“It’ll be okay, Shippo-chan,” a fearful murmuring, echoing against her ear, “it’ll be okay, I promise. Big sister will protect you.”
She can’t stop the cries leaving her mouth, the sobs heaving her body in shuddering moans - the fire and smoke too much for her tiny body to handle.
She can hear them in the distance, reverberating deep in her soul; the roars.
It’s power - chaka - burning a path through her veins, down to the marrow of her bones, and the sensation of it hurts, it hurts so so bad and-
She is - somehow - not alone in her cries, and in her pain.
She can hear him, somewhere beside her, his lungs and throat hoarse with his effort - her brother.
Kiba, she knows, although she isn’t sure how.
Another roar shakes the ground, her sister clutches her close, whispering frantic prayers into her barely-there hair, and she can feel such an overwhelming sense of fear she doesn’t know how she isn’t choking around the taste of it. It’s palpable, in the air, as she screams and cries, barely breathing.
She can feel chunks of rock and stone falling upon them, scattering themselves as dust - thick and cloying - upon their heaving bodies. She has a numbing moment of chilling fear that they will be crushed beneath the debris, but it soon stops. Beyond the sounds of her sister's frantic praying, she can hear whispers and sobs from what she can only assume is the people from the village.
She struggles to open her eyes, to force them awake, and she manages after a heart-pounding moment of breathlessness. This, meager though it may be, feels like a victory.
It is dark. Eyes straining, she can’t see anything, can only make out vague forms in the dark, and she wonders if this is any better than the painful sensation of not being able to open them at all.
Her eyes begin to sting with the smoke and dust, her skin crawling and burning with the fiery sensation of Kyuubi-chakra, and she couldn’t help but cough and choke around the ashes in the air.
She’s not sure how she’s still alive - how she ever made it this far in the first place - and she shudders around the fear of it.
But her sister hushes her, smooths back her hair, and that’s how they stay; huddled close in the dark, hiding away from a monster that could kill them with only a step, and praying to anything that would listen to please, please let them make it through the night.
It’s a desperate prayer - a hopeless one.
Nothing is going to be the same after this.
She can’t help but wonder, briefly, if Obito ever knew what type of hell he was unleashing upon the world.
This is the crucial moment.
The moment that changes who she is - who she would become.
This is the moment she wakes up.
They make it through the night.
And now, awake and aware, she suffers in silence as the village rebuilds around her, quietly thinking that she has never felt so helpless before, and that, perhaps-
This is her penitence.
Being in a new body is…
It’s the simplest way to put it; the only one she can make sense of.
She’s not all there. She can feel the edges of her previous existence pulling and tugging on her, strings, from a distant dream-like reality. The person she used to be mingling with the person she would become, the sensation of death heavy-set in her bones.
Her memories are tangible, life-like, teasing and taunting her with things she can no longer have and things that would become.
She knows, somehow, where she is. Who she’s become.
And, as she mourns the death of a world no longer existent-
“Shippo,” she can hear a crooning, snuffles and whimpers coming from somewhere she can’t see, “you are so pretty, my Shippo, so loved.”
She opens her eyes, takes in the face of that of her new mothers, and blinks slowly.
Her mother is a vision, so close. Feral, untamed, unique. She can see it in her eyes. Something...spectacular.
(Somewhere behind them the ghost of a woman stares down at her, cheeks hollow and skin pale, tattered edges of ruined soul cursing her for something she can’t understand.
Behind the long cut of its black hair she can see some type of familiarity. Although she knows this ghost she purposely turns away, focuses on the living. She feels that if she stares any longer she’ll become lost.)
“I will make you strong, my little Shippo, so that none may harm you,” she’s pulled in close, her not-mom rubbing their noses together, and she thinks that she feels-
Maybe this won’t be so bad, she wonders, maybe this is a chance for something better.
For something new.
(The ghost sneers, glowing eyes casting bright shadow across the room, the harsh edge of terrible words smeared across the edge of its mouth. It vanishes with one last look of bitter contemplation, and she’s left alone with her...mother.)
Anything different, from before.
