed in what she realised was considered the standard uniform, wearing his hitai-ate on his forehead and holding a clipboard in one hand, pen in the other.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Isshun replied easily.

The Academy sensei scanned his list. “Classroom 1B,” he said after a brief pause. “Parents are advised to leave after greeting the sensei,” he added with a sharp look, as if he thought Isshun would insist to stay.

Kyo blinked, perplexed.

Why would kaa-san stay? She had better things to do, and it wasn't like she didn't know what the Academy entailed.

She frowned to herself and glanced down at her mum, for the first time taking in what she was wearing.

A pair of uniform trousers, a simple t-shirt and her sandals.

She still looked tired, too; worn down to the bone in a way that spoke of too little sleep and too much stress over a long period of time. Kyo supposed the casual observer might think she was an over-worked housewife, though. Possibly married to a shinobi.

The instructor blinked and then turned to the next approaching parent.

Isshun didn't seem the least bit bothered, and just walked into the building, one sure step at a time.

It seemed like no time later when Isshun walked them into classroom 1B, which already held a gaggle of excited children and a handful of straggling parents, some concerned and anxious, and some merely giving a last few parting words.

“Good morning,” a relatively friendly voice said, pulling Kyo's gaze away from the clusters of children and onto who she instantly knew was her new teacher. “Name?”

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo said, answering for herself, this time.

“I'm Nara Kouki,” he introduced himself in return. “Please address me as Kouki-sensei.”

Kyo nodded and wasn't surprised when her kaa-san finally set her down. “Yes, sensei.”

“You're free to remain until the class has received the formal introduction speech,” Kouki-sensei said with a glance at her kaa-san, though he didn't look like he expected Isshun to actually stay.

She gave him a small, quick smile and then crouched down to be closer to Kyo's level.

“Remember what we talked about this morning, and remember to take your next dosage with lunch, okay?”

“Yeah.” Kyo smiled, wrapped her arms around her mother's neck for one last hug and then stepped back. “See you later, kaa-san.”

“Have fun,” Isshun gave her a sharp, quicksilver grin before she stood back to her feet and stalked off, no doubt to go back home and return to bed.

Kyo looked after her until she disappeared around the corner and then turned back to the waiting Kouki-sensei.

“Are there designated seats?” Kyo asked, having to crane her neck to look her new sensei in the eyes. He was rather tall, now that she was back on the ground.

“No, you can sit wherever,” Kouki said, giving her a sharp but brief look before he turned back to the doorway a second before the next student and parent pair arrived.

Kyo walked further into the classroom and snagged herself a seat in the back of the room closest to the windows, which would give her a good overview of the room, and the option to zone out and stare out the window if the situation demanded it.

Which it would, no doubt.

School was awesome, but it could also be mind-numbingly boring at times.

Kyo settled down to wait, watching the children that arrived and amused herself by trying to see if she found any of them the slightest familiar.

She'd really like to know where in the time-line she was.

Oh, God, what if this was supposed to be the First Shinobi War? Then Genma may very well end up being her son, rather than the other way around...

Would her children get her surname, though? Or would she just not get married, Kyo wondered with a bizarre sense of morbid fascination. That would give any children she had the Shiranui name for sure.

“Everyone settle down!” Kouki-sensei finally said, causing the excited chatter to die down almost instantly, every single child -and the few parents- fixing him with their full attention. “Unless you missed it when you came in, I am Nara Kouki. You will address me as either Kouki-sensei, or just sensei while you are here,” he said, brown gaze sliding from child to child. “While you're here, my word is law, and I don't want to deal with anyone who thinks that's negotiable. Understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo answered completely by rote, along with two others.

Some of the other children snickered quietly, making Kyo blink.

Kouki-sensei gave them all an unimpressed look. “I said; Understood?”

This time, the whole class answered him.

“Better,” the Nara nodded. “You're all here to become Konoha shinobi, and that is the standard I will hold you to.”

He gave a nod to the four parents that had stayed, clearly signalling that it was time for the four civilians to leave, and didn't continue his introductory speech until they were gone.

By the time her kaa-san came to pick her up at the end of the day, Kyo was exhausted.

She hadn't been surrounded by this many children since... since her last life.

And yeah, she definitely wasn't jealous of the Academy sensei; having to deal with all these children, with eventual access to lethal weapons. No, thank you, being a stand-in teacher at a normal school had been bad enough.

Kyo was pretty sure if anyone ever tried to make her work at the Academy, she'd start a revolt.

Or end up being the shittiest teacher ever. Or just poison the local water source.

Whichever worked best.

“How was it?” Isshun asked, picking her up and giving her a congratulatory hug. She looked like she'd spent the hours since they'd last seen each other in bed, and she looked slightly better as a result.

“Interesting,” Kyo answered honestly. “Kouki-sensei didn't tell us anything I didn't already know, though.”

“He's got to save something for the rest of the year, sweetheart,” Isshun smiled, pressed a quick kiss to her temple and then walked in the direction of home. “Hungry?” She asked.

“Starving,” Kyo grinned.

“Then let's get something to eat,” Isshun declared. “If you feel like you're up to it, there's something I want to do afterwards.”

Curiosity sufficiently piqued, Kyo nodded and settled into her mother's arms, savouring the feel of a very good day.

The only thing that could have made it perfect was if her dad had been there, too.

.

Fed, watered and having gotten a few hours to recuperate from her first day at the Academy, Kyo was eagerly following her kaa-san as she led the way towards what she knew was the closest training ground.

Kouki-sensei had told them that their schedule meant that they'd normally have longer days, but since it'd been the very first one, it'd been shorter. Because of all the paperwork that had to be taken care of, and the preparations for the mandatory medical examination they'd all have to submit to in the course of the week.

Kyo wasn't overly worried about that; she'd hardly even had a cold that she could remember, here. And she felt fine, so she didn't think it was anything to dread.

It was most likely just so that they knew if any of the kids had any unexpected health issues, make sure they got blood samples and get them used to procedure, probably.

“Okay!” Isshun said once they reached their destination, turning around so that she was facing Kyo, who straightened expectantly. “Now that you've taken the first official step to becoming a Genin,” she began with a gently teasing grin, “I feel it is time to show you a technique of mine that my mother taught me.”

“Really?” Kyo couldn't help but ask, feeling eager and excited, because she didn't think her kaa-san had ever mentioned her own parents before and Kyo hadn't thought to ask.

Isshun nodded. “Show me how far you've gotten with your aim,” she ordered, pulling Kyo's child-sized kunai holster from a pocket.

Kyo took the heavy bundle, pulled out a kunai and, after checking the distance to the closest target, threw it with far more success than when she'd first started.

Having had so much time to herself had at least meant she'd had plenty of opportunity to practise her aim, which showed.

She very rarely missed anything she aimed at now, and nine times out of ten, hit dead centre.

It'd gotten to the point where throwing practise was more about the force she could put behind and how fast she could throw the knives.

“Very good,” Isshun praised, eyeing the kunai lodged firmly in the wooden post.

Kyo watched curiously as Isshun settled on the ground, pulling a scroll from her other pocket. Without having to be asked, she quickly settled down next to her mother to see what it was.

Isshun unrolled part of the scroll, which revealed a rather complex looking collection of kanji and marks she was fairly sure weren't part of any alphabet.

With a start, she realised what it was she was looking at; fuuinjutsu.

Isshun pressed her fingers against the edge of the seal, pulsed her chakra once, which resulted in a small cloud of thin smoke. Clearing quickly, it revealed a pouch that looked somewhat similar to Kyo's poison kit.

She was actually pretty sure she'd seen Isshun handle pouches like this one before, while preparing for missions.

Her kaa-san rolled up the scroll and put it away before she opened up the pouch and tilted it to show Kyo was was inside.

Kyo peered down at what looked like-

“Needles?” She asked, blinking a bit.

“Senbon,” Isshun agreed, pulling out a bundle of thin, shiny, wickedly sharp needles, about as long as her hand, from the base of her palm to the tip of her middle finger. “And needles, yes,” she finished, pulling out a second bundle, this one smaller, if only because the needles were what at a glance looked like regular sewing needles.

At a closer inspection, Kyo could see that they were a bit sturdier-looking, lacked an eye and were pointy in both ends.

“This is a family technique,” Isshun said, sliding one each of the needles out of their respective bundles, and Kyo watched her twirl the senbon expertly between her fingers. “Watch carefully, Kyo-chan.”

And she proceeded to flick her hand in a seemingly harmless manner, leaving her hand empty.

Kyo jumped to her feet and ran over to the wooden post, where the senbon was struck firmly, half of it sunken into the worn wood. The only reason she knew the smaller needle had hit at all was because there was a tiny mark in the wood, and she could only assume the entire thing had lodged itself entirely in the post, leaving nothing more than a pinprick hole behind.

After trying -and failing- to pull the senbon out, Kyo rushed back to her mother, unable to keep from grinning.

“That was awesome, kaa-san!” She couldn't help but gush, because it really, really was.

“Thank you,” Isshun smiled sedately, though she looked pretty pleased with her reaction. “Here,” she continued, handing Kyo one of the senbon. “this is how you hold it.” And she carefully arranged Kyo's small fingers around the cold, smooth steel needle.

It looked so much bigger in her hand.

“Do I throw it like a kunai?” Kyo wondered, looking over her hand and trying to memorize the positioning of her fingers.

“It's similar enough, though this is far more of a precision weapon,” her kaa-san explained gently. “The wind resistance is different, so you'll have to practise to get a feel for it.”

“Okay.” Kyo nodded, because that made sense. “Can I try?”

“Of course,” Isshun laughed. “That's why we're here. Try a few times, and then I'll show you how to handle the needles,” she promised.

Kyo grinned and turned to the wooden post.

It was so easy to ignore the reasons behind this training, the aim for all these skills her parents were imparting to her. She loved to learn, she did, and it felt like her mother and father were merely doing their best to hand down their life-skills.

And they were.

It was just, the way those skills were intended to be used weren't exactly something that would have been... socially acceptable in her life Before. Would have been ethically and morally abhorrent, actually.

It was just easier not to think about it.

Kyo concentrated, checked that her hold on the needle -so different from a kunai; slimmer and lighter- was still correct, and then tried to throw it like she'd grown accustomed to do with the knives.

It went wide.

With a small frown, Kyo picked up another one and tried again. And again, until one at a time, the entire bundle of senbon had been thrown at the post. At least she seemed to have adjusted some and had started hitting her target, even though it wasn't anywhere near as impressive as her mother's casual demonstration.

Without prompting, Kyo bounced over to collect all the senbon, gathering them from the ground around the post and pulling a few from the wood.

She still couldn't budge the one her kaa-san had thrown.

Putting down the handful of senbon, Kyo turned expectant eyes on her mother, and Isshun smiled.

“There are different ways to do this, sweetheart, but this is my preferred method,” she said, picking up one of the smaller needles and showing Kyo how she placed it in her hand, holding it between her fingers in a way that made it almost disappear entirely from sight.

With a small grin at her daughter, Isshun flicked her hand, though her fingers stood for most of the motion, and sent the needle at their wooden target.

Kyo tilted her head. “That looks difficult,” she commented absently, picking one up for herself and trying to place the needle just so.

It didn't quite work, because even though the needles were much smaller and shorter than the senbon, they were still longer than the length of her fingers. Which meant she couldn't hide them entirely like her mother had done.

“You'll grow, Kyo,” Isshun assured her warmly, adjusting her hold a little and then gently turned her in the direction of the target. “And it'll feel more natural once you've gotten used to it.”

“Yeah, I know,” Kyo muttered distractedly, frowning as she prepared to give it a try. “It feels a bit weird.” Like she wasn't really holding anything at all.

Isshun hummed, pushing her elbow a fraction closer to her body. “I know your tou-san's told you before, but it's all in the wrist. Now, give it a try.”

Kyo took aim and made an attempt, doing the best she could to flick her wrist in the small, sharp motion her kaa-san had done.

“Did it miss?” She asked, squinting at the post.

“It fell a bit short, I'm afraid.” Isshun chuckled, ruffling her hair gently. “It was a very good first attempt, though.”

“They're so small,” Kyo groused, but her mother's words made her straighten slightly. “It's hard to see.”

“It's all about practise,” Isshun repeated for what felt like the hundredth time, making Kyo sigh.

She knew it was true, but that didn't change the fact of the matter; she could see hours upon hours of training in front of her.

At least it would give her something to do while her parents were away if the Academy turned out to be as horrifyingly boring as Naruto had seemed to think.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

There was so much to learn.

The manga hadn't ever gone into enough detail to really cover all of this, instead giving the reader a general overview, a simplified, dumbed-down version of what was without a doubt a highly complex situation.

The base of it all was; the Elemental Nations were a mess.

Politically speaking. And Kyo felt it was mainly due to the fact that the system was so new; the high tensions between the countries and the constant power-plays were all symptoms.

Admittedly, most of that was based on the knowledge she'd gotten from reading the story, and not from what she'd learned in the Academy so far, but she felt like it was true enough.

For now, her class was busy covering the more basic stuff. Like simple katas in taijutsu class -a different style from the one tou-san had taught her- and how to hold a kunai properly.

And she knew it was to make sure all of them had learned correctly, or, in the civilian-born cases, learned at all. That didn't change the fact that it threatened to bore Kyo to tears.

Thinking about it; it'd been the same in the Before when she'd started school. Only instead of weapons handling and martial arts, it'd been reading and writing.

In the theoretical lessons, they'd started on the history of Fire Country and Konoha in particular, though Kyo was relatively certain they were given an abbreviated and censored version.

It may or may not have something to do with the fact that Kyo associated the word 'ninja' with 'sneaky'.

All in all, it wasn't so bad; she rather liked her new sensei, too.

Kouki-sensei was stern and expected them to behave, but was otherwise pretty laid-back and almost kind. So long as no one crossed him.

The Naruto manga had always portrayed the Nara Clan to be made up of nothing more than lazy bums. Admittedly, they'd seen hardly anyone -of any of the Clans- other than the heirs, their parents and potentially someone more, so it wasn't like that was a necessarily accurate summary.

Kyo was no more than four here, but even she knew that you couldn't survive as a shinobi for long if you were truly lazy.

If it was a front you showed outsiders, however, that was a different matter entirely. Being underestimated was sometimes a great advantage.

So all in all, the Academy wasn't horrible.

Most of what they learned was interesting, the added guidance was appreciated and she was really looking forward to the sparring they would no doubt eventually get to in taijutsu class.

Ninjutsu sounded exciting, too, though Kouki-sensei had told them quite sternly, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't teaching anyone anything related to chakra before he was satisfied they could handle it.

And Kyo was pretty certain he hadn't meant physically.

Which, speaking of.

Most of her classmates were six years old, a few Clan kids were five, but Kyo was most definitely the youngest one at four.

Not that that was bothering her; no, there were far mote important issues on Kyo's mind. Which her dad found out quite abruptly a little over two weeks into her Academy career.

“Have you made any friends?” Kou asked curiously, giving her a proud smile as he rubbed a towel over his hair. She'd just finished telling him about the things Kouki-sensei had started teaching them so far.

He'd gotten back from his latest mission -with minimal injuries- and had moved directly from the front door to the shower.

Kyo blinked at him and then, with no prior warning, burst into tears, her small frame racked with heavy, painful sobs.

Her tou-san dropped the damp towel in alarm, at her side in an instant.

“Kyo? What's the matter?” He asked, hands moving gently but urgently over her form, as if searching for injuries.

“I don't know how-” she sobbed, wiping a forearm angrily over her eyes, “how to be like the other children!”

And it was so stupid!

Stupid, stupid.

“Oh, Kyo,” tou-san sighed and scooped her into his arms, sitting down on the floor where he'd been crouched in front of her.

His strong, familiar arms were enough to calm her a little, but nowhere near enough to stop her tears.

Curling up and burying her face in the side of his throat, Kyo felt like she was doing nothing but cry whenever her parents were home.

What was wrong with her? She was a grown-ass woman! She hadn't cried this much in ages and she was frankly starting to feel like it was enough.

“It's okay, kitten,” Kou murmured, smoothing a hand over her hair before rubbing her back in an attempt to calm her further. “It's not your fault.”

Kyo pressed her face a bit firmer against her tou-san's damp skin. “Can't make any friends,” she muttered, and she was a bit embarrassed by her own words.

Though it wasn't necessarily that she couldn't make any friends so much as the fact that, well... all her classmates were immature little brats that tended to grate on her nerves on the best of days.

No matter how much she was a real child, she was also an adult trapped in a child's body, and there wasn't any changing that.

She hadn't noticed quite as much before, because she'd been spending virtually all her time with adults who -mostly- treated her according to her own behaviour. Kyo hadn't quite realised how blatantly different she was.

She was mostly okay with it, but she had wanted at least one friend.

Was that too much to ask?

One friend?

There'd been friends in the Before. Few and far between, and somewhat scattered, but they'd been there. She'd had especially one friend she'd talked to practically every day, and she missed it. Missed her.

Someone who was on the same wavelength, someone who understood her, had the same interests and just... was there for her.

Someone to listen to her when she was whiny, tired and did nothing other than complain. Or someone to discuss her dreams for the future with.

Never mind how useless those old dreams were now, the issue still stood.

Kyo had wanted someone that was hers; someone that wouldn't go away for weeks at a time and leave her behind, someone she could train with. Play with. Have fun with.

She loved her parents and she had loads of fun with them, but it wasn't the same.

“You're a special girl, Kyo,” her dad murmured soothingly, voice soft and almost tender, despite the rather helpless cast to it. “You're so, so smart and mature and it's not your fault your peers can't quite keep up.”

And that made Kyo feel even worse.

Because it wasn't true.

She wasn't particularly smarter than the average person; she just had an unfair advantage over her fellow children. She was cheating.

“They'll catch up eventually,” Kou promised her weakly, caressing her cheek and smearing a few tears over her skin.

“But I wanted a friend now,” Kyo sobbed helplessly, feeling ridiculous.

“Are the other kids mean to you because you're younger?” Kou asked suddenly, as if grasping for something he could actually deal with. Something he could fix.

Kyo shook her head. “They think I'm a baby, tou-san,” she told him disdainfully, the word all but searing her tongue on the way out. “But no one's been mean.”

And they hadn't. The other kids just weren't particularly interested in making friends with someone a couple of years younger than they were.

The few she'd interacted with so far had been amicable enough, but that wasn't the same as friendship, or even companionship.

Kou gave a deep, frustrated sigh, leaning his cheek against the crown of her head, his arms tightening around her.

Kyo tried to burrow even deeper into his embrace.

“Sorry,” she eventually muttered.

“What for?”

“You're tired and I wanted us to have a nice evening,” she admitted. Kyo hadn't seen him for so long and the first thing she did was cry on him? Over something she had already sort-of-accepted? “I didn't mean to be difficult.”

Kou stilled. “Did someone tell you you're being difficult, Kyo?” He asked softly, voice even and calm.

No,” Kyo clenched her eyes shut, because why was she just making everything worse? Writing had never been an issue, but talking? She always made a mess of it.

“Kyo,” Kou pressed firmly.

“Grown-ups don't like it when children cry!” She huffed angrily, though it was mostly directed at herself. “I'm being difficult and ruining the little time we get together, and I hate it!”

Kou didn't move for a long moment, merely holding her quietly and seemingly listening to her pant with anger and half-formed sobs.

“It's not your fault your mother and I have been away so much the last few years,” he finally said quietly. “You know that, right?”

“It's because of the stupid war,” Kyo cried. “You're both so tired all the time and what if you don't get to rest enough when you're home because of me and you die the next time you go away?” She asked wetly, voice trembling and shaking with pent up emotions and worries.

Kou didn't say anything for the longest time, and it felt like Kyo's chest might actually seize up and freeze solid.

“When I'm away,” Kou eventually said, voice quiet and barely audible over her harsh breathing. “And things are at their worst, you're one of the few things that always manage to keep me going, Kyo.” He carefully pulled her a little ways away from his chest to look at her. “You're just four years old and you're dealing with this much better than someone many years older. You're allowed to feel these things, and no one should ever tell you differently, okay?”

Kyo stared up at her dad's serious face, new tears dripping from her eyes every time she blinked. “I don't want you to die, tou-san,” she whispered weakly.

“I know,” Kou pulled her back into a hug. “I don't want that either, but sometimes it just can't be avoided. All we can do is our best, but you should know that kaa-san and I will do everything in our power to come back to you, every time.”

Kyo curled up into a small, miserable ball, wrapping her arms around her knees. “What if that isn't enough?”

Kou sighed heavily. “You're too mature for your own good, kitten,” he joked half-heartedly, sounding like he didn't know what else to say.

There wasn't anything he could say, really, because in that scenario, there was only death waiting at the end.

However much she'd loved to read Naruto, writing for the fandom and making up her own intricate stories about the amazing characters... this wasn't a story. This was her life.

Her family's life.

And life was unfair; she'd learned that lesson beyond any reason of a doubt in her last life. Not quite in the same way, but it had stuck.

She'd actually rather take permanent illness and obstinate doctors who refused to listen to her over this. At least her loved ones hadn't been in danger Before.

“What do you say about skipping school today to hang out with me instead?” He suggested after a long pause.

Kyo laughed wearily, wiping tears from her face. “It's Saturday, tou-san.”

“Ah.” Kou blinked. “All the better. This way, your sensei won't hunt me down to demand an explanation.”

“Kouki-sensei would probably go through official channels instead,” Kyo admitted wetly, smiling and wiping at her nose.

“Even worse,” Kou muttered with a dramatic shudder. “Those paper-pushing ninjas are terrifying, and don't let anyone ever try to tell you otherwise.”

“Got it.” Kyo finally looked up to smile weakly at her dad, who smiled sadly back.

“Come on, kitten; let's get something to eat and then spend some time on your favourite activity.”

“My what?” Kyo asked, blinking a little. She hadn't thought she'd developed a favourite anything here, though there were definitely plenty of things she loved doing.

“We never told you about when you were a baby?” Kou asked, actually pausing on his way into the kitchen. “Huh. Well, you tended to cry a lot, and the only way to make you stop was to hold you,” he said giving her a warm, affectionate squeeze. “Just so, firm but not suffocating and Isshun swore it was to make sure you knew you weren't alone.”

“Does that mean we'll get to cuddle?” Kyo asked hopefully.

It sounded silly, but she didn't give a single fuck. Her classmates could call her a baby all they wanted; they were clearly the ones missing out.

Kou and Isshun were away a lot and Kyo was determined to enjoy her time with them as much as she could. Because she had no guarantees that their time wouldn't be cut short.

“Of course it means cuddles.” Kou winked at her. “We could even go bother Ryota so that you can laugh at his constipated face when you hug him,” he offered magnanimously.

“What about Yuuta?” Kyo piped.

“We'll make a cuddle pile,” Kou decided easily, hefting her a bit higher and then opening the fridge to see what they had.

Kyo knew her parents tended to stock-pile non-perishables, because they got called away on missions with little notice too often to do otherwise, but she was fairly sure her kaa-san had bought a bunch of groceries before she got called out a few days ago.

“The broccoli probably needs to be eaten before it goes bad,” she offered, leaning forward to peer into the vegetable box.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“Class dismissed,” Kouki-sensei declared after yet another day.

Five months had passed since she'd started the Academy and things were going well.

Other than the fact that she'd gotten utterly trounced during the first real sparring session, it'd been pretty smooth sailing. And that incident, not surprising Kyo in the least, was easily explained by the simple fact that she hadn't ever had a real sparring partner before.

And she'd improved by leaps and bounds by then, anyway.

Kyo wasn't anywhere near the top of her class when it came to taijutsu; that spot was quite firmly held by an Uchiha boy by the name of Jirou. But she did very well in the academic parts, as well as ninjutsu and weapons handling.

It was almost funny, because she wasn't sure she'd had this good a memory in her old life. But then again, after so many years of being sick, she wasn't sure she'd even known what was normal and not any more.

Kyo got up from her seat, made sure she had all her things, and then calmly walked towards the door, quickly leaving the building.

“Kyo-chan!” A voice greeted her the moment she stepped out into the sunlight.

She perked up and quickly located her mother. “Kaa-san!” She grinned and ran up to her for a hug. “I didn't think you would come back until tomorrow,” she said.

“It does happen that mission parameters are met early,” Isshun said, taking her hand and starting for home.

Kyo smiled; in war times, at least, that seemed to be exceedingly rare. And it must depend on the type of mission, too.

Her mother was wearing her uniform; dark grey trousers, bandages tying down the fabric below her knees to her sandals. She wore a matching, long-sleeved shirt and a Chuunin vest, as well as an impressive collection of pouches.

Over her hair, she wore her hitai-ate as a bandana with the metal plate on her forehead.

“We got the test back from Kouki-sensei and I did pretty well,” Kyo told her mother, bouncing along beside her. “And I beat Hideki in taijutsu practise,” which she felt unimaginably proud about, too.

“And how did his Hyuuga pride take that?” Isshun asked amusedly.

“He was sulking the rest of the day,” Kyo admitted with a cheerful smile. Admittedly, she readily acknowledged that she'd only won due to the older boy underestimating her quite severely, but a win was a win. “And sensei asked me to give you a note when either you or tou-san got back, whichever returned to the village first,” she added, remembering the small, sealed roll of paper Kouki-sensei had given her last week. “I have it in my pack.”

“I'll take a look at it when we come home,” Isshun promised. “Did you get in trouble?” She asked teasingly, sending Kyo an amused, light-hearted glance.

“Not that I know of,” Kyo admitted, and the thought had crossed her mind.

She hadn't been able to think of anything she could have done to warrant it, though.

Isshun hummed.

When they'd gotten back to the apartment, Kyo took off her sandals and put them away, then ran into her room to get a change of clothes, before rushing into the bathroom for a quick wash while her mother put away her gear.

Which would leave the shower free for her once she was done with that.

Having so many physical lessons had made it something of a routine to take a shower everyday after she came home from school. Mostly to get rid of the sand and dirt, because she was young enough sweat wasn't really an issue. Yet.

When she was done, she went to retrieve the note and wandered into the kitchen to wait for her mum.

“Did you get my things from grandma's or should I go there and get them?” She called when she heard the shower turn off.

“They're on your bed!” Isshun called back, her voice echoing slightly between the tiled walls of the bathroom.

“Okay!” Kyo called back, snickering quietly to herself.

Kicking her legs absently, she didn't have to wait much longer, though Isshun had definitely taken more time to wash than Kyo. Not that she blamed her or found it at all strange; it'd probably been a while since her kaa-san had gotten a proper wash.

“The note?” Isshun asked when she came into the kitchen wearing one of Kou's old t-shirts and a pair of comfortable-looking sweatpants. She was drying her hair with a towel, but hung it on the back of one of the chairs when Kyo held out the rolled up paper.

Kyo watched curiously while her mother used her chakra to open the thing, unrolled it and began to read, her face inscrutable.

The note had been a constant weight at the back of her head, because she was curious what it said. That didn't mean she'd try to read it herself, though.

“Your sensei wants a meeting,” Isshun finally said, though Kyo felt that that wasn't everything. “I'll come pick you up tomorrow, too and have a word with Kouki-sensei while I'm at it,” she decided.

“Okay.”

“But for now,” Isshun continued briskly, perking up and giving her an eager smile, almost making the bags under her eyes unnoticeable. “We're having a lesson.”

Kyo felt her lips stretch into a grin. “I'll go get my stuff!” She said, already running across the living room to her room.

When she came back, she settled on the floor in front of her mother.

“Have you kept up with the needles?” Isshun asked, quickly glancing up from where she was taking out several of her kits.

“Yes, kaa-san.” Kyo nodded. “I'm even better than the last time you were home!” She couldn't help but brag a little. Because she'd put a lot of hours into training with throwing the senbon and needles, like her mother had showed her.

“Very good,” kaa-san praised with a smile. “Then it's time to advance to the next step.”

Kyo tilted her head. “Okay?” She wasn't sure what her mother meant, but was more than willing to learn. These lessons were always so interesting!

It was awesome.

“Get out your poisons, Kyo,” Isshun instructed, as she placed out a number of tools Kyo hadn't seen before and three piles of the small needles in front of her.

Kyo opened her pack and got out the various poisons she'd learned to handle over the past two years, quickly placing the jars, bottles and bundles on the floor in front of her.

Isshun hummed as she eyed the various containers, before picking the very first poison she'd started her on. The jar with the powder version of it.

“I told you that the powder form is the most concentrated,” Isshun began, opening the jar, licked a finger, dipped it in the poison and wiped the powder off on her tongue. She gave a satisfied nod. “That makes it very effective when applied to the needles. All it takes is a single needle hitting your target and, depending on where you hit them, it can take anything between one and fifteen minutes before it comes into effect.”

Kyo blinked, taking that in for a long few seconds, watching carefully as Isshun poured a small amount of water into one of the shallow, square bowls she'd prepared. She then added a generous dose of the poison powder.

“You could just dry the leaves, crush them and get a similar powder to this one,” Isshun said, tilting the still-open jar towards Kyo, who nodded. “And while that would work for poisoning via ingestion, it wouldn't be as effective for the purpose I have in mind. The way we prepared it means that it dissolves in water, which makes it easier to apply to the needles.”

And she used her fingers to stir the water and powder mix until it had all dissolved, like she'd mentioned.

Then, licking her fingers clean, she unrolled what looked like an old, worn and stained piece of leather, placing it on the floor beside her.

Isshun picked up five needles, brought four of them to her mouth, where she held them firmly between her teeth, and submerged the remaining one in the liquid poison.

“Doing it this way also means it's easier to vary the strength of the poison,” she lectured while she worked, coating one needle at a time and putting them on the leather to dry. “You don't always want to kill your target, or there might be reasons to make sure it takes a while before the poison comes into full effect.”

Kyo nodded, feeling strangely calm about the whole thing.

She'd sort of known where her kaa-san was heading with all of this from the start, of course, but she'd sort of figured she'd have more of a freak-out once it was stated outright.

Right now, she just felt calm.

“I have a sedative on some of my needles, because it happens that I'm sent on retrievals rather than assassinations,” Isshun continued, carefully and slowly going through the motions of lacing the needles with the potent poison.

“You haven't mentioned sedatives before,” Kyo said, tilting her head in thought.

Isshun nodded. “We've been focusing primarily on poisons. For a very good reason,” she took the last needle from between her lips, dipped it and then put it to dry, facing Kyo with a serious expression when she was done. “It's very important that you remember this rule, Kyo, understood?” She paused long enough for Kyo to nod. “Don't bring a poison to battle you're not immune to.”

“Yes, kaa-san,” Kyo promised quietly. “Why not just bring antidotes, though? There are antidotes, aren't there?”

Isshun smiled, as if her question was something to be proud of. “There are, to most poisons,” she inclined her head. “But handling needles, it's easy to nick yourself, especially in the heat of battle. And if that happens, there will still be effects before you get a chance to take the antidote -if your enemy allows you the time- and that leaves you vulnerable.” She paused. “Then there's the chance that your enemy will realise he's been poisoned, and if he kills you -for the antidote or otherwise- that means your sacrifice has been for nothing.”

Kyo hesitated. “What if I accidentally hit an ally?”

“That's what all the target practice is for,” Isshun informed her solemnly. “Next poison, Kyo.”

“This one?” Kyo tentatively offered, picking up the one they'd made from a pale white flower and had given her some trouble to get used to eating. “You said it's really strong, worked pretty reliably and it's also in a powder?”

“A good choice.” Isshun smiled, taking the jar and inspecting its' external condition before she unscrewed the lid. “This ones' got a very consistent reaction time.”

“Couldn't we just dip the needles in one of the extracts we've made?” Kyo couldn't help but ask, interrupting her mother when she moved to fill another of the square bowls with water and the new poison.

Looking at it, she abruptly realised that the tray bowl things were just about large enough to comfortably fit a senbon needle.

Isshun finished her preparations for the second batch of needles, giving her a considering look.

“We could,” she conceded. “The extract is more or less as concentrated as the powder, depending on the plant it's made from, but it's a bit harder to measure out dosages. Just dipping the needles directly into the extract is rather wasteful, because it's poisonous enough to kill several people at once, though it will all be used on one target.”

“So it's easier to measure out the powder, and it's,” she hesitated a little, “more consistent in strength?” She offered with a thoughtful frown.

“Yes.” Isshun smiled approvingly. “Now, did you ingest any poison today?”

“No; I finished the set dosages you left me with last night,” Kyo chirped, for some reason absurdly proud, even though it was just her eating prepared packs of poison kaa-san left for her.

“Excellent,” Isshun picked up the first needle bath. “Drink this.”

Kyo took it and quickly drained what remained of the liquid poison, swallowing it down with somewhat startling ease.

It had been almost too bitter, at first, leaving her mouth dry enough it felt like she'd need to drink two full bottles of water to get rid of it.

Now, it tasted... if not good, exactly, then definitely familiar and almost comforting. It made her think of kaa-san.

“Can you mix poisons to get 'special blends'?” She wondered curiously, picking up a few needles and handing them to Isshun, who placed them in her mouth. “Would that help, or just waste poison?”

“A bit of both,” Isshun replied once she'd doused all the needles that had previously been held between her teeth. “It depends on the poisons, really. Some complement each other rather well, depending on the effects you're after, and you can do some truly fascinating things with hallucinogens.” At Kyo's incredulous look, she laughed and gave her an almost mischievous look. “My grandfather was quite skilled with them, though he died before he could teach me much.”

“Kaa-san?” Kyo asked a few minutes later, watching the woman finish with the second batch of needles.

“Hm?” Isshun hummed questioningly, handing her the second tray-bowl, the contents of which Kyo readily enough drank.

“Are we from some sort of Clan?” She wondered, carefully putting into words something she'd been wondering for a while now.

Isshun paused what she was doing to look up at her.

“My name before I married your tou-san was Torikabuto,” Isshun finally said with a small sigh. “We've always been a small Clan, though a rather old one. Most of the Clan was actively hunted and killed off in the First Shinobi War, because the other Villages didn't like our particular set of skills in the hands of the newly formed Konoha and the Senju-Uchiha alliance.”

Kyo listened silently, watching her mother with wide eyes.

She'd never heard any of this before.

Picking up one of the poisoned needles, Kyo carefully touched the sharp tip with one finger. “They- We were assassins, weren't we?” She asked quietly.

“Very skilled ones.” Kaa-san nodded. “They picked us off, one at a time, until there were just me, my brother, and our grandmother left.” She was silent a long moment, eyes distant. “Give me your third poison, Kyo.”

Kyo startled at the abrupt change of subject, but readily enough handed over a weaker, more slow-acting poison.

Isshun prepare the liquid, picked up a needle and then paused. “My brother died two years before you were born, leaving me the last one.”

“I'm sorry, kaa-san,” Kyo said quietly, and she didn't know what to do.

She'd never encountered such all-encompassing loss before, not personally and not in anyone she'd known.

Isshun didn't say it was alright, didn't give any empty platitudes, but she did give her a small, sad smile. “You would have liked him, I think. Isshi was very calm and rational, loved learning more than he loved the work.”

Kyo licked her lips. “What happened to him?” She tentatively asked, unable to stop herself. She wanted to know what had happened to this uncle of hers she hadn't known about.

“Killed in action,” Isshun admitted, subtly rolling her shoulders. “There wasn't a body, so his name is on the Konoha Memorial Stone.”

Taking a moment to absorb the absolutely horrifying facts of that simple statement, Kyo took a deep breath. “Could we go visit it?”

Isshun blinked at her a moment, before something in her face softened and Kyo abruptly realised just how cold and distant her expression had been up to that point. She hadn't even noticed.

“I'll bring some flowers when I come pick you up tomorrow,” she promised warmly, leaning over their gathered supplies to press a kiss to her forehead. “We'll go after my meeting with your sensei.”

“Okay,” Kyo said, managing a tentative smile. “Are all these needles for me, or will you keep them?” She asked next, bringing the conversation back to safer waters.

Which just so happened to be about lethal, poisoned weapons.

It was absurd that this was her life now.

.

Kyo was moved up a couple of years.

That was what the meeting had been about; apparently, Kouki-sensei had felt that Kyo would very soon grow bored with his class, so he'd recommended the transfer. According to her now-previous teacher, it was better to move her two years ahead and let her stay longer in one class, rather than to move her up one year for a few months only to move her again later.

And he had, according to her mother, sounded very sure in his belief that that would happen.

So, Isshun had readily enough signed off on the suggestion.

It meant new classmates, even older than the ones before; most of the children in this class were eight, rather than six, and Kyo was still only four, soon to be five.

She felt like a sore thumb, if only oddly inverted, because all the other kids were so much taller than her so she wasn't sticking out in that sense.

It made taijutsu practise interesting; they all had the advantage of height, reach and weight, but at least Kyo was fast. Which basically boiled down to her at least not getting the snot beat out of her on a regular basis.

Her new sensei was another man, by the name of Kurama Souma, slightly older than Kouki-sensei had looked to be. Kyo suspected he was stuck in the Academy due to a serious injury, because he moved and held himself as if he was in pain, sometimes.

Other than some extra work she had to do, mostly in her free time, things didn't change much. Life went on, practise got harder, in all subjects, and her parents disappeared at irregular intervals, hardly ever getting to spend time in the village at the same time any more.

She turned five.

Sitting in her classroom, Kyo had just taken out her bento, placed it on her desk and sprinkled her daily dose of the newest poison on her rice.

It attracted less attention that way, rather than if she had just straight up poured the small packet's contents into her mouth directly, and Kyo could frankly do with as little attention from her classmates as possible.

Not that anyone was outright bullying her, but they weren't particularly kind to her either. She just preferred to fade into the background and stay out of whatever ridiculous drama occupied them all this week.

Last week, Takako and Daichi had 'gotten together' and then two whole days later, had a messy 'breakup'. It had been very traumatic for everyone involved and the worst gossips hadn't talked about anything else all week.

Kyo sometimes wondered if she had landed herself in a soap opera. But at the same time, she could remember all the ridiculous drama amongst the children in the school she'd been working at Before, and- well. Children were children, apparently.

Eyeing the omelette her kaa-san had made for her -one of Kyo's favourites- she had just picked up her chopsticks to start in on her lunch.

“Shiranui-kun?” Hyuuga Yoshi -incidentally, Hideki's older brother- said, pausing in front of her desk. “Souma-sensei asked to see you,” he said and then wandered off, presumably to eat his own lunch.

With a small sigh, giving her lunch a regretful look, Kyo put down her chopsticks and went to see what Souma-sensei wanted. It was probably just another batch of extra work for her; she'd finished the last one last week.

It took almost ten minutes before she could go back to her classroom, and, more importantly, to her lunch.

Holding the two scrolls with her extra assignments under one arm, Kyo walked back to her desk, stuffed the scrolls into the pack on the small of her back and then turned to her bento box.

Which, it turned out, was empty.

Kyo blinked.

Uh-oh. This was not good.

Glancing around the older children around her, it wasn't hard to notice the few that were snickering under their breath and giving her what they no doubt believed to be furtive looks; they might as well have worn signs.

Resisting the urge to rub at her face, Kyo absently calculated the chances of them reacting well to any confrontation she might attempt.

Instead of doing anything of the sort, Kyo turned on her heel and marched right back to the staff room.

She knocked on the door, patiently waiting for someone to answer.

“Kyo-kun? Weren't you just in here?” Kouki-sensei asked, peering down at her.

“I need to speak with Souma-sensei again,” she confessed.

“Oi, Souma!” Kouki called over one shoulder, not taking his eyes off Kyo. “Kyo-kun's back.”

“Did you forget something, Kyo?” Souma asked, not really looking up from the papers he were sorting through.

“No, sensei, but someone ate my lunch.”

She could practically see the wheels turning in his head and he finally turned around to face her.

“Is there a reason you bring this,” he paused wryly, “issue to my attention?”

It wasn't like her to complain, and she wasn't like some of the civilian-born kids who brought any and all grievances to their sensei before the habit was soundly discouraged.

“Unless there's a medic in the building, the one who ate it will have to be taken to the hospital, sensei,” Kyo explained awkwardly, trying her best not to fidget.

Souma and Kouki were both silent a moment, and then Souma sighed. “Alright, I'll bite; why?”

“There was poison in it,” Kyo said honestly.

“What kind of poison?” Souma asked, sounding so done with everything Kyo felt a bit bad for him.

“A small dose of powdered Oldroot, some Winter red leaf and Witch's breath,” she recited dutifully, watching with interest as the two men's eyes slowly widened.

“And would the doses be lethal?” Kouki-sensei asked idly, deceptively calm and unworried.

“Well,” Kyo frowned and thought about it. “I'm not sure who ate it, or if they were several who shared, but unless it's treated, I suppose it would.”

Which was weird to say out loud.

Souma-sensei got to his feet with a heavy sigh, as if he was lamenting his existence. “Kouki, you willing to come with? Someone's got to take this brat to the medics.”

“Sure.” Kouki shrugged and trailed after Souma and Kyo as they walked back towards the classroom.

“Okay, which one of you morons ate something you shouldn't have?” Souma-sensei demanded the moment he stepped into the classroom. “You have two seconds to step forward so Kouki-sensei can take you to the hospital.”

The last of the lunch-time chatter instantly died down.

“The hospital, sensei?” One girl asked confusedly, looking like she didn't have the first clue why that could possibly be the case.

“Let this be a lesson to all of you; unless you've prepared the food yourself; you can never be sure of what's in it,” Souma said dryly, shrewdly eyeing his gathered students. “Takahiro, Yuu, you two come here before the both of you throw up on my floors and start convulsing.”

“Sensei?” one of the boys in question asked, looking quite pale and unwell, in Kyo's humble opinion.

“Kouki-sensei will take the two of you to the hospital to flush your systems of the poison,” Souma said, giving the two boys an unamused look. “This is ridiculous,” he added in a quiet mutter only Kyo was close enough to hear. “Have to add this idiocy to their files, now.”

“May I return to my seat, sensei?” Kyo asked into the silence, drawing the man's attention.

“Yeah, go sit down,” he said, waving her off. “I want to have a word with your mother the next time she's in the Village, Kyo,” he added with a snort.

“Tou-san's slated to come back first; do you want me to mention this incident to him, or would you like me to wait for kaa-san?” She wondered.

“Whoever shows up first,” Souma said, and he was clearly done with this subject seeing as no one had died and it was still lunch break.

Kyo watched him wander off, shaking his head to himself and no doubt cursing out his gig as Academy sensei in his head.

Left with no lunch, Kyo resigned herself to go hungry for the rest of the school-day, stubbornly ignoring the scrutiny and speculative whispers of the children around her.

With nothing better to do, Kyo took out one of the scrolls and got started on her extra assignments.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“All the girls will gather in the field outside the Academy,” Souma-sensei drawled the moment he had stepped through the door.

Kyo finished tucking her empty lunch box away and then stood up with the rest of the kunoichi-to-be.

She didn't think much of the long glances and occasional snicker, and it wasn't until their kunoichi sensei arrived that she realised just why her classmates were making such a big deal of this.

“Sensei, why's Kyo-kun here? I thought Souma-sensei said only the girls should attend?” One of the girls, Sayuri, asked importantly, sending Kyo a superior look.

The kunoichi, an older woman who could possibly be retired, raised one poised eyebrow. “Your mother speaks very highly of you, Kyo-chan,” she said, voice smooth and cultured and combined with the beautiful kimono she was wearing, made her look like a proper lady.

“Thank you, sensei,” Kyo returned, though she hadn't known this woman knew Isshun.

“Wait,” Takeko said, looking shell-shocked. “Kyo-kun's a girl?”

Kyo blinked, taking in the way her female classmates were staring at her.

She would like to say that the fact that they'd all mistaken her for a boy was surprising, but... Well, in her last life, the last time anyone had mistaken her for a boy had been when she was nineteen.

And that had been post-puberty with boobs and everything!

So it wasn't anything new.

“Settle down, girls, and follow me,” their sensei said, leading them to a nearby flower field, which had clearly been set up for today's lesson.

Which turned out to be flower arrangement.

Kyo stared with budding disbelief.

Okay, she could vaguely remember something about Sakura and Ino doing flower arrangements during their Academy days but seriously?

There was a war out there!

And if this now was so very important to their education, why weren't the boys here with them? Kyo's inner feminist was highly offended.

Managing to keep the frown off her face, Kyo sat down to at least listen to what Tomoe-sensei had to say. It felt more like this was an excuse to play with flowers than anything else, though Tomoe-sensei did have a few interesting insights into life as a kunoichi to impart, if you knew what to listen for.

Kyo suspected she was the only one who caught the subtext, though.

“That is one ugly bouquet, Kyo-kun,” one girl told her with a sniff, giving the small handful of flowers Kyo was holding a mildly disgusted look.

Kyo blinked, wondering why the hell Kikyo was even talking to her. “I'm not trying to make it pretty,” she explained patiently.

“Why not?” Kikyo asked, looking genuinely baffled by the concept of not making things pretty. As if it was their duty as girls to care about such things.

Kyo kindly refrained from rolling her eyes.

“These were the only flowers Tomoe-sensei gave us with any sort of poison,” she explained with a shrug, absently rearranging the foxglove.

After a beat of silence, Momo shrieked and threw her own flower bouquet away from her, bursting into tears.

“Some of these are poisonous?” One girl asked in a hushed, horrified voice, staring at the bundle of flowers in her hand as if it could turn into snakes or spiders at any moment.

“None of them are very dangerous, though,” Kyo continued, picking at one of the petals with a mournful air. “The most dangerous one could only kill someone if they've already got a heart-condition, or is really little.”

And why the hell would that even disappoint her? Kyo had always known she had a proclivity for being something of a nerd, but this was ridiculous. Why was she sad about none of the poisons being lethal, she wondered.

“Most children aren't used to poisons, Kyo-chan,” Tomoe-sensei said amusedly, and then launched into a slightly more interesting lecture on a slightly different aspect of kunoichi life.

Which was how Kyo got her first sex-ed class. Sort of.

Tomoe-sensei kept it very basic, general and merely informing them about the fact that the subject existed, but it set Kyo thinking.

The next time Isshun came home, Kyo took the opportunity to ask her something the first kunoichi lesson had made her contemplate.

“Kaa-san?” She spoke up during dinner, making both her parents look at her. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Isshun said, putting down her chopsticks and giving her a curious look.

Kyo took a deep breath, gave her tou-san a brief glance before she turned her full attention on her mother. “Have you ever been on a seduction mission?”

Kou stilled, seizing to move as if he'd been turned to stone.

Isshun tilted her head, giving the question the due consideration it deserved. “I have,” she answered slowly, “though not one of the traditional ones, I suppose.”

“There are different kinds?” Kyo frowned. Seduction mission sort of just sounded like you had to sleep with someone to her.

“I'm an assassin, sweetheart,” Isshun reminded her gently. “So I've been sent on a fair few missions where I had to 'seduce' my target to get him to a private location so I could kill him without making a scene.”

Kyo nodded. That made sense, really.

“What's it like?” She couldn't help but wonder. Being female, she couldn't see a scenario where she wouldn't be sent on a similar mission if she made it past puberty.

Unlike many of the girls in the manga, she wasn't part of a precious Clan, with a valuable kekkei genkai, and she wasn't an heiress.

Isshun hummed. “It's part of the job,” she finally said, looking thoughtful. “Not particularly enjoyable, but far from the worst thing you could do.”

Kyo grimaced involuntarily, because that wasn't exactly encouraging, but-

“Aren't men sent on seduction missions?” She wondered. There would definitely be people attracted to their own gender here, just like it had in the Before. Not to mention there had to be ladies someone might want seduced for one reason or another.

Kou made a small noise like he might be dying.

Isshun ignored him and gave Kyo a small smile. “They are, though most people aren't aware of that until they at least reach Chuunin.”

“Why?” Kyo frowned, feeling genuinely perplexed. “It's not any different from kunoichi being sent on missions like that, and it feels like everyone knows about that.”

Which was why her kaa-san had been openly called a whore a few times in her presence.

“You shouldn't have had that lesson yet!” Kou finally said, unfreezing enough to put his chopsticks down. “Isshun, it's not funny,” he snapped when kaa-san chuckled. “She's five.”

“She's also going to be a kunoichi, Kou,” Kaa-san sighed. “It's just as well she starts to get used to the idea, the possibility, right now, rather than the day she's handed the mission scroll.” She raised a pointed eyebrow.

Kou rubbed a hand over his face, but clearly conceded the point. “Just, if anyone ever tries to do anything to you, you stab them with one of your needles, Kyo,” he told her, and there was real worry in his eyes.

Kyo bit her lip and nodded, slightly freaked out and a bit worried herself, now.

Was that something she'd have to be on the look-out for? Okay, she knew ninja were touted to lack morals and everything -her grandmother talked of little else whenever shinobi in general were brought up- but she hadn't really believed it. Not all of it.

Paedophiles had been an issue Before, too, around the world, so it wasn't that she had been unaware of the problem. She just hadn't thought it would be... common.

“It shouldn't be an issue for quite some time yet, but it's good to keep in mind,” Isshun agreed, returning to her dinner.

Having lost some of her appetite, Kyo pushed her food around for a moment before she determinedly resumed eating.

She was just five; she wouldn't be going outside the village walls for quite a few years yet.

And it wasn't like she could actually do anything about it, so, why worry about it now?

After dinner, she still crawled into tou-san's lap with one of her extra assignment scrolls.

.

They got to spend more time together as a family for a while.

Kaa-san and tou-san seemed to need it just as much as Kyo, and even when either of her parents went on mission, they got back relatively quickly and she hadn't actually spent any time at her grandparents for almost two months.

Kou eventually had to go on one of the long missions to the border; he'd finally told her that's what happened when he went away for months at a time.

Which made a whole lot of sense.

Regardless, kaa-san was slotted to leave in just a few days, and Kyo had begun to gather the things she wanted to bring to her grandparents' house, from a couple of books to school assignments.

“Kyo?” Isshun called out, and Kyo could hear the front door click closed.

“In here, kaa-san!” Kyo called back, looking for the scroll on mission procedure Souma-sensei had handed her the day before yesterday. She'd been so sure she'd put it in the drawer of her bedside table, but she couldn't find it.

“Kyo,” Isshun said, and she sounded slightly breathless.

Kyo looked up to look at her mother where she stood in the door to her room, wide-eyed and a small, disbelieving smile on her face.

“What is it?” She asked, a spark of worry lighting in her stomach, despite the fact that the woman's expression was far from indicating bad news. “Did something happen? Kaa-san?”

“You don't have to pack; I'm not leaving the village,” Isshun admitted and her smile grew. “I had my pre-mission check up today, and-” she took a deep breath. “The medic discovered I'm pregnant!”

Kyo stared.

Then, she dropped the book she was holding to bounce up to her mother.

“Really?” She asked, unable to stop herself from checking her kaa-san's stomach, despite the fact that she rationally knew nothing would be visible for quite some time.

“You're gonna be a big sister, Kyo,” Isshun laughed, picking her up and twirling around as she held her close. “Kou's going to be so surprised!”

Kyo couldn't help but be carried away by her mother's exuberant happiness.

“So you're going to stay home with me until the baby's born and I'm going to get a sibling?” Kyo asked, feeling like something was slowly unwinding in her chest.

It felt like pure, unadulterated joy. Excitement.

“If I manage to carry to term,” Isshun said, smile dimming a little. “And I won't be able to help as much with your poison lessons for a while.”

“That's okay,” Kyo beamed, wrapping her arms around her mother in the tightest hug she could manage. “I've always thought the lectures are really interesting, too,” she confessed.

Isshun laughed, kissed her cheek and buried her face in Kyo's slight shoulder.

.

Three months later, Isshun was still pregnant and the look on Kou's face when he came trudging into their apartment and kaa-san threw the news in his face with a wide grin, basically doing what Kyo could only describe as tackling him to the ground in a fierce hug, was something Kyo would treasure and remember until the day she died.

“We're pregnant?” Kou finally managed, Isshun sitting on his stomach and Kyo leaning over her mother's shoulder.

“Yup,” Kyo chirped.

“But- How?” Kou's hands slipped around Isshun's waist, giving her stomach an intent, focused look, as if he was trying to see through to the tiny little growing embryo inside.

“The contraceptives failed.” Isshun shrugged, as if that part wasn't really of any concern. “The medic caught it before I did.”

And Kyo didn't know how she felt about her parents having an active sex-life.

...best not to think about it.

“We're having another baby?” Kou finally asked, gaze flicking back up to Isshun's eyes, a smile growing on his face.

Isshun nodded and leaned down to give him a kiss, not caring one wit about the dirt on his face, or the smell of old sweat and what was probably blood.

Kyo let out a small squeak when her support disappeared and she ended up on the floor next to her dad.

“And how do you feel about this, kitten?” Kou asked next, seemingly perfectly content to lie on the floor.

“I'm gonna be a big sister,” she told him seriously. There was still a wide, proud grin on her face.

“You are, aren't you?” Kou grinned, snaking out one arm to pull her into the cuddle pile.

The familial bliss could only last so long, though.

The war didn't go on hold just because her mother happened to be pregnant.

After a few weeks, Kou was sent back out, though he promised this meant he had even more incentive to come back.

And despite the major shift in their family, Kyo still had to go to the Academy, leaving her mum home alone for most of the day.

Isshun was doing a few administrative duties during the first one and a half trimesters, though she liked to watch Kyo train after the Academy let out for the day.

She treated it almost like a picnic, bringing food and everything.

Kyo loved it.

She'd never had something like this before; she'd been too young to remember her Before mother ever being pregnant, though she had one vague memory from the birth of her then-younger brother. She'd just been two, so she figured that was still pretty impressive.

Kyo was moved up another class.

She wasn't quite sure how her sensei had come to that conclusion, but Souma-sensei had seemed quite sure of himself.

So, Kyo took a deep breath, steeled herself and knocked on the door to what would become her new classroom.

“Come in,” a deep, self-assured voice answered.

Kyo gathered her courage and pulled the door open and got her first look at her new class.

“Souma-sensei told me to come here, Takuma-sensei,” she said.

“Ah, yes.” He frowned minutely, gave her an intent once-over that made her feel spectacularly lacking, and then turned back to the class. “This is your new classmate, Shiranui Kyo. Go take a seat,” he said, waving her into the room.

Kyo closed the door behind her and walked to the closest empty seat; front row, the seat the farthest away from the window.

At least it was close to the door, she mused.

Takuma-sensei continued with his lesson, launching straight into a lecture about a test they were supposedly having next week. Dedicated to tactics and what sounded to Kyo as logical thinking and almost a form of IQ test?

If nothing else, lessons would become more interesting again.

Taijutsu continued to be her worst subject, and she wasn't entirely sure it was just because of her size and age. She hadn't exactly been confrontational and aggressive in her past life, which she felt held true here as well.

On the other hand, she had her classmates beat when it came to marksmanship, age gap be damned.

It was always nice to see all that training had been good for something.

Just a few weeks before her sixth birthday, Kyo woke up unusually early.

Frowning up at the dark ceiling of her room, she wondered why she was awake.

She didn't have to pee, the sun wouldn't rise for at least a few hours, and she hadn't had a nightmare.

Too awake and keyed up to go back to sleep, Kyo got out of bed and pulled on the shorts she'd worn the day before.

That done, she padded out of her room to take a look around, see if she could find any indication that there was a tangible reason she was awake.

The apartment was dark and quiet, though.

Frowning to herself, Kyo finally decided to check on her mother; she'd been a bit listless the last few days and Kyo was starting to get worried.

“Kaa-san?” Kyo spoke softly, not wanting to startle her mother if she was still asleep, before she pushed open the door and crept inside.

With the room just as dark as the rest of the apartment -it'd looked like there'd be rain when she'd gone to bed- it was a bit hard to see.

“Kaa-san,” Kyo repeated, a bit louder now, because Isshun still hadn't so much as stirred.

Truly worried, she walked up to the bed and placed her hand on the woman's shoulder.

No reaction.

Feeling her heartbeat begin to speed up, she shook her mother's shoulder. “Wake up, kaa-san,” she urged tersely.

When that didn't get her any reaction either, Kyo brought a trembling hand to her kaa-san's neck and her heart almost stopped when she didn't immediately find a pulse.

It was there, though, fast and shallow.

Staring wide-eyed at her mother for a long second, Kyo wondered what she was supposed to do. She couldn't wake her kaa-san, she was at least alive, but something was clearly wrong.

She pulled down the covers.

Taking one look at what had been underneath, Kyo ran out of her mother's room, barely paused long enough to pull on her sandals, and then raced down the hall to one of their neighbours' door.

An older, rather cranky shinobi lived there, but she didn't even know if he was home, because she hadn't seen him in a while.

Kyo pounded a fist on Yamaguchi-san's door, hoping against her fears that he'd be there.

When ten seconds had passed and she hadn't heard so much as a footstep on the other side, Kyo turned on her heel and ran as fast as she could down the stairs, carelessly jumping two, three, four steps at a time until she reached ground level.

She didn't think she'd ever run as fast in her life. In either of her lives.

She had no idea how long it took her, but she finally burst through the hospital doors, startling the nurse behind the desk into a defensive stance.

“My kaa-san's bleeding!” She blurted, panting hard enough it was a minor miracle she'd been able to speak at all. “She's pregnant and she's bleeding! I can't wake her up!”

“Where's your kaa-san?” A masked shinobi asked, standing beside her when she turned to look for the source of the voice, even though she was sure no one had been there when she'd entered.

“At home, in our apartment,” Kyo returned, chest heaving but trying to regulate her breathing like tou-san had taught her.

“Can you give me directions?” The ANBU -holy shit, that was an ANBU operative- asked sharply.

“I can show the way,” Kyo returned without missing a beat, giving him what she hoped was a firm, rather than panicked, look.

The ANBU tilted his head the slightest fraction, before he nodded and crouched down in front of her.

Kyo got on his back without hesitation.

“Notify the Iryo-nin on duty that I'm bringing a pregnant woman, I want them on standby.”

The nurse gave a firm nod, and then they were back outside in the dark.

Kyo focused solely on giving directions to the shinobi, eventually pointing out the window to her parents' bedroom from the outside.

“I don't think there're any traps,” she finished, leaving the man -she was pretty sure it was a man, at this point- with the choice of what to do.

The ANBU said nothing to that, though jumped to the wall next to the window, managed to work it open in a matter of seconds and then slipped inside.

Kyo didn't make a sound when he slipped his arms under Isshun's listless form and straightened with her in his arms.

She tried not to think about the fact that kaa-san should have reacted poorly to a complete stranger trying to pick her up and carry her off. Her mother hadn't so much as moved while Kyo had been gone, either.

The ANBU finally landed in front of the hospital entrance, and a nurse opened the door for him before he could take more than a step. Inside, one of the medics were waiting with a stretcher, which the ANBU placed Isshun on without so much as a pause, and Kyo watched them rush her away, going boneless against the ANBU's shoulders.

She probably would have slid to the floor anyway, but the man crouched down so it seemed like she was just reacting to that, rather than almost collapsing.

“Can you tell me your name?” The nurse from earlier finally asked, giving the ANBU a grateful nod.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo said, blinking blankly at the woman, before she pulled herself together. “My mother's name is Shiranui Isshun, and she's a Konoha kunoichi.”

“Thank you,” the nurse said, looking like she'd been about to march off before she paused. “ANBU-san, could you wait a moment-?” She wondered tentatively, sending the masked operative a slightly uncertain look.

The man gave a short nod, which sent the nurse on her way.

“Thank you,” Kyo said, glancing up at the man, whose mask turned towards her.

And wow, were those masks far creepier than the manga had made them out to be? You couldn't even make out the eyes of the person beneath it, making it seem like there wasn't one.

The man was still for a long moment, before he placed one hand on her shoulder in a surprisingly gentle manner, before he returned to his silent vigil.

Kyo took a deep, shuddering breath and slowly sank down to sit on the floor.

Her body hurt, and part of it was no doubt from running like a maniac across half the village, while the rest of it felt like it was emanating from her heart.

Eyes and lungs burning, Kyo determinedly took slow, deep breaths. She wouldn't cry, she wouldn't cry, she wouldn't cry!

She could cry later, she told herself, stubbornly refusing to give in to the tears burning behind her eyelids.

Taking a deep, trembling breath, Kyo finally managed to press her emotions down enough she could open her eyes and focus on her surroundings again.

Struggling back to her feet, Kyo moved over to sit on the closest chair, trying to remember when tou-san had been supposed to come back to the village.

She was drawing a blank, though.

It felt like she spent hours sitting in that chair, the silent ANBU her only companion, but it was most likely closer to just the one. Maybe an hour and a half, at most.

“Shiranui Kyo?” The nurse from before asked, coming striding back into the room.

“Yes?” Kyo jumped to her feet, feeling like she was prepared to run wherever it was they'd taken her mum.

“The Iryo-nin would like to speak with you,” she said with a small, sympathetic smile. “Your kaa-san is alright, and so is the baby.”

Kyo let out a deep breath, almost collapsing to the floor again from the sheer relief.

“Okay,” she said instead. “Where do I go?” She asked.

Because she didn't have a clue; the only time she'd been here before had been almost three years ago when tou-san had gotten hurt.

The medics always came to the Academy when they had their medical checks.

“Just a moment and I'll take you, dear,” the nurse said, casting the ANBU yet another nervous glance. “Thank you very much, ANBU-san, for your assistance tonight.”

The man inclined his head and then disappeared in a silent shunshin, not even leaving the smallest hint of smoke behind.

“Come, child,” the nurse said, and led the way down one of the corridors.

It turned out Isshun hadn't had the easiest time during her pregnancy so far.

Perhaps not so strange when you took the long-term stress, lack of sleep and rest into consideration, but Kyo was still unreasonably upset not to have noticed.

Complete bed-rest was what was one the menu for Isshun for the rest of the pregnancy.

It felt weird, positively absurd, to be informed of that by a tired-looking, harried iryou-nin, as if she were an adult instead of not even six years old. Kyo had just nodded, though, and asked if it could be arranged for her dad to be informed the moment he stepped back into the village.

She didn't want him to go back to the apartment to find it empty.

Oh, she should probably go back and take care of the bloody sheets, or tou-san might actually have a heart-attack if and when he saw them.

“I will make sure it's taken care of,” the iryou-nin promised, giving her a small, brief smile before he let her into the private room Isshun would be staying in for the next few months.

The moment she was alone, Kyo climbed up on the bed and collapsed next to her mother's sleeping form, burying her face in the sheets.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

At the first light making its way through the single window in the room, Kyo reluctantly slipped off kaa-san's hospital bed and made her way back home.

She wasn't even surprised to see she had left the front door wide open in her rush to get help.

Kyo carefully closed the door behind her and, clenching her hands into fists, marched straight to her parents' bedroom to see how it looked.

There was a lot of blood, and when Kyo stripped away the bedclothes, her hands were trembling.

Not that it helped all that much, because the dark, sticky liquid had seeped into the mattress, and she didn't know what to do to get it out.

Deciding she couldn't deal with that right now, Kyo carried the bedclothes to the bathroom, where she stuffed them into the washing machine and turned it on. She'd take care of it after school.

Changing into clean clothes, Kyo got her things and then swung by the kitchen to make herself breakfast and lunch.

She didn't realise she probably didn't have to go to class today until she was already sitting at her desk, quite unsure of how she had gotten there.

She'd obviously walked, but she couldn't remember anything between leaving home and taking a seat.

“Are you okay?” Someone asked, and Kyo turned to the left and stared.

A blond boy with teal eyes peered back, a curious cast to his young, childish face.

“No,” she told him bluntly. “But I don't want to talk about it.”

“Oh,” the boy blinked a few times, as if she'd thrown him for a loop. “Okay.” He eyed her a moment longer with clear interest. “I don't think we ever met properly; I'm Yamanaka Inoichi,” he introduced, smiling cheerfully.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo returned flatly.

She knew what time she was in now. Sort of.

Because Ino's fucking dad was standing next to her desk and he kept smiling at her.

The worst part, Kyo mused absently, was that she didn't even have the energy or the emotional capacity to freak out about it right now.

“Everyone take their seats,” Takuma-sensei strode into the room and the moment the students had scrambled to sit down, he launched straight into the morning lecture.

Kyo had no recollection of what they had covered, though the moment Takuma-sensei released them for lunch, she got up and wandered to the staff room. She knocked and studied the wood of the door until it was opened by the person she'd wanted to see.

“Kouki-sensei, do you know how to get blood out of a mattress?” She asked idly, blinking tiredly up at the man.

Kouki cocked his head. “...Depends on the kind of mattress.”

“A big one,” Kyo said after a moments contemplation.

“Chances are you might have to throw it away,” Kouki replied slowly, a frown pulling on his brows. “Did you sleep last night, Kyo-kun?”

Why were so many people calling her '-kun' anyway? She was aware that you could use it for girls, if some mysterious qualities she'd never managed to figure out were met. After the rest of the children had figured out she was a girl she'd sort of figured they'd start to call her '-chan', though.

Apparently not.

“A little,” she belatedly answered, realising Kouki was still waiting for a response.

Kouki slowly crouched down in front of her, placing one hand on her forehead. “You don't seem to be running a fever,” he muttered to himself.

“I'm fine,” she said, though her voice broke a little at the end. “Physically,” she added, because it wasn't like she had a cold or anything.

“Okay,” Kouki said, voice dry. “Wanna share?”

Kyo blinked at him for a few seconds before she cleared her throat. “I'd probably cry,” she admitted.

Kouki sighed. “I've had worse body fluids stain my clothes, kid.”

“Kaa-san's in the hospital,” Kyo finally said, feeling her breath stutter in her chest and her face screw up as her eyes burned.

“What for?” Kouki asked, almost warily, though he did put one hand on her shoulder.

It reminded her of the way the ANBU had comforted her early this morning. “She's pregnant, and she started bleeding and I couldn't wake her,” Kyo sobbed, bringing up one hand to rub irritably at her eyes. “So I need to know how to get the blood out of her mattress before tou-san comes home,” she pressed out, making the effort to meet Kouki-sensei's dark gaze. He looked all blurry from the excess water in her eyes.

The man sighed deeply, ran a hand over his hair and grimaced.

“Come on, Kyo-kun,” he said, leading her into the staff room and helping her take a seat in the chair by what she knew was his desk. “Sit. I'm going to find Takuma and tell him you're not gonna be in class for the rest of the day and tomorrow,” he explained. “Then, I'm bringing you back to the hospital, understood?”

“Okay,” Kyo sniffed, breaking out into new sobs.

Kouki ruffled her hair gently and then walked off to find her current sensei.

He was even kind enough to carry her, not saying a word of protest when Kyo clung to him all the way to the hospital and got tears and snot on his Chuunin vest.

Kyo wandered back into her mother's hospital room, crawled onto the bed and fell asleep the moment her head came to rest on Isshun's warm shoulder.

Kouki tracked down the closest nurse to get the full story before he left, but Kyo was none the wiser.

.

When Kou actually came back, Isshun was doing better, though she was still on bed rest.

And slowly losing her mind to the boredom, despite Kyo's best efforts to bring her plenty of reading material and various other things to do.

Holding poison lessons in the hospital was a bit of a challenge, too. Especially since Isshun wasn't supposed to have any contact with any harmful substances and Kyo refused to chance it, bringing something against the doctor's recommendation. Medic, whatever.

That didn't stop her kaa-san from giving her very informational lectures and giving her tips on new training methods.

Which brought them to this.

“Am I doing it right?” Kyo asked, sitting at the foot end of her mother's hospital bed, legs crossed and eyes closed.

Kou hummed from the chair next to the bed. “I'd say so; I can't feel anything.”

“The difficult part is to keep it up and not slip,” Isshun said, and she sounded pleased. “The surest way to stay alive as an assassin is to become a master of stealth.”

“So no one can find you?” Kyo blinked her eyes open to peer at her mother.

“People are generally not all too happy about an assassination, successful or otherwise,” Isshun mused dryly. “Making it harder for them to track you down can only be a good thing.”

“Do you think Takuma-sensei will get irritated if I practise this in school?” She asked curiously, carefully keeping part of her focus on keeping her chakra... not quite suppressed, exactly, but. Under wraps? Kyo was fairly sure she'd still be able to use her chakra like this, even though it'd be harder and would sort of blow her cover during the seconds it took to perform the jutsu itself. Other than that, it'd still leave her hidden from most people's senses.

Unless she had the misfortune to come across a sensor.

“It's not something he can complain about,” Kou dismissed her concern with a shrug. “It's training.”

“Oh, give me your hands,” Isshun said, pulling Kou's hand -which she had been holding- onto her rounded stomach.

Kyo quickly leaned forward to do the same.

“It's kicking,” Kyo observed, feeling moderately wide-eyed.

She'd never really spent any time around a pregnant woman before, so there were a lot of new experiences on all fronts right now.

There was a tiny human growing in Isshun's stomach.

“You lost your concentration, kitten,” Kou said once the baby had stopped kicking, leaning back in his chair again and squeezing his wife's fingers with a smile.

Kyo frowned when she realised he was right.

With a sigh, she concentrated on getting her chakra back under control.

It was fairly interesting to accidentally sneak up on the Academy instructors, though. She didn't do it on purpose; it just happened.

She hadn't realised how much they relied on all the children's chakra signatures to keep them all in line, and they clearly weren't used to their students suppressing them.

.

When Isshun went into labour, tou-san -of course- wasn't in the village.

“Was tou-san here for my birth?” She asked, partly out of interest and partly to distract her kaa-san from the pain.

“Yes,” Isshun said after a brief pause, waiting for the latest contraction to pass. “He cried when he held you for the first time.” She smiled.

“Really?” Kyo had never seen Kou cry. Thinking about it; she'd never seen either of her current parents cry.

In the Before, she'd experienced it with both her then-mother and then-father. For different reasons.

“You're almost fully dilated, Shiranui,” the midwife informed briskly, sending Kyo a brief look, but she didn't tell her to leave, like Kyo had expected.”A bit more and you can finally push.”

“Looking forward to it,” Isshun gave a strained smile, sweat beading on her forehead and the skin around her eyes was pinched with pain.

“Should I wait outside?” Kyo asked after a moment, somewhat surprised no one had thrown her out already.

“You can do as you please, sweetheart,” Isshun said, before she made a low, pained, keening noise as another contraction hit.

Sending the midwife, iryuo-nin, medic, whatever she was, a wide-eyed look, Kyo moved closer to her mother.

She didn't want to see... anything where the action was, so to speak, but she'd rather stay than leave her mum on her own.

If tou-san had been here, it would have been different, but he wasn't.

“I'll stay with you, kaa-san,” she said determinedly.

A long three hours later, there was the first cry of a newborn.

The midwife placed a tiny, red, wrinkly, slightly slimy human shaped creature on Isshun's heaving chest and Kyo got her first look at her new baby brother.

