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The Universe's Newest Puppet

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“Hello, Satomi-chan.” Mikoto cooed to her third child, with Sasuke cuddled in her other arm, sleeping quietly for the moment.

‘Satomi’ blinked up through wide, blurry eyes that struggled to see anything at all, and quietly thought oh shit.

o.o.o.o.o

Her death was not a particularly odd one. She’d been listening to music, distracted by her phone, and the heel of her boot had landed wrong on the yellow studs at the edge of the subway platform at the worst possible moment. She’d traumatized a handful of New Yorkers in the process, and irritated thousands more with the delays caused by the police dragging her body out from under the train, already cooling.

(New Yorkers were rather focused on getting where they were going on time, and rarely cared about the causes or consequences of their delays.)

She’d floated around in something cold and dark for a while, and then found herself somewhere warm and equally dark, where she couldn’t keep her train of thought for more than a few seconds before fading. She wasn’t sure how long she’d stayed in either place, but then there had been pain and pressure and finally light.

It had taken a few hours to readjust, to stop crying and panicking and trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

Her ears were working well enough, but her eyes were, somehow, worse than they had ever been before. Her thoughts were drifting in and out of focus, and she had to struggle to hold onto consciousness. She took things as slowly as she could.

Fact one: she remembered falling into the train tracks, the blare of an oncoming train hitting her as her earbuds had gotten caught on a jacket button and been yanked out, and massive amounts of pain. Then nothing, for a while.

Conclusion one: she was probably dead.

Okay, not terrible. Annoying, because she’d been more than halfway done with college, but at least she’d missed her last finals, so, yeah, that wasn’t awful.

Fact two: she was weak and disoriented and couldn’t make her body move right.

Fact three: there was someone huge holding her.

Conclusion two: reincarnation.

She’d considered it a possibility before. She hadn’t tied herself to the idea, because she’d been uncomfortable with believing wholeheartedly in anything she didn’t have some kind of evidence for, but she hadn’t dismissed it out of hand.

Remembering her past life in vivid detail was unexpected. Might fade in time. Might…

Her head hurt.

(Her brain was too small. She had a newborn’s brain and an adult’s mind. There wasn’t enough room. It didn’t fit.)

She went back to sleep.

o.o.o.o.o

It took her a few months of partial consciousness to figure out her name. People just spoke so fast, and it was… well, she could understand some Japanese, but minoring in a language and knowing it well enough to understand everything through hazy mind of an infant were two entirely different things. She’d read, once upon a time in a fit of boredom, about how long it took for a newborn’s eyes and ears to reach the level of clarity needed to understand the world around them. She’d forgotten what those numbers were, but she was fairly certain that it cleared up by four months. Maybe.

(Within three months, she could see better than she had in her first life, even if it was still worse than she’d seen through her glasses. This wasn’t saying much, considering how genuinely awful her eyesight had been, but it meant she could take in the world around her with something approaching clarity.)

And… and she couldn’t think, which was honestly a large factor in not being able to recognize her own name. She couldn’t even really stay awake for long, and usually just phased out and lets her instincts take over. It was easier, anyway. She didn’t have to deal with thinking about the diaper or breastfeeding, for instance (awkward; so awkward). It hurt her head less, too, since focusing on anything for more than a few seconds lead to rough headaches that made her tiny body cry.

She had… four constant family members. She could recognize their voices within days, and there were a few people that came by once in a while. The core was a mother, a father, a young child, and a baby that appeared to be her twin.

“Sasuke,” they called him, and she felt her heart clench because no. She fussed until they put her down in the shared crib, and wrapped her hands around the toy they’d gotten her, the little stuffed owl.

She stayed awake as much as she could, after that. She tried not to let herself sleep without sleeping, the haze that let her float through infancy without headaches. She checked names and faces and crawled outside until she saw the fans painted on the distant walls and and and

I don’t want to be a ninja.

o.o.o.o.o

Sasuke was even more of a cuddler than Satomi was, at this age. Satomi had spent her short foray into adulthood casually sitting in friends’ laps to the point where she’d been accidentally mistake for being in a relationship with at least five of them, so she wasn’t shy about cuddling, but neither were most toddlers. This meant that the two of them quite comfortably slept in a single crib for a very long time.

(Six months, she guessed. There wasn’t an accurate way to gauge time, beyond the terrifying, howling rage of the Kyuubi attack a while back. She was surprised it hadn’t activated her Sharingan, since she could understand the fear in a way that Sasuke couldn’t, but being less than a year old was probably pushing it. Their had to be some kind of age-related physiological requirement.)

She practiced making noises when she was alone, just her and Sasuke in the crib. It wasn’t like he was going to tell, and having his surprisingly strong little arms wrapped around hers was comforting. She didn’t get much time to practice (only a handful of minutes a day before the headache hit), but she did what she could. Serbian first, because she refused to forget that. English second, because she doubted she could forget that. Japanese last, because she was still learning.

(She doubted she’d ever get a chance to finish learning Spanish in this world, and dropped it with a mental sigh.)

“Strmo,” she finally managed one day, inordinately proud of herself for stringing together a word built out of so many consonants with her tiny baby mouth. Well, she hadn’t quite gotten the r right, and she was still stumbling a bit, but she had time to work on that. The headache was growing, but it was worth the triumph.

“Suh-tuh-mo.” Sasuke repeated after her, which drew her to a halt. She stared at him for a second, then leaned forward to press up against him and go back to sleep. She’d think about this later, when she didn’t have to worry about her head splitting open or her brain catching up to her and telling her that Sasuke, whose only language was supposed to be Japanese and whose first word was supposed to be something like a food or a family member, had decided to start off his vocabulary with a badly mangled version of the Serbian word for “steep.”

o.o.o.o.o

Twins sometimes have secret languages between them, she decided the next day. They could pretend it was that. Totally. There was no way anybody would question the innate complexity of a developed language, and they definitely didn’t exist in the universe somehow already to provide a source for the English-based loan words that even Konoha’s Japanese had in relative abundance and thus cause people to question where she’d learned such languages at such a young age.

(Satomi wondered if the relative isolation was causing her sarcasm to get stronger.)

She could just… not talk around Sasuke unless it was in Japanese. That was probably safer.

Annoying.

But safer.

“’Tachi,” she said, making her decision. Her brother (and older sibling, which was novel) blinked at her in surprise as she crawled over and into his lap, ignoring his homework, knowing he would pull it out of the way before she crawled over it and ruined her onesie. It was the first (Japanese) word she’d said in front of anyone other than Sasuke, and she had plans to… do something. She wasn’t sure what yet, but she figured she’d need to communicate with people soon. She sat with her back to Itachi’s chest, pulling his arms around her like a cage to keep her safe, a warm little cradle of sorts.

She dropped back into the part of her mind that didn’t hurt and hoped that the baby brain would absorb some language skills while she was down there.

She stayed down for a long time, only barely absorbing the life that went on around her hazy mind, the days and weeks blending into a monotonous roar.

o.o.o.o.o

She cried the first time Mikoto cut her hair.

For a child that cried so much less than was usual, the angry sobbing was different. Worrying, even.

“Satomi-chan, what’s wrong?” Mikoto said, getting to her knees in front of her daughter. “It’ll grow back!”

“Too short!” Satomi hiccoughed out, rubbing tiny fists against her eyes. The little curls dropped down nearly to her shoulders, a respectable length for a child of two. It had been longer before, but the uneven lengths had started looking a little silly, and Mikoto had chopped off a fair bit of it to make it look more uniform.

(The Uchiha clan as a whole tended to have three types of hair going around: the stiff, spiky hair that Fugaku had passed onto Sasuke (that Madara himself had once had), the silkier straight hair that Itachi had gotten from Mikoto, and the loose curls that cropped up here and there, like Shisui’s, and now Satomi’s.)

“It’ll grow back, sweetheart.” Mikoto said, hugging Satomi and sending a confused look at her husband. Out of all the things that could have made her cry, why this?

“Hey!” a voice called out behind her. Shisui. “What’s all the fuss about?”

“My hair is short.” Satomi muttered against Mikoto’s shoulder.

“Here, let me take a look at you,” effortlessly, Shisui tucked his hands under his little cousin’s armpits and lifted her into the air. She stared back, looking absolutely miserable.

“You look adorable!” He finally said, smilling. “And hey, it’s longer than mine!”

“You like short hair. I don’t.”

“You don’t like my hair?” Shisui pouted at her, eyes wide.

Satomi’s eyes narrowed in turn. “I didn’t say that. Don’t say I said things that I… um…”

Shisui raised an eyebrow, waiting. “Satomi-chan?”

“I lost my words.” She deflated, swinging from Shisui’s hands with a pout on her face.

Shisui laughed and dropped to the ground, sitting cross-legged with Satomi in the dip between his legs. “I’ll take care of her for now, Mikoto-ba-chan.”

“Thanks, Shisui. Itachi’s going to be home with Sasuke-chan in about half an hour if you were wondering.” Mikoto levered herself to her feet and left the room with Fugaku.

Satomi dragged one of Shisui’s hands up on top of her head and stared at him with wide, wide eyes. “Kitty.”

Shisui blinked, and Satomi made a meowing noise.

“You… want me to scratch your head like a cat?”

Satomi tilted her head and blinked. Shisui blinked again and gave an experimental scratch to the mess of loose curls on top of his cousin’s head and sent a look to the heavens when she made a surprisingly realistic purring noise.

Why are you like this.

“Okay, Satomi-chan. You can be a kitty.”

o.o.o.o.o

Mikoto was aware of the fact that some of her daughter’s behaviors went outside the realm of childishness and straight into the realm of downright odd. Given that the girl was speaking fluently and already writing at the age of three, she let it pass. Itachi had been odd as well, and he was almost a chuunin despite his young age.

(She tamped down the fear that Itachi would come home damaged beyond repair someday soon. She was a shinobi mother. She wouldn’t worry. She couldn’t allow herself to worry.)

(Thank all the gods she had at least one normal child.)

What wasn’t odd was the girl’s apparently joy at getting to dress up. That, if anything, was as characteristic of a young child as any that Mikoto had seen.

“Hold still, Satomi-chan.” Mikoto chided, moving to fix the obi. “Look, Sasuke’s already done getting dressed, and he held still.”

“But it’s so pretty.” Satomi kept twisting in front of the mirror to get a better look at the children’s kimono she was wearing. “There’s, um… light!”

“Glitter, Satomi-chan.” Mikoto had hesitated to buy it, because that really wasn’t traditional at all, but Satomi had seemed entranced by the garment. “Hold still.”

“Aniki, when we going to go?” Sasuke asked, tugging on the fabric at Itachi’s waist.

“Soon, otouto.” Itachi muttered, putting a hand on top of Sasuke’s head.

“Where we going to go?”

“The Hyuuga heir’s birthday party is today.” Mikoto said, standing up and brushing nonexistent dust off her hands. Her own garment hadn’t even wrinkled while she’d dressed her children. “And as the children of the head of the Uchiha clan, you will be making an appearance.”

“Play nice with the Hyuuga?” Satomi asked, tilting her head.

“Yes, dear. Now, let’s go, or we’re going to be late.”

“Aniki,” Sasuke tugged more insistently on Itachi’s robes. “Aniki, up!”

Itachi picked up his little brother and saw the boy smirking down at Satomi. The girl narrowed her eyes at Sasuke, and then turned and ran as fast as she could in her new clothes to their father.

“Tou-chan, up!” She demanded, arms in the air and her eyes as wide as she could make them. When Fugaku did indeed pick her up, she immediately turned to Sasuke and stuck her tongue out. Sasuke, in turn, clung tighter to his brother.