She’d had a mother, before, too. A father as well. They weren’t exactly the best of parents, but they did try. That’s the least she could say of them.
She can’t help but wonder what’s happened to them now. If her death had...affected them, in any way. She knew, logically, that they loved her. But knowing and feeling are two separate things. Their love was like a distant, offset thing. Unreachable.
Looking back on it now, she supposes she was hard to love. She was always a bit different , a bit off , from what they had hoped for.
At the very least they can try again with her brother. Despite everything that happened between them, everything that went wrong, she sincerely wishes them the best. They were her family after all.
And they weren’t all she had, there was them , those that she-
She did her best though. She graduated high school, went to college, got married. Had-
A part of her is grateful for her death - to be broken off, free, from the monotony of life. She felt shackled, in a way, caged by those around her. By her responsibilities.
Be a child. Grow up. Graduate high school. Grow up. Graduate College. Grow up. Find a job. Grow up. Find a lover. Grow up. Get married. Grow up. Have children. Grow old. Die.
Play the part.
She hadn’t asked to be born in a world where her path was already laid out for her.
Maybe that’s why she didn’t question it. Didn’t wonder ‘how’. Didn’t think, for even a moment, that perhaps it was all fake. A dream.
The real questions she should have been asking, rather than becoming immersed in her new role, was-
‘Who put me here?’
Who she was begins to fade. Disappearing and melting into warmed honey, mixing with the blood in her veins and turning her inside out - syrupy sweet.
A name, a face, a cherished memory.
Gone - just like that.
Sometimes, she allows herself a private moment to mourn these thoughts, to say goodbye to a loved one, or whisper out the last trembling notes of a song.
There are some things though, some things which won’t her leave so easily.
Things she wishes to forget the most.
She wasn’t spectacular in any way.
There isn’t a way to explain her life from before - the words escape her, perhaps nonexistent, and she simply drifts in the person that she was.
But that’s not to say that her life had been perfect.
She’d had her troubles, as all do, and she’d had her poisons as well. The things that had killed her slowly, over time, and now mingle in her veins in the next life.
Perhaps she was more unlucky than most.
Perhaps that’s why she died.
Time passes like this.
Growing and growing, clinging desperately to things she hopes won’t fade, and observing those around her.
She is a quiet child.
A contemplative one.
So different, from her brother. Her brother, who is loud, and bright, and all encompassing in his seemingly never-ending existence.
She loves him.
From the way his nose wrinkles when he laughs, to the baby-pudge in his limbs, right down to the fang-marks on his cheeks - she loves him wholly and endlessly.
She can’t describe her love, or even really explain it.
All she knows is that when she looks at him, she feels-
It takes a lot to feel hopeful, in a situation such as hers.
She doesn’t have many options. It would be different, if she had been born into a different family. A different life.
She could simply fade into obscurity, wander the world, find...something. She isn’t sure what.
It is not so simple like this.
In a way, she has been damned. She cannot run from this village, nor could she just...live in it. She is a part of a ninja family. A clan - a powerful one at that.
Born with one of the Konoha eleven. Born from the clan’s leader.
She could never escape this. She’s not sure if she wants to try. She loves her brother, wants to stand by him, but her fear sometimes outweighs that love.
She is unsure of what to do, where to go from here.
Although she is surrounded by family, she has never felt so alone.
It is not easy to say goodbye to a world filled with those she loved.
She finds that although who she used to be fades with each passing day, the memories she holds of this world remain. She’s aware, constantly, that this world had been a book in her previous life. And, somehow, she remembers the beginning, the middle, and the end.
“We are Inuzuka,” her mother tells them, settling them down and leaning close, as if to share with them secrets no one else must hear, whispered into their still small ears, “and to be Inuzuka is to be pack.”
Her older sister is smiling at them, just six years older than their meager two, and brushing out the fur of her own nin-pups smoothly, effortlessly. The puppies are crowded around her, protecting, and Shippo can’t help but wonder how she can handle so many of them. Training and taking care of one ninken is hard enough, let alone three.