He was pretty ugly, to be honest, screaming at the top of his tiny lungs and there weren't any teeth in his mouth, which looked weird, but Kyo was fairly sure she was in love.

“Kyo, say hello to Genma,” Isshun panted tiredly, running one trembling finger over the baby's cheek. “Genma, meet your big sister.”

“Hi, Genma,” Kyo couldn't help but whisper, utterly entranced by the thing that would turn into a proper human one day.

He looked more like a squashed alien right now.

She resolved never to tell kaa-san that had been her first thought about her son.

“Do you want to hold him?” Kaa-san asked a some time later, breathing back mostly to normal, though she still looked exhausted and wrung out.

Kyo's eyes widened. “What if I drop him?” She whispered, horrified by the prospect.

Isshun smiled. “Just like your father,” she sighed amusedly. “You won't drop him, Kyo.”

“Okay,” she said, watching as her mother gathered Genma in her arms and gently handed him over to Kyo, arranging her arms just so until she held him properly.

Kyo gazed down at the baby. He'd stopped screaming now, and seemed to peer out of the small gaps his slightly swollen eyelids left him to see through.

“He's so small,” she mused, utterly transfixed.

She hadn't realised how much she'd missed her younger brother up to that point, but right now, the feeling slammed into her with all the subtlety of a kick to the stomach.

This little boy wasn't a substitute, not ever, but she felt she'd treasure him all the more because of the memories of another boy crowding at the forefront of her mind.

The age-gap was bigger, and she was growing to be a different kind of person, but she'd try to be the best big sister she could be.

She would do her best to help Genma grow up to be the amazing shinobi she knew he had every potential to be.

To do that, she had to survive, though.

She was gonna do her damn best to do so, that was for sure.

The Second Shinobi War, and the Third, she would do everything she possibly could not to die.

“I promise,” she said solemnly, staring at the unfocused slice of baby blue she could catch from beneath Genma's nearly closed eyelids.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo stared down at the test in front of her, taking in the questions and her own scribbled answers.

She'd filled out every single one of them, even the ones she hadn't been sure of.

There wasn't anything more she could do, though, so she deliberately put her pen down and leaned back, ending up staring at the clock on the wall instead.

Fifteen minutes later, Takuma-sensei gave them all a sharp-eyed scan. “Pens down,” he declared firmly. “You will now be called out to perform the three Academy ninjutsu; henge, kawarimi and bunshin. First up; Aburame Aoi.”

A quiet girl, mostly covered up by her clothes, rose and walked to the door to wait for Takuma-sensei while he collected all the tests.

“The rest of you wait in here until you're called.” He fixed them with a rather gimlet eye. “I don't want any incidents, understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” they all chorused.

Satisfied, Takuma-sensei nodded and left with Aburame Aoi, taking the pile of tests with him, presumably so they could get graded.

Kyo waited silently, feeling surprisingly calm.

She wasn't worried.

None of the students that exited the room came back again, most likely so they couldn't blab about what it was like. But also not to humiliate the ones who hadn't passed, Kyo liked to think.

That would just be mean.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Takuma-sensei said from the door, impatiently waving her over.

Kyo quickly got to her feet and followed the man a door down the corridor and then into the examination room.

Souma-sensei was sitting by the single table in the room, reclined in his chair and looking supremely bored, uninterested. He sat up more properly when he spotted Kyo, though.

“Hey, kid,” he greeted with lazy smile.

“Hey, Souma-sensei.” Kyo smiled. “Should I just start?” She asked, giving Takuma-sensei a questioning look.

When the man nodded, she brought her hands together and carefully formed the correct hand seals for a henge.

It was a bit like covering yourself with an elastic layer of chakra that you could shape however you wanted.

What it boiled down to, really, was your attention to detail.

Kyo chose to henge into her current teacher, making sure to keep her face severe and unamused, the posture the tense-relaxed mix she'd noticed in most shinobi she'd come across in the village.

When the two men spent first one, then two second to scrutiny her, Kyo crossed her arms over her chest and gave them the impatient look Takuma-sensei gave his class when he thought they were taking too long on something.

Souma-sensei gave an amused snort, and even Takuma looked vaguely entertained.

“Next one,” Takuma-sensei finally said, and Kyo dispersed the henge, which dissipated into smoke.

Kyo grabbed one of her -not poisoned- senbon, tossed it over her shoulder and then used a kawarimi to change places with it.

The sound of it falling to the floor in the spot she'd just been in was highly satisfying.

The kawarimi was weird, because it was like... latching on to something with your chakra, to switch places with.

She walked back to the spot in front of the table, picked up her senbon and sped through the hand seals for the bunshin.

Which was basically just a chakra construct of yourself; an illusion.

The kage bunshin Naruto had favoured seemed much more useful, though Kyo didn't delude herself into thinking she had enough chakra to make even one.

She was comfortably average when it came to chakra capacity.

“Very well done,” Takuma-sensei said when the three bunshin she'd made had been dispelled. “You pass.”

Kyo blinked, a small, involuntary smile on her face as she accepted the seemingly innocuous piece of metal with the Konoha crest, fastened onto a piece of thick, durable fabric.

“Thank you,” she said, mostly by route.

“Come back in a week's time for team assignments,” Takuma said, giving her an approving nod. “Dissmissed.”

Kyo gave them both a quick bow, and then made her escape, hitai-ate clutched in one hand.

“Congratulations, Kyo,” her tou-san greeted her when she stepped outside.

Temporarily snapped out of her daze, Kyo grinned and threw herself at her dad, delighted when he wrapped her up in a tight hug.

Before she knew it, she was back home, sitting by the kitchen table for the celebratory feast kaa-san had prepared.

“Hold Genma-chan for me a second, Kyo,” Isshun said, handing her the almost three months old boy.

Kyo took him and managed to settle the little menace against her chest before he got hold of anything on the table he could potentially send to the floor.

Absently running a hand soothingly over Genma's light blond, almost white, wispy hair, she tried to assimilate her day.

“Are you alright, kitten?” Kou finally asked. He'd been sending her concerned glances ever since he'd surprised her at the Academy

Kyo shrugged, staring down at Genma, who gave her a toothless grin, trying to reach up to pull her hair.

She deftly caught his tiny hand before it could reach her face and potentially poke out an eye. Or make her bleed; baby nails were awfully sharp.

“I thought I was too young to be a Genin,” she finally blurted, peering up at her parents through her lashes.

That was why she hadn't been worried during the tests! She'd figured that they wouldn't let her graduate no matter how she did; she was just six!

“Well,” tou-san said, blinking a little, as if that wasn't what he had been expecting. “They won't keep you at the Academy if they feel there's nothing more they can teach you. Especially not in war times.” He grimaced at the reminder, giving her a worried once-over.

“Konoha needs all the manpower she can get,” Isshun agreed, sighing sadly.

“Even a Genin like me?” Kyo asked weakly.

“Especially Genin like you,” Kou answered, though he looked faintly conflicted about it. “You're very intelligent, Kyo.”

Kyo shrugged uncomfortably, tickling Genma a little when he squirmed. “I just read the assignments,” she muttered.

Kou and Isshun exchanged a mildly amused, exasperated look. “If that was all, then your sensei would not have pushed you up for early graduation,” kaa-san said frankly, shaking her head and finally taking her seat. “Now, let's enjoy dinner and celebrate the occasion, okay?” She smiled.

“Okay,” Kyo sighed, thought there still felt like there was a cold, heavy lump sitting in her stomach.

She'd been counting on several more years before she'd have to- before she became a Genin.

Kyo just couldn't see herself surviving in the middle of this war when even her tou-san had almost died! Probably more often than she knew or would like to even think about.

“You should be proud of yourself, Kyo,” tou-san said softly, reaching out to pull a hand over her hair. “I know I am.”

Kyo couldn't help but smile at her tou-san, who seemingly couldn't resist ruffling her hair before he turned to his food, smirking at the annoyed look she sent him.

Genma made happy baby noises, though, so at least someone found it amusing.

.

The week passed far too quickly for her tastes, and soon enough, it was time to return to the Academy.

To be placed on a Genin team.

Kou and Isshun had both given her a few graduating gifts.

Tou-san had given her three sets of new kunai, with accompanying holsters; one for each leg, as well as ninja wire, shuriken and a few other things it was good to have with you on missions.

Kaa-san had given her a full kit, everything she'd need to make her own poisons, prepare needles and what else you could think of. She'd also given Kyo several sets of needles and senbon, and a pair of cuff-like holster things to store the small needles in for easy reach in the field.

Kyo loved it all, but it hadn't helped sooth her inner turmoil. Much.

Settling down in what she assumed was now her former classroom, Kyo waited for Takuma-sensei to arrive to announce the teams.

The weight on her forehead made it impossible to forget why she was here, or how her life would change from this point on.

“So you graduated, too,” a cheerful voice commented, making Kyo start.

The only person to have ever really talked to her in this class was-

“Yamanaka Inoichi,” she returned, giving the boy a curious look. “I didn't steal it, if that's what you're wondering.”

Inoichi blinked, his eyes practically lighting up with amusement. “Wouldn't that qualify you to be a Genin, though? If you could manage to actually steal from sensei?” He mused.

Kyo huffed what was almost a snort. “We're just supposed to steal from other Villages,” she told him solemnly.

In her old life, she would've said you weren't supposed to steal at all, but the rules were different here. Stealing from the enemy was quite encouraged.

Inoichi snickered quietly. “Who do you think will end up on your team?” He asked curiously, not seeming even half as bothered about it as Kyo felt.

She'd been thinking about it all week, and there weren't anyone in this class she could see herself working successfully with. Possibly Inoichi, but yeah, he was already taken, wasn't he?

Kyo glanced quickly at where Shikaku and Chouza sat, respectively.

“No idea,” Kyo shrugged. “It's up to the sensei, I suppose,” though she was fairly certain there were even higher ranking people involved in arranging the teams.

She wasn't sure if the Hokage got involved when one of the students weren't the resident Jinchuuriki, but it sort of sounded a bit far-fetched. And she'd already come to the conclusion that she couldn't just assume that everything from the manga was entirely correct.

She'd get killed that way.

And besides, with her being here, just that was bound to change a few things. Inconsequential as they might be.

Kyo frowned and tilted her head. She couldn't see herself doing all that much of a difference, if she was honest. She was realistic enough that she was fully aware her biggest concern was her own survival, followed by that of her family.

She was selfish, and she didn't have any desire to die for some hair-brained plan that might not even work.

Kyo was one person, of no particular importance or consideration.

“I just hope I won't end up with Satsuki,” Inoichi admitted with a small grimace.

Yeah, that girl could be... taxing to deal with. She'd still managed to graduate, though, and was proudly wearing her hitai-ate.

Kyo gave him a weak, sympathetic smile and turned to the door when it opened, revealing Takuma-sensei's stern visage.

“Quiet down,” he said, though the slightly diminished class had mostly fallen silent the moment he'd appeared in the door. “You're all Genin now,” he began once he'd taken his customary position at the front of the room. “And as such, you'll be held to a higher standard than you've enjoyed so far.” Takuma gave them all a serious look, sweeping his gaze over the room.

“Team one,” he began, glancing down at the clipboard he'd brought with him.

Kyo listened idly as the other teams were called.

“Team five; Yamanaka Inoichi, Nara Shikaku and Akimichi Chouza. Your Jounin sensei is Sarutobi Shinzu.” Takuma-sensei paused long enough to make sure they were all still paying attention, before he continued. “Team six; Inuzuka Taku, Shiranui Kyo and Minami Maki. Your Jounin sensei is Yamanaka Katsurou.” And he went down the list for the remaining three teams.

Kyo blinked a few times, trying to come to terms with this.

She'd gotten her team.

“You will now wait here until your assigned Jounin comes to collect you,” Takuma finished simply. “I wish the lot of you the best of luck in your future endeavours.”

And with one last nod, Takuma-sensei left to do whatever it was he did when he didn't have a class.

“Good luck, Kyo-kun,” Inoichi said, getting to his feet and giving Shikaku and Chouza a speculative look.

“And to you, Inoichi,” Kyo returned absently, eyeing her own teammates.

The blond wandered off and Kyo wondered if she should approach her own fellow Genin. She supposed they'd have to pass whatever test this Yamanaka person who would be their potential sensei threw at them before they were official.

In the end, she figured she could be the mature one and approach the two boys first.

“Hello,” she greeted the Inuzuka politely, giving the other boy -who was sitting nearby- a friendly nod.

“Yeah, hi,” the Inuzuka grunted, and he didn't look particularly pleased.

The other boy, Maki, was a civilian-born, she was fairly sure.

With a mental shrug, Kyo just sat down, figuring that at least they were sitting more in a group now.

They didn't have to wait long for the Jounin to start arriving. The Sarutobi man in charge of team five being the first to collect his children.

Three teams later, a blond man with short-cropped hair and sea-foam coloured eyes a shade lighter than Inoichi's appeared in the door.

“Team six,” he called out in a pleasant but firm voice.

Kyo stood up and walked down to him, followed shortly by her two potential team members.

Yamanaka Katsurou ran his pupil-less gaze over them and then turned around and walked towards the exit.

Since they'd been given no other instructions, Kyo followed at his heels.

He ended up leading them to a training field she had never been to before. It was pleasant enough; more grass than she was used to, and with a cluster of trees at the far end.

“Take a seat,” the man said, turning to face them once more.

Kyo sank down to sit on her behind, legs crossed loosely in front of her and hands clasping her own ankles, giving him an expectant look.

The Inuzuka's ninken, a very pretty, white dog about the size of a golden retriever, was the second to join her, leaving the two boys last.

“My name is Yamanaka Katsurou,” he introduced himself, giving them each an intense, penetrating look, one after the other. “I'm the Jounin you could quite possibly end up with as your sensei.”

The words hung between them, and Kyo got the feeling he was waiting for one of them to speak up.

“What do you mean 'possibly'?” Maki finally asked, frowning up at the man.

“Just because you passed the Academy test it doesn't automatically make you fully fledged Genin,” Katsurou-sensei said evenly. “Normally, there's a test you have to pass from the individual Jounin, too. Or get sent back to the Academy until the next graduating batch.”

“'Normally',” Kyo repeated curiously.

Katsurou's gaze cut to her, meeting her gaze a second before he nodded. “I'm personally of the belief we can't currently afford to reject any possible additions to the Konoha forces.” He paused. “So we will work together as a team for a week, meeting here every day for training and team-bonding and then we'll see.”

“That sounds like bullshit,” the Inuzuka declared loudly, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Not only do I have to be on the team with the baby, I also get the stupid sensei?”

Kyo sent the boy an incredulous look.

“The 'baby', as you so aptly put it, got far better test results than you, Inuzuka Taku,” Katsurou returned evenly, not so much as blinking.

The boy scoffed. “Just because ya do good on the paper test doesn't mean ya can do shit in a fight.”

Kyo wondered if she should feel insulted, but didn't care enough to work up the energy for it.

“Which is why we will do some extensive training exercises this week,” Katsurou declared in a way that Kyo found quite intimidating. Not that he sounded threatening or anything. He actually sounded entertained, which was far more worrying.

It was like that time kaa-san had asked tou-san, Yuuta and Ryota to help with their semi-regular games of Hide and Seek. Only, in this version, one person hid and the rest tried to find them. Obviously, Kyo had been the one hiding.

All to train up her stealth.

Yuuta had been particularly gleeful about chasing her about the forested training ground they'd been using whenever he'd found her.

Stupid sensor.

“We will get started right away, but first,” Katsurou-sensei paused to smile thinly. “Introduce yourself. Name, age, speciality. You can start, hot stuff,” he said, pointing at Taku.

“Inuzuka Taku, ten, and I specialize in taijutsu and my clan techniques,” he declared, lifting his chin boldly.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo continued. “I'm six years old and I specialise in poisons.”

Their last member hesitated a little before he gave his own introduction. “Minami Maki, ten, and I don't have a specialisation,” he admitted, embarrassed.

“You never told us your specialisation and age,” Taku said, squinting suspiciously up at the Yamanaka, who merely stared back in reaction, eyes sharp.

“We'll see how you've done at the end of the week,” was all he said on the subject. “Now, get to your feet; we have much to do.”

.

“How did it go?” Isshun asked when she stepped through the door.

A pained groan was all she got in response.

Katsurou-sensei had had them sparring against each other all day, and Kyo felt like she was one massive bruise.

At least Maki had been having trouble, too, she consoled herself sourly.

Taku had been far too gleeful about the entire thing, and Kyo sort of just wanted to pit him against Katsurou and see him receive a severe reality check.

As if being a Genin made him the most powerful ninja in the entire village.

“Whose your sensei, at least?” Isshun asked amusedly when Kyo failed to properly answer her question.

“Yamanaka Katsurou,” she sighed, gingerly getting up from where she'd slumped down to take her sandals off. “I'm taking a shower,” she added, trudging past her mother towards the bathroom.

“Don't drown yourself, dear,” Isshun called after her lightly and Kyo barely resisted tossing something rude back.

Almost an hour later, she felt more human again as she settled down at the kitchen table for a late dinner; Katsurou had kept them at it until the sun was setting.

Genma would have gone to sleep long ago at this point.

“He made us spar,” Kyo groaned. “All day.”

“Well, your teammates would be about four years older than you,” Kaa-san mused lightly, putting dinner down in front of Kyo, who gratefully dug in. “It's not to strange that you're struggling.”

She was starving.

“I'm with an Inuzuka and a civilian-born,” Kyo divulged once she'd cleared her plate. “Taku is pretty stuck up and thinks I'm a baby, while Maki acts like he wishes he was on any other team than ours.” She thought about it for a second. “He looks like Taku annoys him just as much, though, so I'll have to see how that relationship develops.”

“At least you won't be bored,” Isshun chuckled, placing Kyo's plate and chopstick in the sink for tomorrow.

“No,” Kyo reluctantly agreed. “I might end up dead if Katsurou-sensei keeps up this pace, though,” she groused, slumping over the kitchen table. “I hope we'll end up doing something else tomorrow.”

“He didn't give you any test?” Isshun asked after a considering silence, a small smile playing on her lips.

“Said he doesn't believe it's logical to keep up with them when Konoha's at war and needs more people. He'll decide at the end of the week if he wants to spend his time teaching us.”

Isshun hummed. “If you stay on a team with them, I'd like you to invite them all over for dinner,” she decided pleasantly.

Kyo snorted into the table and peered up at her mother. “Okay,” she agreed, voice coloured by wry amusement. “I'm going to bed now, because Katsurou-sensei said to meet up at six tomorrow morning.”

“I'll prepare a lunch for you before I go to bed.” Isshun nodded. “Sleep tight, sweetheart.”

“Night,” Kyo muttered and managed to make her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

She barely had time to place her head on her pillow before she was dead to the world.

.

Getting up the next day had been harder than usual, but Kyo was still up with time to spare before she had to meet up with her new team.

Before breakfast, though, Kyo took a few minutes to carefully, and painfully, stretch out her aching muscles and stiff limbs.

Feeling like she could at least move, now, she walked out into the kitchen to make herself some breakfast.

It was a routine they had established during kaa-san's pregnancy; Isshun had needed the extra sleep, and Kyo didn't mind making her own food, so it all worked out for the best.

This would leave kaa-san with more energy to give Genma and her time spent with him.

Kyo felt it was only fair; her parents had been able to focus almost entirely on her when she'd been that young. And her little brother was small enough he needed it.

She didn't say goodbye before she left, because she didn't want to disturb either her kaa-san or brother so early in the morning.

Making her way through the still mostly sleepy village, Kyo arrived at the training ground Katsurou-sensei had chosen for them to find the man already there.

“Good morning, sensei,” she greeted cheerfully, feeling much better now than when she'd woken up.

She had been the only one of her teammates to have stretched yesterday, but stretching this morning too had clearly been a good decision.

“Morning,” the man returned after a slight pause, giving her a curious once over.

Kyo waited a couple of seconds to see if he would give her any directions, but when he didn't, decided to spend the time they'd have to wait for Taku and Maki by stretching some more.

She'd learned quite quickly that there was no such thing as stretching too much, and considering how yesterday had gone, she could do with the extra warm-up.

Maki showed up next, looking practically dead on his feet, shortly followed by Taku and his dog, whom he still hadn't given them a name for.

“Good morning,” Kyo greeted them politely, making Maki blink blearily at her while Taku scoffed and turned his face away.

Rude.

“Today, we're going to continue where we left off yesterday,” Katsurou-sensei said, instantly drawing all of their attention. His gaze lingered on Taku, before sliding over to Kyo. “Instead of sparring, I want you to treat these bouts like real fights,” he said serenely. “No serious maiming or life-threatening injuries, and I will intervene if things are about to spin out of control,” he added. “Taku, you'll be starting by facing Kyo.”

Kyo eyed the other boy's confident grin, found it offensively irritating and flicked one of her needles at him.

Taku blinked, looked down on his forearm, pulled the small, innocuous piece of metal out of his arm with a frown after a brief pause. He opened his mouth, no doubt to say something vaguely insulting, before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell backwards, ending up sprawled on the ground.

“I win,” Kyo chirped cheerfully.

Maki looked sort of freaked out, but Katsurou-sensei gave an amused snort. “Do I need to take him to the hospital?” He asked idly.

“It's just a sedative.” Kyo shook her head. “He'll wake in,” she eyed the boy thoughtfully, “about an hour. It was my weakest dose.” The most fast-acting, though.

Katsurou eyed her with clear amusement, though his expression was mostly serious. “That gives the two of you plenty of time to have a go,” he said, as if everything had worked out according to plan. “No needles this time, Kyo,” he added, making Maki let out a thoroughly relieved breath.

Kyo gave the man a sunny grin before she turned to Maki, who nervously fell into the Academy style starting kata.

Instead of mirroring him, Kyo let her body fall into the much more familiar and comfortable style her tou-san had been teaching her since she was two.

Maki waited until she was visibly ready -such a gentleman- and then moved to attack.

He scrambled away from her when Kyo met him with a kunai in one hand and a senbon -not poisoned- in her other.

Tou-san had always stressed the importance of being able to draw quickly, which Kyo used to her full advantage as she threw her kunai at Maki's feet, successfully marshalling him into a position where it would be easy to take him out with the senbon.

Before the needle could hit, though, Katsurou-sensei plucked it out of he air in front of Maki's neck.

“If you knock out both of your teammates, you won't have anything to do until they wake up, Kyo,” he said with a slightly long-suffering sigh.

Kyo shrugged, and then paused. Should it really be this easy to render her fellow children unconscious?

Well... violence was sort of embraced here, wasn't it? Especially compared to back Before and she had been conditioned for these things since she was a toddler.

Blinking a couple of times, Kyo focused back on Katsurou-sensei.

“So what do you want us to do now?” She asked curiously, not so much as glancing over at Taku. His ninken had lied down next to him, head pillowed on his chest as it watched the rest of them with pale yellow eyes.

It really was a beautiful dog.

“Maki-kun, how's your marksmanship?” Katsurou asked, giving the boy a glance.

Maki, startling, turned to their sensei. “Uh, sufficient?” He offered tentatively with a wary glance at Kyo, who went to retrieve her kunai and put it back in her holster.

“Let's take a look,” their sensei said and ushered them over to the wooden posts buried firmly in the packed earth a little ways away from where Taku was 'napping'. “I want both of you to demonstrate your skill-level.”

“Okay, sensei,” Kyo said, pulling a senbon from one of her holsters.

Frowning at the target, she concentrated and threw, making sure to put as much strength into it as she could safely manage while still maintaining an acceptable level of precision.

She'd already showed him she could aim pretty well, she thought, so this was enough for now unless he told her otherwise.

She didn't want to appear to brag, especially since it was obvious Maki hadn't had anyone outside of the Academy to teach him stuff.

Kyo had been truly fortunate in that respect.

She spent the next fifteen minutes giving Maki tentative pointers, carefully studying him to make sure she wasn't pressing too much.

Some people were touchy when it came to stuff like this. Especially from someone younger.

Taku groaned.

“You back with us?” Katsurou-sensei asked, walking up to the boy to peer down at him.

“What happened?” Taku asked, rubbing a hand over his face.

“You lost your fight, is what happened,” Katsurou said simply, watching as Taku slowly managed to sit up and look around himself with a confused expression.

He brought a hand to his head and Kyo didn't doubt that he had something of a headache right now.

That had been one of the biggest pains about getting used to that particular sedative.

“If you drink plenty of water the headache should go away in a few minutes,” she told him helpfully, skipping up to and crouching down in front of Taku, who blinked dazedly at her.

His eyes looked relatively clear and he didn't seem to be having any adverse reactions. Good.

“I've been meaning to ask, but we were a bit busy yesterday,” she continued with a smile. “What's your partner's name?”

“...Kisaki,” Taku replied after a brief pause, giving her a long, squinty look.

Kyo gave him a smile and then turned to the ninken.

“Hello, Kisaki. I'm Kyo!” She introduced herself to the dog, who eyed her curiously. “Would it be alright to pet you?” She asked, politely holding out a hand for the pretty little ninken to smell if it so wanted.

“Yes,” she said, voice clearly female.

Slightly startled by the verbal response, Kyo still beamed and buried her fingers in the white fur, scratching eagerly all along Kisaki's neck and down her chest, watching as her yellow eyes closed with pleasure.

She'd had dogs in the Before. Several really big ones.

It was too bad people didn't seem to have pets here in Konoha the same way people had in her last life.

Not that it would've been practical as a kunoichi, but still.

“You're really pretty,” she told Kisaki, who gave her a doggy grin in response. She didn't look fully grown, and considering Akamaru's size in the manga, Kyo felt it was safe to assume she had some growing left to do. The fur around her eyes was a pale tan, now that she got a closer look, but most of her was white.

“Stop it; she's not a pet!” Taku finally snapped, though he looked mildly embarrassed, for some reason.

“I know.” Kyo blinked. Hadn't she made that clear from the start? “I just love dogs,” she said honestly, curiously watching Taku's cheeks pink.

“You sound like a kid when you say that,” he muttered, scowling off to the side.

“I am a kid,” Kyo returned without missing a beat, still watching the older boy curiously. “So are you. The only one here who's not a child is Katsurou-sensei.”

Taku gave her a perplexed frown. “What did you even do to me?” He finally asked, and Kyo settled herself properly on the ground in front of him.

Kisaki lied down with her head in her lap, and Kyo happily rubbed the area around her ears.

“I told you; I'm a poison specialist.” She smiled, glancing up at the Inuzuka boy, who was giving his ninken a rather disgruntled, disapproving look. “I also have a few sedatives, and a mild hallucinogen, too.”

“I'd ask you not to use that last one on your teammates, Kyo,” Katsurou interjected, and there was a vaguely constipated look on his face, as if just the thought of having to deal with that was giving him a headache.

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo chirped, before she turned back to Taku. “This needle is laced with a sedative,” she explained, picking up the needle from the ground where Taku had dropped it when he'd succumbed to its' effects earlier.

She held it up in front of Taku, who shrank back. “Take that away from me!” He snapped and bared his teeth. At Kyo's raised eyebrows, he added a grudging “Please.”

Kyo hummed, inspected the needle, wiped the dried blood off and tucked it away into one of her packs to reapply with more sedative later.

“Aren't you afraid of accidentally stabbing yourself?” Maki asked hesitantly, having gravitated closer while Kyo talked.

“That's okay,” Kyo smiled, “I'm immune.”

“Really? To the poisons, too?” Taku asked, cocking his head in a rather dog-like manner as he considered her. “Is that why you smell so weird?”

“Maybe?” Kyo wrinkled her nose. How would she know what she smelled like? “What do I smell like?”

“Sort of like bitter herbs, sometimes you smell more like certain plants, though.” Taku shrugged, scratching absently at the pinprick scab the needle had left on his arm.

“Oh,” Kyo blinked, “I suppose that's a yes,” she mused. “So right now I probably smell like this, right?” She asked, digging one jar of poison out of the pack strapped to the small of her back. She unscrewed the lid and carefully held it out to the Inuzuka, who took a hesitant whiff and nodded, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

“Yeah. What is it?”

“Poison,” Kyo chirped happily. “This one's pretty interesting; it attacks the nerves very quickly, so if the dose is small enough, it can paralyse a grown man without killing him.”

When she'd put the jar back in her pack and looked back up again, both Taku and Maki were giving her rather alarmed looks.

“What?”

“I heard a rumour that you poisoned two classmates once. I didn't believe it before, but is it true?” Maki asked slowly, exchanging a look with Taku.

“Well.” Kyo cocked her head. “Sort of? They stole my lunch, ate it, and poisoned themselves, really.”

“Why would they be poisoned by eating your lunch?” Maki looked honestly confused.

“Because I eat a lot of poison?” Kyo offered blankly.

“Bullshit,” Taku dared, seemingly unable to resist.

Kyo eyed him amusedly for a second, before she took the nerve poison back out, unscrewed the lid, licked a finger and dipped it in before wiping the powder off on her tongue.

Then she very carefully screwed the lid back on and tucked the jar away.

She raised a challenging eyebrow at the boys.

“It's... not poison?” Maki offered tentatively, though he looked a curious mix of horrified and intrigued.

“Smelled like it, though,” Taku muttered with a thoughtful frown. In combination with the clan marks on his cheeks, it made him look rather severe for a ten year old.

“This is nice, but the three of you have already earned yourselves five extra laps for laziness,” Katsurou-sensei drawled from where he was leaning against one of the wooden posts. “You should get to it or I'm adding another five.”

“Yes, sensei!” Kyo and Taku both said, Maki not quite managing to join the chorus.

“How many laps?” Taku asked as he climbed to his feet, rubbing at his forehead again, which reminded Kyo that he still hadn't drunk any water.

“Until I say stop,” Katsurou said serenely.

Kyo bit back a sigh and resigned herself to be just as tired and sore tonight as she had been the evening before.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Katsurou-sensei ran them through all kinds of exercises, ranging from pure physical endurance to battle scenarios they had to work together for. All of it was interspersed with sparring, as well as the four of them facing off against the man himself.

It was all very interesting, though it made Kyo painfully aware of how much worse her stamina was.

Taku held up the best in the purely physical stuff, with Maki somewhere in the middle between them.

On the other hand, Kyo was doing very well with the tricky assignments, where they had to figure out and improvise solutions and sneak around.

It was hard to make Taku even try to aim for stealth, no matter how much Kisaki tried to help her. Maki was perfectly willing to listen to her most of the time, though.

“Well, the week is up,” Katsurou-sensei said, standing in front of them and giving them all a sharp once-over.

Kyo, Taku, Maki and Kisaki were all sprawled in various positions on the ground in front of him, wheezing for air and trying to catch their breaths.

Katsurou tilted his head in a considering manner and then nodded to himself. “I suppose we're stuck with each other from now on.”

“Yay,” Kyo cheered weakly, managing to raise one hand in the air in celebration before it flopped back down to rest on her stomach. “Go Team Six.”

“Shut your mouth,” Taku wheezed.

You shut up,” Maki muttered back in a barely audible voice.

Kisaki huffed and rolled over onto her side, stretching out and seemingly falling asleep.

Katsurou snorted quietly and took a seat on the ground in front of them. “We clearly have to work more on your stamina,” he mused idly, making all four of them groan. He let them rest for a few minutes before he continued.

Taku had actually managed to sit back up by the time Katsurou demanded their attention, though he was supporting most of his weight on his hands and looking like a stiff breeze might knock him back down.

“I'm not going to accept any missions for us for another month,” he began firmly. “I'd rather waste a bit of time right now than end up dead later,” Katsurou told them gravely, bringing down the mood straight into grim, serious reality.

That was right.

It was easy to forget about the war inside the safety of the village walls. Even for Kyo, who saw proof of it every time tou-san came home from his latest mission, saw it in the bruises on his skin, various injuries and the stains on his clothes.

He would have the massive scar on his chest until the day he died. Preferably of old age.

“We're going to focus on teamwork, and getting all of you to expand your jutsu arsenal by at least one. And speaking of,” Katsurou-sensei paused to pull out three small squares of paper from one of the pockets on his vest. “I want each of you to channel your chakra into these.”

Kyo gingerly accepted what she realised must be chakra paper. Or whatever it had been called.

Taku yelped and dropped his paper when it caught on fire.

Maki sent his own paper a concerned look before he shrugged and got to it. The paper crumbled to dust between his fingers.

Kyo took a deep breath and directed her chakra to the tips of her fingers.

The paper split in two, and then surprised her by sagging with water.

She stared. “Is it supposed to do that?” She asked with a small frown.

Katsurou hummed. “You've been training with chakra for quite a while, haven't you, Kyo?”

Kyo nodded. “Not for anything like this, though,” she said, waving the wet pieces of paper at her sensei. Her now official sensei.

“The more you work with it, the more refined your control becomes.” The man shrugged, before turning to Taku. “You've got a fire affinity, which means you'll have an easier time learning fire jutsu.”

Which Taku looked pretty pleased about.

Kyo wouldn't be surprised to learn the boy had quite the pyromaniac tendencies.

“Maki, you've got an earth affinity, and Kyo, you've got a primary affinity for wind and a secondary affinity for water.” He paused to eye her intently a moment. “An unusual combination in Konoha,” he acknowledged.

“Kaa-san's got a water affinity, while tou-san's got fire and wind,” she informed him evenly.

Katsurou nodded. “I'll find each of you a jutsu to work on during the month we've got, but we're also gonna have to get started on tree walking.”

Kyo perked up. “Really?” She asked excitedly.

She'd always loved it when her parents had taken her on their breakneck races across Konoha and occasionally the surrounding forests, and she couldn't wait to be able to do it herself.

Katsurou sent her an amused look, but nodded. “Among other things.” He turned to Maki. “Is there a specialisation you'd like to consider getting started on, Maki-kun?”

Maki hesitated, sent Taku a mildly embarrassed glance before he cleared his throat. “I'd like to learn how to use a sword, sensei,” he confessed, clearly expecting his words to be met with laughter.

Kyo tilted her head. “Would you classify Taku as a close range fighter or mid- to long range?” She wondered out loud.

“Close- to mid range,” the boy in question muttered, frowning questioningly at her.

Kyo nodded. “I can't put up much of a fight in close combat yet,” she admitted frankly. She could hardly go toe to toe in close combat with Taku, a grown enemy ninja would slaughter her. “But I would work very well as mid- to long distance support.”

Katsurou hummed with interest. “Poison your teammates' opponents to make them easier to take out, or take them out directly when they're distracted?”

“Yeah,” Kyo nodded, stubbornly pressing down the uncomfortable feeling that rose inside her at talking about something like this so glibly.

“It's a sound strategy,” Katsurou-sensei acknowledged approvingly. “We'll still have to work on your taijutsu, though,” he warned firmly. “In a few years, you will have caught up.”

Kyo nodded; she hadn't really expected anything less.

Katsurou turned back to Maki. “I'll see what I can do about kenjutsu lessons; there are a few shinobi in Konoha who use a sword, whom would be perfectly capable of at least getting you started. Give me a few days to ask around, and then we'll see.”

“Yes, sensei. Thank you,” Maki smiled tentatively at the blond man, whose eyes warmed a fraction in response.

It was the closest they'd seen to a genuine smile so far.

“Now, tree-walking,” Katsurou-sensei declared, making all four of them struggle to their feet.

“Oh!” Kyo smiled, remembering something. “Now that we're an official team, my kaa-san said to invite you all over for dinner.”

The three males were silent a moment, before Maki shifted uncomfortably.

“The food won't be poisoned, right?” He asked haltingly, looking like he couldn't believe he had to ask.

Kyo gave him an incredulous look. “Neither tou-san nor my little brother are immune,” she told him, voice completely deadpan.

“Why not? It might be an interesting team-building exercise and I want to meet with all of your parents anyway,” Katsurou-sensei finally said, scoffing quietly at the betrayed looks Taku and Maki sent him.

As if going to Kyo's house was a death-sentence.

“Tree-walking, sensei?” Kyo asked, forcefully changing the subject.

“Tree-walking,” Katsurou agreed, leading the way over to the handful of trees.

It seemed the man had put a lot of thought into choosing this particular training ground.

Kyo was surprised at how... little trouble with tree-walking she had.

In the manga, Naruto and Sasuke had both been at it for days.

It had still taken her the better part of a day to get any consistent results, so it wasn't like she was a natural like Sakura had been, either.

Comfortably average, Kyo mused from the top of her chosen tree.

It was a good thing she'd never had a trouble with heights.

Taku was shouting something, either at her or at Maki. Most likely the latter, she decided when the other boy snapped something back.

Both of them were having a bit more trouble.

Crossing her arms over her chest where she sat, Kyo swung her legs back and forth and thought it over.

Taku most likely had the most chakra out of the three of them. He was a Clan kid, and she had a vague recollection of reading or hearing somewhere that the Inuzuka clan techniques were fairly chakra extensive.

And Maki, as a civilian-born, would have the least practice, regardless of how big or small his reserves were.

So it was just natural that Kyo learned it faster.

She grimaced and shook out one leg as best she could where she sat, carefully sticking her butt to the tree-branch with a thin layer of chakra; she wouldn't want to fall off. She might have gotten the chakra part down, but that didn't mean her muscles were on the same page.

Walking vertically up a tree was far more taxing on your muscles than Kyo had ever really considered.

Gravity sucked.

“Ready for the next step?” Katsurou-sensei's voice asked from next to her, making Kyo jump and almost slip off her perch.

“Sensei!” She hissed, clutching both hands to the branch in a white knuckled grip. “Don't do that!”

“Situational awareness, Kyo,” the man returned lightly, looking far too amused at her expense, despite the lack of a smile.

“What next step?” She asked after a brief pause, where she'd mostly tried to bring her heartbeat back to normal.

“Water walking,” Katsurou said.

Perking up with interest at the reminder, Kyo nodded and climbed to her feet before slowly and carefully making her way down the tree trunk, one sure step at a time.

The one thing she'd have to train herself out of was the way she was sort of expecting to trip and fall to the ground in an undignified heap.

That would've been embarrassing. And painful.

Not that she'd been even half as clumsy in this life as she'd been in her previous one, but the reflex was still there, in the back of her head.

Katsurou-sensei, the show-off, just jumped from the top of the tree down to the ground, landing with hardly a sound.

He made it look so easy, Kyo mused a bit enviously.

“Don't we need water to do water walking?” She asked. Absently stretching out her legs now that she was back on the ground, bending forward to press her hands flat to the ground. When she straightened up again, Katsurou was watching her amusedly.

“Situational awareness,” he said again, shaking his head.

Frowning confusedly, she readily followed her sensei through the small cluster of trees and shrubbery, and when she came out the other side, gave an amused giggle.

“Oops?” She offered with a sheepish grin.

There was a decently sized pond in front of them, strangely round in shape.

Katsurou's lips twitched minutely. “Water walking,” he said, stepping onto the surface of the water as if it was solid, effortlessly strolling onto the calm pond. “Is similar and nothing at all like tree walking.”

Kyo settled down on the grass by the bank to listen.

“The water may look still on the surface, but it moves in a way trees do not. Movement you have to compensate for with your chakra,” Katsurou paused to consider her. “It will be harder to walk on moving water, such as in a river or stream, but this is a good place to start.”

Nodding, Kyo turned the information over in her head.

She hadn't actually taken walking on water into consideration when she'd thought about life as a kunoichi.

...did that mean Jesus had been a shinobi? She wondered amusedly.

“Is this pond man-made, sensei?” She couldn't help but ask.

Katsurou-sensei nodded. “There are plenty of them all throughout Konoha.”

Which would be good for multiple reasons, she realised. Not just as an extra source of drinking water in an emergency, but also in the eventuality of an invasion or attack. Konoha didn't have a majority of shinobi with water affinities, but the few they had knowing exactly where to find water to use as a weapon would far outweigh the risk of having an enemy use the same resource.

Or in the case of fire.

And then there was the added bonus of moments like this; training.

Getting to her feet, Kyo eyed the water and then herself.

With a shrug, she began to take off the cuff-holsters for her needles, followed by her various pouches, her poison pack and normal holsters. She finished it all off by pulling her t-shirt over her head, then the mesh shirt she wore underneath and her shorts.

Leaving her sandals on her feet, Kyo finally felt ready to brave the water.

Getting her needles wet would mean she'd have to reapply all the poison, and though the many, various containers holding her poison powders and such were water-proof, it would still be a pain to go through it all to make sure nothing had been ruined.

Holding no illusions, she felt it would be better to keep her clothes dry rather than fall in with them on.

This way, only her panties would get soaked.

Hah! Dirty joke!

“So I just try the same thing as with the tree?” Kyo asked, peering a bit warily at the dark water.

She could swim. She just thought it looked rather cold. And muddy.

“Only one way to find out,” Katsurou-sensei returned without missing a beat.

Kyo sent him a wry, reluctantly amused look and his eyes were practically laughing at her.

With a small sigh, Kyo sat down on the bank and began by carefully setting the soles of her sandalled feet against the surface of the water.

Frowning with concentration, Kyo directed her chakra to her feet and tried to press down.

Her foot sank down to the ankle before she pulled it back up and tried again.

And again.

Using too much chakra ended up giving the same effect as if she'd slapped the water with her foot. Hard.

She was already drenched and she hadn't even tried to stand on the thing.

Katsurou-sensei was still standing out in the middle of the pond, calm and relaxed-looking and definitely mocking her.

Water was flexible in a way wood wasn't, so wouldn't that mean she'd have to make sure her chakra was the same?

Kyo wiped water from her face and tilted her head as she considered the idea.

It would be hard, she realised, but that wasn't any reason not to try. Anything you didn't know how to do was hard.

Firming her resolve, Kyo unknowingly scowled with concentration and pressed her feet against the water's surface once again.

She couldn't just coat her feet in chakra and expect it to work here; she had to keep... keep the connection open, so to speak.

Man, this made more sense when she wasn't trying to put it into words, even if it was only in her head.

Some indeterminable time later, she had managed to keep her feet from sinking under the surface when she pressed down and felt she had to try to stand up.

She just knew she'd end up in the pond, but... It was just as well to get it over with.

At least it wasn't winter.

Taking a deep breath, Kyo concentrated on her chakra and pushed herself to her feet.

It worked. For all of a second, before the water began to give way beneath her and she ended up sinking through all the way.

Blinking rapidly, Kyo scowled at the murky water all around her and kicked her feet.

She broke the surface with little fanfare and swam back to the shore. To try again. And again. And again.

By the time Katsurou-sensei told her to get out of the water and get dressed, she felt tired down to her bones and was shivering with cold.

Taking pity on her, Katsurou ambled slowly through the trees and kept to a pace Kyo wouldn't have trouble keeping up with.

When they reached the trees Taku and Maki should have been doing their best to run up, Kyo blinked incredulously and not a little blankly at the sight before them.

Taku and Maki were... tangled in a heap of limbs in the grass and looking to be doing their best to strangle each other.

“Shouldn't you stop them, sensei?” She asked, feeling a bit like she should care more about the violent display.

Katsurou hummed neutrally.

Kisaki slunk over to sit beside Kyo, managing to look remarkably embarrassed on behalf of her human.

Kyo shuddered again, and scratched Kisaki behind the ear with a mutter of, “Boys,” and then turned to Katsurou-sensei. “May I leave for today, sensei? I need to tell kaa-san you're all willing to come for dinner.”

“Sure,” Katsurou waved her off, “I'm unfortunately gonna have to stay longer to deal with that,” he said, shaking his head with a sigh when Taku growled and bit Maki's arm. The other boy yelped and slapped the Inuzuka quite noisily across the face.

“I suppose that's your job as the sensei,” Kyo said gravely, teeth chattering slightly. “Bye!” She chirped, gave Kisaki one last pat between the ears and then trotted off.

-x-x-x-



“You live here?”Taku asked curiously, peering up at the apartment complex as if he'd never seen anything like it.

“Yup,” Kyo replied, though she mentally had to snort. “Come on,” and she led the way up the stairs.

Maki was walking closest behind her, followed by Taku and Kisaki with Katsurou-sensei bringing up the rear.

“I'm home!” She called when she opened the door and stepped inside, toeing out of her sandals and walking inside.

“Welcome back,” Isshun returned from the direction of the kitchen. “Can you check on Genma-chan for me, Kyo?”

“Okay,” Kyo called back and wandered into her parents bedroom, leaving her teammates to take their shoes off.

It wasn't until she had found Genma awake -though sleepy-looking- in his crib that she realised she probably shouldn't just have left the rest of her team without a word like that.

Picking her baby brother up, Kyo walked back to the hallway and gave her team members a sheepish smile.

“Sorry, habit.” She shrugged. “Please come in,” she bid them eagerly. “Feel like home,” she added, because teammates were supposed to be like family, weren't they? That was at least what Yuuta and Ryota felt like; an extra pair of weird, socially awkward uncles.

Kaa-san came wandering out of the kitchen then, smiling politely at the no doubt motley crew that Kyo and her team were.

“Nice to finally meet you; Kyo's told me a lot about you,” she greeted placidly.

“Why did that sound like a threat?” Taku asked, exchanging a look with Kisaki, who flicked her ears.

“Don't be rude,” Maki hissed at him before he bowed at Isshun with a polite smile. “Thank you for inviting us into your home, Shiranui-san.”

“Ah, you would be the civilian-born,” Isshun commented curiously, before she turned her gaze on Katsurou-sensei, who gave her an amicable nod.

“So, this is my kaa-san,” Kyo said into the following silence, lamenting all the socially awkward people crammed together in the same room in her head. Maki was the only one with any real competence in the subject. “And this little guy is my baby brother!” She introduced proudly, turning Genma towards the strangers and waving one of his chubby little arms in a mockery of a greeting.

“Well, it's nice to meet ya and all, I suppose,” Taku shrugged, clasping his hands behind his head.

“I'm assuming all of you are hungry,” Isshun said, waving them further into the apartment. It felt a bit cramped with all the people, but no one seemed like they minded.

Though, she wasn't sure with Katsurou-sensei, because he might just be a very good actor.

“Kaa-san, that's Inuzuka Taku and Kisaki, Minami Maki, and Yamanaka Katsurou-sensei,” Kyo belatedly introduced her teammates, feeling a flush work its way up her cheeks.

She hadn't ever been all that sociable, but damn, her manners had officially gone down the drain.

Then again, she didn't think she'd introduced anyone in this life before now... huh. Wow, her social life was almost more pathetic here than it had been in the Before.

“Let's go sit down in the kitchen,” Isshun said with a smile, and Kyo just knew she was internally laughing at her.

Not that Isshun was any better when it came to dealing with people, but still. She'd seen her mum threaten both Yuuta and Ryota with needles to get them to do what she wanted on occasion. Never tou-san, though, curiously enough.

Genma slapped one of his hands on Kyo's mouth, and she grimaced. “I think he wants something, kaa-san,” she muttered, trying to prevent Genma's fingers from getting into her mouth. “He's doing the thing again.”

“He's probably just hungry,” kaa-san chuckled, sending her an amused look. “One moment and I'll take him.”

“How old is he?” Maki asked, giving Genma a curious look.

The baby's hair had darkened to brown by now, though still a shade lighter than Kyo's, and his eyes had turned the same shade of brown as their father had.

“Almost four months,” Isshun replied easily, starting to ladle up rice into bowls and placing them on the table in front of their guests.

“I didn't know you had siblings, Kyo,” he said after a moment.

“I told you, though,” Kyo stared confusedly at him, “when you asked if the food would be poisoned,” she reminded him.

She blinked a bit when Maki's face turned bright red and he shot her kaa-san a wide-eyed, slightly panicked look.

“Yeah, but you didn't say he was so tiny,” Taku commented, leaning forward to give Genma a curious once over. “I've only got older siblings, so I don't know what ya could do with something like that.”

“He's a someone, Taku,” Kyo corrected with frown. “And he's too little.”

“Give him a few months and he'll be crawling all over the place.” Isshun hummed. “I don't think we'll be fortunate enough to have another child like you, Kyo,” she added cheerfully. “So Kou and I need to be more on our guard, or he might wander off.”

“Well behaved?” Katsurou-sensei asked idly, sounding like he was only barely interested in hearing the answer.

“Not as such,” Isshun mused, finishing serving up all the food and taking her seat, picking Genma out of Kyo's arms. The baby settled almost instantly once he was in his mother's embrace. “She was just thoughtful enough to announce where she was going.”

Kyo peered at her mother, uncertain how she was supposed to react to that.

It wasn't like she was embarrassed, but this was fairly new territory.

“Please, go ahead and eat,” Isshun continued.

“Itadakimasu!” Taku said, instantly perking up and digging in, as if he had been waiting eagerly to hear exactly that.

Kisaki joined him, eagerly attacking the plate Isshun had placed in front of the ninken on the floor.

Once they'd finished eating, Isshun sent Kyo, Taku and Maki off to entertain themselves while she did the dishes and cleaned up, leaving Katsurou-sensei to grill her on Kyo's training, no doubt.

Which would also give kaa-san the opportunity to get a feel for the kind of man sensei was.

Having no clue what she was supposed to do in this situation, Kyo ended up leading Taku, Maki and Kisaki into her room.

“So, this is my room?” She said uncertainly, turning to face to two older children.

“Yeah, sort of figured,” Taku snorted, though he looked around curiously enough.

“Looks a bit,” Maki hesitated, “sparse.”

Kyo shrugged, not offended in the least. “I spend most of my time outdoors, anyway. Only really sleep in here.”

Taku nodded, as if he was on the entirely same page.

Maki looked startled, though. “Doing what?”

“Training,” Kyo replied, blinking at the older boy. What did he think she was doing? “Or collecting and preparing poisonous plants,” she acknowledged. But that was a form of training in itself. “Haven't really been able to do that here at home for a while, so I've been using either one of the training grounds or tou-san's team members' houses.”

Maki looked mildly overwhelmed.

“Ya ever do anything for fun, chibi?” Taku asked, sending her an almost pitying look.

Kyo tilted her head. “Training is fun.”

Taku rolled his eyes, sighed as if he thought she was hopeless, and let himself collapse onto her floor.

“Your mother's food was pretty good,” he muttered.

“Yes,” Kisaki agreed, tail thumping the floor a couple of times where she had lied down next to her person, chin resting on his thigh.

Kyo grinned at the pair, accepting the compliment for what it was; a tentative olive branch.

Taku hadn't been nearly as antagonistic towards her ever since she'd knocked him out with a single needle. He seemed to be focusing his efforts more on Maki now.

“So both your parents are shinobi?” Maki asked into the not-quite awkward silence.

“Yeah.” Kyo sighed. “Tou-san's out at the border most of the time,” she frowned, “and kaa-san's probably gonna be sent back out the moment she's recovered fully from Genma's birth.”

“Yeah, well,” Taku mumbled. “That's life, inn'it?”

“Your parents are shinobi, too?” Maki asked, tilting his head in question.

Taku grunted an agreement, looking like he was about to fall asleep. “An' my two big brothers.”

“I have two little sisters,” Maki offered tentatively, looking like he thought it was only fair.

“How old are they?” Kyo asked curiously.

“Seven and four,” Maki said, looking relieved that she was actually having a conversation with him.

Kyo smiled and listened to him prattle a bit about his younger sisters. Just, normal stuff.

It was a nice break from the hectic week they'd had.

.

“Here you go, you little animals,” Katsurou-sensei said, tossing out three scrolls.

Taku and Kyo caught theirs easily enough, but Maki had to scramble not to drop his. Or let it smack him in the face. Not that he was any less coordinated than them; he'd just been busy making googly-eyes at the sword Katsurou had gotten him the day before.

Kyo eyed her scroll with blatant interest, wasting no time to open it up and take a look inside.

Setsudan Bakufu.

A wind jutsu that could apparently cut through almost anything, depending on how well executed it was.

The scroll described a big, devastating attack, but the thing that first popped into her head was how it could be used on a smaller scale. Which was very, very interesting.

...in a worryingly morbid sort of way.

A scoff from next to her made her tear her eyes away from her scroll to eye Taku, who didn't seem to have so much as glanced at the scroll held loosely in his left hand.

Kyo frowned; she would have thought Taku to have been the most eager to learn. He'd been particularly gleeful the last time Katsurou had brought it up. Which had been yesterday.

She watched the boy send the scroll a dark, almost resentful look and reached out and snatched it from him.

“Hey!” He protested with a scowl, looking like he was contemplating tackling her to get it back.

Kyo ignored him in favour of opening the scroll, which she proceeded to read out loud.

Both of her siblings in her past life had been dyslexic, and there had been plenty of kids at the school she'd worked at with the same problem when it came to reading. Most of them had acted out whenever they'd been asked to read, and while she thought Taku was a bit too proud to throw a tantrum, the way he'd reacted had made her think back on those memories.

“It sounds awesome, doesn't it?” She asked, looking up with a smile, only to start at the way Taku was staring at her. “What?”

“Nothin',” Taku muttered, leaning closer to her to peer down at the scroll, taking in the drawn picture of a vaguely shinobi-like figure performing the great fireball jutsu.

“Don't you know how to read?” Maki asked, and there was a rather amused note to his voice that instantly made Taku go rigid.

Kyo scowled at the boy and threw a pebble at his forehead, right between the eyes.

“That's going to be a needle next time,” she told him firmly, raising her chin a fraction in silent challenge.

Maki rubbed his forehead, scowling at her, and then his eyes widened in the second he got before Taku tackled him with a growl.

Kyo jumped to her feet to get out of the way, turning to Katsurou-sensei with a sigh. “They're doing it again, sensei.”

“I'd have to be blind and deaf not to notice, Kyo,” Katsurou replied dryly, slipping his hands into his pockets as he gazed dispassionately at the pile of flailing limbs that was Taku and Maki. “Let's leave them at it and get started on your jutsu.”

“Okay,” Kyo agreed slowly, giving the two boys one last look before turning fully to their sensei.

About half an hour later, Taku and Maki became aware enough of their surroundings to realise they were missing out on a lesson.

Katsurou-sensei's severely unimpressed look when they came to join them made both boys look like disobedient puppies.

Kisaki eyed her person with part sympathetic and part disappointed eyes. She'd been settled with Kyo and Katsurou, listening in on the lecture with her fellow female. While getting her ears rubbed.

“You get started on that,” Katsurou said, quite clearly sending her away to talk to the two boys.

Kyo sent Taku and Maki a quick glance, and then ran off to the other side of the training ground to start working on elemental manipulation.

Which ought to turn out to be interesting.

.

The two boys were working on their tree walking.

Kyo was nearby attempting to get the hang of her wind jutsu. Or, you know, make it work at all.

“Should I go and give them a few pointers?” She asked, giving Katsurou-sensei a questioning look where he lay a few paces away from her, seemingly asleep.

“No.”

“Okay,” Kyo muttered, frowning down at her stupid scroll.

She understood what it said, knew what she supposedly had to do, but it still wasn't working.

Katsurou sighed. “They need to learn to ask for help,” he explained, opening one eye to give her a brief glance before he looked over at Maki and Taku. “Working hard is well and good, but if you don't know what you're doing it can be more harm than most people realise.”

Kyo couldn't help but agree.

But that didn't mean it was frustrating having to watch her two teammates go at it, though.

She tilted her head. “Do I have to do it exactly as the scroll says?” She asked curiously, urged to ask by Katsurou's words and her own thoughts. “It feels weird, and I'd much rather try it differently.”

“Different how?” Katsurou asked, sitting up to give her an intent, curious look.

“These hand seals feel a bit,” she grimaced, tapping two of the seals written out in the scroll, not sure what word she should use, “redundant?” She tentatively offered.

“They're there to make this particular jutsu more easily controlled for beginners,” Katsurou said idly, cocking his head minutely as he studied her. “Shaping and forming the chakra before its released with your breath.”

Kyo wrinkled her nose. “It's my chakra, though. It's part of me and it's not like it's gonna do anything I'm not directing it to do,” she reasoned sensibly. It wasn't like chakra had a mind of its own; it did as directed and nothing more, nothing less.

All these hand signs felt like they were clogging up her system. Restricting her.

Katsurou regarded her intently for a long moment before he shrugged and waved a hand towards the unoccupied part of the training ground.

“By all means; go ahead and try,” he said. “Do your best not to hurt yourself while you're at it,” he requested wryly.

Kyo smiled, jumped to her feet and slowly went through the hand seals she wanted to use, meanwhile moulding the chakra she'd need and directing it to her lungs.

Taking a deep breath, Kyo's eyebrows pulled together with concentration and one of her hands raised to her mouth to help shape the jutsu at the final stage before release.

The closest description she could give as to what it felt like was that she 'spat' the air in a condensed ball that flattened out and formed itself into a sickle-like shape about the size of her hand when it left her mouth.

Having aimed at the ground a few meters in front of her, Kyo watched with immense satisfaction as the chakra infused wind attack tore a deep, if short, gouge out of the dirt before it dissolved.

She'd have to add more chakra, evidently, but that had clearly been her best result so far.

Turning to Katsurou-sensei with a happy grin, she clapped her hands together and bounced a bit on her feet.

“It worked!”

“...yeah,” Katsurou agreed, sounding vaguely impressed and a little surprised. “Did you intend to make it that small?”

Kyo nodded. “I think it would suit both my chakra reserves and fighting style better to go for small but devastating attacks rather than large and ostentatious. It's not like someone will be more dead just because you take out all the surrounding trees together with your target.”

Katsurou actually laughed, a short, sharp sound, before giving her a thoroughly amused look. “You're refreshingly rational, kid.”

“Thank you,” Kyo returned primly, too happy to try and analyse that comment right now. “Can I go practice my water walking after a few more tries of this?”

“Of course,” Katsurou said, shaking his head as if he didn't know what else to do. “I need to have a talk with the boys anyway. Take Kisaki with you if she's alright with it.”

“Okay!” Kyo chirped bouncing over to where the ninken was watching Taku's increasingly abysmal and violent attempts at climbing his tree.

Unlike her person, Kisaki had mastered tree walking about a day or so after Kyo had moved on to the pond. She absently wondered if sensei had asked the ninken not to give Taku any pointers...

“Yes,” Kisaki readily agreed to the proposal, and after Kyo had tried her wind jutsu three more times, followed her to the pond and tried her... paw at water walking along-side Kyo.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

It was the first day of the last week of their month.

Kyo arrived a few minutes late to training, because Genma had been a bit of a mess this morning and she'd ended up having to help kaa-san with him.

Walking onto their training grounds, it was to the sight of Taku and Maki in the midst of one of their daily scuffles.

After the morning she'd had, Kyo was pretty done already.

She walked up to Katsurou. “Can I please poison them, sensei?”

“Don't tempt me,” her sensei muttered tiredly, rubbing a hand over his eyes before he strode off towards the two boy. “Alright; enough's enough!” He bit out sharply.

Kyo jumped at the tone he'd taken.

Katsurou-sensei wasn't exactly gentle or anything, but he'd hardly been all that stern with them either, having taken a bit of a distant but helpfully guiding role when teaching them so far.

It'd sort of been clear he'd been trying to make them turn to each other for help and get closer as a team for the last month, but it had obviously backfired between the two boys.

Kyo and Kisaki got along fantastically, though.

Kyo had been teaching the ninken some of her stealth moves in the time they'd gotten somewhat to themselves.

It was pretty interesting to teach some of what she'd learned over the years to someone else. Even if that someone happened to be a dog.

“You two are going to sit your asses down, shut up and listen,” Katsurou-sensei said quietly, looking quite menacing where he stood over the two boys, who had frozen on the spot at his sharp words. “It might not seem like it inside the safety of the village walls, but there is a war out there, and if you two don't get your fucking acts together, you're going to get not just yourselves, but the rest of us killed, too.”

Katsurou eyed them with a deep frown, eyes hard and unamused.

Sensei's patience had run out, it seemed.

“You're all Genin now, but the most mature people on your team are the six year old and the ninken puppy,” the man continued harshly. Uncompromising.

Kyo might've taken it as an insult, if it didn't give such a clear, accurate picture of how sad this scenario really was.

“You are going to sit down like the adults you've been supposed to be since you graduated and talk things out, or Kami help me, I will do something drastic.” Katsurou paused, mouth pulled taunt in a frown. “And you won't like it one bit,” he promised. “Kyo, Kisaki, come over here,” he called over his shoulder.

Doing as told, Kyo soon enough settled down on the ground next to the boys, who looked a bit like they'd been dropped at the deep end with no warning.

“Now,” Katsurou said firmly. “Talk. Why are you fighting like this?”

Taku mutinously clenched his teeth, crossed his arms over his chest and frowned off to the side. The very picture of uncooperative body-language.

Maki scowled stubbornly at the ground.

Katsurou merely sat down in front of them, and it looked like they might end up sitting there for the rest of the day, Kyo mused irritably. Was it so hard to just talk it out?

It wasn't like Katsurou was asking them for classified information!

“He keeps looking down on me because I don't have shinobi parents!” Maki finally burst out angrily, evidently unable to hold his tongue any longer.

Admittedly, he'd lasted almost an hour.

A very boring, long and boring hour.

“I do not!” Taku growled back. “He keeps provoking me!” He spat back, sending Maki a venomous glare before focusing at Katsurou. “The idiot won't get a clue, even when he keeps-” and he clenched his jaw again.

Kyo frowned, trying to figure out what he was talking about.

Yeah, she could get the first part of it. Taku was an Inuzuka, and she'd always gotten the feeling that the dog Clan tended to operate more by... animal standards than human ones. To a certain extent.

Maki wouldn't know that, though, and being a civilian-born, until he acknowledged that, he was quite firmly stuck.

“It's not my fault you can't even read, you utter anima-” Maki began to say, and there was an alarming amount of vindictiveness in his eyes.

Kyo threw a pebble at his face.

Carefully making her way to her feet, Kyo took a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself.

Maki looked decidedly wide-eyed and he was cradling his cheek -which was no doubt going to bruise- and staring at her as if he'd never seen her before.

“You do not get to do that,” she told him quietly, a deep frown on her face. “Whether you acknowledge it or not, you're the one on this team that knows the least about shinobi culture and tradition. Kisaki knows more than you do, and she's a puppy,” she said. “You may know more about the civilian way of life, and no one here's trying to tell you otherwise. But if you don't want to die, then you need to shut the hell up and wise up.”

“You're just a kid,” Maki threw back, looking like he was scrambling for something hurtful to verbally hurl in her face.

“Yeah,” Kyo flicked a needle at him, which pinged off his hitai-ate. “But at least I know not to tell a person that should be as close as family, that they don't even deserve to be counted as human because of something as inane as trouble reading!” She hissed.

Giving the boy an utterly derisive look, Kyo turned to Taku.

“Taku, stuff the pride where the sun won't shine; I'm giving you a few pointers for your fire jutsu, that you would have been able to figure out on your own by now if you hadn't been too busy butting heads with the idiot over there,” she declared firmly, took the older boy's hand and dragged him off towards the trees without another look at Maki.

“You can be pretty scary, you know?” Taku blurted awkwardly once they were amongst the trees.

Kyo blinked and gave him a mildly incredulous look. “Thank you?” She offered tentatively, because the way he'd said that it sounded like he'd meant it as a compliment.

Taku nodded. “Where are we even going? I mean, it's pretty stupid to try a katon in here.” He looked around at all the vegetation.

“If you hadn't been so busy with Maki, you would've found out that there's a pond back here. Sensei's been having me practice water walking on it.”

“Water walking?” Taku repeated with interest, a speculative glint in his sharp, rather animalistic eyes.

Kyo nodded. “It's the next step to tree walking, and I figure sensei wants us to get as good at both of them as possible before we have to leave the village.”

For obvious reasons, really.

Taku snorted and Kyo was very pleased by the fact that he hadn't let go of her hand yet.

“Ya wanna show me?” He asked hesitantly after walking a few seconds in silence.

“Sure!” Kyo chirped with a wide smile.

Because, finally!

Instead of pulling out the fire jutsu scroll -which she'd ended up sort of just... keeping- Kyo began to strip out of her gear and clothes.

Taku took one look at her, shrugged, and then followed suit.

Once she was done, Kyo wobbled onto the surface of the pond, pleased at the fact that she didn't have to dedicate her full focus to the task of staying over the treacherous liquid beneath her feet, before she carefully turned around to face Taku, who eyed her with clear interest.

“It's sort of like tree walking,” she began. “But it's always moving and it isn't still, because water,” she sighed exasperatedly. “So you have to compensate for that with your chakra. All the time. Or you get a bath.” She grimaced down at the water.

“Sounds easy enough,” Taku declared and then attempted to jump onto the water, acting like he'd be able to land as expertly as she'd seen Katsurou-sensei do.

Taku disappeared beneath the surface of the water with a splash.

Kyo yelped and had to windmill her arms quickly not to join him, scrambling to adjust to the unsettled water. And she still ended up sinking almost to her knees before she managed to get it under control.

Taku broke the surface with a splutter of laughter.

Kyo sent him what was no doubt a pathetic pout, and he unashamedly splashed her with even more water.

“Hey,” she complained, because she had actually managed to stay sort-of dry this time! “I'm being nice to you, you meanie.”

Taku snorted and swam back to the edge of the pond, where he could comfortably stand with the water reaching no higher than his knees.

“A bit of water can't kill ya,” he returned without a shred of regret.

Kyo mock-frowned at him and then carefully angled one of her feet and sent a strong pulse of chakra down the limb.

The minor explosion of water it resulted in drenched the other boy and though it had made her lose her concentration, which had dropped her into the pond, Kyo couldn't help but snicker amusedly.

Taku wiped the water out of his eyes.

“That's a neat trick,” he observed magnanimously.

“It's what happen when you apply too much chakra. A bit more annoying that just breaking the bark,” she snickered and slowly pulled herself back onto the water's surface. Something Taku watched with clear fascination.

“Alright! Let's do this thing.” He grinned and set to it like the maniac Kyo had sort of figured he was.

An hour later, Kyo couldn't help but stare at him with something akin to petulant incredulousness.

How?” She demanded, staring intently at Taku, who was wobbling around on the water. About as steady on his feet as a newborn foal, but keeping well out of the liquid. Most of the time.

How had he gotten it so quickly!?

“You're way too scared of fallin' in the water, ya know,” Taku told her distractedly as he took another few unsteady, drunken steps.

Kyo scowled.

She didn't particularly enjoy bathing in freshwater. It smelled, was murky and full of mud, not to speak of all the other various kinds of debris and partly decomposed plant-matter, and it was the colour of unhealthy pee.

Nope. Saltwater was far more her kind of jam.

“You're saying I'd be better if I was as enthusiastic about bathing in this soup as you?” She couldn't help but fire back.

At least it made Taku laugh, which dumped him right back into said soup.

The Inuzuka emerged from the water with a gasp for air, still laughing.

“Kyo, Taku!” Katsurou-sensei called from the edge of the water, drawing both of their attention and making them realise how far out onto the pond they'd wandered. He waved a hand for them to come to him, so Kyo waited long enough for Taku to climb back onto the water's surface, and then walked back towards dry land and the rest of her team.

“What is it, sensei?” She asked curiously.

“Maki's got something to say to the both of you,” Katsurou said, giving her a mildly amused look.

Kyo blinked and turned to Maki.

Who was beet red in the face and looking anywhere but at her.

“Is he alright?” She asked, a tad concerned. He hadn't managed to actually stab himself with that needle she'd thrown at him earlier? That had actually been one of her poisoned ones...

Maki shrank back fractionally and raised both hands to cover his eyes. “Why aren't you wearing any clothes?” He asked in a barely audible voice.

Kyo tilted her head. “I'm not actually naked,” she pointed out sensibly. She was still wearing her panties. “And even if I were, it's not like we look different enough you'll die. I'm six; I don't really have anything yet, you know?”

If anything, Maki's face got even brighter red. Something Kyo wouldn't have thought possible a second ago.

She'd never actually seen anyone blush that bright before.

“We don't really look all that different yet,” Taku agreed as he climbed out of the water, having opted to slosh through the liquid the last bit. “Only Kyo hasn't got the dangly bits,” he grinned, showing off his sharp canines.

Maki made a noise like he'd been mortally wounded.

“Can you put on some clothes, please?” He managed after a few seconds.

Kyo shrugged and turned to her pile of clothes and weapons pouches.

Briefly contemplating whether or not to take off her drenched underwear first, she decided not to. To spare Maki the 'horror' if nothing else. The sacrifices she made for her team-mate's delicate sensibilities.

Now her trousers would end up wet. Ah, well. She'd survive.

“You wanted to tell us something, Maki?” Kyo finally asked, turning to look at the boy while she put her collection of holsters and packs back into place around her body.

Taku, the cheat, had just shook himself -like his family namesake- and then pulled his clothes back on and was mostly done.

His shirt was slowly but steadily getting wet from the water dripping from his hair and left-over moisture on his skin, though.

“Sorry,” Maki said, staring intently at the grass at his feet. “For being an ass,” he added, a bit grudgingly, but sincerely enough.

“Okay,” Kyo chirped, giving him a smile when he directed an incredulous glance her way. Her smile faded and she gave him a serious look. “Don't do it again.”

“I'll try not to,” he promised quickly, giving her a slightly nervous look. “Please don't poison me,” he added.

“And you've learned your first unwritten shinobi rule, it seems,” Katsurou-sensei mused, patting the boy in question on the shoulder. “Don't piss off the poison specialist.”

“That's a rule?” Maki asked, looking quietly despaired. As if he had just realised how much he hadn't known he'd hadn't known.

“More like common sense,” Kyo returned cheerfully. “Ryota-oji always complain about that one time kaa-san made him sick for a whole day for 'being an insensitive prick',” she informed him sagely.

It was a great story, actually, and one of tou-san's favourites to tell, because it led up to the moment he realised he was in love with kaa-san.

Much to Ryota's disgruntled exasperation.

“Ya gonna stop challenging me now?” Taku asked idly, watching Maki with thinly veiled dislike.

“Yeah. Sorry,” Maki said again, back to looking apologetic. “I don't- I mean, I'm not sure about everything, so, can you just tell me if I do something wrong?” He asked miserably, giving both Kyo and Taku an uncertain look.

Taku glanced at Kyo and then shrugged. “Sure.”

“Okay,” Kyo smiled, “we can do that.”

“Excellent, because I'm going to drill you on teamwork exercises for the rest of the week,” Katsurou-sensei said. “In addition to everything else we've got planned.”

Kyo felt her smile become fixed on her face, while Taku outright groaned.

Maki silently accepted his fate.

They were already having long days filled with nothing but training!

“Let me just tell kaa-san not to expect me back home until the end of the week.” Kyo sighed. “And grab a few changes of clothes,” she added, because that just made sense. She should probably grab her 'camping' gear, too.

“You've got an hour,” Katsurou said with the air of a truly generous man. “Scram.”