“Let’s go,” Mikoto said, placing a hand on Itachi’s back and pushing him gently towards the door, wrapping her arm around Fugaku’s free one as she passed him by. “We’ll be late if we stay much longer.”

o.o.o.o.o

Mikoto knew children could be awkward around each other, or that they could come up with ridiculous games from nothing. She hoped for the latter, though she’d heard gossip that the Hyuuga heir was rather shy. If she was lucky, Satomi’s disposition would stay sunny and drag little Hinata into playing, while Sasuke could stay with Itachi or meet Hizashi’s son, who had the conspicuous forehead wrappings that signified a recently applied Caged Bird Seal.

She really shouldn’t have been surprised when, after dinner, she found Sasuke teaching Hinata how to play Cat’s Cradle, while Satomi braided a confused-but-trying-not-to-show-it Neji’s hair. All the other children at the party were running around, taking part in various games, but her children had somehow stayed by the Hyuuga.

“Satomi-chan, what are you doing?” Mikoto asked.

“It’s so soft.” Satomi said, running her hands through it. “And long.”

“Why are you braiding Neji’s hair?”

“Fun,” Satomi shrugged. “He did mine. Look!”

There were, indeed, small braids all over Satomi’s head. They were carefully done, if very obviously the work of someone who was very new to what they were doing. Neji didn’t seem to know what he was expected to do, but Satomi’s bullish cheer had rolled past him and dragged him along, and apparently pushed Sasuke into Hinata in turn. From what Mikoto had seen, Sasuke probably would have played with the other children had Satomi not been there, and the two young Hyuuga would have kept to their corner alone.

“I see.” Mikoto smiled and nodded in encouragement, then turned to Sasuke to ask about his and Hinata’s game in turn. She could go back to the adult’s section of the party soon enough.

o.o.o.o.o

She hated being a child.

Sort of.

It was nice to have all of the pressure gone (though it was only a matter of time before it began building again, if the world followed canon patterns at all), but it was boring and disgusting. She got a little praise for speaking so well, but while it was good for a child, she was consistently frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t understand anyone around her nearly as well as she wanted to. It didn’t help that she’d heard Fugaku and Mikoto speaking late one night about how slowly and oddly she spoke, despite her clear diction and complex sentence structure.

(It wasn’t her fault she still had an accent. Or that she had to think and pick her way through the words to make sure she made sense.)

“Imouto,” Sasuke poked her in the side. “You look mad.”

“I am mad.” She glared at the paper in front of her.

“Why?”

“Because kanji are awful, and I can’t remember them.” She painstakingly wrote in another one. Her learning rate had plateaued when she’d gotten to this point, and while her adult intelligence was still keeping her afloat, she didn’t doubt that people would have ‘questions’ soon.

Sasuke thought over her answer. “Kanji are hard. And anyway, you don’t need to know kanji if you’re an awesome ninja!”

“You do,” she said, continuing to glare down at the paper. “And I don’t want to be a ninja.”

“You say that a lot, but you still do the exercises,” Sasuke pointed out. His own exercises were the little hiragana worksheets that children at four were supposed to be doing. He somehow hadn’t gotten some sort of inferiority complex yet, which was good, but she doubted that would last.

“I’m an Uchiha. I don’t have a choice.” Satomi filled out another square. “And I’d still need kanji if I became a civilian.”

“And what,” Itachi’s voice came from the door, sounding amused, “would you do if you were a civilian?”

“…accountant.” Satomi finally said. She’d honestly disliked financial accounting back when she’d taken it, even if managerial accounting had been alright, but saying ‘marketing director’ or ‘economist’ or any of the other jobs she’d considered was impossible with her current vocabulary. “Or a writer.”

Itachi looked genuinely surprised, but the look passed. “Why do you want to do that?”

“I like numbers. I’m good at them.” Good enough that no one tried to teach her anymore, judging her fully competent for the next few years. They hadn’t tested for much after she started making mistakes due to lack of practice, but she’d managed to prove herself relatively skilled. “And I want to work with money.”

“And a writer?” Itachi settled himself next to her and took her filled worksheets into hand to look them over.

“I’m not good with words,” yet, “But I like making stories.”

She could plot, and characterize, and do a lot of things. She just didn’t have the words for any of it.

“I see. Sasuke, what about you?” Itachi listened carefully to Sasuke’s rambling about being a ninja and joining the military police while he finished looking over Satomi’s work, pointing out a mistake or two, and then stood back up. “Kaa-chan sent me to call you down for dinner.”

Sasuke scrambled to his feet and immediately ran to the door. Satomi immediately ran after him, yelling, “WASH YOUR HANDS!”

Sasuke skidded to a stop in the middle of the hallway as Mikoto stepped into the doorway to the kitchen. “Ah, I was just coming to get you.” And then, as though she hadn’t just heard the screaming, she said, “Have you washed your hands yet?”

Sasuke pouted and trudged back up to the bathroom. Satomi went to follow him, but was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. “Satomi-chan, I know you want to follow the rules, but you don’t have to do it like that. Just tell me.”

She blinked up at Mikoto with wide eyes. “That wasn’t about the rules. His hands are dirty. I don’t want ink in my food. Or in his. Or whatever he got on his hands when they touched the ground. Or his pants. Or anything else.”

“I… see.” Mikoto stepped back, letting Satomi slip past into the bathroom. Satomi saw Mikoto’s face in the mirror, saw the troubled look on it, and turned her face back to the sink.

Her problems hadn’t left with her reincarnation, and as soon as she was old enough to think properly, they’d returned full force. Better to let Mikoto and Fugaku know as early as possible instead of hiding it and letting them find out later during a less opportune time.

(She knew they’d already noticed her refusal to touch her face with her fingers during training. Training meant dirty hands, from sweat and dirt and other icky, icky things. That wasn’t going to be touching her face if she had anything to say about it.)

And if she happened to overhear during dinner that there was a delegation coming in from Kumo soon, and asked for a sleepover with the Hyuuga? Well, that was just coincidence.

o.o.o.o.o

The sleepover couldn’t last forever, of course. And when she and Sasuke came back home and ensured that security was relaxed at the Hyuuga compound again, Kumo struck. One thing led to another, and Hyuuga Hizashi went to his death.

She stole away later that night, going to the kitchen to get away from Sasuke and think. She could do that much.

She had been reborn into a position that granted her a fair amount of influence over the plot. She was still too young to do much about anyone’s backstory, like the Hyuuga incident. She tried, and failed, there.

She was… she was also probably not going to be able to stop the Uchiha massacre. She would probably survive, since she was Itachi’s younger sibling now, like Sasuke had and still would, but everyone else was…

Dammit.

She lay her head down against the cool wood of the table and breathed. Okay. So. She liked most of the Uchiha now. She was also four years going on five, and completely useless to stop anything on that front unless she did something incredibly stupid and told someone about her past life and how much trouble a massacre would cause.

She could save Shisui, maybe. She knew where the river he died in was, and two or three years was probably enough time to practice her chakra up to a level where she could walk on water and maybe drag him out before he drowned. He wouldn’t thank her, but his survival was one of the few possible ways to delay the massacre.

(She doubted Obito would let it be stopped completely, but she could try.)

That wasn’t likely to do much, though. She was…

Naravno da ne mogu išta da uradim.” She muttered. This wasn’t the first time she’d tried to plan around the massacre, but it was the first time her incompetence had been so blatantly shoved into her face.

The only other option she really had was to follow in Itachi’s footsteps and make genin before her baby teeth stopped falling out, and somehow raise people’s opinions of the Uchiha and placate the clan into not initiating a coup in the process.

That was… also unlikely to work. Again, Obito. Also her own reluctance to hurt people and inability to do martial arts properly, despite her interest.

She was pretty sure that Sasuke’s burgeoning inferiority complex didn’t start until after the massacre, so that was helpful, but if she advanced too far and the massacre happened anyway, then she was pretty sure she stood a good chance of earning his ire for a very, very long time.

Still, risking Sasuke’s anger was worth it if she could keep her new family safe. It was hard to spend years in their company when she was so helpless and not feel something for them.

o.o.o.o.o

 “We don’t want to share a room anymore,” Sasuke and Satomi chorused, and it was clearly something they’d practiced.

Fugaku glanced at Mikoto, and then cleared his throat. “And why might that be?”

“She talks in her sleep and I can’t fall asleep.” Sasuke said, crossing his arms with a huff.

“He makes a mess and I have to clean it up because he’s lazy.” Satomi kept her hands folded across her lap.

“I thought you liked cleaning.” Mikoto said, brow furrowed. Stalling for time, Fugaku thought.

Satomi pursed her lips. “I like things being clean. I don’t like cleaning.”

Well, that was… fairly obvious, but it was also the first time Fugaku had heard her put it into words. “And Sasuke doesn’t clean?”

Never.” Satomi’s eyes grew wide and her bottom lip wobbled a bit, and Fugaku would eat his own shoe if that look hadn’t been practiced in the mirror.

“We really don’t have the spare room,” MIkoto said, trying to placate the two. “Can you handle it for at least a little while longer?”

The twins shot each other glances, pouting, and Satomi sighed. Sasuke muttered. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Can you make him help clean our room, though?” Satomi piped up again, and Mikoto resigned herself to a long discussion about hygiene habits, again, and how Satomi’s insistence on them was a little over-the-top, no matter how much she liked things being clean.

o.o.o.o.o

“Satomi-chan?” Itachi’s voice came from the doorway, and she looked up from her homework to see him standing there with Sasuke and Shisui. “We’re going to visit Nekobaa. Would you like to join us?”

Satomi’s hands stilled, and she considered it. She, unlike Sasuke, hadn’t actually met the cat clan yet. She was meant to have, of course, but she’d never actually been invited. After seeing her reticence to touch strays and neighbor’s pets, Itachi had quietly assumed that animals were just another thing in a long list of issues she had with the world at large. He wasn’t wrong, of course, but it stung a little to not even get an invite before.

“I… suppose I could.” She finally said, after thinking long enough for Sasuke to start impatiently shifting from foot to foot. “What are we going to be doing?”

“Collecting paw prints!” Sasuke said, and his face was already flushed with excitement.

“Sounds fun.” Satomi said, grabbing a hair tie and doing her best to quickly braid her hair. The curls had gotten larger and looser, to the point where the hair near her scalp was nearly straight, and the ones near the bottom were an inch or so around. “If rather invasive to their privacy.”

“We’re ninja, imouto.” Itachi reminded her. “It is unfortunately part of the job.”

“Right.” Satomi made a face, then walked around behind Shisui and leapt up onto his back. “Onwards!”

“Aye-aye, ma’am!” Shisui did a salute at thin air, and then hooked his hands under her knees and started racing forward as she clung to his neck. She could hear Sasuke demanding to do the same with Itachi behind her.

o.o.o.o.o

Her only thought after coming back from the cat clan (and immediately calling dibs on the shower), was that it really could have gone better.

At least she didn’t seem to have offended anyone?

Hiding in Nekobaa’s bathroom had probably been a bit much, though.

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi was sitting in the kitchen when she heard something startlingly familiar coming from the TV that spit static more often than not.

She left the table with the picture she’d been trying (and mostly failing) to draw behind, edging over to the door and staring at the screen, where an old woman from rural Lightning Country was being interviewed, apparently with the help of a translator, because that definitely sounded like English.

“Otou-san,” She scurried over to the kotatsu that Fugaku was seated at and clung to his side. “What’s she saying?”

Fugaku glanced over at the TV, and then turned his attention back to the paperwork on the low table. “One of the minor languages. They exist in pockets here and there across the continent where the Warring Clans Era didn’t wipe them out.”

