Dawn was dying. After weeks of ragged breathing and no appetite, of tests and terrifying results, of everyone walking around like she was half in the grave already, she could finally admit that. And all over a stupid mistake, too. She knew better than to open scrolls in the archive without checking for booby traps.
The door to the infirmary slid open but she didn't have the strength to even roll her head. If anybody was here to kill her, they'd just be moving up the time table a bit. She was smiling at that macabre thought when a face came to hover over hers and she was surprised to note that she was a little disappointed that he was familiar.
She wrinkled her nose at him in greeting. She hadn't had the breath for speech for days.
Jiraiya looked unusually grim and shockingly old. It had been a year or so since she'd seen him, but this seemed more like wear from hard times than natural aging.
“Dawn, can you hear me?” he rasped and she wrinkled her nose at him. He seemed to get that that was the best she could do because he was nodding. “Good. I studied the scroll you were trying to look at and all the information your family has about your...unique origins.” The heart monitor blipped unhappily at that and he gently cupped her face. “None of that, now. There isn't time for secrets. Honestly, there's not even really time to explain.” He grabbed her forearm and it started to burn, the heart monitor going crazy as he leaned over her, his eyes mesmerizing. “Sarutobi, Dawn. Say it with me. Sarutobi.”
She mouthed as her eyes slid shut and the monitor began to wail, “Saru-”
“-tobi?” Her eyes snapped open at the sound of her voice and she was looking up at 2 people in porcelain masks with red markings in a deep, dark forest. Why she was suddenly tiny, she hadn't the foggiest.
“Sarutobi?” she managed before her knees buckled and her eyes rolled up in her head.
She woke in a hospital, a pretty brunette with wide purple marks leaning over her.
“She's awake, Sandaime-sama,” the woman said, pulling back so that she could see the other people in the room.
An old man in a funny hat sat with his fingers steepled, puffing on his pipe. Another man with a wild mane of white hair hovered at his shoulder. She decided the old man was in charge and focused on him.
“Tell us your name,” he said after they'd been staring at each other for a moment.
She opened her mouth and nothing came to her. She started to panic because she might not know where she was, how she got there, or who any of these people were, but she should know her own name, shouldn't she?
Her breathing picked up as she panicked, little spots starting to dance in front of her eyes until she finally yelped, “I don't know!”
They stared at her impassively until Mr. Flowing Locks of White pressed, “You don't remember anything?”
She closed her eyes and thought but only one thing came to her. “Sarutobi, but that isn't my name. It doesn't feel...It's not my name.”
If nothing else, she was sure of that.
“No, child,” the old man said slowly. “It's mine.”
Oh. Crap. Her heart knocked against her ribs, then stopped. She turned pale and mist started to creep over her vision.
“I told you that she was too weak for this,” the lady medic said, sounding like she was under water, and came to hover over her. She tried to smile for her as she slipped into darkness.
She woke curled on her side facing the door. One of the masked people was standing there. There was a clean white bandage wrapped from her left wrist to her elbow and she no longer felt as weak as a kitten.
She sat up, scrubbing at her eyes with her fists. The Masked Man, because she was pretty sure it was a guy, watched her as she slid off the bed. She walked up to stand in front of him and fidgeted with the hem of her gown as she tilted her head back to ask, “Have they figured out who I am, yet? Or where I came from? Or why the only thing I remember is the name of a man I've never met?”
He just stared at her and she sighed. If she was left for long in a mostly empty hospital room with an unresponsive guard, things were going to become hazardous. She didn't know how she knew that; she just did.
There was another option, of course, but she wasn't sure what her guard would think of it. She shrugged, checked to make sure the back of the gown was closed, and shifted to pull open the door when his hand landed flat against it, holding it closed.
She stepped back and shook her head at him. “I need to know what's happening and if you won't tell me, then I'd like to find somebody who will.”
He seemed startled that she was arguing with him but there was an undercurrent of amusement. Instead of arguing with her, he held out his hand and after she warily took it, he led her out into the corridor. Everyone seemed a to skitter out of his way and she decided the mask guys were probably like the town's boogeymen.
They'd nearly made it to the door when an older lady who looked like she'd seen a bit of everything stopped him. “ANBU-san, where are you taking the child?”