All four of them ran off, Kisaki hot on Taku's heels when he turned down in the direction of the Inuzuka compound.

.

At the end of their month, after a long week of having spent both days and nights in each other's company, Katsurou brought them to the Hokage tower.

Because he was secretly evil, he brought them there first thing in the morning, before Kyo or Taku had been able to catch breakfast.

Which meant that all four of them were tired, a bit on the dirty side and very hungry, in addition to feeling generally disgruntled with life at large and with sensei in particular.

“Kyo!” A semi-familiar voice called, making Kyo blink and scan the people around them again, this time to look specifically for anyone she might know.

Tou-san and his team hadn't been supposed to come back to the village quite yet, so it couldn't be any one of them.

Kaa-san would be home with Genma and that left the people she was already standing with.

“Ah, Inoichi,” Kyo muttered when her gaze landed on the Yamanaka in question and his team. “Been a while,” she added after a pause that was perhaps a second too long to be polite.

“Wow, you look like crap,” Inoichi observed with a small smile. “Hi, Katsurou-oji!”

“Inoichi,” Katsurou returned evenly, barely looking away from the boy's sensei.

Hadn't he been a Sarutobi? Kyo wondered sluggishly.

She was just six; she needed her sleep, damn it!

“How've you been?” Kyo asked as their teams moved towards the mission room together.

“Okay.” The boy shrugged, eyeing Taku and Maki curiously a moment, before turning back to Kyo. “Been running a few in-village missions, but mostly training.”

Only training,” Kyo returned in what was almost a grunt. “This'll be our first mission.”

“Huh.” Inoichi blinked. “Good luck, then, I suppose? We should totally meet up when you've got the time, though, Kyo.”

“Hm?” Kyo tilted her head and eyed the boy curiously.

They'd talked a few times, but it wasn't like they were actual friends. Inoichi had been one of the few children in her class that'd been... tolerable. Which meant he at least wasn't a whiny, rude brat.

“You like plants, right?” Inoichi asked eagerly. “My clan's got large green-houses where we grow things for the hospital. I can show them to you if you'd like?”

Kyo peered at the older boy.

Okay, he was friendly, extroverted and definitely a social butterfly, but that didn't justify the offer. Kyo was well aware that she was a six year old girl, he a ten year old boy and there really shouldn't be any appeal for him to spend time together.

What was his angle? Was he fishing for some kind of information?

“Okay,” Kyo finally agreed, because at least it sounded interesting and was something to focus on that wasn't either training or worrying about eventual missions outside of Konoha. “I don't know when I'll have the time, though.”

“Yeah, me neither.” Inoichi grinned, carefree in a way Kyo wished she could be, too. “Just keep an eye out for me, okay? Bye!”

“Bye,” Kyo returned bemusedly, watching Inoichi, Shikaku and Chouza all wander off with their sensei, who'd gathered their mission scroll. And then turned back to her team, which was ready to accept their own mission now.

Kyo eyed the mission desk, took in the handful of stressed-looking shinobi manning it and mused that the Hokage must be far too busy to deal with things like this himself in the middle of a war.

She couldn't help but be curious about Sarutobi Hiruzen.

He'd been a major part not only in the Naruto story, but also in the shaping of this entire world.

Seriously, the guy had survived three wars, and Kyo was worried to hell and back about surviving just the one.

She very much ignored the potential of her having to fight in another one, if she actually did survive this one.

Kyo seriously didn't think the odds were in her favour.

“In-village mission for Team Six,” Katsurou-sensei requested blandly to the ninja sitting behind the table.

“If you're sure,” the man muttered distractedly, “I think there was one- ah, yes. Here you go,” and he tossed a scroll at Katsurou, who caught it and gave a short nod, before turning around and herding them away from the table.

“That was a bit rude, wasn't it?” Maki asked quietly, sending Kyo a vaguely uncertain look.

“No.” She shook her head. “Everyone here's either injured or over-worked, or both, and it's polite to take up as little time as possible,” she explained, keeping her voice just as quiet.

Maki had made good on his promise to try and do better, and Kyo was perfectly willing to explain things to him when she could, with Taku picking up the slack when he asked about subjects she wasn't entirely sure of herself.

It'd just happened twice so far, but they were making progress!

“So what sort of mission do we have, sensei?” Kyo asked once they'd left the building behind and were quite obviously heading in a certain direction. Where that would lead them, she wasn't at all sure, because the village was a bit too wide-spread for her to guess.

“Your first D-rank,” Katsurou said, holding the scroll up for them to see, “is running missives between Intel and the Archives.”

Kyo felt her eyebrows pull together in a small frown as she readjusted her expectations. No missions weeding and re-painting fences for her, she supposed, a bit resignedly.

Civilians were no doubt less likely to commission Genin teams for things like that in war-times, and it wasn't like Konoha had the man-power to spare, anyway, if what she'd taken away from tou-san talking to kaa-san about it had been anywhere near correct.

Officially, the war had been going on for four years, now. And Konoha was starting to feel it.

“I'm going to show you the way for the first run, but after that, I will hang back and observe,” sensei warned, and they all nodded.

What followed was a long day where Kyo and her team ran back and forth between Intel and the Archives, which, just so happened, lay on completely opposite ends of the village. Probably for a good reason, but Kyo's legs didn't appreciate it.

The fact that they hadn't gotten to eat breakfast made it all all the more fun, and when Katsurou-sensei finally informed them they'd stop for lunch, Kyo almost hugged him.

Maki looked like he was about to collapse from hunger, while Taku had grown exceedingly more grumpy as the day progressed, snapping and snarling at anyone who dared try to talk to him.

Kyo made a mental note to make sure she always had a lot of either ration bars -she could ask kaa-san for a few- or various other energy bars on her person in the future.

Katsurou took them to a restaurant sporting the Akimichi Clan mark on the sign over the door and ordered them all plenty of food.

Then it was back to running missives.

Kyo understood that what they were doing was important, that the village couldn't function without this small contribution; the different departments couldn't function to their full extent if they weren't communicating with each other.

It just felt like a lot of missives.

“See you four first thing tomorrow morning,” Katsurou-sensei declared after they had run their last message for the day.

Even Kisaki looked beat, and she'd been getting a ride via Taku's shoulders for the last hour.

Kyo, and her fellow team-members, all wandered off without so much as a word of goodbye.

When she finally got home -for the first time in a week-, Kyo ate the meal Isshun had prepared for her, took a shower, and then collapsed into bed, dead to the world before she even hit the mattress.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“Be careful, Kyo,” tou-san said solemnly, picking her up and wrapping her into a tight hug.

Kyo hugged him back as hard as she could, burying her face in his shoulder. “You, too, tou-san.”

Kou chuckled hoarsely and pressed a kiss against her hair. “I'm not leaving until tomorrow, and I do believe you're going in the opposite direction, kitten,” he said, voice far lighter than the situation called for.

“It's just a week-long mission,” Kyo muttered against Kou's shirt, not sure if she was trying to reassure her dad or herself. “We're going to one of the villages to pick up a merchant's son and then coming back here.”

“Listen to your sensei, and do your best to stay safe,” Kou said, putting her on her feet. “Let me get dressed and I'll come see you off,” he smiled, ruffling her hair a bit sadly. It made his left eye squint almost completely shut. The bruise around it was starting to fade to green, but it was still too swollen for Kyo's taste.

“I'll go say bye to kaa-san and Genma,” she said, before scurrying off towards her parents' bedroom.

She supposed it was Genma's bedroom, too, for now. Though kaa-san had asked her if she'd mind sharing with her brother in a few months, and when Kyo had said no, plans had been made.

“Kaa-san,” Kyo whispered, causing the woman in question to stir. “I'm gonna leave now.”

“Oh, you should have woken me up,” Isshun sighed, sitting up in bed to pull her into a tight, sleep-warm hug. “Finish your mission and come back home,” she whispered.

“Okay,” Kyo said weakly, feeling a bit like she might cry.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped back from her kaa-san and leaned over Genma's crib, running quick fingers along his cheek, and then returned to the hallway.

She didn't have to wait long for Kou, who picked her up, settling her on his hip and then left, using the rooftops to get them across Konoha as quickly as possible. He didn't touch back down on the ground until he reached the main gates.

“Hey, sensei,” Kyo greeted from her father's arms, managing a small smile at Katsurou, who took in the sight of her and Kou and gifted her with a faint, barely noticeable smile back.

“Good morning, Kyo. Shiranui-san.” He gave her tou-san a nod.

“It's nice to meet you,” Kou sighed, managing a bleak smile, raising a hand to smooth over Kyo's hair, as if to ascertain himself she was still there, even if it was just for another few minutes.

“Hey, sensei!” Taku came running up to them, wearing an excited grin and Kisaki hot on his heels. “Oh, morning, Kyo,” he added when he spotted her, blinking at the stranger holding her. “Ya dad?”

“Yeah. Tou-san, this is Inuzuka Taku and his partner Kisaki,” she introduced, perfectly happy to remain in her dad's arms a bit longer.

“Maki's not here yet? Man, I though I was gonna be last,” Taku mused, crossing his arms over his chest with a slight frown.

“That's because kaa-chan didn't want me to step out the door,” Maki said as he trotted up to them. “Morning, Katsurou-sensei,” he added at the Yamanaka. “Where's Kyo?”

“Right here,” Kyo piped up, putting her head down on tou-san's shoulder.

Maki turned and blinked at her, looking suddenly troubled. “Sensei, maybe Kyo should stay in the village?” He muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Kyo raised her head to stare at him, raising one eyebrow.

“Kyo's your teammate,” Katsurou-sensei answered simply. “We'll need her.”

“Well,” Kou sighed, setting her down on the ground in front of him. “Good luck on your first mission, kitten. If anyone gives you any trouble, you stick your most potent needles in them, okay?”

“Okay.” Kyo smiled, feeling her lips wobble just a little. Instead of bursting into tears, though, she just wrapped her arms around his neck for one last hug and then followed Katsurou-sensei when he walked over to the guard desk to show them the procedure of leaving the village on official business.

Kou slipped his hands into his pockets, watched her a moment longer and then headed back home. No doubt to enjoy what little more time he had with Isshun and Genma.

“Your dad didn't look too well,” Maki commented once they'd set out and the village was twenty minutes behind them.

“He gets less and less time to recuperate between border patrol missions,” Kyo said with an unhappy frown. “At least he hasn't gotten seriously injured in the last few years.”

Taku hummed pensively where he was running beside her. “Teki-nii almost died last year,” the boy offered, shrugging casually before he leapt from one tree to another. “An' Akashi-nii almost lost an arm and Tenshi three months ago.”

“I'm sorry,” Kyo said, and she couldn't help but sigh quietly to herself because how could this be her life now? How could this be life, period?

It was horrible.

“Pay attention, brats,” Katsurou cut in, giving them a sharp but understanding look. “Just because we're close to the village doesn't mean there can't be enemies around.”

With that encouraging reminder, Team Six continued their trek in silence.

It would take them two days to reach the village they were picking up their client at, and a little over double that time on the way back. Because of the civilian, they'd have to set a pace he could actually keep up with unless Katsurou-sensei opted on carrying him.

Something Kyo didn't think would've been very wise, considering he was by far their strongest fighter.

When they made camp that night, they easily settled into now familiar routines, taking up certain tasks without the need for words.

“Don't think about keeping watch,” sensei said, settling down by the fire-pit Maki had dug and started a fire in. “I'll take care of it.”

“Okay,” Kyo said with a nod.

It sort of made sense; this was their first real mission and Katsurou probably wanted them as alert as possible, even if that meant little to no sleep for himself. He'd most likely be able to rest up in the village they were meeting the merchant's son in.

Taku and Maki both got out their sleep rolls and settled down on the other side of the fire.

Kyo took one look at them, weighed her own roll in her hands and with a nod, marched over and settled herself quite firmly between them.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Maki asked, sitting back up to give her an incredulous look.

“Going to sleep,” Kyo replied as she wormed her way into her blankets.

“Yeah, but why are you over here?” He tried again, shooting Taku a look.

For all that it did him, because the Inuzuka just snorted and moved closer to Kyo, kicked his feet a few times to find a comfortable position and then went boneless.

Kisaki took the opportunity to settle mostly on top of him, draping her body along his legs with her head cushioned on his stomach. Had she grown? Kyo couldn't remember the ninken being that big when she'd first met her.

It looked both pretty nice, and also a bit painful and restrictive, Kyo thought.

It made her miss her dogs from Before something fierce.

“We're children, Maki,” Kyo told him quietly, doing her best to snuggle into Taku's side for comfort and warmth. “We might die on this mission, so I'd rather just cuddle if that's okay with you.”

Maki was silent for a long time, and then let out an aggravated sigh. “Fine,” he relented and lied back down, awkwardly shuffling closer to her.

Before she fell asleep, Kyo could've sworn she heard Katsurou mutter something that sounded suspiciously like 'puppy-pile'.

.

They reached the village with minimal fuss.

Kyo took in the wooden buildings, looking rather primitive and practically medieval compared to what she was used to. Konoha had definitely progressed far beyond this point.

Did these people even have electricity? Running water? She highly doubted it.

The people they encountered all watched them warily, as if they were terrified they'd start killing people with no provocation. Or, if they were slightly more rational human beings, sent Kyo and her fellow Genin wide-eyed looks.

Katsurou took them to the biggest building in town, which looked like it might be an inn, a restaurant, or perhaps a combination of both.

Kyo felt rather self-conscious about the amount of stares her hitai-are attracted. It felt weird to have people's gazes fix themselves on her forehead rather than her eyes, or even face in general.

While Katsurou-sensei went to talk with who she assumed must be the owner -an older, greying woman with a straight back and firm lines around her mouth- Kyo, Maki, Taku and Kisaki waited near the door.

The patrons of the place had all hushed when they'd entered, and no one seemed comfortable enough with their presence to resume their conversations while they were still there.

Taku frowned, scanned the room and opened his mouth.

Kyo elbowed him lightly in the side, stopping him before he could utter a word.

In response, the Inuzuka boy sent her an annoyed look, but thankfully decided to be patient and wait for sensei.

When Katsurou finally finished talking to the rather impressive-looking woman, he strode back to them and mentioned them back outside without a word.

“He wasn't there?” Kyo asked quietly, hurrying her step until she was walking almost next to him.

Katsurou briefly glanced down at her, before he went back to scanning their surroundings, taking in the people moving about and anything else he might find interesting.

“No.”

Kyo sighed. Because of course their first real mission couldn't just be easy.

With a shiver of dread trickling down her spine, she dearly hoped this wouldn't turn out like Naruto's first C-rank.

This may just be a D-rank, but it was quite a few years until that point in time would come to pass, and war changed the rules.

When it became clear Katsurou-sensei wouldn't explain anything anytime soon, Kyo fell back to her fellow Genin, exchanged a look with both of them and simply followed their sensei as he walked towards what seemed to be the edge of town.

The moment they'd cleared the last of the buildings, sensei took to the trees with the rest of them hot at his heels.

Katsurou jumped a small distance and then stopped, coming to rest on a large tree branch that was wide and sturdy enough to hold all five of them.

“Our client never made it to the village, and there hasn't been a caravan through in weeks,” he told them evenly, crouching down to be more at their eye-level. “The woman I talked to informed me they've had something of a bandit problem in these parts for about a month or so,” Katsurou sighed, pale green eyes flicking from face to face.

“So it's most likely he's dead?” Maki offered tentatively, frowning. As if the thought of failing their first mission didn't sit right with him, even by a technicality. “We're going back home?”

“He may be dead, kid, but we should at least try to find him,” Katsurou explained patiently. “Konoha doesn't have a reputation for half-assed shinobi.”

“It would be bad for business to not even try,” Kyo explained when Maki still looked confused. “Wouldn't inspire confidence from our clients if we gave up right away,” she muttered, a frown growing on her face.

“So we're going after the bandits,” Taku summarized succinctly, crossing his arms over his chest with a speculative look on his face. There was a spark of excitement in his eyes, but he also looked ever so slightly wary. “Do we even know they're nothin' more than bandits?”

“No, we don't,” Katsurou shook his head, an unhappy look creeping onto his features. “It's most likely they are, though. We're deep in Fire Country and the borders to the other major Villages are far from here.”

“There're no guaranties, though,” Kyo muttered, absently running a finger over her needle-cuffs.

Katsurou-sensei nodded shortly. “I need you three,” Kisaki huffed and he corrected himself with a twitch of the lips,” four, to do exactly as I say. If I tell you to run for Konoha, that is exactly what you will do. Kyo,” he fixed her with his pupil-less gaze, “I trust you'll do your best to keep these three in line.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo replied firmly, even as her insides threatened to freeze up.

Why was he putting HER in charge!?

When neither Taku nor Maki contested their sensei's decision, Kyo was a little thrilled but mostly felt like she was in the twilight zone. It didn't help that they were about to hunt down bandits.

“We need to track these bandits down, scope out the situation and decide what to do based on what we find. Any questions?” Katsurou gave them each a weighty look. “Very well, then. Taku, Kisaki, I have a scent sample of our client; I want you to memorize it and try to find any hint of it as we move on from here.” And he pulled out the mission scroll, opened it enough to reveal a small, basic storage seal in one corner.

Soon enough, he held a square of fabric in one hand, looking like a very small handkerchief, which he held out to the Inuzuka and his ninken.

Kisaki pressed her snout to the piece of cloth and took a few deep breaths.

“Okay,” she said when she stepped away from it, watching as Taku brought it to his face to do the same.

“Maki, Kyo, stay close to Taku and make sure to guard him while he focuses on trying to track our client down,” their sensei instructed next.

“What about you, sensei?” Maki asked, nervously gripping the handle of the short sword, a wakizashi, strapped to his side.

“There are more than one way to track people,” Katsurou said, lips stretching in a small, humourless smile. “If anyone isn't ready for this, I need you to tell me now.”

Kyo felt like her heart was beating so hard against the inside of her ribcage she was sure sensei would be able to see it. Her breath was loud in her own ears, but she didn't think she'd be any more ready a year from now.

She'd been training for this since she was two, never mind what she felt about it.

“Then let's go,” Katsurou said, turning and continuing in the direction he'd started them in. Presumably heading in the general direction the townspeople thought the bandits resided in.

As they ran, Kyo checked over her equipment, meticulously going through her weapons with sure, quick fingers.

It felt natural. Normal.

She did it every day. Most often several times.

She knew exactly what was where, without looking and without much, if any, thought.

Finishing off with the cufflinks, holding a selection of her needles, Kyo knew without pause which ones were lethal, which ones were sedatives and which ones would merely make someone immensely miserable and probably wish they were dead.

When had that happened?

The impact when she pushed off from the next tree-branch jarred her back into the present.

She couldn't afford to get lost in her own head right now; she'd die.

She wanted to go back to kaa-san and Genma, she wanted to return to the Village and wait for the next time tou-san came home.

She even wanted to see Inoichi again so he could show her his stupid greenhouses.

Taking deep, slow breaths, Kyo felt herself settle, little by little.

There hadn't been much choice involved, but she'd been overall happy in this life. She'd enjoyed most of the training she'd been doing, and a lot of it had been outright fun.

She could do this.

That wasn't even in question, really. Kyo highly doubted she was the kind of person who'd rather kill themselves than hurt anyone else.

She was too selfish.

She wanted to live.

Even at her worst moments in her past life, suicide hadn't even been a conscious option. She'd been crying her eyes out, had panic attacks and felt like things were never going to get better. But the idea of ending it had never so much as popped into her head.

What she was really afraid of, she mused distantly as she did her best to scan the forest around them, making sure to be prepared to protect Taku and Kisaki while they focused on filtering through whatever scents they found, was that it would be... easy.

Kyo had never been a very emotional person, now or Before, and-

She didn't particularly miss people when they were gone, she didn't cry often or easily, she didn't worry particularly much in general.

There had been moments when she'd wondered if she was actually a normal human being. If she was somehow defective because she didn't react the same as other people. So many people seemed so overly emotional to her and she just didn't understand.

No matter how much she'd tried.

Before-her had lost both paternal grandparents, and she hadn't even cried. She had felt a bit sad of course, however briefly, but it hadn't been... what she'd been supposed to feel, had it? Hadn't been anywhere near the emotional reaction she felt she should have had.

Clenching her hands a few times before relaxing her fingers, Kyo firmly pushed her thoughts aside.

She could have a mental crisis later, but this certainly wasn't the time for it.

She'd promised kaa-san she would do her best to come back, and tou-san expected it of her.

This was her second attempt at Life, and Kyo had been determined to do the most of it. That would mean doing her damn best to survive as long as she possibly could, even if that meant painting herself in other people's blood.

Lips twisting in a wryly amused expression at her own morbid humour, Kyo swallowed and pressed on.

Katsurou-sensei looked like he'd actually found something and was leading them along his chosen path with a new sense of purpose and determination.

Taku hadn't said anything, but they had no idea where their client had been intercepted and potentially killed, so there were no guarantees the guy's scent would be present.

.

They'd been running for about an hour when Katsurou-sensei slowed to a stop, mentioning for them to be silent.

Kyo automatically checked that her chakra was fully concealed and crouched down in front of the man to hear what he had to say.

“What do you see?” Katsurou asked in a barely audible voice, gaze flicking to the area in front of them.

“Trees,” Maki breathed in a rather weak attempt at humour that fell entirely flat.

“Signs of people,” Taku interjected tersely, sharp eyes scanning the forest floor, which was located startlingly far beneath them.

Kyo was still sometimes startled by just how huge the trees around here were.

There were paths in the foliage beneath them, though, and they didn't look like they'd been made by the local wildlife. Dead branches and other debris that usually littered the ground was absent, and the animal presence seemed to be minimal.

All signs suggesting there were people nearby. People who had been staying here for a while.

“How close?” Katsurou-sensei asked idly, and he hadn't let up on his vigil for a second, seemingly aware of everything around them.

“I can't hear anything,” Taku grunted quietly. “So not too close.”

“They're close enough they traverse this part of the forest often enough to make paths,” Kyo observed, trying to keep her voice clinically neutral. “It should be easy for Taku and Kisaki to pick up their scents and track them down that way. Unless you have other plans, sensei?”

Katsurou sent Taku and his ninken a considering look. “You think you can do it without forgetting the client's scent?”

“No problem,” Taku returned firmly. “Ground level or from up here?”

“If you can pick up the trail from up here it would be preferred,” sensei said, implying it wasn't the most important issue at hand.

“We'll do our best, sensei!” Taku promised, exchanging a look with Kisaki, who nodded.

“Yes,” the ninken agreed, tongue lolling out of her mouth in a doggy grin, before she flicked her ears and turned her full attention on their task.

Kyo followed silently when Taku and Kisaki took the lead, Maki at her left and sensei bringing up the rear.

It made her feel safe; having Katsurou behind her, even if it felt slightly irrational at the same time.

She hadn't known him that long, and while she got the feeling he was somewhat fond of them, Katsurou-sensei had been rather distant with them so far.

Which was perfectly normal shinobi behaviour, in her experience -Ryota still tried to go with the emotionless robot routine with her sometimes- but it did leave something to be desired. Sensei was a Jounin, though, and he must have survived a lot of friends and colleagues and such, so... Trying to protect yourself from any potential future loss was only natural. Human.

“Unwashed bandits up ahead, sensei,” Taku murmured over his shoulder, making Kyo look over her shoulder at the man, too.

Katsurou nodded. “I'll go in first, you three on my six. Understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo and the boys chorused, Kisaki nodding along, eyes and ears fixed on the group of men they could see between the trees now.

There was a camp. Of sorts.

Part of Kyo was a bit offended to claim it as such, because it was hardly more than a large fireplace surrounded by rocks in front of a small rock-face, which turned into something of a very low hill. Possibly made by a potential earth jutsu, once upon a time.

“Don't get killed,” Katsurou-sensei said, giving them each a heavy look, and then jumped off the branch towards the bandit camp.

Kyo took a deep, trembling breath and followed him.

The first man had already died by the time she touched the ground, lying on his back a little to the right of where she landed, with his throat cut cleanly.

She hadn't expected the chaos.

This felt like a small affair; a far cry from the battles she had been envisioning her father fighting in the few times she contemplated tou-san's missions.

Katsurou-sensei had felled the first man, though, which had sent the rest of the bandits into a frenzy, grabbing all sorts of weapons -makeshift and otherwise- and scrambling to defend themselves.

Kyo didn't think they had much of a chance against Katsurou, no matter how much they struggled.

Taku rushed passed her, teeth bared and a snarling Kisaki at his side, fingers curled like claws before he began to flash through seals to what she recognized as one of his Clan techniques.

The second she'd lingered had been more than enough -would have no doubt gotten her killed if their opponents had been shinobi- so Kyo rushed after her teammates, determined not to fail to do her part.

She could feel Maki close behind her and when one of the men, eyes wide with panic and thoughtless fear, turned towards her, a rusty old sword already swinging at her head, Kyo reacted.

It was reflex at this point.

Muscle memory ingrained so deeply into her body she didn't even have to think.

One moment, the man had been trying to take her head off, the next, Kyo had a kunai in her hand and was slipping beneath the bandits' frankly abysmal guard. Burying her knife in his groin -there were large blood vessels there that would ensure he bled out in seconds- before she headed for the next one, barely waiting long enough to make sure her first target had gone down.

By the time silence returned, Kyo was breathing hard enough the air almost wheezed through her windpipe, and her hands were sticky with blood.

Feeling particularly wide-eyed, Kyo quickly looked around to make sure everyone was alright, focusing exclusively on Taku and Kisaki, Maki and Katsurou-sensei.

The ones who counted.

“Everyone alright?” Sensei asked calmly, voice even and smooth and just as normal as it'd been since the very first day.

Kyo managed a nod.

Glancing at the boys, both looked relatively calm but pale, though Taku had blood smeared across his face which made it a bit hard to tell.

Maki looked green.

“Good, because we need to try and figure out what they did with our client,” Katsurou said, and his voice was almost relaxed, slow in a way it hadn't been before their attack. “Kyo, look through the things they've got stashed over there,” he directed smoothly. “Maki, go sit down before you faint. You two, help Kyo.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo said and turned to the pile of what looked like haphazardly stacked merchant goods.

She latched onto the new task with something that felt like relieved desperation.

Deep breaths, slow and easy.

Ignoring the way her breath trembled ever so slightly, Kyo clenched her teeth and set to it.

It turned out to be mostly food, fabrics and a few luxury items Kyo absolutely could not see the reason for the bandits to have kept. Other than for foolish vanity and possible gloating rights?

Once they'd gone through everything, Kyo, Taku and Kisaki returned to Katsurou, who they found crouched next to a bent over, heaving Maki.

“That's okay; a perfectly normal reaction,” sensei was murmuring quietly, though he sent them a look when they approached, showing he was aware of more than just the boy in front of him.

“Nothing that particularly stands out, sensei,” Kyo reported firmly, keeping her lips from wobbling with nothing more than stubborn bull-headedness and the promise of later. “Mostly food and fabrics, a few spices and some salt.” She shrugged. “There's also a few things that look like they stole from a noble or something.”

“Couldn't find anything that smelled like our client, either,” Taku added, and he was staring fixedly at one of the corpses littering the area. As if transfixed.

It made Kyo wonder if it was one he had killed himself.

Then again, it might have been her, but she sure as hell wasn't gonna look to find out.

In combination with his still pale face, it looked like Taku might end up joining Maki in his quest to empty his stomach of all contents.

Kisaki let out a small whine and pressed herself up against her human.

Kyo returned her gaze to Katsurou-sensei, who was an island of familiar calm in a suddenly rocky and unfamiliar world.

She felt a bit light-headed. Not like she was about to faint, but rather like she was floating a foot off the ground, not quite flying but threatening to drift away at the slightest breeze.

“You can put your kunai away now, Kyo,” sensei told her kindly, rising from his crouch next to the still-gagging Maki, and approached her.

Katsurou leaned down to slowly and deliberately close his larger hand around hers, and oh, look at that.

The kunai was still clutched in a white-knuckled hold in her hand. She hadn't noticed.

With slow and careful movements, Katsurou-sensei peeled her fingers off of the handle and then slipped the sharp steel knife back into her thigh holster. Wiping as much of the drying blood off it on the grass, first.

“It's alright, Kyo. You can let it out now,” Katsurou-sensei said softly, putting a hand on her head.

Kyo took a sharp breath, tried her best to keep back the flood, but. It was a losing battle and she knew it.

Her face screwed up and a heavy, painful sob wrenched itself from her chest.

Trying to breathe somewhat evenly despite the hysterics, Kyo brought one hand to her face to rub at her eyes and she couldn't help but relax infinitesimally at the somewhat familiar feeling.

Ah.

She'd experienced this before.

Not killing people, obviously, but shock. This was shock.

There had been an incident in the Before, in her past life. She'd been working with elders for a year, and one of them had died when she'd been with her. It had been very sudden and unexpected; massive heart-attack, she'd learned after the fact. The old woman had died instantly.

Hadn't made it any less traumatic, though. Especially considering she'd only been on the job for a month at that point.

She'd been so relieved to note her own reaction afterwards, because it had confirmed her as solidly human. Affected by the world around her just as much as anyone else.

“He was going to kill me if I didn't kill him, right?” Kyo sobbed, managing to get the words out between breaths. “Or they'd killed Taku, Maki or Kisaki, right? I did the right thing, right, sensei?”

Katsurou sighed and his hand on her head slid down to her cheek, tilting her face up so that he could look at her.

“I don't know if what we do as shinobi can be classified as the 'right thing', but it's certainly the truth that there are countless people in this world that won't hesitate to kill you and people you care about for no other reason than because of the insignia on your hitai-ate,” he said, tapping a finger gently on the stylized leaf on Kyo's forehead, nail clicking against the metal.

It wasn't useless platitudes, and while it wasn't what she wanted to hear, perhaps, it was the truth.

Kyo would take the truth over soothing lies any day.

“Okay,” she managed, breaking out in another burst of near-hysterical crying.

Katsurou sighed and, after a brief hesitation, curled his arm around her and pulled her close to his chest in a slow, awkward manner that still made Kyo want to smile, despite everything.

With no hesitation at all, Kyo threw her arms around sensei's neck and buried her face in his shoulder.

Katsurou twitched, but he accepted the hug readily enough, arm still curled firmly around her back.

After a few minutes, she managed to calm down enough that she was just sniffling rather than the gross sobbing she'd been doing prior to the hug.

“I didn't even think to use my needles,” Kyo admitted, wiping the back of a hand at her cheeks.

That first man had come at her with a sword, and Kyo wondered if some part of her reptile-brain had gone for the larger, less-fragile weapon she had access to in response.

“There's always room for improvement,” Katsurou-sensei said simply, patting her back a few times and eyeing her like he wondered if she'd burst out in new tears if he'd try to stand up. “It will be easier next time.”

Not exactly comforting words, but Kyo accepted them all the same.

“Taku, sit down a few minutes and take a breather,” sensei added, giving the Inuzuka a seemingly-casual once over before he turned back to Maki. “Feel better?”

“No,” Maki muttered, though he had collapsed down to sit on the grass, no longer throwing up and the colour of his cheeks had improved quite a bit. “That was horrible.”

“It was easy,” Kyo admitted quietly. “Like killing rabbits with tou-san,” only the thought of cooking this kill for lunch made her sick to her stomach.

“Yeah,” Taku agreed at a whisper, fingers buried so tightly in Kisaki's fur Kyo suspected it was rather painful for the ninken.

The dog didn't make a sound of protest, though.

“Actual shinobi opponents will be harder,” Katsurou warned, surveying the area with something like grim satisfaction. “But you all did well,” he praised.

Kyo sort of hated the way her insides warmed at the compliment.

She took a deep breath, wiped her puffy eyes one last time and straightened her back. She was a Genin, she'd known this was coming since the start and she could deal. Better sensei spend more time helping the two boys who were actually just as old as they looked.

“What now, sensei?” She asked, wondering where they'd go from here.

It might be the recent trauma, but she couldn't see any obvious actions from here to find their wayward, most likely deceased, client.

“Think you'd be up to searching the bodies?” Katsurou asked idly, eyeing her almost curiously.

Her cheeks felt cold, as if the blood had drained out of them quickly, but she gave a jerky, determined nod.

“What am I looking for?” She asked.

Katsurou shrugged. “Who knows? Anything that looks interesting,” he said, sitting down next to Taku. No doubt to offer whatever comfort the Inuzuka would currently accept.

Which would no doubt not be that much, judging by the look on Taku's face.

Kyo nodded, took a deep breath and then took a firm step towards the closest corpse. The following ones came easier, and if she didn't think too hard about it, it was like the man was sleeping rather than dead.

Ignore the blood, and she felt more like a thief than a murderer.

Or, she mused with a small dose of highly inappropriate humour, like she was trying to find personal contact information for an injured person she'd found. To call for an ambulance, of course.

Biting her lower lip to keep from giggling quietly to herself -what the hell was wrong with her?- Kyo went through the corpse's pockets.

Finding nothing more than a handful of coins and a few odds and ends, Kyo went over to the next one.

If she happened to studiously avoid the ones she herself had killed, then no one mentioned anything about it, and Katsurou ended up checking those ones over for her, so it worked out for the best.

“Taku, I want you to check the whole camp over for anything with our client's scent, okay?” Katsurou finally ordered, bringing the boys back to their feet.

“Okay, sensei,” Taku replied, and he sounded listless to Kyo.

Not that it was weird or anything, considering the situation, but it still made her worried.

Kyo, Maki and Katsurou-sensei watched as Taku and Kisaki began to circle the camp, inspecting every surface imaginable, with Kisaki sticking her snout in the most random places. Even if that happened to be one of the corpses' pockets.

Kisaki gave a low chuff-noise, instantly drawing Taku's attention from where he'd been poking through what looked like a bag of personal affects.

Taku removed whatever had been in the bandit's pocket, brought it closer to his nose and nodded.

“You're right. Sensei!” He turned to the rest of them. “Kisaki found what smells like our guy's wallet.”

“Charming,” Kyo muttered but followed Katsurou-sensei readily enough when he stepped forward. “You okay?” She asked Maki quietly, falling into step next to him.

“Yeah.” Maki sighed. “No.” He sent her a look. “How can you be so calm?”

Kyo gave him an incredulous glance. “You did see me crying earlier?” She asked a bit sourly. She hated crying.

“Yeah, but you're fine now,” Maki muttered uncomfortably, giving her a quick glance.

“Not really.” Kyo shrugged. “There's just not a whole lot I can do about it; I've been trained to do this since I was two.”

Maki sighed. “Sometimes, I don't know if I should be jealous of you Clan kids or not,” he muttered, and he sounded troubled.

Kyo reached out to take his hand, internally pleased by the physical contact and happy that the older boy didn't pull away.

They watched Katsurou-sensei gather up all the valuables and seal them up in a storage scroll for easier transport back to Konoha, and that was that.

They found what remained of their client a few kilometres to the north east, together with what looked like the remains of the merchant caravan he had been supposed to arrive to the village with.

“Do we bury the bodies?” Maki wondered in a slightly tremulous voice.

“It'll be hard to move them after so many days left in the sun,” Katsurou-sensei said, and he sounded like it was just another fact of life. “It'll be hard enough to collect our guy without him falling apart.”

“Sure smells like it,” Taku choked out, looking like he was a hair away from puking his guts out.

Kyo had to agree, having to force herself not to try and cover her nose, despite the fact she rationally knew that would do very little to help with the smell. She could only imagine what it was like for Taku, whose sense of smell was amplified many times her own.

“You're sure this is our guy, Taku?” Katsurou asked, crouching down next to the bloated, green-ish, near-unrecognisable form that had once been a living human being.

It was crawling with insects.

“Yep,” Taku grunted, both hands now pressing down over his mouth and nose. Little that it no doubt did to help.

“Excellent; well done. Kyo, Maki, get over here.”

Kyo forced herself to step closer to the closest source of stink of decomposition, managing to pull Maki with her as she went.

“This here,” Katsurou began, withdrawing a small scroll from one of his vest pockets and holding it up in front of them, “is what's generally called a body scroll. Black with red lining is for enemies, black with gold is for allies, and black with green is for anything else.”

Kyo nodded. It made sense.

And he proceeded to show them how to use it.

“You need to place any part of the body on the seal on the scroll, and then you activate it with a pulse of chakra, like so,” and their client's body disappeared in a cloud of smoke. “It will store the body without decomposition, or further decomposition, in this case, for up to a year.”

“So we're just gonna go back home now?” Maki asked, staring sadly at the carnage around them.

It looked like wild animals had eaten on a few of the corpses. Their guy had been mostly spared from that due to the place they'd found him; caught beneath one of the broken wagons, which had acted like something of a protective cage.

“We'll stop by the village and inform them of what happened here,” Katsurou said, shaking his head, but it was what it was. “They can do what they wish with the information.”

Which meant that these people would no doubt be left here; it was dangerous to travel in these times. And to do it for people who were already dead...

“At least it's beautiful,” Kyo murmured softly, taking in the nature around them.

The signs of the... she was loath to call it battle -nothing as sophisticated as that had taken place here- had faded in the days since the bandits had attacked and killed the merchants, and the trees around them were all tall and proud. Insects buzzed contentedly in the sunlight and birds chirped peacefully.

“There are far worse places to rest,” sensei agreed and straightened out of his crouch. “Let's head back.”

“Yes, sensei,” the three Genin replied quietly, and jumped back into the trees after Katsurou.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Returning to Konoha felt absurd.

The village looked to be as peaceful as always from the front gates, and Kyo did her best to pay attention when Katsurou-sensei walked them through the registration process that came with finishing a mission.

The look on the old man's face when he was handed a scroll instead of his son was something Kyo knew she wouldn't forget.

Anticipation and joy falling so quickly into grief and crumbled hope it was enough to give anyone whiplash.

“I'm sorry for your loss,” she told the grey-haired man quietly.

The grieving father closed his eyes and brought the body scroll up to his forehead, pressing it to his skin. “Thank you for bringing him to me,” he managed to return, voice strangled.

Katsurou inclined his head to their Client and mentioned for them to leave.

“That's awful,” Maki commented bleakly when they walked off to collect the paper-work they'd need to fill out.

Funny how the manga she'd read what felt like more than a life-time ago hadn't mentioned much in the way of the administrative side to the ninja life.

“We fulfilled our mission the best we could under the circumstances,” Katsurou-sensei said simply. “It had been different if we'd been tasked to protect the man from the start.”

“Yeah,” Kyo agreed sadly. “Are you going to show us how to fill this out now?” She asked, waving the papers she'd been handed in their sensei's direction.

“The Academy is supposed to teach you that,” Katsurou said, raising a pointed eyebrow at her.

Kyo blinked tiredly and tilted her head. “I might have missed that lesson,” she muttered, because she couldn't remember anything of the sort. “Should be simple enough, though. I just write down everything that happened, right?”

“Yes. It will be a bit more complicated when you move up in experience and rank, because the things you'll be expected to notice and remember rises.”

Which made sense.

“Let's all fill them out together,” Kyo declared, giving Taku and Maki a look. “That way, we can ask each other if we're uncertain about anything.”

Katsurou-sensei smiled faintly, barely an upturn of the corners of his mouth, but it was there, and followed sedately when Kyo turned them in the direction of their training ground, seemingly perfectly willing to go along and help with any potential questions, despite his initial reaction.

If Kyo snagged Taku's hand, holding it all the way to their destination, no one said anything about it.

She was worried, okay? Because the Inuzuka hadn't returned to his normal self yet, even days after their first kills. He was still subdued and distant, as if he was lost in his own head whenever he didn't have to focus fully on the task in front of him.

The paperwork did turn out to be relatively easy to fill out, but Kyo figured that was because they'd been given the Genin forms.

Sensei's own report was bound to be far more extensive and complicated. At least in comparison; it had been a fairly straight-forward mission.

“Take the day off tomorrow, and we'll meet back up here at the usual time the day after,” Katsurou finally said, hefting their combined paperwork in one hand. He'd generously offered to turn it all in together with his own. “Enjoy the rest; you've all earned it.” He smiled.

A proper smile.

With that, he disappeared in a shunshin, leaving them to make their ways back to their various homes at their own pace.

“See you,” Kyo bid the boys farewell and ran off, eager to go back home to see kaa-san.

Tou-san might have left on his mission, but at least kaa-san and Genma were there.

She was early, they'd only been gone five days, rather than the expected full week, but she didn't think anyone would mind, least of all Isshun.

“I'm home,” Kyo said when she stepped into the hallway of their apartment, absently taking off her sandals as she relished the feel of home.

She could smell what was no doubt lunch cooking in the kitchen, and she could see -and hear- Genma playing on her old yellow baby blanket in the middle of the living room.

“Hey, Genma-chan.” She grinned and wiggled her fingers at the baby, who made a delighted noise and waved his chubby little arms in her direction.

He wasn't quite old enough to sit up on his own for very long yet, but was quickly getting there. He liked lying on his stomach a lot, though, and he always seemed to have one plush toy or another in his mouth.

Padding barefoot towards her little brother, Kyo crouched down and reached for Genma, fully intending to pick him up for an affectionate hug.

The sight of old, rust-red splatter on her sleeves made her freeze in her tracks, though.

For the first time since the day they'd found the bandits, Kyo realised that there was blood on her clothes, and the fact that she no doubt smelled.

There was dirt on her hands and clothes, and she definitely shouldn't be touching her baby brother like this.

There was blood on her clothes. On her skin.

Blood from people she had killed.

Kyo blinked and stared intently at Genma, who made unhappy noises now, waving his arms more insistently in her direction, before he began to try and push himself into a sitting position.

Genma's arms where small and soft with baby fat, each finger tiny and fragile.

The boy managed to get his legs under him and pushed his upper body off the blanket with seemingly gargantuan effort. Then, he raised his arms at Kyo, making a demanding noise.

Kyo couldn't unfreeze her limbs enough to so much as lower her arms.

Genma opened his mouth, and had he had that one tooth before she'd left? He opened his mouth in a mostly-toothless smile, waving his hands around as he tried to reach her. Or make her react in any way.

Kyo didn't snap out of her own thoughts until strong, familiar hands reached down to pick up a crying Genma from right in front of her.

She blinked twice and took in her brother's scrunched up, red face and the angry cries she'd been entirely oblivious to a second ago.

“Kyo?” Tou-san asked, making Kyo blink again.

“Shouldn't you be out of the village?” She asked blankly.

“I was, yeah, but there was a change of plans,” Kou said, eyeing her intently as he tried to sooth Genma's unhappy tantrum. “I'm leaving in a couple of days instead.”

“What happened?”

“Yuuta's got the flu, so,” tou-san shrugged, “they decided it was better to wait to send us off a few days rather than split us up.”

“Oh,” Kyo said. That made sense. “Tou-san,” she continued, “I killed someone.”

Kou sighed softly and sat down in front of Kyo, cradling a sniffling Genma to his chest. “I figured as much,” he admitted, holding out one arm towards her in a silent invitation.

Kyo didn't hesitate for more than a second before she scrambled into her dad's lap, careful to mind her brother, who reached out and stubbornly fisted a handful of her short hair.

“Ow.” She smiled helplessly at the baby, who whined and wiggled in Kou's hold until he shifted the boy closer to his sister.

“I think he missed you,” Kou observed gently.

Kyo reached up to carefully disentangle her hair from surprisingly strong fingers, and then leaned against her tou-san's chest.

“Where's kaa-san?” She asked, overly aware of the fact that she was avoiding the elephant in the room.

Kou seemed perfectly willing to indulge her and give her the time she needed to build up to it, though.

“She's started working on getting back into shape, but she's probably going to be coming back from the training grounds soon.”

“Okay,” Kyo said, fiddling with one of her cuff-holsters. “There were bandits. They killed the man we were supposed to escort to the village. We had to hand over a body-scroll to his father instead of reuniting him with his son,” she explained quietly.

Kou hummed, but said nothing, letting her work through what she wanted to say.

“We killed all the bandits,” she blurted, frowning down at her hands. “I killed four of them.”

“Was that before or after you were introduced to your client?”

“Before. He wasn't at the meeting point, so we had to go looking.” Kyo curled in on herself slightly. “He'd been dead for about five days when we found him. At least, that's what sensei said. Taku almost threw up.”

Kou sighed and smoothed a hand over her hair, carefully pulling her hitai-ate off her head. “Did any of you get hurt?”

“No.” Kyo's frown deepened. “It was easy, tou-san.”

“I know.” Kou pulled her even tighter against his front, humming a little when Genma made a disgruntled noise. “You came back, though. You're not hurt, you're still alive and you kept your teammates safe.”

“Yeah,” Kyo agreed miserably. “It still doesn't feel right, tou-san.”

“I know.”

“I didn't even think to use my needles,” she admitted quietly. “I just grabbed a kunai like you taught me.”

“That's a good thing, Kyo,” Kou said seriously. “If it means you come back here, I'm gonna tell you to kill as many people as you have to every time you leave the village.” He paused. “It's probably not what I should say, but I care much more about you than a handful of men who made the decision to become bandits.”

“Sensei said it'll be harder with enemy shinobi,” Kyo whispered.

“Yeah,” Kou sighed heavily, “it always is when you're fighting someone more evenly matched to your own skills,” he said, hold tightening almost painfully on her.

Kyo found it strangely comforting.

“But, tou-san,” she said after a while. “It was easy. Like with the bunnies, and what if I accidentally hurt Genma?” She asked in a hushed voice, feeling shame curl hotly in her stomach.

It was a largely unfamiliar sensation.

“It would be easy,” Kou agreed heavily after a long moment of silence, broken only by Genma's occasional baby noises. “But you have to remember that we're the ones in charge of our actions.” He gently took hold of one of Kyo's hands and placed it on Genma's foot. “It may not feel like it in the heat of battle, but you just have to trust yourself not to hurt the people you truly love.”

“I didn't think this would be the hardest part,” Kyo admitted wetly, voice trembling and having to blink the building tears from her eyes. She could feel them drip down onto her leg.

“It may not feel particularly comforting to hear right now, but you get used to it, Kyo,” tou-san promised sadly.

That just made her cry harder, because she didn't want to get used to it.

It was awful and horrible and Kyo wished she didn't understand why this was happening.

This place had never felt as real as it did right now.

It had been a gradual thing, she knew, but this life felt more real than her past one now. As if the Before was just a dream she sometimes remembered, fading more with every passing week, despite whatever she might feel about it.

This was her reality now, and she wasn't ever going back.

Different family, different face, different life.

For better or worse, Kyo was a Konoha kunoichi and she would have to make the best of it.

“Come on, go take a shower and then we'll eat. Isshun's going to be so happy to have you back home again, kitten,” tou-san murmured, helping her to her feet and gently putting Genma back on the baby blanket.

.

Kyo spent her day off at home, playing with Genma and trying to get used to this new status quo she'd tentatively found.

She could still be kind and gentle with her brother and everyone else she cared about. Being a murderer didn't change that at least.

She felt the most comfortable when tou-san or kaa-san was within easy reach while she was at it, though.

Just in case.

The next day's training was a nice return to what felt like routine, going through exercises, sparring with Taku and Maki and working on her wind jutsu some more. All under their sensei's careful observation.

Katsurou-sensei even dismissed them early, for once.

...more like for the first time ever, actually.

“I'll stay a bit longer to work on this,” Kyo said when Maki asked if she wanted to go buy dango together. “I'd love to go tomorrow, though.” She smiled, hoping the boy would realise she wasn't saying no because she didn't like him or something.

Sure, he'd been a bit of an ass at first, but he was working on bettering himself, and that was the important part.

“Okay,” Maki returned with a relieved smile. “See you tomorrow then, Kyo.” And with that, he ran off.

Kyo paused what she was doing to contemplate how it must have felt for Maki to return home. To his civilian parents, whom wouldn't understand the first thing about what shinobi life was like, and couldn't relate at all to Maki's recent trauma.

That would also explain this sudden, unexpected change in behaviour.

Resolving to invite her teammate home the next time she saw him, hopefully before tou-san had to head back out -Yuuta had his check-up today, but tou-san hadn't known what the medic would say- she pushed the thought to a side and continued to go over the second jutsu Katsurou-sensei had provided her with.

This one was also intended to be pretty large-scale.

Unlike the first one, which she liked to just call Cutting Blast in her head, this one seemed to be slightly less agreeable to small-scale adaptation.

Hageshii Osu, translating roughly to 'violent push', was intended to throw your opponent in whatever direction you chose. Which was great for either ambushes, getting some distance between you and your enemy or throwing opponents into the path of an ally they weren't expecting.

Or, Kyo mused dryly, to counter another wind user.

After about two hours extra work, where the most she'd managed was a slightly stronger than average breeze -which wasn't exactly what she was aiming for- Kyo decided she'd had enough, giving up for the day.

If it hardly rustled the leaves of the bush she was aiming at, then it wouldn't do much more than be mildly annoying to a shinobi.

If even that.

Feeling disheartened and tired, Kyo gathered up her things and prepared to go back home.

Sweeping her gaze over the training ground one last time, she turned and started back towards the village.

“Kisaki?” She murmured confusedly when she spotted the white ninken trotting towards her on the path.

Scanning the area behind her, she couldn't see Taku anywhere close to his partner.

“Kyo!” The dog said once she'd come to a stop in front of her.

“Kisaki? What's wrong?” She asked, automatically crouching down in front of the dog and burying her fingers in her thick fur. “Where's Taku?”

“Taku is,” Kisaki began slowly, clearly struggling with her words. The ninken was learning more and more when it came to human speech, but it was pretty slow going. “Sleeping bad.”

Kyo blinked. “Taku is sleeping bad?” She repeated confusedly, peering into Kisaki's yellow eyes.

The dog huffed irritably and shook herself.

“Taku is,” she said firmly, making it easy to forget just how young she was. “Kyo help?”

Kyo frowned in thought, staring at the dog as she tried to figure out what she meant. “Help,” she parroted quietly to herself.

Thinking back to the last couple of days, Kyo tried to figure out what could possibly be wrong with Taku for Kisaki to ask her for help rather than his Clansmen or even sensei.

The boy had been a bit pale, distracted and rather quiet, but that had been the same ever since they'd...

Kyo felt like smacking herself.

“He's having nightmares?” She asked, peering at Kisaki, who visibly sagged with relief.

“Yes!”

“So Maki can't talk about any of this to his parents and is probably feeling isolated, and Taku can't sleep,” Kyo summarized bleakly, covering her face with her hands. “I'm so stupid.”

Taking a deep breath, Kyo scrambled for anything she could possibly do to actually help. Empty platitudes about things getting better with time were worthless.

“Okay!” She said, letting her hands fall from her face and straightening out of her crouch. “Let's do our best, Kisaki.” She smiled determinedly at the ninken, who wagged her tail hopefully, looking confused but supportive.

“Yes,” she agreed.

“My place first, then Maki's and then you can bring the both of us to the Inuzuka compound, okay?”

“Okay,” Kisaki agreed readily enough, looking very pleased with herself about Kyo actually trying something and taking her concern seriously.

Kyo smiled at the young dog, and then took off running towards home, Kisaki right behind her.

“Kaa-san?” She called once she'd slipped inside, kicking off her shoes and running into the kitchen. “I'm gonna sleep at the Inuzuka compound tonight!” She grinned at her mother, who raised an eyebrow in response.

“Hello, Kisaki-chan,” Isshun said with a smile at the ninken, before she turned back towards her daughter. “That's a bit unexpected, isn't it?”

“I know, but Kisaki asked,” Kyo explained. “Taku's having nightmares and can't sleep,” she confessed, smile fading quickly from her face.

Isshun sighed quietly but nodded understandingly. “Alright. Want me to pack you some snacks?”

“Thanks, kaa-san,” Kyo said, throwing her arms around her mother's waist in a tight hug. “I'll be back tomorrow after training,” she promised.

Isshun had been a bit more clingy than usual after Kyo's out-of-village mission.

The woman smiled. “I know, sweetheart. You're just growing up so quickly.” Kaa-san sighed again. “It feels like no time at all has passed since you were as little as Genma-chan,” she confessed.

Kyo smiled. She didn't agree, but time was always a relative thing.

She stepped back from kaa-san and rushed to her room, Kisaki trotting faithfully at her heels, looking around curiously.

Perhaps looking for Genma. Who was probably napping, actually.

It took no more than two minutes to throw together an overnight bag, leaving some room for the snacks kaa-san had mentioned.

“I don't need to bring my own pillow and stuff, right?” She asked Kisaki, who gave her an amused look.

“No,” the dog said.

“Oh, that's good. All set, then!” Kyo smiled, slinging her bag over one shoulder, made sure she had all the equipment she'd need tomorrow, and then bounced back out to the kitchen.

“Here you go, Kyo,” kaa-san said, placing a few bags of crisps on the table, together with some other treats.

Oh, chocolate!

“Thank you, kaa-san,” Kyo said, stuffing the things into her bag. “We'll go now. See you tomorrow, love you!”

“Have fun!” Kaa-san called after her.

“Will do!” Kyo grinned, basically ran into her shoes and was back out the door.

.

It was a good thing Maki had invited them all over to his place for dinner a few days before they'd gotten their latest mission, or she wouldn't have known where he lived.

“Hello, Minami-san,” she greeted her teammate's mother politely. “Is Maki home?”

“Ah, Kyo-chan,” Maki's mother -what was her name again?- said after a surprised second. “He's in his room. Would you like to come in?”

“Yes, please.” Kyo smiled, easily stepping through the door when the woman held it open for her. “Thank you, Minami-san, I just have to ask him something real quick.”

“Oh, just call me Sachiko-oba-san, dear.” The woman smiled indulgently. “Do you remember the way or do you want me to show you again?”

“I remember,” Kyo replied easily.

It grated to be treated like a child all of a sudden, but it wasn't like she was unaware of what she looked like.

Still six years old.

She was getting closer to seven, though!

Kyo knocked on the door to Maki's room.

“What?” Maki's voice asked, and he sounded rather down.

Kyo opened the door and stepped inside, carefully closing it after her again, keeping it open only long enough to let Kisaki pass through after her. “We're having a sleepover at Taku's place,” she said by way of greeting, making Maki fall off his desk chair in surprise.

“Kyo?” He asked from the floor, eyes boggling. “What are you doing here? I thought it was kaa-chan again,” he added in a disgruntled mutter. “Wait, sleepover?”

“Yeah.” Kyo nodded, glancing over at Kisaki, who had waited just inside the door. “Kisaki says Taku's having nightmares, so I figured we should all try to help.”

Maki slowly sat up, a slightly conflicted expression on his face. “And Taku isn't actually aware we're coming?” He asked worriedly. “He's not gonna like that.”

“He can deal.” Kyo smiled, inordinately pleased by that automatic 'we' out of Maki's mouth. “If anything, he'd have to get mad at Kisaki, and he'd never be able to keep that up for long,” she said cheerfully.

Kisaki gave a doggy grin in agreement.

“Okay?” Maki said slowly after a second spent blinking at Kyo. “I'll ask kaa-chan.”

Kyo wanted to say that, technically, Maki didn't have to ask. Since he was legally an adult now as a Genin.

She kept quiet, though.

Civilians, in her experience -thanks grandma- weren't particularly happy when the differences between them and shinobi were brought up in conversation unexpectedly.

Like pointing out that your ten year old son was now a legal adult and technically didn't have to listen to what you said unless he felt like it.

While she waited, Kyo sat down on Maki's bed, kicking her feet a little and frowning up at the ceiling.

Then Maki was storming back into his room, throwing things into a bag he pulled out of his closet, tossing a grin at Kyo while he was at it.

“Kaa-chan looked really relieved about me doing something normal,” he confessed when they'd left his house. “She said yes before I'd even finished asking.”

Kyo slipped her hand into Maki's and squeezed his fingers gently. A smile just wouldn't cut it.

It was a bit strange to think it -because what the hell?- but not everyone had such a secure, understanding and supporting home-life as she did. In this life.

Kisaki led them to the Inuzuka compound, and then appeared to have a short conversation with the seemingly laid-back gate guard and his ninken before they were waved inside without issue.

“This place is a bit bigger than I imagined,” Kyo muttered under her breath as she looked around. She hadn't really ever visited one of the Clan districts yet.

The closest she had gotten had been the one time tou-san had brought her along to Ryota's place. That had been on the very edge of the Uchiha compound, though, so it wasn't like she'd gotten a good over-view.

Maki made an acknowledging noise, staring around with wide, curious eyes.

There were plenty of people walking around, most of them with the Inuzuka Clan markings on their faces. The most common colour was red, but Kyo saw one with deep blue marks instead.

She wondered if the colour had any specific meaning, or if it was personal preference.

“I think Taku said this place also has a veterinary clinic,” Kyo observed as they walked after Kisaki, who definitely looked like she knew where she was going.

Which was absolutely a good thing, because neither Kyo nor Maki had a clue.

“That's pretty cool,” Maki said. “Think he'll show us if we ask nicely?”

“Maybe. Depends on the mood our surprise sleepover leaves him in.” Kyo snickered quietly, swinging her and Maki's hands back and forth between them.

Kisaki ended up leading them to a nice-looking house, rather generous in size, but instead of just running off to join her human, she sat down by the front door and gave the two of them an expectant look.

“Okay, then.” Kyo nodded, stepping up and knocking decisively on the door.

A few seconds later, foot-steps approached quickly and then the door was thrown open, revealing a frantic-looking Taku.

“What?” Was his eloquent response to the sight of them. And then, “Have either of you seen Kisaki?”

“Yes, she's right here,” Kyo said, pointing at the dog in question, who wagged her tail and looked as innocent as a new-born as she peered up at her partner. “She came to get us.”

“'Get you',” Taku repeated blankly, staring uncomprehendingly at them.

Kyo silently thought he'd be a bit quicker on the uptake if he weren't so tired and distracted.

“For the sleepover Kisaki's planned,” Kyo informed him promptly. “So? Will you let us in?”

Taku stared for another second, before he gave Kisaki a rather wry look and then stepped to the side.

“Alright, come in, then,” the boy finally said.

Kisaki was the first through the door, walking in like she owned the place, which... wasn't all that far from the truth, actually.

Kyo and Maki right behind her, pausing only to take off their sandals before Taku led them into the kitchen, where they all settled awkwardly around the kitchen table.

“I still don't get why you're here,” Taku said when he could no longer stand the silence, arms crossing defensively in front of his chest.

“Kisaki told me you can't sleep,” Kyo told him honestly, deciding to be frank. “So I wanted to help.”

Taku bristled. “That's none of ya business!” He shot Kisaki an angry frown, before he turned back to glower at Kyo.

“I'm having nightmares, too,” Maki admitted in a rather rushed manner before Taku could say another word, and he looked embarrassed by the confession. “About- About k-killing those bandits.”

Kyo reached over to take his hand again.

Taku said nothing, but stared off to a side, as if he didn't want to look at them.

“None of this is easy,” Kyo sighed, but before she could continue, Taku scoffed and hunkered down further in his seat.

She frowned confusedly at him, but it was Maki who elaborated.

“You don't seem very affected, though,” he said hesitantly, looking slightly shamefaced. “And you're younger than us, Kyo. It's a bit-” he trailed off.

“It shouldn't be a big deal,” Taku ground out irritably, visibly wrestling with his temper. “I've been training for this my whole life.”

“You think,” Kyo began slowly, trying to wrap her mind around the idea, “that I'm not affected?” She asked.

“Well, it doesn't seem like it,” Maki muttered, frowning down at the table. “You're behaving just like always.”

“In front of you, maybe.” Kyo laughed humourlessly. She fell silent quickly, however, lost in thought. “I couldn't make myself touch Genma when I came back home, you know.”

When she blinked back to the present, both boys were staring at her.

“All I could think about was how easy it had been to kill those men, and what if I accidentally-” she swallowed, “did the same to my brother?”

“What did you do?” Maki asked quietly.

“Tou-san talked me through it,” she said, clasping her hands together. “I cried some more, and I'm still not very comfortable touching him when my parents aren't there, but.” She shrugged. “I'm getting better.”

“But you're not having nightmares,” Taku grunted, still sounding sour, but at least willing to talk now.

“I've never been prone to nightmares.” Kyo shrugged. She'd hardly ever had them in her past life, either. “And this wasn't-” she cut herself off, wondering if she really wanted to tell them.

“What?” Maki asked, looking curious now, leaning forward slightly in his seat.

“I've had a few experiences before that were a bit traumatic,” she admitted uncomfortably, squirming where she sat when even Taku looked interested. “I deal with trauma through tears.”

“But what happened?” Taku asked with a speculative frown. “What could be considered traumatic inside the village?”

“Well. Tou-san almost died just before I turned three.” She shrugged. “Kaa-san rushed to the hospital and that's how I was introduced to tou-san's team.”

“I don't think I remember anything from when I was three,” Maki muttered under his breath, making Kyo smile wanly at him.

Her smile faded quickly when she considered the next part. “And kaa-san,” she cleared her throat, “kaa-san almost lost Genma and her own life when she was pregnant. She started bleeding pretty badly in the middle of the night.”

“Your tou-san?” Taku asked.

Kyo shook her head. “Mission. I- I ran to the hospital,” and this was really hard to talk about. She hadn't told anyone about this after she'd cried all over Kouki-sensei at the Academy the day after. “So I've practised a bit.”

“Shit, Kyo. I had no idea, I'm so sorry,” Maki blurted, looking at her in a rather horrified manner. “Wait. Was that that day you disappeared after lunch?”

Kyo stared at him. She hadn't known anyone had noticed that, other than Inoichi and possibly Shikaku. Not that the latter one had shown any outward interest in much of anything during their shared time at the Academy.

“Why the hell would you go ta school after something like that?” Taku demanded gruffly, sounding angry but looking deeply unsettled.

Kyo shrugged, curling in on herself.

“I didn't realise I probably shouldn't go until I was already in the classroom. Kouki-sensei took me back.”

Taku slumped over the table with a deep sigh, head cushioned on his folded arms. “Why didn't they ever tell us how fucked up this all is?” He wondered bitterly.

Kyo smiled humourlessly. “They did, several times. Most kids in class interpreted it the way they wanted.”

Much to the various sensei's perpetual exasperation.

Not that she could entirely blame any party; shinobi life did sound awfully exciting from an ignorants' point of view. Even Kyo, who had known intellectually at least hints about the truth, had been caught somewhat flat-footed by reality.

“Hey, Taku,” Kyo spoke up into the growing silence. The boy shifted his gaze to look at her, looking rather listless. “Is your family home?” She asked.

“Kaa-san's working in the clinic until tomorrow, and Teki-nii should be around somewhere.” He shrugged, not really shifting his slumped position.

“Then let's make dinner, and then get to the sleepover part! I brought snacks.” She grinned, jumping out of her seat and walking over to the fridge to see what they had to work with.

“She's doing it again,” she heard Maki mutter behind her. “It's like nothing's wrong.”

“I'm just good at pretending nothing's wrong,” she corrected him with forced cheer. She'd had twenty-some years of practise. “What do you guys want to eat?”

A couple of hours later, they were all ready for bed and stretched out on the floor in Taku's room.

Kisaki was quite happy to claim the bed all to herself, which also gave her a nice vantage point over the three of them and the door.

“It makes me nauseas whenever I think about it,” Maki admitted quietly. “As if I'm gonna throw up again.”

They were all lying on their backs, close together and staring up at the darkening ceiling.

It was pretty early, but they'd decided to get ready for bed and talk if the mood struck them. Kyo fit quite comfortably between the two bigger children, and her small size meant they had plenty of space to go around.

“I knew it was gonna happen, you know?” Taku added his own pieces. “It just sounded more...” He made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat. “Different. It sounded different.”

“It was easy,” Kyo whispered. “I thought it'd be harder.” And she couldn't let it go; murder shouldn't be easy. “Like hunting rabbits with tou-san.”

Taku grunted and shuffled closer. “You realise we're that fragile, too, right?”

He raised a hand to stare at his nails. Nails that could sharpen into claws with just a few hand signs.

“Kaa-chan asked me why I was acting so strange, and I couldn't even tell her why,” Maki breathed miserably. “I don't want them to look at me differently.”

“That's perfectly understandable,” Kyo replied sincerely. “Taku and I are lucky that our parents understand.” Which reminded her. “You could come over and talk to my tou-san if you want? He's civilian-born, too.”

“Really?” Maki lifted his head off the pillow Taku had provided him with to stare at her.

“Yeah,” Kyo nodded, “I'm not sure if he'll still be here, but you can come with me tomorrow after training to see if his team got cleared for duty or not.” At the curious looks that got her, she elaborated with a shrug. “Yuuta came down with a fever.”

“Right,” Maki huffed and let his head fall back down on his pillow with a muted thump. “We have to worry about stuff like that, too.”

“Great.” Taku sighed. “I'm really glad we got the baby on our team.” He snickered.

Kyo snorted. “I'm flattered, Taku.” She smiled. “I'm glad to be on this team, too. You're not as bad as I feared.”

“Hey,” Maki protested half-heartedly. “We're awesome.”

“We're something.” Kyo snickered. “Do you think we could con sensei into hosting the next sleepover?”

“No way,” Taku immediately disagreed. “Ain't gonna happen.”

“Unless you poisoned him and blackmailed him with the antidote?” Maki offered with a laugh.

Kyo couldn't help but join in. “Only problem is that I don't have any antidotes,” she managed once the worst of her laughter had died down.

The boys' stilled.

“Wait, what?” Taku asked, sitting up.

Kyo blinked at him. “I don't have any antidotes? I thought you knew?”

When both boys paled, Kyo couldn't help but snicker and bury her face in her pillow.

“That's not funny, Kyo!” Maki exclaimed, grabbing his pillow to hit her with it.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“What is it this time, sensei?” Taku asked, mostly back to his normal self.

Admittedly, it'd been quite a few weeks since their sleepover, having run three missions in between. Two in-village and another short escort, this time bringing a man to his home village rather than a pick up.

It'd been pretty interesting when Taku's mother had come to wake them all up in the morning and Kyo had found herself in the middle of a big puppy-pile. Even Kisaki had joined sometime during the night.

“Courier run to a border station and back,” Katsurou-sensei said, and Kyo didn't think he looked very happy about it. “A more experienced Genin team was supposed to get it, but their sensei got pulled for another mission rather abruptly.”

“Why are you explaining this so thoroughly?” Kyo asked, peering up at Katsurou.

“Because I need all three of you to realise how serious this is,” the man said firmly, steering them to their claimed training ground. “We have a few days until we need to leave, and I plan to use them wisely.”

“More training,” Maki sighed.

“You'll be glad for it when we're out there,” sensei said sharply, giving them all an intent frown. “The closer to the border we get, the bigger the chance of enemy action. You all need to step up your games, which is why we're running extensive team exercises and doing stealth and evasion manoeuvres until you drop.”

It was a sign how serious they took it that none of them groaned.

It was a close thing, though.

Three hours later, they were all lying stretched out panting on the ground, grateful for the break Katsurou had so generously granted them.

“I still can't believe you've been teachin' my ninken stealth shit, Kyo,” Taku huffed, bordering on indignant.

Kisaki huffed right back, managing a snort, too, despite the fact she was just as wiped out as the rest of them.

“I had to do something with my time when you two were busy fighting like idiots,” Kyo returned, without an ounce of regret. “Also, girl-power,” she declared, raising one fist half-heartedly in the air above her.

“Yes,” Kisaki agreed amusedly, kicking her paws until she'd gotten close enough to lick Kyo's cheek.

“Betrayal,” Taku muttered, trying to suppress the grin that was threatening to break out on his face.

“You two should try and pay attention to the girls,” Katsurou-sensei interjected, watching them all with far too much amusement. “Kyo's the only one doing decently at the stealth exercises.”

“I've never heard of some of those techniques,” Maki mused. “Seems useful, though. Could you teach me?” He asked hopefully.

Taku slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and looking slightly panicked. “You can't do that!” He hissed at his teammate, sending Kyo a quick, deeply apologetic look. “He doesn't know what he's on about; ignore him, Kyo!”

“It's okay, Taku,” Kyo smiled a little bemusedly, “I'm not offended.”

“I don't get it,” Maki admitted, pushing Taku's hand off his face and sitting up.

“Obviously,” Taku all but growled at him, and even Katsurou-sensei sighed heavily.

“Is this another unwritten rule?” Maki asked, tiredly. As if he was wondering if he'd ever learn all of them.

“Yes. Don't ask about Clan techniques!” Taku enunciated clearly, leaning forward to point his finger in Maki's face. “It'll get you killed! And us by association!”

“It can't be that bad,” Maki objected weakly.

“It's not something that's encouraged, but if someone did kill you over a secret Clan jutsu, no one would really be all that surprised.” Katsurou shrugged. “Not to mention it's pretty stupid to try something you're not sure how it works.”

“Some jutsu only work for certain families, dude,” Taku explained when Maki looked largely clueless. “I heard kaa-san say once that the last person who tried to perform a Yamanaka Mind-Walk who wasn't blood lost his mind.”

“But,” Maki blinked at Katsurou, who nodded, “I though that was just kekkei genkai and stuff?”

“Some Clans have special abilities that aren't quite blood-line limits,” sensei explained. “Like Kyo, here.”

Kyo blinked at being mentioned as an example. “What about me?”

“The Clan her mother comes from have always worked with poisons. She's already immune to a frankly staggering variety of poisons. She's worked on it for years, but if anyone not of her heritage would've tried the same, chances are they would have died painfully long ago.” Katsurou eyed them all in turn. “That doesn't mean it's classified as a kekkei genkai, though.”

Kyo peered at Katsurou. Had kaa-san told him that?

She'd known, of course, because Isshun had told her shortly before she became a Genin, during one of their lessons. She'd gone more into their history while she'd been unable to handle any poisons herself, in addition to the theory lectures.

“The Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi abilities aren't considered kekkei genkai, either, but that doesn't mean just anyone can use them,” Kyo added, feeling rather singled out. “So be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” Maki replied faintly. “So does that mean your stealth techniques are secret?”

“Not really, I just don't know how well they'd suit you.” Kyo shrugged. “Kaa-san said they're adapted to fit our kind of chakra.”

And she wasn't entirely sure what the woman had meant by that. Because Kyo and kaa-san's chakra weren't all that similar.

Sure, Kyo's secondary element was water; which matched kaa-san's primary, but...

“But Kisaki's chakra was okay?” Taku asked, sending her an annoyed frown.

“She's well-suited for stealth.” Kyo smiled sweetly at Taku, knowing he was more inclined for large-scale, up close and person attacks, rather than small and sneaky. “I can still give the two of you pointers if you're willing to listen,” she promised.

“You still need to work on your stamina, Kyo,” Katsurou-sensei reminded.

“I know.” Kyo sighed, slumping resignedly. “Being younger sucks,” she summed it up quite nicely.