“Eh?” Satomi tugged on his top, demanding his attention as only a spoilt younger child could. “No, no, tell me more.”

Fugaku gave up on the paperwork and turned to her. “A long time ago, there were various languages spread across the continent. After the Sage of the Six Paths discovered ninjutsu and passed it on, the people of the Nihon area, now known as Western Hi no Kuni, gained a lot of power very quickly, and began to overcome their neighbors in Chuugoku first, and then spread from there. Due to the presence of chakra, they subdued most of their enemies and occasionally picked up bits of their language, but mostly forced their own language onto everyone else. By the time chakra had been picked up by everyone else well enough for them to fight back against our predecessors, the language we speak now had become the default language of the continent, with people outside of Western Hi no Kuni learning it alongside whatever languages were native to their area, if they learned the latter at all. During the Warring Clans Era, these languages were destroyed even further, and large cities began to simply learn the general language without even bothering with the older languages. Now the old languages only exist in small pockets of rural areas, as a hobby to be learned by rich civilians or enterprising newscasters. Does that tell you everything you need to know?” (1)

Satomi stared at him with wide eyes, and then glanced over at the Kumo woman, and then back to Fugaku.

“What kinds of languages are there?”

Fugaku closed his eyes and sighed. “I don’t know the details. We can get you a book from the library.”

o.o.o.o.o

“Go away.”

“Rude.” Satomi sniffed, and while she didn’t leave, she did make sure to leave some space between them when she sat down, facing out into the garden instead of the person she’d come to talk to. The platter with the two cooling mugs of tea, she set down in the middle.

There was silence for several seconds, and then, “Why are you here?” Why aren’t you leaving?

Satomi glanced over for half a second, noting the white eyes that were steadfastly not looking in her direction, and shrugged. She was sure Neji could see it even without looking.

“You look like you could use some company that doesn’t have any connection to what happened.” And right now, that meant the whole Hyuuga clan. Neji’s mother had died in childbirth, and with his father so recently gone, that left him with only his uncle to raise him, which was… going to be difficult.

“I don’t need any company.”

“Somehow, I doubt that.” She picked up her tea, and inhaled the steam. It was still too hot to drink, but the vapors were comforting in the cool, crisp air of the November morning.

“Who sent you?”

“I sent myself, genius.” Satomi turned fully and stuck her tongue out for a second, garnering a look of irritation that quickly smoothed back into the blank mask. She let her face soften again, and shifted to a more comfortable position. “Seriously, I worry about you.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“That’s a lie and you know it.” Satomi said, but didn’t follow up on it, and neither did Neji. He took the tea from the platter, and they drank by the garden for a few minutes.

“You know that old saying, an heir, a spare, and a mare?” Satomi finally said.

“Yes.”

“The heir to raise to take over, the spare in case something happens to the heir, and the ‘mare.’ Someone to marry off or turn into a breeder.” She laughed, but there was something weary to it. “Can you guess where I’m going with this?”

Neji, bless his little five-year-old heart, furrowed his brow in thought. “…They’re trying to make you get married?”

“Close. They’re trying to get an engagement contract signed. The elders, that is, not my parents. They wanted to hold off until I made genin.”

“Who?” Neji seemed a little more willing to talk now that the subject had changed, if only to keep Satomi from needling him.

“Oh, you’re gonna hate this.” Satomi smiled brightly. “You.”

Neji’s face was… well, ‘rictus of horror’ was as good a descriptor as any.

“Okay there?”

Why?” He finally spluttered.

“Solidifying the Uchiha and Hyuuga clans’ alliance, I guess. We’re not heirs, so we can be married off to someone outside our clans, but we’re closely related enough to the Clan Head that it’s still somewhat prestigious to get our hands in marriage or whatever.” Satomi shrugged. “However it’s done, there will almost definitely be a couple clauses detailing how to end the contract.”

Neji eyed her, “And how do you know that?”

“There’s always a way out. Contracts can’t be airtight; there has to be room for emergencies. With something like this, there’s probably going to be a clause for mutual disinterest, ways in which shinobi duties might force us to break it off, and probably something about how to end things if one of us ends up being gay.”

Neji tilted his head. “Ah.”

“You sound like you want to ask something.”

“…Do you think one of is going to end up—”

“You never know!” Satomi laughed and hid her discomfort, because, well, yes. Maybe not gay specifically, but she was going to break this off as soon as it stopped being useful, because wow, no, marriage was not in her plans, children were not in her plans, romance and sex were not in her plans, at all, ever.

(Especially not when all the people that were physically her age were children. She was a grown woman. They were… very obviously not.)

“Why are you not mad about this?” Neji asked, crossing his arms and hunching his shoulders like it would protect him from the contract that was almost definitely getting signed right now.

“Because we can break it off, and if anyone ever asks me out, I can just tell them I have a fiancé and then they’ll leave me alone.” She leaned over the tea towards Neji as she spoke, and she could feel how wide her eyes and grin were, but she didn’t bring them back to normal, even after Neji scooted away from her, looking just a mite bit scared. “I have a great way to get of weird flirting when I get older!”

“You think that’s going to happen a lot?”

Satomi scoffed, shifting back into her seat. “Please, have you seen how many girls flirt with Itachi? My mom is gorgeous and we all got a bit of that. I probably won’t have as many problems as my brothers, but, hey, I’m a girl. Someone’s eventually going to ask.” And if I’m not lucky, they’ll refuse to take no for an answer unless I say I’m spoken for. “And you’re probably going to be kind of pretty too. Most of the Hyuuga are, so you’ll get people being all flirty and stuff.”

Neji made a face, like the very idea was insulting. “Ew.”

“Yep. Ew, indeed.” Satomi nodded sagely. “Besides, I don’t want to marry you, and I’m pretty sure you don’t want to marry me. We can just be friends. Forever, if we have to be.”

Neji thought about that. “You’re weird.”

“And you’re a jerk, so nyeh!”

o.o.o.o.o

The Academy was boring.

Incredibly so.

The thing was, she knew the math like the back of her hand (and a good ten years of schooling more). And she knew the hiragana and katakana they were learning as well. And the kanji they were learning for the next two years.

The history and culture classes were interesting, but she had the feeling she could pull an all-nighter or two like she had in college and learn it all in less than a week. Even without doing that, it was all structured for children to learn, which meant a lot of repetition.

(A disgusting amount of repetition, actually.)

There was, really, only one class that provided any sense of challenge. Taijutsu class took up at least half of the day, and while her adult brain made the other classes incredibly boring, taijutsu was…

Hard.

She hit the ground with a squawking noise as Chouji swept her feet out from under her, and levered herself back to her feet after Iruka declared it Chouji’s win. They made the seal of reconciliation, trudged off back to their respective corners, and turned to watch the next match.

(Which was Naruto vs. Sasuke. Of course it was.)

Satomi kneaded the heels of her palms against her temples, thinking. As it stood right now, all her teachers had noticed that she was at least a few grade levels ahead of the rest of the class in most of her book courses. She could feel them watching her with disappointment during taijutsu practice, when that intelligence didn’t translate over to natural fighting ability.

They wanted another Itachi. Graduate in a year and go.

She tried, actually. Not the graduation part, because a single year was clearly going to be impossible, but the taijutsu spars. She knew the forms, had done them quite a bit, and was exercising more than she ever had in her past life, but… well, it was still something a bit new. The forms were different from the ones she’d learned in martial arts classes before, and this time, she was actually expected to use them and try to hurt her classmates.

Every time she did that, her brain cried out they’re five years old, for pity’s sake! Sometimes she powered through it. Sometimes she didn’t.

“Alright, lunch time!”

Satomi and Sasuke almost always sat together during lunch, on a low wall at the edge of a small hill. Hinata occasionally joined them, but she often ended up getting pulled away into Ino’s little group, always growing, more often than not.

“I need to practice more,” Satomi finally said, picking at her lunch. “I keep losing taijutsu matches.”

“I guess,” Sasuke muttered, stabbing at his salmon with more force than necessary.

Satomi shot him a look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sasuke shrugged, and that was… that was so… passive-aggressive.

“Sasuke?” She tried softening her voice. “Are you mad at me for some reason?”

“You don’t need to get better.” Sasuke said. “You’re already smarter than me, and now you wanna just leave and graduate early like Itachi did.”

Satomi took a breath. Okay. “Are you mad that I wanna graduate early or that I’m gonna leave or that I’m doing better than you right now?”

Sasuke stabbed at his food. “Not mad.”

A spike of irritation flashed through her, quickly smothered by the reminder that her little brother was five years old and entirely entitled to these feelings. “Sasuke, look at me.”

He didn’t, so she hopped down from her seat on the wall and crouched down on the ground so she could look up at him. “Sasuke, I’m smart. I’m not going to pretend I’m not. If I had my way, I’d be going to some civilian school to be an accountant or something right now. I don’t get that option, so I’m going to be as good of a ninja as I can be, and that means playing at my strengths. But you? It’s going to take you longer to get there, but you are going to be much, much more powerful than I am. I like to imagine that I’m going to be good. You, on the other hand, are going to be absolutely amazing.”

She was tempted, so tempted, to just tell him she had memories of a past life, and that she was smarter than him for that reason and none other. That she was, in a number of ways, very much cheating.

“…You really think so?” He finally said, his voice very, very small.

“I know so.” Please let that be enough. “I’m a logarithm of a ninja. You’re an exponential.”

Sasuke blinked at her.

“Graphing joke. I start out fast and slow down as I get older, and you start out slow but get faster and faster later on.” Satomi smiled. “Trust me, if things happen the way I think they will, you’ll be outrunning me by the time we’re eighteen. Probably earlier.”

“I’m gonna be a good ninja.” Sasuke said, and nodded. The determined look on his face was adorable, enough so that Satomi reached out and pinched his cheeks. “Hey!”

“You’re too cute.” Satomi told him, taking her place on the wall again. “That’ll cause you some trouble in a few years, but for now, you’re adorable.”

She patted him on the head, and for a few minutes, everything was back to normal.

o.o.o.o.o

“I’m going to eat your brains,” Satomi gravely informed Itachi, her eyes wide and her voice solemn. She was sitting in his lap as he worked at the table, ear pressed to his chest and listening for the dull thudding of his heartbeat.

“I see. Might I ask why?” Itachi didn’t look away from his paperwork. Damn.

“If I get turned into a zombie, then I’ll eat you first. Zombies eat brains, and people’s brains work better if they get a lot of oxygen, and if they get a lot of oxygen, they’ll be healthier, and that means they’ll be tastier. And you’re really smart, so your brain probably gets a lot of oxygen, so it’ll be tasty.” She babbled. Itachi reached down and ruffled her hair, never pausing in writing with his other hand.

“And what about Shisui?”

“He gets to be a zombie, too.” Satomi didn’t even pause.

“And Sasuke?”

“He’s one of the human survivors, trying to cut a path to freedom.”

“Ah. Then I suppose you may eat my brains.”

“Thank you.”

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, and then Satomi spoke again.

“Aniki, can you train with me and Sasuke later?”

“Mm?”

“Only, you never say yes when Sasuke asks, so I figured you might if we both asked you.” She looked up at him, eyes wide and a little glossy with unshed tears and caught the exact moment that he realized that oh, this was the expression he’d caught her practicing in the mirror once.

“Maybe later, Satomi-chan.”

She rolled her eyes and thunked her head back against his chest. If she was lucky, maybe it hurt.

o.o.o.o.o

“Dance with me,” Satomi said, apropos of nothing, staring at Neji with wide eyes. She’d been pushed up a grade into his class the month before, and that meant, of course, that she was spending her lunches with him. Sasuke was still a little difficult to deal with (a burgeoning inferiority complex wasn’t the easiest thing to work around), but Itachi was keeping him mostly placated.