“The pack is everything,” her mother continues, clawed fingers coming up to trace the marks on her cheeks slowly, “the pack provides, cares for, and cherishes us. And, in turn, we do the same. We are not just family - we are one. One in mind, body, and soul. If you ever have need for anything, are lost or confused, just know - the pack will be there for you. Always.”
They are too young, Tsume is probably thinking, to truly understand her words. To take their meaning to heart, to feel the sheer trembling adoration behind each syllable, but-
“No matter the weight of your troubles, the mistakes you may make; we will be there, following you every step of the way.”
(She’d had a single child when she died. A small baby, a little girl of two. She understands, more than anything, the sheer endless love such a life holds.
A ghost curses at her, black hair hanging in matted clumps, and somewhere beyond she can hear the wail of a creature unknown. She misses her, her little sunshine gold.)
She understands, the doubtless love behind the sentiment. How cared for, how cherished they are. A part of her feels as if she is intruding upon this, as if she is taking something not meant to be hers, but the larger part…
It takes those words and it clings to them.
And this is where she fully makes peace with it.
Where she decides to play the part.
Two years pass before she can even blink.
Konohagakure is beautiful in ways she hadn’t thought possible. In ways her previous world couldn’t quite manage.
The trees were large, unimaginably so, the branches of them stretching far and wide to cover the ground in spotted shadows, leaves almost constantly dancing in the wind. Life seemed to be around every corner of the still rebuilding village, growing from the smallest flowers and into the oldest of people. She was somehow...startled, by it all. By the cheerfulness of everything.
There were people everywhere, for starters. Laughing, talking, smiling - as if everything was okay, as if this wasn’t a world that was centered around murder, and as if four years ago a monster of unimaginable proportions hadn’t nearly leveled them in their entirety. And she has to take a moment to collect herself at these times, to remember that this isn’t the world she once knew. That children lying dead in the street, starved and homeless, is nothing to stare at, and that they were still recovering from an earth-shattering war.
(She could sometimes see it in her mother, as well. The war - and what it left behind. Can see it in the lines under her eyes, the dead look she sometimes gets. And it is during those times that she remembers Death, can hear it so clearly, calling out to her in echoing murmurs.)
The Hokage Monument was larger than life, too. The faces so carefully carved into it standing bold, tall. She could see the details in each one, can see the care put into them, and a part of her feels...disgusted, by it all.
Somewhere out there, Madara is gathering shinobi with power the likes of which she can’t even begin to imagine. Amassing an army.
Thinking on it brings forth the reality of her situation, reminds her how very real this all is - and she feels frightened.
But she puts those thoughts away. She isn’t ready to dwell on them, not yet. It’s too soon. Her death too fresh. She can still feel the sensation of it, can smell blood and bones.
So she wanders the village, carefully tucked on Kuromaru’s back, and feels a weightless pit in her stomach. And, when it all becomes too much, she goes home.
The compounds kennels is a wonderful place - the only place she can feel truly at ease in the village.
She loves her clans quarters - carefully tucked away in the rolling hills on the very edge of the village, protected by acres of forest and wolf-dog, the soft green scent of moss and trees which crept into the rooms of the compounds letting her know she’s home - but nothing quite compared to the kennels. The snuffling dog-scent that took over the place, puppies whining over each other, the soft sounds of her sister patching a ninken up.
It was probably where she spent the most of her time. Curled up with Kuromaru or the newest batch of pups, learning from Hana on how to properly bandage a paw, check pointy ears for infection, and how to get the pups to swallow pills without fuss. It’s nice. Relaxing.
There’s something about the animals, that puts her so at ease. They’re not like people - aren’t judging like them. Don’t expect things from her, like them.
Taking care of the dogs, she finds, is hard work. There’s a lot more ninken then she could have imagined, the kennels packed full of them with even more scattered throughout the compound, trainers by their side. She can sometimes understand them too, in ways she doesn’t know how to explain. Knows that certain sounds mean ‘I’m hungry!’ or that the way they ruffle their fur up is a conversation all on its own.
She asks Hana about this, once.