Katsurou ruffled her hair and got to his feet. “Break's over. Come on, brats; back to work.”

“If you keep this up we're gonna die before we even leave, sensei,” Maki groaned as he pushed himself to his feet, having rested just long enough for his muscles to have begun to stiffen up.

“You two really need to start stretching properly,” Kyo muttered as she, too, rose.

“Dodging practice,” Katsurou declared. And that was the only warning they got before he threw his first volley of shuriken at them.

.

“Which border, sensei?” Kyo asked while they waited on their turn to sign out of the village early the day they had to leave. It wasn't even dawn yet, the last stars still dotting the sky far above them.

“Kawa,” Katsurou said evenly.

Kyo felt her mouth go dry.

Most of the second war was supposed to be fought in Ame, but that didn't mean it was the only battle-field.

And no matter their relationship in the manga in some far-off, obscure future that might never even happen any more, Suna and Konoha were currently very much bitter enemies.

And their team was going to run straight to the Fire Country border closest to the desert nation.

Great.

Once procedure had been taken care off, Katsurou led them into the trees surrounding Konoha in a mostly west-ward direction.

They ran for about ten minutes before he slowed down and then stopped.

“Sensei?” Maki asked quietly, voice barely more than a whisper.

“These scrolls are our package,” Katsurou-sensei began, pulling three scrolls from his vest. “Our job is to deliver them to the border station or die trying,” he told them grimly. “Do any of you three feel up to the task of carrying them?”

“What?” Taku blurted, eyes widening. “Why the hell won't you take them, sensei?” He hissed, sounding a bit like an offended cat.

“Because I'm the most obvious target any enemies out for the scrolls will aim for,” Katsurou explained evenly, not so much as blinking.

By that logic, the least obvious target would be... “Oh, no.” Kyo paled, shaking her head in denial. “No. Sensei, you can't be serious-”

“I am,” Katsurou said firmly, holding the scrolls out to Kyo. “No one would expect it, and despite your less than ideal stamina, you're the best at stealth out of your team.”

“Because kaa-san's been teaching me how to be an assassin since I was old enough to walk!” Kyo hissed at him, feeling increasingly cornered. “I don't- I can do support, sensei! I know poisons, but I have no idea how I'll hold up in a real fight!” Against shinobi. Not just the glorified slaughter they'd committed on those bandits.

“You know your stealth, you can orient yourself; you won't lose your way. If we're confronted by enemy shinobi and it looks like we'll lose,” Katsurou-sensei told her unflinchingly, “I expect you to slip away and do your best to fulfil the mission objective.”

“If they can kill you, then what sort of chance would I have, sensei!?” Kyo couldn't help but demand quietly, eyes wide as she stared imploringly up at Katsurou, who met her gaze with solemn eyes.

“A small one,” he said honestly, pressing the first of the scrolls into her hand. “Put them in your pack; we need to get going.”

Movements stiff and feeling entirely off kilter, Kyo jerked her hand out of Katsurou-sensei's and stuffed the scroll into her poison pack.

“I don't even know if all of them will fit,” she muttered under her breath as she rearranged her containers and extra needles to make room for the two remaining scrolls.

“Let's go,” Katsurou said once the last scroll had disappeared into Kyo's pack, turning back in the direction they were heading.

Kyo ran after sensei, Taku and Maki on either side of her, but she wasn't paying as much attention as she ought to.

Her heart felt like an erratically fluttering bird in her chest, and anxiety was threatening to make her stomach turn. If an enemy saw them now, she didn't doubt that they'd be able to guess what she was carrying from just the look on her face and the stress she was all but radiating.

So Katsurou figured Kyo would be the least likely person on their team pegged by enemies to carry their scrolls.

Sure.

All nice and dandy.

Didn't change the fact that Kyo felt like she had three lead weights in her pack, pulling on her and threatening to make her hands tremble.

Hours passed as they ran, and nothing happened.

Four hours in, Katsurou-sensei glanced over his shoulder.

“Kyo,” he said, making her snap to attention. “Come on, I'll carry you for a while.”

There'd be no breaks on this run.

“Okay, sensei,” she said, and the next branch she landed on, Kyo gathered her legs beneath her and leapt onto Katsurou's back.

It mostly worked because he'd slowed momentarily, waiting for her to make her jump, like they'd practised.

No longer moving by her own power, Kyo noticed just how tired she was.

Pulling an energy bar from a pocket, she peeled the wrapping off and stuffed it back in another pocket and then quickly ate the thing. She washed it down with a mouthful of water.

After she'd offered her water canteen to sensei, she finally relaxed against the man's shoulders.

“But what if I fail, sensei?” She asked quietly.

Kyo didn't feel like his strange and daunting trust in her had any basis in reality.

“That's always a risk. Even for me,” Katsurou returned after a small pause. “We can only do our best; even the Hokage acknowledges that.”

“I don't like it,” she admitted softly, well aware that the only reason sensei heard her at all was because she was speaking right next to the man's ear. “It feels like it's too much.”

Katsurou sighed. “It's only for the absolute worst case scenario,” he reminded her. “We're all going to do our best to stay alive and finish the mission together, and I'm not telling you to abandon the rest of us at the first hint of danger.”

“Okay,” and strangely enough, that did manage to make her feel a bit better.

The chance might be there whenever they left the village, but that didn't mean it would happen, not necessarily this time, and maybe not even the next one.

But then again, it might...

With a quiet sigh, Kyo rested her chin on Katsurou-sensei's shoulder and focused on the forest around them. She wasn't running, but that didn't mean she could just zone out and leave everything to the rest of her team.

-

They didn't draw near to their goal until dusk that night, and Katsurou had ended up carrying each of them in turn to give all three Genin a chance to rest.

He'd carried Kyo three times, all in all, while Maki and Taku had only gotten one hour's rest each, but neither of the boys had complained about it.

They hadn't really talked during the run, all of them too tense and apprehensive for casual conversation. But there was still a marked difference to the air between them when they were about an hour away from the border.

“Everyone try and clamp down on your chakra,” Katsurou instructed quietly, proceeding with more care than he had so far.

Kyo knew that if anyone planned to ambush them, this would be the easiest stretch to do so.

Dampening her chakra was something of a second nature by now, but Kyo concentrated and smothered her own signature as much as she could, all but erasing her own presence.

Sensei gave her a pleased nod and then glanced expectantly at the boys.

Maki was doing fairly well with the stealth exercises their teacher had introduced him to; all he needed was practice.

Taku was having a bit more trouble, but he tried his best.

The forest was starting to look different, Kyo mused as she scanned their surroundings, following Katsurou forward.

The waning light didn't exactly help, making her even more unsettled and on edge.

From Academy lessons on the Elemental Nations, she'd learned that Kawa no Kuni, the Land of Rivers, was less deep forests and a bit more... hilly. With plenty of rock and rivers to cut through the landscape until it became more sparse and dry the closer to Suna you got.

They had their own shinobi village, too, but it was small and considered largely inconsequential by Konoha and the other major villages.

“Almost there,” Katsurou-sensei told them in a barely audible voice.

Ten minutes later, Taku and Kisaki both cocked their heads, almost simultaneously.

“I can hear sounds of fighting, sensei,” the boy informed them tersely, though he looked more determined than scared.

Kyo wished she could say the same about herself.

Katsurou shot him a sharp look, but nodded. “Where?”

“A bit south-west of our current direction,” Taku answered after a brief pause, pointing.

“Change of plan, kids,” sensei said, adjusting their course accordingly. “You four stay out of the fight and stick to each other, understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” all of them chorused quietly.

It felt like time sped up, because they reached the battle-field far too quickly for Kyo's tastes.

The first thing that registered other than the outright terror coursing through her veins was; chaos.

This place was complete and utter chaos!

There seemed to be shinobi everywhere, men wearing the Konoha hitai-ate and the standard uniform, but also shinobi dressed quite differently.

Suna, Kyo noticed faintly, and then she had to get her head back on straight, because Katsurou-sensei jumped right into the thick of it without hesitation or pause.

Kyo grabbed the boys and pulled them closer to her, tugged them deeper into the shadows.

Everyone was moving faster than what should be physically possible, flitting around the forested area, clashes between opponents making the noise close to deafening.

There were shouts and screams, that sharp clang of metal on metal and the loud roar of jutsu being executed, fire, wind and earth.

As she watched, Kyo saw a Konoha Chuunin struggle against the beefy Suna shinobi he was fighting. He didn't look like he could be more than fifteen, and before she realised what exactly it was she was doing, Kyo had sent off one of her needles.

She watched wide-eyed as her harmless-looking projectile buried itself in one of the Suna shinobi's calf muscles.

He might not know it, but she'd just killed him. That was one of her lethal needles.

“Remember what sensei said,” Taku hissed at her, barely loud enough to be heard over the sounds of battle all around them.

“I'm staying out of it,” Kyo returned dazedly. “But some of them look like they'll die,” and she threw another needle.

Taku eyed her a moment and then with a shrug, withdrew a handful of kunai from his holster and tried to hit the enemy shinobi closest to them.

With varying levels of success.

Kyo didn't hit with all of her needles either, but a needle was harder to notice than a kunai, and most shinobi wouldn't be used to register things that were smaller than a senbon and didn't carry any chakra.

The first man she'd hit staggered and his Konoha opponent took the opportunity to slice his throat with the short sword he held in one hand, and then immediately rushed to help one of his comrades.

“Can any of you see sensei?” Maki asked from beside them, having taken up the job of look-out without prompting in an attempt to make sure no one attacked them while Kyo and Taku were doing their best to support the fighting Konoha shinobi.

“No,” Kyo answered distractedly, scowling as she threw another needle at a guy who flitted around enough he was really hard to hit. “But he looked like he was heading into the thickest of it,” she added when her latest needle finally grazed the guy's arm.

A scratch was enough.

“He's kicking ass in the middle,” Taku agreed as he threw a shuriken at what must be an enemy Chuunin.

The Jounin all moved too fast and were too experienced for them to have much chance of hitting.

“Look out!” Maki shouted, grabbing both of them and pulling them backwards off the branch they'd been perched on a second before it was cut to bits by a violent wind jutsu sent their way by a Suna Jounin rushing passed them.

Katsurou-sensei was hot on the guy's heels, though.

“Thanks,” Kyo panted and threw another two needles, barely taking the time to right herself on the tree trunk she was now sticking to with chakra.

Maki was too distracted by watching the chaos to answer her.

She had no idea how much time had passed since they'd gotten there, but it could be anything between ten minutes and two hours -she honestly couldn't tell- when the Suna shinobi finally started to back off, successfully pushed back towards Kawa by the Konoha side.

The Suna shinobi grabbed injured and their dead and turned tail, leaving panting Konoha shinobi, injured, dead or just exhausted in their wake.

“Wait,” Kyo said softly when Taku made a move as if to jump down from their perch and go look for Katsurou. “Not yet.”

Everyone was a bit too high-strung right now, and Kyo didn't want anyone thinking they were Suna shinobi waiting for one last sneak attack.

Friendly fire was just as dangerous as enemy fire. More so sometimes, because you weren't expecting it from people who were supposed to be on your side.

After another few minutes, Katsurou gave a low whistle and Kyo released her hold on both Taku and Maki's arms.

The boys and Kisaki jumped down to join their sensei and the shinobi who hadn't pursued the Suna nin to make sure they were really going back over the border and weren't trying to just circle around to attack them from behind.

“Kyo, you too!” Katsurou-sensei called when she took too long.

“Sorry, sensei,” she apologized, still feeling rather wide-eyed and shaky now that the worst of it was over, jumping down to join them on the ground.

“So this is your team, Katsurou?” One man, who looked to be around their sensei's age, asked, giving them all a quick, assessing once-over. “That one's a bit too small, isn't he?” He added, nodding at Kyo with a slight frown.

Kyo blinked at him and glanced at Katsurou, whose lips twitched minutely. “Don't mind him, Kyo. He's been out here so long his manners have slipped.”

“Who the hell threw the bloody needles?” Someone asked, reaching down to pick one up from where it'd gotten stuck in a dead branch.

“I wouldn't touch that if I were you,” Taku drawled, braiding his fingers together behind his head, watching the guy with idle curiosity. “Specially not if ya've got any open wounds or scratches,” he added with some interest.

“Kyo, go collect the needles you can find,” Katsurou-sensei sighed exasperatedly. “We don't want anyone accidentally nicking themselves, since I have this feeling you were using the actually lethal ones,” he muttered fondly.

Kyo couldn't quite defend the grin stretching her lips, but it just sounded hilarious. “Okay!” She chirped and began to track down the needles she'd missed with.

At least she'd tried to take note of where they landed, which she was grateful for now.

She didn't become aware of the handful of subtle stares on her person until she returned to Katsurou-sensei with a pretty hefty fistful of needles.

Oops... she hadn't quite realised she'd thrown so many.

By the raised eyebrow Katsurou gave her, he was aware of it too.

“Maki, can you hold them for me while I sort them?” She asked the boy, who froze, eyes widening and looking quite cornered all of a sudden. “Come on, if you stand still none of them will do anything. It's just for a minute!” Kyo cajoled. She didn't want to sit down out here in the open.

“Fine,” Maki grudgingly gave in. “But if I die, you get to tell my parents.”

Kyo smiled and placed her needles in the boy's raised palms.

The way he froze and looked more like a statue than a living human was far more amusing than it had any right to be, Kyo mused absently as she picked up the first needle and brought it to her mouth to lick it.

Ah, oldroot.

Kyo put it where it belonged and moved on to the next one.

Soon enough, she was done and Maki took a deep, relieved breath.

“Thank you, Maki,” she said, grabbing his hand in hers and swinging it a bit back and forth between them.

Maki snorted, looking embarrassed, but indulged her. He secretly love it, Kyo just knew it.

“Right,” the stranger said, sounding mildly perplexed, before he turned questioning eyes on Katsurou.

“Akaro, meet Shiranui Kyo; my poison specialist,” Katsurou sensei introduced with plenty of dry amusement. “Her teammates are Inuzuka Taku and Minami Maki,” he added, because fair's fair.

Kyo waved at the man, who raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, and then snorted.

“Alright, let's get back to base,” Akaro declared, shaking his head, most of the humour bleeding out of his eyes. “Bring the dead.”

Kyo glanced around and realised that the injured had already been whisked away while she'd been distracted.

...she needed to pay more attention to what was going on around her.

“Come on,” sensei said, mentioning for them to follow him when he jumped back up into the trees.

.

The border station was very well hidden, and Kyo had no trouble at all admitting that she would have continued right passed it if no one had been there to show her the way.

It was an underground bunker.

Katsurou and his team were led inside by Akaro, who seemed to know exactly where everything was, despite the pitch black room just inside the door. The only source of light came from the door, and that closed pretty quickly behind them.

Kyo automatically reached out to fist a hand in Katsurou's shirt, latching onto Taku with her other one.

It was a simple but effective enough first defence, she supposed, blinking blindly at the dark.

After the door closed, there wasn't any difference between having her eyes open and closed, which was a bit freaky just on its own.

The were led through what felt like a corridor, through a few twists and turns, and then a door opened in front of them.

Kyo clenched her eyes shut at the sudden bright light. She still hadn't gotten the worst of it, because she was right behind sensei, whose body worked like a shield.

“Crude, but effective,” Katsurou mused lightly.

Akaro shrugged. “'S not even close to all we've got, but it's something.” And he took them through what looked like it could have been any number of different buildings back in Konoha with one distinct difference.

There weren't any windows.

“Ya got any antidotes, kid?” Akaro asked after a moment. “The iryou-nin would be glad to take a look at them; Kami knows the Suna scum are fond of their concoctions.”

“Sorry,” Kyo said after a brief pause. “I don't.” It was the first time she'd felt really guilty about it. “I could give them a few samples of my poisons, though?” She offered hesitantly.

That would help, wouldn't it? If the medic got a chance to study her poisons they might be more prepared?

Akaro shrugged, though there was a speculative glint in his brown eyes. “Better than nothing, I suppose.”

And he opened the door to an office and marched up to the desk, taking the chair behind it and turning to face Katsurou-sensei.

“The latest missives?” He asked briskly.

Katsurou waved Kyo closer, and she quickly handed back the three scrolls, glad to finally be rid of them.

Akaro raised an eyebrow, eyed their team and accepted the scrolls with amused approval.

“You always were a crafty bastard,” he said fondly as he placed the important delivery on his desk. “I have a few things to send back with you, but I suppose you'd like to rest up here for the night.”

“It would be preferable.” Katsurou rolled his shoulders with a shallow nod.

Akaro inclined his head. “There's room in the barracks; I'll have someone take you to an unoccupied room once we're done.”

“Brats, wait outside the door,” Katsurou instructed promptly. “Kyo, keep an eye on them and make sure no one dies while I'm busy.”

“Yes, sensei!” Kyo promised with an amused smile and pulled the offended boys with her when she headed back for the door.

“He always does that,” Maki grumbled sullenly as soon as the door had closed between them and their sensei.

“We're not stupid,” Taku added hotly, crossing his arms and scowling at the opposite wall.

“You're just a bit impatient,” Kyo agreed. “And I think he mostly does it to mess with people,” she added thoughtfully. And because he no doubt thought it was great fun.

“People,” Taku repeated flatly. “You mean me an' Maki.”

“Not just you.” Kyo snickered. “Haven't you ever noticed the look on people's faces when he does that? It messes with their perception of us and makes them question themselves, whether they're aware of it or not.”

“Ah, you're a pretty smart cookie, aren't you?” An unfamiliar voice asked, dripping with good humour and suppressed laughter.

Kyo jumped and turned to face the... teenager that was suddenly standing in front of them. He looked a bit familiar, and she had just pieced it together when he leaned forward to peer curiously at her.

“I came by to say thanks, because that guy from earlier was really giving me trouble, and I might'a died or something equally unpleasant if you hadn't done your neat little needle trick, chibi.” He grinned.

Kyo could feel Taku bristling protectively beside her. “Hey, back off, creep!” He growled before she could do anything to calm him.

“It's fine, Taku,” she hurriedly placated her sometimes rather prickly teammate. “And you're welcome, I suppose,” she added to the stranger.

He had pale red hair and tan skin, blue eyes that were a shade more towards grey than her own.

“Say, how old are ya? Look a bit young to be a Genin yet,” the teenager mused, looking completely unperturbed by Taku's glare and Maki's growing uncertainty.

“Six,” Kyo answered honestly, peering with growing curiosity at the guy. He was a bit rude, perhaps, but he wasn't making her uncomfortable.

“Oh, you're just tiny,” the guy laughed, reaching towards her with his hands as if he was going to lift her up, but the door opened behind them, making him freeze.

“Aita, good. You can show Team Six to one of the unoccupied rooms,” Akaro's voice said, and the man was eyeing the teenager with a slight frown when Kyo glanced over her shoulder. “Don't bother the Genin,” he added with a long-suffering sigh.

“Too late for that,” Taku scoffed irritably and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Come by my office before you head out in the morning,” Akaro added to Katsurou-sensei, who nodded and ambled out into the hallways to join the rest of them.

'Aita' laughed awkwardly and scratched at his cheek. “Sorry, sorry,” he apologized. “It's just, I've been the youngest guy around here for a while now, so it was just nice to see someone else who's not a stick in the mud, ya know?”

“How old are you?” Kyo asked curiously, trying to gauge the guy's age. She'd thought he was fifteen, sixteen maybe, but she could be wrong. She'd always been terrible at guessing people's ages.

“Almost fourteen!” Aita said, perking up. “I'm here with my uncle, but he's no fun. I'm Uzumaki Aita,” he belatedly introduced himself, a wide grin on his features.

“The barracks,” Katsurou reminded him, and he sounded resigned to the fact that this would no doubt take a while.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo returned mostly without conscious input, because what?

He was an Uzumaki? What?

There were Uzumaki in Konoha outside of Mito and Kushina? Wait... was Kushina even in the village yet?

Had Uzushio been destroyed yet? That would be big enough news she was fairly sure she would hear of it, even before she'd become a Genin.

Kyo blinked and tuned back into the present only to realise that Aita had begun to lead them through the corridors with familiar ease, prattling on about nothing and everything while he was at it.

“Uncle gets sent out here a lot and he just dumps me on the closest border station whenever he does. It's pretty boring, unless I get to fight like today!” He fairly bounced. “Not that that happens very often,” he added, deflating again. “And there aren't really any interesting people around here.”

Which Kyo took to mean there weren't anyone around his age here he could hang out and or play with.

“How come you're sent out with your uncle, anyway?” Maki asked curiously.

“Oh, he's not really my uncle, actually. More like...” Aita scrunched his face up in though. “Eh, he's a relative. And I'm his apprentice, so he doesn't really have much of a choice, ya know? Only he says his missions are too dangerous to drag me along, so here I am.” He shrugged. “Well, here we are,” he stopped in front of a smooth wooden door, which stood open to reveal a simple room taken up mostly by four bunk-beds.

Big enough for two teams, Kyo realised.

“Bathrooms and toilets are down that way,” Aito pointed further down the hall, “and the Mess is down to the left at the first turn down that way,” and he pointed down the other way, the direction they'd actually come from.

God, this place was confusing. It was like a maze.

Which was no doubt entirely on purpose, she realised tiredly.

Thinking about it, she was exhausted.

Katsurou-sensei gave them a scrutinizing look. “Food, then sleep,” he decided after a brief pause.

“Want me to show you to the Mess Hall, too?” Aita asked, quite eagerly.

Sensei sighed, but waved him on in the direction he'd pointed at earlier.

The Uzumaki boy practically lit up and bounced ahead to show them the way, barely taking the time to breathe between the constant monologue he somehow managed to keep up.

Kyo frankly didn't listen to a word of it, too busy to keep awake and look like she wasn't falling asleep on her feet.

It'd been a long day; up before the crack of dawn, running all day and then the battle earlier.

Sure, Katsurou-sensei had carried her a few times, giving her semi-regular breaks, and she hadn't participated in the battle as such, but it had still left her positively drained of energy.

Someone placed food in front of her, and Kyo ate quickly and mechanically, hoping to finish before her eyes betrayed her completely and refused to open the next time she blinked.

“Come on, Kyo,” sensei murmured, picking her up.

Kyo jerked her eyes open, blinking around in confusion. “Hm?”

“Bedtime,” Katsurou said firmly, settling her on his hip with a sigh.

Kyo might have protested -they were on a mission- but she was too tired, and it was pretty comfortable.

Her head came to rest on Katsurou-sensei's shoulder as if of its own volition and she was out cold before they'd left the dining hall. Mess hall, whatever.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

The run back to the village wasn't quite as tense.

Kyo ended up carrying the missive once again, despite her half-hearted protests. At least they felt more and more secure the closer they got to the village. Much to Katsurou-sensei's long-suffering exasperation.

“Konoha isn't the paragon of safety you lot seem to think it is,” the man told them frankly. “She's secure, but she's not impenetrable. And that only applies when we're actually inside the walls, so stay sharp.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo returned with a small sigh.

She was tired.

Even after sensei had carried her back to their room and tucked her into bed -oh, she would've liked to see the look on his face!- she'd gotten a full night's sleep, but she was still not quite on top.

Despite all their training, her body just wasn't suited to the constant high tempo and lack of rest.

Knowing that it would get better with time was poor comfort when she needed to be more alert and energetic now, damn it. It would have been one thing if she was still an Academy student, but she wasn't. She was a Genin, and Konoha as a whole expected her to behave like all the other Genin, never mind their ages.

It was frustrating.

She couldn't turn seven fast enough.

With no further incident, they reached Konoha's gates by sun down.

Coming upon that battle had apparently been enough surprise for the universe. For this time, at least.

“Come on, let's sign in and then deliver our package,” Katsurou-sensei said, herding them towards the guards' desk.

Kyo was perfectly content to trudge along behind the rest of her team, far more at ease now that they were back home.

An hour more, perhaps, and then she could go home and sleep. In her own bed.

“Kyo,” a familiar voice called, followed shortly by the soft tap of feet touching down on the ground.

Turning in the direction of the voice, Kyo spotted Ryota right away, eyes widening and tiredness forgotten in an instant.

“Here, sensei,” she said, fumbling momentarily with the strap to her poison pack before she managed to get the clasp open. She threw the whole pack at Katsurou, who caught it effortlessly with one hand, gaze flicking from Kyo to the rather beat-up shinobi who had just called her name.

And then she ran the short distance to Ryota and jumped into his arms.

Ryota caught her, nodded exactly once at her sensei and then took off.

“Tou-san?”

“Alive,” Ryota said shortly. “Pretty bad, but alive.”

Kyo slumped with relief, resting her forehead against her unofficial uncle's shoulder. “You look injured,” she said after a few seconds.

Ryota grunted. “Nothing the medics couldn't fix up in a few hours,” he muttered, but he sounded off.

“How long?” She asked, unsure how to phrase what she really wanted to ask.

“Got back in three days ago, Kou's still in a medical coma and Isshun's left on a mission. Genma's at your grandparents.”

“Oh,” Kyo blinked a few times and tightened her arms around Ryota's neck.

She didn't say anything else before they reached the hospital and Ryota seemed content with the silence.

He took her straight to tou-san's hospital room.

Kyo couldn't relax until she placed her hand on tou-san's chest and felt the slow but steady rise and fall with every breath. Feel his heart beat under her fingers.

“What happened?” She asked, not tearing her gaze away from tou-san's pale face.

Ryota sighed and sat down in the chair beside Kou's hospital bed.

This wasn't a private room, but every patient was either unconscious or kept in a medical coma; Kyo didn't know enough to be able to tell the difference.

“Poison,” Ryota grunted. “Luckily, it was slow acting, and Kou seems to have worked up something of a slight resistance after all the years with Isshun. He should make a full recovery,” he said bluntly.

Kyo blinked quickly a few times, taking a deep breath. “That's good,” she managed somewhat steadily.

After a few more deep breaths, Kyo took half a step back and looked around the mostly quiet room.

“Where's Yuuta?” She asked, the auspicious absence of another chair by her father's bed making her stomach drop. “Is he okay? Is he in another r-”

She looked at Ryota's face.

He didn't have to say anything. The cold, blank mask and seemingly emotionless eyes said it all. He looked like he hadn't slept since he got to the village and though he was clean and impeccably dressed, there was just something about the way he sat that made her think there should be blood and dirt on his face.

Kyo walked around the bed and climbed into Ryota's lap, feeling a few tears slip passed her guard when the man's arms slipped around her without prompting and his chin carefully came to rest on the top of her head.

“I'm so sorry, oji-san,” she whispered, leaning her back against the proud shinobi's chest and pretended she didn't notice the slight tremble going through his frame.

“Your tou-san's going to be alright,” Ryota said evenly, voice entirely void of any hint of grief.

Kyo cried.

For Yuuta, for tou-san, who might not know one of his teammates were gone, and for Ryota, who couldn't even cry for himself.

.

She wasn't sure how long they sat like that, staring at Kou, who looked like he was sleeping peacefully. If it hadn't been for all the medical equipment, that was.

Either way, by the time Katsurou-sensei opened the door, Kyo's tears had long since dried.

“Kyo?” He asked softly from the door, having come inside, but not taken a single step closer.

The way Ryota's arms had tightened around her might have had something to do with it, but Kyo was perfectly willing to ignore that for now.

“Sensei,” she returned tiredly. “Sorry I took off like that,” she said. “And threw my pack at you,” she added when she spotted the item in question clutched quite securely in the man's left hand, reminded of the actions that had put it there.

Katsurou shrugged, all casual. As if they weren't in a hospital room filled with six unconscious shinobi who may or may not make full recoveries. One of whom was her dad.

“Can I come over there and give it back?” He asked idly, gaze mostly resting on Ryota's face, judging by what Kyo could guess.

The lack of a clearly defined pupil made it surprisingly hard to tell what he was looking at, sometimes. Which was no doubt the whole point.

Kyo craned her neck and peered up at Ryota, who glanced down at her briefly.

“Sure,” Kyo said after a short pause. “Just, no sudden movements,” she added. Perhaps redundantly, but Ryota was tense enough it felt like he might snap.

“Gotcha,” Katsurou murmured, not sounding surprised in the least.

Kyo watched the Yamanaka slowly, almost lazily stroll across the room until he got to Kou's hospital bed.

Slowly, Katsurou-sensei gently placed her poison pack on the foot of her tou-san's bed, before just as slowly stepping away from it.

“You have the day off tomorrow,” he said, letting both hands hang by his sides, relaxed and -most importantly- in full view. “I'd like for you to meet up for training the day after, though, understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo returned softly. She hesitated a moment, “Did you tell Taku and Maki not to visit me?”

“I thought it best.”

“Thank you,” she said, giving a relieved sigh. She didn't think it would be a good idea for her teammates to come here right now, never mind how much she might appreciate it. “See you the day after tomorrow, sensei.”

Katsurou nodded, gaze flicking to Ryota one last time, assessing, before he turned around and casually strolled away, closing the door silently behind him.

“Yamanaka tend to have good sense,” Ryota commented rather flatly a minute later.

“Sensei hasn't done anything foolish yet,” she assured him, wrapping her arms around his forearms as best she could where she sat, technically quite stuck, in a semblance of a hug. “He can seem a bit cold, but he does his best to look out for us and make us strong.”

And that seemed to satisfy Ryota, who gave an acknowledging grunt.

“You should go home, Kyo,” he finally said, seemingly taking note of the fact that the sky was pitch black outside the room's single window.

“I can stay with you,” Kyo instantly replied, trying to keep her eyes open. “No one's home and I don't want to go to grandma's house.” Just the thought was enough to make her grimace.

Sure, Genma was there, but he was too young to really have anything to say about their grandmother's constant comments and tedious opinions.

Kyo craned her neck to look up at Ryota, who sent her a wry glance.

“You need to sleep, too, oji-san,” she pressed quietly. “And I don't want to be alone.”

“The Clan's not very fond of outsiders staying in the compound,” Ryota muttered after a long pause, which was a far cry from the instant refusal Kyo had sort of expected.

“You don't care much about what the Clan thinks, Ryota-oji,” she returned softly.

Ryota snorted. “Kitten's got a point,” he said, either to himself or to no one in particular. He sighed. “Kou's always going on about how you're so much like Isshun,” he said, staring absently at Kou's slack face. “Don't tell anyone, but I think you're more like your idiot father than anyone likes to acknowledge.”

Kyo smiled weakly. “Does that mean you think I'm an idiot, too?”

“The biggest,” Ryota returned promptly, standing to his feet and turning her around so he could carry her on his hip. All without fully releasing her from his semi-hug. “An intelligent person would never ask to stay in the Uchiha compound.”

“Brains are overrated,” Kyo said sagely, leaning her head on Ryota's tense shoulder. “Heart's more important.”

“You should stop talking now, kitten,” Ryota ordered coldly as they exited the room, but Kyo didn't mind.

He'd used her nickname, no doubt to try and soften the impact of his words. Tou-san had told her that Ryota cared a lot, that he was very fond of her; he just didn't know what to do with himself when it came to 'emotional crap'.

The definite tremble in his hands was a dead give-away, too.

No one stopped them or said so much as a word to them while they made their way through the hospital, though Ryota did attract a few worried glances from the nurses.

She might have drifted off for a bit as Ryota transported them across the village, but she jerked back to full consciousness when they stopped moving.

“-ou cannot be serious!” An unfamiliar voice hissed quietly. “It's looks like kidnapping.”

“Don't be ridiculous; it's Kou's kid, Hoshu,” Ryota snapped back. “And like hell I'd just snatch a brat off the streets!”

“I asked to stay with Ryota-oji,” Kyo told the gate guard sleepily, rubbing a hand at one gritty eye. “Kaa-san's on a mission and tou-san's in the hospital,” she said, blinking at the grumpy Uchiha guard and widening her eyes.

She couldn't cry on command, but perhaps this would be enough.

“...fine,” Hoshu spat, giving Ryota a dirty look, but stepping aside.

Ryota signed something with one hand too quickly for Kyo to see, and Hoshu scowled after them.

“Sorry for getting you in trouble, Ryota,” Kyo apologized drowsily.

“Don't think about it, kitten,” Ryota grunted, shifting her a bit so that she could rest more comfortably against his shoulder. “What sort of mission did you have, anyway?” He asked, rather belatedly, but Kyo didn't blame him.

“Courier run to the Kawa border.” Kyo yawned. “Mission success and no one was hurt,” she added tiredly.

Ryota hummed absently. One of his hands was resting on her back, conveniently close to her heart.

“Can I sleep with you?” Kyo asked, half asleep and barely managing to keep her eyes open, but the thought of sleeping alone felt impossibly daunting.

Ryota paused whatever he was doing, and when Kyo pried one eye open, she could see they'd reached his house. The front door, to be precise.

“Aren't you too old for that?” He asked stiffly, and if she had been more awake, Kyo might have laughed at the awkwardness he was all but exuding.

“I'm six, oji-san,” she pointed out, lifting one hand with splayed fingers for him to see.

“That's five,” Ryota pointed out after a beat of silence.

Eh, close enough.

“Tou-san lets me sleep with him sometimes,” she protested when Ryota temporarily set her down to take off her sandals.

“I'm not your tou-san,” Ryota scoffed, setting her sandals to the side before he took off his own and then picked her up again. “You can sleep on the couch.”

“Okay.” Kyo yawned again. Ryota had a super soft, comfortable couch, so that was nice. She still would have preferred to sleep next to someone warm, breathing, comforting. “I think I forgot my pack on tou-san's bed.”

“We'll get it tomorrow,” Ryota promised. He paused in front of the couch and gave her an intent look Kyo could do no more than blink at in return. “Bathroom?”

She tilted her head in consideration, which no doubt would have threatened to topple her over if Ryota hadn't been holding her. “Yeah,” she finally decided.

She couldn't even remember the last time she'd peed today.

Ryota sighed and walked over to the bathroom, opened the door and set her down. “Don't fall asleep on the toilet,” he ordered and then stalked off.

Kyo went about her business and then staggered back out into the living room, to find Ryota had made the couch. Sort of.

He'd put a sheet over the seat, to make it more comfortable and supplied her with a pillow and a thick blanket.

Forcing her eyes to stay open a bit longer, Kyo took off her hitai-ate and put it on the coffee table. Which was followed by her weapons pouches, most of her clothes and her mesh shirt.

Clad in nothing more than her underwear, Kyo crawled down under the blanket, pulled it up over her shoulders and promptly fell asleep.

When she woke up the following morning, Ryota was sitting slumped on the floor next to the couch, arm propped up on his raised knees and head resting on his arm. His other arm was on the couch, leaving his hand resting on Kyo's back.

He was also deeply asleep.

Kyo squinted tiredly at him a few seconds, before she closed her eyes and decided to sleep some more.

It was her day off; she had nowhere to be and could sleep in for once.

.

Two days later, tou-san still hadn't woken up, but he was doing much better.

The medic had even been able to tell them that he wouldn't have any lasting after-effects, and that he would make a full recovery.

Ryota had been so relieved he'd actually looked like he'd cry.

After the medic had left, of course.

And then Kyo had had to run off to meet her team for training. But she felt much better about leaving Ryota now that he didn't have to worry about Kou as much, and after he'd gotten some much needed sleep and sustenance.

“Hey!” Taku jumped to his feet the moment he caught sight of her, Kisaki and Maki half a second behind. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Kyo smiled and ran up to them, sending Katsurou-sensei a smile, too. “I'm okay. Tou-san's going to make a full recovery!” She beamed.

“Oh, that's good,” Maki sighed, looking relieved.

“So who was that guy?” Taku demanded next, since Katsurou seemed content to leave them at it for a while.

“That's Ryota-oji; he's tou-san's teammate,” Kyo explained, her smile waning a fraction.

“He looked pretty scary,” Maki said in a hushed voice, as if it was a secret.

Taku nodded seriously.

Kyo snickered under her breath, unable to stop herself. “He's an Uchiha,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“What?” Taku blinked, looking close to dumbfounded. “But I didn't see his Clan mark!”

“Yeah, he doesn't like to wear it on his clothes outside of special occasions,” Kyo said cheerfully. “The rest of the Clan gives him quite a bit of grief about it, but he says it's stupid to advertise his abilities to our enemies.”

Taku and Maki both stared at her, speechless.

“Man,” Taku finally said. “I thought all Uchiha were supposed to be assholes.”

“Taku!” Maki hissed, clearly offended by the words. “They're a highly respected Clan; they helped found the Village!”

“Yeah, and they're all arrogant assholes.” Taku nodded, as if it all made perfect sense.

Kyo couldn't help but snicker at them. Her good humour was pretty short-lived, though. “A lot of them are pretty arrogant,” she admitted, which made Taku grin victoriously at Maki, “but not all of them. And a lot of it is emotional incompetence.”

“Say-what now?” Taku's attention snapped back to her and he looked incredulous.

“Tou-san explained that, since they're taught not to show any kind of weakness, they don't know how to show emotions in a way that other people can understand.” She shrugged. It was a very sad thing, Kyo thought. “So they tend to come off as cold, arrogant and insensitive.”

“It's not only the Uchiha who suffer from the misconception that shinobi are supposed to be nothing more than emotionless tools,” Katsurou-sensei cut into the conversation, adding his own piece.

“I thought that was one of the shinobi rules.” Maki frowned. “The written ones,” he added, because he was still hyper-aware of the unwritten parts of life as a shinobi.

“It is, and you should keep them in mind,” sensei said, inclining his head. “Unfortunate things tend to happen to the human mind when emotions are suppressed too well, however.”

“We can pretend we don't feel anything, but that doesn't mean it's true.” Kyo shrugged. “I think you should just try and find a balance that works best for you.”

Katsurou-sensei hummed. “Training,” he finally said. “Let's get to it.”

“What sort of torture have you planned for us today, sensei?” Maki asked with a polite smile, turning to the man with exaggerated attentiveness.

“Brats,” Katsurou snorted, lips twitching. “Let's see how well you can do at the shinobi version of Hide and Seek,” he decided. “Go!”

Kyo used a kawarimi to change places with a small, fallen branch she'd spotted close to the trees when she'd walked up to the training grounds, quickly clamping down on her chakra and activating one of her favourite stealth jutsu.

In the next breath, she appeared to fade into the background.

.

The next few days were all the same, with Katsurou-sensei focusing on stealth, stamina and speed.

“You're all smaller than the average shinobi, which means less weight and less muscle-mass. Your one saving grace is speed,” he said as he drilled them ruthlessly.

“I can't move,” Kyo groaned pitifully after almost a week had passed. Five days of constant training until it felt like she couldn't lift her arms, until she could hardly get out of bed in the mornings.

Tou-san found it offensively amusing, because “That makes two of us, kitten.

Ryota was laughing at both of them.

Whenever the two men weren't grieving for Yuuta, at least. The funeral was set to be in a few days, and Kyo wanted to go with them.

Yuuta's family had waited for Kou to wake up and released from the hospital, so that was a small highlight to the situation. Not that it was much.

“Need help?” Katsurou asked, leaning over her to give her an amused look.

Kyo stuck her tongue out at him, but then sighed. “Yes,” she admitted. “Thanks, sensei.”

“No problem,” Katsurou returned. “What about you two?” He asked, ambling over to where Taku and Maki had collapsed. “Need a hand?”

“You're enjoying this too much, sensei,” Kyo accused him miserably.

“There's no such thing.” Katsurou smirked. “But I do happen to have something planned to help you out,” he added.

Even Kisaki lifted her head hopefully.

“What?” Taku demanded in a half-hearted manner.

“We're going to the onzen,” their sensei said magnanimously.

Kyo blinked.

That... sounded like an awesome idea! She loved the onzen! She went with kaa-san all the time!

Wait. “But I'm the only girl!” She said, abruptly displeased. “I don't want to be alone. Can I come with you on your side?” She asked, staring hopefully up at Katsurou-sensei.

Who considered her a moment before he shrugged. “Sure.”

Kyo grinned. Success!

“Wait- wha- sensei, you can't do that!” Maki objected, looking scandalized. “We'll be naked!”

“So?” Kyo asked. “So will I.”

If anything, Maki looked even more outraged.

“Bu- there might be more people than just us there!” He argued, sending Taku a slightly desperate look.

The Inuzuka just shrugged; he didn't care.

“Maki, I would've understood your concerns if I'd been ten years older,” Kyo said sensibly. “But I'm six,” and how often did she have to repeat that? “The only difference between me and a boy is that I don't have a d-”

Maki slapped a hand over her mouth, cheeks bright red. “No!” He hissed at her. “Please don't say it,” he practically begged.

Kyo smiled against his palm.

So sensitive.

“You're such a prude, man,” Taku spoke her thoughts out loud, though he used a slightly different word choice. “Are we going anytime soon, sensei?”

“Yeah,” Katsurou said, smiling. “You know, no one told me getting a Genin team would be so entertaining.”

Maki looked highly disgruntled with the lot of them.

.

“This is so nice,” Kyo sighed contentedly as she relaxed against the side of the pool, arms hooked over the edge since she was a bit small to be able to sit on the bottom without accidentally drowning herself. “We should do it more often,” she decided, giving a very amused Katsurou a look.

“Maki might mutiny,” he mused, a hint of laughter hidden in the depths of his voice.

Kyo grinned. “He'll get over it, sensei.”

The boy in question had his back to her, arms crossed petulantly over his chest and refusing to so much as look in her general direction.

“You're a girl, Kyo. You shouldn't be in the men's section of the bath,” he said stubbornly.

“I'm not listening to you,” Kyo informed him pleasantly.

She didn't see what the big deal was. She didn't have boobs, hips or even any body hair. She was here with her team; all people she trusted to keep an eye on her and help her if any serious issues popped up.

Like, some strange grown man trying to creep on her.

She had a feeling Katsurou-sensei would murder anyone who dared to try.

So she felt perfectly safe.

And it wasn't like it was entirely unheard of for fathers to bring their children -daughters included- with them into the men's bath. It was a far better option than to leave the children on their own on the women's side.

“I don't get the fuss,” Taku mumbled where he looked to be very nearly sleeping. “If he's like this now, I don' wanna be around when puberty hits,” he grumbled.

Kyo snorted and almost inhaled a mouthful of water.

“When what hits?” Maki asked, confused and curious enough he actually turned around to peer at Taku.

Kyo stopped laughing.

Oh, dear.

“Taku,” Katsurou-sensei said slowly, posture not changing at all, but still fractionally more attentive than he had been three seconds ago, “didn't you have that class at the Academy?” He asked calmly.

“What class?” Maki asked, looking from one of them to another.

“I did, but that might have been with another year,” Kyo said, not feeling particularly amused any more. “And it was one of the girl classes. Which is a bit stupid, actually, sensei. I mean, why do they split them up? It's not like we're gonna start having sex with each other before we're even ten,” she said frankly. They'd had them together in school back in the Before and no one had thought that was strange.

An older gentleman sitting a few metres away choked on his own breath.

Katsurou sighed like he regretted ever saying anything about having a Genin team being anything other than a bother.

“I can't believe I'm gonna have to have the Talk,” he muttered. “I don't even have kids.”

“Sure you do; you've got us.” Kyo smiled sweetly at the man, who gave her a wry, reluctantly amused look.

“Menacing little beasts that you are.” He shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest.

Kyo grinned. Before she thought of something.

“Wait, if Maki is this awkward already,” she paused, pointing at the boy in question and exchanging a look with Taku, “then how will he be after?”

“He might spontaneously combust.” Taku grinned, eyeing Maki like that eventuality was highly appealing.

“Enough,” Katsurou sighed. “I'll deal with it tomorrow, and then we have another Courier mission the day after.”

“Another one?” Kyo asked distractedly, watching Taku and Maki do the verbal equivalent of poking at each other.

“Apparently, Akaro had nothing but praise to say about us,” Katsurou told her, voice threatening to dip into sarcasm when Maki pushed Taku's head under the surface of the water. Supposedly in an attempt to drown him.

Kyo watched the building fight with part amusement and part sympathy with Katsurou.

“I thought they were supposed to be older than me,” she commented idly.

Not really, of course, but it was getting harder to remember that, sometimes.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

The new mission meant she missed Yuuta's funeral.

Tou-san and Ryota both assured her it was okay, that it wasn't her fault, but Kyo still felt bad about it and made the two men promise to take her to the grave as soon as she came back.

They all got so incredibly busy it felt like no time at all before she turned seven.

Kyo felt like they'd been running back and forth to the border so many times they might as well have run thrice around Fire Country by now.

She'd gotten a few scars, accidentally gave Maki food poisoning once -it was very important to remember to wash your hands after handling poisonous plants- and Taku had broken his leg during one mission when they'd been intercepted by a small group of Iwa Chuunin when they'd made a run up to the Kusa border.

Earth jutsu were scary, and it was lucky Taku hadn't lost his leg, rather than just broken it.

Genma had turned one year old, and got a small party.

Tou-san and kaa-san were both home, for once, Ryota was there and Kyo invited her team. Katsurou sensei had politely declined but Maki, Taku and Kisaki had all showed up. With presents.

Genma loved his stuffed dog, and Isshun had very much appreciated the very cute t-shirt Maki's mother had sent with him.

“I can't believe we never got time for that tour of the green houses,” a familiar voice said cheerfully behind her.

Kyo turned around with a bemused smile. “Hello to you, too, Inoichi,” she greeted placidly. “How've you been?”

“Busy,” Inoichi said. “Did you get taller?”

“I'd hope so,” Kyo snorted, giving him a slightly narrow-eyed look. She didn't want to be as short as a six year old for the rest of her life; that'd make her current career rather difficult.

“Since your team's not with you, does that mean you're not busy?” He asked curiously, glancing around as if waiting for her teammates to pop up out of nowhere.

Which didn't sound outside the realm of possibilities, actually, now that she thought about it.

“Sure,” she said. “You still want to show me your green-houses,” she guessed. She'd planned to go visit one of the many blacksmiths in Konoha to buy more needles, but she could do that later.

“Yeah,” Inoichi grinned a tad self-consciously. “That, and also make friends. You seem like a person it would be nice to keep on your good side, you know?”

Kyo's lips stretched in a smile. “I'm sure Taku and Maki would agree with you,” was all she said. “I take it that means you're not busy either? You want to go right now?”

“If you don't mind?” Inoichi perked up at the prospect of actually getting this done. Almost a year after he'd first brought it up, but better late than never!

“Sure,” Kyo agreed, readily enough falling into step when the eleven year old Inoichi began to lead her down the street towards his Clan compound.

“Most Yamanaka don't actually live in the compound any more,” he confessed on the way. “They've been converted mostly to farm lands.”

“I always figured Katsurou-sensei lived somewhere in the Village on his own,” Kyo said. And this confirmed it, didn't it?

One step closer to figuring it out!

She really wanted that sleepover at Katsurou's place, okay? He'd agreed... on the condition that she figured out where he lived on her own, and she wasn't allowed to stalk him.

Katsurou-sensei was such a party-pooper.

“You don't know where your sensei live?” Inoichi asked, blinking confusedly at her.

“No, because Katsurou is a stubborn, grumpy old man who hates to have fun,” Kyo told him seriously. “You should look into that; he's your uncle, right?”

“We're related,” Inoichi corrected absently, before he snorted. “Shinzu-sensei lives in the Sarutobi compound so that's pretty easy.”

“Lucky you,” Kyo teased. “Hey, do you ever hang out there?”

“Rarely,” Inoichi shrugged, “but it has happened.”

“Have you ever bumped into the Hokage?” She asked curiously. Kyo still hadn't gotten to meet Sarutobi Hiruzen, herself.

It might have something to do with how busy he must be as the war dragged on, the fighting getting more vicious and the slowly but steadily dwindling numbers of active shinobi kept stretching the rest of them thin.

“Once,” Inoichi admitted with a slight grimace. “It was... awkward.”

“Tou-san says he really likes the Sandaime, though,” Kyo mused, crossing her arms over her chest and absently following the outline of a few hidden senbon with the tip of her index finger where they rested under her clothes.

“He seemed nice,” the blond boy hurriedly assured. “It was just a bit intimidating.”

Kyo smiled. “I bet. So is this it?” She asked, peering up at the rather nondescript gate.

“Yep.” Inoichi instantly regained the full force of his good mood.

“No guard?” She asked curiously.

“Not a Yamanaka one,” Inoichi said, smiling innocently when Kyo glanced at him.

So ANBU, then? Kyo supposed it would make quite a bit of sense if this was where they grew stuff like medicinal herbs for the hospital and food for emergencies.

“I seem to recall being lured here with the promise of poisonous plants,” Kyo said instead of pestering Inoichi to tell her more about a subject she was pretty sure she'd already figured out on her own.

Inoichi pouted at her for all of a second, before quickly pulling her towards one of the green-houses in the very back of the compound, placed in a shadier spot than the rest.

Kyo could admit to being rather intrigued.

“Here, put these on,” Inoichi said, handing her a pair of thick leather gloves with an interesting collection of stains when they stepped through into the moist, almost sweltering heat inside.

Kyo stared bemusedly at the much-too-large gloves and then put them aside.

Inoichi was already walking down the stone path, so he didn't notice.

She followed eagerly, paying close attention to the plants they walked passed. Most of them had dark, thick leaves, often large and fuzzy. Other plants looked like innocent flowers, almost misplaced amongst the more visibly toxic vegetation.

“I know most of these,” Kyo admitted, running fond fingers over the leaves of a Bloodroot. “And even the ones I don't know by name I'm familiar with.”

“This is the Fire Country section,” Inoichi admitted cheerfully. “Don't touch that!” He added hastily when he saw what she was doing. “It'll give you a bad rash. Why didn't you put on the gloves?”

“It's fine,” Kyo grinned and held out her hand for Inoichi to see. Not the slightest discolouration in sight.

“How?” Inoichi asked, staring at her hand, inspecting every finger he'd seen touch the Bloodroot leaf. “I've touched that one; it's super itchy!”

“Immune,” Kyo chirped happily. Was this how her mum had felt all those years ago?

Inoichi's eyes boggled. “Immune?” He repeated confusedly.

“Mhm,” Kyo hummed, reached out to pick a small leaf off the stem of the Bloodroot and put it in her mouth, crushed it between her teeth and then swallowing.

“Oh, Kami.” Inoichi sounded faint, “I have to take you to the hospital. Tou-chan's going to be furious with me,” he fretted.

“Relax. I told you; I'm immune,” Kyo shrugged, not as bothered as she probably should be. If anything, she was rather amused by the blond's reaction.

Ah, her past self would probably be appalled. Or, she mused uncertainly, inappropriately entertained.

She couldn't quite decide.

“I still think we should seek out a medic,” Inoichi insisted, watching her closely for any signs of an adverse reaction.

“I promise I will let you take me to the hospital if I get the least bit sick, okay?” Kyo compromised, looking further down the green-house. “What else have you got in here?”

“Uh, we have some plants from other countries, too,” Inoichi said slowly, giving her a worried look, before he began to go further into the oblong space. “These ones are from Kiri,” he said, a measure of his earlier enthusiasm slowly seeping back into his voice.

Kyo peered at the plants, wondering if it'd be alright to ask for samples. Not that it would be enough to get herself used to them, but still.

“How potent are they?” She asked, poking a bit experimentally at one of them, until Inoichi's nervous fluttering was enough to make her back off. She didn't want to accidentally damage a rare plant from another country.

That would've been awkward. And probably expensive, not to mention the possible grudge from the Yamanaka Clan and any potential medics that would need the plant for their work.

Right, better not to touch anything she couldn't replace.

“Not very, I think. They're mostly meant for the hospital, remember.” The boy smiled. “Wouldn't want to accidentally kill the patients.”

“As far as I've understood it, the most dangerous plants can sometimes do the most good,” Kyo mused. Not that she knew anything about how that worked; she could only kill people with them.

The rest of the tour was interesting, but since Kyo's knowledge of the local -and not so local- vegetation was limited to ending people's lives rather than helping them... she felt it was largely wasted on her.

“What were you even doing when I ambushed you?” Inoichi asked when they finally left the humid heat of the green-house behind.

“Heading to the blacksmith.” Kyo smiled. “And I still have to go; wanna come?”

“Sure.” Inoichi seemed rather happy she had asked. “Are you getting anything in particular?”

“My order should be ready by now, so I'm picking it up.” Kyo barely resisted the desire to laugh. She'd placed her order a couple of months ago, actually, and she just hadn't had the time to swing by until now. Team Six had been swamped with missions lately, running all over the country.

“Oh.” Inoichi blinked, looking vaguely sheepish. “Sorry.”

“That's okay; this was a very nice break from training and missions,” she said honestly. Which was what most of her days consisted of. “I just need to re-stock, is all.”

“Yeah.” The boy sighed. “It feels like I've been out of the village more than in it lately.”

“Us and everyone else,” Kyo muttered.

Kaa-san was doing missions again, her maternity leave having been cut rather short. Kyo had been two before Isshun had been sent back out, but Genma hadn't even gotten to turn one.

She hated this war.

“Welcome,” the man behind the counter said when Kyo pushed open the door and stepped inside, Inoichi right behind her.

“Hey, ossan.” Kyo smiled.

“Ah, young Shiranui-san, you finally grace me with your presence!” Toumi-ossan exclaimed affably, getting to his feet with a friendly grin. “Let me get your order, sweetie.”

“Thank you,” Kyo said, waiting calmly by the counter.

Inoichi browsed the store while pretending not to be itching with curiosity.

“You know, you can come over here if you want to,” she said idly, watching Inoichi startle minutely from the corner of her eye, before he approached her with a sheepish grin.

“Sorry. Tou-chan says I'm too curious for my own good.” He shrugged, but didn't seem particularly apologetic. If anything, he looked a bit chagrined at having been caught out.

Kyo shrugged.

“Here we are, young miss.” Toumi-ossan came back, quite the hefty package held in one hand. “Your selection, as ordered,” he said, and proceeded to place the package on the counter, unfold the leather wrappings to reveal quite the few bunts of needles.

Kyo picked up a few random ones, each one from a different bundle, and tried them carefully like kaa-san had showed her.

Weight, quality and shape were all important when you used as much precision as their particular specialisation required.

“If you'd like to try a few,” Toumi-ossan said, removing a few tools to reveal a wooden post that was littered with plenty of marks from a wide variety of weapons.

“Thank you, if I may?” She asked, mentioning towards the post with a hand, two needles already slotted between her fingers.

“Of course, Shiranui-san,” Toumi-ossan said, backing away and well out of the firing line. “Go ahead.”

Kyo flicked her wrist and fingers, sending the needles through the air with little effort. They stuck quite firmly in the wood, too, though she hadn't used enough force for them to be difficult to get out.

“Excellent as always, ossan.” Kyo smiled. “How much do I owe you?”

While Kyo and Toumi discussed prices, Inoichi picked up one of the small needles, inspecting it curiously.

Kyo didn't mind; the thing hadn't been coated in poison yet, and was obviously no more dangerous than your average sewing needle. If more durable.

“Always a pleasure doing business with you, Shiranui-san! Give my best to your mother,” Toumi-ossan said once she'd handed over the agreed upon amount of money. Quite the sum, admittedly, but this was a rather large batch.

She'd been running low, so she'd decided to splurge.

Not that Kyo was spending much money on other things, and having had a steady pay for a little over a year now, she had more than enough saved up it wasn't an issue.

Unlike most people, Kyo made all of her own poisons, so that wasn't an expense. Unless you counted time as an expense, but... eh. It was fun, if a bit tedious at times, but she was so used to it by now she hardly even thought about it.

Her parents paid for living expenses, obviously, so she just had to buy the occasional snack, her own weapons and anything else she might want to get.

Isshun had sat her down and discussed what she should spend her pay on and what she and Kou would provide a few months after she'd made Genin.

Kyo had been more than willing to get her own weapons, but had asked if it was alright for them to help a bit with her wardrobe, depending on how much she had to spend on it.

She was still growing, and that wasn't even counting the amount of clothes that had to be thrown away due to pure, simple damage.

Taku had even managed to burn one of her shirts to a crisp during training a few months ago, so.

Kaa-san had smiled and told her, for all that she was legally an adult and earning her own wages, she was still their child, and should try to keep that in mind.

“You're not getting anything?” Kyo asked Inoichi, who shook his head. “Okay.” She shrugged and wrapped her purchase up again.

It was heavy, but nothing she wasn't used to or couldn't handle, so that wasn't a problem.

“Well, I have a lot to do now, Inoichi, but it was nice to spend time with you.” Kyo smiled at the boy, who grinned back.

“Let's do it again, sometime,” he agreed eagerly. “It was surprisingly nice to spend time with someone who isn't either of my stupid teammates.”

“Right?” Kyo snickered an agreement. “See ya later, Inoichi!”

“Bye!” The boy returned.

Kyo gave him one last nod and then ran up the side of the closest building. She wanted to get home as soon as possible and get started on the rather overwhelming task in front of her.

She had a lot of needles to coat with poison.

.

About a month later, Katsurou-sensei spoke up before they could scatter after the day's training.

They'd been focusing mostly on elemental jutsu, which was interesting, because Kyo and Taku were devastating together, so Katsurou had taken them to a rather sizeable lake to practice over; no one wanted them to set all of Konoha on fire.

Turns out, fire jutsu amplified by wind jutsu were absolutely terrifying.

Kyo's inner pyromaniac was silently but gleefully ecstatic.

“Kyo, wait a moment; there's something I wish to discuss with you,” Katsurou sensei said, making her stop in her tracks and give him a curious look before she could dash back home to kaa-san and Genma.

Taku and Maki both glanced questioningly at her, but Kyo merely shrugged; she had no idea what this was about.

“What is it, sensei?” She asked curiously, absently scratching at the healing burn on her left forearm, watching her teammates reluctantly wander off. Accidents happened, and Taku had apologized several times, despite her assurances that it was alright.

It wasn't like he'd burned her on purpose.

“Come,” Katsurou said instead of giving her any sort of explanation.

With a mental shrug, Kyo happily fell into step next to him. Or, more like bouncing along next to him, munching on one of her energy bars while she was at it.

She'd planned to eat something first thing when she got back home, but with this delay -for who knew how long- this would tide her over until she got access to real food.

Katsurou gave her an amused glance, wordlessly handed her a rations bar when she finished and walked on in silence.

Grinning at her sensei, Kyo bit into the less tasty, but definitely more nutritionally correct treat. She was a young, small, growing girl who spent most of her time physically active; she needed to eat as much as she could.

And it never hurt to have something edible to throw at Taku's head whenever he got grumpy as his blood-sugar fell.

“Are you gonna tell me what this's about, sensei?” She finally asked, stuffing the empty wrappings in one of her many pockets to throw away later.

“No,” Katsurou said, sounding all casual and not at all bothered by the frown Kyo graced him with as she peered up at his calm face. “Not yet,” he added after a too-long pause, mouth curling into an amused smile.

Kyo huffed a sigh. “You can be so annoying, sensei,” she told him honestly, though she was rather entertained in addition to being mildly vexed.

“It's my only joy in life,” the man mused, scanning the street around them in a seemingly-casual manner she'd seen him do during missions often enough it made her follow suit automatically.

Looking for a threat that most likely wasn't there.

Konoha was safe, but it wasn't air-tight. At least it made the chances of being outright attacked minimal.

Kyo sighed, but didn't stop walking next to him. She blinked a little when she realised where he was taking her.

Or, maybe not exactly where, specifically, but what type of area they were in.

There were houses and a couple of small-ish apartment complexes a few streets further on, which made her realise this was without a doubt a residential area.

She perked up. “Am I going to get to see where you live?” She asked, latching onto Katsurou's hand before she could consider the possible repercussions of the action.

Right. Don't grab Jounin without warning.

Thankfully, Katsurou merely gave her an amused look and slowly curled his fingers around hers', tentatively but readily enough.

It made her grin happily and bounce on the balls of her feet, swinging his hand back and forth slightly.

Her sensei let her, with an indulgent snort.

“Come on,” he said, turning off the street, quite clearly heading towards one of the houses. “Don't touch anything,” he added before he opened the door.

Kyo gave him an offended look. “I'm not stupid,” she muttered under her breath, letting go of Katsurou to take off her shoes and put them neatly on the floor in the sparse hallway.

She had learned the lesson of see-but-not-touch very early on in her first life; her mother then had been a goldsmith. Lots of small, shiny, very expensive trinkets to go around and her then-mother would have without a doubt cried if she or either of her siblings had displaced something.

She'd spent enough time crawling around on the floor looking for dropped diamonds and other kinds of precious jewels as it was.

They hadn't been allowed to touch anything on her work bench, but Kyo had quickly figured out that if she put stuff back exactly as she found them, her then-mother wouldn't notice, and -most of all- wouldn't mind.

“Tea?” Katsurou-sensei asked idly as he wandered into the house, Kyo trailing a bit nervously after him.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, peering around at the rather Spartan home. “What's this about, sensei?” She finally asked, settling down at Katsurou's kitchen table.

She was small enough it was more comfortable to sit on her folded legs on the chair, which gave a few extra centimetres of height.

“You,” Katsurou returned evenly, taking a sip of his tea, eyeing her calmly, a considering look on his face.

“Me?” Kyo blinked confusedly.

“You've been my students for a little over a year now,” he said. “I am very good at what I do, and there are some things that just don't quite,” he paused to tilt his head, “add up. About you, Kyo.”

Kyo stared at Katsurou, fingers tightening around the tea cup she'd been provided with and mouth feeling like it had dried up the moment those words left Katsurou's lips.

“You're not in trouble, if that's what you're worried about,” the man continued sedately, bringing his mug to his lips for another sip of tea. “If that'd been the case, I would've brought you to T&I rather than my house.”

Which was only mildly reassuring.

Kyo swallowed thickly and couldn't think of a single thing to say.

Couldn't really think much of anything, actually.

She was drawing a blank.

When it became apparent that she wouldn't be able to speak anything comprehensible for a while, Katsurou-sensei put his tea down and gave her an intent, considering look.

“I'll speak and you'll listen,” he said, and it wasn't quite an order, but it was clear that he expected his words to be followed.

Kyo nodded jerkily.

“You're a very intelligent young girl; bright, curious, polite, surprisingly mature and even-tempered. Patient. All things that, together, are very rare to find in prodigies,” Katsurou mused, tone casual but eyes sharp.

All Kyo could think in response to that was, “I'm not a prodigy,” she blurted.

Katsurou tilted his head. “I admit that you're not as intelligent as the Nara heir, for example, but you have something young Shikaku does not,” he leaned forward a fraction in his seat. “You're wise, Kyo. That's very rare for a child your age.”

Wise.

The problem was that she was wise?

Okay, she was maybe having a small mental freak-out, but that didn't mean she couldn't appreciate the irony of the situation.

She'd been called that her first life, too. Along with precocious and things like brainy and 'know-it-all', however fondly it'd been said. That last one always made her want to snort. She liked to learn, that didn't mean she knew everything!

Contrary to what her sister had always insisted.

Katsurou-sensei looked content to wait her out, because when she finally returned to the present, he was calmly sipping his tea, looking like he didn't have a care in the world.

“Are you sure I'm not in trouble?” She couldn't help but ask quietly, trying and failing to unclench her fingers from around the poor ceramics cup that she might accidentally break before this conversation was over.

Katsurou gave her a long, serious look before he nodded. “You've been my student for a year now, Kyo,” he repeated solemnly. “If anyone tries to claim something ridiculous like you're an infiltrated enemy shinobi, they'll have to answer to me, understood?”

Which was mildly reassuring.

“I figure I died.”

The words just slipped out and Kyo let go of the cup to slap both hands over her mouth instead. Her palms were too hot from having pressed them to the tea cup for so long and it felt like they were threatening to burn her.

When Katsurou did nothing but gaze patiently at her, she cautiously lowered her hands.

“Before I was Kyo,” she tentatively elaborated, watching her sensei with wary attention.

Katsurou hummed, slowly lowering his tea cup back down to the table. “Reincarnation. Very rare, but not entirely unheard of,” he mused. “How much do you remember?”

“All of it?” Kyo offered slowly, twisting her fingers together nervously in her lap. “Except the last bit; that's still a bit foggy, but I think I know how I died anyway.”

“How old were you?” Katsurou asked, a spark of real interest in his eyes.

“Twenty six. Possibly twenty seven.” She sighed. She'd been young; hadn't really gotten the chance to live properly, either.

Yeah, she was slightly bitter about it.

“When did you start to remember?” Sensei asked next, relaxing further in his seat, which Kyo found calming.

Which was no doubt intentional, but she'd always taken her cues from body-language more than anything else. Something Katsurou knew.

Kyo frowned. “When I became aware of myself, you mean?” She asked, and it was admittedly weird, bordering on the absurd, to be talking about this with anyone after so long. “Sometime after I turned one.” She shrugged. “It was weird learning to walk and talk again,” she muttered, more to herself.

Katsurou hummed. “Kyo, would you agree to let me perform a Mind-Walk?” He eventually asked.

Kyo bit her lip, staring up at sensei. “To look at my memories,” she concluded apprehensively.

Katsurou nodded, but didn't say anything. Or move other than that, really.

“They're not really all that interesting,” she said softly. “It's a bit sad.”

Sensei's lips curled into a small, humourless smile that made her feel all kinds of bad.

Her Before life was nothing compared to the average shinobi life, she fully realised, but... there was just something sad about a life not really lived. Youth squandered, and all that.

“Okay,” she said.

For all that it was worth, she trusted Katsurou-sensei.

The man blinked, actually looking faintly surprised, as if he'd expected having to cajole and gently wheedle her to agree.

“Let's move this into the living room, then,” he only said.

“Okay, sensei,” Kyo answered, leaving her cooling tea on the table as she wandered after the Yamanaka to the other room.

.

Kyo settled nervously on the floor in front of her sensei, watching the man a bit warily, despite her best efforts.

She trusted him.

She really did.

It was just scary, sharing something she hadn't spoken about in the last seven years with someone she really respected. Something not even her parents knew about.

“You ready?” Katsurou-sensei asked.

“Yeah,” Kyo replied shakily. At least she wouldn't have to tell him everything; he'd be able to see for himself.

“I will do the hand signs for the Mind-Walk and then place my hand on your forehead,” Katsurou told her soothingly. “It won't hurt, but it might feel mildly disorienting.”

“Okay,” Kyo said quietly, taking a deep breath. “Do you need me to take off my hitai-ate?”

“It would make it easier, but it's not a requirement,” Katsurou said dismissively, giving her a small smile.

Kyo pulled the piece of metal and durable cloth off her head, wiping a hand over her forehead to make sure it wasn't unreasonably sweaty.

“I'm ready, sensei. I think.” She smiled nervously, having to fight not to fidget. “Is it going to take long?”

Katsurou-sensei hummed neutrally. “It will feel longer than it'll really be,” he said with a small twitch of one shoulder that served as a shrug.

“Okay,” she breathed, taking another deep breath. “Do I have to watch them, too?” She understood why sensei would want and or need to, but she didn't particularly want to watch her boring past life when she already knew what had happened.

“No, not if you don't want to,” Katsurou said kindly, reaching out to tentatively ruffle her hair.

What was with people and her hair?

“Okay, you can do it now, sensei,” Kyo finally said, feeling marginally more sure about this.

Katsurou eyed her carefully a moment, before he nodded.

He formed a quick series of hand-seals, and then gently placed his palm on her forehead.

Kyo closed her eyes and slowly released the breath she'd been holding in her lungs.

It felt strange.

Like meditating. She was aware of the memories in her head being examined, though she didn't 'watch' them as Katsurou-sensei no doubt did, she was still very much aware of them.

By the end of it, no more than fifteen minutes had passed, and while Kyo hadn't done anything other than sit there, she felt exhausted and her cheeks were wet.

Katsurou slowly removed his hand from her forehead, a small frown on his face as he gave her a thoughtful look.

“You were sick,” he said quietly.

Kyo nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I was tired all the time.” She sniffled. “I tried really hard, but it was never enough and the medicine wasn't working as it should.” She shrugged.

“It does explain why you hold up so well in the face of exhaustion,” Katsurou mused. “You had family,” he said next, not really giving her any time to adjust to the abrupt shift in topic.

“Yeah,” she rubbed at her eyes one last time and then picked up her hitai-ate from the floor beside her. “I really miss my then-mother and the siblings I had,” she admitted quietly.

“Not your father?” Katsurou asked neutrally.

Kyo's expression twisted briefly. “Not really. He was...” She frowned, trying to find words to explain. “Happy to pretend our childhood basically never happened. That our relationship was perfect and he never did anything wrong.” Which had never sat well with her. She'd been perfectly willing to disregard all of that, mostly, to play nice and do her best to get along -for her brother's sake more than her own- but she'd never been able to stomach just ignoring everything. As if it hadn't happened.

Katsurou's mouth flattened ever so slightly.

“...Sensei, what does this mean?” She finally asked, voice small and barely audible.

“For you? Not much,” Katsurou said on a sigh. “There will be a note in your personal file, though the highly classified version only, for basically just the Hokage's eyes and a few more potentials, depending on what career path you end up on.”

Kyo sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest, contemplating the rather bizarre situation she found herself in.

“There was a story, in the Before,” she eventually said, voice barely audible. “It was about this place.”

“Hm?” Katsurou made an inquiring noise, and when she glanced at him, he was watching her intently.

“There was a theory, back in that place; I read it somewhere,” she paused, “it said that every story in existence was merely a reflection of a world out there,” she bit her lower lip hard enough she had to consciously make sure she didn't accidentally make herself bleed. “It's the only explanation I have,” she whispered.

She could tell that Katsurou was processing the information she had just given him, what it might mean.

“It's not been very accurate so far, though,” she continued on a small, breathy laugh. She wiped at her face again. “But that story was written for children,” she admitted.

Katsurou scoffed, giving her an incredulous look.

“No matter what Academy children claim, shinobi life is not a bed-time adventure story,” the man said disapprovingly.

Kyo snickered. It was very true.

“Are you gonna treat me differently now, sensei?” Kyo asked after a long stretch of silence.

“Absolutely not,” Katsurou said without pause. “If anything, this just means you're even more annoying,” he grumbled brusquely.

All bark and no bite. Kyo smiled up at her stupid sensei, taking in his relaxed, open body-language. He wasn't holding himself differently, but-

“You're a very good actor, though, sensei,” she said with a slight smile. “I won't really know.”

“And you're wise to realise it, my dear little monster Genin,” Katsurou drawled, amusement all but dripping from his voice. “Now let's get you home, before you make a nest or something; I'll never get rid of you then.”

“Oh, yeah, sensei.” Kyo perked up a little. “We're definitely having our next sleep-over here, now. You have to join in.” She grinned half-heartedly.

The look Katsurou sent her was enough to make her laugh.

It was weak and just a fraction of her usual cheer, but it was better.

She felt better. Lighter.