(“I’m Itachi’s favorite, so nyeh!”

“Well, I’m Shisui’s favorite, so nyeh!”

“What? Why do you get to be Shisui’s favorite?”

“’Cause we have the same hair, duh!”)

Well, it was easy to keep him distracted with childish games.

“What.”

“Here, stand up.” She pulled Neji to his feet. “Now, put one hand here on my waist, and put your other hand in mine, and one, two, three, one, two, three,”

Moving Neji around was much like hauling around an obstinate donkey. He was, in fact, something of a stubborn ass.

“Why do you want me to do this, again?”

“It’s fun, I’m bored, and nobody ever wants to dance with me unless it’s, like, traditional stuff at festivals. And those are nice and everything, but they’re rare and I want a little variety.”

Neji narrowed his eyes at her, and she smiled widely.

“I’ll dance with you!” One of the boys she barely knew called out, and, oh god, he was blushing.

Satomi closed her eyes, pursed her lips, and took a deep breath through her nose. She turned and grabbed Neji, hauling him around to be in front of her. A six-year-old was only useful against another six-year-old, but that was really all she was facing.

“Keep him away. Please.” She muttered against his back, fingers pinching into the fabric. She did not want to deal with this. She especially did not want to deal with this while barely scraping three and a half feet in height.

Neji sighed. “I don’t think she wants to dance with you, Hao-san.”

“Aw, c’mon, why not?” He craned his head to look around Neji with what he probably thought was a friendly grin. Satomi smoothed her features out into as impassive and as cold an expression she could.

“I don’t know you. Please go away.” Her hands twitched in Neji’s jacket. The boy was only six, for pity’s sake, but there was a reason she hated being flirted with and five years wasn’t enough for her to stop being twitchy and hiding behind her friends.

(She hadn’t run off to hide in the bathroom, though. That was an improvement over the last time this happened, back in college.)

“She asked you to leave.” Neji said again, a note of irritation entering his voice. Thankfully, Hao seemed to take the hint, pouting and going back to his friends, who were jeering, because children apparently started mimicking the bad habits of adults very young in life.

“Thanks.” Satomi muttered, and after a second’s hesitation, wrapped her arms around Neji’s chest and pressed her face into his back. God, she hated this sort of thing.

(She’d never gotten a truly horrifying reaction to turning a man down when she was an adult, but being ‘playfully’ threatened with a loaded bow and arrow, or getting creeped on by a drunk twice her age… it was enough that she’d already started getting jumpy in this life too.)

(She hadn’t gotten flirted with much in college, but what occurred was… not particularly fun.)

“I see what you mean about people leaving you alone more if there’s someone else involved.” Neji said as imperiously as a seven-year-old could. He might have been trying to avoid the subject.

“Sorry about using you as a human shield.” Satomi muttered, even as Neji pulled her hands apart and turned around to face her, arms crossed.

“Try not to do it again?”

Satomi saluted with gusto she didn’t feel. “I make no promises!”

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi started practicing near the Naka River as soon as she turned seven.

Seven, by Fugaku and Mikoto’s standards, was old enough to let their children stay out past dark. Itachi had been a genin at seven, after all; the twins could be allowed a little free reign within the village itself.

No one asked, of course, and she didn’t go every night. She varied it just enough that she could hope that if Shisui died, he would still do it here.

(That she could drag him from the river in time, because even if she knew she couldn’t stop what Danzo did and what Shisui himself tried to finish, that she could maybe save him from the water.)

o.o.o.o.o

Tree-climbing was something she had seen people do, and seen explained in books, but had never been explicitly taught to do.

This, she decided after several hours of attempting to do it, was for a very good reason. That reason was that her chakra control prior to graduation was kind of awful.

(Better than Sasuke’s was right now, and better than Naruto’s would be as a genin, but still kind of awful.)

She didn’t start with the tree-climbing, of course. She started small, with her hands, getting leaves to stick to her fingertips, and then her forehead, and moving to more and more difficult parts of her body, like her elbows and shoulders. Of course, it got more and more difficult each time, and by the time she got around to attempting to tree-climb…

Satomi stared at the ground after falling several dozen times. She was… pretty sure she didn’t have a concussion.

Probably.

Ooooooooow.

“Of course it hurts.” She told herself. “You fell from a tree and hit your head.”

She didn’t answer herself, because this was a lecture, and the lectured don’t say anything when the lecturer does.

She heaved herself up to sit straight and focused on her own body. The headache was bad, but not awful. She could focus her eyes as well as usual, as far as she could tell. No nausea, and—

Satomi stood up and immediately leaned forward and rolled into a handstand, holding it for five seconds before she folded over backwards and stood back up.

No balance problems, either. So probably no concussion. That was good.

She looked up the tree at the kunai markings a few feet above her head. It was slow going. Very slow going. It made sense, of course, but it didn’t change the fact that she was frustrated by how long it was taking her to master the skill.

With a sigh, Satomi began running through the stretches that heralded the end of her training most days. The stretches were normally a little boring, but there was always a small, intense thrill to doing them.

She’d never been able to touch her toes for more than a second before. Now she could lay her palms flat against the ground and bend her elbows without any discomfort.

It was kind of exhilarating.

Satomi began humming to herself, closing her eyes and trying to remember just how the score went to that particular scene, stood up straight, and…

Being a ninja meant having much, much better physical abilities than she’d ever had. Not just flexibility, but grace and balance and strength and oh so much more.

Dancing had been fun before, but now it was probably her favorite pastime.

Jump, turn, full side split, come together, land.

Yes, she thought to herself, definitely her new favorite pastime.

(With a dearth of internet and fantasy books and dystopian young adult literature, especially in English, the choice was much easier that it would have been once upon a time.)

o.o.o.o.o

She got moved up another year when the teachers determined that her taijutsu had caught up enough to her theoretical skills and chakra control. The practice she put into the ninja skills was certainly more than what she was expected to, but it wasn’t as much as, say, Neji, who still kicked her ass every time they sparred, or Sasuke, who won nine times out of ten. It was the only reason, she thought, that might keep him from using her as a target for the superiority-inferiority complex he’d probably develop after the massacre.

Given the bags under Shisui and Itachi’s eyes, and the nervousness that both boys hid under well-crafted veneers of cheer and pleasantness respectively, it was almost here.

There was a frantic energy in the air, one that kept her awake at night and made her shoulders hunch as the muscles tightened in an imagined cold. Even Sasuke started to notice, as much as she tried to keep a giddy face on.

“You’re being even weirder than usual about the washing thing.” Sasuke said one night as they lay on their futons. Satomi was staring at the ceiling, but she could feel her brother’s stare from a few feet away. “And… I don’t know, are you scared of something?”

There was a pause of several seconds.

“Yeah. There’s something,” She blew out a breath, trying to find the right words, “There’s something bad coming. Soon.”

“Do you know what?” Sasuke asked when she didn’t continue.

Satomi’s fingers clenched in the fabric of her duvet, many times thicker and warmer than Sasuke’s blanket. “I… I have my suspicions.”

“And?”

“And a lot of people are going to die.” She said in one great big rush, forcing herself to not stop. There was a whimper to her words. “Probably.”

There was a shuffling noise from Sasuke’s direction, and a few seconds later his futon was right next to hers. She turned to look at him as he spoke. “Imouto, can you see the future?”

“No.” That was true. “I just… I’m good at finding patterns.” Also true. “And I can get a look at things from outside the situation, because I’m not supposed to exist.”

Sasuke made a face. “That’s not true.”

“It really, really is.” Satomi pulled her hands under the covers and clutched the little owl toy tight to her chest as she dug the nails of one deep into the palm of the other, as hard as she could without breaking skin. Focus on the pain of the moment, not the stress of the future. “I’m happy to be alive. I like existing. But I’m not meant to exist.”

Sasuke pouted. “You’re weird, Satomi.”

“Oh please, like you’re the first to say that.” She giggled, though. If there was one constant in life and death, it was people deciding she wasn’t normal enough for them. Granted, she encouraged the assumption now as opposed to resenting it the way she had ten or twenty years ago, but it was still a constant.

Sasuke seemed to run out of questions for a bit, but he managed to ask one more just as she was slipping off to dreamland.

“So who’s going to die?”

o.o.o.o.o

She managed to learn water-walking a few days later, shakily finding her footing on one of the small ponds that dotted Konoha’s training grounds. It drained her more than tree climbing did, but that was to be expected. At least she had a very good motive for getting it right; she absolutely hated being submerged in water that was anywhere less than shower temperature, and a pond in a training ground was inevitably very, very cold.

 “Count, two, three, count, two, three,” She muttered to herself, moving through a simple waltz on the water. She’d gotten just walking down over the course of a weekend and several school days, but running or moving while focusing on something other than her feet was generally a recipe for disaster. A waltz took up more concentration than just walking, but not by much, so she could focus on both her chakra control and her—

“KYAA!” She fell through the surface of the water, losing her balance enough for the water to cover her head before she managed to find her footing on the rocky bottom and stand again. The pond only came up to about mid-chest, but that didn’t mean much when any fall ended with her fully submerged anyway.

For the love of god, why is this so difficult?” She reverted to English as she swept the water off her arms as best she could, trudging out of the water and back to the edge. She quickly deemed the exercise useless and stripped her shirt off, leaving only the training bra that Mikoto had started to insist she wear recently, despite absolutely no sign of any development on that front. She didn’t mind much, as the scrap of cloth felt comfortingly snug and made her feel much less exposed than if she’d been completely topless.

Satomi turned to glare at the little pond, flexed her toes inside the little ninja boots (closed-toe, thank you) she’d gotten for her birthday a few months ago, and then took off at a run before she could change her mind.

“AaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” She screamed and kept screaming as she hit the water, sprinting across with only a thin layer of shaky chakra between her and the clingy depths, and made it to the other side.

Where she immediately made a hairpin turn and repeated the motion, moving too fast and concentrating too hard to let herself stress over how bad of an idea this was if she wanted to stay dry.

Three passes later, she stumbled as her foot broke the surface and her body followed suit, slamming face-first into the water.

Satomi came up spluttering, and a tiny bit of her brain finally broke through the little box she’d put it in and started screaming at her to go clean up now, did she have any idea what might have been in that pool, there were probably animals urinating in it all the time and she’d let it get in her mouth—

o.o.o.o.o

“You’re worried about something.” Neji said when she met him for lunch. She pursed her lips and focused on her food, wishing just a little that her lunches still matched up with her brother’s instead of her friend’s.

Probably best friend, actually. Huh. That was… not something she was going to think about too hard.

“I have a bad feeling about upcoming events.” She said as vaguely as she could. “I don’t have any idea of how to stop whatever’s coming, nor of all the elements involved. Quite frankly, I’m worried for my life.”

Neji, at eight, was still much more intuitive and insightful than most adults. That said, if he’d noticed what was going on with her, then the adults in her life probably had as well, “But you know what’s going to happen.”

“Not entirely, but…” She shrugged. “Like I said, I’ve got a bad feeling about the next few weeks. Can we please stop talking about this?”

Neji eyed her for several moments, and then nodded. He started in on weekend plans for a spar instead, mercifully leaving the subject alone.

o.o.o.o.o

Sasuke and Satomi were only two and a half months away from turning eight, and Itachi had a spare month left until fourteen. Satomi gnawed at the skin of the back of her hand as she considered the information. The massacre had canonically occurred when Itachi was thirteen and Sasuke was seven, which meant that it had occurred either somewhere in the next month, with Shisui dying very, very soon, or she’d changed the timeline.