“To Sandaime-sama,” he answered and she startled as the lady nodded. Apparently, he could speak, just not to her.
Someone hustled through the doors, air with the bite of late fall rushing in and chilling her to the bone. She shivered and her guard stared down at her for a moment before he crouched, pulled off his cloak, and wrapped her in it, lifting her and pulling the hood over her head. Since she couldn't see anything, anyway, she laid her head on his shoulder and curled her hands into his shirt. She felt wind resistance as he took off, but the trip was smooth until they jerked to a stop.
A knock sounded and the old man's voice called, “Enter.”
She straightened as they walked through the door, shoving the hood off her head. Then she shrank back against her guard, her hand tightening in his shirt. Besides Hair Guy and Sarutobi, there was a man wrapped in bandages and he was giving her the wig. Nobody looked at little girls like that unless they were creepsters. Her guard must have felt her reticence because he stopped in his tracks, arm tightening around her legs. Maybe she wasn't the only one who saw it.
“Hound-san...,” Sarutobi said around his pipe.
“The girl requires information that I'm not allowed to give her,” her guard said and she could sort of see how his mask looked like a puppy, now. A murder puppy, yes, but a puppy.
“Of course,” Sarutobi said and stood, looking at creepy bandages guy. “Danzo, we will continue this later.”
Danzo hesitated for only a moment before saying, “Of course.”
She balled her fist tighter into Hound-san's shirt under the cloak and he angled her away from him as the creepy guy passed, the want and greed in his eyes crawling over her skin like ants.
Everybody stayed still and tense for a long minute and when Hound-san relaxed, she whispered to him, “I didn't like him. He was dirty.”
He patted her leg awkwardly as he walked around the desk and put her on the edge in front of Sarutobi. He hesitated a moment before tucking his cloak around her legs. She smiled up at him and got the feeling he was startled but pleased as he moved to stand military straight against the wall.
Then he rattled off her questions just as she had and Sarutobi tilted his head, studying them.
“Your name is Dawn,” the old man finally answered. “You were sent here because you were dying and this was the only way your family could think to help you. And you remembered my name because it was an odd form of safe passage as they could not come with you. They knew people would at least be curious about how you knew it.”
“Huh,” she managed before the door burst open and Dawn looked back to see her lady medic stumble to a stop.
“My apologies,” she said, bowing to Sarutobi. “I was concerned about my patient that had gone missing.”
Saritobi nodded as the lady gently closed the door and shuffled to Dawn's side. The look she sent Hound-san was absolute poison as she reached out to smooth Dawn's hair from her forehead, probably checking for a fever. It was such a mom move that she suddenly wanted to cry. Whatever that story was, she didn't think it had a happy ending.
“I'm sorry, Lady Medic, but I was going to go by myself if he didn't help,” Dawn said, battling back her melancholy to smile at her.
“My name is Nohara Rin,” her medic said, bending at the knee a bit to look her in the eye. “And I'm a medical nin.”
Dawn nodded, kicking her bare feet under the cloak to watch it flutter silently around her. “Okay. Nohara Rin, Sarutobi, Hound-san, and Hair Guy. I'm Dawn.”
Hair Guy let out a startled laugh. “Call me Jiraiya, brat. Although somebody's gonna have to teach you honorifics, eventually.”
Rin cleared her throat and leaned down to whisper, “And Sarutobi-sama is the Sandaime, the Third Hokage of Konoha.”
“Sandaime, Jiraiya, Rin, and Hound-san,” Dawn whispered back, nodding. It was odd, but she felt better knowing everybody's name. “So. What're we doing with me? Are we sending me back to...wherever?”
Sandaime cleared his throat and looked at Jiraiya who shifted uncomfortably, answering, “We can't send you back, brat. We don't really know how they sent you here in the first place. It seems you're stuck with us.”
Dawn watched him tap a decent sized scroll against his palm and asked, “How did you find out my name?”
The tapping immediately stopped and he shifted. “Well. Apparently, whoever sent you, they decided to let you carry a message for them.” He waggled the scroll then pointed at her bandaged arm. “They sealed it in there. When we removed the seal, out came the scroll.”
The scroll was bigger around than her arm. She didn't want to call him a liar, but really. She gave him a dubious look.