If anyone had to know, Katsurou-sensei was the person she'd pick.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“I'm home,” Kyo called out tiredly, having returned from the latest courier mission. Kusa border, this time.

“In the kitchen, Kyo,” kaa-san replied softly, and yeah, it was late; Genma was no doubt asleep.

The last few weeks had been hectic, but at least Katsurou-sensei had kept to his word and not treated her the slightest bit different from how he always had.

It was actually a weight off her shoulders, someone finally knowing.

She hadn't realised how much the secret was pulling on her conscience until it had been lifted, at least partially. Kyo felt happier now.

“Hey, kaa-san,” she said once she'd stumbled out of her shoes and trudged into the kitchen.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Isshun sighed once she got her first look at her. She put her mug down on the kitchen table and rose to her feet. “Are you okay? Katsurou brought you by the hospital, yes?”

“Yeah.” Kyo rubbed at her eyes, blinking blearily at her mother. “It's not that deep; 's gonna be healed in a few days, medic said so.”

“Good.” Isshun sighed, tracing a careful finger over the bandages on her left arm and shoulder.

Iwa nin were vicious, and she'd been hit with high-velocity stone fragments. At least she hadn't been crushed by the earth jutsu like the Iwa Chuunin had intended before Katsurou-sensei killed him, so that was a plus.

“Are you hungry?” Kaa-san asked softly, cupping her cheek and pressing a quick kiss to her temple.

“Mhm,” Kyo hummed tiredly. When was she not hungry? Never, that's when. “Food?”

“Of course,” Isshun replied. She didn't ask if it was okay for her to eat it cold, because neither of them cared much about something like that. “Here you go, Kyo,” she said, putting a plate down in front of her.

Kyo dug in with remarkable gusto considering how exhausted she was.

When she was done, she turned her attention to Isshun, who smiled at her.

“What are you drinking?” She asked. It didn't smell like tea, though she was vaguely aware of having smelled it before.

“This?” Isshun tilted her mug, her smile taking on an fond tint. “This is something of a family tradition, I suppose.” She gave Kyo a considering look, took another sip and then got up to get the kettle. “The tradition, as it was taught to me, is that you get to start to drink this once you've had your first kill.”

Kyo blinked. “But-” She'd had her first kill already, about a year ago, actually.

“You're so very young, Kyo,” her kaa-san sighed softly. “This is highly poisonous, and in our family, we've always waited longer to send our children into the field compared to other Clans.”

“So I'm too young?” Kyo asked belatedly, realising her mum had been waiting for some sort of response.

“I didn't start my poison lessons as early as you did, so I think it would be alright if you had a little.” Isshun hummed thoughtfully. “I'll show you how to make it later, when you're more well rested, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo agreed easily, accepting the one quarter full cup and took a sip. “This tastes good,” she murmured around the rim of the mug, blinking with surprise.

Poisons tended to taste bitter, but this was sort of sweet.

Well, more spicy than sweet, but there was a definitely pleasant taste to it.

“It's Bloodroot.” Isshun smiled, taking a sip of her own mug.

Kyo paused in the act of taking another sip. “The actual root?” She couldn't help but ask.

Because that was seriously potent stuff.

Isshun hummed an affirmative with a secretive smile.

“Now, drink your tea and then off to bed,” she urged her gently. “Genma's been missing you, so he'll want to spend as much time with you as possible tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Kyo drained her 'tea' and then hopped off her chair and wandered off towards the bathroom. “G'night. Love you, kaa-san.”

“Love you, too, Kyo,” Isshun returned softly, getting up to clean up the kitchen and go to bed herself, too.

.

The next morning, Kyo woke up relatively late.

She got up, didn't bother to get dressed, and instead just wandered sleepily into kaa-san's room and climbed up onto the mattress, finally collapsing next to her mum.

“Good morning,” Isshun said softly, snaking one arm out from under the covers and around Kyo, pulling her closer into a semi-hug.

Kyo grunted a vague response, feeling something press against her hair quickly. “What are we doin' today?” She asked quietly an indefinable time later, feeling slightly more human.

“If the weather was nice, I was planning on the park, and then I need to pick up groceries on the way home,” Isshun told her lightly. “Did you have something different in mind?”

“No,” Kyo assured her easily. It sounded nice. “I need to get some reading done, too,” she admitted, absently rubbing at one of her eyes. “Sensei gave us a few scrolls to memorize,” she added at kaa-san's inquisitive glance.

Isshun hummed and pulled her into a tight hug. “Let's get started on breakfast,” she said.

“I'll get Genma,” Kyo offered and sat up.

The skin around Isshun's eyes crinkled with a suppressed smile and she dropped another quick kiss onto her hair before she got out of bed, walking over to the closet for a set of clothes.

By the time they finally left the apartment, it was around ten thirty in the morning.

Isshun was carrying Genma, but Kyo had insisted on taking the bag with everything they might need in the span of the day.

On the way through the village, Kyo spotted one of her teammates on the other side of the street.

“Be right back, kaa-san,” she said, and jogged across the street. “Hello, Maki.” She smiled at the boy who startled at the sound of her voice and turned towards her with a small, involuntary smile.

“Hey, Kyo,” he greeted. “What are you doing here?” He glanced down at the bag she was carrying and then looked around, as if wondering if Taku would pop up somewhere, too.

“We're going to the park,” she said, pointing over to where kaa-san was waiting with Genma on her arm, watching them with a fondly amused look on her face. “Wanna come?”

“Oh, uh,” Maki blinked, clearly blind-sided by the offer, “won't that be me butting into your family time?” He asked tentatively.

Kyo tilted her head. “You're family too, so not really.” She shrugged. “What are you doing here, anyway? You like to spend time with your sisters on your days off, right?” She asked, taking hold of Maki's hand and towing him over to her mum.

“Chisa-chan's got a cold, so kaa-chan's busy.” Maki shrugged, scratching absently at the healing scrape on his elbow. “And I don't really want to get sick,” he added in a mutter.

Kyo squeezed his fingers and turned to Isshun, who was watching them curiously. “It's okay for Maki to spend some of today with us, right?” She asked with a hopeful smile.

“Of course,” Isshun replied, unfazed and calm.

Kyo beamed at her mother and then turned back to Maki, who's hand she was still holding. “Did you bring your scrolls with you?” She questioned curiously.

Maki grimaced. “I'd like to say no, but I always end up with them in my pockets, because I'm somewhat terrified sensei's going to cross-examine me about how hard I tried to learn it all, way before I'm ready,” he confessed.

Kyo snickered. “That does sound like something sensei would do,” she agreed easily. “Wanna practice together?”

“Please,” Maki agreed with a relieved air.

They walked in silence for a while, the only one making any noise being Genma, who was babbling enthusiastically at Isshun, their kaa-san nodding solemnly at appropriate intervals.

“You realise we're gonna have to get together and teach Taku all of this once we've got it down, right?” Kyo asked casually, eagerly watching for Maki's reaction out of the corner of her eye.

The boy nodded along, until he actually registered the words, and froze. He remained motionless for all of a heartbeat, before he slumped with a heavy sigh and resumed walking.

“Sensei's gonna call it a great opportunity to reinforce the lesson and learn it even better, isn't he?”

“Most likely, yeah,” Kyo agreed with a cheerful grin. He would be right about it, too, because teaching someone else what you'd learned was proof that you'd really learned it properly.

When they finally walked into the park, Isshun spread out the trusty baby blanket in an out-of-the-way spot and settled down with something to read, while Kyo took Genma and went to the sandbox, Maki trailing after curiously.

They ended up building weird constructs for Genma to smash to pieces with small, eager hands until the little boy ran out of energy.

While Genma napped, Isshun provided Kyo and Maki with lunch and then watched them settle down with their identical scrolls.

“So what is Katsurou having you learn?” She asked idly, tucking the thin blanket more properly around Genma where he lay beside her, sleeping. Isshun glanced up when they didn't immediately respond.

Kyo exchanged a look with Maki and gave her mum a sheepish smile. “...are we allowed to tell you?” She asked uncertainly, because sensei hadn't said anything about it, but at the same time... things like these weren't something you spread around.

Maki was frozen on the spot, looking like he was contemplating making a run for it.

Thankfully, her kaa-san just smiled, looking amused. “I'm fairly sure anything deemed safe enough to give a Genin will be safe with me,” she said.

Put that way, it made a lot of sense and made Kyo feel all kinds of embarrassed.

She giggled shortly and scooted over to her mother to show her the scroll.

Isshun scanned the page they were on with interest, making a small, curious noise in the back of her throat. “Katsurou's having you learn code? Already?” She mused thoughtfully, turning her gaze on first Kyo, then Maki, who squirmed uncomfortably under the attention.

“He wants us to memorize it,” Kyo huffed, pulling the scroll back to herself to scowl down on it. “And he won't even tell us why,” she complained half-heartedly.

She was sure Katsurou-sensei had a very good reason.

That he wasn't sharing.

Isshun hummed. “Well, that's not one I'm familiar with,” she said, causing both Kyo and Maki to slump disappointedly. “But I can still give you a few tips when it comes to memorization,” she added, raising an eyebrow at them.

Kyo grinned at her kaa-san, and even Maki perked up.

“You're awesome, Isshun-san, thank you,” Maki said fervently, shuffling closer until they were all sitting in a tight group, listening to Isshun's impromptu lecture on memorizing large amounts of information quickly.

By the time Genma woke up, Kyo and Maki were both deeply concentrated on their task and barely noticed Isshun picking the little boy up to take him to the closest restroom to change his nappy and clean him up a bit.

When she eventually came back, she brought enough dango for all of them with her.

“So are you going back home or would you like to stay around for dinner?” Kyo asked when they began to pack up and leave.

“Kaa-chan's probably wondering where I am by now,” Maki muttered reluctantly, frowning down on the blanket he was folding. “And she asked me to pick up a few things,” he added, as if just remembering.

“That's okay,” Kyo assured him, “we're getting groceries, so you could buy what you need, come home and eat dinner with us and then go home?” She suggested hopefully.

Today had been a really nice day, and it wasn't very often she got the chance to just hang out with her teammates without there being any training involved.

She liked it, and next time, they'd have to bring Taku along as well.

“Are you sure it's not an inconvenience?” Maki asked, shooting a long look at Isshun, who seemed to be immersed in wrangling a tired, cranky baby Genma.

“Our home is always open to you, Maki-kun,” Isshun assured the boy with a quick, distracted smile. “Same as it's always been for Kou's teammates and whatever other friends I'm sure Kyo will eventually make.”

“I've told you, Maki,” Kyo said, grabbing hold of his hand again with a grin. “Teams are family.”

In the face of that, Maki quietly admitted defeat and came with them when they left for the convenience store the Shiranui family usually frequented, and then ate dinner with them, spending the meal exchanging light-hearted complaints about Katsurou-sensei with Kyo.

When he left for home, it was with a smile on his face and a promise to give Isshun's regards to his mother.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Life was surprisingly monotonous for something as exciting as being a ninja.

Their missions kept being largely the same; courier mission after courier mission with the occasional escort thrown in for fun.

Though, those weren't actually fun.

Bandits were a real problem, and there was only one standard response in these times: instant execution.

If she stopped to think about it, it threatened to make her sick.

So! She tried not to think about it too much.

It was much nicer to focus on the smaller, happier things. Like Genma learning to call her 'nee-san'. He was such an adorable brother.

Or the birthday dinner her team took her on when she turned eight. It was very nice; Katsurou-sensei was even there and everything! He'd celebrated Taku's birthday with them, too.

The big softie.

“Kyo!”

Kyo was smiling before she turned around, “Hey, Taku. Kisaki. What are you up to?” She asked, taking in the pair of them.

Quite different from when they'd graduated.

Kisaki was huge for one. Bigger than even the dogs she'd had in her Before life; bigger than a calf.

Actually, she might just be a little bigger than Akamaru had been made to look in the Naruto manga, thinking about it, because Taku could've definitely ridden her into battle if he'd been so inclined.

Kisaki didn't have hanging ears, though, and looked more like a wolf. Almost.

Taku was a bit too fond and respectful of his ninken to do that, she was fairly sure.

“Sensei came by the compound; we've got a mission.”

“Again? We just got back the other day!” Kyo sighed. “Genma's gonna cry again, because I promised I'd go with him to the park tomorrow.”

“He'll get over it.” Taku shrugged. “At least you were there for his birthday,” he added after a second, probably realising Genma wasn't the only one who would be disappointed by the change of plans.

“Yeah.” Kyo couldn't help but smile. “He's getting so big.”

It was weird to see him grow up like this, because her first little brother had been just two and a half years younger than her, and it'd felt -at the time- like they weren't all that different in age. They'd both been about equally small.

Not so much now, what with six years between them.

“When are we leaving?” She asked, snapping out of her thoughts.

“As soon as possible.” Taku shrugged again. “We have to go find Maki now, so see ya in a bit!” He tossed over his shoulder, already running down the street to hunt down their third member with Kisaki at his side.

“Better go pack, then,” Kyo muttered to herself and sighed.

At least the courier missions didn't take all that long. Two, three days unless there were complications.

Kyo absently rubbed at her right hip; she'd gotten hit with a kunai about five months ago. Grazed more than anything, really, but nevertheless, that had been an interesting experience.

Eh, she'd gotten away with a pretty cool scar, so that was... nice. Or something.

“Tou-san?” Kyo called into the apartment when she had stepped through the door. “Are you still here?”

“Yeah, in the kitchen,” tou-san replied a beat later. “Trying to get Genma-chan to eat his lunch,” he added wryly.

Kyo smiled and entered the room. “He doesn't like carrots,” she remarked after a look at what Kou was trying to feed the obstinate toddler.

“Nee-cha!” Genma exclaimed at the sight of her, waving his arms in her direction with a happy grin.

Kyo walked over to give him a quick kiss on a sticky cheek.

“I knew I forgot something,” tou-san sighed, giving her a dryly amused look. Kyo could understand; being a picky eater wasn't exactly something shinobi could afford to be. “I didn't think you'd be back quite yet. What's up?”

“Apparently got a mission,” Kyo said, her smile fading. “I have to leave as soon as possible.”

“Then you should be packing, kitten.” Tou-san smiled sadly. “Come here; you're not too old for hugs yet, right?”

“I'll never be too old for hugs,” Kyo promised.

“Ah, you say that now,” Kou mused theatrically, pressing a kiss to her temple. “You be careful out there, okay? I don't know how I'll cope here alone with Genma when I have to worry about both you and Isshun,” he wondered, squeezing her tight before releasing her with a sigh.

“Don't worry; I'll hug you even when I'm an awkward teenager, tou-san,” she swore with slightly exaggerated care, even though it was perfectly true.

“Go. Pack,” Kou ordered her with a snort, going back to his attempts to feed the contrary two year old in the room. “Mission,” he reminded.

Kyo rolled her eyes and went to her room. Her and Genma's room. She rather liked it, though it meant she had to be careful with where she stored her weapons.

“Taku had to find Maki, so it's not like I'm in a hurry here!” She yelled in the direction of the kitchen. “We can't leave until all of us are there, anyway.”

“Pack your things, sweetheart!” Kou called back, sounding thoroughly amused. “Take extra needles!” He added after a brief pause.

“You worry too much,” Kyo commented lightly when she was done and walked back into the kitchen.

“I don't think I worry enough,” her tou-san countered distractedly, trying to make Genma accept the spoon with mashed carrots and beans. “Now, got everything? Nothing forgotten?”

“I've been a Genin for two years, tou-san,” Kyo replied exasperatedly. “You weren't like this in the beginning.”

“Yeah, well,” Kou huffed, taking a pause in the silent competition of stubbornness with the toddler to lean back and cross his arms over his chest, giving her an amused once-over. “Fatherhood does things to you, kitten. Ryota seems to be afraid it's contagious.”

“Ryota thinks emotions are contagious.”

“You've got a fair point.” Kou nodded sagely. “Just take care of yourself, okay? Look out for that team of yours, too.”

“I always try to, tou-san,” Kyo said, giving the man one last hug, pressing a quick kiss to his stubbly cheek. “You need to shave!” She told him cheerfully before she dashed off.

She could hear Kou snort and say something commiserating to Genma before she closed the door behind her.

With a small smile, she took off running towards the village gates.

Konoha was familiar now, like nowhere else had ever been. It felt like she knew every nook and cranny and she could navigate both the streets and the rooftops even when she was dead-tired and injured.

“Hey, sensei,” she greeted Katsurou when she jumped down to the ground in the open space in front of the gates.

“And here I was, hoping I wouldn't have to see your face quite yet,” Katsurou sighed dramatically, making Kyo grin.

“Aw, you know you've missed me since yesterday,” she piped back at him.

“Lies,” Katsurou deadpanned. “It's like an infection that's never cured. I've been ruined for life.”

“He's what now?” Maki asked, landing next to her.

At twelve, Maki was currently the tallest of him and Taku. Something which bugged the other -slightly older boy- to no end.

“Sensei's just telling me how much he cares about us,” Kyo said cheerfully.

“Ah.” Maki blinked at Katsurou, who stared evenly back. “Still the best poker-face in the village,” the boy mused. “It's sad how no one will ever know how much he loves us,” he sighed morosely, giving Katsurou-sensei a long, miserable look that would make most people fold like wet paper.

Kyo, Kisaki and Taku had helped him develop it during one of their sleepovers. Too bad it never worked on sensei.

“Rats are easier to get rid of than you,” was all Katsurou said. “Cockroaches, even.”

“I'm here!” Taku shouted as he came skidding to a halt next to them, Kisaki joining him a second later with far more dignity and poise.

“How can you be the last one here when sensei told you first?” Maki immediately asked, crossing his arms and giving Taku a pointed look.

“Oi! Because I had to track your stupid ass down, idiot!” Taku shot back, instantly in Maki's face.

They really loved each other. Honestly.

“Why didn't you pack first, moron?” Maki asked, and that was actually a pretty good question.

“I could always sedate them,” Kyo offered.

“If I wouldn't have to carry them, I'd accept,” Katsurou mused idly, before he clapped his hands together. “Alright, my loveable little monsters; playtime's over!”

Taku and Maki both fell silent and turned to watch Katsurou-sensei expectantly.

“Beautiful. You've trained them so well, sensei,” Kyo praised with an amused smile.

“You, watch it.” Katsurou sent her a look. “Don't try and act like I don't know you three far better than I ever wanted or cared to,” he grumbled and made his way over to the guard desk.

“He loves us so much,” Kyo said to her teammates.

“Oh, he's completely gone. It's almost sad,” Maki agreed easily.

“Sucker's just too cut off from his own emotions. He needs therapy,” Taku declared firmly, a wicked grin playing around his mouth. “It's a real tragedy.”

“I'm gonna end up 'accidentally' murdering you three one day,” Katsurou threatened casually when he came back. “The Hokage won't even be able to hold it against me.”

“But you'd be so sad, sensei,” Kyo told him solemnly. “You'd be lonely.”

“And bored,” Taku added gleefully. “Who else would keep you on your toes?”

“You're the reason I suffer from insomnia.” Katsurou sighed. “Let's go.”

They all took off into the trees, and after a few minutes' running, stopped to talk and for Katsurou-sensei to hand the scrolls over to Kyo.

“Border to Yu this time,” he said as she was stuffing the scrolls into her poison pack.

“But Kumo ninja are so high-strung,” Kyo complained lightly. “And they never take me seriously.”

“That's hilarious, Kyo,” Maki deadpanned. “You're hilarious.”

“I like to think of myself as punny,” she returned with an easy grin. “Do you think any of them will try to fry us this time?” Kuma being located in the Land of Lightning and all.

“There's always hope,” Katsurou muttered under his breath. “Come on, Taku, Kisaki, you take point. I'll bring up the rear.”

“Yes, sensei,” they all chorused and then set off in a north-east direction, arranged in their most well-used formation.

It was a pretty straightforward mission.

They came across a Kumo team close to their destination, but managed to shake them off and reach their goal. They reported the enemy activity, a Konoha team was sent off after the Kumo shinobi, and then early the next morning, they set back out for Konoha with a different set of scrolls.

Most people probably didn't realise it, but doing courier runs was hard work. Short but intense missions that just stacked up until it felt like you hardly got any time off at all.

It was stressful, because the odds of coming across enemy shinobi to or from the border stations were quite high, and for most of it, the opportunities for backup were slim.

If there was one thing Kyo definitely didn't enjoy, it was feeling like a hunted animal.

“I feel like we're doing this too often, sensei,” Taku muttered as they jumped down to walk through the Konoha main gates at a civilian pace.

Katsurou rubbed a hand at his chin, giving an acknowledging hum. “Our success rate it pretty high by now, so,” he shrugged, “we're popular.”

“We're so lucky,” Kyo mused, bumping her shoulder into Maki's arm, who snorted.

“The luckiest,” the boy agreed wryly.

“I love how we define 'success' the same as not dying,” Taku huffed, shaking his head.

“Don't forget not losing the messages,” Kyo added with a small grin. “Or getting lost in general.”

“That would just be pathetic,” Taku returned, appalled and positively scandalized.

“Let's go make our delivery before you manage to actually live up to those oh so ridiculous claims of potential mess-ups,” Katsurou said with a smirk at Kyo, who gave an offended squawk.

“As if I'd actually- Sensei!” She objected, pointing accusingly at the man. “You wound me!”

“He's just being realistic, Kyo,” Maki said sympathetically, aiming for a concerned and mournful look and Maki was definitely their best actor. The loveable ass.

“Betrayal!” Kyo gasped theatrically, staggering with only slightly exaggerated fatigue, aiming to make it look like emotional distress instead. “By my own teammate. Taku!” She turned to the Inuzuka, who snorted in advance. “You're with me, right? Don't join those idiots!”

“I'm on your side,” Kisaki said casually, sidling closer to Kyo and rubbing her head against her side.

Seriously, the dog was huge. Kyo loved it.

“Of course you are,” Kyo told her with a grin, raising her voice to talk over Taku's offended splutter. “Us females have to stick together, Kisaki.”

The ninken gave a solemn nod, though the glint of wicked amusement in her eyes was clear to all of them.

“Office faces on,” Katsurou-sensei ordered before they stepped into the Hokage tower, and all four of them instantly adopted serious, professional airs.

It was fun to make it into a game; see if anyone broke the mask.

Loser paid for dinner during their next outing.

They delivered their scrolls without issue and then left, all of them with their share of the paperwork.

“See you guys day after tomorrow!” Kyo said with a smile before she took off for home, feeling content and happy after a completed mission.

No one had been hurt, nothing had gone wrong and other than that brush with the Kumo team, things had gone without a hitch.

“I'm home!” Kyo called out softly when she stepped into the dark apartment.

Tou-san should be home, but he might be out with Genma, either at the park, his parents' or just the training grounds.

Well, Kyo could get started on dinner. Provided her dad had managed to grab groceries while she'd been gone.

But first; shower.

She'd just been gone two days, but wow did she smell!

Nothing like being back home to make you realise, she mused wryly, picking at her t-shirt and pulling it up to her face for a cautious sniff.

Yep, stale sweat, forest, a hint of wet dog and whatever else she'd managed to pick up. At least there wasn't any blood this time, she thought cheerfully, trudging into her room for a fresh change of clothes. Buck naked, because she'd forgotten to get some before hitting the bathroom.

Dressed and ready for food, Kyo grabbed her gathered weapons and stashed them on the top shelf of her wardrobe, where small, curious fingers couldn't reach them.

It wasn't until she was on her way to the kitchen that Kyo realised something might not be as it seemed.

She wasn't sure what made her notice, but she found her feet swerving from the short path to the kitchen to the door to kaa-san and tou-san's room, instead.

Feeling foolish, Kyo still pushed the door open it a bit more and stuck her head into the room to take a look around.

As always, the light was muted in her parents' room, their window facing east. They got the morning sun but not much else.

Tou-san's side of the bed was closest to the door, kaa-san's closest to the window.

Kou was sitting on the side of the bed furthest from the door, elbows on his knees and head cradled in his hands. His back towards the door, so she couldn't see his face.

“Tou-san?” Kyo asked, instantly feeling her good mood evaporate. “I didn't think you were home; where's Genma?”

“...with kaa-chan,” he answered quietly after a beat of pressing silence.

Kyo felt like she should walk into the room, approach him to check on him and make sure he was okay. She couldn't make her feet move, though.

“Do you want me to get him?” She asked after a beat, forcing her voice out of a suddenly dry throat. “I mean, I was planning to cook something, but I don't mind getting him after-”

“Kyo,” tou-san said, interrupting her nervous chatter.

Kyo bit her tongue to keep herself silent.

Kou still hadn't looked at her, or raised his head from his hands at all and it was making her uneasy.

Something was wrong.

“Tou-san, wha-”

“I was notified that Isshun's-” he cut himself off for a deep breath. “She's not-”

Kyo stared at her dad. Her face felt cold and her mind was blank.

Her eyes had fully adjusted to the gloom now, and Kyo noticed the unopened, official scroll lying on the bed next to where her dad was sitting.

Kyo turned on her heel and ran for the door.

Tou-san didn't so much as flinch when she slammed the door closed behind her.

Let's see, sensei was no doubt not home yet; having to take care of the post-mission stuff Kyo was glad she didn't have to deal with yet. Maki was out; she didn't want to spook his parents and she didn't want to deal with civilians right now anyway.

The Inuzuka compound it was.

Kyo ran as fast as she could across the village, ignoring the curious looks it attracted from the few other shinobi out and about. Her fatigue from an hour ago was gone, making it easy to run and jump as if she hadn't just returned from a run that had taken her halfway across Fire Country and back.

The guard at the gates to the Inuzuka compound didn't even try to stop her when she raced passed, far too used to her and Maki traipsing in and out of the place at all hours of the day by now. Pretty much all of them knew who she was, if only so far as that she was Taku's Genin teammate.

Kyo was distantly grateful.

She found him outside.

Kisaki spotted her first and she had no idea what the expression on her face looked like, but the alarmed noise she made had Taku on his feet in a second, spinning around and- getting an armful of Kyo instead of whatever threat he had imagined.

“Kyo?” He asked, bewildered, even as his arms came up around her back, pulling her protectively closer. “What's going on? Shouldn't you be resting?” He paused. “Where are your shoes?”

And yeah, that was no doubt why her feet sort of hurt.

She took a deep, unsteady breath, taking in Taku's earthy scent, not even mildly annoyed by the fact that he had clearly not showered yet and still smelled like old sweat.

She pressed her face more firmly into his chest, tightening her arms around his middle, refusing to let go.

“Kyo, seriously,” Taku tried again, and she could tell he was starting to get really worried. “What the hell happened? I saw you just an hour ago!”

Kyo opened her mouth, to explain, to tell him, but- the only thing that came out was a small, harsh breath.

“I'll go get Maki,” Kisaki declared next to them, and Kyo just knew she was looking between them with worried eyes, ears flicking indecisively.

“No, it's okay. I'm okay,” Kyo said before the ninken could take off. “I just- can I stay like this for a while?” She asked, voice small and strained.

“...yeah. Of course,” Taku muttered, squeezing her gently. “Let's sit down, 'cause your stamina still sorta sucks an ya need ta rest.”

Kyo couldn't help but huff out a small laugh, because trust Taku to be kind of insulting when trying to comfort someone.

She still followed when Taku shuffled off to the side of the small... training ground? And sat down in the shade of a solitary tree.

For once, they'd reached the village in the afternoon, rather than late evening. It might have had something to do with the fact that they'd left the border station hours before sunrise this morning, but... it was nice.

After just a few minutes, Taku sighed and let himself fall backwards so that he was lying on his back, Kyo propped up mostly on his stomach.

The sun and dappled shadows from the leaves of the tree felt nice on her back, and the sound of the gentle breeze was calming.

Kyo focused on taking deep, slow breaths.

Kisaki settled next to them, her head a heavy weight on the back of Kyo's legs.

She might have dozed off for a few minutes, but when she roused again, she felt marginally better.

“Sorry, Taku. Thank you,” she said as she slowly shifted herself into a sitting position, blinking at the boy, who peered back.

“No problem,” he said idly, looking quite comfortable where he lay. “Wanna tell me what's up now?”

Kyo mutely shook her head. “I'm fine,” she said again, hoping that if she repeated the lie often enough, it would eventually come true. “I need to go pick up Genma,” she muttered, rubbing a hand over her face.

It felt naked without her hitai-ate, but she'd forgotten to put it on and it wasn't like she had planned to leave the apartment today.

Her mind shied away from the reason behind her actions, and she bounced back to her feet with a forced smile.

“Thank you, Taku,” she told him again. “You're a good teammate and an awesome friend.”

“Uh-huh,” Taku grunted, watching her sceptically for a long second before he exchanged a quick look with Kisaki. “See you at training, then, I guess?”

“Yeah,” Kyo agreed, gave him a wave and then took off.

She didn't stop until she was outside her grandparents' house. Pausing, Kyo hesitated but then went through the hand-signs for a henge, using a small amount of chakra to make it look like she was actually wearing shoes.

She wasn't particularly fond of the idea of probing questions right now.

Kyo knocked on the door.

“Oh, Kyo-chan,” Haname-obaa-san greeted her with an affectionate smile. “Here to pick up Genma-chan? I take it Kou-kun is back from his mission?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kyo said easily, having no idea what sort of lie her dad had given. “It was just one of the inter-village ones.” She shrugged.

That was a likely excuse if tou-san needed a few hours to himself, right? Right.

“Well, Genma-chan's in the garden,” obaa-san said. “Would you like me to get him?”

“Yes, please.” Kyo smiled, hoping her grandmother wouldn't pick up on anything off about the expression.

She watched her grandmother retreat into the house, and a few seconds later, there was an excited squeal.

“Nee-san!” Gemna screamed, running as fast as his little legs could manage towards her, practically slamming into her knees.

“Oof,” Kyo huffed, but gladly wrapped her arms around Genma and picked him up. The little boy instantly wrapped both arms and legs around her in an octopus hug. “Nice to see you too,” she laughed faintly, hugging him tight.

“Missed you, nee-san,” Genma mumbled into her shoulder.

“I was gone for two days,” Kyo returned with a smile, patting his back gently.

“No,” Genma returned stubbornly.

“No?” Kyo echoed amusedly.

“No,” Genma confirmed, tightening his hold on her.

“Ready to go home?” She asked instead of pressing the issue.

Genma peered up at her, his large brown eyes all but shining with hopeful joy at the prospect. Kyo's heart hurt looking at him.

“Here's his bag, sweetie,” obaa-san said, wandering over with Gemna's little backpack in her hands. “Tell your tou-san that he should pop by for a proper visit, soon. Have a nice evening, Kyo-chan.”

“You too, obaa-san,” Kyo returned, took Genma's bag and then turned and walked calmly down the path back to the street.

Part of her wanted to run back home as quickly as she could. The rest of her, though, wanted to take her time, and not just because she wasn't entirely sure it was safe for her to go roof hopping with Genma when he was so little.

For the first time in her life, this life, she didn't particularly want to see her dad.

“So what did you do with obaa-san today?” She asked Genma, who finally lifted his head from her shoulder to beam at her.

“Played, and 'baa-san made snacks!” He gushed, emotions doing a u-turn from his rather gloomy mood from a second ago.

“Did you have fun?” She asked, setting Genma down when he began to squirm.

“Yup!” Her little brother chirped, grabbing her hand and walking next to her. “Can we go to the park?”

“Tomorrow,” Kyo promised. “We can spend all day,” she told him. She could make a picnic out of it, too.

“Yay!” Genma threw his arms in the air, which included the hand in hers'.

Kyo smiled and brought Genma home.

.

She got up early the next day, got dressed properly, deciding to go for full shinobi gear. Partly because it made her more comfortable, and partly because it made the civilians respect her, rather than just treat her like an eight year old little girl who needed her mo- parents. Who needed her parents.

After making sure Genma was still sleeping comfortably, Kyo moved out into the kitchen to start cooking.

She made two lunch boxes, one for her, one for Genma, and then wrapped them up and got started on breakfast.

That done, it was eight in the morning, and she washed her hands and walked back into her and Genma's room to wake her little brother.

“Morning, Genma,” Kyo whispered, putting her hand on the toddler's shoulder. “Time to get up if you still want to go to the park,” she fairly sing-songed when her little brother tried to burrow deeper into his pillow.

Genma stilled. “The park?” A small voice asked, sleepy brown eyes peering up at her.

“Yep.” Kyo smiled. “I've made bentos and everything.”

“Really?” Genma asked, managing to push himself somewhat upright, squinting at her. “I wanna go,” he mumbled, voice bordering on a whine.

“Okay, then let's start by getting up,” Kyo said, carefully lifting the boy from his bed. She carried him into the bathroom and all but parked his little butt on the toilet. “Wait here while I get your clothes, okay?”

“Okay,” Genma muttered, rubbing tiredly at his eyes with one small fist, face scrunched up in defence against the bright lights in the bathroom.

“You done?” She asked when she came back, a pile of folded clothes in her arms.

Genma nodded.

Kyo helped him wash up and get dressed for the day, and then carried him into the kitchen, settling him -with some difficulty- into the high-seat she herself had used once.

She couldn't wait for that growth spurt that was bound to set in any time now.

She was certainly eating enough for it, so Kyo was hopeful.

“Let's eat, Genma-chan, so we can go afterwards, okay?” She smiled pushing the simple but perfectly acceptable meal closer to the toddler.

She'd liked to cook in her past life, but she hadn't had all that much time to practise here. Never mind that there hadn't been all that much need for it.

It took some time, but two years after Genma had been born, Kyo had anticipated it.

It was after nine by the time Kyo was helping Genma with his sandals and then finally left for the park.

She hadn't checked their parents' bedroom.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo had brought enough reading material to last her, though she spent much of the day playing with her brother, pushing him on the swing and building a fantastic sand castle with him. Which Genma quite gleefully smashed to pieces afterwards.

They ate the lunch Kyo had made and packed, and she made sure her little brother drank plenty of water and wore his sun-hat, because it was warm and the sun was beating down on them from a clear, blue sky.

It wasn't anything she hadn't done before, but never completely on her own.

Either of their parents had always been with them, before.

“When's kaa-san coming home?” Genma asked drowsily when Kyo was carrying him home a few hours later.

Kyo's heart stuttered in her chest, but she still managed a small smile.

“Come on, Genma-chan. We're almost home now, and you're finally gonna get that nap,” she said, hoisting the boy a bit higher in her arms.

It was lucky she was a kunoichi, she figured, or she'd never have had the strength to carry Genma around like this.

Genma just made a discontent sound and put his head on her shoulder.

The next morning, Kyo repeated the process from the previous day, only she had to wake up Genma earlier, much to the boy's displeasure.

She dressed him, fed him and then dropped him off at their grandparents' house with the promise of picking him up once she was done with training, and then hurried off for their training ground to the sound of Genma's minor temper tantrum still ringing in her ears.

Well, he was tired and unhappy and he got like this sometimes.

“Morning, sensei,” Kyo greeted once she reached their training ground. “And Taku,” she added when she spotted the boy sitting a small distance away, looking to be working on a chakra exercise Katsurou had introduced them to a while back. “Hey, girl.” She smiled when Kisaki came trotting over to say hi.

“Are you okay?” The ninken asked, inspecting her carefully while Kyo buried her fingers in her thick, white fur.

“Yep,” Kyo smiled, ignoring the twist of guilt and something else in her gut at the outright lie. “How come you two are here so early?” Usually, Taku was the last one to arrive, because he liked to sleep in, had trouble waking up and his family wasn't always home to wake him in the mornings.

“Had a few questions for sensei,” Kisaki said, accompanying her words with the dog-equivalent of a shrug.

Kyo ruffled the fur between her ears and then walked over to Taku, joining him in trying to make a leaf split/catch on fire with nothing more than their chakra.

She honestly didn't think more about it, and she was far too busy to dwell on much in the days that followed.

Three days after she'd come back from her mission, Kyo stood in front of the door to her parents' room. She had bathed Genma and tucked him into bed. She had washed up after dinner and cleaned up a bit after her brother's playtime in the living room earlier in the evening.

She'd done a load of laundry, hung it to dry and she was more than ready for bed herself, really.

Kyo stared at the closed door.

Closed. Like it had never really been before.

Taking a deep breath, Kyo pushed down the handle and got her first look of the room in three days.

It looked... exactly the same.

She didn't know what she had been expecting, but Kyo had had a tentative image in her head of an utter mess.

The only thing that had really changed -even the damn scroll was lying in the exact same spot, still unopened- was that tou-san was sitting on the bed, back against the headboard and his legs drawn up loosely towards his chest.

His elbows were propped on his knees and his hands were splayed over his face, covering his eyes.

From what she could see of his face, there was stubble on his cheeks and she wasn't sure if he was sleeping, or if he simply hadn't slept since she saw him last.

Regardless, he didn't look all that good.

Kyo opened her mouth, couldn't think of a single thing to say, closed it again and walked out. She carefully closed the door behind her again and went to bed.

.

The days felt far too long, but at the same time, she wasn't at all sure where they went.

Kyo kept herself busy, taking care of Genma, the apartment, picking up groceries on the way home from training and providing herself, her brother and -hopefully- tou-san with food.

She didn't know if the man was eating, but she'd started putting a plate of food on the bedside table closest to the door whenever she'd cooked a meal.

At least the plate ended up in the sink, but...

Genma had been increasingly weepy and clingy the last couple of days. Which meant leaving him with Haname-obaa-san in the mornings were getting more difficult, taking longer.

She'd taken to leaving home earlier in the mornings to make sure she wouldn't be late.

“Kyo, one moment,” Katsurou-sensei said before she could run off after he'd dismissed them after training, seven days after Taku had showed up before her to team training.

Kyo almost stumbled, because she'd just been about to run off to pick up groceries and then she had to swing by obaa-san's for Genma. Would she have time to visit the blacksmith first?

Taku and Maki exchanged a look, glanced at sensei and then reluctantly left.

“What?” Kyo asked impatiently. She had a lot to do.

Katsurou studied her intently for a long second, a small frown pulling on his blond brows.

When Kyo was on the brink of just outright asking what he wanted, her sensei started walking back towards Konoha, waving a hand for her to follow.

Kyo fell into step next to him.

“You need to use your words, sensei,” she muttered irritably. “You do this far too often.”

And it was a bit rude, perhaps, but Katsurou merely sent her a glance and didn't comment.

She frowned when she realised in what direction he was steering them.

“I had things to do before going home,” she huffed, though there was a tight pressure in her chest that felt a bit like fear.

Katsurou gave a non-committal hum and walked on, posture relaxed and almost leisurely.

It was frustrating just looking at him.

Frowning down at the ground, Kyo chewed on her lower lip and followed after him as he started up the stairs of her apartment building.

When he stopped in front of the correct apartment, Katsurou sent her a look and she reluctantly unlocked and opened the door.

As she had known it would be, the apartment was dark and looking to be completely deserted.

Katsurou-sensei walked in and, after a brief pause, continued inside without taking off his sandals.

Kyo quickly hurried after.

Her stomach dropped into her pelvis when her sensei immediately set his sights on the door to her parents' bedroom.

“Sensei-” she cut herself off at the look he gave her. Sharp, unamused and uncompromising.

When he opened the closed door, Kyo couldn't help but hold her breath.

She didn't move at all when Katsurou disappeared into the room, swallowed up by the gloom. Not that the apartment was particularly dark -it was the middle of the afternoon- but the atmosphere was enough to eclipse the light.

He'd left the door open behind him, so she didn't have any trouble hearing what was said.

“Get up,” Katsurou said.

“Go away,” Kou returned hoarsely after a beat of heavy silence.

“No. Get up,” the Yamanaka repeated sharply. “Get up, clean yourself up and get a grip.”

“Shut up,” she could hear Kou growl back. “This is none of your business; get the hell out.”

She wasn't sure what happened next, but sensei came back out, dragging Kou behind him by the front of his shirt.

Which... her dad didn't look particularly happy about. The way he forced Katsurou to let go was rather telling, jabbing a hand aggressively at the blond's face in a move Kyo had seen before, but only in the form of a far less lethal-looking kata.

Her heart jumped from her pelvis to her throat faster than she could blink, urging her to quickly draw back and get well out of the firing line.

Sensei was a Jounin, and dad was a Tokubetsu.

Far out of her league.

It was a short fight, fast and vicious, but Katsurou got Kou pinned up against a wall, much to the man's obvious fury.

“What are you even doing here?” Kou hissed, straining against her sensei's hold. “This is none of your damn business! Fuck off, man!”

“Your daughter is my business,” Katsurou returned and his voice was cold, tight, controlled. He was angry. “Look at her!” He said, jarring his hold on Kou in a manner that looked like it bordered on painful and jerked his chin in Kyo's direction.

Kou glared at Katsurou, but after a beat, grudgingly did as directed, shifting his gaze to look behind the Jounin.

He didn't spot her right away, which spoke enough about his physical and mental state on it's own, but when he did, he blinked and slowly paled.

“Kyo?” He rasped faintly, and Kyo finally became aware of herself enough to realise she was breathing hard.

Panting, as if she had been the one fighting rather than sensei and tou-san.

In one hand, she had a senbon clenched in a white-knuckled grip and she didn't know when she'd grabbed it. She'd somehow clamped down on her chakra without noticing, too. Completely.

Oh, and she was standing in a defensive stance.

When had that happened?

“Kyo?” Katsurou-sensei's voice effortlessly tore her out of her own confused, disjointed thoughts.

“Yes, sensei?”

Katsurou sent her a quick, assessing glance over one shoulder before he turned back to Kou, who couldn't seem to look away from Kyo now that he'd been made aware of her.

“Your wife died,” Katsurou said harshly, shaking Kou again to get his attention. The senbon slipped from Kyo's fingers at the words, clattering to the floor. “Isshun died. That does not give you an excuse to shut down. You have responsibilities.” He took a deep breath. “And until you get yourself together, Kyo will be staying with me.”

“What?” That got a reaction out of Kou, who had been rather listless for the last few minutes. “The fuck are you on about? No. Absolutely not; she's my daughter!

“Then you better act like it,” Katsurou growled in his face. “It's been eight days since we came back from our latest mission. Take some time to think about how you've spent them. And then ask yourself what your children have been doing in the same amount of time.”

And Katsurou-sensei stepped back from Kou with one last scathing look, rolling his shoulders to loosen them and then turned to Kyo.

“Go pack a bag, Kyo,” he said, slowly and carefully approaching her. “Your tou-san needs some time to himself.”

Kyo tore her gaze away from Kou, who was staring at the floor and looking miserable and rather pathetic.

“Go on.” Katsurou gently pushed her in the direction of her and Genma's room, and she went, packing clothes and essentials in one of her bags, throwing her mission kit in there, too, just to be safe.

“You done?” Sensei asked when she came back.

She felt cold and numb and a bit like she hadn't gotten out of bed this morning, but- She nodded.

Katsurou gave her a small, tight but encouraging smile and proceeded to surprise her by picking her up.

Kyo wrapped her arms around his neck as he straightened upright again, put her on his hip and walked out of the apartment without so much as a parting look at Kou, who still stood slumped against the wall where he'd left him.

They walked by Ryota on the way out, and the Uchiha looked rather grim and unhappy, but he gave Katsurou a respectful nod, putting one hand on Kyo's head in a gentle pat, and then disappeared into the apartment.

Supposedly to deal with his teammate.

Kyo buried her face in sensei's shoulder, trying to take deep, even breaths.

“Why?” She asked, unable to stop herself.

“Because you're a child, Kyo,” Katsurou-sensei said firmly. “You're not an adult, but an eight year old child.”

And he made it sound so simple.

“Kaa-san's really gone,” Kyo whispered to herself and Katsurou sighed.

“Your mother was killed in action, in service of Konoha. She was doing her best to protect her family and every single person living inside of these walls.”

Kyo wrapped herself more tightly around Katsurou-sensei, pressing her face into his shoulder.

“I didn't tell Genma,” she admitted into his vest. She doubted her words were even legible, but that hadn't stopped her from admitting to one of the things that had been pressing on her mind and conscience all week.

“Perfectly understandable,” Katsurou said evenly, and they were outside now, sensei carrying her through Konoha's streets without a care for what anyone might think. “That isn't your task, though you did an excellent job caring for your brother while your father was busy being an idiot.”

“He loves kaa-san,” Kyo protested weakly.

“So do you,” Katsurou returned, not missing a beat. Kyo liked that he hadn't pointed out it should be past tense. “That didn't stop you from taking care of your family.”

Kyo bit her lower lip.

She wanted to deny it, to tell him about how much this must've hurt tou-san and- she couldn't do it.

It'd been hard, and she'd been so worried about tou-san as well. All the while acting like nothing was wrong and she was exhausted.

Kaa-san was dead.

No matter how well she looked after Genma and pretended everything was just perfect, that wasn't going to change.

And what if she was the reason her baby brother had to grow up without a mother from now on? What if Isshun hadn't been supposed to die?

Kyo wished she knew if Shiranui Genma's parents had still been alive in the manga her former self had once read. In the story the woman she'd been had amused herself with. Killing time.

Genma was just two... Kyo doubted he'd even remember Isshun.

The toddler didn't even know what he'd lost yet, because Kyo hadn't been brave enough to tell him, try and make him understand.

She could feel Katsurou-sensei take a deep breath and let it out as a heavy sigh. “What are you three doing here?” He asked, though he didn't sound particularly surprised.

Kyo turned her head just enough that she could peer ahead of them without having to lift her face from Katsurou's shoulder.

Taku, Kisaki and Maki were sitting outside the door to Katsurou's house.

“Why's Kyo with you?” Taku asked, completely ignoring their sensei's question. His eyes were sharp and keen as he took in Kyo, the way Katsurou was carrying her and the bag on her back. “I thought you'd just talk to her.”

“What's going on, sensei?” Maki asked, sounding calmer than Taku, but just as worried.

His poker-face was really getting good, Kyo mused uneasily. Closing her eyes, she pressed her eyes back against Katsurou's shoulder.

The man sighed again. “Let's head inside,” was all he said, stepping passed the boys and the ninken littering his doorstep. “We'll brief on you the situation,” he promised when Taku gave him a mulish scowl.

“Alright,” the Inuzuka said, jumping to his feet and scrambling after sensei when he opened the door and walked inside.

Kyo wondered if she should point out that she was still wearing her sandals, but remained silent.

Katsurou went straight to the kitchen, pulled out a chair and sat himself and Kyo down, making no move to remove her from his person any time soon.

She loved her team.

“So what's going on?” Maki asked once they'd all settled down.

“Kyo's going to be staying with me for a while,” Katsurou began by telling them.

Kyo wondered what expressions they were wearing, but she wasn't brave enough to look. Because she was a coward.

“Uh, why?” Taku asked after a stretch of incredulous silence.

“Because,” Katsurou said, sounding like he had hoped Kyo would have come out of her shell enough to tell them herself by now. “Shiranui Isshun was killed in action twelve days ago, and Kyo's father isn't handling it very well.”

Kyo tensed.

The silence in the kitchen was heavy and oppressive and it felt like it was hard to breathe.

“What about Genma-chan?” Maki asked quietly, voice weak and a little hoarse.

Katsurou hummed, placing one hand on Kyo's back in a comforting manner. “With his civilian grandparents.”

“Kyo?” Taku asked after another pause, where the boys no doubt tried to assimilate the information.

“I don't want to talk about it,” she managed in a muffled, trembling voice.

“You need to talk about it,” Katsurou countered evenly, tapping a finger against her back. “You're not dealing with your grief very well either, brat.”

“Kaa-san's gone, tou-san hasn't been able to look at me in over a week and I couldn't even tell Genma. What's there to talk about?” Kyo hiccuped a little, despite her best efforts.

“Why didn't you tell us?” Taku demanded, the words all but exploding from his mouth, making Kyo jump. “I asked! Why wouldn't you- Don't you trust us!?”

And Taku was definitely upset.

“Taku,” Kisaki reprimanded him sharply, though there was a whine tinting her voice.

“Because if I told anyone that would make it real!” Kyo snapped, lifting her face from sensei's shoulder to glare at Taku, who all but flinched back. “'Cause I could just pretend she was out on mission like always if I didn't-” she couldn't continue for the angry sob that tore itself from her throat.

Kyo scrunched her face up in an attempt not to cry, but she was fighting a losing battle and she knew it. Didn't mean she'd just give up, though.

“I'm so sorry, Kyo,” Maki said quietly, and that just. Did it.

Kyo felt her eyes well up, the liquid spilling over and dripping down her cheeks no matter how much she fought it.

“I don't want her to be dead,” she sobbed.

Katsurou slowly wrapped an arm around her and gently guided her head back to his shoulder. “I know,” was all he said.

Taku, Maki and Kisaki ended up staying the night, too.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Living with Katsurou-sensei was weird.

Nice, but decidedly strange and a little bit awkward.

She'd been given her own room and everything. It felt a bit like she was constantly intruding on the man's privacy, all throughout the week she ended up staying with him, but it was nice at the same time.

Katsurou made for a pretty good room-mate.

Volunteering to do the dishes when she'd unexpectedly cooked dinner. Something that had earned her no more than a slightly raised eyebrow and a shrug.

Kyo was sitting on the floor in the living room working on making another batch of poison. She would be running low if she didn't make more all the time, and the latest set of incidents didn't change that.

It knocked on the door and sensei looked up from where he was sitting reclined on the couch, feet propped on the coffee table, reading through a pretty impressive stack of files Kyo pointedly hadn't asked about.

Kyo made to get up, but he waved a hand at her and tossed the file he'd been reading back onto the stack and got to his feet.

Kyo watched him go, shrugged to herself and then turned back to her own task.

She continued to thinly slice the root she had collected earlier, putting them into the pot Katsurou had generously sacrificed and donated to her. She'd extract the poison and then reduce it on low heat on the stove until there was barely any water left.

After that, she'd leave it to dry in one of the square bowls she'd been provided with to practice her craft. Once completely dry, she'd carefully scrape it out and voilà! A perfect powder of concentrated poison.

She looked up when Katsurou came padding back into the room.

Instead of returning to the couch, however, the man walked up to her and crouched down beside her. He looked over her work with some curious interest before focusing on her.

“Kou's here,” he said. “He'd like to talk with you, if that's alright with you.”

Katsurou looked like he wouldn't hesitate to send her dad on his way if that was what she wanted. It was almost enough to make her smile.

Almost.

She hadn't felt like smiling lately, though, and now that her team knew, she didn't put in the effort to keep up the charade.

“You don't have to,” Katsurou said firmly when she'd been silent a second too long.

“No, that's okay. I'll talk to him.” Kyo sighed, ignoring the nervous lump in her stomach and put down her knife.

She didn't particularly want to have a difficult, emotionally taxing conversation, but... she'd like to see her tou-san again.

“Very well,” Katsurou-sensei nodded, placed his hand on her head, didn't ruffle her hair, and then straightened up and walked back to the door.

Kyo nervously waited where she sat, fingers twisting together in her lap.

Why was it taking so long?

She'd picked up her knife again to continue working, to give herself something to do, when Katsurou and Kou finally entered the living room.

“I'll give the two of you some privacy,” sensei said after an assessing look at Kyo. “I'm in the next room over if you need me,” and that was definitely aimed at Kyo, who nodded.

It was nice to know she wouldn't be completely alone if this didn't go as well as she was hoping.

It was strange, because she'd never felt like this around tou-san before, but this situation, different as it was, reminded her of the divorce in the Before-life.

Her then-father had been very different after that. Not as... physically frightening, perhaps, but aiming more for psychological and emotional manipulation instead.

She didn't want Kou to turn out to be similar, but she couldn't help the apprehension filling her to the brim.

When the door to sensei's bedroom closed, Kyo forced herself to turn to Kou, who was staring at her with an expression on his face she couldn't hope to label.

After a few seconds' awkward silence, Kou sighed and walked over, taking a seat beside her on the floor, absently looking over what she was doing.

“I owe you a serious apology, Kyo,” he began quietly, running a hand through his hair. “I've been... treating you and Genma, but you in particular, in a manner you neither deserve nor should have had to experience,” he admitted tiredly, rubbing a hand over his eyes before he turned to face her fully. “I love- loved your kaa-san very much, Kyo,” he said. “But that does not excuse my behaviour. I'm sorry, and I can only hope you'll forgive me.”

Kyo took a slow, deliberate breath.

That... hadn't been what she'd been expecting.

“It was scary,” she admitted quietly, frowning down at the root she was chopping, cutting another slice while she was at it. “It felt like you were disappearing, too.”

“I know.” Kou grimaced. “And for a while, I think I did, but,” he took a deep breath, “I may have loved Isshun, Kyo, but I love you and Genma more than anything else. For what it's worth, I apologize,” he said, and he looked it. He looked like he was hurting with how sorry he was.

Like he hadn't slept much in the last week, but at least he'd been taking better care of himself. Or, Ryota had ended up kicking him until he maintained basic personal hygiene, at least.

He was clean-shaven and he hadn't lost any weight, that she could see.

“Kami, I make for a lousy father,” Kou muttered to himself, rubbed a hand over his face again and got to his feet. He turned to leave, but paused. “Katsurou's offered you to stay for however long you'd like,” he admitted. “I'd like you to come back home, but-” he cut himself off and cleared his throat. “Think about it, Kyo?”

“Yeah,” she said faintly, feeling shell-shocked.

Tou-san thought she wouldn't come back home?

Kyo numbly watched her dad leave, shoulders slumped and looking defeated in a way she'd never seen before, weighed down by both grief and quiet shame.

It made her feel awful.

“Sensei?” She asked when a few minutes had passed since she heard the front door close.

Katsurou came wandering out of his bedroom, hands in his pockets and a thoughtful look on his face.

“Yeah?”

“Did you really tell tou-san I can stay here?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” She couldn't help but ask, feeling completely out of her depth. She couldn't see why the man would go out of his way to do that when she still had a parent. And even if she hadn't, there were other options.

Katsurou hummed, retaking his seat on the couch, but didn't move to touch his files. “Because you're my student, and I care about your well-being.”

“But tou-san...” her voice trailed off, unsure what she was trying to say. Was still alive?

“Knows you're legally an adult and don't technically have to do anything you don't want unless the Hokage steps in,” Katsurou said calmly. “And while you could get your own apartment -Konoha has good housing for her shinobi- you're still just eight.” He shrugged. “You make for a surprisingly good house-guest. Despite the poison.” He smiled amusedly, glancing over the project currently spread out in front of her.

Right.

Being a Genin meant she was legally an adult, and having been an active kunoichi for two years, Kyo had a perfectly acceptable capital saved up in the 'bank'.

Though it wasn't really a bank. More like a village-run account system, where a select division of shinobi kept track of how much you earned and made sure the numbers were as they should. It was then just to withdraw however much you wanted from you personal account whenever you were in the village.

It also helped the village save up on funds in difficult times, saving them from constantly handing out massive amounts of hard cash when things were tight.

“I love my dad,” she said.

“I'm aware.”

“I just don't understand why he would think I don't want to come back home,” Kyo told him, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs.

Katsurou crossed his arms over his chest, head tilting a fraction in thought. “It's mostly conjecture on my part, but I suppose he feels like he's failed you in a way that's unacceptable.”

“He's only human,” Kyo muttered, a frown pulling on her brows. “He's a good dad, but he's not perfect.”

“And that is how you're different from your average child, Kyo,” Katsurou said, smiling humourlessly. “Most children think their parents can do no wrong, and when they finally find out that it isn't so, can't forgive them for it.”

Kyo grimaced but couldn't argue against his point.

She sighed. “I'll go home to talk with him again tomorrow, if that's alright with you,” she said, shifting her seat and prepared herself to go back to work. She needed to finish this.

And it was better to get it over with quickly, rather than drag things out.

She knew from experience.

“Of course,” Katsurou agreed easily. “The offer stands, though.”

Kyo felt her lips curl into a small, heart-felt smile, which she pressed against one knee as she picked up her knife.

She had the best sensei.

.

Kyo stared at her own front door, uncertainly contemplating if she should knock or not.

Knocking on the door to her own home just felt weird, though, so she took a deep breath and pressed down the handle, stepping inside.

“I'm home,” was murmured quietly under her breath as she took off her sandals.

Then she walked out of the hallway into the living room, getting her first look at the place in over a week.

Ryota was sprawled out on the couch, a very familiar, sleeping toddler draped over his chest.

Kyo smiled wanly and gave him a small wave, fully aware of Ryota's gaze on her, no matter how much it may look at a glance like he was as deeply asleep as Genma was.

“Hey, kitten,” he rumbled sedately, lips curling ever so slightly in a tiny smile.

“Hi,” Kyo returned quietly, walking up to him to peer down at Genma. “Is tou-san home?” She asked, because she wanted that out of the way first.

Ryota hummed, gaze flicking over her shoulder to look into the kitchen.

Kyo turned around to see Kou standing stock still by the sink, staring unblinkingly at her. He'd been in the middle of making lunch, it looked like. He'd been so completely motionless she hadn't noticed him.

Was he even breathing?

“Can we talk, tou-san?” She asked, feeling awkward and slightly out of place. Which was just ridiculous, because she lived here. This was home.

Kou managed a stiff nod and mentioned to the kitchen table with a twitch of one hand.

Kyo took a seat, not at all minding Ryota's presence. He was family, too.

Her father cleared his throat once he'd sat down opposite of her. “I didn't think you'd come so soon,” he admitted, still staring at her as if he couldn't make himself look away. Or blink more than absolutely necessary.

“I need- want to talk to you,” Kyo said, taking a deep breath. “You're my dad; I love you.” She shrugged.

That had never been in question.

His actions had hurt her, frightened her and stressed her to the point of tears, but... she loved him. He was her tou-san. Her dad.

And none of it had been intentional. Which was an important distinction.

Kou let out a slow breath, carefully relaxing in his seat and finally starting to look more like himself.

The air between them got marginally lighter, less tense.

“You know,” tou-san said with a small, humourless smile. “I always figured that if anyone in this family was going to- Out of Isshun and me, I was the one with the biggest chance of not coming back alive.” And he sounded like he'd been pretty okay with that thought.

Kyo nodded before she could stop herself, feeling guilty and sheepish at the brief spark of genuine amusement it elicited from Kou.

It was true enough. There'd been two very close calls already, and the war wasn't looking like it would be over anytime soon.

“Why would you think I wouldn't come back home, tou-san?” She couldn't help but ask.

Kyo couldn't let that go.

It was just... this was her family. Yeah, they'd lost kaa-san, but that didn't mean she wanted to lose the rest of them, too.

“Because I scared you, Kyo. You looked like you thought I'd attack you,” Kou said quietly, gaze dropping to the table-top with shame and regret. “Like you felt you had to defend yourself from me. And that's on top of everything else,” he ran a frustrated hand over his short hair. “I left you to deal with Genma, with everything, on your own.”

It sounded pretty bad when phrased like that.

“It's okay,” she muttered uncomfortably.

“No. It's not, Kyo,” Kou said firmly, giving her a stern frown. “Katsurou was right to do what he did.” He shook his head with a self-deprecating grimace. “I needed a kick in the ass.”

“If you'd given it another couple of days, I would've done it myself,” Ryota's voice came drifting in from the living room.

Kou snorted but didn't say anything about that.

“Tou-san,” Kyo spoke up again, fiddling with her hands, “when's the funeral?”

Kou's expression faded back to muted seriousness. “Soon. In a few days.”

“Oh.” Kyo blinked, not sure what she'd been expecting.

“I'm sorry, kitten.” Kou sighed. “I've been a shitty dad, but I'd like to give it another try,” he said. “It's not going to be the same, but, do you think you, me and Genma-chan can give a try at being a family even without- without your kaa-san?”

“Don't forget Ryota,” Kyo added with a wobbly smile.

“Don't worry; I'll kick him out first chance I get.”

“Hey,” Ryota protested idly from the living room, not sounding even close to bothered. “I can take you in a fight any time, Kou.”

“Just, please don't do it again?” Kyo asked shakily, biting the inside of her cheek to keep a somewhat straight face for a little bit longer.

“I promise that I'll do everything I can to make sure I never do anything like that ever again,” Kou swore firmly, not so much as pausing to think about what to say. It was obvious he'd given it a lot of thought.

“Okay,” Kyo answered, slipped off her chair, walked around the kitchen table and crawled into her tou-san's lap.

Kou's arms wrapped tightly around her and he pressed his cheek against her hair.

Kyo hugged him back just as tightly, barely noticing the trembling sob racking her chest, or the wetness dampening her hair.

She had already cried, but for once, that didn't feel like enough.

Kaa-san wasn't coming back, she was gone, and it would just be her, tou-san and Genma now.

And Ryota and her team, too, of course.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“So you're going back home?” Maki asked, sitting down on the ground beside her.

“Yeah.” Kyo nodded, using a senbon to trace nonsensical patterns in the dirt. “Tou-san apologized. Several times. And I miss them, you know?”

“Hasn't it been weird to stay with sensei, though?” Taku asked, a consternated frown on his face, arms crossed over his chest. “I mean, we spend most days with him, and now you've been going home with him, too.”

“Sensei's nice.” Kyo shrugged. “Do you think Katsurou-sensei would agree to be room-mates again the day I want to move out?”

“As a teenager? Like hell I would,” the man in question replied calmly, strolling into their training ground ahead of a small group.

Which was unexpected.

“Aw, you wound me, sensei,” Kyo returned half-heartedly. She wasn't really in the mood for their usual banter. “Did he mention something about other people?” She asked Taku and Maki instead.

Kisaki was off in the forested area, no doubt watching the approaching team like a hawk.

“Nah.” Taku shrugged seemingly casually, though he was watching the approaching people with sharp eyes. “But you know sensei; likes to spring shit on us without warning.”

“That is one of his biggest flaws,” Maki agreed sagely, voice loud enough to reach the man in question.

Katsurou snorted, but didn't say anything to alleviate their idle curiosity.

“Hey, Kyo!” A familiar voice called.

Kyo felt her shoulders slump a fraction. Not because she didn't like Inoichi and she enjoyed spending time with him -he was a friend- but because she didn't want to play at being her normal self, or tell him about kaa-san.

Both options sounded like more than she could deal with right now, and she'd have to pick one of them.

Inoichi was too sharp when it came to reading people to avoid it.

“Hey! Fuck off, pretty-boy,” Taku all but snarled, jumping to his feet and taking an aggressive step towards the newcomers.

Kyo blinked and looked up at the unexpected, uncharacteristic reaction. That wasn't like Taku; she'd never gotten the impression he'd disliked Inoichi before...

“What are you doing here?” Maki asked, climbing to his feet and joining their teammate, and even he sounded colder than he had any right, or reason, to be.

“Uh, joint training?” Inoichi replied after a beat of shocked silence, clearly not having expected this sort of reception. “Sensei, didn't you tell Katsurou?”

“I did,” Inoichi's sensei said evenly.

Kyo couldn't get a good look at him, because Taku and Maki stood in the way, but she was fairly sure he'd been supposed to be a Sarutobi. Shinzu, wasn't it?

“I figured I'd make it a surprise,” Katsurou-sensei drawled, giving the three of them a knowing look where he stood reclined against one of the closest trees. “I thought you'd appreciate it,” he added, and he made it sound like he meant all three of them, but he looked at Kyo.

Right.

Because Inoichi was her friend. The only friend she had outside of her team, almost, and Katsurou had been very insistent that she talk about this as much as possible.

The sneaky bastard.

Someone stepped a bit closer and Taku bristled. “I thought I told you to back off,” he growled and Kyo could tell just by the tone of his voice that he'd bared his teeth like only the Inuzuka seemed capable of.

“It's okay, Taku.” Kyo sighed, getting off her butt, too.

“But, Kyo,” the Inuzuka hissed, sending Inoichi a warning glare, before he all but pouted at her. “He's an ass, and his teammates are idiots,” he complained.

Kyo managed a tired smile, because that was actually funny. Especially since she was fairly sure Shikaku was supposed to be a certified genius or something.

The twelve year old boy in question merely gave them a deadpan stare, looking about as offended as one of the trees. Chouza just blinked, not looking particularly bothered, either.

“What's going on?” Inoichi asked, and Kyo couldn't help but notice how he wasn't defending his fellow Genin.

Kyo stepped out from behind the protective wall Taku and Maki had made of themselves, hiding her from sight.

“Hey, Inoichi,” Kyo gave him a wan smile, even as she ignored her stupid team grumbling unhappily beside her.

She absently reached out and smacked Taku on the arm when he started redirecting his frustrations onto Maki, no doubt in the hopes of picking a fight with a ready opponent.

The boy huffed, but grudgingly settled down.

“Wow, what happened?” Inoichi asked after a beat of silence, taking in the sight of her.

Kyo tilted her head, glanced at Chouza, Shikaku and Shinzu-sensei.

“Don't mind those idiots, tell me,” Inoichi carefully took hold of her arm and towed her a bit off to the side. Mindful of her needles ever since that time he'd grabbed her with no warning and one had stabbed him accidentally. It'd just been lucky it'd been a 'blank' one. “What's going on, Kyo?” He asked, all seriousness once they'd gotten a measure of privacy.

Both of them ignored the way Taku and Maki were scowling at Inoichi.

“Kaa-san died.”

Inoichi blinked, mouth falling open in surprise. “But- Isshun's so... cool.”

Kyo snorted, rubbing absently at one eye. “Yeah. She's still... gone, though. And then I stayed with sensei for about a week.” She sighed, gratefully slumping down to sit on the ground again, leaning lightly against Inoichi's side.

“Katsurou let you stay with him?” Inoichi asked, as if that was another curve-ball. “I don't even know where he lives,” he added in a mutter, mostly to himself.

Kyo shrugged.

“Okay, come on brats, gather up!” Katsurou called, stepping away from his tree when he had finished talking to the Sarutobi.

She should probably ask Inoichi what his name was, to make sure she wasn't remembering it wrong or something.

Kyo dutifully trotted over, snagging Taku's arm in passing, because, like always, he had ended up trying to goad Shikaku into some sort of pissing contest.

Which... was about as ineffective as every other time they bumped into each other around the village.

“I don't get why you don't just give up,” Kyo said, giving him a long-suffering glance. “He's never gonna step up to the challenge unless you actually try to kill him.”

“Lazy moron,” Taku muttered sourly.

Kyo patted him comfortingly on the arm. His inuzuka sensibilities made Shikaku's attitude especially offensive, she gathered, but him trying to pick a fight all the time didn't help anyone.

“So,” Katsurou-sensei said once the three of them had gathered in front of him. “Mock-battle,” he declared.

Taku started smiling.

Kyo sighed, but couldn't help but smile faintly at Taku's obvious glee. Even Maki looked pleased.

“Oh, no,” Inoichi groaned.

“It won't be that bad,” Chouza comforted him idly, pulling another snack from one of his pockets. “It's just a mock-battle and you'll still have your friends when it's over.”

Inoichi just groaned again, louder.

Katsurou sent his fellow Clan-member an amused glance. “Kyo,” he said, drawing her attention. “Nothing too mean, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo returned, nowhere near as amusedly as she would have last month, but she felt... marginally cheered up.

“This is gonna be awesome,” Taku said with hushed enthusiasm Kyo felt she probably should have been a bit worried about.

“Kisaki! Stop stalking our guests and get out here!” Katsurou called, which was followed by Kisaki's quick appearance. “Great. All set.” Their sensei smiled.

.

The funeral was two days later and her team was there with her, all wearing black.

It was very nice with the extra support, Kyo mused faintly as she watched them approach.

She was decked out all in black herself, too. Standing between tou-san and Ryota, one hand slipped into each of theirs.

Kou held Genma with his other arm and he looked tense, pale and slightly dazed.

“You came,” Kyo couldn't help but say, breaking off from her family to approach her team.

“What are you talking about?” Taku scowled at her. “Of course we did. Idiot.”

You're the idiot,” Maki sighed, slapping Taku on the back of the head. “Why can't you be more sensitive? Polite?”

“Shut up,” Taku grumbled, but mostly accepted the chastisement for what it was.

“How're you holding up?” Katsurou-sensei asked, ignoring the two boys with practised ease. He gave her an intent, assessing look, no doubt drawing his own conclusions before she could even open her mouth.

“I don't know,” she admitted. “It doesn't feel real.”

She'd just been on the one funeral before. In the Before.

Not that she'd only known the one person who died, but... she'd always been too far away to attend. When her grandfather on her then-father's side had passed away, she'd just started school on the other side of the country. Everyone had agreed it was too far to travel right when she'd gotten to a new school, a new place.

“That's okay,” sensei said, patting her on the head.

Kyo suspected he'd ended up just deciding to treat them all like puppies or something. Didn't help with Kisaki on the team.

Speaking of, the ninken trotted up to her and curled around her in a decidedly feline manner.

The one time she'd pointed it out to Taku, the boy had been so mortally offended he hadn't even been able to speak.

“Kyo?” Tou-san called her softly.

Kyo squared her shoulders, stole a hug each from each of her team-members -including Katsurou- and then walked back to Kou and Ryota.

She slipped her hand into tou-san's and felt as ready to face this as she would get.

It was fairly simple.

No grand ceremony like the one she could vaguely remember. No church, no priest. Her cousin had cried back then, saying goodbye to her grandmother.

The sun was shining here, making the black clothes almost uncomfortably warm, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

It was a beautiful day.

Isshun's urn was lowered into the pre-dug hole in the ground with gentle care, the headstone was put in place and- that was it, as far as the ceremonial stuff was concerned.

Kou handed over a clingy Genma to Kyo, who accepted her baby brother without hesitation. He didn't understand what was going on, but he'd been crying a lot the last few days. Missing kaa-san.

Katsurou-sensei's attention shifted slightly, making Kyo glance that way, too.

Blinking in silent surprise, Kyo took in the people standing in the shadow of the trees, crouching in the branches, watching solemnly without a sound.

The white, patterned masks were a dead give-away as to who they were but Kyo just didn't care right now.

ANBU attending her mother's funeral. Okay.

Tou-san jabbed three senbon into the ground in front of the grave, placed the wreath of flowers -all poisonous- and slowly lit the incense.

When he was done, he took a deep breath, pushed himself back to his feet and returned to Kyo and Ryota's side, wedging himself between them.

For a long minute, they just stared at the grave.

It felt... awfully simplistic. Incomplete. Kaa-san deserved more, somehow, but Kyo couldn't think of a single thing Isshun would have wanted more than her family and friends there.

“Okay,” Kou breathed quietly, more to himself than anyone else. His shoulders slumped and he almost folded in on himself, before he took a deep breath, consciously squared his shoulders and sent Kyo a small, sad smile. “How you holding up?”

Kyo shrugged, absently trying to disentangle Genma's fingers from her shirt, where he'd fisted the material and was pulling insistently on it.