“We’re Inuzuka, Shippo-chan,” she had smiled, in a way that said ‘you don’t understand now, but you will one day’, which kind of makes Shippo feel miffed because she’s not a child . (Although she is.)
“Our chakra is different from those in the village,” she had explained, washing her hands and crouching down to look her in the eye, knife and marbled meat abandoned on the counter, “we are, in a way, attuned to the ninken in our care.”
This is where Hana pauses, reaching out to touch Shippo’s own slightly pointed ear, “Our ears can hear their voices differently. To us they are not just animals - they are intelligent beings with thoughts and feelings all on their own. As you grow older these voices will become more clear.”
Hana stands, picks up her knife, and continues chopping. Later, the meat will be mixed with crushed pills and nutrients for the ninken to eat. A ninken’s diet is very closely monitored, as overeating will result in weight gain, which could then affect their training - which, in turn, could cost lives. It’s a delicate balance - enough fat to build up muscle, but not too much to hinder their performance.
“Our ninken are very different from common dogs, or even wolves - although they are directly descended from them,” she takes a moment to amend, and although Shippo is still too young to know the clans breeding process, she has a vague idea of what her sister is talking about, “They have strong chakra capabilities, and a very high intelligence. Just like we can learn their language, they, too, can learn ours.”
“Like Kuromaru,” she says, blinking up at her sister and thinking that maybe she understands .
“Yes,” Hana laughs, seeming to find her bewildered answer amusing, “exactly like Kuromaru. Listen, Shippo-chan, there’s a reason we are considered among Konoha’s honoured clans. Just like a Nara’s chakra is tied and attuned to the shadows, we too are bound to our ninken. And, just like only a Nara can control the shadows, we too are the only ones that can understand and train our ninken.”
Hana pushes the meat to the side, drags over another large block of it, and continues chopping, “but, Shippo-chan, you won’t truly understand ninken until you have one of your own. Only then will you finally be able to see the world in the way that they do.”
And Shippo takes a moment to imagine it. What her ninken will be like, how well they’ll get along, and it occurs to her - suddenly - that this is all very real. This is happening, and one day Shippo will have her own partner in the way the other Inuzuka’s do.
Hana interrupts her thoughts with a wet tap to her nose, drying off her hands with a towel.
“Now then,” she says, “pull over that stool and help me cut this up, okay?”
And although that’s where their conversation ends, Shippo is left reeling with the information for days. There was so much she still had to learn. So much to do. She finds that, despite the knowledge she already holds about the series, she truly knows barely even a fraction of the world at all.
She had thought that because she knew the series villains, the series end, she had all the information she needed.
There is history and life behind each family in Konoha. So much in the background of the series, hidden away, among secondary characters and filler arcs. Family secrets and techniques passed down for generations. A careful balance maintained between human and beast.
There is only so much backstory you can fit into a series centered around one character. Everything else has to...take a step back.
She wonders how the Inuzuka came to hold such trusted companions - where it all began. What exactly ninken are, and how it all led to the way things are today.
She resolves to find out.
This is the critical moment.
This is the moment she becomes truly invested, fully... immersed .
In a previous life, history had been her thing. Her passion, of sorts. Something she dedicated herself to, something that got her heart pounding and blood rushing - the very idea of it all.
There was a comfort in learning about things of the past. About how the world has been shaped, the many people who encompass it, and the knowledge that the world would inevitably change once more.
It’s not so surprising, then, that it would bleed away into her next life.
And, with a world as lore-rich as the shinobi lands, it really is no surprise she began to lose herself in it.
Over time she begins to learn more about the world. About her family.
And yet, it’s not enough. She craves more - wants to consume every book she can, read all of the scrolls her clan keeps locked away, raid every library in the village. And even then it wouldn’t be enough. She wants to experience this world in its entirety, wants to feel what makes it it and then some.
But, for now, she takes to her mother's lessons seriously. She becomes an attentive student - a diligent one.
They are allied with the Aburame clan, having come together decades ago in an attempt to balance out the powerful force that is the Nara-Yamanaka-Akimichi alliance. Although they may be united under the same village, she learns, such precautions are necessary in their line of work.