“I'm pretty sure,” he said, shrugging, “that whoever did it decided your talent with time and space would take care of it.”
Dawn decided not to argue. Fatigue had snuck up on her and she was suddenly just so tired of this whole ordeal. She couldn't go back, so she had to go forward.
She studied her hands for a moment before asking, “Does the scroll tell you how old I am?”
“No,” he said after a beat. “But Rin-san says you're either 5 or a very petite 6.”
She yawned before she could ask anything else and Rin said with a bit of steel in her voice, “That's enough. She's not well enough to be discharged, yet. We can continue this after she's gotten over the chakra depletion.”
Later didn't come. When she was finally discharged from the hospital, a woman that was so obviously civilian picked her up, holding a little travel case in her hand. She was nice, but distant, and already burdened with 4 kids of her own. She didn't expect Dawn to be a nanny or a maid, she just wanted her to stay out of the way.
The nightmares started a week after she was released, terrible ordeals for everyone involved. She blacked her foster mother's eye the first time she tried to wake her up from one and after that, she was left to her own devices.
After a whole month of sleepless nights and terrifying the other kids in the house, her foster mother marched her and her little travel case into the Hokage's Tower.
“She's a good girl,” her foster mother said. “As long as she's awake. She needs help and I don't have the time to deal with her. I'm sorry, Hokage-sama.” She paused, then settled a hand on Dawn's head. “I'm sorry, Dawn-chan.”
Then she hustled back out the door, leaving Dawn with the Sandaime.
“Do you want to tell me about these nightmares?” he asked gently.
“I don't remember,” she said, twisting her fingers in her skirt. She was only lying a little.
He sighed but didn't push.
The next six homes were much the same, only they didn't last nearly as long as her first foster mother.
Finally, Sandaime sighed, eyeing her. “This isn't working, is it?”
“No, Sandaime-sama,” she answered dutifully, swinging her feet from the edge of the desk. She refused to care that she'd become something of a problem child.
He sighed again and nodded. “Then we'll try something different.”
The group homes and the orphanage only made it worse until, finally, the Sandaime was forced to try something really different.
“Dawn-chan, this is Yamanaka Inoichi. He's going to try to find a way to stop the nightmares,” he said and didn't argue when she climbed off the desk and into his lap at the sight of the big blond dude with lovely eyes.
It was hard to tell but she thought that shocked Yamanaka. He hesitated a beat before moving around the desk and kneeling in front of her. “This won't hurt,” he said before placing his hands on her head.
What felt like a slow blink later, he pulled his hand away, frowning. She started twisting the Sandaime's robes in her fingers as he said, “There's nothing earlier than 3 months ago. It's like everything's been wiped clean. There might be something else there, but it's layered under white noise; I can't focus on it.”
A knock on the door cut him off and he rose as the Sandaime called, “Come in.”
The door banged open and Jiraiya stood there looking triumphant. Dawn felt herself light up. He was just such a funny old man.
“ANBU-san, take Dawn out and wait in the hall, please,” Sandaime said and she scooted off his lap, scuttled around Yamanaka, and the bird-faced ANBU-san that reached for her, and hurried over to grab Kitty-san's hand and haul him out of the shadows, towing him along behind her. He and Hound-san were two of her ANBU, almost always the ones that were sent to collect her when things were going awry.
She stopped just in front of Jiraiya and reached up. He held out a hand, letting her curl her hand around two of his fingers. “Are you staying long?”
“Hmm,” he grumbled, bending at the waist until his face hovered over hers. “I suppose I could stay a couple of days longer.”
She smiled and went up on her tip toes and pressed her cheek to his in thanks.
She stepped back and let go of his hand and he moved aside to let her pass. Dawn paused in front of the woman behind him, tall, blonde, and busty with a diamond in the middle of her forehead who watched her curiously. Dawn bowed a bit, then shuffled past, dragging Kitty-san with her.
The door closed behind them as she took a seat on the bench, keeping Kitty-san's hand even when his fingers flexed like he was thinking of letting go. A dark-haired woman was watching them as she leaned against the wall across from them. Dawn tipped until she was pressed against his side. After 3 months of little to no sleep and moving every few days, it wasn't a surprise when her lids started to slide shut.
She woke up, as always, screaming.