“I'll take him,” Ryota offered, somehow managing to scoop Genma into his arms without getting Kyo's shirt at the same time.

With her arms free, Kyo turned to her tou-san and gladly melted into his sturdy frame when he picked her up and held her close, carrying her off homewards.

Leaning her cheek against her dad's shoulder, Kyo waved a tired goodbye at her team, unspeakably grateful for their support and presence.

.

Kyo walked onto their training ground, surprised to see the rest of them already present.

“Did I miss something? Am I late?” She couldn't help but ask, peering curiously at Taku and Maki.

“No,” Taku said with a shrug.

“Um, Kyo?” Maki spoke up, shifting his weight nervously. “We have something for you, but, uh, I hope you won't be upset or anything,” he rushed the words out, looking like he wanted to fidget with something but consciously refrained. “Sensei helped us get it,” and he pushed a sloppily wrapped present into her hands.

Kyo stared dumbly at it for a long moment.

“Well? Aren't ya gonna open it?” Taku demanded impatiently, leaning forward to better see her face.

“Sure,” Kyo replied after a beat of surprised silence. She threw a look at sensei, but the man just stared back, even and solid.

She found an edge and peeled the paper back, revealing the back of what looked like a picture frame.

Which explained the size, shape and weight of it in her hands.

Turning it around, Kyo stilled.

There, on the other side of the glass, kaa-san's dark brown eyes stared back at her, expression cool and professional but a definite spark of perpetual amusement in her eyes. She was wearing her hitai-ate, tied as a bandana to keep her long hair out of her face and from what little you could see of the rest of her, she was wearing the standard Chuunin uniform.

“It's the photo in her personal file,” Maki explained nervously. “Sensei helped us get it and we framed it for you, because-” his voice faltered a little, “because we weren't sure you had a picture of her.”

“Thank you,” Kyo said quietly, unable to tear her gaze away.

It felt like she hadn't seen her in forever, but it'd just been about a month. The funeral had been just yesterday, but Kyo had already been afraid she was forgetting what her own mother had looked like.

She'd never been very good at remembering faces.

“Let's put it to the side for now, and then you can bring it back home afterwards,” Katsurou said after another minute had passed.

“I thought we would go to the hot-spring after?” Taku asked, shooting their sensei a perplexed look. “We haven't been in forever, and Kyo needs to relax,” he stated firmly, arms crossing over his chest as he gave Katsurou a long, pointed look.

“Fine. We'll let Kyo swing by home before, and then head to the onzen,” Katsurou rolled his eyes, managing to sound completely done and long-suffering.

“Liar, sensei. You like us too much,” Kyo said with a small, painfully fond laugh. “You all know I love you, right?” She added, because she wanted them to know.

Taku and Maki both looked awkwardly embarrassed, Maki's cheeks tinting red.

“I know,” Kisaki said cheerfully, tail wagging calmly as she gave her an affectionate look. “Love you, too,” the ninken returned.

Katsurou-sensei just shook his head with fond exasperation.

“We... like you, too, Kyo,” Maki managed to mutter with a rather constipated expression on his red face. This was no doubt pushing the limits of his civilian sensibilities. Or whatever remained of them from a very ordinary, civilian upbringing.

At least he didn't have a problem bathing together any more. She'd managed to corrupt him that much.

“Thank you, Maki,” she smiled a little wider, carefully put down the picture where it wouldn't accidentally get damaged and then trotted back to her team, more than ready to try and go back to her life.

Kaa-san would have wanted that, too. She knew it.

.

“Do you think it's the same for other people?” Kyo asked, stretching her arms up over her head where she lay on Katsurou's living room floor.

“Hm?” Katsurou hummed questioningly from the couch.

“I mean, after you die,” Kyo clarified after a short pause.

Katsurou didn't lower the report, document, whatever it was he was reading, but Kyo could still tell he was thinking it over.

“Reincarnation is widely accepted,” he eventually said, idly turning to the next page. “I can only imagine the idea must have come from somewhere.”

“But I'm still a bit weird,” Kyo summarized. She'd come from a very different reality before she'd been born here.

If Isshun had been reborn somewhere, she hoped it was in a more peaceful world than this one. Somewhere she wouldn't have to fight. Where she'd be happy.

“Let's not delude ourselves here, Kyo,” Katsurou said distractedly, reaching to pick up one of the other files, no doubt to double-check something. “You're very weird.”

“Thank you,” Kyo chirped.

“Oh, it's a good thing, in your case,” the man assured her with a frown, staring intently at the two files he was holding, one in each hand. “This isn't good,” he muttered to himself. “Sorry, I'm gonna have to cut this visit short; things to do.”

“Sure thing, sensei. Go save the village,” Kyo returned calmly, watching Katsurou gather up his files and get to his feet.

“Lock up after yourself,” he tossed over one shoulder and then he was gone.

Kyo remained on the floor a while longer, gazing contemplatively up at Katsurou's ceiling.

Would sensei appreciate it if she cooked him something he could eat cold whenever he came back from whatever emergency he'd no doubt discovered?

Well. It wasn't like Kyo had anything in particular to do right now; tou-san and Ryota were out on mission, the apartment was empty and she didn't really want to spend all afternoon at her grandparents'. Despite the fact that Genma was there and she adored her brother.

Cooking for her busy sensei it was!

Then she could go bother Taku and Maki; she had a few jutsu she wanted to experiment with.

Kyo had no idea why almost all ninja seemed to favour big and flashy over small, discreet and effective. At least it made adapting jutsu interesting, and her teammates were usually game.

With a small sigh, Kyo rolled to her feet and wandered into Katsurou's kitchen.

Time to see what sort of edibles he had in the fridge.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo felt like she got over her mother's death far too fast, despite Katsurou-sensei's assurances that she had a very effective social network and that she was mentally dealing pretty well with her own grief, under the circumstances.

Something Kyo didn't know how to respond to other than to note it down due to practise.

The truth was, however, that she was just plain too busy to be able to dwell on it.

A week after the funeral, Team Six, more commonly referred to as Team Katsurou by now, were back on the active duty roster.

Which meant missions.

And boy, did it feel like they were making up for the weeks they'd gotten 'off' to clear up all the personal drama Kyo's family had inadvertently caused.

Konoha actually gave a shit about her shinobi and tried to make sure they were -somewhat- mentally sound before they sent them out on missions, to give them as big a chance to actually succeed and return as possible.

It wasn't just out of the goodness of the Hokage's heart, Katsurou had told them wryly; every shinobi was an investment, both monetary and in pure fighting-power.

Why throw that away like a careless toddler?

“When will this end?” Maki groaned as they made their way out of the Hokage tower, having picked up their latest mission. Surprise, surprise; another courier run. “Chisa-chan and Etsuko-chan are gonna forget what I look like,” he muttered sullenly.

They'd come back from the last one just two days ago. A pattern that had become something of a normal for them over the last few months.

They were spending just as much time running around Fire Country, frantically dodging enemy attention, as they were resting in the village.

“My guess? When the war ends,” Katsurou muttered unhappily, looking the four of them over with intent scrutiny.

They were all tired, coming awfully close to running on steadily depleting reserves and fumes.

Kyo sighed, scratching at a healing scab on her stomach. “Let me guess; we're leaving effective immediately.”

“Is there another option?” Taku wondered idly, walking beside her with one hand tangled in the fur on Kisaki's back.

“Right,” Kyo muttered. The Inuzuka had a point.

“Meet at the gates in twenty minutes,” Katsurou ordered with a sigh. “You know what to do.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo answered for all of them.

They knew what to do; they'd been doing nothing else for months. Kyo was fairly sure she could prepare for a mission like this in her sleep by now.

“Let's get this over with,” Maki said, giving them a quick look before he took off for home to grab his gear. Say a hurried goodbye to his little sisters.

Kyo took a deep breath, bumped her shoulder into Taku's arm -why was he still so much taller than her?- and then left for her own home.

She didn't even bother to unpack her bag any more, just restocked it and changed out the extra clothes she kept in her bag when she returned to the village.

It was just easier.

Fifteen minutes later, she jumped down to the ground in front of the gates, automatically scanning for her team. She spotted Maki by the guard station, having already started on the due procedures of leaving the village on a mission like this.

Katsurou was no doubt chasing down some last minute details he thought were vital for the mission or something, so Kyo couldn't claim she was overly surprised not to see him yet.

“We good to go?” She asked, calmly approaching her scowling teammate.

“In a minute,” Maki returned distractedly. “Shit, I never remember this right, what was I supposed to write in this part?”

Kyo leaned closer to peer down at the document. “Sensei's registration number and then estimated return date,” she frowned at the paper, quickly reading through the parts Maki had already filled out. “You need to add all of our names at the top, not just your own.”

“Right.” Maki sighed. “Can't you do it now that you're here? Please, Kyo?” In his defence, it was usually Katsurou-sensei taking care of this.

“Sure.” Kyo shrugged and picked the pencil out of her teammate's hand. “This is in case we die, you know,” she told him casually, quickly and efficiently filling out the rest of the document. “To know who hasn't come back and also give them somewhere to start looking.”

“Way to go on bringing down the mood,” Maki muttered, nonetheless grinning a little. “Your sense of humour sucks.”

“I love you, too,” Kyo tossed back as she finished the last line with a theatrical flourish. “And there's sensei and Taku.”

“Awesome. Let's go for a run, huh,” Maki said, wandering over to the other half of their team.

Kisaki was rather noticeable, actually, which made them easy to spot when the ninken wasn't actively hiding.

“Everything ready?” Katsurou asked briskly. “Wonderful. Let's go.”

“Yes, sensei,” they chorused dutifully and followed him through the open gates.

“Kawa,” sensei said when they stopped -as usual- to hand over the scrolls to Kyo, who carefully put them in her poison pack, arranging a few of her lethal needles just so while she was at it. Anyone who wasn't her reaching in with anything other than the utmost care would end up killing themselves.

Which was the entire point, because if it came to that, she was no doubt either already dead or dying.

She was so used to it by now that the thought wasn't even enough to stir more than a vague emotional response.

“Any questions?” Sensei asked. “Then stay sharp; Suna's been more active than usual lately.”

And with that promising remark, they set out for the border station they'd been assigned this time.

Judging by the direction Katsurou set them on, they were heading for a border station closer to Konoha's shore line. Either that, or he was setting something of a false trail.

Kyo wasn't sure which option she preferred.

If it was the first, it would be longer to run than usual. If it was the second, then that indicated sensei was seriously worried about being ambushed on the way.

Turned out it was the former.

They reached the station with minimal fanfare, which was a relief, but all of them were still tense. They could see the marks of the regular scuffles and violence here, pock-marking the forest and landscape around them.

They'd stumbled upon an entire swathe of forest that had been cut down by what looked like a truly massive wind attack. The remains of the trees had been smooth stumps that couldn't have been made by any other means.

Making their delivery, they got five scrolls in return. Which felt much more than the usual three and Kyo had to improvise to make room for all of them in her pack.

Nothing more than a minor inconvenience, but she made it work.

“Don't relax,” Katsurou told them sharply before they headed back out. In the dead of night after just five hours' sleep. He evidently wanted to get back to the village before nightfall.

Taku took point, as was usual for them, with sensei bringing up the rear and Kyo and Maki in the middle.

Things went just like usual until Taku slowed to a stop three hours into their quick, quiet run.

The sun was just about rising over the horizon.

“I can smell people, sensei,” he said softly, voice barely audible, despite the fact he was standing so close.

Kyo's breathing was slightly elevated -already, which was annoying- but she knew how to make sure she was silent regardless, and she listened to and observed their surroundings carefully.

“How recent?” Katsurou asked, stone faced and not at all surprised.

“Recent.” Taku grimaced. “It feels like they came through not even half an hour ago.”

“An ambush, then,” their sensei muttered to himself. “Prepare yourselves for battle, kids.”

Kyo swallowed and began to check her weapons, mostly to calm herself and make sure she had appropriate needles where she remembered.

Which she did. She was just paranoid.

Maki checked his sword and kunai holster, too, so at least she wasn't alone.

“Go around wide,” Taku muttered to Kisaki, who nodded and dropped to the forest floor beneath them, slipping away through the undershrub like a pale ghost.

It was a tactical move they'd practised extensively. The idea was that Kisaki would get around behind their enemies and attack from the rear, taking their opponents by surprise.

They hadn't tried it in battle yet, but... it'd been very effective during training, scaring the crap out of Inoichi's team.

Kyo dearly hoped Kisaki would be okay.

“Stay close together and watch each others' backs,” Katsurou told them firmly, going through his own preparations. “Kyo, you know what to do if things go to shit.”

“Yes, sensei.” Kyo nodded grimly.

They all knew the teams hunting courier runners were comprised mainly out of Jounin.

“Look out for each other,” sensei said at last, giving them each an intent look, and then nodded. “Let's continue.”

Taku took a deep breath, turned back in the direction they'd been heading and leapt to the next tree-branch.

They could, theoretically, try and avoid the ambush, but shinobi tended to plan for such eventualities, and they'd no doubt end up being herded into the trap anyway. It was better to just forge on and act oblivious, hopefully taking their would-be surprise attackers by surprise.

It wasn't much of a hope but it was something.

Not to mention the fact the enemies were currently between them and Konoha, and letting them force them off track would be all kinds of bad. There was a border station full of people behind them, depending on and counting on them to deliver the scrolls as quickly as possible.

Kyo's every breath was loud in her ears, and she felt hyper aware of the forest around them; trying to pick up on anything out of place to hint at their enemies' presence.

She knew they were there, it was just a question of where exactly and when they would strike.

Five minutes later, Taku jumped to the next tree, Kyo and Maki right behind him, and the moment his sandalled feet touched the bark of the branch, a detonation went off all around them.

.

Kyo braced for heat, fire and violent winds whipped up by the sudden temperature shift, but...

She took a deep breath when they were all engulfed in a thick cloud of smoke, quick as a snake pulling a kunai and a senbon with each hand and prepared herself for a blitz attack while they were blinded.

Fuck,” she heard Katsurou-sensei hiss behind her, but she didn't have time to react, because Maki stumbled next to her, a cough forcing its way out between his lips.

Alarmed, she pressed closer to the boy's side and frantically tried to locate their attackers.

Taking another deep breath, Kyo became aware of the bitter, familiar taste coating the back of her tongue at the same time as Maki stumbled again, distracting her.

“Maki?” She breathed his name, having to consciously stop herself from dropping her weapons to reach back and check him over with her hands.

The thick cloud was still hanging in the air around them, dissipating far too slowly and impairing her vision.

Maki didn't respond, and when he staggered into her, Kyo braced to take his weight.

What was wrong!?

“Think they're done for yet?” An unfamiliar voice drawled and Kyo stiffened.

She could feel Maki's strained, uneven breathing against her back and she knew without a doubt that their enemies were here now, waiting.

“Eh, give it another minute,” another voice answered, younger-sounding.

Kyo had just about a second to decide what to do.

Maki slipped off her back and fell to the forest floor beneath them with a thud, and the smoke was dissipating quickly now, as if to make up for the time it'd taken before, just clinging to the air around them.

She could stay upright and become an easy target, or... or, she could act along with whatever was affecting Maki.

Kyo let herself stumble and go limp.

The impact with the ground was painful and jarring, but she managed to keep herself from moving, having let her body drop just so to avoid hitting anything unfortunate.

Like her head.

She knew what the taste in her mouth was.

“There we go,” the younger voice spoke again, sounding horrifyingly satisfied. “Dropping like flies.”

“Good job,” the first voice returned coolly, and then there were several presences landing amongst them.

Her heart beat frantically in her chest, and Kyo's mind was screaming at her.

Where was Taku!? Katsurou-sensei!?

The toe of a sandal kicked her negligently in the side and it was just about all she could do not to twitch.

The foot continued to push her onto her back, no doubt to inspect her supposed corpse, but at least it gave her a chance to look around.

Kyo took a fraction of a second to make sure her facial muscles were slack and unresponsive, her eyes open just a little, giving a glimpse of her blue irises.

She fixed her gaze.

Maki was lying close to her, unmoving and within reaching distance, if she'd just stretch out her arm towards him.

She got a glimpse of a painfully familiar figure with brown hair a bit further off and Katsurou's blond hair was rather eye-catching.

“This was easy,” yet another voice commented stiffly from Katsurou's direction, easily letting everyone know how on edge and suspicious he was.

Kyo tried to will her heart to calm down before it gave her away.

“Why do you think this one took longer?” The voice belonging to the person who had pushed her over asked curiously, peering down at her and giving Kyo a pretty good view of his face.

He was young, with sand-coloured, short hair and sharp features. There was a Suna hitai-ate on his forehead.

The boy, he had to be a teenager, no more than fifteen, began to crouch down to examine her more closely but froze when Katsurou-sensei's body dissolved into a puff of smoke, leaving a dead branch behind in its stead.

Shit!” The Suna ninja who had stood closest to Katsurou said, before he crumpled to the ground with a kunai lodged at the base of the skull, cleanly severing the spinal chord where it joined with his head.

Kyo took the opportunity to reclaim her grip on the kunai she'd let fall from slack fingers and whipped the knife up to strike the distracted Suna shinobi's throat.

He didn't have time to react at all before her kunai bit deep into his skin.

There was a spray of warm, red liquid, but Kyo was already rolling to her feet, desperate to get away from the Suna shinobi.

The teenager she'd just killed, raised a hand to his cut throat at the same time as he toppled over, taking the spot Kyo had been lying in seconds before, but she didn't have time to more than take the information in before a hand clamped down around her throat.

“Why are you still alive?” A voice hissed furiously above her.

The kunai was torn from her fingers and she'd dropped the senbon somewhere, and she was going to die!

“Where's your sensei, brat?” The voice growled, the fingers around her wind-pipe tightening a fraction.

She was slammed into a tree when she scrambled to pull another kunai from her holster.

The forest swimming before her, eyes watering from the lack of oxygen and the pain in her back and the back of her head, Kyo couldn't think.

Her mind was blank other than the wordless, desperate scream of DANGER!

She knew she was in danger! Kyo noted with a hysterical burst of amusement. She was going to die, either by being strangulated by this Jounin, or he was going to gut her like a fish. Whatever he felt like.

“The kid killed my fucking apprentice,” another of the men hissed angrily. He took a step closer to where Kyo was pinned against a tree before he went down in a spray of blood.

“Fuck, find that damn tree-hugger!” The man holding her snarled at his teammates, and the remaining two Suna nin instantly turned to face the rest of the forest while the big, bulky man with his fingers wrapped around Kyo's throat turned dark, chilling eyes on her.

With a truly monstrous snarl, Kisaki exploded from the undershrub, going for one of the Suna shinobi's throat, keeping that one busy.

The other one was met with a stony-faced Katsurou before he could do more than turn in his friend's direction and while the third one was semi-distracted by what was happening to his comrades, Kyo jabbed a needle into his arm, stabbing it right between the bones in the forearm until it went all the way through.

Leaving as much poison in his system as quickly as possible, and with no easy way to get the needle out.

The Suna nin swore and threw her away from him. Hard.

It had no doubt been an automatic reaction, and a sloppy one, but that didn't make Kyo's landing any softer.

Crashing into the unforgiving trunk of a tree four meters away, Kyo heard and felt something snap.

She was on her feet and dashing away before she could be caught again, though, clamping down on her chakra signature and going full stealth mode before her pursuer could do more than swear viciously.

Blood rushing in her ears, Kyo ran back towards Katsurou-sensei, straight into the chaos of a brutal fight way above her skill-level. The third Suna shinobi hot on her heels.

He was dead, she'd made sure of that. He just didn't know it yet.

Kisaki was slammed into the ground with a small but effective earth jutsu, not that it did much to discourage the enraged ninken for long.

Kyo threw a needle at the guy's foot while she rushed passed, hoping to help ensure Kisaki's victory.

The back of her shirt was snagged and Kyo was yanked violently from her forward trajectory and punted into the ground, back first.

Breath wheezing out of her mouth, a foot came down hard on her chest, pinning her in place.

“Give me the antidote,” the shinobi that had been chasing her spat, pulling the needle from his arm and throwing it with -what looked to Kyo- clumsy incompetence so that it lodged itself in her shoulder.

She twitched at the sharp sting, and a sense of overwhelming disgust welled up inside her at the thought of any of this guy's blood getting into her body, but she merely glared back.

“Give me the antidote,” the guy repeated aggressively, pressing down on her chest until she couldn't breathe and her ribs groaned in protest.

“Don't have one,” she managed with a wild, reckless grin there wasn't a lick of amusement in.

“Hand it over,” the Suna man growled, lifting his foot for a fraction of a second only to stomp it down again, knocking what little air remained out of her lungs.

Kyo felt like she was suffocating.

It was a miracle none of her ribs had broken.

The man Kisaki was fighting stumbled and the ninken took the opportunity to tear his throat out, making him go down with a spray of blood and a chilling gurgle.

That didn't mean she let him be, though.

Kisaki clamped her jaws around the mangled throat and violently shook her head until there was a loud, audible snap!

Shit,” the Suna shinobi all but standing on her growled.

It was only him and the one fighting Katsurou-sensei, now.

“You're gonna die,” Kyo managed to wheeze at him, despite still being largely unable to breathe, effectively distracting him from sensei.

“So are you, you fucking brat,” the man snarled, but there was a very visible strain on him now.

His skin was clammy, his eyes beginning to look glazed and the only thing that prevented him from swaying on the spot was stubbornness.

He was also growing increasingly careless.

When he glanced over at Katsurou and his friend the next time, Kyo stabbed another needle into his foot.

This one with a poison that clashed horribly with the one she'd already dosed him with.

The man stumbled back with a curse, pulled a kunai from his holster only to drop the knife from clumsy, unresponsive fingers.

Kyo sucked down as large a gulp of air as she could manage and scrambled away from him.

She didn't have to do anything; he'd be dead within a minute.

Instead, she turned to the last remaining Suna shinobi, who didn't look particularly happy, though, Katsurou wasn't exactly in a position of overwhelming power, either.

There was no time to think.

Kyo jumped recklessly into the fray.

If nothing else, she was an excellent distraction.

Being as stealthy as she was capable, sensei still knew she was there, never mind what condition he was in; his poker-face was too good for her to make an accurate assessment. And that was at the best of times.

Right now, all Kyo really focused on was that he was still on his feet and capable of defending himself, keeping up with the sole remaining Suna shinobi.

The man in question, hair a burnt orange, snarled and launched himself at Katsurou with renewed vigour.

Kyo was alarmed to see sensei flagging a little in his response time, and he didn't move as smoothly as he should.

Keeping mostly behind Katsurou, Kyo rushed forward to parry a kunai aimed at her sensei's side and, more importantly, straight at his liver.

She caught it with one of her kunai and she tried to flick a needle at him while she was at it, but it didn't work. The needle fell from the fingers of her other hand and she was forced back by the force of the attack.

It took three tries before she finally managed to hit the Suna nin with a needle, and Katsurou took a kunai to the thigh for it.

At least it was relatively shallow and far from anything vital.

The Suna nin put up quite the fight, but the moment the poison was in his system, he was doomed.

Half a minute later, Katsurou-sensei killed him, stabbing a kunai through his eye and straight into the brain.

He died instantly.

For a long few seconds, Kyo remained standing, tense and ready for the next part of the fight. The next opponent.

Her breath was harsh, ribcage aching with how much it was expanding with every breath and she could feel her blood rush through her veins.

When she realised there were no other opponents, no one else trying to kill her, the muscles in Kyo's legs momentarily liquefied.

Staggering to the side, she hunched over in an attempt to catch her breath, thoughtlessly sheathing her kunai at the same time to avoid cutting herself.

Katsurou stumbling into the closest tree had her jumping straight back into full alertness.

“Sensei?” Kyo wasn't sure how she got to his side so quickly when it felt like her legs were threatening to fall off, but she did. “Are you okay?” She asked, voice breaking.

“Kisaki?” He asked, and he sounded winded, like every breath was a struggle.

She'd never heard him like that before.

“Alive,” Kyo answered immediately.

At least... the ninken had been alive last she saw.

Blinking, Kyo looked around and quickly found the large, white dog.

She'd crawled from her kill to Taku, and was lying huddled next to him on the ground. She was whining, deep in her throat in a constant, achingly mournful sound that hurt Kyo's heart.

Kisaki was crying.

“Taku's dead,” Kyo's voice broke on the second word. She couldn't imagine any other reason for Kisaki to sound like that.

“Maki?” Katsurou asked next, leaning heavily on the tree he was using as support.

After making sure Katsurou wouldn't fall over, Kyo stumbled over to the boy, intending to crouch down beside him but falling to her knees instead, leaving her sitting on her butt.

She pressed dirty, trembling fingers to Maki's throat, desperately looking for a pulse.

She just wasn't finding one.

Kyo leaned down and pressed her ear to his chest. There would be a heartbeat. There would.

...there wasn't.

“Dead, too,” she managed in a strangled voice that sounded alien to her own ears. “Sensei.”

She wasn't sure what she wanted to say, only that Katsurou had to fix this. He had to do something. Somehow. Taku and Maki...

“Sensei?” Kyo's breathing was too quick, coming in short, sharp gasps that made her throat hurt.

Everything hurt.

“Come over here, Kyo,” Katsurou said, and he sounded faint.

Somehow managing to unclench her fingers long enough to let go of Maki's shirt, she laboriously pushed her head off his still, silent chest. She got to her feet and walked back to sensei.

“Here,” Katsurou said, holding out one hand.

Kyo numbly took the two scrolls he gave her.

Black and gold.

She stared at them for a long second, barely noting Katsurou sliding down the tree to sit at its' roots, before she turned around and walked back to her teammates.

She sealed Maki's body first.

Then, she approached Taku and Kisaki.

Kisaki was still whining, and it sounded like she was moaning 'No, no, no, no, NO.' over and over again.

She let herself fall to the ground next to her friend, repeating the process all over again, trying to find a pulse she already knew wouldn't be there.

She listened after a heartbeat that had fallen silent.

Kyo barely managed to open the sealing scroll, her hands were shaking so badly.

When she did, she gently placed one of Taku's hands on the seal, pressed the fingers of both hands to the ink and pulsed her chakra.

The barely thirteen year old boy disappeared in a small wisp of smoke.

Leaving her and Kisaki on the ground, nothing more than empty dirt in the space between them.

“Kisaki?” She croaked.

“No. No, no, no,” the dog moaned. “No, Taku, no.” Pressing her snout into the dirt he'd been lying on, crawling closer to lie where he had lied.

Her heart was breaking a little more with every word out of Kisaki's mouth.

Instead of trying to talk to the ninken, Kyo got up and walked back to Katsurou, who looked pretty bad.

“Sensei? Sensei, you're bleeding,” Kyo said, quickening her step when she noticed the dark stain on Katsurou's side.

Everything hurt. It was hard to think but the thought of losing Katsurou too scared her down to her soul.

Katsurou was frighteningly unresponsive when she tried to get an answer from him, making her more frantic, more stressed.

Terrified.

“Sensei. Katsurou!” She went so far as to shake his shoulder, but the only reaction it got her was him opening his eyes a fraction to stare blankly at her.

Kyo managed to pull down the zipper on his Jounin vest on the second try, push the material aside to get a look at the damage and get an idea of what she was dealing with.

There was a gash in his side, deeper than the one on his right thigh and it was worrying how much blood he seemed to have lost.

She wasted no time in digging bandages out of her pack, and she had never been so grateful for Katsurou-sensei teaching her that jutsu to sterilize her hands after she accidentally gave Maki food-poisoning what felt like forever ago.

It was a neat chakra trick that ensured she wouldn't contaminate the wound with any poison residue she might have on her hands.

The memory threatened to release the shaky sob lodged somewhere in the back of her throat.

Kyo got him out of his vest, pushed up his shirt and mesh-shirt underneath to wash the wound; gaping, clean cut that it was. She didn't know how to stitch skin and muscles and she didn't have any material for it, so she made do with the bandages.

She pulled them as tight as she dared, focused mostly on stopping the bleeding. She followed it by bandaging the wound on his leg.

That done, Kyo leaned back and tried to keep herself together.

If she relaxed for just a second, she'd shake apart.

Her fingers brushed against the Jounin vest she'd discarded beside her.

Kyo grasped the sturdy material and mechanically began to go through the pockets. Latching onto the next task with everything that she was.

Sensei wouldn't mind.

She found the scrolls relatively quickly; she'd watched sensei during missions for more than two years; she knew him.

Black and red for enemies.

Katsurou's words were clear in her head, from all those years ago. Kyo wasn't about to just... leave her teammates' killers here. Where they'd get a peaceful resting place, hidden away from the rest of the world.

“Kisaki!” She called as firmly as she could the moment she was done. “Kisaki, sensei is hurt and probably poisoned; I need your help to take him home. I can't do it on my own,” she begged the dog to pull herself together.

If Kisaki couldn't do it, couldn't help her, Kyo wouldn't know what to do.

She was only eight; she was too young, too small to help sensei home on her own.

The border station was closer, she knew, but she was also fairly sure Katsurou-sensei needed medical help the station wouldn't have. He needed a real hospital, so the best chance he had was for her to bring him to Konoha.

As fast as possible.

“I know Taku's dead, Kisaki,” Kyo said, standing to her feet, glaring at the dog and suddenly unreasonably angry. “But me and sensei are still alive! All three of us will die, too, if you don't help me!” She took a breath to try and calm down. “Listen to me!”

“Taku,” Kisaki groaned, eyes closed.

“Taku is weeping wherever he is, seeing you not doing everything in your power to protect the rest of his pack!” She shouted at the dog, positively incensed and not caring who might hear her.

If there were other people, other shinobi around, the battle before would have attracted them more surely than her voice could now.

I'M STILL HERE!” Kyo screamed, before her anger snuffed itself out, as suddenly as it had appeared. “I'm still here, and I need your help. Please help me, Kisaki,” she whispered, collapsing back down in a heap.

Kisaki rubbed her cheek against the ground Taku had been lying on a few seconds longer, before she cracked her eyes open to glance miserably at her.

“Please help me,” Kyo repeated shakily, feeling halfway to defeated already. “Sensei's gonna die without you.”

“Okay,” Kisaki said quietly, voice hoarse and sounding nothing at all like her usual self.

Kyo pushed herself to her feet, followed by Kisaki, both of them worse for wear as they staggered over to where Katsurou was sitting slumped against the tree.

“Can you carry him?” She asked, glancing at the ninken, who gave a subdued but determined nod.

“I will,” Kisaki said.

“Sensei? Can you hear me? I need you to try and help me get you on Kisaki's back,” Kyo said, turning to the man, who looked more unconscious than awake.

Instead of waiting or trying to get a more lucid response, Kyo grabbed him with both hands, and had to bite her tongue to keep an agonized scream behind her teeth.

“Kyo? What's wrong?” Kisaki asked, anxious and pressing against her side in an instant.

“I think my arm's broken,” Kyo gritted through the nauseating wave of pain radiating from the limb in question.

Scratch that 'I think'. It was broken. She could feel the bones shift against each other when she moved, now that her attention had been brought to the issue.

How had she not noticed until now?

Looking at it, the skin of her forearm was already darkening to a mottled bruise and it looked a bit swollen. It felt very hot when she touched trembling fingers to it.

She tried with sensei again, using just her left hand, this time, wedging her shoulder into his side to get more leverage.

“You okay?” She asked, panting heavily when Katsurou was draped somewhat securely over Kisaki's back.

It looked like he'd slip off in just a few strides, but that was what chakra was for.

“Fine,” Kisaki returned after a minute, sounding just as tired as Kyo.

The dog was littered with shallow cuts, and no doubt an impressive collection of bruises, but there didn't seem to be anything serious. The sheer amount of drying blood soaking her fur made it hard to tell.

With the task at hand, Kisaki was getting more determined by the minute.

“Let's hurry back to Konoha,” Kyo told her shakily, taking deep, gulping breaths of air and trying to force the bile back down her throat. “Can you run?”

“We'll try,” Kisaki returned, taking an experimental step forward. “Full stealth?”

“Yeah,” Kyo said, shuddering at the thought of coming across anyone else wishing to kill them in this situation. Just the potential prospect was enough to make her feel numb and mentally paralysed.

She didn't know what to do if that happened...

Exhausted, shaky and dazed, Kyo led them north-east, setting her sights on home and trying to keep herself focused on her task.

It was hard, though, when every jump jarred her arm and made her stomach twist, her eyes watering with pain.

She didn't dare stop to try and wrap her arm, either. Kyo had no idea if that could even make the injury worse, somehow, and the pain alone... she didn't think she'd be able to do it. Not with just one hand.

During the hours it took them, Kyo fell back regularly to check on Katsurou-sensei, every time praying to whatever powers there were that he would still be alive.

It was after midday sometime when she noticed Kisaki flagging.

“Walk for a while,” Kyo ordered the ninken, after she'd ensured the dog drank a few mouthfuls of water from her canteen, completely ignoring her own body's vehement protests.

She'd choked down a rations bar an hour ago, and her water canteen was still half-full.

She was fine.

Kisaki panted, sending her an acknowledging look before she leapt down to the ground.

Kyo debated what to do, stay in the trees where she had a better over-view? Or join Kisaki and sensei on the ground where she was closer at hand to help?

Dropping down next to Kisaki, Kyo uneasily scanned their surroundings.

“Come on,” she murmured, continuing on, ignoring the slight stumble when her foot caught on a stone.

They walked. And walked.

By nightfall, Katsurou had a fever and it was clear to Kyo he was in pain. The bandages she'd wrapped around his torso were stained a dark red.

“Let's run,” Kyo whispered quietly when it was nearly entirely dark out.

Both of them were exhausted, but she didn't dare stop to rest. If they stopped now, they wouldn't get back up again.

Kyo and Kisaki both knew without vocalising it.

If they hadn't- If they'd been in better condition, they would have reached their destination by now, but as it was... Kyo wasn't even certain where, exactly, they were any more. She knew they were heading in the right direction, but she didn't recognize anything.

Not that it was light enough to see much of anything when it came to familiar landmarks. Not in the darkness under the trees.

“Okay,” Kisaki managed, stumbling after her but dutifully falling into a relatively quick trot.

Kyo... wasn't at all sure how much time passed. The minutes, hours, seemed to tick by in spurts, and she didn't really know what happened in between the moments of startling clarity.

It was easier to just run, not think, let her mind be quiet and numb.

It felt like that time of night where it was late enough it was almost morning by the time they reached their destination.

Kyo didn't even realise where she'd taken them until she was staring blankly up at the grand main gates of Konoha, dark and forbidding under the meagre light of the stars.

The closed gates.

...of course they were closed. They closed at sun-down every day and didn't open again until sunrise the next morning.

Everyone knew that.

She should have aimed for one of the side-gates.

Before she could muster up the energy to get her mind to try and think up a solution, what to do next, they were surrounded by several dark figures wreathed in shadows.

The growl that curled out of Kisaki's chest was tired and uneven but absolutely chilling. It was the promise to spend her dying breath killing whichever idiot would dare to try and attack them.

“Declare yourselves,” a blank, monotone voice demanded and it took Kyo a few seconds to focus on his mask.

Ah. ANBU.

“Team Katsurou,” she managed after another second. “Back from- from the Kawa border.”

It didn't sound like her voice. Life-less, thin, empty.

Silence met her words, and for a long second it seemed like no one would do anything.

“Injuries?” The ANBU captain -or so she assumed- stepped forward.

“Deep cut to the right side, and most likely poisoned. Don't know how much,” Kyo replied as promptly as she could manage. “Sensei needs the hospital.” If he was still alive.

How long had it been since she last checked?

The thought sent a spike of panic through her, and Kyo quickly fumbled to place her fingers on his throat to try and find that quick, shallow, but definitely there, pulse.

The flutter against her fingers made her let out a small, relieved breath, almost falling to the ground when her legs felt like they were threatening to give out.

“What about you, kid?” The ANBU captain asked, and why wasn't anyone doing anything?

Kyo blinked uncomprehendingly at him. “Sensei needs a medic,” she repeated blankly.

She was fairly sure the man behind the mask sighed. He turned around and signed something to his team.

“We'll escort you to the hospital,” and he leapt up on the wall.

Summoning up the energy and focus to follow him felt like too much, but she somehow managed, Kisaki right beside her.

 

Chapter Text

Arriving at the hospital felt surreal.

It was bright and noisy and there were people everywhere.

Kyo couldn't summon up the energy to do more than follow orders and stick close to Kisaki and sensei.

The ANBU captain remained the whole time, though she was fairly sure he'd sent his team back to the gates as soon as they'd gotten the closest medic's attention.

Someone grabbed Katsurou and made to lift him over onto a stretcher someone had rolled up to them.

Kisaki bared her teeth with a wild, uncontrolled roar of a growl, snapping after the nurse or medic or whatever they were.

“No,” Kyo said firmly, trying to place her hand on the ninken's head but missing and ending up slapping her ear. “Stop it,” she added. “They're helping.”

Kisaki huffed, gave the hospital staff a dark, warning glower with her teeth bared, before she whined sadly and pressed her face into Kyo's stomach.

She could feel the dog stagger when Katsurou's weight was lifted off her back.

In the electric light of the hospital room they'd somehow ended up in -Kyo couldn't quite remember getting there- she noticed the dried blood staining Kisaki's fur a rusty brown from her mouth down the front of her chest in stiff, sticky spikes. There was a lot of dirt, too.

It distantly made her wonder what she herself looked like.

She idly watched the frantic medics work on Katsurou, too tired to so much as find a place to sit.

“Genin,” a sharp, no-nonsense voice said, managing to pull Kyo's gaze away from the bed-stretcher-thing sensei was laid out on. “Report.”

Kyo took in the sight of the stern-faced man with greying dark-blond hair entirely different from sensei's before her, trying to make her mind kick back into gear.

The fingers of her left hand curled into Kisaki's fur.

“Back from a courier run to the southern Kawa border,” she managed after a beat of stretching silence.

“And the scrolls?” The Jounin asked, his dark eyes assessing her, taking in every detail and it made her wonder what it was he saw.

“Got them,” Kyo returned lamely.

“Uncompromised?” The Jounin pressed impatiently, frowning at her.

Kyo rationally knew this was very important. The border stations were manned by and home base to dozens of people at all times, and it was vital for Konoha's defences that their enemies didn't get the information moving back and forth between them and command.

“Yeah,” she managed, blinking blankly at the Jounin.

“Will you give them to me?” The Jounin asked.

“Should I?” Kyo wondered stupidly. Wasn't she supposed to leave them at the appropriate desk in the Hokage tower?

She glanced at the ANBU captain, who gave a short nod.

“Okay,” she mumbled dazedly.

It was pretty tricky to get them out of her poison pack with just her left hand, though it probably had more to do with how exhausted she was. When she withdrew the first one, a needle came along with it, having stabbed into her ring-finger and gotten stuck in her skin.

Kyo absently brought her hand up to her mouth, pulled the needle out with her teeth and then handed the first scroll over. Followed by the remaining four.

“Do you want these as well?” She asked numbly, needle dangling from her lips, pulling the first of the black and red sealing scrolls from one of her pockets.

Kyo was pretty out of it, but she did notice when the Jounin and the ANBU both focused the full scope of their attentions on her, at the same time.

It was enough to make her tense, prompting Kisaki to let out a soft, warning growl in response.

“...how many have you got?” The Jounin asked.

She wasn't clear-headed enough to actually count right now, so Kyo just held out the first one until the Jounin took it. She slowly pulled the rest of them from the various pockets she'd stored them in.

“Five,” she managed once she'd already handed all of them over. It was a bit belated, because the Jounin had no doubt already counted them himself, but Kyo still answered his question. “They're from Suna,” she added, because that felt like it might be important.

Maybe.

When the Jounin turned his gaze back on her, it was a heavy, assessing thing. “And the rest of your team?”

Kyo re-buried her fingers in Kisaki's fur and tightened her hold until her knuckles hurt from the strain. “I have them,” she whispered.

The Jounin's gaze softened. “I will take proper care of them,” he promised solemnly.

Hesitating, Kyo couldn't so much as blink, staring intently up at the unfamiliar Jounin. A stranger.

She wished Katsurou-sensei was awake to tell her what to do.

Her fingers trembled so much she fumbled twice before she managed to pull the first black and gold scroll from her clothes.

It took several seconds before she managed to unclench her fingers from around it.

The Jounin took it with obvious care, waiting patiently for her to withdraw the other one.

“I will make sure they're processed quickly before being returned to their families.”

“Okay,” Kyo whispered, swallowing dryly a few times.

She and Kisaki watched as the Jounin tucked away the two black and gold scrolls into his vest with gentle care, and then handed the black and red scrolls to the ANBU captain.

The masked black-ops shinobi disappeared in a shunshin at a brisk hand-sign from the Jounin.

“Now, I need to ask you for a report,” he said calmly, arranging his body language into something more soothing, relaxed and reassuring. “Start from when you left the village two days ago.”

Kyo gave a stiff nod and haltingly launched into the task.

It was pretty easy, until she reached the part where they'd left the border station.

“Three hours after that, we ran into an ambush,” she said, swallowing thickly and taking a trembling breath. “They'd rigged explosive tags with poison.” Or at least that was the closest she could get to describing it right now.

The Jounin sighed.

She summarized the fight and the following actions quickly and briefly, to the best of her abilities. There wasn't really much to say about the trek back to Konoha, not even the parts she could remember clearly.

“Excuse me, Senju-dono, but we need to check over the Genin now,” one of the medics said sharply, not even playing at politeness as he all but pushed the Jounin out of his away.

Kyo blinked.

“What's your name?” The medic continued by asking, voice far kinder.

“...Shiranui Kyo.” Kyo stared at the white-haired medic now crouched in front of her. After a brief hesitation, she added her registration number without prompting.

“And how old are you, Kyo?” The medic asked next.

“Eight.”

“Do you have any injuries that you know of?” He asked after he'd checked her pupils.

Kyo blinked a little. “My arm's broken,” she finally said. She'd made sure to keep the appendage motionless by her side for hours now, and hadn't really though about it since at least before the sun had set.

“I need to wash all this blood off to examine you properly,” he continued in a mutter. “I can't even see your skin.”

Kyo blinked.

Blood...?

For the first time since leaving on this mission, Kyo took a moment to look down on herself.

Her shirt was stiff with dried blood, splattered generously down her front and she could only assume the same could be said about her face. Her arms, too, were covered in blood, dirt and what looked like moss and bark residue.

“I'm gonna ask that you stand still while I cut your shirt off, okay?” The medic asked gently, pulling a pair of scissors from a pocket when Kyo nodded.

She watched tiredly as he proceeded to cut through the crusty material until he could peel it away to reveal blood smeared skin and the mesh-shirt underneath.

With a frown, he did something she'd never come across before that resulted in her mesh-shirt easily falling off her slight frame.

Had he pulled a pin out of it somewhere, or what?

“This will be a bit cold,” he warned, before he accepted a bowl with water and a sponge from a nurse and proceeded to quickly wipe her down. Starting at her face, moving down her throat and chest. Leaving tan skin and livid bruises in its wake.

Nudging her to step away from the wall, he then moved around to get at her back.

The sponge sliding over her spine was enough to make her hiss and flinch away.

The water made it feel like her back was on fire.

“Badly bruised,” the medic muttered under his breath, poking and prodding a bit, but now that she was prepared for it, she grit her teeth and managed to remain still. “Stand perfectly still,” he ordered and placed a hand flat against her back.

It hurt, but not as bad as the sponge had.

She felt the foreign chakra enter her system and it nearly made her twitch.

Not even close to as comforting as sensei's chakra, it slowly eased the pain until it was a more manageable pulsing ache.

“There. Now, let's take a look at that arm,” he said briskly, moving back around to her front and giving her an expectant look.

Kyo took a deep breath, buried her fingers in Kisaki's fur, braced herself and slowly held out her right arm.

It hurt enough she almost cried out, and her eyes welled up with liquid.

The medic wiped off the dirt and grime quickly and efficiently, making the swelling more noticeable and it looked like her forearm was just one big bruise.

It hurt so much, Kyo didn't know what to do with herself.

Taking slow, deep breaths, she stared fixedly at Katsurou-sensei's unconscious body while the medic did his examination.

“The bones have ground against each other a bit too much for a quick fix,” the man finally said, leaning back and peering almost curiously at Kyo. “How long ago would you say this break happened?”

“This-” she had to pause to clear her throat, “this morning.”

“Make that yesterday morning.” The medic frowned. “This is going to hurt, I'm afraid. Ieda!”

One of the nurses came striding over and Kyo didn't fight them when they positioned her, the woman holding her shoulder and elbow in place, stabilising her arm as well as she could.

Then, before she could brace herself, the medic pulled.

Kyo almost threw up, and she swayed on her feet, but it was over with quickly.

She was so shaky afterwards she barely managed to remain on her feet, and she hardly noticed when the two medical professionals continued working on her arm.

She was so dazed she didn't even notice when they were done.

“Kid doin' okay?” The Senju Jounin asked off to the side.

“I've had grown men cry during the setting of a broken bone not five hours old,” the medic said wryly. “Give him a moment.”

“Ah, Yakushi-sensei, Shiranui Kyo's medical file,” another nurse said, handing the medic a brown folder.

The medic, Yakushi, accepted it and flipped it open. He blinked and glanced at Kyo, who slowly blinked back. “Forgive me, her,” he corrected himself with a bemused expression.

“Sensei?” Kyo asked, speaking up for the first time in who knew how long, drawing the two men's attention.

“His condition is critical, but I never knew Katsurou to be a man who gives up without a fight,” Yakushi said, flicking her a glance before he returned to reading through her medical file. “Do we know what poison is in his system, yet?” He tossed at one of the other medics working on Katsurou.

Kyo dug a hand into her poison pack and withdrew one of her containers. “It was this one,” she said, holding it out towards the medic, her right arm cradled to her stomach. “it's got a very distinctive taste,” she added at the blank look, feeling defensive at the vague sense of disbelief she got from the medic.

“This is poison? You carry poison with you on missions?” He asked slowly, gingerly accepting the small jar.

“I'm a poison specialist,” Kyo returned flatly, feeling like she had finally run out of energy.

She was out. This was it.

Her reserves were empty.

Having handed over what might just give Katsurou that one, small thing that could give him an advantage, Kyo staggered back into a warm, solid wall of fur and muscle.

Kisaki caught her and made sure she didn't collapse to the floor.

“Bring another stretcher!” She heard someone call as if from a great distance, the noise and activity around her slowly fading as Kyo's body shut down for some sorely needed rest.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Waking up was hard. Like trying to pull herself free from a puddle of syrup.

It kept clinging to her skin.

Kyo finally managed to open her eyes a crack. The light in the room stung, burning her retinas, but the sensation faded after a few seconds, leaving her with the thrilling view of a bland, mostly white hospital room.

The window on the far wall let in what looked like early morning light, giving the other three beds she could see in the room a warm tint.

Her brain felt fuzzy and all of her hurt, aching like... like she'd fallen down the stairs or something. Not that that had ever happened to her, that she could remember.

But if Kyo had to imagine what it felt like falling down several flights of stairs, this was what she'd go for.

For a long moment, she just lay there, staring at the dust-particles swirling lazily through the air, illuminated by the sunlight streaming in through the window.

It was peaceful.

She knew she should try to figure out what was going on, why she was in the hospital, but Kyo's mind shied away from the subject every time her thoughts began to drift listlessly in that direction.

Exhaustion was pulling on her limbs even after who knew how many hours' sleep.

It was a depressingly familiar sensation, though not here. Not as Kyo. And it hadn't ever been this painful.

Finally having had enough of stalling, Kyo turned her gaze to her own body.

She had quite clearly been tucked down into the hospital bed by someone else, because the covers had been pulled up to her arm-pits and both her arms were resting on top.

Kyo never slept like this.

And... there was a cast on her right arm, from the knuckles of her hand up to her elbow.

Her eyes stung and she already knew why. She'd never really forgotten to begin with, it was just... easier to pretend like she couldn't remember. Like nothing had changed.

Kyo determinedly continued her inspection.

An IV was connected to her left arm, supplying her with a steady flow of fluids and taking a deep breath sent a stab of acute discomfort through her chest.

Awesome.

Contemplating the pros and cons of trying to move, Kyo finally just decided to start small and go from there.

Twitching her fingers, she immediately decided not to try that again with her right hand until a medic told her it was alright.

Shit, that hurt.

Kyo slowly rolled over onto her side, a small, pained groan escaping her mouth.

Sitting up was surprisingly hard work, as all of her felt stiff and swollen.

Then again, she'd been tossed around and stomped on, so... Was only logical, she supposed.

Once in a seated position, things got easier. Getting to her feet was hardly a challenge.

Okay, that was an outright lie, but Kyo didn't give a shit.

She had stuff to do that was more important than just lying around sleeping in a soft, comfortable bed. She'd done enough of that in her Before life to last her in this life, too.

Getting the IV out of her arm was tricky, because it was in her left one, her right hand wasn't exactly fully functional, but she made it work. By pulling the needle out of her forearm with her teeth.

She hardly noticed the brief sting.

Finding herself free of any constraints or watchers -the two other occupants of the room were both unconscious- Kyo shuffled off in the direction of the door.

She felt like an old lady with arthritis, she mused absently as she shuffled barefoot over the linoleum floors, every move slow and careful, lest she jar something.

Seriously, all she needed was a cane and the old-lady image would be complete.

It felt like a minor miracle that she didn't come across any nurses as she began her slow but determined search.

Thankfully, she didn't have to go very far.

Kyo found what she was looking for just a few doors down from where she'd started.

Slowly entering the private room, Kyo closed the door behind her, tiredly noted Kisaki sprawled out on the floor beside the bed and then dedicated her full attention and waning focus to crawling onto the bed without falling to the floor in a pained, undignified heap.

With a heavy sigh, Kyo carefully positioned herself on the bed beside Katsurou-sensei, head resting on his chest. She had managed to wedge herself between his torso and arm, placing her own injured arm on his stomach.

It was a miracle she had managed it without disturbing any of the tubes and wires connecting her sensei to the various machines placed around the bed.

She had managed it, though.

Letting out a relieved breath, Kyo felt her eye-lids grow heavy alarmingly quickly, sleep pulling insistently on her consciousness once more.

Katsurou-sensei's heartbeat was steady and consistent in her ear, and her arm rose and fell a fraction with his every breath.

Kyo relinquished her grip on awareness and returned to the land of blissful ignorance that was unconsciousness.

.

Next time she woke up, it was to a muttering nurse.

“-can't just wander off, leaving your bed empty and not tell anyone! Could've been anywhere!” The woman grumbled to herself, placing a hand on Kyo's forehead, followed by checking her pulse and then shaking her shoulder gently.

“Wha-?” Kyo mumbled, still just as exhausted. She couldn't have slept that long, but at least she was still with Katsurou and Kisaki.

Kisaki, who was still lying stretched out on her side, on the floor between the bed and the door, but watching the nurse with intent eyes, observing her every move.

“I need to re-insert your IV, Kyo-chan,” the woman told her briskly.

Kyo blinked incomprehensibly at her for a long second. “Right,” she finally muttered, shuffling around a little until she had freed her left arm. She'd been sleeping on it, so it was pretty numb.

“Would you like to return to you own bed, dear, or would you prefer me to get you a bed in here?” The nurse asked, taking in the awkward position she was now lying in, left arm barely exposed enough for an IV needle.

“Here,” she instantly returned, no hesitation.

“Alright, then,” the nurse smiled sadly and then went on to check on Katsurou, inspecting the machines he'd been hooked up to while she was at it. “I'll be back in a few minutes,” she said. “I'll let the medic know you're awake and where to find you,” she added kindly and then swept out of the door.

Kyo stared blankly at the closed door for a long, silent minute, before she took a deep breath and pressed her cheek against Katsurou-sensei's chest.

“Kisaki?” She asked quietly. She could hear the dog shift slightly on the floor. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Kisaki replied, voice barely audible and somewhat hollow. “They took you away. Thought you wanted me to stay with sensei.”

“Thank you, Kisaki,” Kyo whispered back, closing her eyes and pressing closer to sensei.

Kisaki huffed against the floor. “My pack,” she sighed, and the grief in her voice went soul-deep.

Curling further into Katsurou-sensei's side, Kyo let herself drift off into something that was halfway between sleep and wakefulness.

She didn't rouse back to full awareness until the door opened and someone stepped inside the room.

“Shiranui Kyo?” A male voice inquired with brisk aplomb.

“Here,” Kyo answered hoarsely, prying her eyes open to squint at who she assumed was the medic.

The dark-haired man hummed and flipped through the papers on the clipboard in his hand. “Broken ulna and radius on the right arm, deep-tissue bruising on the back and chest, a few fractured ribs as well as a mild concussion,” he read out loud. “Well. Time for a check-up,” he concluded briskly, putting the clip-board on top of one of the machines and then strode around the bed to get within easy reach of her. “Sit up, please,” he added.

Kyo slowly managed to do as asked, folding her legs so that her knees pressed gently against the outside of sensei's right thigh.

The medic placed both hands on her back, running his chakra through her system, presumably to check her over and potentially speed up the healing process.

Kyo had no idea how iryou-ninjutsu worked.

“You're healing nicely, there's no infection, but I want you on bed-rest for at least another few days,” the medic said, before asking her to turn around. He continued by examining her broken arm, managing just fine through the plaster. “Everything looks to be doing fine,” he summarized, giving her a brief, friendly but weary and tired smile.

She wondered how many hours he'd been working at this point.

Every shinobi in the village was over-worked.

“How's sensei doing?” She asked, and her voice was raspy.

The medic gave her an assessing look, and then moved down to the foot of the bed to grab the clip-board resting in the slot there.

He flipped through the pages, eyes scanning the words with fast efficiency.

“We've administered the antidote to the poison in his system, but in combination with the blood-loss, we can only wait and see,” he told her evenly, slowly putting the clip-board back, shifting his gaze to meet hers. “As it looks right now, he's responding favourably to treatment.”

Which indicated that it could change at any time.

She turned her head to stare at sensei, whose pale face was partly obscured by the breathing mask held firmly in place over his nose and mouth.

“Are his lungs damaged?” She couldn't help but ask.

The medic considered her a moment. “There is some tissue damage, yes. But we're hopeful we'll be able to reverse the degradation of the cells in time. We need to build his strength back up first, though.”

“Okay. Thank you,” Kyo returned thinly.

The medic watched her sadly a second. “His odds are looking better for every hour that passes without any incidents,” he informed her kindly. “A nurse will bring you a bed in a few minutes,” he added and then returned to his round, having more patients that needed attention.

After he'd left, Kyo didn't bother lying back down.

She'd get her own bed, soon, and the hospital staff had made it clear they'd like her in her own bed. Maybe that was best for Katsurou-sensei, too.

.

She woke up very early the next morning, still tired but no longer feeling like she'd collapse from exhaustion. Kyo slowly, carefully moved to the chair someone had moved into the room some time while she'd been sleeping.

Kisaki remained stretched out on Kyo's bed, deeply asleep.

Stiffly settling into the uncomfortable plastic chair, she pulled her legs up to her chest and placed her plaster encased forearm on her knees.

The room was dark and quiet, other than the sound of Kisaki and Katsurou's breathing, underlined by the steady, quiet beep of the heart-monitor.

Kyo found herself staring at sensei's rising and falling chest, every breath undeniable proof of continued life.

Taku and Maki...

She closed her eyes, the fingers of her left hand curling into the fabric of the hospital clothes she'd been dressed in.

They were gone. She'd handed them over to that Senju Jounin and- she couldn't help but be irrationally fixated on the fact that she wouldn't even have a scar to show for the disaster.

Sure, she'd gotten her arm broken but that was nothing. Nothing compared to what Kisaki was going through, nothing compared to Katsurou, who might still die, despite the fact that she'd gotten him to Konoha, to the hospital and medical help.

She should have tried to get here faster.

Kyo carefully leaned her forehead against the cast on her arm, closing her eyes and trying not to think.

It hadn't been her fault, but it still felt like she was somehow to blame for this.

Taku and Maki were dead and she was just... she was fine.

It felt like betrayal.

By her or her teammates, she couldn't say, but it hurt. It hurt so much it felt like even her heart was bruised.

By the time she raised her head, the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten, announcing the break of a new day.

A couple of hours later, a nurse backed into the room, turning around to reveal a tray with food occupying her hands.

“Oh, you're awake,” she said, blinking with obvious surprise at Kyo for a few seconds, before she plastered a smile on her face. “I come bearing breakfast,” she announced cheerfully, striding up to the bedside table between the two beds and placing the tray on top of it. “This is for the ninken,” her smile faltered ever so slightly, before she powered on, “and the rest is for you, Kyo-chan.”

“Thank you,” Kyo said quietly, entirely unenthusiastic.

She wasn't hungry.

Rationally, she knew she probably was; her body should be craving food to make up for all the calories she had burned in the last few days, but... she couldn't feel it.

“Do your best to eat up, dearie,” the nurse told her kindly, and then bustled off again, saying something about the medic and another check-up before disappearing out the door.

Kyo could guess at her words, though she hadn't been listening.

“Are you hungry?” She asked Kisaki, who had rolled onto her stomach and raised her head the moment the door had opened. She nodded. “Okay,” Kyo said and stiffly managed to uncurl herself from the chair.

How many hours had she been sitting there?

She picked up the bowl of raw meat mixed with... something, and placed it on the bed in front of Kisaki, who dug in with gusto.

Kyo stared at the meal the nurse had brought her and then set to it with firm determination. Her body needed sustenance to recuperate properly.

.

A few days must have passed.

Days which Kyo mostly either slept away or spent in the plastic chair, staring at sensei and trying not to get lost in her own head.

Nurses and medics came and went, both for her and for Katsurou-sensei, and it wasn't until she heard a hissed conversation outside the door to her and sensei's room that she came back to herself enough to take note of the darkness outside the window, the slow and steady beep of the trusty heart-monitor.

“-an't just barge in there,” a voice she was fairly sure belonged to Inoichi hissed. “She lost her team.”

And yeah, she didn't need that pointed out to her.

“She's our friend, too,” Chouza said solemnly, not bothering to whisper.

“She's still not deaf,” she said clearly in the direction of the door and then placed her chin back on her crossed arms. The cast made it fairly uncomfortable, but she barely noticed.

The door opened and Inoichi and his teammates trudged inside.

It was obvious that the three of them had just returned from a mission; they were all dirty, slightly dishevelled and carried with them the smell of sweat.

“Sorry,” Inoichi apologized, looking regretful. “How's he doing?”

“He hasn't died yet,” Kyo replied absently, gazing contentedly at Katsurou, who remained unconscious but alive.

The medics were hopeful they'd get the last of the poison out of his system entirely soon, so that was good. Then they'd just have to wait and see the damage it had done.

Her words left a heavy, awkward silence in their wake, because what could anyone possibly say in the face of that.

“I'm sorry,” Chouza said, wearing a sincere expression as he pulled a bag of his favourite snack from a pocket. “I would have wanted to stop by somewhere to get you something, but we came here as soon as we could when we heard,” he told her, holding the bag of chips out to her.

Kyo automatically reached out her left hand to accept it. “Thank you.”

“Who was it?” Shikaku asked, causing Inoichi to punch him in the arm. Hard.

Kyo put the bag of chips on the bedside table and then curled her arm close to her chest, wedging it in between her torso and her legs.

“Does it matter?” She couldn't help but ask. Taku and Maki would be just as dead if the enemy shinobi had been from Iwa or Ame.

“Not really,” Shikaku returned in something that came close to being a drawl. He looked somewhat pleased by her answer, though.

And that was why Inoichi lost his temper with his Nara teammate so often; Shikaku was largely insensitive and ignorant of the feelings of the people around him.

“If you're gonna start like that again you should leave,” Inoichi told the boy sharply, giving him an unamused look. There was a promise of violence in his eyes as he glared at Shikaku, before he finally relaxed and turned back to Kyo. “Has he woken up at all?” He asked, mentioning at Katsurou.

None of them had commented on Kisaki, yet, but... people who weren't very familiar with the Inuzuka and their ninken tended to be ignorant of just how close a relationship it was.

Inoichi and his friends were no more than twelve, thirteen, at most.

She could forgive them.

“No.” Kyo sighed. “I think they're keeping him in a medical coma to decrease the chance of lasting damage,” she admitted quietly, pressing her mouth against her cast. Not that anyone had phrased it like that, exactly.

“And how are you?” Inoichi asked carefully.

“I'm fine,” Kyo returned with little care. “Broken arm, but it's healing 'nicely'.” She smiled humourlessly against the hard, rough surface of the cast.

“You almost died,” Kisaki said where she lied on Kyo's hospital bed. “I saw.”

Kyo frowned at her. “We all almost died,” she returned softly, curling further into herself. “Or did die,” she added under her breath, closing her eyes.

“Does Kou know?” Inoichi asked next.

“Mission,” Kyo grunted.

“Gemna-chan?” Chouza continued the careful prodding.

Kyo's eyebrows pulled together. “Obaa-san and ojii-san's.”

“Do you plan to go there once you're cleared?” Inoichi asked tentatively.

“No.”

Genma was better off with their grandparents right now. Kyo wasn't any good for him as she was.

She couldn't even bring herself to go further than the small bathroom adjacent to the room Katsurou had been put in and Kyo had moved herself into, despite the nurses' constant attempts to cajole her into going to the mess hall for meals now that she was getting better.

Suffice to say, they'd so far been unsuccessful.

Inoichi tried to get her to talk to him several more times, and she knew he was trying to help, but she wasn't feeling very cooperative.

After a rather awkward, uncomfortable visit, the three boys left for home, for some well-deserved rest after their mission.

Kyo hadn't even asked about their mission, if it'd been successful or if there'd been any problems, she realised belatedly. She should have asked.

Once she was finally alone again, Kyo's shoulders slumped and she buried her face in her knees.

“Kyo?”

Kyo gave an acknowledging noise in the back of her throat.

“Are you okay?” Kisaki asked softly.

“No,” Kyo admitted miserably. “I'm not. I want tou-san to be here,” she whispered into her legs.

Kisaki whined, shuffling over and clearly making room for her on the bed.

Kyo gratefully abandoned the chair and cuddled with Kisaki on the bed until she fell asleep.

.

Staring blankly at the room in front of her, Kyo wondered how she had ended up here.

She blamed the nurse that had literally picked her up and carried her here, before dumping her on her own two feet only to march off again with stern orders not to come back to Katsurou's room until at least half an hour had passed.

The room was rather busy, relatively full of people. Mostly shinobi, in various states of convalescence, but also the occasional, nervous-looking civilian.

She felt distinctly out of place.

Partly because she was half the size of everyone else here, and partly because she was wearing no more than the hospital pyjamas she'd been given.

Thoroughly disgruntled and feeling practically naked -she hadn't even gotten her hitai-ate back- Kyo stalked into the room to eat her damn lunch.

At least she could trust Kisaki to keep a close eye on sensei and come get her if anything happened. Or just, bite out the throat of anyone who might want to harm him. Whichever.

“Are you lost, kid?” One of the tired-looking shinobi asked when she sat down by his table, briefly glancing up from his own meal.

“No,” Kyo said shortly, scowling at the excuse for food this hospital was serving.

The man hummed, eyeing her with more interest now. “Genin don't often end up in here,” he commented casually.

Kyo paused, chopsticks halfway between the plate and her mouth. Yeah, that was true; Genin were generally either so lightly hurt they didn't need to be kept in the hospital, or they were dead.

There was very rarely anything in between.

Without saying anything, Kyo placed her right arm, with the cast, on the table top next to the tray containing her food.

The shinobi gave it an amused look. “And where did you get such an impressive battle wound?” He asked lightly, no doubt expecting an answer along the lines of some training accident.

“Kawa border,” Kyo told him evenly, forcing herself to remain relaxed and eat the stupid food.

“Well,” the shinobi said idly, “that sucks.”

Kyo snorted. “So what are you in for?” She couldn't help but ask, mostly in an attempt to distract herself.

“A few Ame nin were quite determined to see me dead,” the man grinned, looking quite... uh, unhinged, to be honest. “It was something of a mild disagreement.”

“There seems to be a lot of those,” Kyo returned mildly. Seeing as they were in the middle of a war and all.

“You're funny, kid,” the shinobi said, leaning over the table to get a better look at her. “What's your name?”

“Kyo,” she answered simply, eyeing the man out of the corner of her eye. He had honey-coloured hair and grey eyes. Was probably a couple of years older than sensei, if she had to guess.

“So, you kill the guy who broke your arm?”

“I did, yeah.” Kyo shrugged. There wasn't an ounce of regret to be found within her over it, either. Not about that.

He'd almost killed her and she'd been fighting for survival.

Nothing wrong about that.

The shinobi chuckled, and Kyo was really beginning to suspect this guy had a few more issues than perhaps she had anticipated when she chose her seat.

“How would a squirt like you kill a grown sand lizard?” He asked with genuine interest, looking far too amused with this conversation.

“Poison,” Kyo said succinctly.

The shinobi blinked at her, and then burst out laughing. Loud enough it attracted the attention of several of the people around them.

“That's precious!” He chortled. “Damn near poetic.

“Settle down, Hirata; you're scaring the brat,” another man said, black-haired with white eyes. A Hyuuga, then.

“Hey, shut your mouth. This boy's been out killing enemy shinobi for Konoha,” Hirata refuted with a grin.

Kyo didn't correct him about her gender. It was just easier to go along with it and it wasn't like she cared all that much. If people thought she was a boy just because she had short hair, that was their problem, not hers.

“He looks too small to even be a Genin,” the Hyuuga commented, eyeing Hirata carefully, as if he was an unstable explosive tag that could go off at any time.

Which... might not be all that far from the truth, actually, going by the man's slightly irrational behaviour.

“They took my hitai-ate and my gear,” Kyo muttered around her chopsticks, unable to keep from frowning.

She didn't like to be without her weapons; it made her feel naked, like she'd forgotten something.

“Ah, yes,” Hirata said, abruptly more serious. “They do that, I'm afraid. It's to discourage us from checking out early.”

Kyo scowled. As if she would do that. Sensei was here.

“Where's the rest of ya team? Shouldn't they be here wishing you good health and shit?” Hirata asked next, leaning an elbow on the table and supporting his chin in his hand as he scanned the room.

Kyo's fingers tightened around her chopsticks. “I was thrown out of sensei's room,” she told him stiffly.

“Ah, fuck,” Hirata said after a beat of silence. “That sucks, kid,” and he sounded genuinely sympathetic, in a few-screws-loose kind of way. “Killed the guys who did it?” He asked next.

The Hyuuga gave him a sharp, slightly disapproving look.

Kyo described it as 'slightly' because Hyuuga in general showed about as much emotion through facial expressions as your average rock.

From what little experience she'd had with the Clan, at least, and Taku always said-

“They're all dead,” Kyo said curtly, putting her chopsticks down and pushing the tray away from herself.

“And you're alright with that?” Hirata asked next, seemingly fascinated with their conversation.

Kyo stared at him, not feeling like that question deserved a response.

Hirata appeared to find that funny, because he laughed again.

“Listen, kid, you should probably go back to your room,” the Hyuuga said calmly while Hirata was somewhat distracted.

“I have fifteen minutes left before I'm allowed to leave,” Kyo informed him flatly.

“It's true,” someone else butted into their conversation. “I saw one of the nurses carry him in here. Looked like someone'd pissed in her coffee.”

And Kyo watched incredulously as yet another shinobi joined them at the table. This one with black hair which looked dark green in the electric light.

“Don't you all have anything better to do than cross-examine me? I already gave my verbal report,” the irritable words were out of her mouth before she could censor herself.

“We're in the hospital, brat. The answer is no,” Hirata told her with a fierce grin.

She scowled at him, wishing for her poison pack.

“Boy's got spunk, that's for sure,” the most recent addition mused interestedly. “How old are you, kid?”

“Eight,” Kyo gritted out.

Was it really too much to ask to be left alone?

“And how long've you been a big, brave shinobi?”

Kyo actually laughed, grinning humourlessly at the three adults. “Nothing brave about killing people,” she crossed her arms on the table and leaned her chin on her undamaged forearm. “And since I was six.”

New-guy whistled quietly. “Didn't think we let them out of the Academy that young any more,” he mused idly.

“Must've had something going for 'im,” Hirata speculated.

Kyo silently wondered why the three grown men were so interested in this. Boredom could be the answer, of course.

Didn't mean she enjoyed the intense scrutiny.

“Wait, maybe I've heard of him,” New-Guy said, giving Kyo a considering look. “Who's your sensei, brat?”

“Yamanaka Katsurou,” Kyo said after a beat of silence.

“Shit, Katsurou's in here? How's he doing?” Hirata leaned forward abruptly. “No one tells me fuck any more,” he complained.

“After the last time you went berserk, you're surprised?” The Hyuuga asked archly, confirming Kyo's earlier musings.

Hirata shrugged unapologetically. “Asshole should've kept his mouth shut.”

“Wait, you're the poison kid?” New-Guy asked abruptly.

Kyo blinked and gave him a curious look. “Poison specialist, yeah,” she muttered, not bothering to lift her head from her arms. “Nurses stole my pack, though.”

She could practically see the dots connect in the three men's heads as they assimilated the new information.

“Are they bothering you?” Kisaki asked as she came stalking up to the table, giving the three men an aggressive, threatening glower.

“No,” Kyo replied, having sat up straight the moment she spotted the ninken. “What happened?”

Kisaki bared her teeth. “Medic threw me out,” she growled darkly, deep in her throat.

Kyo frowned at the dog. “What did you do? I told you not to bite anyone.”

Kisaki snorted, ears flicking irritably before she pressed her head against Kyo's chest with a huff.

“They were taking him away,” she whined low in her throat. “For tests,” she added, no doubt in response to the way Kyo's heart started racing.

Kyo sighed, tugged on one of Kisaki's ears and got to her feet. “Think anyone will return my things to me if I ask nicely?” She wondered speculatively.

“I'd say stealth is the better option,” Hirata said idly, watching the ninken with intent focus.

Kyo shot him a contemplative look, and then shrugged.

She rolled her shoulders experimentally, grimacing at the painful pull on her still-bruised muscles.

“Come on, Kisaki,” Kyo muttered, pulling her chakra tightly under under her skin and slipping out of the mess hall, leaving the three grown shinobi behind to amuse themselves however they wished.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

She'd gotten her things back.

But other than that, not much had changed.

Kyo still spent her days in Katsurou's hospital room, sitting in the uncomfortable chair and watching sensei sleep while she tried not to dwell on anything.

She didn't know what else to do.

A full week after she had woken up, after her return to Konoha, someone knocked on the door to the room Kyo, Kisaki and sensei were occupying.

Staring stupidly at the door, it took her a moment before she thought to say anything. The nurses and medics never knocked.