Politics, her mother tells her, a sneer on her fanged lips, distaste obvious, is much more involved in the shinobi world than one might think. Half of being a shinobi is politics.
And Shippo takes those words to heart, keeping them carefully tucked away to be analyzed later.
Being a ninja isn’t an easy life. It is a life of distrust, deceit, and blood covered hands. Take everything with a grain of salt. Never trust blindly.
These are all things her mother never explicitly says, things she mustn't dare say aloud (not in the way that the Uchiha’s do, in the way the Uchiha’s are mistrusted), but are the intent behind her lessons. Behind every word, every book, she makes these thoughts clear.
The village is everything to a ninja, but-
The pack is everything to an Inuzuka.
Loyalty, above all, to the pack.
Trust your nose, her mother says, your instincts. In life or death situations, it will be the only thing keeping Shinigami-sama away.
Kiba doesn’t understand. He is not like her, after all.
He is a true child.
But that’s okay.
She’ll understand enough for the both of them.
“Nee-chan, when will we get our own ninken?” Kiba asks loudly, clinging to their sisters shirt and rocking his body back and forth.
Hana stops wrapping a nin-pups paw and snips the bandage cleanly, fastening it and giving the whining pups ears a rub.
“When you turn 8 Kiba-kun, remember?” Hana says kindly, handling the puppy over to a genin cousin whose name Shippo doesn’t know.
“But that’s so far away,” he whines, drawing out the last syllables in a somewhat-annoying way and frowning in an overly exaggerated fashion.
“Four years really isn’t that long,” Hana laughs, under her breath, and moves over to the next Inuzuka cradled with squirming dog, “you’ll meet your ninken around the time you enter the Academy!”
Genin pups tend to be the ones that are injured the most, not yet used to working in teams that don’t consist entirely of other Inuzuka, and still learning their growing body.
“That’s enough Kiba,” their mom barks out, “meeting your ninken isn’t something to take lightly.”
Tsume closes the kennel gates with a slam and walks towards them, hands on her hips, Kuromaru only a step behind. All the scattered dogs make way for them, knowing that they are the leaders - alpha’s - of the pack, and she watches the way some dogs pull their ears back and lower their head at Kuromaru’s intimidating appearance.
Kiba startles and tries to hide behind her, having always been fearful of their mother's wrath, but can’t quite manage due to their height difference. Twins they may be, but gender still has an influence on both of them.
She is small, something she is admittedly bitter about.
“Listen here you two,” their mom says, a gravelly feral like tone hiding beneath her words, “a ninken isn’t a pet. It isn’t something to play with and treat like some common animal in the way that civilians do . It isn’t even your partner or weapon, like so many others believe.”
And she feels a small rush of confusion, at the last words. She had always thought that that’s exactly how Inuzuka’s viewed their ninken, had thought that ‘partners’ or ‘weapons’ was the perfect word to sum up their relationship to each other.
The series from... before had always seemed to indicate so. Kiba and Akamaru, partners in crime.
“Then what are they mama?” Kiba asks, a little hesitantly, and Tsume grins at them in an animalistic way.
“They’re pack,” she says, turning away as if that is all there is to it, throwing some crushed pill-meat into a bowl and slipping it into the kennels cages.
She shares a look with her brother, who merely blinks back, and she can see it in his eyes. He knows, vaguely.
They are both beginning to understand what pack means, even if only a little.
There is no set definition, she is learning. No handful of words to throw together and humm and nod at in a parody of understanding.
It is a feeling.
A feeling indescribable.
She hadn’t really had anybody, before. There were her parents, yes, but they were distant things only sought out during holidays, special occasions. She’d had her husband, but...she didn’t really love him, not in the way he did her.
She remembers the feeling of discontent she had. The unsettled restlessness that seemed to tug on her bones.
Her little sunshine gold. With her bright smile and vibrant personality - eager to please, happy to learn, ever so loving.
She reinvigorated her with each laugh, each precious breath, until she felt whole once more.
Among all her regrets, she is the highest.
For a time it is just Kiba and her.