She was being called another prodigy, already having skipped two grades and looking at a third with prodigal (hard-won) chakra control and genius (adult) grasp of theoretical concepts, with a bit of a letdown at the above-average taijutsu scores. Kunoichi classes were a bit more all-over-the-place, but she did well enough overall.

And being a prodigy was possibly enough to win the Uchiha just enough respect for them to consider the coup plan just a little bit slower. It would mean she had managed to keep her family alive just a little bit longer, but she wasn’t exactly winning any awards for keeping her family alive. For most people, that was kind of a bare minimum.

“Nothing’s happened. You keep worrying about nothing.” Sasuke said from the doorway behind her, and then made a face when she turned around. He came over and reached to grab her right hand, pulling it away from her mouth. He made a disgusted face as he stared down at the numerous tiny bite marks that dotted it, never piercing the skin but always enough to hurt. “I thought aniki told you to stop that.”

Satomi yanked her hand away and hid it under her left in her lap, refusing to meet her twin’s eyes. “It’s a nervous habit.”

“A nervous habit,” Sasuke said, in the voice he always used when he quoted Itachi or Fugaku, “is playing with your hair or fiddling with senbon, not hurting your own body.  A ninja shouldn’t have any nervous habits at all, especially not ones that damage your main weapons.”

He stared pointedly at her hands, and she clenched her jaw. Don’t fight the small child.

She stood up abruptly and walked past him towards the door. “I’m going to train. I’ll be back by dinner, but don’t expect me before sunset.”

Satomi felt Sasuke’s glare on her back, but didn’t let it stop her. She refused to be lectured by a child. Itachi was bad enough, and at least he had hit the double digits.

o.o.o.o.o

Training, she thought as she punched a training pole with wrapped hands, was a wonderful way to get rid of stress. It gave her all the pain she needed to focus and calm down, while also giving her a productive outlet that people would approve of instead of wondering what was wrong with her.

She stopped, breathing heavily, and stared past the post and out onto the glinting surface of the Naka River.

Uchiha had perfect eyesight. Even before their Sharingan awoke, they could see better than almost any non-doujutsu user. Only the luckiest civilian or clanless ninja ever came close.

Satomi saw a body in the water. She stayed frozen for a full second as the implications hit her, and then she took off like a rocket, hitting the water at full speed and pumping enough chakra into her legs that even if she fell through the surface, she’d be going fast enough that she could recover. Running on the river was harder than on the pond, but she’d practiced on both until she was sure she could do what needed to get done when—

Shisui.

He seemed to be unconscious, but as she grabbed the neck of his shirt and started pulling him back to shore, she thought she caught a tiny flicker of a pulse on his neck.

Shisui was laid out on the ground as soon as they reached it, and Satomi started in on chest compressions and breaths. She wasn’t entirely sure what to do if there was a pulse but no breathing, but she figured the procedure for when neither was present would be better than just leaving him to die.

“C’mon…” She could feel the tears gathering at the corner of her eyes as she dove back to continue the rescue breathing. CPR wasn’t even really for saving people, just for keeping them alive until an ambulance came and there wasn’t an ambulance coming for Shisui.

(She did her best to ignore the gaping maws where his eyes used to be, because if she looked too closely, she knew she would probably vomit.)

His body suddenly convulsed beneath her, and he retched as she rolled him onto his side, vomiting river water onto the muddy bank.

Satomi waited until he seemed done, and then threw herself against his chest, wailing.

“Satomi-chan?” Shisui asked, voice roughened by near-drowning. “What…?”

“I saw you in the water and I learned how to water-walk so I went over and pulled you out and your eyes are gone, Shisui!

Satomi was currently balanced on the very thin line between acting like the child she was supposed to be and actual hysterical relief.

“Satomi-chan…” Shisui muttered, rubbing a hand through her hair. “Satomi-chan, you have to let me go back.”

She froze.

She’d known it was a possibility from the beginning. Shisui’s death had been a self-sacrifice of a suicide in canon, and it was entirely plausible for him to continue wanting to die even after being rescued.

She had hoped he wouldn’t, though.

“No,” She said, shaking her head and burying her head into his chest. “You’re too weak to move anyway.”

“Satomi, you have to let me go back.” Shisui didn’t seem very happy about what he was asking her to do (of course not, the back of her brain said in a tone of voice that was best described as ‘scalding,’ as he was asking a seven-year-old child to enable his assisted suicide), but it wasn’t stopping him.

“Don’t you dare die.” Not when it meant she was going to lose everyone she’d gained over the past few years. “Not now, not ever.”

“Satomi,” Shisui said, and then sighed and pulled his hands away from her back. She waited for him to try to push her away, but instead she just felt a movement against her back, and as the realization of what he was doing hit her, her eyes flew open and she scrambled backwards—

But it was too late.

Genjutsu: Yūkyū no Te,” Shisui said, and Satomi froze up, red clouding her vision as she tried to figure out how the technique worked. She wasn’t thinking any differently, but she couldn’t control her body either. A quick pulse of chakra showed that she couldn’t break it either; it was too strong, and it was a control genjutsu instead of a sensory one.

Idle hands are the devil’s playground, it seemed like forever since she’d heard the saying, literally another life, but apparently someone here had found it and liked it enough to use it as the name of a technique.

So Shisui was the devil. Cute.

“I’m so sorry, Satomi-chan, but even without my eyes, I’m still a genjutsu master,” Shisui said, and then took a deep breath, struggling to sit up properly, his body failing even where his chakra wasn’t. “Push me into the river, and leave me there until you know I’m dead.”

And under the haze of the genjutsu, she complied.

o.o.o.o.o

When Mikoto opened her door to find her daughter on the other side, soaking wet and still sobbing her eyes out, her first instinct was to check for injuries, and then for anyone that might have been following the girl. She quickly dropped to her knees and put her hands on Satomi’s shoulders.

“Satomi-chan? What’s wrong?”

“H-h-he’s d-d-dead!” Satomi hiccoughed, throwing herself into Mikoto’s embrace.

Mikoto felt a shiver run down her spine, because there were only a handful of people that she thought would affect Satomi quite this badly by dying, and almost all of them meant quite a bit to Mikoto as well. “Who?”

“Sh-Sh-Shisui!” Satomi wailed, and then went into a long, babbling explanation about training and water-walking and resuscitation and then a genjutsu that only convinced Mikoto that whatever Shisui may have been planning in regards to the coup, he’d certainly meant for this suicide to be permanent, if he was willing to force an Academy Student to kill him.

She had to gather the Elder Council, but that could wait until her daughter was taken care of.

o.o.o.o.o

“It’s the eye of the storm,” Satomi said the next day, when she and Sasuke stayed home from school on a leave of absence for purposes of mourning, and he asked her if this was what she’d been worrying about. She was curled up next to him, leaning heavily into his side as he clung tightly to her in turn. “He’s just the first.”

“You knew he’d be there?” Sasuke whispered, and she was so very, very glad he wasn’t blaming her for not saving Shisui.

“I had a feeling something important would be happening there.” She not-quite-lied. “Somebody was going to try to die in Naka River. He wouldn’t be the first. It’s a common suicide spot. Common body dump, too.”

Sasuke shifted to stare at her a little, probably contemplating the fact that she’d already closed herself off to the grief that he’d only barely begun to grasp and that had hit the rest of the family so hard.

He wasn’t real, was the answer. It was what she kept telling herself until she’d calmed down and walled off the emotion. None of them have ever been real. They’re just fictional characters, and there’s always another story where the deaths never come.

Denial was a wonderful place to live.

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi paused as she wiped her face clean after the hastily-prepared funeral that night. She looked up into the mirror and stared at her own eyes, and then leaned in closer to get a better look. They didn’t seem any different.

The fact of the matter was, the manga had always lied about the Mangekyo Sharingan. No one, save Sasuke, had ever killed the person closest to them to get their Mangekyo. Itachi had likely loved Sasuke more than Shisui, but simply blaming himself for Shisui’s death (not even killing him) had been enough to bring about his Mangekyo. Izuna and Madara had both had Mangekyo, but they had been closest to each other, save Madara’s interest in Hashirama, and had obviously gained Mangekyo without killing each other, given the fact that Madara had gotten the Eternal by taking Izuna’s.

And Satomi, for all that she’d immediately distanced herself from his death, had been very close to Shisui.

She stared into the mirror a little more, and then pulsed a bit of chakra into her eyes, experimenting. Then a little more. Then enough to push the pathways to their limits, just in case.

Nothing.

Well, she shouldn’t have been surprised. She didn’t even have a normal Sharingan of any stage yet. She was pretty sure that having a fully developed Sharingan had to be some kind of prerequisite to have a Mangekyo.

She finished cleaning up and headed for bed, her insides curdling as she thought of the upcoming massacre.

o.o.o.o.o

For everything that he could and would be, Sasuke was still a child. A child that was determined to become a great ninja like his older brother and entirely too dedicated to training, but a child nonetheless. And children bounced back quick, so two weeks down the road, Shisui’s death was a bad memory, but not much of a dark cloud hanging over them at every moment.

He stayed late at the Academy, in a huff because Itachi had refused to help him train, and he wanted to work on his shuriken throws. Satomi nodded along as Sasuke rambled about his plans for the afternoon, and then froze as a memory trickled down into her mind.

Sasuke had been the last Uchiha in the compound because he’d been staying late to practice at the Academy in canon.

“Something’s wrong again.” Sasuke said, snapping her out of her daze, and the look of worry on his face was something she didn’t want to ever see again.

“I don’t…” She gulped. “When we go back to the compound, let me go first.”

Sasuke immediately scrunched up his face. “I’m the older one, though. If you think something’s wrong at home, then I should be protecting you.”

“I’m expendable. You’re not.” Satomi automatically responded. “Remember, I’m not supposed to exist.”

“Stop saying that!” Sasuke shouted, shoving her shoulder. “You’re my sister, okay? I don’t care if you think you aren’t supposed to be here or whatever. I want you to exist, whether you like it or not!”

He turned around and took off for the compound at a run. Satomi stood rooted to the spot for three full seconds before her brain caught up with her and forced her to start running.

Sasuke, unfortunately, was faster than she was, so when she finally got to the (bloody, putrid, already decaying) compound, she got there just in time to see Sasuke collapse, and Itachi turn his Mangekyo on her, pulling her into Tsukuyomi before she could even say anything.

There was a moment of disorientation before she could see again, in the red and black world of the genjutsu, and then she realized that, for once, she was looking down at Itachi. Itachi, who seemed very, very confused and alarmed.

“Well,” She said in a lower voice than she’d used in almost eight years, realizing what had happened as she took in the mish-mash of clothing on her body, both current and from her death day. “This is awkward.”

o.o.o.o.o

幻術:遊休の手 /Genjutsu: Yūkyū no Te/Illusion art: Idle Hands. Basically a temporary control-type genjustsu, with the name being part of the above-mentioned proverb, signifying the caster’s control over the idle-handed victim. I figured that Kotoamatsukami was probably a signifier of some genjutsu talent on Shisui’s part, but couldn’t find a good replacement technique, so I made up a name and called it good. It’s not actually good, but we’ll pretend it is for my ego.