“Yeah?”

“Shiranui Kyo?” The Chuunin on the other side asked, giving her a quick once-over once he'd opened the door.

“Yes.” She stared impatiently at the guy. She was the only conscious human in the room.

“I'm here to escort you to the Hokage tower,” the Chuunin said briskly.

“Any particular reason?” She asked warily as she unfurled herself from her seat in the chair. This had never happened before.

The Chuunin said nothing, but his impatience was conveyed well enough when Kyo didn't immediately jump to attention.

With a sigh, she turned to give Kisaki a look.

“I'll be here,” the ninken said calmly.

It was reassuring, in a way, but she sort of wished Kisaki could have come with her. The ninken hadn't been mentioned in the summon, though.

“Hopefully, I'll see you in a bit,” Kyo muttered and walked out to join the Chuunin.

They walked through the village in silence.

It felt like she was dreaming, seeing all the people going about their business without a care in the world, as if the war was nothing more than a distant inconvenience. Rather than the brutal bloodbath Konoha's shinobi were forced to face every time they left the village walls.

This place would never be the same, because Kyo knew she would never come across Taku on his way to the training grounds, would never join Maki on a trip to the grocery store ever again.

Would never see them again.

The Chuunin left her in the hallway outside the Hokage's office.

Kyo felt cold and a bit removed from the situation, like it wasn't real. Like it was happening to someone else. She could have just fallen asleep in the chair back at the hospital again, she mused distantly.

Before she'd gotten a chance to so much as digest this unexpected turn of events, Kyo was called into the looming office before her.

“Shiranui Kyo,” a deep, smooth voice said, sounding a bit absent even when she was the focus of most of the room. “Do you know why you've been brought here?”

“No, sir,” Kyo returned, her voice coming out entirely blank.

She'd never so much as seen the Hokage before, never mind spoken with him.

If she'd known she'd get to see the Sandaime Hokage under these circumstances...

“As I understand it, you have served me and your village with determination above and beyond both your rank and your age,” the Hokage said gravely. “You've more than earned the promotion to Chuunin,” he waved a hand and someone placed a scroll in her left hand, “I'm giving you. In that scroll, you will find the official promotion documents. Fill them out and hand them in at your earliest convenience, and a new photo for your file will be taken when you hand them in. It also contains a Chuunin vest, though I advice you to either get it fitted for you, or wait to wear it until you've gotten a chance to grow into it.”

Kyo barely registered the words, the information washing over her as she stared at the fancy-looking scroll clenched in her hand.

“May I speak frankly, Hokage-sama?” Kyo inquired in a voice entirely lacking inflection.

“When the situation allows for it, I encourage it in my subordinates,” Sarutobi Hiruzen returned, not unkindly.

“I don't deserve a promotion,” she blurted, feeling like the last hour caught up to her all at once when she looked up to meet the gaze of her highest ranking superior. The man who held all of their fates in the palm of his hand. “Surviving something that I've been trained for since I was old enough to walk,” she swallowed, “that's not something you get promoted for.”

The Hokage lowered the document he had been perusing, even during this... meeting? Promotion meeting? What the hell was she supposed to call it?

“You believe I'm promoting you because of your survival?” He asked mildly, putting the scroll he'd been reading down to fold his hands on the top of his desk, giving her his full attention.

He was bizarrely young to Kyo's eyes. Not the wrinkled, kind-looking old man she'd been envisioning in her head. From a story that was feeling more and more like nothing other than a rose-tinted bed-time fantasy the longer time passed.

His hair was a rich brown.

“If we promoted shinobi based on survival alone, there'd be no Genin or Chuunin left,” a somewhat familiar, gruff voice said from off to the side.

Glancing that way, Kyo saw the greying Senju Jounin she had talked to at the hospital a little over a week ago, standing by the wall, arms crossed over his chest.

“Thank you, Takeshi,” Hiruzen said with a thin smile. “Your survival, though impressive, is not the reason you're holding that scroll, my dear,” the Hokage told her kindly. “The situation you faced ten days ago; injured, three hours from the border with two dead teammates, a feral Inuzuka ninken and a greatly injured Jounin sensei. The way you handled it, the fact you got yourself, the ninken and your sensei back to Konoha alive, with the scrolls you'd been intended to deliver as well as the corpses of five Suna shinobi; that is the reason I'm promoting you.”

Phrased like that...

Kyo felt pale.

“I cannot- that was just- I had to,” she gave a frustrated huff, fingers clenching around the scroll until her knuckles shone white against the rest of her skin.

“There are many things we have to do,” the Hokage returned wryly. “That does not mean all my men -and women- keep a level head in a seemingly hopeless situation. That is to say nothing of my Genin.”

Kyo glanced at the Senju -Takeshi?- who nodded firmly. “You earned it, kid,” he told her simply.

She felt like she was gonna throw up.

So Taku and Maki died and she got a promotion?

She almost laughed.

“You have served your village admirably, and I can only ask that you strive to do so as a Chuunin as well,” the Hokage said.

It was a clear dismissal from a very busy man.

Kyo dipped her head in a deferential bow and followed Senju Takeshi when he led her out of the office.

He gave her a long look, nudged her in the direction of the closest seat and then returned back into the office, closing the door behind him.

Kyo took one step towards the closest chair only to sink to the floor, all strength leaving her.

Chuunin.

Okay.

She could... not really deal with that.

Raising a hand to her mouth, Kyo was fully aware that she was breathing too quickly, too shallowly. Wasn't much she was capable of doing about it, though.

“Hey, hey,” a soft voice said as someone crouched next to where she was sitting on the floor. The stack of papers that was put down next to her were an indication it was one of the shinobi aides. “What's happened? Anyone see what happened to this kid?”

“Came from the Hokage's office,” someone else said. “Got a promotion, it looks like.”

“Kyo? What are you doing here? Inoichi told me you were in the hospital,” yet another voice said and it took a few seconds for her to place it.

It was Inoichi's sensei, Sarutobi Shinzu.

She stared at him with wide eyes, and oh, she was hyperventilating, wasn't she? She couldn't speak.

The man frowned, glanced at the scroll in her hand and scooped her up into his arms with a sigh.

“Hiruzen's got shitty timing,” he muttered under his breath. “But he's not wrong, Kyo.”

Kyo sagged into his hold as he carried her off towards the hospital.

.

Kou came back to the village four days later.

She had no idea who told him, all she knew was that she blinked out of the trance-like state she found herself in most of the time to hear his voice.

“-lease just go home, take a shower, eat a meal and come back afterwards, shinobi-san,” a rather harried voice said outside the door, sounding like they'd repeated it several times to little avail.

“You get the hell out of my way right now or I punt you through a wall,” someone growled back and they sounded furious.

It must've worked, though, because the door opened in the next second and tou-san walked in, looking like he'd run through a battle-field to get here, carrying with him the smell of smoke, blood and death.

“Tou-san,” Kyo croaked, blinking tiredly at the man.

Kou glanced around the room, took in the sight of Katsurou and Kisaki and then walked the two strides it took to bring him up to the chair Kyo was curled up in.

Without a word, he swept her up into his arms.

“I got promoted to Chuunin,” Kyo told him weakly and then broke down sobbing.

Kou sank to the floor, cradling her to his chest like she was the most precious thing in existence, taking slow, deep breaths and running one hand over her hair, again and again in what was a bit too desperate a manner to be soothing.

“You're alright,” he finally breathed, pressing a kiss to her temple, smearing dirt and soot on her skin at the same time.

Kyo just cried; she wasn't alright. She wasn't fine.

“It hurts,” she sobbed, the words muffled by the torn fabric of Kou's Jounin vest, which she was clutching desperately in both hands. As well as she could.

One of the medics had told her she'd get rid of the cast in another three days, so that was nice.

“I know,” Kou sighed, holding her tighter. “I know, kitten.” He took a shaky breath. “When I heard you were in the hospital...” he whispered softly.

After a few minutes, an hour, who knew, Kou let out a heavy sigh and rose to his feet, still with Kyo in his arms.

“Let's get you home for some rest, Kyo. You've been incredibly brave, but you can relax now, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo muttered reluctantly, tilting her head to glance over at sensei's sleeping form.

The medic had said he'd most likely wake soon. In just a few days.

“You can come back after you've slept,” tou-san promised. “Kisaki? Are you coming with us?”

The ninken looked tired when she met his gaze, but turned back to stare at Katsurou soon enough.

“Thank you, but I will stay,” she said quietly.

“Taku's proud of you, Kisaki,” Kyo told her shakily. “Thank you.”

The dog just laid down her head and kept her gaze on Katsurou when Kou turned around and walked out of the room, striding down the corridor towards the main exit, not so much as acknowledging the nurses they walked passed.

He was taking his daughter home and the higher powers that be help anyone who tried to stop him.

.

Kou scrounged up a quick meal for the two of them, and while Kyo mechanically ate, he stripped out of his clothes, threw them in the washing machine and then took a well-needed shower.

He was wearing nothing more than a clean pair of underwear when he came back into the kitchen to scarf down his own meal.

“Let's go sleep,” he declared once he'd put both their plates in the sink.

“What about Genma?” Kyo asked on an exhausted sigh.

“I'll go get him tomorrow.” Kou smiled wanly. “I know you never liked it there, but he's well off with my parents.”

“I know.” Kyo held her arms up at her dad, feeling like a toddler again, demanding to be picked up and held. “Can I sleep with you?” She asked, settling against Kou's warm and still slightly damp skin.

“I don't think I'd be able to sleep without easy access to you right now,” Kou admitted, leaning his cheek against her hair. “You don't realise how scared I got when I was told you've spent the last weeks in the hospital, Kyo.”

So soon after kaa-san, too... had he thought she'd died?

“Sorry.” Kyo slumped miserably.

“It's not your fault, kitten.” Kou sighed. “Being able to check your breathing and make sure your heart's still beating will help, though.”

Kyo knew what he meant. She'd been doing the same with Katsurou for almost two weeks, waking up from fitful sleep just to check sensei was still breathing, having to make sure before she could go back to just as restless sleep.

Instead of saying anything else, they simply went to bed, Kyo burrowing down beneath the covers on kaa-san's side of the mattress, pressing her face into the pillow and telling herself she could still smell Isshun's scent.

Kou settled down next to her, one of his hands coming to rest on her back, perfectly positioned to feel every breath, every heartbeat, and Kyo finally slept calmly.

.

Tou-san allowed her to spend eight hours with Katsurou the next day before he and Genma came to collect her.

They had dinner, and then Kyo resolved to sit down and make more poisons.

She needed to restock.

She had the time and she'd been doing absolutely nothing since she came back to the village. It was time to get off her sorry ass and do something productive.

Kyo carefully ignored the tears that occasionally dripped from her eyes as she prepared all her tools and materials.

“What're you doin'?” Genma asked, coming toddling into the kitchen to peer curiously at her where she sat on the kitchen floor. He was growing so fast; it was hardly more than half a year until he'd turn three.

“I'm working,” Kyo said, hurriedly wiping her cheeks dry and smiling at her adorable little brother. “Wanna help?” She asked next.

Genma blinked large brown eyes and gave an excited nod.

Kyo had been two when she started, and now that kaa-san wasn't here any more, poison lessons for Genma would fall onto her, wouldn't they?

“Okay, nee-san.” Genma smiled, carefully walked around her spread out work-station and seated himself somewhat clumsily close beside her, peering at the plant material with obvious interest.

Kyo quickly sorted through the piles of leaves she'd gathered this morning before going to the hospital.

“Here, see these leaves?” She asked, picking up the dark green, fuzzy leaves she herself had first started with. “I need you to tear them up like this and put them in the pot over there, okay?” And she gave her brother a demonstration with the leaf she'd picked up. “Don't touch anything else, alright?”

“Okay,” Genma chirped, eagerly reaching for the closest leaf that looked like the one Kyo had shown him.

Kyo watched him carefully a moment, pleased to see he was doing his best to mimic her demonstration. Satisfied that things were going alright, Kyo turned part of her attention back on the other batch of poison she'd planned to make.

When Genma was finished with his first leaf, Kyo didn't take much notice.

That changed when he started crying, though.

It began with a pained whimper, the boy holding his hands close to his stomach and trying to wipe them off on his t-shirt.

“Nee-san,” he sobbed, growing more and more distraught. “It hurts,” and tears were streaming down his steadily reddening face, scrunched up with pain and rising emotions and soon enough he was screaming.

Kyo snatched him up and rushed him to the bathroom, disinfecting her own hands with chakra before touching her baby brother.

Heart beating loudly in her chest, Kyo grabbed Genma's hands and stuck them into the sink, turning on the tap for cold water, and proceeded to scrub his swelling hands, trying to hold him still and not let his hysterical wailing get to her.

Which was the scene Kou walked in on a minute later.

“What is going on here?” He demanded to know, taking in the bathroom with slightly wide eyes.

She wasn't sure what he'd said he needed to do, but Kyo had a vague memory of tou-san telling her he needed to step outside for a few minutes and could she please keep an eye on Genma?

Genma screamed louder. “Tou-san!” The toddler cried at the top of his lungs, doing his best to wiggle out of Kyo's hold with little success.

She was still holding his small, angry red hands under the tap.

“I-I'm sorry!” Kyo stammered helplessly, already on the brink of tears herself. “I just- I thought- I'm sorry,” she sobbed once before she took a deep breath and firmed her hold on Genma.

“Kyo?” Kou asked, stepping into the room and picking Genma out of her arms, helping her keep his hands under the steady stream of cold water.

“I just- he asked what I was doing and I asked if he wanted to help, kaa-san isn't here any more and I figured I should do what she did, but then this happened and I'm sorry,” the words just rushed out of her mouth and Kyo felt like the worst sister in the world.

She couldn't stop the tears dripping down her face as she miserably tried to wash the toxin off Genma's tiny fingers.

“Do we need to take him to a medic?” Kou asked with far more calm than Kyo felt was fair.

“I don't think so, it's just, painful and I don't understand.” She hiccuped a little, picking up the bar of soap again to go another round.

It took an hour to get Genma to settle down somewhat, and by the time he stopped crying, the little boy was exhausted.

Kou had smeared his hands in a salve he'd dug out of one of his packs and then tucked him into bed.

“Kyo? A proper explanation, this time?” He asked, seating himself on the couch and mentioning for her to join him.

Guilt and shame churning in her stomach, Kyo didn't dare hesitate to comply.

“I had to make more poison,” she began in a small voice. “Genma was curious, and kaa-san started when I was two, so I thought he could help a little.”

Kou sighed, putting a hand on her head and gently ruffling her hair. “I realise that I should have talked about this with you,” he muttered, mostly to himself, “but children aren't generally like you, Kyo.”

“I'm sorry,” she said again, unsure how often she had repeated the two words in the last two hours. Her face screwed up and another wave of tears leaked from her eyes.

She hated being so weepy!

“It's not entirely your fault,” tou-san told her kindly after a brief pause. “You've always been so far ahead of the curve, Kyo. But you can't expect to hold Genma to the same standards; that would be unfair. He's his own person.”

“I know,” Kyo sobbed quietly.

“Let's wait with the poison lessons for another couple of years, okay? And please tell me in advance before you try again, please.”

“I will, I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking,” Kyo admitted miserably.

“It's okay. No harm done, kitten.” Kou sighed and pulled her into his lap for a hug.

“What if he won't trust me any more?” Kyo asked, unable to help herself, a fresh wave of tears accompanying the words. “I hurt him, tou-san.”

“Children are resilient,” Kou said, resting his chin on the crown of her head. “Genma will forgive you, if not right away then given time. Everyone makes mistakes.”

They sat like that for a long while, nothing but silence filling the walls of the apartment.

Then Kou sighed and squeezed her gently. “Go finish your little project while I make us a snack, okay?”

“Okay,” Kyo returned, feeling subdued and completely despicable.

How could she have thought this would be a good idea? Poison hurt people, and that was clearly the only thing Kyo was any good for, too.

.

Katsurou-sensei woke up the next day, nine thirty in the morning, two hours after she'd arrived for the day, when she had crawled onto the bed to lie next to him, listening to the steady beat of his heart and trying to hide her face in his chest.

Genma hadn't let her hold him today, and had looked so confused and hurt and-

Kyo took a deep breath and closed her eyes, entirely missing the way Katsurou's eyes had opened a crack.

She did notice when he took a deep breath and shifted the arm behind her back so that it curled ever so slightly around her.

Kyo raised her head to stare at sensei's face with wide, hopeful eyes. The slice of sea-foam green meeting her gaze was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

“You're in Konoha, sensei. In the hospital,” she told him softly, hearing how Kisaki shifted on the other bed, which no one had bothered to remove yet. “We ran into an ambush on the way back on our latest mission and you got hurt.”

“Taku? Maki?” Katsurou's voice was faint, hoarse and barely coherent, but Kyo still understood what he was asking.

“They died,” Kyo whispered, curling closer to sensei's side.

Katsurou's hand, which had been resting on her side, curled and tensed, fisting the material of her shirt.

“Kisaki?” The man asked after a minute, still not having let go of her shirt.

“Here,” the ninken said, and she sounded wrecked.

Katsurou's eyes slowly migrated to the right, no doubt trying to catch sight of the dog, before he closed his eyes with another sigh.

“You've been unconscious for over two weeks,” Kyo told him quietly, and then reached over to press the button to call a nurse.

She could've asked Kisaki to go fetch someone, she supposed, but she didn't want to. The ninken deserved to be here just as much as Kyo did. If not more.

Two minutes later, a nurse opened the door to check on them. She ran off to get the medic when she realised Katsurou had finally woken.

A medic and what felt like half an army of nurses barged into the room a minute later, and Kyo and Kisaki were soon enough exiled to a waiting room when they rolled Katsurou's bed off for what would no doubt prove to be a plethora of tests and examinations, and-

Kyo settled in for a long wait, arms thrown around Kisaki's neck, the remaining two members of Team Katsurou drawing strength from each other.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo got her cast removed, which revealed the sorry mess that was her arm. Pale, covered in dead skin and pathetically thin.

How could just a little over two weeks do so much damage to her hard-earned muscles?

Spending most of her time either cuddled up to tou-san, Katsurou or Kisaki -Genma was beginning to treat her like normal again- Kyo took turns between home, the hospital and the training grounds as she tried to get back into shape.

Thankfully, she could regain the strength and dexterity in her hand practically anywhere, and she'd taken to practising her hand-seals everywhere and any time she wasn't busy with anything else.

At least it kept her occupied.

Focused on something.

That, and helping Katsurou-sensei with his own physical therapy, which was pretty interesting. In a depressing, gritty sort of way.

Katsurou set about it all like he'd done it a hundred times before, grimly determined to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible, though according to the medic, that wasn't happening any time soon.

“You shouldn't blame yourself,” Katsurou said tiredly when they were finally alone, the last nurse having left them about five minutes ago after tucking the Yamanaka back into bed after the latest session.

“Easily said,” Kyo muttered back, frowning down at her hands as she flexed her fingers.

“Well,” Katsurou sighed, relaxing further into his pillow with irritable fatigue, “I for one am grateful.”

“For what?” Kyo all but spat, frown growing into a scowl.

Her sensei eyed her knowingly for a long moment and then hummed. “Then let's see what would have happened if I had been assigned an Academy graduate that wasn't you,” he began in a way that made it sound like he was just talking out loud to himself. “First of all, it would have taken so much longer to get the three of you into a cohesive, functional team, and that's even assuming I would have passed the lot to begin with,” he paused, glancing at her before he returned his gaze to the ceiling. “Taku and Maki would have clashed more often, more viciously, and our potential third member might even have joined in. Then, assuming we all made it to the main point of our discussion, the poison attack from the Suna shinobi would have killed all three, potentially Kisaki as well, because without you, there's no guarantee she would have learned stealth at all. And then, if the Suna team hadn't managed to kill me, I would have died of my injuries anyway. The main objective of our mission wouldn't have been met, Konoha wouldn't have gotten their hands on five Suna shinobi, admittedly dead, but with all their equipment and personal affects intact.” He took a deep breath. “Did I forget something?”

Kyo didn't say anything, staring miserably at her limp, useless hands.

She rationally knew everything Katsurou was saying made sense, that he was right, but it still made her feel like the worst human in existence.

“So I am grateful, Kyo,” Katsurou-sensei concluded softly. “That you're alive, that you're my student. I'm very happy you've been conditioned to withstand poisons since you were two, and I am thankful the three of us are still alive,” he took a deep breath, and Kyo could tell he was exhausted and should probably be sleeping. “It doesn't make you a bad person to be glad to be alive; it makes you human. It's instinct. And whoever said you can't feel more than one thing at a time should be granted a slow, painful death.”

Kyo gave a small, wet laugh. “You have an awful sense of humour,” she told him.

“At least I have one,” Katsurou murmured back, evidently falling asleep despite his best efforts to stay awake. “Now get over here so I can feel you breathe,” he ordered in a barely audible voice.

Which was an order Kyo was happy to follow.

Sensei did no more than huff a little when Kisaki joined them, draping her large, heavy body over the both of them until she was lying on their legs with her head cushioned on Katsurou's stomach, on the side that wasn't tender with a fresh scar, his fingers burying themselves firmly in the fur on the scruff of her neck.

He wrapped his other arm around Kyo's back and promptly dropped off.

Was that what had happened in the original story, Kyo wondered. Had Katsurou still gotten assigned the team, only they'd all been killed off in that ambush? Or had they died earlier?

Kyo tried to remember any situation where her team might have died had she not been there, but she couldn't recall anything specific, drawing a complete blank.

And was that even something to comfort herself with? They would have died anyway, didn't make her feel better. If anything, it made her feel worse.

Because if Kyo being here didn't make the slightest bit of a difference, then what was the point? Why had she woken up here?

Was it just one of those things? Something no one knew the answer to and just... were as they were?

Katsurou's arm tightened around her, bringing her out of her spiralling thoughts.

Without Kyo, kaa-san's pregnancy might have turned out much worse, and she could've potentially not survived the labour that brought her beautiful baby brother into the world.

Tou-san would've been on his own with Genma and her teammates would never have known her. Sensei and Kisaki wouldn't be alive right now.

Despite everything, she was... grateful to be here.

With that realisation, Kyo closed her eyes and slept.

.

“I could've used a wind jutsu to clear the poison from the air,” Kyo pointed out bitterly.

“The poison was already in their systems by that point, Kyo. It wouldn't have made any difference,” Katsurou returned gently, patting her shoulder comfortingly and being patient with her despite his own situation.

“But it didn't even cross my mind,” she insisted stubbornly.

“So train harder,” sensei sighed tiredly.

It was another day, after another physical therapy session and he was exhausted after just ten minutes' worth of work. Mostly in an effort to make sure his muscles didn't atrophy further. The small amount of poison he'd breathed in had done a number on him, and the medics had told them Katsurou wouldn't be returning to active duty for months, maybe a year, if at all.

It was all up to sensei, at this point.

“You've always relied more on your needles and stealth than anything else,” Katsurou added, explaining what he'd meant. “Train yourself to use your jutsu without conscious thought. Practice until it feels like you'll drop from chakra exhaustion,” he yawned and then blinked his eyes open. “Though I'll be disappointed in you if you're careless and end up in here due to actually taking things too far.” He gave her a stern look.

“It would give me something to do,” Kyo mused quietly, smushing her cheek against Katsurou's shoulder.

The man hummed faintly.

Kyo remained awake while Katsurou slept.

None of the hospital staff had tried to stop the routine that had established itself; Kyo coming by everyday to spend time with Katsurou, lying in the hospital bed beside him for a few hours every visit. A medic had even taken her aside and told her that it was doing Katsurou good, that the Jounin was much calmer and far more cooperative than anyone had expected, considering the circumstances.

Hugs made everything feel better, and Kyo was rather pleased with herself for corrupting Katsurou-sensei to her side on the matter.

That didn't stop her from thinking -constantly worrying- about the future.

What would happen to her now? Sure, she'd been promoted to Chuunin, but she didn't have a team.

No one had informed her of anything regarding work, and Kyo hadn't asked. Wasn't sure who to ask.

Sensei would have work once he was well enough for it; she wouldn't be surprised to learn Katsurou could help out practically anywhere in the village, whether that'd be T&I, the Academy or working in the Hokage tower as one of the Sandaime's aides.

Kyo didn't have the same options.

About one and a half months after the disaster, Kyo got an answer. A month after Katsurou-sensei woke from his medical coma, Kyo was spending the afternoon at home with tou-san and Genma when it knocked on the door.

“I'll get it,” Kyo said, which left tou-san free to finish Genma's bath.

She padded to the door, pressed down the handle and opened it to reveal-

Kyo blinked at the silent ANBU standing on the other side of the threshold, white mask painted into something with teeth bared in a vicious snarl.

“Shiranui Kyo?” The ANBU asked, voice monotone but business-like.

“Yes,” she answered blankly. She couldn't think of a single reason for this.

Instead of saying anything further, the ANBU freed one of their hands from the cloak they were wearing, holding out a simple, deceptively plain scroll towards her.

Kyo automatically reached out to accept it.

The ANBU gave a short nod and disappeared in a shunshin.

Absently closing the door, Kyo eyed the innocuous scroll with mixed feelings. Part of her was curious. The rest of her felt rather paranoid.

“Who was it?” Tou-san asked from inside the bathroom.

Kyo walked up to the door, because she wasn't sure how to describe the confusing experience.

“Uh, an ANBU,” she said slowly, looking up from the scroll to peer at Kou. “He- I mean, it was most likely a him, gave me a scroll.”

“What sort of scr-” Kou began to ask, a frown on his face before he finally looked up from a happily splashing Genma.

The words died on his tongue when he laid eyes on the scroll, and Kyo had never seen that expression on his face before.

“Did the ANBU say who it was for?” He asked slowly after a beat of heavy silence, the atmosphere in the small room tense enough Genma had quieted and looked up from his playing.

“He just asked for me, gave me the scroll and then left.” Kyo shrugged warily, wondering what in the world was going on.

Kou took a deep breath, gave her a tight smile that wasn't at all reassuring and quickly finished up Genma's bath.

“What do you say about spending some time with uncle Ryota for a while, Genma-chan?” Kou asked the toddler in a light-hearted, almost cheerful voice that didn't fool Kyo for a moment.

Genma swallowed it hook, line and sinker, though, and gave a happy, excited cheer of, “Rota-oji!”

“We'll come and get you as soon as we're done with shinobi business, okay?” Tou-san promised, already in the process of getting Genma dressed.

“Promise?” Genma asked.

“Promise,” Kou returned evenly, ruffling the toddler's damp hair. “Okay, let's go,” he said the moment he was done, picking Genma up and mentioning for Kyo to follow.

Not having a clue what was going on, Kyo did the only logical thing and followed her father out the door and to the Uchiha Clan compound.

At tou-san's pointed look, she stuffed the scroll into one of her pockets before they stepped outside the apartment.

“What's going on?” Ryota asked, having gotten an excited Genma thrust into his arms the moment he'd opened the door. “Kou?”

“Some business popped up; it probably won't take more than a couple of hours at most,” Kou said with a pleasant smile that was seriously starting to worry Kyo.

Judging by the look on Ryota's face, he felt the same.

“Who did something and why aren't you taking me with you?” He asked, absently shifting his hold on Genma, who was tugging insistently on a lock of Ryota's black hair, asking to be put down and couldn't 'Rota-oji' show him something cool, please?

“Sorry, not that kind of situation,” Kou returned without pause, gazing steadily at his teammate.

Ryota flicked a glance at Kyo, who shrugged, before reluctantly stepping down. “Alright. I'd like an explanation, though.”

“When we're done,” Kou agreed pleasantly, and picked Kyo up off her feet without warning.

Perfectly capable of keeping up with her dad on her own, Kyo bit her tongue to refrain from saying anything. Partly because she was rather unsettled by her dad's reaction, and partly because she loved the closeness, whatever the circumstances.

With one last nod at Ryota, Kou took to the roofs and left the Uchiha compound quickly.

It didn't take Kyo more than a handful of seconds to realise where they were headed. She didn't say anything, though, not even when they landed on the ground and Kou strode into the Hokage tower with clear purpose.

It felt strange to be carried through the familiar corridors, but she wasn't embarrassed. She loved her dad and she wasn't afraid to show it. Never mind how uptight some civilians were about public displays of affection, whether those were of a familial or romantic nature.

Fuck those people.

Kyo felt her stomach drop when Kou came to a stop outside the Hokage's office.

“Tou-san,” she whispered, tightening her hold on him, but Kou addressed the secretary sitting outside the closed doors, not showing any signs of having heard her.

“I need to talk to the Hokage,” Kou said firmly, giving the woman an uncompromising look. It was painfully obvious he wouldn't take no for an answer, and that he'd wait however long he had to if it came to that.

“I'll alert him to your request,” the woman returned evenly, giving him a cool look.

Kou didn't take a seat, instead remained standing where he was, watching her rise and walk over to the office doors, knock, and then slip inside.

The following minutes were tense, to say the least.

“Tou-san, what are we doing?” Kyo couldn't help but ask into the silence.

Kou just patted her on the knee and didn't say a word.

It made her more worried, frankly.

It felt like it took hours before the door opened again and the woman said, “He will see you now.”

Kou gave her a short nod and strode passed. “Hokage-sama,” he greeted the Sandaime, tilting his head in a quick, shallow bow.

“Kou, I understand that you have some urgent business with me,” Sarutobi Hiruzen said mildly, looking relaxed and faintly curious where he was reclining in his chair.

Something about this whole thing made Kyo think he already knew what this was about.

“Damn well I do,” Kou growled, carefully setting Kyo down on her feet beside him and fishing the scroll out of her pocket in the same motion, tossing it onto the Hokage's desk. “What the hell is that?” He asked sharply.

Kyo stared up at her tou-san with wide eyes.

The Hokage didn't so much as glance at the scroll. “You didn't even give her the chance to read it, Kou?” He inquired lightly, still managing to sound disapproving.

“I don't even know why you'd give it to her in the first place! She's eight!” The man hissed furiously.

“Your daughter is a very talented young kunoichi,” the Hokage said firmly, looking like he was done acting like he didn't know what this was really about. “And her talents are very well suited for ANBU.”

She's eight!” Kou repeated harshly, taking a step closer to the Hokage's desk, but still very much in control of himself. Thankfully.

Kyo felt like the two men had forgotten she was there, and it took a moment before what the Hokage had just said registered in her head.

Her eyes widened.

She didn't have time to dwell on it further right now, though, because the conversation between the two men continued.

“Be mindful of what you say, Kou,” the Hokage cautioned calmly, eyeing the man with his dark, sharp eyes. It could have been made into a threat, but it sounded more like a mild reminder, even without the brief look he slanted in Kyo's direction.

Kou grit his teeth. “She lost her team not even two months ago! Do you want her to get killed?” He asked harshly. “I thought Konoha was supposed to care for her shinobi! That's what sets us apart from the other villages,” he spat.

“ANBU isn't the horrible place you make it out to be,” the Hokage said firmly, thankfully not looking like he was about to take exception to her tou-san's rising temper. “It's a close-knit community within the village, within the shinobi forces, that gives a kind of support to its members that some people find is exactly what they need.”

“She's not broken,” Kou refuted vehemently, looking furious at the perceived insult.

She wasn't sure that was what the Hokage had implied, though.

“No,” Hiruzen agreed, sending Kyo another brief glance. “But she's suffered a great loss. Where would you want her to go from here, Kou? Should I place her on another team? Under a different sensei? To take the place of another fallen shinobi?”

Kyo felt the blood drain out of her face at the mere thought, her stomach turning to lead in her gut.

No. No, that's- she was good. No thank you.

“ANBU is dangerous; it kills people. Worse than that, it can twist them into something else,” Kou wasn't at all calming down, still just as incensed as when they'd arrived and he was starting to frighten Kyo.

Not that she was scared of him, but rather for him.

The Hokage was an undisputed dictator, and she was very much aware of it. If her dad overstepped an invisible line, she didn't want to know what would happen.

“She's too young!” Kou insisted sharply.

“She's eight years old and has already earned herself a field-promotion to Chuunin,” the Hokage snapped, patience wearing thin. “She's a prodigy in her field and I can already say without a shadow of a doubt she'll surpass her mother. Isshun was one of my best assassins, but she wasn't as capable in other fields.”

“No,” Kou snarled. “This has nothing to do with Isshun!”

“I feel it has very much to do with your late wife,” Hiruzen argued evenly.

“My daughter is eight, and I won't let you send her out to start on her assassin career before she's even reached an age with double digits!” Kou slammed a fist onto the Hokage's desk, rattling the heavy wooden piece of furniture, but thankfully not breaking anything.

Heart in her throat, Kyo stepped up to her father and pierced the skin on his left forearm with one of her needles, sinking it about a centimetre into his arm before withdrawing it again.

Kou twitched and glanced down at her, looked at his arm and then frowned.

“Kyo, what did you-” he began to ask, but had to support his weight against the desk he'd just struck when his balance got affected.

“It's just a sedative,” she told him quickly, voice small and unsteady. “You'll sleep for about an hour. Sorry, tou-san,” she bit her lip, staring at her dad with wide, guilty eyes as he struggled against the drug in his system.

It was a fight he was losing quickly, though, because Kyo had stabbed him very close to a larger blood-vessel, ensuring it'd be quick.

Kou slowly sank down in a crouch, head between his knees and putting one hand to his temple. With a quiet groan, he let himself sit down on the floor, leaning his back against the Hokage's desk, and another few seconds later, he was out.

Kyo stared numbly at her dad, unable to move.

“I believe I can understand the reasoning behind your action, but let me assure you that it was entirely unnecessary, Kyo,” the Hokage told her kindly into the following silence.

“He's gonna be so angry with me,” Kyo whispered under her breath, mostly to herself.

“Your family has been through quite a bit in the last few months. I'm not about to hold it against him,” Hiruzen assured her. “While a bit extreme, Kou's reaction isn't the worst I've ever endured.” He smiled thinly.

Kyo blinked a few times, taking that information in. “So you weren't going to punish him for insubordination?”

“For yelling at me out of concern for his eight year old daughter? No.” Hiruzen sighed. “I've always been of the opinion that it's important people should feel secure enough to speak up when they encounter something they believe is wrong. That doesn't always mean their words will be heeded, but I try to at least listen,” he said, picking up the scroll that had started this whole thing and held it out towards her. “Read it,” he advised her calmly.

Kyo took the scroll, sent the Hokage a questioning look, and then opened it and began to read.

It wasn't so much an offer, as orders to turn up in a specific location six o'clock in the morning two days from now, in full gear and prepared to be away from home for at least a week.

When she was done reading, she looked up at the Hokage, who was watching her curiously.

“It's not a promise, so much as the offer of a chance,” he said idly.

Kyo sighed quietly. “It's like graduating all over again,” she returned with a thin, bitter smile.

The Sandaime chuckled. “In a way, I suppose you're right.”

Kyo considered the situation, wishing she could just talk to sensei about it, ask for his advice.

“So I show up, go through some unknown test and potentially win a spot as an ANBU?” She asked, rolling up the scroll and putting it back in her pocket. It said to bring it with her to the designated spot in two days. “No offence, Hokage-sama, but I am only eight. Do I really have anything resembling a chance against shinobi that are bigger, stronger and with more experience than me?” She asked tiredly.

“And that is the reason you received that scroll,” Hiruzen smiled in a quietly pleased manner. “I have shinobi trice your age with not even half your self-awareness.”

“It's just stupid to pretend I'm more than I am,” Kyo muttered awkwardly, not sure how to respond. She was silent for a few seconds. “Can I talk about this with sensei?” She asked.

“I don't see any problems with that,” the Hokage replied after a brief, considering pause, giving her an intent look. “You're very fond of him.”

“Yes.” Kyo nodded. “He's my sensei, but,” she hesitated. The Hokage was supposed to know, but she wasn't sure if there were any ANBU in here. There probably was. “He's also my friend,” she finished quietly.

And the Hokage looked like he understood what she was talking about, because he smiled minutely, inclining his head.

“You are a remarkable young girl, Kyo. I'm looking forward to see where the next few years will take you.”

And it sounded like a clear dismissal, prompting Kyo to dip her head in a respectful bow, before she paused.

“Uh, Hokage-sama? What about tou-san?” She asked sheepishly, feeling her cheeks heat up at the amused look he sent her.

.

“Are you angry with me?” Kyo asked quietly a few hours later, sitting curled up on the couch at home.

One of the ANBU in the room, protecting the Hokage, had cleared the sedative from her dad's system in a matter of minutes at the Hokage's directions, before they'd left the office.

Kou sighed heavily. “No. I'm not angry. A bit chagrined, perhaps, but not angry. Not with you,” he said, coming over to sit beside her. “I'm angry at this war, the situation, the world around us that makes this an acceptable venture.” He pulled a hand through his hair, giving her an apologetic look. “I'm sorry if I scared you.”

“I'm not afraid of you,” Kyo replied instantly, because she knew what that felt like. “...but I was scared for you,” she admitted. “The Hokage has a lot of power.” She shrugged uncomfortably.

“He does,” Kou agreed kindly. “And I'm sorry I didn't take into account that you haven't yet gotten the chance to learn what kind of man he is.”

“I'm sorry for drugging you,” she said, leaning against his side, insides warming and relaxing when Kou automatically shifted his arm to pull her closer.

They sat in silence for a moment, just enjoying the calm. Genma was sleeping already, having been worn out by playing with Ryota.

Of course, if the prickly Uchiha had heard anyone refer to it as such, he would have insisted it was training, preparation for the Academy. And nothing else.

“He was right, you know,” Kou said abruptly, making Kyo blink and look at him questioningly. “When the Hokage said you're already showing signs of being better than Isshun was. He was right.”

Kyo stared at her dad, uncertain how to respond.

“It doesn't feel like it,” she settled on saying.

Tou-san hummed. “Age gives perspective.” He shrugged. “She started training later than you, and while she was very, very good with poisons, the rest of it wasn't something she was as skilled at.” He paused, staring at the far wall. “It's what killed her in the end. The constant stress and strain wore her down and she wasn't really trained for a battle-field.”

Kyo pressed closer to her dad's side, soaking up his warmth.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

The morning of the test, ANBU-try-outs, whatever you wanted to call it, Kyo got up especially early and dressed with meticulous care. All without waking her sleeping brother.

After eating a large breakfast, tou-san keeping her company, Kyo wandered to the hallway to put on her sandals.

Done and ready to leave, she stood still for a moment, nerves trying to eat her alive from the inside out.

“Knowing you, you'll do better than anyone other than the Hokage and Katsurou was expecting,” Kou said softly, voice still perfectly audible in the sleepy silence of early morning. “Go take them by storm, kitten.”

“Thank you. Love you, tou-san,” Kyo returned, throwing her arms around Kou's middle for a fierce hug. “See you in a week,” she added and then left with plenty of time to spare.

The village was quiet and almost deserted this time of day, caught somewhere in the awkward transition between night and day.

Kyo made good time as she ran across the village, jumping from building to building with an ease she would have found amazing in her past life, but now was nothing more than normal. Ordinary.

Reaching her destination, she landed in front of what looked like a simple storage unit. A large, plain building that looked like it could house an impressive amount of food, weapons or whatever the Hokage chose to use it for.

She knocked on the door.

A minute later, it was opened by a wrinkled, grey-haired, whipcord-thin man who gave her a scrutinizing once-over before ushering her inside. He was missing two fingers on his left hand.

“Gear on this table, clothes on this one,” he ordered quickly and succinctly, skipping greetings and small talk entirely.

Kyo couldn't really say she minded.

Instead of dwelling on her own nervousness, she began to unstrap her various weapons pouches, her poison pack and all the gear she had tucked away on her person. It made a rather impressive pile, to be honest. Far more than looked like it could fit comfortably on her small person.

Without much care of the old man -she assumed he was a professional- Kyo continued by stripping out of her clothes until she was standing around in nothing more than her underwear, having removed even her mesh-shirt.

“The small ones are always tricky,” the old man muttered to himself when he came back from his venture into the long aisles between the shelves taking up the enormous room, carrying a stack of black cloth in his hands. “Here, try these one,” he said gruffly, tossing the stack onto yet another table, this one previously empty.

Without a word, Kyo did as asked.

It was a perfect fit. Which she found mildly impressive, considering the old man had only given her a brief glance before wandering off to find clothes in her size.

When he returned the second time, she had finished dressing herself, fastening the legs of her trousers to her shins with one roll of bandages for each.

Having her shoulders bare felt weird, to be frank, but at least she'd been provided with gloves that ended above her elbows, which she secured in place with yet more bandages.

“Here,” the man said gruffly, thrusting a grey thing into her arms. “Let's see if it works.”

Kyo examined the heavy, matt grey thing she'd been handed, realising quickly what it was. Armour. ANBU armour to be exact.

Trying it on proved that it was slightly too large, and the old man snatched it back the moment she'd pulled it off.

“Put this on while I try and find a smaller one.” He scowled, and Kyo could sort of understand.

There couldn't have been many potential ANBU as small as she currently was. Finding something that fit her appropriately would be challenging.

While she waited, she fitted the grey arm-guards on her forearms, unused to the sensation and the extra weight, but she figured she'd adjust quickly.

That done, Kyo pulled on the black, knee-high sandal-boots she'd been provided with and then moved on to the meticulous task of transferring all her weapons into the new, black holsters that had been brought to her at the same time as the arm-guards.

At least her poison pack was already a nice, subtle dark grey, and would fit in very well with the rest of her new, potentially temporary, gear.

“This one's no doubt slightly big, but it's the closest I've got,” the old man muttered when he finally came trudging back. “If you end up measuring up to the challenge, I'll get you something custom made.”

He didn't look like he thought that'd be very likely, though, and Kyo couldn't help but silently agree with him.

“Here,” he said once she was done, throwing something at her face.

Kyo caught it reflexively, blinking a bit at the plain white mask in her hand.

“Put it on before you leave,” the old man said, placing a simple, standard issue tanto on the table and then wandered off, probably not intending to return this time.

Kyo stared after him a second. He could at least have told her how to put this thing on, she mused irritably.

With a small sigh, she turned her attention to the mask, taking in the smooth, blank porcelain. Featureless. She imagined it would've been cold against her fingers, but the gloves now on her hands ensured she didn't know.

Turning it around, Kyo peered at the backside, which had been stuffed with a bundle of black cloth.

Pulling on it, Kyo was curious to note it was quite firmly stuck to the mask.

It took her barely a second to figure out what it was for.

In this world, hair could be very distinctive, and Kyo had always thought it was pretty stupid to keep it uncovered when your identity was supposed to be a secret and all.

Then again, from an author's perspective, it was hard to convey a story when the reader couldn't make out who was who, so... And she'd already established that the manga she'd read, once upon a life, hadn't been accurate.

Glancing over the inside of the mask, now that it wasn't hidden by the cloth, revealed countless sprawling black marks inked into porcelain.

Deciding to just go for what felt the most logical route, Kyo slipped the cloth hood over her hair before pressing the mask to her face.

It was smooth and pleasantly cold against her skin.

Focusing, Kyo directed a thin layer of chakra to her face. Which was something she hadn't really ever tried before, but she managed.

The mask warmed slightly and stuck to her face. As if someone had applied glue when she wasn't looking.

Great.

Now she just had to do something about the cloth over her hair, because it was far too loose to be practical.

Kyo ended up tying a small knot on either side of her head, one behind each ear, and tucking them in under the hem to make them less obvious.

That done, she picked up the tanto, weighed it in her hand and then strapped that on as well.

As ready as she would ever be, Kyo walked out the door she had entered from, not really surprised to see someone waiting for her.

The ANBU took a second to inspect her before he nodded, mentioned for her to follow him with a subtle twitch of one hand and then turned on his heel and leapt away.

Kyo followed.

.

You'd think it'd be hard to breathe and see with your face covered by a solid porcelain mask, nothing more than two small eye-holes cut into the thing, but Kyo wasn't having any trouble at all.

Which made quite a lot of sense, even if she didn't have a clue about how that actually worked.

She suspected seals. Fuuinjutsu.

Aita always went on and on about the beauty of the art whenever they got a chance to meet up, rare that it was.

The ANBU led her to a part of the village she'd never been before. Up the face of the Hokage mountain and into the forests behind it, until they reached a series of training grounds she hadn't known existed.

They weren't the first ones to arrive.

“Line up,” the ANBU told her quietly, voice blank and giving away nothing.

Kyo did as directed without a word, feeling far too nervous for something she knew she probably wouldn't pass anyway.

She joined the line of other blank-faced ANBU prospects, feeling awkwardly out of place. Like she'd taken a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place by mistake.

Kyo was half the size of everyone else, barely reaching up to the elbow of the very tall man standing at attention next to her.

It didn't help that her skin itched with the weight of the attention on her, either.

No one said a word while they waited, presumably for the rest of the potential new recruits to arrive.

Fully fledged ANBU were all around them, some coming and going, and some felt like they swung by just to take a look at the line of prospects.

It was all very awkward and nerve-wracking.

Two more arrived after Kyo and then, finally, something shifted when one man in a mask depicting what looked like a bear stepped forward.

“During this week, none of you will remove the mask on your faces. If you do, you're automatically disqualified for a spot on the ANBU forces,” he said in a quiet but firm monotone.

Which, Kyo mused, was an excellent way to intentionally drop out if you absolutely didn't want to become one.

“You will be given a number that will be the closest thing to a name you'll have until we say otherwise,” Bear continued evenly, and then waved a hand at one of his colleagues, who stepped forward.

“Scroll?” The lizard masked ANBU said softly, beginning at the other end of the line from where Kyo stood.

She waited patiently for him to reach her spot.

“Scroll,” he asked, and Kyo readily placed it in his waiting hand, taking note of the way he'd cut the fingers off of the cloves he was wearing.

Kyo resolved to do the same at the first opportunity, because handling her needles like this wasn't something she was overly interested in trying; she'd drop them.

Lizard, or whatever his designated name was, proceeded to paint what she assumed was the number thirteen on the forehead of her mask.

Kyo felt it was a rather solid assumption, because the tall man -teenager?- to her right was number twelve and slightly-shorter man on her left had just gotten fourteen.

Having to bite back an inappropriate giggle, Kyo focused back on Bear.

Lucky number thirteen. Hah!

Should she take this as a sign she was doomed to fail already? But then again, in these parts, four was more of an unlucky number than thirteen, so maybe not.

“The testing phase starts effective immediately,” Bear told them abruptly. “It's your job to evade capture,” he said, and several muted pops went off all around where the recruits were standing.

Kyo instantly knew the sound.

Exploding tags released whatever they'd been filled with, which, in this case, seemed to be some sort of invisible substance, either a gas, or a fine powder.

Kyo took a deep breath through her mouth, stubbornly shoving down the memories this had slammed to the forefront of her head.

She knew this taste, and her theory of it being essentially harmless was confirmed; potentially killing them would be a reckless waste of resources Konoha sorely needed.

A common sedative, fast acting and potent, with very little side-effects and short-lasting.

Kyo was immune.

Instead of scrambling to get away like the rest of her fellow Numbers, Kyo remained in her spot, absently taking note of the mixed reactions. Some had left using a shunshin, others had gone for the more basic technique of leaping out of the firing-line.

Kyo was the only one who hadn't moved at all. Other than for the fact that she'd begun to speed through a sequence of hand-seals she'd been working on the moment she realised just what had been released into the air around them.

Taking another deep breath, Kyo activated her jutsu, feeling it come into effect around her together with her exhalation.

Her range wasn't very good yet, but Kyo hoped to improve that with practice, and Katsurou-sensei had said to practise her proficiency until she dropped.

Three metres around her in all directions, in a decently sized circle, the air was Kyo's.

Chakra was very interesting. It was a constant presence in her body, flowing through her limbs like blood, only it could be manipulated in a manner blood couldn't, extended even outside your body. And like blood, it was a part of her.

That was true even after she'd moulded it into a jutsu and expelled it from her body.

Using it was like using a muscle; perfectly possible but required practice. The more practice, the better the mastery.

Someone scoffed derisively, and Kyo was very well aware of what this must look like.

The kid no one really understood the reason for being there, freezing up in the face of the very first challenge.

One ANBU shunshined to right in front of her, staggered and then collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

Kyo didn't give him -or her, but most likely a him- more than a brief glance, before she returned to focusing on her jutsu.

It was weird, and tricky, and it made her feel bloated in a way she knew wasn't real. But then again, her brain was trying to control something that was much larger than just her body, so.

In her little bubble, the air was hers.

And Kyo had made sure the sedative was still swirling all around her, rather than either dissipating or falling to the ground, where it wouldn't do any good.

The unconscious ANBU at her feet drew quite a bit of attention, but most of the watchers had taken off in pursuit of the recruits trying to evade capture.

Bear was staring intently at her, probably trying to figure out what sort of technique she'd used.

Every wind jutsu Kyo had ever heard of used the force of wind either to cut or hammer their target. Kyo had wondered if the opposite had been possible, which had resulted in this.

This jutsu didn't use cutting winds or gale-force gusts in an attempt to toss your opponents around, no. It was to hold the air still.

There were obvious drawbacks, of course. Like the fact that Kyo had to remain mostly motionless while using it, and unless she set the air inside her reach into motion, she'd run out of oxygen eventually, but... she thought it could be very useful.

Such as right now.

Another ANBU operative began to approach, visibly cautious in the face of this perplexing, unknown jutsu.

Which was another point in its favour, in Kyo's opinion; you couldn't see it. Didn't notice it until it was too late.

It greatly appealed to the part inside Kyo which had been carefully moulded into a silent assassin since she was old enough to walk.

She could feel the ANBU brush against her bubble of controlled air as they slowly circled her, trying to find any indication of what was going on. When they were right behind her, they stepped over the invisible line and Kyo only had to wait for them to breathe.

If they wised up and held their breath, she'd be screwed, but hopefully, they wouldn't figure that out quite yet.

The ANBU collapsed, falling victim to the sedative, just like their friend.

Bear crossed his arms over his chest, cocking his head as he considered her.

Ten minutes after the second ANBU had stepped into her bubble, Kyo was starting to get a headache. Not from lack of oxygen -not quite yet- but from the strain of having to concentrate so intently without letting up. She'd never actually held this technique this long before, not when it was this large.

Number one, three, seven through eleven and fifteen had all been captured and collected at that point, and Kyo wondered absently if anyone would notice if she deactivated her jutsu.

It wasn't like you could see a difference, but then again, Uchiha could see chakra with those annoying eyes of theirs, so. Urgh, her head was pounding.

Taking a deep breath, Kyo had to release the jutsu or risk throwing up, and the air was getting a bit stuffy and stale around her anyway, so she relented to the inevitable and let go.

One ANBU appeared behind her and clamped a firm hand on her shoulder.

The sedative still lingering in the air made him sway slightly before he compensated for the unexpected reaction, but that was it.

The second ANBU, lying on the ground behind her, twitched minutely and shifted an arm as the sedative began to clear from their system.

By the time they had sat up, looking around in a rather dazed manner, though the mask made it hard to tell, the first one was stirring, too.

“...right,” Bear said, looking the lot of them over when the last few stragglers had been collected. “That was an interesting exercise. We're gonna have to run you lot through evasion drills,” he drawled. “Let's move on to the Hide and Seek survival training combo,” he continued, clapping his hands together and giving off a sense of foreboding glee.

And thus, Kyo got her first real look at the Forest of Death.

.

They were run through the metaphorical gauntlet, so to speak.

When they were gathered up the second day, having spent the night being hunted all over training ground 44, number fourteen was no longer amongst them, and when Two asked about it, Bear said quite blandly that they'd been disqualified and weren't coming back.

Kyo didn't really have time to wonder what they'd done to deserve that, since they were then promptly divided up into teams and assigned mock missions.

Kyo ended up with Three, Five and Nine. Their mission; to gather as much information as possible about the other teams' abilities and skills.

Hanging back while the others in her team discussed tactics, Kyo was content to just follow their lead. Partly because she was well aware no one would listen to her when they didn't even understand what she was doing there, and partly because she was content to remain in the background.

Unlike Three, who had been doing his best to attract the full-fledged ANBU's attention whenever she'd gotten a glimpse of him.

And she was pretty tired, too.

She'd been awake all night, having been constantly on the move to stay well ahead of the black ops shinobi looking for her, clamping down on her chakra all the while.

The Forest of Death had been fascinating, though, and Kyo hadn't been able to resist collecting a few poisonous plants while she'd been there. Mostly the really potent stuff you could usually only find outside the village walls.

If nothing else worked out, at least she had quite a few roots and flowers tucked away in her pack now.

“Then let's go,” Three said, his voice rather hollow, and Kyo was fairly sure the masks they were all wearing distorted their voices.

Not that Kyo had tried it out for herself; she'd had no reason to speak so far. Which was strangely nice.

She fell into the lose formation Three had all but decided for them. And who had assigned him as their team leader, Kyo wondered.

She also wondered if he realised the scrutiny he'd be under would increase exponentially with the voluntary assume of command, their failure or success weighing more heavily on him than the rest of them as a result.

Well. Better him than her.

Nine seemed to be a tracker of some kind, because he took them towards the closest team, which kicked off their spying gig.

Kyo wondered if she was supposed to take note of her own team's abilities as well, and with a mental shrug, turned her full attention to the task at hand, taking in as many details as she could while still keeping herself concealed.

The exercise lasted for a full day, and Kyo felt like she was ready to drop by the time they were recalled to 'base', which was the training ground they had all started in, on top of the Hokage Mountain.

They were told to line up, not necessarily in order, and were then handed a stack of papers each and told to fill out the forms. One for each number of the people remaining.

Oh, look at that; Six was gone.

Kyo sat down on the ground, fished a pen from one of her pockets and set to it, writing down as much information as she could recall, adding her own temporary teammates, as well.

After some consideration, she didn't write one for herself.

Katsurou-sensei had always said that it was stupid to make things easy for people, that even though it felt like a kind thing to do, in the long run, it wasn't necessarily the best option.

It was a philosophy Kyo had tried to take to heart. At least in her professional life.

Bear collected all the papers an hour later, handing them over to an ANBU with tusks on his mask. Kyo decided to call him Boar.

Boar and Bear. Heh.

And that was the sleep deprivation, she mused absently. Too little sleep had always given her a poor sense of humour.

Waiting for further instruction, Kyo grabbed her water canteen and drank two small mouthfuls, contemplating the merits of eating one of her rations bars. She hadn't eaten anything in a few hours now, and she was hungry.

Before Bear could say anything else, Kyo pulled one from her pockets, removed the wrapping and broke the bar in two, slipping half of it under the mask and cramming it into her mouth. Followed by the other half as soon as she'd chewed a few times and swallowed.

Urgh, that'd been uncomfortable, but at least there was something in her stomach now.

While they were taken to what Bear cheerfully described as an obstacle course, Kyo wondered what tou-san and Genma were doing.

She still had five days left.

.

Day four, Three was disqualified for doing something stupid and reckless that resulted in Four and Seven getting mildly injured

Kyo had been glad to see him go, frankly, because the guy had been insufferably arrogant and had been the one of the recruits who had been the most openly derisive of Kyo's presence. Not that she'd done anything to actively slow the rest of them down, never mind how much she was aching and how exhausted she got.

She was doing her best.

When day six arrived and Kyo still found herself with the mask on her face, standing together with those who remained of the recruits, she was rather surprised.

About still standing, about not having been disqualified, and certainly surprised that no one had just taken her aside to tell her to go home and try again in a few years. Better luck next time, and all that.

“It seems you have all survived the preliminaries,” Bear told them, looking just as calm and unruffled as when Kyo had first laid eyes on him almost a week ago.

Kyo herself felt like she was dead on her feet, like she was floating a foot off the ground, she was so tired.

She'd gotten maybe one night's worth of rest combined in the course of this week, and she was at her limit.

Children needed sleep damn it!

“Wait in line for the medic to look you over and then you'll be given a tour of the facilities,” Bear concluded, waving a female ANBU over, the only marked difference the hint of curves under her body armour.

Kyo had come to the conclusion a long time ago that the male to female ratio was severely skewed when it came to the shinobi profession.

While she waited, Kyo ate another rations bar, having almost emptied her entire supply in the course of the week. She was so tired of the bland taste and texture of the things, but at least it made sure she'd been able to keep up somewhat to the older people.

Not that it was an acceptable substitute for sleep, but at least she wasn't starving herself.

Kyo knew better than most people just how important it was for your body to get the nutrients it needed to function properly. Being chronically ill in her past life had taught her a bunch of important life-lessons.

The ANBU medic finally reached her and Kyo remained perfectly still when a warm hand settled on the side of her neck, humming with chakra.

“I'll tell Bear to let you rest properly before the next part begins,” she said once she'd finished her examination, patting her encouragingly on the shoulder before moving on to the next one in line.

Kyo blinked dazedly, too tired to react to much of anything right now.

It was actually a struggle not to fall asleep where she stood.

She still managed to keep up, somehow, when Bear brought them to what he called the Barracks.

The quick, brief tour passed in a blur that Kyo didn't really remember much -if any- of, honestly. She just knew that she had been assigned a room, that would be hers for the duration of her stay in ANBU -provided she didn't get kicked out in the next part of the selection process- and she didn't even think to remove the porcelain mask from her face before she collapsed onto the simple bed in her room.

She was asleep before she could so much as formulate a thought.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Waking up, Kyo felt like she'd been run over by a truck.

Her head hurt, her joints ached and her mouth was so dry it felt like it'd been filled with sand and then left like that for a few hours.

Blinking her eyes open, she stared unseeingly at an unfamiliar ceiling for the longest time, trying to make her exhausted mind dredge up the memories of what had happened.

Had she been injured? This didn't particularly look like the hospital.

“Hey, brat,” someone said, making her turn her head to the left.

A masked man was sitting reclined in a chair next to where she lay, feet propped up on the mattress of her bed and there was an IV needle stuck in her arm.

She blinked a few times.

“I appreciate the effort and all, but I'd appreciate it even more if you let me know you were about to collapse,” he said and Kyo finally managed to place him.

It was Bear. His mask almost looking like it was grinning at her in the muted lights of the small, personal room she had been assigned.

“I'll try to keep it in mind,” Kyo managed after a false start, almost wincing at how rough her voice was. And that was without taking the strange monotone it came out as into consideration.

She tiredly raised a hand to her face, cloth covered fingers coming into contact with something hard and smooth instead of skin.

Bear hummed. “That would be the mask you didn't take off,” he told her cheerfully.

Or as cheerful as anyone could sound while talking in a blank voice lacking much of anything resembling inflection.

Pushing herself into a seated position with a quiet groan, Kyo took stock of herself.

She wasn't hurting as much as she probably should, and thanks to the IV, she wasn't too dehydrated.

“How long have I been sleeping?” She wondered, annoyed when the words slurred ever so slightly.

“Almost two days,” Bear replied easily. “Had to bring in one of the medics, who looked you over and informed me it was merely exhaustion and to let you sleep it off.”

Kyo grunted, throwing the blanket off her legs to take a look at herself.

Someone had been kind enough to remove her armour and shoes, because Kyo was fairly sure she hadn't done that herself before falling onto the bed and all but losing consciousness. She was still wearing the same clothes, though.

“Did someone inform my family?” She asked after a beat of silence. If she'd been sleeping for two days, then tou-san would have been expecting her back yesterday.

“The Hokage was notified of the situation,” Bear said simply.

Which would be a yes, Kyo mused dazedly.

“What now?”

“I suggest a shower,” Bear drawled, looking wholly unconcerned and like he was perfectly happy to remain sitting in the chair.

Kyo blinked at the man a moment and then shuffled off the bed with a sigh.

She removed the IV from her arm and went through a few simple stretches, then walked over to the small bathroom adjacent to her room, taking in the fully stocked cupboard and the soap and shampoo available.

Without care for the man waiting on the other side of the door, Kyo stripped out of her clothes, and then removed the blank ANBU mask for the first time in over a week.

It felt weird.

She'd gotten so used to the thing she hadn't even remembered she was wearing it any more, which had no doubt contributed to the fact she'd slept with it on.

Kyo took a quick but thorough shower, scrubbing the accumulated dirt and grime off her skin and then wiped herself dry with one of the towels she'd taken out of the cupboard.

Blinking a bit at the discarded uniform on the floor, two thoughts were on the forefront of her mind.

One, God did the clothes stink. Second, did she even have anything clean to wear?

With a sigh, Kyo gave the bathroom a quick search for anything, and then wrapped the towel firmly around her waist. She put the mask back on, not caring one wit about her damp hair being covered by the black cloth, and then padded back out into the bedroom.

Luckily, there was a wardrobe. Kyo didn't think the chances of there being anything for her to actually wear inside it were very high, but she still checked.

Surprise, surprise, there was a stack of clothes in her size waiting for her, and Kyo marvelled at how well-prepared ANBU were.

It was bordering on creepy actually.

But then again, they'd had a week's worth of observations to go on, having no doubt been able to tell which ones would pass and move onto the next stage and had prepared accordingly.

Without further ado, Kyo pulled on the sleeveless shirt, a pair of simple black underwear -boxers, hah!- and then trousers.

She grabbed the gloves and sat down on the bed, slipped one of her kunai from the holster lying on the bedside table and carefully cut the fingers off of the gloves, one after another.

Pleased with her work, she pulled them on and wiggled her fingers with content satisfaction.

Much better.

She spent another few minutes to put on the high, boot-like ANBU issue sandals, secured the gloves to her arms with bandages and then strapped all her assorted weapons and gear on her person, as well as putting the armour back on.

Bear didn't get off his ass until she was done.

“Well, then,” he said lightly. “Let's go so I can show you the cafeteria and then we'll finally get started on the next phase.”

Kyo merely followed him out the door.

.

The cafeteria had looked remarkably normal. If you ignored the armed, masked people moving around, talking to each other and eating.

Kyo could feel the gazes lingering on her, which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

Why was everyone staring? Okay, she knew she was young, and sort of small for her age, but come on!

There were several other ANBU that started out young that she could think of off the top of her head! Like... oh.

None of those were actually alive right now. At least she didn't think so.

There were others like her, right? She sent Bear an uncertain glance, biting her lower lip nervously.

Eating quickly, she then followed Bear into another part of the surprisingly large building, feeling a bit like a duckling following its mother.

Judging by the occasional snort from the people they walked passed, that was pretty much what it looked like, too.

Bear finally paused in front of a pair of large double doors, glancing at her over his shoulder before he pushed one of them open and stepped inside.

Kyo blinked at the large room she found herself walking into, and the first thing that popped into her head was 'gym-hall'.

There weren't any windows, but it was well lit and the ceiling was high enough above it wouldn't get in the way of even the wildest sparring.

All Kyo could think of was that Taku and Maki would have loved it.

The group of prospects were gathered on the other side of the room, sitting in scattered formation on the floor and looking rather worse for wear.

It made Kyo feel even more self-conscious, because of course they had continued without her.

“Thirteen, let's see what you've got when it comes to taijutsu,” Bear said, all but throwing her to the wolves. “Nine, look alive.”

Kyo slowly walked out onto the floor, which showed plenty of signs of frequent use.

While number nine got to his feet with a quiet groan, Kyo dropped down to sit on the floor, quickly going through a bastardized version of her stretching routine.

She wasn't looking forward to this.

Nine looked like he was about ten years older than her, with a a slender build and much longer reach. He walked with the grace of someone proficient in taijutsu, too, which didn't exactly increase her chances.

Oh, she knew she was going to lose. The question was just how long it would take and how much of a fight she'd be able to put up.

“Rules?” She asked softly, making several of her fellow Numbers look at her.

Kyo realised it was actually the first time she'd spoken in their presence, which made her feel a bit... weird.

Bear tilted his head, exchanged a look with Lizard -who had been here when they arrived- and then rolled his shoulders in a shrug.

“No weapons, no maiming and don't kill each other,” he said negligently.

Kyo sighed. She was screwed.

No weapons meant she couldn't even use her needles. Shit.

This was gonna hurt, she just knew it.

Nonetheless, at Lizard's signal, she fell into her favoured starting stance, watching Nine with avid attention even as she clamped down on her chakra.

She didn't have to make it even easier for the guy, who she'd already established was a sensor of some sort, by advertising her exact location.

“Begin,” Lizard said firmly.

Kyo remained where she was, warily studying Nine's stance, prepared to throw herself out of reach at the slightest hint of movement.

Nine waited a beat, but when it was apparent Kyo wasn't about to recklessly attack a stronger opponent, came after her with a half-assed, tentative attack. That Kyo easily slipped away from.

Nine did the same a couple more times before he realised she wasn't going to just stand still and let him hit her, and slowly upped the speed and force of his attempts.

Wow, was Kyo grateful for all that evasion training with sensei now!? She thought a bit hysterically as she ran around, jumping, rolling and slipping around Nine's attacks when she could and redirecting them to somewhere less sensitive when she couldn't.

“Will you,” Nine growled, “be still.”

Kyo gave a breathless laugh and then had to scramble away again. Throwing herself into a roll, immediately popping back onto her feet and falling into a run.

It was obvious Nine wasn't used to fighting someone who was so much smaller than him, but it was mostly the fact that he was tired and increasingly frustrated that ensured Kyo was doing as well as she was.

“Okay, that's enough,” Lizard snapped irritably when Kyo had to pull herself into a handstand to avoid first a jab with one hand and then a follow-up kick, before flipping herself upright and widening the distance between her and Nine again. “Thirteen, this is supposed to be a taijutsu match.”

“...I'm not a taijutsu kind of shinobi,” Kyo panted, and part of her loved how flat her voice came out. It added a certain something.

“Taijutsu,” Lizard said firmly, making Kyo sigh.

Bracing herself for some rather humiliating pain, she turned back to Nine, who was no doubt glowering at her behind his mask.

Yep, this was gonna hurt.

Mentally bracing herself, Kyo fell into a different stance and, figuring that there was no need to drag this out, surprised Nine by attacking first.

It was a sound beat down, exactly as Kyo had predicted.

Muttering soundlessly under her breath, Kyo peeled herself off the floor-boards and dragged her sorry ass over to the side to let another pair have the floor.

She was largely unaware of the way her fingers twitched towards her holsters every now and then.

The arm-guards that were part of the uniform made it a bit tricky to access her needle cuffs, so she'd have to think of some alternative to that... probably.

Or just get used to working around it.

“How can you still be alive with that sort of taijutsu skills?” Eleven asked her with a snort, making sure to keep his voice down.

Kyo gave him a disinterested glance. “I'm pretty good at my specialisation,” she returned evenly.

She could tell Eleven was waiting for her to elaborate, but she wasn't feeling particularly generous.

Kyo was tired, in pain -Nine had given her so many new bruises, she just knew it- and it wasn't like the guy had asked nicely or anything.

Instead of responding to Eleven, Kyo began to stretch, going through the proper routine now, taking the time to go over every muscle with meticulous care.

By the time Lizard called her up to face One, she felt much better, though she was still tired.

Well, resting was for the dead and impaired, or however the saying went.

Kyo sighed and stood back to her feet for another round of painful defeat.

At the end of the day, Kyo felt like a badly bruised banana, but thankfully, Five was kind enough to show her were the infirmary of a sort was.

It looked more like an office, to Kyo, occupied by a single desk, two couches and several filing cabinets. It was also occupied by a single man with a bird mask.

He barely glanced at them when Five led Kyo inside, kindly letting her hold on to his arm for support.

She could hardly walk due to what she knew to be a truly massive bruise on her left thigh. The muscle threatened to spasm every time she tried to flex it. Which made for very awkward walking.

Hobbling, really.

“Take a seat,” Bird-mask said, pointing absently at the couches while he finished reading the file he was holding.

Kyo sat down with a grateful sigh, leaving Five hovering uncertainly beside her before he slipped behind the couch to wait. Which she appreciated; she'd most likely need help getting back to her room afterwards.

“Status?”

“It's just a bruise, but I figure it would be best if I was actually able to walk tomorrow,” Kyo said, pointing at the leg in question.

“And how did this happen?” Bird-mask asked, cocking his head.

Kyo peered at his mask. It looked a bit like an owl.

“Taijutsu sparring.” She grimaced, thankful for the mask hiding her expression.

The medic tutted disapprovingly, placing a hand on her pulsing thigh, the chakra almost immediately soothing the dull, bone-deep ache.

“Ain't gonna stay alive for long if you can't even keep up in a friendly spar, kid,” Owl told her bluntly.

Kyo scowled but didn't dispute his words; it was true enough.

She let go of her frustrated irritation with a sigh.

“Always focused more on evasion,” she said simply. Katsurou-sensei had thought that was more important, and Kyo couldn't help but agree.

“So use that to your advantage,” Owl grunted, sounding like a grumpy old man. “You don't always have to hit hard to be devastating.”

Kyo tilted her head. Now that was a thought...

She was quick, with nimble fingers, and she was very well familiar with the most vulnerable points of the human body. She could probably work with that, actually.

Kyo experimentally flexed her fingers, studying them with a considering air.

It would be a bit like stabbing a needle into the delicate spots, she supposed. Only instead of needles, she could potentially jab with her fingers.

Which wouldn't be fatal, not even close, at her current level, but... it would be a step in the right direction.

So long as she didn't break her own fingers on anyone's armour. Or bones.

“There,” Owl grunted. “Anywhere else?”

“There's a pretty bad one here, too,” Kyo said, pointing at the right side of her chest. She could live with it, but lifting her arm tomorrow would be a pain -quite literally- unless something was done.

Owl snorted, but dutifully placed a hand on the indicated spot.

Five helped her back to her room when they were done.

Kyo was just glad she'd decided to eat first, because now she could wash quickly and then sleep.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely when Five stopped in front of the door to her room.

The guy shrugged. “I have younger siblings. You remind me of them,” he said, and then added, “vaguely,” with clear amusement.

Kyo smiled. “Yeah, I still appreciate it. I'll try and return the favour.”

Five laughed, which sounded seriously weird with the voice-altering thing on the masks, and it was obvious he didn't think there was much she could do in the way of favours.

And he might be right, but Kyo still put him on the list of people not to poison at the first opportunity.

.

After another week of gruelling training and drills, Kyo made her way homewards.

Finally.

She'd even ended up getting a mask.

Kyo was officially an ANBU now. She could hardly wrap her head around it, lest understand it herself.

Tou-san wasn't going to be happy.

“I'm home,” Kyo called tiredly when she stepped through the door, praying tou-san was still home and that he hadn't been sent out on another mission.

“Welcome back,” Kou returned, coming out of the kitchen, Genma on his hip and Ryota trailing after him with his hands in his pockets.

Kyo smiled at them, trudging up to tou-san to give him a hug, followed by Ryota, who gave her head an affectionate pat.

“So? How'd it go?” Ryota asked, giving her an expectant look.