Their sister, although child too, is older than them. She is already preparing for graduation, for adulthood, and is mature in a way they can’t quite (outwardly) manage.
Their mother is one of the strongest in the village. She is the leader of their pack, their clan, and is so weighed down with responsibilities it is amazing she can find time for them at all. Hounded by clan politics, clan meetings, last-second missions. Being a mother comes second to being a ninja, after all.
That’s just how this world is.
So, it’s just Kiba and her.
Her and Kiba.
Growing together, playing together, being together, and this is the first time she’s learned what it means to have a sibling.
To be close to them.
They are twins, through and through, and it shows. The same eyes, same nose, same markings - with the only difference being the smattering of red she has growing around her eyelids. They even have the same shade of hair, wild and untamed, hanging just above her shoulders and curling around her face - a constant, annoying, presence.
Their difference in gender doesn’t seem to deter Kiba, who is almost always by her side, and they trade off clothing, food, anything and everything they can as if they are the same person. What’s hers is his and what’s his is hers.
It’s a nice feeling.
And yet, even so-
It is not her place. To be with him, stand by his side, play the role of little sister. To even exist.
The feeling swells within her, overpowering, and she drowns in it. In the guilt it brings.
She feels rotten, to the core, with the memories she has. Feels...tainted. Gross.
She knows this world's future. Knows how delicate it is, how essential it is that she maintain the balance of it. She is wary, unsure, what her being here will do. Has done.
She does not hold enough stock in Uzumaki Naruto to bring the series to the end it originally had. In anyone for that matter.
She has years to prepare. Many of them, at that. There is only one question-
Is she willing to?
It would be simple to walk away from it. To lay low and let things fall into place, to pan out how they should.
She could become one of the clans medics, spend the rest of her life in the kennels looking after the ninken, and avoid everything altogether. Graduate from the Academy quietly, quickly, bypass the teaming up process and move right into her clan’s medical-office. It would be simple, easy.
With her standing in the pack, her heritage, there is no doubt she would manage this little to no trouble.
These are things she had been ignoring, since she became aware. Lost in the feeling of family, of love, but now it is time to come back to reality.
She has a decision to make.
To let things fall into place, or-
Although her memories fade - melting away like burning wax, becoming nothing more than a wisp of bitter smoke - the feeling they leave behind remain. A butterfly, tingling nervousness at something she can’t see, her cheeks growing hot, her lungs restless with laughter. A friend’s smile.
A part of her mourns this, this - loss. Is angry at it.
But she has more things to worry about, now. The past won’t change. Because no matter how she may not understand it, or even want to, she is still alive.
She has something now. A family. An understanding. A chance.
She is wary of it. Cautious.
There are still many things she doesn’t know, things that hide in the shadows and watch her with a smile, perhaps something a little more, so very far away…
But her nose tells her to grasp it. Her instincts tell her not to let this opportunity go unwasted.
She now holds the power - the knowledge, on how to protect her family, her pack.
Now all she has to do it use it.
Kiba smiles and tells her that he’s finally managed to get a kunai to hit the old, worn-out practice log hidden deep in the woods, and that he was going to try again with shuriken tomorrow.
She tells him that she’s happy, that maybe she can learn something from him - that she can’t believe how amazing her big brother is. Just a little ego-inflating, a way to get him to practice more, practice harder.
She needs to prepare him after all.
She’ll never grow used to, or bored, of his smile.
More time passes.
She learns and she grows and she plans.
She doesn’t dwell on bitter memories anymore, mourns the loss of cherished ones, and continues to expand her knowledge on the history of the world. Maybe, she can’t help but think, just maybe the past holds the clues to saving the future.
(It is an uneasy thought, a speculative one, doused in doubt and frantic hysteria. Perhaps she is just desperate for an answer; will grasp at anything for what she perceives to be the right one.)
She is nearly breathless with the fast pace of the turning days, hours counting down like drops from a leaky faucet, and before she knows it she is eight years old and it is time to be enrolled into the academy.
To fully set things in order - seal her fate, in a manner of speaking.
So, she clings tight to what she holds dear, steadies her resolve, and knows;
It is time for the story to begin.