(1) Blame katakana. There are a lot of things written in katakana in Naruto, despite the fact that katakana are normally reserved for loan words (which there are also plenty of), and those words had to enter the language somehow, so you're getting my over-thinking of ninja linguistics, because I refuse to live in a world that somehow has only one language, because that's nigh-impossible. And yes, I did write that to draw on the completest IRL forcible mass language-erasure I know of, that of the indigenous people of the Americas, a comparison that will be drawn later in the story. As far as I am aware, a number of indigenous languages have been forgotten or fallen out of use in the United States due to the genocide in the earlier years, and the massive pressure to speak English in all professional contexts otherwise, as well as various human rights abuses over the years. I don't know as much about Canada or Latin America, but from what I've heard it's much the same. The Hidden Continent in this fic just got a bit less targeted genocide and a bit more general imperialism and oppression and later large-scale warfare with little care for collateral damage, and less current pressure for rural areas to speak the 'global' language. (If anything in this paragraph is offensive, please tell me and I'll do my best to fix it.)

Chapter Text

Previously:

There was a moment of disorientation before she could see again, in the red and black world of the genjutsu, and then she realized that, for once, she was looking down at Itachi. Itachi, who seemed very, very confused and alarmed.

“Well,” She said in a lower voice than she’d used in almost eight years, realizing what had happened as she took in the mish-mash of clothing on her body, both current and from her death day. “This is awkward.”

Itachi stared at her.

She shifted her weight onto one foot and bit one lip, feeling her eyebrows rise without her permission. “So…”

“What is going on?” Itachi asked, seemingly snapping out of whatever trance he was in. He slid back into a ready stance, pinning her with a suspicious glare. “Who are you?”

“Can I get a mirror?” Satomi asked, quicker than probably necessary. “Seriously, give me a way to see what I look like and I’ll sing like a bird. Probably not literally, but I’ll talk, promise.”

Itachi eyed her for a few seconds, but then closed his eyes and focused.

A full-length mirror appeared in front of her just to Itachi’s side, and showed her exactly what the hell she looked like right now.

Satomi tilted her head. “Huh.”

She had Uchiha eyes, but the straight nose and sharp cheekbones that framed them were those she’d had in her old life, and her lips and jaw were a mix of both. Her hair was in the large, loose curls she’d had in adulthood, and seemed to be heading towards in this life. The color was a darker brown than she’d had, but not quite the bluish-black of the Uchiha. What could be seen of her body, beneath the knee-length white parka she’d worn as she’d died, was thin, but covered in the deceptively wiry muscles she’d gained from shinobi training. Her height…

“How tall would you say I am?” She asked, one hand reaching up to trace over a cheekbone and hitting on the small, dark spot she’d had under her left eye. “Itachi?”

“…a hundred and seventy centimeters, give or take.” He said, audibly grudging. “Why?”

“Exactly as I was…” She muttered, frowning. “I think I know what’s going on, now.”

Itachi didn’t respond, just stared at her. One hand rested on the ANBU-issue sword at his side. That was slightly worrying.

“I am Satomi, before you go making any assumptions. I am your little sister. It’s just that I was someone else before that.” She sat on the ground and laced her fingers together, letting them hang in the air a few inches above the mindscape’s packed dirt as her elbows sat on her knees. Itachi frowned, watching, and she had a feeling he was tying her actions in the mindscape to her actions as his little sister. She’d never have let her hands touch the ground or anything else if she could help it, after all, but she also would have done her best to find somewhere to sit as soon as the opportunity presented itself, in both lives. “Basically… reincarnation is a thing, and I remember my past life. I’m assuming Tsukuyomi allows for a person’s mental avatar to reflect how they identify as a person, which is why some of my mental avatar reflects who I was prior to my death, as opposed to simply who I am now.”

“Such as?” Itachi prompted, more or less unmoving.

Satomi shrugged, and glanced at the mirror again. “I was an adult when I died, and I still consider myself an adult, which is why I have my old height and some curves, small as they might be. I also still consider large parts of my identity as being tied to the Serbian heritage I used to have, which I connected pretty strongly to my bone structure after a friend told me I had a textbook Eastern European/South Slavic skull, which explains the nose and cheekbones, and the sharpness of the jaw. On the other hand, I’ve lived here long enough to consider myself an Uchiha, and being an Uchiha is largely about the Sharingan, which is why my eyes are as they are now, rather than as they once were. Quite frankly, I’m grateful for that, because my eyesight was—” shitty “—pretty awful, before. It also explains the bottommost outer layers and shoes, since I’ve been training to become a ninja.”

The outer jacket and inner jacket were clothing items that she’d worn day in and day out every autumn through spring for years, or at least close analogues to such. On the other hand, she’d been through enough different shoes and pants and shirts that the training clothes she wore now were more intrinsic to her identity than the outfits she’d thrown together as a college student.

Itachi’s suspicion was mostly gone by now. “I will take your word as truth. Tsukuyomi is impossible to lie in.”

Well, that was possible. It was also possible that Itachi was lying, but either way, he was at least pretending to believe her.

“Explains a lot, doesn’t it?” Satomi tried to send him a smile, but it felt hollow. “The accent and the learning curve, at least.”

“It does.” Itachi said, exuding calm, as though everything he was learning was leaving him utterly unaffected.

Bull. Shit.

He was floundering and didn’t know what to do. He’d probably planned on just replaying their parents’ deaths for her on a loop like he had for Sasuke, but being derailed this early had left him with enough questions that he was probably torn between asking them and finding a way to torture her as he’d planned.

“So, I’m guessing the plan was a good three days of torture like it was for Sasuke, but me being the way I am kinda derailed you there.” She said without preamble. “I’d like you to know that, even if you do go through with that, I won’t be driven to kill you and help you out with your precious attempt to become a martyr slash death by fratricide.”

Itachi stared at her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“We both know that’s a lie, Itachi. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one of us that knows that what you just did was more likely to send him running into Orochimaru’s loving arms than into any healthy path of gaining strength, though.”

Itachi took a step back, unnerved. “I know you pretended to see the future, but—”

“I can’t see the future, Itachi. The oldest of the Toad Summons might, but me? Nope. I just… I just got lucky.” In for a penny, in for a pound, right? She’d already told him about the reincarnation and it wasn’t like she’d done a whole lot in the last few minutes to hide what she knew. Besides, she wanted to have a confidante. “The world we live in now was a fictional universe in the one I lived in before, the setting for a manga called Naruto, starring Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki.”

Itachi stared.

Satomi shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

Itachi continued to stare.

“Uh… you okay there?”

“Not in the slightest.”

“Existential crisis?” She hazarded, thankful for the fact that Tsukuyomi had resulted in the odd twist of language that let her fully express herself.

“Perhaps.”

There were several seconds of silence.

“So you know why I—”

“Yes.”

“And you expected this to—”

“Yep.”

Itachi pursed his lips. “And you did nothing to stop it.”

Satomi clenched her jaw. “I did what I could, which wasn’t much.”

“You could have told someone what you knew.” His voice was… it was calm, because this was Itachi, but there was something accusatory to it nonetheless.

“And who’d have believed me?”

“A Yamanaka and the Hokage could have verified the—”

“And what if Danzou found out?” She spat, turning around and stalking away. “You know what he’s like. You know what he would have done with this kind of information.”

Itachi’s barely noticeable anger subsided somewhat. “You said you tried to change things somewhat?”

“Sasuke has a support network after this, now. Hopefully it’ll keep him from going off the deep end later down the line. Which is about 60% your fault and 40% Orochimaru’s.” She paused. “Thought of the 60% that’s your fault, at least half can be traced further back to Danzo…”

Itachi tilted his head. “Off the deep end?”

“Betrays Konoha for Orochimaru and more power, tries to kill his teammates out of said misguided desire for more power, and so on. Mostly wants more power to kill you, and mostly wants to kill you because of… well, because of tonight, and you manipulating and torturing him with Tsukuyomi multiple times.” Satomi shrugged. “Now he’s got me and the Hyuuga kids to help at least try to keep him stable, because what you did is going to leave a lot of marks and none of them are going to be the kind you can brag about at a bar.”

The corner of Itachi’s lip twitched, as though he could decide whether to react to the grim humor or not. “He needs to have a reason to get str—”

“No.” Satomi stood up and walked closer to Itachi, leaned over at the waist until her face was inches from his, and poked him in the chest. “No. You do not get to make that decision, and no offense, but you’re a thirteen-year-old kid with zero background in psychology or any related field. Even if you think you know what you’re doing, you don’t. Not on this. What you did does not help anything or anyone, at all, except maybe Orochimaru, whom we do not want to help.”

Itachi looked almost mutinous for a second. Almost. He was already rather good at hiding his emotions, but she’d lived with him for eight years and known him as he’d learned to put the mask on. She was his little sister, and suddenly having her in a position of anything resembling power was probably annoying.

“Also the Hyuuga thing.” She added, almost as an afterthought. Well, no, exactly like an afterthought. She’d meant to include it in general, of course, but then Itachi had sidetracked her and now she needed to distract him, and it was the first thing she’d thought of. “I mean, it didn’t work, but at least I tried to stop the Kumo disaster.”

“That…” Itachi frowned. “That’s why you were so insistent on the sleepover.”

“Heightened security and more witnesses. It was the best I could do under the circumstances.” She could have, again, told someone, but it would have either tipped Kumo off (with all its possible ramifications), had her labeled as crazy or attention-seeking, had her parents accused of trying to start trouble with foreign dignitaries through a child that could play innocent, or any number of similar problems. “Same thing happened with Shisui; I tried to fix the problem, and failed. As I get older, I’ll have more power and excuses for knowing things, so I’ll hopefully be able to do more about what I know.”

Itachi brought a hand up to cover his mouth. “I still think you should have told someone, or at least done more to surreptitiously warn people and make sure these events didn’t happen.”

Her jaw clenched. She turned around and avoided looking at anything in particular.

“Satomi.”

“I don’t want to keep talking about this. I did what I could without getting myself hurt or killed. That should be enough.”

Satomi.”

“Let it go. Please. I already feel awful enough about not figuring out a way to stop the massacre without getting even more people hurt in the long run. I don’t… I don’t need you adding more to it.”

“…In that case, I suppose I should feel just as guilty as you do.” The words were stilted, but nonetheless spoken.

Satomi turned around to glare her brother down. “No, don’t you dare. You were a victim of circumstance. You’ve made some bad decisions, but don’t you dare think getting pushed around and manipulated by people older and stronger than you makes you a bad person.”

Itachi stared her down. “In that case, shouldn’t you be saying that you had no choice and hold no blame either?”

“No, because I had more warning than you. I tried anyway for longer and still got nowhere.”

“So you admit that you should have told someone.”

“No! Danzou would have found out and done awful things with the information, or the Uchiha elders would have found out and jumpstarted the coup ahead of schedule and started a massive war!”

“So you shouldn’t be blaming yourself.”

The two stared each other down.

“I’m blaming myself for a healthy amount of the damage in proportion to how much I could have realistically prevented. You’re blaming yourself for things you had no control over.”

“I just murdered over three hundred people. You either could have prevented it all, or you actually prevented yourself from making it worse. Choose one.”

They continued to stare each other down. Satomi looked away first.

“Whatever.” She grumbled. “Changing the subject now: how are you holding up?”

Itachi gave her a blank look.

“Don’t give me that look. You just went through one of the most traumatizing experiences possible.” She focused on softening her voice and face. “You can’t be okay after that.”

“A shinobi—”

“Nope, not accepting that. You’re with your sister in a mental plane no one else can see. Try again.”

He seemed to take that as a cue to think over his answer. “…I will mourn once I am away from Konoha and anyone relevant to the situation.”

“Or you could do it here and now, with company that doesn’t judge you, in what is essentially total safety.” Satomi suggested, reaching out and putting a hand on her brother’s shoulder. “I know you’re used to thinking of me as your little sister, but depending on whether you count those first three years or not, I’m about twice your age. I’ve also already lost my entire world once, and been subsequently shoved into an entirely new situation that I’m not prepared for. I can’t say I know everything you’re going through, but… there are parts that I can relate to.”