“I, ah, got in?” She offered tentatively, sending tou-san an uncertain look.

Kou sighed. “I'd like to say I'm surprised, but. Congratulations, Kyo. I'm proud of you,” he said, smiling sadly and leaning down to press a kiss to the top of her head.

“What mask did you get?” Ryota immediately asked. “I've been trying to convince Kou it's the cat one, but he won't agree with me,” he smirked over at Kou, who grimaced.

“It's, uh, not the cat one,” Kyo told him distractedly, laughing a little.

She actually didn't know what she thought about her mask, and the name going with it.

“Which one is it, then?” Ryota demanded impatiently, his dark eyes warm and proud.

Kyo gave him an awkward smile. “Scorpion.”

Kou snorted at the look on Ryota's face. “Sounds very intimidating,” he grinned, “I like it.”

Ryota all but spluttered. “Who thought it a good idea to give that one to you of all people? I mean, look at you!”

Kyo blinked at Ryota before she glanced at Kou. “Is he drunk?”

“Maybe,” Kou answered idly, looking far too innocent and entertained to be anything but.

“The kitten's far too cute to be a scorpion,” Ryota grumbled, picking her up and hugging her to his chest, as if trying to protect her from something.

“I do sting, though,” she couldn't help but point out. And she was small and easily underestimated or over-looked, too, so that was also sort of accurate, she supposed.

“She does,” Kou confirmed with wry amusement, winking at Kyo when she gave him a sheepish look.

Ryota sighed mournfully. “They grow up so fast,” and he shifted his hold on Kyo until she was dangling in the air in front of him, blinking at his face as he peered speculatively at her. “Already a Chuunin and an ANBU. Isshun would be proud.”

Kyo swallowed passed the lump in her throat. “Thank you, Ryota-oji.”

Ryota grunted. “Do we get to see this Scorpion mask of yours? Or is that classified?”

“I can tell people my own code-name so long as I don't take it to extremes,” she said. Which applied to her ANBU status, too.

She hesitated. Kyo wasn't sure what she felt about her own mask, to be honest. She couldn't even decide if she thought it was creepy or beautiful, which... was a weird combination of emotions to waffle between.

“I'll show you,” she decided. “But you're not allowed to make fun!” She added, because she'd gotten quite enough of that from the rest of the Numbers already, thank you very much.

Nine had been rather snippy with her ever since their first spar, where he hadn't been able to land a solid hit on her. Though she should probably get used to calling him Weasel from now on.

“I would never,” Ryota instantly lied, with a perfectly straight face.

Kou shook his head and shifted Genma around so the toddler could see as well. “Go ahead, kitten,” she said encouragingly.

Kyo sighed and withdrew the storage scroll she had been handed before she'd left ANBU headquarters.

She opened it, placed her fingers on the seal and focused on her mask as she pulsed her chakra.

A second later, she had her mask in her hand and held it up for the three males to see.

Ryota gave a low whistle. “That looks pretty damn badass,” he said evenly. “Put it on,” he added with a small grin.

Kyo rolled her eyes but held the mask up to her face.

She didn't bother pulling the hood over her head, so she couldn't comfortably stick it to her face with chakra, but this was more than good enough for the purpose in mind.

Genma started crying.

Kyo twitched and instantly lowered the mask again, giving her little brother a dismayed look. “I made him cry,” she muttered.

Kou sighed. “Your mask made him cry,” he corrected as he tried to comfort the boy. “Your nee-san is still here, Genma-chan,” he told the toddler, lifting him up until they were eye to eye, smiling reassuringly at the boy.

“Nee-san,” Genma sobbed, bringing one fist up to rub at his eyes.

“Sorry, Genma,” Kyo said sadly. She couldn't seem to do anything other than make her brother cry lately.

Genma hiccuped pitifully and peered over at her, seemingly pleased that the mask was no longer covering her face.

“Enough sad, more alcohol,” Ryota declared solemnly, picking Kyo back up to tuck her under one arm, like a sack of rice, and then marched back into the kitchen.

Genma giggled, still with wet tracks down his cheeks, and tugged insistently on Kou's shirt until he followed them.

.

“So why's Ryota drunk?” Kyo asked a couple of hours later, after they'd eaten and the man in question was lying on his back on the living room floor, holding Genma up in the air with his hands over him. Much to the little boy's delight.

“The Uchiha Elders want him to get married,” Kou said after a brief pause.

Kyo stilled. “Okay?”

“They've given me a deadline,” Ryota said blandly from the living room. “And if I don't have a name to present to them by then, they'll arrange something.” It was silent for a while. “Fucking busy-bodies,” he muttered sourly.

“So,” Kyo said slowly, frowning worriedly in Ryota's direction, “do you have anyone in mind?” She couldn't help but ask.

Ryota was silent, staring blankly up at Genma's happy grin. “No.”

She considered him intently. “Do you want to find someone?” She asked softly.

Ryota sighed. “I need to find more alcohol,” he declared.

“Coming right up,” Kou replied, getting up from the table to get a fresh sake bottle from one of the cupboards. He brought it out to Ryota and gave it to him in exchange for his son.

Ryota sat up to drink.

Kyo sighed sadly. This wasn't a situation she or tou-san could really help with other than to be there to comfort Ryota. Be his emotional support.

“I'm going to bed,” she said quietly, standing to her feet. “I'm exhausted, and I want to visit sensei tomorrow.”

“Okay.” Kou smiled, pulling her into a hug. “Sleep tight, kitten. We're proud of you.”

“Good night.”

And Kyo went to bed.

.

“Hey, brat,” Katsurou greeted her the moment she stepped through the door.

“Hi, sensei.” She smiled, looking around the new room he'd been moved to. It had three other beds -and shinobi- in it, but it was also bigger and brighter. Less cramped. “How are you?” She asked as she climbed up to sit on Katsurou's bed, down by his feet.

“Better.” Katsurou smiled a bit wryly, lifting the file he was holding. “Well enough to be put back to work.”

Kyo frowned. “You should really be resting, though, shouldn't you?”

“Nah. I was about to lose my mind.” He shrugged, clearly unconcerned, and tossed the file to the side, where it landed neatly on the pile waiting on his bedside table. “So how did it go?”

“Surprisingly well,” Kyo answered, still feeling rather bewildered. She was an ANBU. Okay. Alright.

“Then I believe congratulations are in order.” Katsurou smiled, tilting his head a tick, studying her. “Or should I offer my condolences?”

“No, I think- I mean, I don't really know how to feel.” Kyo struggled to put her thoughts into words. “It feels like they've made a mistake,” she admitted.

Katsurou raised a blond eyebrow at her. “They very rarely make mistakes.”

Kyo was just glad he hadn't said 'never'. She shrugged. “It still feels weird.”

“Well,” Katsurou sighed, leaning back further against his pillows, “tell me about how it went,” he requested lightly.

“I got to try my bubble jutsu, and it worked really well,” Kyo told him with smile. “I think they still haven't figured out what happened, but no one's asked about it.”

“You don't ask about someone else's jutsu without damn good reason, Kyo,” sensei pointed out easily, folding his fingers together and resting them on his stomach in a relaxed, comfortable-looking way. “But I can see them all but itching with curiosity.” He smirked.

Kyo smiled, before she drooped despondently. “Taijutsu sucks, sensei.”

Katsurou actually laughed. It was brief and soft, but it was an actual laugh. “They pitted you against the others?”

“Yeah,” Kyo huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, coming close to sulking. “It went pretty well, until it was pointed out that I had to actually respond in kind.”

Katsurou snorted. “You always knew you'd have to work more on your taijutsu,” he said, zero sympathy for her plight.

Kyo stuck her tongue out at him.

Katsurou smiled and closed his eyes with a sigh.

Kyo settled down, looking him over worriedly. “How's physical therapy going?” She asked after a while to enjoy the comfortable silence.

Katsurou grunted. “They're all sadists, but it's going.”

She smiled and looked around, even though she'd noticed already that Kisaki wasn't there. “Where's Kisaki?” She couldn't help but ask.

Katsurou opened his eyes to gaze at her. “I managed to talk her into going back to the compound. She needs time to grieve properly, too.”

Kyo's gaze dropped to the covers. “I didn't let her do that,” she whispered softly, feeling shame rise like bile in her throat. She'd been too selfish, asking Kisaki to watch over sensei even when she herself didn't.

Katsurou nudged her with one of his legs to get her attention. “Stop it,” he ordered gently. “Kisaki needed a task to focus on, you know that as well as I do. Now that things have settled a bit, it's time she deal with her emotions.”

And he was right. Like always.

“I'm really, really glad you're alive, sensei,” Kyo told him with a tremulous smile. She didn't know what she would have done if she'd been left completely on her own.

Katsurou hummed, eyeing her knowingly, eyes warm.

“You're doing well, brat. Doing your best to turn yourself into an even worse little monster.”

“You just say that because you love me,” Kyo shot back, wiping at her eyes, though there was a small smile pulling on her lips.

“Okay, I was gonna just lie here and mind my own damn business,” an unfamiliar voice drawled. “But who are you, and what have you done to the Yamanaka?”

Kyo turned around to peer at the person lying in the bed on the opposite wall from sensei. He was pale, with dark hair, but he didn't have the look of an Uchiha.

“Shut up, Daru,” Katsurou said without missing a beat, giving the man an unamused look. “This is my student.”

“I thought you were too old to be given a Genin team,” Daru mused.

Sure, he appeared to be a fair bit younger than Katsurou, but her sensei was far from old. “Sensei's not old,” Kyo said out loud, giving the stranger a perplexed look. He was just... thirty two? Thirty three? That wasn't old.

Then again, Daru looked like he might be twenty. At most.

Katsurou looked equal parts pleased and amused. “This is why I always put up with you, Kyo,” he told her lightly.

She gasped. “And here I thought it was my regular offers to poison people for you!” She placed a hand to her chest with over-done dramatics.

“It's part of your charm,” he acknowledged with what was -for him- almost a grin.

The only thing that was missing was Taku and Maki's amused snorts and occasional additions and it would be like nothing had changed.

The silence brought her back to the present, though, effectively wiping the smile off her face.

Katsurou sighed and pushed himself into a seated position with some trouble, placing a large hand on her head to gently ruffle her hair.

“They'd want us to be happy,” he told her quietly.

Kyo nodded. “I know. It's just hard.”

“So...” Daru butted in curiously. “You two seem awfully close for a student and sensei.”

Kyo scowled. She didn't like the way he'd said that; the inflection of his voice had made the hairs on her arms stand on end. “Would it be immoral to poison a hospital patient, sensei?” She asked loudly.

“I believe the staff wouldn't take it very well,” Katsurou mused, relaxing down onto the mattress again. “They might not let you visit any more, and then my life would be so much calmer and more peaceful.” He blinked, a small, rather vicious smile pulling on his lips. “On second thought, I'm not gonna stop you.”

Kyo squinted at him. “Are those built up frustrations speaking, or are you actually trying to get rid of me?”

“I don't play well with others, Kyo,” Katsurou told her sagely, staring straight at Daru, who had paled a little when Kyo glanced over her shoulder at him.

“You are an idiot, kid,” one of the other men grunted, sounding parts unimpressed and parts entertained. “Never try to play mind-games with a Yamanaka, moron.”

“Mind your own business and you might actually get out of here alive, fucking imbecile,” the last, bed-bound shinobi said calmly, not shifting his gaze from where he was staring at the ceiling.

“You've got mostly nice company in here,” Kyo told Katsurou with a slightly forced smile. She perked up. “I could bake you something,” she offered.

Katsurou gave her a slightly wary look. “Not that I doubt your cooking skills, but, uh, I'd hate to be poisoned again, even by accident, Kyo.”

Kyo scowled at him. “You think I'd actually do that?” She slapped his knee and Katsurou snorted. That had been one time! “I cook for tou-san and Genma all the time and neither of them have died,” she sniffed, crossed her arms over her chest and stuck her nose in the air.

“You should look out, Katsurou; never piss off the poison specialist, or you might be poisoned on purpose,” the third man said idly.

He looked pretty peaceful where he lay, but Kyo had no idea what sort of injuries he might have. She wasn't about to ask, either.

“You're telling me,” Katsurou grunted, though the spark in his eyes was pure amusement, and Kyo was well aware that their bickering was nothing more than affectionate.

This was one of the ways she showed love and she was very happy that sensei was willing to play along.

“I could bring you flowers instead.” Kyo smiled innocently.

“Oh, Kami no,” Katsurou groaned. “Spare me.”

“Fruit basket?” Kyo mused. “I just realised that I haven't brought you anything; that's a serious breach in hospital etiquette.”

“Kyo, please stop it. You brought something to the hospital already.” Katsurou sighed. “Me,” he said when Kyo gave him a genuinely confused look. “Now go on; get out of here and do something appropriate for your age, for once. You've spent enough time in here on my account.”

Kyo blinked at him, trying to digest what he had just told her.

His eyes were warm, though, so it wasn't that he wanted to get rid of her.

“But I don't have anything else to do,” she said after a beat of silence. “I don't even know if Inoichi is still in the village and Aita's hardly ever here.”

“So try and find either of them. Take your brother to the park.” Katsurou shrugged. “Go buy dango and try to make a new friend.”

Kyo considered him carefully. “Are you hiding something from me?” She asked curiously. He really wanted her out of this room. It was most likely because he was pissed off about what Daru had implied, but- “Is it one of the nurses?” She asked, leaning forward and lowering her voice in a conspiratorial manner.

Katsurou placed a hand over his eyes. “I take it back. You're my least favourite person.”

“Try not to kill anyone, sensei. Remember that the medic said you're not supposed to use any chakra until they clear you,” she fairly sang as she jumped off the bed and walked towards the door. “Everyone other than Daru have a nice day!” She smiled and then left.

The smile slipped off her face, replaced by a frown the moment the door closed behind her.

Seriously, would she be court-martialled or something if she poisoned a hospital patient?

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

“Scorpion!” Bear said, drawing Kyo's attention, though it took a second longer than if he'd used her real name.

She was still getting used to this code-name thing.

Well, she'd gotten used to kitten so there was nothing that said she wouldn't get used to Scorpion, too.

“Sir?” She questioned, rising from her seat in the large training room they'd been using all through last week. Five, or rather Sparrow, had been helping her with her taijutsu, and a few of the others were around, too.

“Your team's here,” he said casually.

Kyo nervously wiped her hands on her trousers, waved a hasty goodbye to Sparrow and followed Bear when he led the way out and down the corridor.

She was still new to this place, and fairly unfamiliar with all of it, but wasn't this corridor leading down to some of the hidden exits?

She didn't ask if she was leaving on a mission, though tou-san would be worried if she left without a word.

“Hawk,” Bear spoke up abruptly, drawing the attention of one of the three ANBU huddled close together at what looked like the end of the corridor. “I come bearing gifts.”

“Our new teammate?” One of the others said, this one with a grinning mask that looked somewhat dog-like.

“Scorpion, ANBU team 23,” Bear said, waving a hand at the three men. Then, he gave a respectful nod at Hawk, turned on the spot and wandered away again, leaving without a sound.

“That's him?” The canine-masked guy slumped. “He's tiny.”

Kyo bowed politely. “Nice to meet you,” she greeted, for lack of anything better to do. “Please treat me well,” she added, because that might be something that needed to be stated out loud.

“Kami, it's a kid,” the third member said, sounding slightly shocked, even through the voice-distortion seals. He was tall, broad-shouldered and rather imposing. But that sentence alone gave Kyo an inclination of his personality.

“I'm Hawk-taichou,” Hawk finally said, seemingly finished with his close inspection of her. “Come with us.”

And he jumped out of the concealed opening, the rest of his team close at his heels.

There was nothing other than for Kyo to hastily follow.

.

They settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds, the security seals carved into rocks in each corner all activated.

“Take a seat,” Hawk-taichou said.

Kyo slowly lowered herself to the ground, pulling her feet close to her hips, clasping her crossed ankles with her hands and giving Hawk an expectant look.

“I'm Hawk, taichou of this team. This is Hyena and Horse,” he introduced, pointing first at the canine-masked guy, and then the tall boulder of a man.

Hawk, Hyena and Horse? Kyo definitely felt like the odd one out. Was there supposed to be a theme?

“I'm Scorpion,” she said, perhaps redundantly, but it felt like the right thing to do after they'd introduced themselves.

“Specialisation?” Hawk asked promptly.

“Poison,” she hesitated slightly, before adding, “Stealth.”

“Sorry, taichou, I just have to ask,” Hyena interrupted, leaning forward to peer at Kyo. “How old are you, kid?”

Kyo stared at him a moment, before she flicked a glance at Hawk, who didn't seem upset or opposed to hearing the answer.

“Eight.”

Horse gave a soft whistle. “Damn,” he swore. “Have you even graduated from the Academy yet?”

“Yes,” Kyo returned flatly. Because, really?

“Right, back on track,” Hawk said. “If you're a poison specialist, I take it you're an assassin.”

“Wouldn't you have read my file?” Kyo wondered, fingers tightening slightly on her ankles.

She got the sense Hawk was grinning at her. “It's always interesting to hear what people will tell you themselves.”

“Yes, I've been trained with assassination in mind,” Kyo answered with a sigh.

“Which is excellent, because that means you'll actually fit into this team,” Hyena said cheerfully. “We're all capable of dabbling in the art, though none of us are true specialists in that particular branch.” He snickered quietly at his own... tree pun?

Kyo wasn't even sure.

“We're a bit more versatile, so I hope to brush up on your close-quarter combat skills before our first mission,” Hawk said, causing Kyo to slump.

“I was afraid you'd say that,” she muttered, before she firmed her shoulders and determinedly faced her new captain. “My stamina is rather poor, too.”

Hawk nodded. “We'll work around it.”

“It's a good thing we've got a Horse, then!” Hyena exclaimed delightedly, as if this was the best thing that had happened to him all year.

Horse snorted, but didn't seem to have taken offence.

Hawk gave a heavy, long-suffering sigh, as if mentally asking the higher powers that be what he'd ever done to deserve this.

Kyo couldn't help but smile faintly behind her mask.

“You look super creepy, by the way,” Hyena told her sincerely, sounding rather admiring, making her bite her lip to keep from laughing.

Her mask was... special, that was for sure.

There was hardly any white on it, making the little there actually was stand out all the more. The majority of the porcelain had been painted black and red in a rather insect-like manner, with black pincers in the region of her mouth.

Sparrow had said the red paint made her look poisonous, which was entirely fitting, she supposed.

“Then let's see what you can do,” Hawk declared, getting to his feet and giving her an expectant look.

Kyo followed with a small, indiscernible sigh. She supposed they wouldn't appreciate being poisoned, either, so her needles were out, too.

Again.

What followed was a gruelling few hours where Hawk had her running through hoops. Or at least that's what it felt like.

At the end of it, Kyo was still on her feet, but panting harshly.

Hawk-taichou gave a satisfied nod.

“Meet up here every day for four days, and then we have a mission,” he said, tilting his head to look at Hyena and Horse, too.

“Sure, taichou,” Hyena replied easily, firing off a lazy salute.

With that, they were all dismissed for the day, and Kyo returned home, trying not to worry about what sort of mission she'd end up going on.

.

Apparently, whoever decided these things weren't a believer in starting slow, Kyo mused.

She and ANBU team 23 had left the village and were on their way to Taki, to assassinate an Iwa merchant that was supposed to be deep in the smaller country.

Kyo was being carried on Horse's back, to conserve her energy and to make sure she'd be at full capacity if they had to fight unexpectedly.

At least it didn't seem like Horse minded. He hardly seemed to even notice the extra weight, to be quite honest.

Being ANBU hadn't been all that different from what she'd already been used to, so far. This was the first mission she was going on, but the training Hawk had put them through had been remarkably similar to the things sensei had made her do since she was six. If only on a higher level.

The last week had been intense.

It took them two and half, almost three days to reach their destination. Mostly because of the level of caution they had to resort to the closer they got to the Iwa border.

It was the first time Kyo was part of a team that were just as stealthy as she was, and while it wasn't difficult to maintain the grip on her chakra, per se, it did feel strange to do so for such a long period of time.

They reached a larger village, more of a proper city, and snuck inside with no one the wiser.

Which was where Kyo had to get to work.

Hawk had provided her with a picture of her target, as well as some basic information, and they tracked him down fairly quickly. All four of them settling in to watch and observe him until night fell.

Sneaking into the inn he was staying at, into his personal rooms, was disturbingly easy.

No one noticed a thing and Kyo settled in to wait for her target and his companions to fall asleep for the night.

Part of the group was down in the inn's main room, drinking themselves into a stupor, so Kyo wasn't feeling particularly worried on that front, and they didn't have any shinobi guards.

This close to their home country, they were evidently feeling secure enough not to bother.

Her target was a slim man, a bit on the tall side, with grey hair and plenty of lines on his stern face. The glimpses she'd gotten of his eyes had showed a dark, intelligent gaze that made him look altogether crafty.

Kyo patiently waited until the room was still and quiet, filled with nothing more than the soft, peaceful breaths of the deeply sleeping.

Dropping down from her hiding place, still as fully concealed as she could make herself, with no presence to speak of, Kyo walked on light, silent feet to where her target was sleeping on a fuuton on the tatami floor.

Kyo crouched down next to him and slipped a needle from one of her wrist cuff holsters.

With a steady hand, she gently slid it through the skin on his upper arm, into the muscle underneath and then withdrew it just as gently.

The man didn't so much as stir.

Kyo wiped the blood off the needle on her pants, tucked it away and then left to rejoin the rest of team 23.

The merchant, her target, would be dead in a few minutes.

It felt like meagre comfort that she'd picked one of her kindest poisons, ensuring the civilian wouldn't feel a thing. He'd just... fade away in his sleep.

“We good?” Hawk asked in barely a whisper.

Kyo hadn't yet mastered the ANBU sign-language, but she was working on it. She knew the most vital signs by heart, at least, so they could make do in emergencies.

She gave a firm nod.

“You're terrifying, kid,” Hyena praised cheerfully, bumping her shoulder gently with one fist. “It's awesome.”

Kyo shrugged and didn't feel like responding.

It felt like she should be having some sort of reaction to this.

She'd had her first kill years ago, of course, but... it had always been in the heat of battle, life or death, people doing their best to kill her in turn.

This had been nothing like that.

That man she had just killed hadn't done a thing to her, personally. He was just living his life, doing his best to make a decent profit while he was at it.

And Kyo had killed him. Easy as anything.

Just because he came from the wrong country, was funnelling money into the wrong country. Helping funding Iwa's side of the war, whether he wanted to or not.

There was probably something wrong with her, Kyo mused calmly as they slipped out of the village without a sound, leaving not a trace but a dead body behind them. Because what she'd just done? It felt like a kindness.

After all the violent, painful deaths she'd seen by now -after just two, almost three years on the job- people dying was normal. How you went, though... that was the question.

At least her target had gotten to die in his sleep, without knowing a thing.

It would have to be enough to comfort her until she got back home, where she could talk to sensei and tou-san about this new development. Her lack of a reaction.

Eyes dry, hands steady, Kyo leapt back onto Horse's back and settled in for the ride.

Shit, Hyena's sense of humour was already infecting her mind.

.

Slipping back over the border into Fire Country, Hawk started leading them along the border in a westward direction instead of continuing straight back to Konoha.

It made a certain amount of sense to Kyo.

Their mission had gone without a hitch, they'd made good time and they didn't have a mission waiting for them back in the village. So it was perfectly logical to do a silent sweep of a small stretch of the border, check in with one or two border stations and just offer a bit of assistance if needed.

Hawk-taichou hadn't taken them further than a few kilometres when there was a flare of chakra to the north-west of them, up ahead but closer to the border, in the direction of where Taki and Kusa met.

'Heads up,' Hawk signed and changed course, speeding in the direction of the chakra spike, Horse and Hyena hot on his heels.

Kyo took a deep breath and began to mentally go through the weapons she had on her person, what poisons she had available.

It was the first battle she was going to consciously, if you ignored that one shortly after she'd just become a Genin, and she hadn't fought in that one. Not really.

She knew this would be different.

When they were drawing near, Kyo patted Horse on the shoulder in warning and then dropped from his back, opting instead to take her spot in the formation they were supposed to be running in. Hawk had adjusted it to take Kyo's young age and corresponding stamina into account.

Then there wasn't any time to think.

Hawk paused at the edge of the battle-field to take in the situation, make sure there actually were Konoha shinobi present and find the most advantageous point to insert his team.

A second later, they were in the thick of it, appearing out of seemingly nowhere to go after the Iwa shinobi trying their best to crush their comrades to a bloody pulp with blunt force and frankly terrifying earth jutsu.

Kyo had a kunai in one hand, and used the other one to flick lethal needles at everyone within easy reach she could, without distracting herself enough to get killed.

Instead of trying to go toe to toe with the generally burly Iwa nin, Kyo flitted around her teammates, severing a tendon here, stabbing a needle into a thigh there, going in for the kill when the opportunity presented itself.

It worked beautifully. Until the Iwa shinobi realised four ANBU had arrived to the fight instead of just three.

At least Kyo's size made her difficult to spot.

Hyena was trying to fight two Iwa nin at the same time, to shield the injured shinobi behind him.

Kyo raced towards him, speeding through hand seals. She finished in time to spit a series of small, deadly wind sickles, about the width of a grown man's hand, at the Iwa shinobi from the side, managing to hit one of them.

The man swore as the razor sharp wind attack sliced into his side and he turned towards her with murder in his eyes.

Kyo belatedly realised she had gotten too close.

Managing to slip beneath the no doubt devastating punch aimed at her face, Kyo jumped away, flicking a needle at the guy's throat in retaliation.

Which was brushed aside with an armour-clad forearm.

Shit.

Kyo quickly jumped off the ground for the trees when her opponent flashed through hand seals of his own. She didn't want to stand around and wait to be swallowed up whole and ground to dust by the soil beneath her feet.

But she couldn't leave Hyena to take the attack in her stead, either.

Working as fast as she was capable, Kyo built up the chakra for her own attack, took a deep breath and raised her hand to her mouth.

With an explosive exhalation, she spat a near solid wall of air at the Iwa nin, who looked determined to weather the seemingly-harmless attack. It was usually used as a distraction, or to toss your opponent back.

Drawing a senbon quick as a snake, she coated the larger needle in wind chakra and threw it at the man's throat.

When he raised his arm to deflect it like he had the first one, it went cleanly through his forearm and lodged itself deep in his throat, all but disappearing from view beneath his skin.

Panting slightly -she'd used quite a bit of chakra in that jutsu- she remained motionless for a second too long.

She felt the impact, like a heavy punch, on her leg, but no pain.

Instead of inspecting the injury, Kyo threw herself back into the fray. She didn't have time to assess the damage right now; she'd end up with something worse if she stalled.

Helping her teammates, Kyo still tried to be careful with her leg, as much as she was able to without getting killed.

This was a battle fought on a higher level than she was used to, and it showed.

She did her best, though.

Running up the side of a tree, Kyo launched herself at an Iwa shinobi who'd been about to kill a man with a Konoha hitai-ate, and she practically landed crouched on his shoulders, stabbing a needle into the side of his neck, straight through the main blood vessel.

He'd die in a few seconds, which left Kyo free to flick to the next opponent, leaving the Konoha shinobi behind to hopefully catch his breath, focus and increase his chances of survival.

It was a free-for-all here, and Kyo couldn't think, was too busy reacting, taking in and sorting information to dwell on anything.

And all of a sudden, it was over.

Kyo found herself standing off to the side, having just killed a teenage-looking guy with black hair, his red and brown uniform stained with blood and stone dust, and there were abruptly no other enemies to focus on.

All of it had taken no more than a few minutes.

Breathing harshly and feeling twitchy like hell, Kyo glanced around, realising she should be looking for her team.

“Scorpion!” Hawk-taichou barked, making her jump and instantly shunshin across the remnants of the battle-field and next to her captain.

“Sir?” She asked, voice strained as her chest heaved to supply all her aching muscles with oxygen.

“You're still alive,” he commented. “Good.”

“Thanks for the assistance,” one of the regular Konoha shinobi said, giving Hawk a quick, shallow nod, before he turned to bark orders at his remaining men.

“Injuries?” Hawk asked once he'd made sure there weren't any other threats around.

“Nothing but bruises, taichou,” Hyena bounced on the balls of his feet.

“None,” Horse replied, much calmer than the shorter man beside him.

“Scorpion?” Hawk pressed, looking like he was giving her a once-over. Not that the black clothes made it easy to spot blood and stuff.

“Think so,” she managed, mentioning at her left thigh, which she couldn't really put any weight on any more.

It was pulsing in time with her heart, but she still couldn't feel any pain. She had a suspicion that that would change quickly now that the fighting was over with.

Hawk crouched down next to her and prodded her thigh experimentally. “You have a shuriken in there,” he commented flatly.

“Oh,” Kyo said, blinking. Yeah, that would be consistent with what she could remember; feeling something hit but there clearly hadn't been a kunai sticking out of her leg and she hadn't had time to dwell on it.

Hawk signed something to Horse, who positioned himself behind her, putting one hand on her shoulder, the other taking a steady hold of her left hip.

Without warning, Hawk pressed his fingers against her thigh, grasped the blood-slick shuriken barely sticking out of the muscle, and oh, yeah, she could definitely feel that! It was very much starting to hurt now.

Then, he pulled on the shuriken.

Kyo's entire body twitched harshly, without her consent, one hand lashing out at Hawk's face and her vision turned white.

Don't do that again,” she managed in a strangled voice a second later, voice trembling so violently the words had been barely understandable.

Blinking tears from her eyes, she became aware that her arms were restrained and Horse was holding her back flat to his chest, which left her feet dangling in the air.

Hawk had a firm hold on her left hand, which was holding a needle just a few scant centimetres from his shoulder.

“Yeah,” he huffed. “We're leaving it in; it's stuck in your femur.”

At least he wasn't holding her reaction against her, Kyo supposed slightly hysterically, feeling like nothing more than a raw knot of pain and fading adrenaline.

After another moment, Hawk released her hand and Kyo slipped the needle back in her cuff with trembling fingers. She couldn't remember grabbing it.

“Horse,” Hawk said briskly, signing something Kyo didn't have the presence of mind to try and translate right now.

Horse nodded and Hyena pulled a roll of bandages from somewhere, while Hawk went to talk to whoever was in command here.

“Try and stay still, kid,” Horse said, the vibrations from his voice shaking her whole body, it felt like.

He shifted his hold on her and Kyo wrapped her hands around the arm he held around her chest like a steel band, watching Hyena lean down to wrap up her leg.

It hurt.

A lot.

Hyena tried to wrap the bandage around the shuriken, to prevent it from pressing on the very sharp object lodged in her bone, but it still hurt like a fucking bitch.

Kyo's hold on Horse's arm was white-knuckled and she was this close to just saying fuck it and scream by the time Hyena finally finished.

Breathing hard enough it was like she'd just ran as fast as she could across all of Fire Country, Kyo very much doubted she'd be able to do much of anything on her own, and that was just judging off of how much she was shaking.

It felt like she was gonna shake out of her own skin.

“We good?” Hawk asked when he came striding back to them, all lethal grace and fluid motions.

Kyo managed a stiff, jerky nod, unable to loosen her death-grip on Horse's arm.

“Then let's head back to Konoha,” Hawk said calmly.

Kyo's brain didn't have any input, feeling like it had shorted out due to the excruciating bundle of pain that was her leg.

Instead of swinging her onto his back -like she'd half expected- Horse slipped his free arm under the back of her knees and held her in front of his chest.

Like a princess, a distant part of Kyo's mind supplied helpfully.

Not that she gave a shit.

She'd never understood why people called it the princess-hold to begin with; she doubted a real princess of any repute would agree to be carried at all. But then again, carrying a woman with a long skirt or dress in any other way would be tricky, so wouldn't it be more logical to call it a... dress-hold or something?

Feeling mildly nauseous from pain and exhaustion, Kyo let her head fall against Horse's shoulder and tried to settle in for a long run.

Since they were rushing, now, they might make it in about a day, she mused distantly.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

By the time they reached Konoha, Kyo was fairly sure she had a fever.

She was shivering slightly, her breathing was laboured and it felt like her head might detach from her neck to float off on its own.

It was a fairly interesting sensation.

So much for an easy first mission after half her team had died, Kyo mused dazedly as they re-entered the village, not slowing down much even to identify themselves before heading for the hospital.

Cool, Kyo had never used this entrance before.

All of a sudden, she was lying on a flat surface.

Where had Horse gone?

Shivering worse than ever, Kyo tried to spot him anywhere, but the only one she could see was Hawk, who stood off to the side, watching the chaos.

Why did they need so many people, anyway? It was just a shuriken. Stuck in her femur, granted, but still! It was just a scratch.

Or something. Surely.

Kyo blinked tiredly, turning to watch one of the nurses, who approached with a syringe. She didn't do a thing to protest when the needle was stuck into the exposed skin of her upper arm, and the substance in the thing injected.

Maybe it would hurt less now? Kyo was hopeful.

She was fairly sure her trousers had just gotten cut off of her, because she felt even colder, and fingers were prodding the skin around the wound on her thigh.

Doing her best to lie still so that the medics could do their thing, Kyo bit her lip when her wound was examined more closely.

Did they have to be so... rough?

It still didn't prepare her for someone to grab the shuriken and begin to pry it from the bone it had lodged itself quite firmly in.

Kyo screamed.

She was pretty sure she may have kicked someone in the face before she was successfully restrained.

“Why is she still awake!?” Someone hissed as they struggled to hold her down on the gurney she was lying on.

“Because I'm immune, you idiots!” Kyo sobbed, the words gritted out between clenched teeth. Her voice broke on the last word.

She was breathing so hard it was painful, her hands shaking so badly from the icy agony splitting down her leg, up her hip and clawing at her spine.

Words were snapped back and forth above her, but they were nothing more than indistinguishable noise.

“Is there anything that will actually work?” A medic snapped the question at her.

Kyo laughed. “I work with a lot of sedatives,” she breathed roughly. Because she'd thought it could be really useful, and it appealed to the part of her that didn't like killing people.

And she absolutely had no clue how to deal with the fact that there were parts of her that didn't mind.

“Why isn't this in her file?” Someone hissed furiously, slapping something that sounded sort of like paper onto a hard, flat surface. “Anything else you're immune to?”

“Poisons,” Kyo forced out, the word strangled as she tried not to throw up.

“Morphine,” a voice right above her snapped.

Before Kyo could so much as open her eyes -they'd been clenched shut in response to the pain, tears streaming down her temples and into her hair- a syringe was jabbed carelessly into her arm and liquid warmth was injected.

With how fast her heart was pumping, it took what felt like no time at all before Kyo's muscles were beginning to relax, the pain fading to an uncomfortable, dull ache. It was loads better than the sharp, searing, icy agony that had been eating at her before.

Blinking dazedly up at the ceiling, Kyo took in the team of four working on her, their faces not registering at all.

She could feel them working on her leg, a sharp tug that almost lifted her leg off the gurney, and then a faint sense of foreign chakra entering her system.

Kyo was drifting in and out of it for a while, it felt like. She was still aware of the people flitting around, but it wasn't much of a concern of hers.

She felt pretty good, actually.

Kyo didn't realise she was still wearing her mask until Hawk walked up to her, placed his hand on her face and removed it with a pulse of his chakra.

She blinked dazedly at him. “Hi,” she managed.

“How much did you give her?” He asked the closest nurse.

The woman sent Kyo a speculative look and shrugged. “As much as was needed.”

Were they still working on her leg?

“Does this mean I disqualify?” Kyo wondered absently, gaze drifting a bit off course; she'd wanted to look at Hawk, but now she was staring at someone's crotch. Oops.

Consciously shifting her gaze back to Hawk's bird-like mask, Kyo peered curiously at him.

“No. You did pretty good,” Hawk sighed, patting her head, as if he couldn't quite help himself.

Did he have kids?

“Yeah,” Hawk answered, a reluctantly amused undercurrent to his voice, and oh.

Kyo had said that out loud, hadn't she? Oops, again.

Hawk shook his head, tucked her mask away beneath his body armour and talked to the medic for a while.

Kyo wondered if she could potentially share a room with sensei now that she was back in the hospital. Injured herself this time, but still.

Daru had been an asshole and she hoped sensei had thrown him out a window or something.

Before she could shape another disjointed thought, she drifted off into unconsciousness.

.

When Kyo woke up, she was pretty sure she was still drugged to the gills.

And she was lying in a real bed.

“You awake, brat?” A familiar voice asked.

“Sensei.” Kyo smiled.

“You know,” Katsurou mused idly. “When I told you to come see me when you came back, this wasn't what I had in mind.”

Kyo blinked a few times, feeling like she was on the brink of falling back asleep. “Did you know,” she said abruptly, managing to turn her head to peer at Katsurou-sensei, who raised an eyebrow at her. “I'm immune to sedatives, sensei,” and for some reason, she was whispering to him.

Weird. She hadn't intended to do that. Probably.

“I know.” Katsurou frowned.

“It really, really hurts when someone tries to pull out something that's stuck in your femur,” she told him solemnly. “And with someone, I mean the medics,” she added around a yawn.

Katsurou sighed. “Go back to sleep, brat.”

“Don' wanna,” Kyo mumbled, trying to lift a hand to rub at her face and failing quite pathetically. Her hand barely twitched, actually. “Tou-san?” She asked after a long pause.

“Came by to tell me he got a mission,” Katsurou replied easily, no doubt eyeing her closely to try and gauge her mental state.

“Oh.” Kyo blinked a little. “Did you know I murdered someone?”

The words just... slipped out of her mouth.

Kyo frowned, feeling perplexed. She hadn't intended to say that.

“Who hasn't?” A gravelly, sardonic voice she kind of recognized said. No doubt to point out she and Katsurou weren't alone.

“Oh, it's you.” Kyo blinked at him. “Did you throw Daru out a window?”

The man stared at her for a long moment, and Kyo was pretty sure he looked amused, for some reason.

“They're having you on the good stuff, huh,” was all he said. “Have fun with that, Katsurou.”

Sensei just sighed.

Kyo frowned confusedly.

“We should be having this conversation privately, but I know both Seita and Watamaru are perfectly capable of secrecy,” Katsurou said, shaking his head and sitting up a bit more properly. “You had your first kill years ago, Kyo.”

“Oh, yeah,” Kyo agreed easily, smiling a little. “Maki threw up,” she informed sensei, who nodded shortly. “But this one was sleeping, you know?”

Katsurou sighed. Again. Pulling one hand over his short hair. “You got your first assassination,” he concluded tiredly. “Of course.”

“Do you think I can move my leg?” She asked abruptly, attention drifting to her left leg. It was covered by the sheets, why was it covered?

“Kyo, focus,” sensei said, snapping his fingers.

...she'd never been able to snap her fingers.

“Aren't you going to ask me how I feel about it?” She asked a bit belatedly.

“I have a feeling you're gonna tell me anyway,” Katsurou said casually.

“It was pretty nice,” Kyo said, ignoring sensei's words. “Which feels a bit wrong.”

“Explain it to me,” Katsurou asked thoughtfully, tilting his head.

Kyo hummed, trying to concentrate. Not the easiest task when she wasn't sure she could actually feel her own body.

“It was peaceful,” she finally managed, blinking to focus her gaze on Katsurou. “I used my kindest needle and he died in his sleep.”

“Nothing strange about that, especially compared to the last time you killed someone,” Katsurou said with a small shrug.

Kyo stared off to the side.

The last time... had been during the ambush.

“Less blood,” she agreed absently. “It was very easy.”

“It's what you've been trained for,” Katsurou said. “Isshun taught you very well.”

“Mm,” Kyo mumbled and drifted off to sleep with little to no warning.

.

Kyo very much felt her body the next time she woke up.

Hands clenching in the blanket covering her, she groaned.

“Sensei?” She rasped, pretty sure that hadn't been a dream or a hallucination.

Kyo tried to shift to look for him, but gave up with a whimper.

Sensei!” She almost sobbed.

“Already called for a nurse, Kyo,” Katsurou said, leaning heavily against the side of her bed, placing one hand on her forehead. She hadn't heard him move.

His hand felt blessedly cold against her skin.

“Hurts,” she breathed, managing to take a deep, trembling breath.

A second later, a nurse came barging into the room, leaving the door to the corridor open, which flooded the room with light.

Kyo hadn't even realised it'd been dark in here.

“You should be in bed, Yamanaka-san,” she said, before her eyes landed on Kyo. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Hurts,” Kyo gasped, a shudder going through her body.

“That can't be right,” the nurse muttered, grabbing the clipboard at the end of her bed. “You should still be under the influence of the morphine.”

“You're too good at what you do, Kyo,” Katsurou said evenly, leaning over the bed just enough to look her in the eyes. “You're adapting to the painkillers.”

“It sucks.” She managed a choppy, unsteady laugh that turned into an agonized moan.

“I'm administering another dose,” the nurse said briskly, disappearing out the door for a moment. “I'll talk to the medic once I'm done here,” she told Katsurou when she came back in, a syringe in her hand.

A second later, the pain began to fade and breathing was slowly getting easier.

Kyo eventually managed to let go of the bed-sheets, fingers aching from the force of her hold, to fumble for Katsurou's hand, which he readily enough accepted.

Sucking down deep, slow breaths, Kyo tried to make her heart calm down from the frantic gallop it'd been performing in her chest, as if it had been trying to run away.

“Let's not do that again, please,” Kyo said unsteadily a minute later.

Katsurou patted her on her head with a sigh. “Your body's too used to handling toxic substances, Kyo,” he told her tiredly.

Kyo blinked, raising a shaking hand to wipe at her eyes when she realised they were wet.

“I'll let the medic know we need to give you doses more frequently than usual,” the nurse said, giving her a sympathetic look. “The medic on duty will come around for a check-up in the morning. Get back to bed, Yamanaka-san,” she added, giving Katsurou a stern, though understanding look and then left, closing the door behind her.

“Try to go back to sleep,” her sensei told her, squeezing her hand and then slowly letting it go, gently putting it back down on the covers.

Kyo blinked heavy eyes and did as ordered.

.

When she woke up next time, light was streaming in through the window and who was no doubt a medic was standing next to her, holding a hand over her injured leg.

“I heard there were some problems during the night,” he said calmly when he noticed Kyo's eyes were open.

“If you want to call it that,” she muttered drowsily. “How's it looking.”

“Your fever's broken and your leg seems to be healing nicely, despite the fact you made the injury worse by running around with it,” he told her briskly. “We're going to have to try and figure out how quickly you're adjusting to the morphine, so I want you to notify someone the moment your leg's starting to hurt again, understood?”

“Yes,” Kyo mumbled, blinking slowly a few times.

“If all goes according to plan, you should be out of here in a couple of days,” the medic gave her a small, thin smile. “Try to eat the meal a nurse will bring you shortly. Don't try to get out of bed,” and with that, he was done, leaving her to stare at the door after him.

Kyo sighed.

She dutifully ate the meal a nurse brought her and then considered trying to sleep some more. She felt rather jittery, though.

“Hey there, kitten,” Ryota's voice said from the direction of the door.

“Hi,” she returned after a brief delay. “What're you doing here?” She asked curiously.

“Do forgive her, Uchiha-san; she's drugged up to the eyeballs,” Katsurou said distractedly from his bed, reading files and important-looking documents again.

Ryota snorted and came into the room fully.

He picked up one of the chairs standing by the wall beside the door and carried it over, setting it down beside Kyo's bed.

“I heard you were in here, so since I'm in the village and Kou isn't,” Ryota shrugged, taking a seat. “Of course I'm here.”

“Why aren't you with tou-san?” Kyo asked once she had digested his words.

“Fucking Elders pulled some strings.” Ryota snorted derisively. “They're stubborn assholes with too much free time, the lot of them.”

“Do you want me to poison them for you?” Kyo asked with no hesitation what-so-ever and a heart-warming amount of sincerity. You know, for offering to murder someone.

“If they keep it up, I might just take you up on that.” Ryota smiled thinly, giving her an utterly fond look.

“So tou-san got sent out with another team?” Kyo mused, eyeing the man curiously. “Did you know I'm immune to sedatives?”

“Yeah,” Ryota said, shaking his head. “Isshun had something of a similar problem.”

“Remind me not to get injured again, please,” she requested idly. “It's not very fun.”

Every shinobi in the room snorted with amusement, making Kyo blink at the lot of them.

“You know, it's funny because you're handling this much better than many Chuunin I've worked with,” one of the other hospitalised shinobi chuckled.

Kyo peered at him, wondering if she should tell him she was a Chuunin or not.

-x-x-x-

 

Chapter Text

Kyo was on a mission deep in Tetsu no Kuni when she turned nine, trying to find any information they could scrounge up on a potential alliance between Iwa and Kumo.

It was interesting to see Hawk, Hyena and Horse at work, doing something they were quite clearly very skilled at.

She learned a lot.

But ANBU team 23 weren't the only ones she ended up working with; Kyo felt like she got assigned to all sorts of teams, and quickly found that border patrol as an ANBU was both boring and far more interesting than she could have imagined.

So far, she'd experienced another battle like that first one and two occasions of enemy teams trying to sneak across the border. And that was just when Kyo had been there; she couldn't imagine how often that happened on average.

In between, there were hours upon hours of just running through Konoha's forests, of course. Which was both exhausting and somewhat mind-numbing after enough hours had passed.

Back in the village, Kyo was in serious need of replenishing her stocks, both for pure poisons -she'd made several batches that were stashed in Ryota's house while they dried- and coating needles in various substances.

With the new turn of her career, Kyo was going through a lot of them.

All of it made her realise just how shielded from the war she'd been before, how far sensei had gone to try and protect them.

Within the scope that he'd been able to, at least.

So Kyo settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds to coat several bundles of needles in various poisons and sedatives.

Home wasn't really an option, because tou-san was back in the village, so Genma spent a lot of time there, being the ever-curious almost-three year old.

Kou and Kyo had both agreed that it would be best to keep the sharp, lethal things away from Genma for a while now, since he'd taken up the habit of putting almost everything in his mouth if it looked interesting enough.

It hadn't helped that he'd seen Kyo hold a few of the needles between her lips and had wanted to try it for himself.

Ryota's house was out, because the man had grudgingly conceded to the Uchiha Elders' demands and had begun to at least meet their potential bride candidates. Her dad's teammate would no doubt have embraced Kyo's request to work there had she asked, but she hadn't thought it would have been a good idea.

That would only draw out the inevitable. And it wasn't like she could change someone else's Clan; that sort of change had to happen from the inside.

So! She had settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds. She'd thought it was quite the clever solution, despite the fact that she'd had to change into her uniform and don her Scorpion mask for it.

Kyo had spent hours on her task, having gone through almost all of her new needles, the already laced ones laid out beside her to try in the sun.

Looking forward to be done with it and go home for some well-deserved lunch and then play with Genma for a few hours, maybe take him to the park? Kyo didn't think much of the pair of ANBU who had joined her on the training ground about half an hour ago.

She'd made sure to sit herself down off to the side where she wouldn't be in the way if someone else came along, so it wasn't like it was an issue.

Absorbed in her work, Kyo didn't think much of the build up of chakra behind and to the side of her; these people were comrades, she shouldn't have to watch her back.

That all changed when cold, unexpected water cascaded down over her head, and -more importantly- over her work station.

Ruining hours of work and several batches of poison.

Kyo's fingers slowly curled into fists, even as the rest of her was still frozen in shock.

A pair of quiet sniggers behind her was all that was needed for her temper to snap. She could almost hear the sound of it echoing in her mind.

Dripping wet, Kyo slowly stood to her feet and turned around.

The two idiots didn't even try to act innocent, or hide themselves. They were just standing there, huddled together, laughing.

Oh, Kyo would give them something to laugh about!

Giving no warning at all -they didn't deserve one- Kyo calmly walked towards them, taking care to keep her body-language relaxed and amicable. Hyena had been giving her pointers.

When she was just a few paces away, she stopped, tilted her head and said, “You really shouldn't have done that,” in a mild voice.

One of the boys -and they very clearly were- snorted, but she didn't give them a chance to say or do anything.

She flicked the fingers of both her hands, at the same time, and three needles buried themselves in each of the boys' shoulders.

There was a beat of surprised silence, where the two boys looked down on themselves, blinked at her a bit, or so she assumed; they were wearing masks of their own. One of them took a step towards her, stance beginning to lean towards the aggressive, while the other one growled.

That was about as far as they got before both of them stumbled, and the shorter, slighter one fell on his ass.

Kyo watched dispassionately as they succumbed to the pretty volatile mix of sedatives.

They'd feel like shit when they woke up. Utterly miserable.

Kyo relished the thought.

Not having the patience to deal with her ruined work right now, Kyo grabbed the two idiots by the shoulder straps on their body armour and began to drag them back to headquarters.

Taking pity on whatever person was responsible for the hapless morons, Kyo generously dragged them face up, heads clear off the ground.

It was hard work, and she had to strengthen her muscles with chakra to manage, but like hell was she going to let that stop her.

She hadn't removed the needles from their shoulders. They were going to have the worst hang-overs when they eventually woke up.

“Scorpion? What is the meaning of this?” Gecko asked sharply.

It was the same person who had handled part of Kyo's selection, though she'd referred to him as 'Lizard' in her head at the time, before she'd been informed of his real code-name.

“They decided to ruin four hours worth of work for me,” Kyo told him calmly, absently wondering why everyone was staring at her. Sure, she was dripping water all over the floors, but at least she wasn't smearing blood everywhere.

It wasn't like something like this couldn't ever have happened before. There were idiots everywhere; shinobi and ANBU were no different.

“Are they dead?” Gecko asked curiously, poking at one of them with the toe of a sandal.

“No.” Kyo smiled. “But they'll wish they were when they wake up.” And she unceremoniously dropped the two of them to the floor. “Excuse me while I go salvage hours and hours of work now, and I might have to go visit training ground 44 to replenish my stocks after all the poison they just ruined,” she all but hissed, sending the two unconscious assholes a scathing glare. “Oh, and I would remove those needles from them, if I were you. And find a medic. Or you can just leave them as is, I don't care,” she said blandly to Gecko and then shunshined out of ANBU headquarters without further ado to go assess the damage back at the training ground.

Kyo was furious.

So much time and effort just carelessly destroyed because -what? They wanted to haze her? They thought they could do whatever they wanted because she was a kid?

What the hell!?

Giving a frustrated huff, Kyo took in the state of her previously carefully ordered needles, wanting to weep when she saw the current mess.

Her needles had been washed all over the area, the poison no doubt washed off, or at least mostly and they might have mixed and- she was going to have to carefully clean every single needle and then do all of this all over again.

Kyo felt a few tears of pure frustration and pent up aggression leak from her eyes before she took a deep, trembling breath and shoved her useless emotions aside. That wouldn't help anything or anyone, least of all her.

With angry efficiency, Kyo set about gathering up her scattered needles, fully realising that she would have to go through everything, what she had on her person, too. Just to be sure that hadn't been ruined, as well.

Thank all the Gods her poison pack was water-proof.

But the needles in her cuff holsters were useless now.

The different poisons, never mind the sedatives would have all mixed together and seeped into the fabric, so she would have to wash those carefully as well.

And using needles she wasn't sure what they did would just be stupid. And reckless.

Feeling like she was going to cry, Kyo gathered everything and brought it back home. All of a sudden, she had so much more to do.

Genma would be disappointed.

.

Kyo was in a lousy mood.

The Incident the other day was still pissing her off, and she hadn't gotten to work it off any, since she didn't want to take her frustrations out on her friends and family.

Katsurou had taken one look at her and snorted amusedly, muttering about 'those poor fucking idiots' the moment she'd told him about what had happened.

She'd been helping him home, cleaning out his house for him since he'd finally been released from the hell that was the hospital.

She'd even cooked him several large meals, portioned them into plastic containers and thrown most of them into the freezer for him, to make sure he always had something to eat even if he didn't have the energy to cook.

Katsurou may be well enough to leave the hospital now, several months after being injured, but that didn't mean he was perfectly healthy.

Kyo hated the way his hands shook when he got tired, and how his breathing was still suffering from the inhaled poison. Even though he'd breathed in just a tiny amount, the long hours before he'd gotten help ensured it had left lasting damage.

At least the medics were hopeful they'd be able to fix it given time. Most of it.

They weren't sure.

“Konoha needs every man she can get,” Katsurou had told her, ruffling her hair. “So try not to kill them, okay?”

Kyo had given some light-hearted, cheery answer along the lines of 'No promises!' but that was actually pretty close to the truth.

She'd never been the kind of person who held on to her anger, to any grudges she might have. But Kyo was having a really bad year, and this had just... been the last drop.

It was too much.

Having most of her fellow ANBU keep a respectful distance to her when she walked into headquarters was both weird and somewhat pleasing, but Kyo mostly didn't care. It wasn't like she would take out her shitty mood on people who hadn't done anything.

“I heard you're having an interesting week,” Bear commented casually where he was lounging on the couch in what Kyo had taken to call the ANBU Common Room.

It was more of a large meeting room, actually, but it was also used by people who needed to wind down and couldn't do it alone.

Sometimes, it helped to just have people around you.

“I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about,” Kyo said back, entirely unamused. She wasn't having an interesting week; she was having an awful one.

Bear hummed. “Well, as long as you don't kill anyone. I'm not anyone's nanny.” He shrugged, got to his feet and strolled off.

Kyo felt a reluctant grin pull on her lips. That was all but permission, wasn't it?

Awesome.

Those two fucking assholes better pray they didn't come across Kyo anytime soon.

After running through team exercises with team 23, Kyo and Hyena went to the cafeteria for some much-needed sustenance before they'd continue with sparring -urgh- and Kyo studiously ignored the way some shinobi eyed her with twitchy unease.

It was even more obvious on the ones who were walking around without their masks on, having opted to wear them clipped to their belts inside the safety of ANBU headquarters.

“Man, you're one small package of terrifying whoop-ass,” Hyena cackled quietly.

He was the one she'd connected the most with so far, both in ANBU in general and on team 23. He had an awesome sense of humour.

“Thank you,” Kyo returned evenly, scanning the crowd and, of course, spotted one of her new least favourite people. “Let's eat before Hawk changes his mind,” she muttered, mood instantly plummeting again.

If he knew what was good for him... he better stay away from her.

Kyo had just sat down next to Hyena, fully prepared to focus on her food and nothing else, when Idiot nr 1 walked up to their table, looking generally disgruntled.

“Hey, I get you might be a sore looser and everything, but there's no reason to drag this out to unreasonable proportio-”

Kyo stabbed him quite casually with one of her needles. Right into the back of his hand.

The guy swore, snatched his hand away from where he'd placed it on the table close to Kyo's food tray and backed away several steps.

It was far too late for that, though.

Ignoring him completely, Kyo ate another bite of her lunch.

Hyena was shaking with silent laughter next to her, watching Idiot 1 stagger once the sedative began to affect him.

It was another one of her less-than-kind ones, but at least she'd just dosed him with one sort this time. She was so kind and generous, she mused wryly.

Seriously, where had this vindictiveness come from? She couldn't remember being like this once upon a time in the Before.

The guy finally collapsed and Kyo, quite amusingly, had finished eating. “Let's go back?” She asked Hyena, stubbornly ignoring the silence and the excessive attention fixed on her.

She was not the one in the wrong here, damn it!

Did people seriously not realise how much time and effort went into her poisons? Did they think she just bought the stuff? Kyo felt like scoffing.

“Of course, little Scorpion,” Hyena agreed amicably, not bothered at all by the display. If anything, he seemed thrilled.

They put the trays with their dirty dishes away and then stalked off.

.

“You've got a mission, Scorpion,” Hawk said, tossing her a scroll.

Kyo looked up from the scroll she was already reading and caught the slow projectile easily. “Oh?”

“Not with us,” Hawk clarified, a bit redundantly.

Kyo had gathered as much when he said 'you' instead of 'we'.

Rolling up the scroll she had been reading with a small sigh, Kyo climbed to her feet, waved good bye to Horse and followed Hawk out of the room.

“Do you know with who?” She asked once they were in the corridor.

Hawk shrugged. “I doubt you've worked with them before.”

And there was just something about the way he said that that put her on edge. Not necessarily because she was scared, but Hawk sounded almost... amused? Vindictively smug? Entertained?

Regardless, it made her wonder what sort of situation she was about to walk into this time.

Hawk led her to one of the spaces teams frequently used to meet up in, only for her to come to an abrupt halt in the door.

“You have got to be fucking shitting me.”

It took a moment for Kyo to realise it was she who had just spoken.

But... it was true enough.

“I feel like I ought to tell you to mind your language, but,” Hawk tilted his head. “Feels a bit out of place.”

And there was definitely a smile in the bastard's voice.

“You,” Kyo said flatly, pointing accusingly at him. “Putting you on my shit-list as we speak, taichou.”

“I'm not the one assigning missions,” Hawk returned in a mildly offended manner.

“Shit-list. Hawk added,” Kyo grumbled. “I'm poisoning your water canteen the next time I see you.”

Hawk eyed her warily. “I'm going to assume that since you're saying this out loud, you're merely venting your emotions,” he said. “Hopefully,” he added in a quiet mutter and left with a quick, comforting pat on her shoulder.

Kyo eyed Idiot 2 for a second, and then approached the team of four. Which meant she was an add-on this time around.

“Nice to meet you,” she bowed politely to three out of four. “I'm Scorpion, I really don't like that guy,” she said by way of introduction, jabbing a finger at Idiot 2, who twitched minutely.

“So I've heard,” who was most likely the taichou drawled, making Idiot 2 shrink into himself a fraction. “I'm Wolf. The moron over there is Crow. These two are Stag and Sloth,” he introduced.

Kyo nodded at Stag and Sloth in turn, wondering if either of them was a Nara. Both names were remarkably fitting for that particular Clan.

“So what kind of mission is it? I just got this and haven't had time to read it yet,” Kyo said, wiggling her hand holding the scroll.

“Border support, we'll be gone a while, so pack accordingly,” Wolf answered promptly. “Meet back here in half an hour,” he added, dismissing them.

Kyo nodded and shunshined to her room.

It was a good thing she'd stashed enough gear here she didn't have to run home every time she got an unexpected mission.

Tou-san knew what it was like, but Genma was having trouble understanding why she just disappeared sometimes.

And now it looked like she'd miss his birthday, too. He was turning three in just four days and if Genma had gotten to decide, she and Kou would be home all the time. Always.

Grabbing the things she wanted to bring, Kyo checked over her uniform and the weapons and provisions she had tucked away on her person, and then hurried back to the meeting spot.

Wolf-taichou was already waiting.

“I'm gonna have to ask,” Kyo said, feeling mildly apologetic. “Have you read my file?”

“I have,” Wolf replied, thankfully not sounding like he had taken offence.

“Oh, good.” Kyo sighed. Not everyone read it all that carefully. Or so it seemed.

Instead of saying anything else, Kyo sat down on the floor, opened the mission scroll and began to speed read everything that had been written inside.

Great. They were going to patrol the border to Ame. Kyo was going to die.

Awesome.

The one stretch of border that was seeing the absolute most enemy action, and Kyo, all of nine, was being sent there.

Yup, she was definitely going to die.

Wolf crouched down in front of her when she tucked the scroll away. She'd leave it with someone before they left; less useless weight to carry around.

“I'll carry you most of the time, so don't worry about that,” the man said. “I expect you to be honest about your own energy and chakra levels, too.”

Kyo nodded, not feeling particularly happy, but she was honest enough she knew it was best for everyone, but most of all her, if she didn't push herself too far before even reaching any sort of destination.

It would put extra strain on Wolf, though.

As if reading her mind, the man chuckled softly. “You're pretty small, so it won't be a problem.”

Kyo tried not to scowl.

She had grown taller, damn it!

“Should I be looking out for any other acts of stupidity from Crow?” Kyo asked grudgingly into the following silence.

Wolf shook his head. “No. He and his friend have attracted quite a bit of unfavourable attention with that stunt of theirs,” he said, sounding vastly disapproving. “Kasai gave them a formal reprimand.”

Which was news to Kyo.

At her no doubt discernible surprise, Wolf snorted. “Disregarding the fact that pissing off a comrade to that point is incredibly stupid, never mind a poison specialist, sabotaging a fellow Konoha shinobi to such an extent... it's unacceptable.”

“Glad to hear it,” Kyo muttered, feeling a bit awkward now.

Wolf nodded and straightened out of his crouch, turning to the door a second before Sloth and Crow came walking in.

Stag arrived via shunshin a moment later.

“Let's go,” Wolf-taichou said, mentioning for them to follow him as he strode out of the room.

Wolf ended up carrying her all the way to the border, where she slipped off his back with a quiet 'thank you' and proceeded to run by her own power.

Sloth and Stag didn't seem to have any problems with this arrangement, but she could feel the glances Crow kept sending her, all throughout the first day and night.

When false-dawn lit the eastern horizon in a pale, greenish light, Wolf adjusted their course slightly and steered them towards what Kyo realised must be a border station.

Getting a few hours' rest sounded very nice.

As usual, it was easy to acknowledge that she never would have found the building without anyone to guide her there, which was entirely the point. Kyo followed Wolf as he entered, patiently waiting for someone to come meet them.

“Sloth, you show Scorpion to the closest bunk,” Wolf ordered when someone finally came to verify their identities and let them inside the station proper.

“Yes, sir,” Sloth returned calmly.

Crow gave a soft snort that Kyo was perfectly willing to ignore; wasn't her problem. And instead followed Sloth down the twisting corridors.

Sloth opened the door to a room and Kyo readily enough walked inside, finally taking off the ANBU cloak she had donned when they'd gotten close enough to the border, when it had started to rain.

As already established; water didn't agree very well with her needles.

Contemplating the question of if she wanted to bother with a shower, Kyo finally just let herself fall onto the closest bunk she came across, pleased to note that there were eight in this room. Which was plenty enough for all of them.

Throwing the blanket over herself, Kyo put her head on the pillow and closed her eyes to sleep.

.

It established something of a routine.

She could tell this was something Wolf's team had been doing relatively often, because all of them seemed familiar with the border stations they visited.

Kyo caught sight of Aita in one of them, and she perked up happily before she realised she couldn't approach him. Not as Kyo, and Scorpion had no reason to talk to the red-headed Uzumaki.

At least she got to see him; make sure he was alright. Note down how tall he'd gotten since they'd last met up. Then again, he was sixteen now? Practically an adult. Almost.

Definitely by shinobi standards.

Then they reached a border station that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

She couldn't say what, exactly was making her uneasy as hell because nothing looked out of place, this station just as hard to find as all the others had been.

Wolf came to a stop in a large tree, mentioning for the rest of them to be silent.

Despite it being second nature by now, Kyo checked to make sure her chakra was firmly under wraps.

'Crow, you see anything?' Wolf signed.

'Nothing,' the teenager replied in kind.

Kyo could tell that all of them were tense. Something about this place felt off.

There were no obvious signs of foul play, but then again; no one had come out to greet them, either, and there was always at least one team hidden outside a station at all times as sentries.

This was not looking good.

'Let's take a look,' Wolf signed, and he looked grim, the emotion conveyed through his body-language and the way his hands moved through the signs.

Wolf easily found the entrance, and cautiously creeping inside, they got their first confirmation that something was very wrong.

The second door, the one that actually led into the station proper, was stood ajar, and from what they could see, all the lights were off.

Hyper-alert, noticing every shadow, every hint of a noise, Kyo followed Wolf deeper into the seemingly deserted building.

Then they came across the first body.

He hadn't been dead long, judging by the state they found him in, and the Konoha hitai-ate on his forehead was very telling.

Kyo was pretty sure she already knew what had happened here.

Wolf mentioned for them to continue, leaving the Konoha Chuunin where he lay, for now.

They searched the whole building, finding more corpses, destroyed equipment and so much blood, but they couldn't possibly have found everyone that must have been stationed here. There should be more bodies.

By the looks of things, the attack must have taken place some time during the night, perhaps so far back as a day ago at most.

They couldn't find any sign of who had done it.

'Where's the rest of them?' Kyo signed when it felt like they'd looked everywhere. It was taking more time than it felt like it should, but they were being very careful, prepared for any traps that might have been left behind.

They'd found two already.

Sloth had meticulously disabled one, and Crow had warned them not to go into one of the back rooms, pointing out several things to Wolf that Kyo hadn't been able to make out.

She trusted their judgements, though.

Wolf tilted his head, as if considering something, and then mentioned for Kyo to come with him, sending the rest of the team off to continue the search.

Kyo watched curiously, walking right behind the man, as he took them deeper into the eerie place, walking confidently through twisting and confusing corridors designed to make you lose your orientation.

“There should be a hidden level beneath this one,” Wolf said in a barely audible voice, pausing to consider a perfectly ordinary-looking stretch of wall with far more interest than Kyo felt was warranted.

She could deduce there was probably something more to it, though.

“You don't think that one looks the same?” Kyo asked, keeping her voice just as quiet.

“Only one way to find out,” Wolf muttered and pulled a kunai from a holster, stabbing it into a seemingly random spot on the wall.

Which, with a quiet groan and scrape of stone on stone, slid back to reveal a narrow opening, barely large enough to let Wolf-taichou through sideways.

Kyo had no problem walking through normally.

On the other side, it was even darker, and it took a moment for Kyo's eyes to adjust.

It just... looked like an empty, dusty storage room, a couple of wooden crates stacked against one of the walls.

Which was a hint enough that it wasn't. Things very rarely were only what they looked to be in the shinobi world.

Kyo subtly fluctuated her chakra to make sure she hadn't walked into a location-based genjutsu, and then walked further into the room when she couldn't detect anything.

Wolf sent her an amused glance, but didn't stop his own inspection of the room.

“Here,” he said softly, crouching down in the left-hand corner closest to the 'door'.

Kyo walked over to see what he'd found.

There were faint marks etched into the floor. Looking like nothing more than random scratches at a glance.

“These places are made to be a last resort, and are almost impossible to get into from the outside,” he told her.

“Almost?” Kyo tilted her head. That word made all the difference in that sentence.

“If you know what to look for, there's a loophole,” Wolf agreed. “A small one,” he added giving her a pointed glance.

Kyo blinked. “They could kill me, thinking I'm one of the enemy shinobi,” she pointed out, rather flatly.

“Which is why we will be doing this very carefully,” Wolf returned, not so much as missing a beat. “There are air-vents, but they'll be impossible to so much as find. What I'm banking on, however,” he trailed off, wiping the dust away from some of the marks on the floor.

Fuuinjutsu. Of course.

Wolf cut his thumb on a kunai and dragged the small injury over some of the seals, which made them glow with a soft, eerie light.

There was another sound of grinding stone, and then a small section of the wall next to Wolf slid open, barely large enough for Kyo to fit.

She stared at it.

Well. She supposed it was a good thing she'd never been claustrophobic.

“They're intended for summons, if I remember correctly,” Wolf murmured quietly. He turned to give her an expectant look.

Kyo sighed. “Yes, sir.” She gave an absent salute as she considered how to do this.

With a mental shrug, Kyo kneeled in front of the square and went in, arms and head first.

If there were any people down there, still alive and conscious, she wanted to be able to defend herself at least somewhat if they decided to attack her before she got a chance to announce herself.

It was formed like a chute, going at a steep angle almost straight down.

It was nothing but rough stone, though, so there was no danger of her slipping uncontrollably, even without chakra.

It reminded her vaguely of that one time she'd gone spelunking in her past life, when she'd been in the United States. That had been an almost oppressively tight fit, too, feeling like she'd had the weight of the entire mountain pressing down on top of her.

Her hands finally brushed against a hard, smooth surface, which was quite neatly blocking her way. Her exit.

If there'd been room for her ribs to expand that much, Kyo would have sighed again.

Feeling along the surface, lid, whatever it was, she could feel faint patterns carved into it.

Going by what she'd witnessed Wolf do just a minute before, Kyo pulled a needle from a cuff holster and jabbed it into one of her index fingers.

Then proceeded to trace the pattern with her bleeding digit, hoping to hell and back she wasn't about to activate something that would kill her.

Instead of the increasingly morbid scenarios flashing through her mind, the edges of the square stone glowed softly, and then dropped away.

Smashing to pieces on the floor somewhere beneath, judging by the sound.

Taking as deep a breath as she could of the relatively fresh air, Kyo curled her fingers around the edge and pulled herself a bit further down.

“Anyone in here?” She asked calmly into the darkness.

God, she hoped so, or she had gone through all this nerve-wracking effort for no reason, and Wolf would have to try and talk her through how the hell she was supposed to get out of here again.

“Identify yourself,” a soft but even voice said from off to her right, closer to the floor.

“Scorpion, Konoha ANBU operative, part of team 17 under Wolf-taichou,” Kyo replied promptly.

There was a heavy sigh and a soft, flickering light was turned on. “About damn time,” the same voice muttered.

Kyo blinked rapidly as her pupils contracted, taking in the single room beneath her.

It was smaller than what she had imagined, with crates stacked in the back. There were also injured men stretched out on almost all of the floor, with just a few who seemed healthy enough to be ready for battle.

It seemed to be luck more than anything else that the stone lid hadn't hit any of them when it fell to the floor.

A stressed-looking medic was tending to the injured and the man who had spoken rose to his feet from where he'd been crouched, drawing Kyo's attention.

“May I enter?” Kyo asked evenly, not taking anything for granted.

“Yeah, just don't step on anyone,” the guy huffed amusedly, giving her an interested look.

It was a look she was fairly used to by now, and knew it was because of her small size in combination with the ANBU mask.

Kyo exhaled and wiggled herself further out the hole at the same time as she pulled herself down with her hands.

Sticking her palms flat to the ceiling with chakra, Kyo pulled her legs free and dangled from the ceiling by her hands for a moment, before she swung her feet up to stick them to the surface instead, walking over to the wall and down to the floor.

All without stepping on a single one of her comrades!

“So,” Kyo said once she was stood on the floor next to the exhausted-looking shinobi she'd been talking to. “How do we open up this place?”

“You are one tiny ANBU,” the man mused, blinking slowly at her, having to look down as the top of her head barely reached his chest.

Kyo could forgive him the reaction, because he frankly looked like shit.

“Other than a couple of traps, we haven't been able to find any trace of whoever attacked this station. If they'd been lying in wait, they would have attacked my team and I by now,” Kyo said evenly.

At least, that was what she'd been able to deduce from Wolf's actions. She seriously doubted he would have been willing to lead any potential enemies to this sort of knowledge.

“Over here,” the man muttered after a few second, having clearly needed a bit extra time to process her words.

Kyo could sympathize; she knew what it felt like to be so exhausted you were barely capable of coherent thought.

And with no further fuss, he slapped a hand on a