“You aren’t mourning yet either.” Itachi pointed out, but it was half-hearted at best.

“I’m older than you.” Satomi brought one hand up to trace the tear trough on Itachi’s face. “You may not think of it that way, but it’s my job to hold it together for you. Once you’re out of the village and Sasuke’s safe in the hospital, I’m willing to let myself deal with the consequences. Until then, I’m compartmentalizing.”

Itachi stared at her. “How is that any different from what I—”

“Because I’ve had eight years to come to terms with this, have previous experience with large-scale loss, have a pretty decent way to trick myself into denial without damaging my own mental health in the long run, and have a support system available for me after I leave. You don’t have any of that.” Satomi said. “And… well, if you’re ready to mourn, then I’m not going to keep myself from joining in. I’m just putting it off until the necessary discussions are taken care of, like the explanation of who I am and whatnot.”

Itachi continued to stare, if with a little more suspicion. Satomi rolled her eyes and pulled him into a hug, then down onto the ground where she could cradle him in her lap.

Christ, but the boy was only thirteen.

There wasn’t a universe out there where this was fair.

He didn’t move or say anything for the longest time.

Then the trembling began.

Then the tears.

Then the sniffles.

For all that he was a terrifying killer, Itachi really was just a kid.

Satomi awkwardly pulled what she could of her old white coat around him.

She thought about Fugaku and Mikoto, finally letting herself think on the fact that they were dead.

Fuck.

(That was when she joined in on the tear-fest.)

o.o.o.o.o

“You said,” Itachi began, after the initial crying was over (though they both knew it wouldn’t be the end of it, because grief was never one-and-done), “that this world was fictional in yours. That means that you have information regarding the future, as you have with events thus far.”

“You want to know what’s going to happen.” Satomi surmised. “Which… I could tell you, but that would minimize my own ability to predict what’s going to happen, since you’d be making your own changes without telling me. That would then lead to the butterfly effect, and that would mean that the world could end up going in an even worse direction than canon.”

Itachi pursed his lips. “I would still prefer to know.”

Satomi breathed out a sigh. “On one condition.”

Itachi blinked at her, a silent request to go on.

“Consult with me before you make any major changes.” She said. “My own knowledge is about seven years rusty, but like I said, if you go around making changes without talking it over with me somehow, it’s going to be worse than useless.”

“And how do you propose I get into contact with you? I’m going to… going to be a nukenin.” He finished the sentence with distaste.

“In a few years, I’ll be doing missions outside the village. Find me in henge or something, and use Sharingan without Tsukuyomi to get a message through without damaging your eyes.”

Itachi didn’t look convinced.

“Look, either agree and get a comprehensive exposure to the future, or don’t agree and make do with specific warnings. I probably can’t remember most of it anyway, so—”

“They’re buried.” Itachi interrupts. “Once inside a mindscape, it’s possible to drag up old memories with near-perfect clarity, even if they’ve been corrupted on the conscious level with reconstructive memory.”

Satomi opened her mouth to comment.

Closed it.

Thought on it a bit.

“Alright, fair enough.” She shrugged. “Still. Not talking until you accept the fact that you’re more likely to cause trouble than help if I give you info and you go haring off on your own. You’re a good ninja, and a good person, but you make a lot of bad decisions. A lot.”

 He looked uncertain. Finally.

“And if a situation comes up in which I am unable to… consult you?”

“Improvise.” She said as flatly as she could. “I’m not telling you to run every single decision ever past me. I’m just telling you to be careful about acting on the information you have, because it could do anything from tipping my hand to drastically altering the villains’ plans to getting you killed.”

There was a pregnant pause.

“Okay, so I know your own interest in keeping yourself alive is minimal, but do it for Sasuke, at least?” She tried. “Because he goes through a lot of shit and I’d like to prevent that.”

“…Fine.” He finally relented.

“Great!” Satomi smiled. “Now, how are we going to do this?”

o.o.o.o.o

Awakening, after the strangeness that was her own mindscape, was not fun.

It wasn’t just the smell of blood.

It wasn’t just the cold night air.

It wasn’t just the sudden, forceful reminder that she was surrounded by her dead family.

No, it was also the fact that she was abruptly slammed into a wall, kunai at her throat, by Itachi.

What the shit.

“Pička ti materina!” She said before she could stop herself.

“Did you really think I’d believe you that easily?” Itachi whispered into her ear, the cold metal of the kunai pressed against her throat and she could feel the cold slice of pain and oh god he was bigger than her again she’d forgotten in the mindsca—

“Good.” He said, pulling away with an unreadable expression.

“W-what?” She collapsed to her knees and stared at him.

“Now you have Sharingan.” He said.

His eyes met hers before she could process that, and she knew nothing but darkness.

o.o.o.o.o

That asshole, was the first coherent thought she had upon waking up.

She couldn’t even fault him for it. He’d actually done something that would, if she kept it a secret, keep her alive for a while longer than expected.

(If she didn’t keep it a secret, it would get Orochimaru chasing her, which…)

(Well, she’d deal.)

He’d sold the part, short as it was. She’d actually believed, for that moment, that he would hurt her. That he didn’t believe her at all, and suspected her of being some sort of village plant, or that she was in a universe where Itachi really was as much of an asshole as they’d all originally suspected.

She felt a little guilty about that, in retrospect.

“Satomi-chan, you’re awake.”

She turned her head towards the aged male voice, and met the eyes of the Sandaime.

“…yeah, I am.”

“Do you know what happened last night?” He asked gravely.

She debated lying, then sighed. “Yeah. I remember.”

“I’m afraid Sasuke may be laid up a while longer than you. He seems to have undergone some genjutsu damage that is going to make it hard for him to wake up.” The old man chewed on the stem of his pipe, though it wasn’t lit. Good, she hated smoke, and they were in a hospital. “I may have to ask you to explain what happened last night, later.”

She nodded. “I understand.”

He looked concerned, now. “Are you alright, Satomi-chan?”

Satomi felt her face twitch. “I… I will be, Hokage-sama.”

He continued to look concerned.

“Has anyone made arrangements for the funerals?” She asked, hoping to distract him. “Or the houses? What about our finances? Are we going to need to hire a genin team to help clean up the district?”

He looked even more concerned now. “Satomi-chan, are you sure you’re alright?”

“I would rather mourn in private, if it’s all the same to you.” God, how the hell was she supposed to explain that she’d been anticipating this for eight years, and already had the equivalent of three full days to grieve? “Until then, I’d like to make sure I still have a house to return to when the hospital releases us.”

The Sandaime was still looking concerned.

“Look, I’ll cry my eyes out when I’m alone, or when I’m with my brother, or someone else I know well. I just… not now. I respect you, sir, but I would really rather…”

Aaaand there was the pinprick feeling of her eyes watering. Great.

“I would like to be alone now, please.”

He left, at that.

It was so stupid. She was crying more because he’d expressed disapproval than she was for her family, but the second she’d started crying, she couldn’t stop. Because her mind did drift to her family, and it did drift to the guilt she’d buried while speaking with Itachi, and it did force her to actually consider the ramifications of her actions and those of the people around her.

And she couldn’t stop.

Chapter Text

She did stop crying, eventually.

Satomi was left more or less alone for a few hours after the Hokage left. A nurse came in twice to check her vitals and answer her questions about Sasuke, and left a clipboard full of information, most of which seemed to come down to ‘reasonably healthy and mostly healed from the single injury we found,’ based on the kanji she could recognize.

Sasuke wasn’t faring quite so well, seemingly left in some kind of defensive coma from the emotional trauma of Tsukuyomi. The nurses described it as ‘still sleeping it off,’ of course, but the real meaning was glaringly obvious. Trying to dumb it down or soften it for her was a nice sentiment, but ultimately useless.

“Satomi-chan?” A nurse poked her head through the door, ignoring all sense of privacy. “There’s someone here to see you.”

Before she could run through a list of possible visitors in her head (a very small list, now), the door opened further and let through Neji and Hinata. She thought she spotted Hiashi hovering out in the hallway. He didn’t seem inclined to enter at the moment, so she turned her attention to the two Hyuuga that were nervously hovering at the end of her bed.

(Neji was still putting noticeable distance between himself and Hinata. That was… not optimal. Oh well.)

“Hey.” She said, after a few seconds of awkward silence. “I’m guessing someone told you what happened.”

They both nodded, and Hinata seemed like she was tearing up a little.

“We were told that most of the Uchiha clan is now deceased, and the culprit is presumed to be Itachi.” Neji said, visibly trying not to stumble over the words. “He’s fled the village, leaving only you and Sasuke alive.”

Satomi bit her lip, ignoring the sharp pang of guilt. “Basically, yeah.”

Hinata took a half-step forward, then stopped. Satomi pursed her lips in a thin parody of a smile, and held out her arms. “Get over here, both of you. I haven’t had enough hugs in the last few days.”

 Hinata immediately scrambled over to the bed and hopped the railing, attaching herself to Satomi’s side like a leach. Neji took a long look into Satomi’s eyes, and she widened them in a silent plea. He pursed his lips, nodded, and came over to her other side, joining in on the hug as little as he could while still feasibly being part of it.

He was a year older than the girls, after all. He was surely much too old for this sort of thing by now. Also, the Hinata situation.

Satomi closed her eyes, and focused on the warm pressure of the hugs. She’d always been a fairly tactile person, and that had only grown as she got older. Being consoled by a pair of children wasn’t exactly the best way to deal with grief and really intense survivor’s guilt (to be fair, she actually had probably been capable of stopping some of the damage), but she didn’t have access to a professional therapist that she could trust with the truth. Still, hugs helped. Hugs always helped.

Unless there was a broken rib involved, probably, but she hadn’t had that happen yet.

She was fairly certain that Neji had gotten tired of the hug much sooner than Hinata, and even Hinata had probably started wondering at some point just how long this was going to last. Satomi… didn’t really care all that much. She needed cuddles, dammit, and she was going to get them.

When she finally pulled away, both of them gave her strained smiles. Neji was the first to speak, “How are you, really?”

“Stressed, worried, angry, and a whole host of other negative emotions.” Satomi told him, “but I’m handling it. I’m fairly certain that Sasuke’s going to deal with the situation worse than I have.”

“Why?” Hinata asked, and then blushed and pointed her gaze at the ground when this got her attention.

“I’ve got coping mechanisms for long-term negative moods. I’m… they’re not necessarily healthy coping mechanisms, but it minimizes damage in a way that lets me keep functioning. Sasuke doesn’t have those yet, and he also got hit by a genjutsu that I didn’t, so he probably got emotionally tortured somehow, too.”

Hinata gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. Even for baby ninjas, seven was a little young to be hearing about your peers getting tortured. Then again, she was handling it much better than some of the other kids her age might have. There was worry and surprise, but none of the shock or horror that others might have had.

That could probably be attributed to seeing the Caged Bird seal in action a few times.

“Where are you going to live, now?” Neji asked, drawing attention away from the fact that Sasuke was probably going to be in a shitty mental state when he woke up. “Will you be taken in by one of the clans, live on your own, be assigned an official caretaker?”

“If we do get stuck with a clan, it’ll probably be with you, since the engagement contract gives you something of a claim that the other clans can’t actually argue with. That said, I’d like to avoid that situation as I’d prefer for the Uchiha clan to be rebuilt at some point in the future, as opposed to becoming a subset of the Hyuuga, which is an unfortunately likely outcome if we’re both basically adopted in. The same thing goes for any other clan, really, or a civilian family.” Satomi reached up with both hands, pressing the edges of her jawline into the meat of her palms. “Best case scenario, I get us permission to live on our own with a hired caretaker, or occasional check-ins.”

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this.” Hinata noted. “D-do you think you’ll be able to do it?”

Satomi shrugged. “That depends on precedent, but hopefully. As far as I know, most orphans that attend the shinobi academy get their own apartments and stipends a few years earlier than civilian orphans, so at least we’ve got that going for us. We have access to more resources than most of them, as well, since as far as I’ve been able to gather, we’ve inherited basically everything owned by anyone in the clan.”

“What are you going to do with it all?” Neji asked.

“Hire a few genin teams to do clean-up, first. Then see about sorting out what can be sold and what can’t. We didn’t know most of the clan personally, so a lot of supposedly sentimental items won’t mean much to us, but there are a number of clan heirlooms floating about with various members that we should probably keep in storage to redistribute in a few generations.” Satomi closed her eyes and tried to focus on logistics and numbers. It was a relatively useful way to try to avoid what she’d be feeling otherwise. “After the houses are cleaned and emptied, I’ll see about repurposing them for outside use. I don’t want the compound falling out of Uchiha hands, because I want the future of the clan to stick together, but renting it out should be feasible. I’ll have to keep rates low to mitigate the history of the area and the commutes, but that won’t mean much. The biggest problem is going to be legal trouble, probably, and I’m sure I can find a lawyer willing to help out with the paperwork and such. The shops can be rented out as well, and the larger buildings, like the library, can be opened for public use or repurposed for something more altruistic. I’m thinking low-income housing, maybe something specifically for recent genin and chuunin? Maybe an orphanage or a soup kitchen as well…”

There was silence as she trailed off, trying to remember what else she’d considered adding to her plans. When she opened her eyes, both of the Hyuuga were staring at her.

“What?” She said, crossing her arms over her chest and looking down.

“You… put a lot of thought into this.” Neji said, in a manner that was far too delicate for most eight-year-old boys. “Are you sure you can make it work?”

“I’ve had a lot of free time, and I needed something to focus on.” Satomi said defensively. “And, assuming I can get a lawyer to help out with the legal aspects and a financial advisor to help me figure out what reasonable pricing is, then the major issues are going to be waiting until people don’t consider it disrespectful to repurpose the district, convincing Sasuke that this isn’t disrespectful to the clan, and arguing my way into actually having legal access and control over clan holdings.”

“D-do you think it would be dis-disrespectful?” Hinata asked.

“I think that letting the homes stay empty for more than a few months is a criminal waste of resources, considering how many people there are that don’t have access to shelter that they can afford.” Satomi said, her mind casting back to dwell on her life in New York City, where there had been more empty apartments and condos than homeless people, and nobody willing to bridge the gap, because the price was too high. “There are people that need somewhere to live. There are empty homes. If I can fix a problem, why shouldn’t I?”

She paused, and then burrowed deeper into her blankets and focused on the fabric that covered her knees. “Besides, I want to keep living at home, but I don’t want to be surrounded by a ghost town.”

Silence reigned for a few seconds, and then Hinata quietly went, “Oh,” and leaned in close to start another hug.

Neji didn’t join in this time, but that was alright.

Before the two of them left, Satomi had one more thing to say.

“I need to ask you two to do something for me.”

“What?” Neji asked, one hand already on the door handle.

“Can you ask around at school about what kind of living situations the orphans in your classes have?”

o.o.o.o.o

“Konoha does not make a habit of letting the recently-orphaned live on their own.” The woman from Child Services that came with the Hokage probably didn’t have any ulterior motives, but Satomi didn’t plan on trusting her anyway.

“Habit or no, there’s a precedent. Uzumaki Naruto has been living on his own since the age of six, once he was deemed capable of surviving and managing a budget based on a monthly stipend and weekly check-ins from a government representative. TenTen was approved to enter the same situation as of several months ago, at the age of eight. Both mentioned that their approval was partly allowed due to their enrollment in the Academy.” Satomi clasped her hands in her lap and sat up straight, struggling not to start squeezing from the anxiety of the conversation. “Given that Sasuke and I have access to greater funds and resources than either of the aforementioned people, I don’t see the trouble in allowing us to continue living in our house with occasional check-ins.”

“And what does your brother think?” The woman asked.

Satomi pursed her lips, swallowed, and fixed the woman with a glare, “He’s not awake yet. Given that he’s older than me, and thus now the clan heir, he would be here in my stead, or alongside me, were he awake.”

“The plan was to wait for both twins to recover before we acted,” The Hokage explained to the social worker, who didn’t seem convinced by Satomi’s rhetoric, “but given that Satomi-chan has fully recovered while Sasuke has not yet managed to awaken, and the hospital needs the room, we do need to move ahead of schedule.”

Sarutobi did not, in all likelihood, need to be present at the processing of every orphan in the village, but given her and Sasuke’s statuses as sole remaining members of the Uchiha clan, she was unsurprised to find him there.

“I still feel that it would be better to put you in place with someone able to care for you long-term.” The woman said, turning her attention back to Satomi. “I am aware that you think you can handle this, but living on your own is—”

“I know how to run the washing machine, and how to clean the house.” Satomi interrupted. “I can cook, minimally, and know where to get pre-made meals on days when I can't. Sasuke knows all of this as well. Furthermore, I am more than capable of balancing a budget, assuming we’re left with a standard stipend, and am not going to spend the inheritance on silly things, assuming we have access to it. Which reminds me, does Konoha have an inheritance tax?”

Her last question was addressed to the Sandaime. He blinked a few times at the sudden change in subject, but answered nonetheless. “The situation is a little more complicated than usual, but as you were not named as inheritors by the majority of the clan, those clan members’ holdings became clan property. That which belonged to your immediate family, your parents and Itachi, has become yours. There is a flat tax on clan inheritance of 30%, and graded inheritance taxes for personal inheritance. Given that your parents were clan heads and jointly owned almost everything, the property is being viewed as a single inheritance, so the tax will be around 25%.”

Satomi nodded, already running numbers through her head. That was still going to be a lot of money, but a large portion was going to go directly to Konoha. “What’s our access like?”

“You will each have full access to your portion of the money you inherited directly when you reach genin, or at sixteen if you stay civilian. Until then, there is a trust fund in place giving you around fifty thousand ryou a year, each. For access to clan holdings, the laws are being juggled, as there are usually adults of some sort left in any given clan.”

“If I pass a course on fiscal responsibility or something, will you allow me access to clan holdings?” Satomi saw both adults readying to say something, and steamrolled ahead. “At the very least, hiring genin teams for upkeep on the houses and lawns will need to come from clan holdings, as well as any other relevant monetary responsibilities. There’s also no real point in allowing the houses to remain empty for generations, and Konoha currently has around a thousand citizens a night in homeless shelters. The remaining houses in the Uchiha complex could collectively house at least half of them, assuming we use up all available space. Converting other buildings for other purposes will also take time, as will going through all the buildings currently in place, but I intend to continue living in the Uchiha compound, and I refuse to let it stagnate and become a ghost town due to sentiment or ridiculous restrictions based on age laws.”

There was a long moment of silence.

“There’s also various shops, and a library, and a shrine, and training grounds, and so on. Space is at a premium in Konoha; it’s better to put this to use.” She aimed her glare at the ground, refusing to meet the gazes of the adults in the room. Sure, what she was doing was probably a little callous to the former residents, but still.

“And what do you plan to do with the contents of the homes as they are now?” the Sandaime asked, and when she looked up in surprise, he seemed almost… appraising.

“Sandaime-same, I really don’t think—” the social worker tried to interrupt, but stopped as the man held up a hand for silence.

“Well, we’ll certainly be keeping some of it.” Satomi started, haltingly. “Clan heirlooms, important scrolls, some of the particularly expensive items that would serve future generations of the Uchiha, no matter how small in number. Most of the clothing and non-perishable food will be donated as soon as possible, and the weapons will be collected and set aside in one of the training halls. The police uniforms might be kept in a storage area until such a time as the Military Police is once more considered an Uchiha establishment, though that might take such a long time that we’d be better off removing the Uchiha fan decals and donating those as well. Books will also be either brought to the clan library or donated to someplace that needs them, like the orphanage, public library, or Academy. Same thing goes for toys. Jewelry will be either kept, donated, or sold, depending on the price, and all medications found will be returned to the Hospital.”

She stopped there, struggling to think of something else that might be relevant.

“Furniture?” The Hokage prompted.

“Remains as it is unless it’s heavily damaged, in preparation for future inhabitants. If they move out, they will not be allowed to take the furniture with them, nor will they be allowed to modify the furniture while it is there.” Satomi shrugged. “Alternatively, selling it to a secondhand store would also work.”

“Items like cookware and office supplies?”

“Secondhand store sale and orphanage donation, respectively.” Satomi eyed the Hokage. He was testing her, she was sure. She didn’t know if she was passing or not, but he was probably trying to figure out if she actually knew what she was doing as much as she claimed to.

“Make-up?”

“Probably thrown out; sharing make-up is a hygiene issue.”

“Wall hangings and other decorative items?”

“Kept or sold.”

“And who is going to do all this?” The Hokage asked, settling back into his chair, likely having decided that the answers would all end up being ‘kept, sold, donated, or trashed.’

“I’ll hire a genin team to take care of the immediate worries, like food and perishable medicine, first. Immediately after that’s done, I’ll have utilities cut to most of the district.  Depending on how long it takes for Sasuke to grieve, I’ll then start having genin teams raid the houses one-by-one for types of goods, probably starting with clothing, weapons, and reading materials, with a specialist of some sort there to make sure we know what we’re looking at with each set, so we don’t accidentally throw away or donate something that we should be keeping instead. After that’s over, more genin teams to do any necessary remodeling.” Satomi said carefully. “Sasuke and I will oversee the whole process, of course, but given the size of the compound and the time it will take for a lot of this to be done, we’ll need help. Especially for random things like doing laundry for any clothing we aren’t planning on trashing, and similarly random maintenance for the collected items.”

The Hokage eyed her. “And when that’s done?”

“Hire a lawyer and financial adviser of some sort to help me figure out how to implement the plans to rent out buildings and maybe turn some of them to humanitarian purposes.” Satomi shrugged, “I like business, but I don’t know enough about legalities or real estate to do this on my own.”

“Do you think your brother will agree to the plan?”

“I think he’s going to hate it,” Satomi answered truthfully. “But I also think that by the time we’ve gone about fixing up the district for its own reasons, and been left alone for a few months, the loneliness of basically living in a ghost town is going to bother him enough to understand why my idea has merits. He might try to stay stubborn, sure, but I think I can convince him.”

At least, she hoped she could. She especially hoped she could do it without a massive argument that ended in tears. She didn’t want to be stuck in the position of having to fight with her brother over whether or not it was spitting in their relative’s faces to rent out the buildings in the Uchiha compound.

“Satomi-chan, who do you blame for the massacre?”

…Okay, now she really didn’t know what the Sandaime was playing at. Whatever.

“I think the immediate answer is to blame Itachi, because everyone is responsible for their own choices, but that his age and childhood also have to be considered.” She wracked her brains for how to phrase the next part, picking at the random info Itachi had dumped on her, basically-a-dictionary included. Granted, she hadn’t been able to do the same back, since he had no structure for her languages at all, but he’d managed to help her out. “I think that, given how he considered himself a pacifist before, a large culprit in why he chose to do such a thing is the shinobi system and his entry into ANBU in particular. He was regularly expected to fight and kill, whether he wanted to or not, from a very young age. Considering his personality when we were younger, the only explanation I can think of is that he wasn’t receiving adequate psychological counseling, and signs of an oncoming mental breakdown were missed or ignored.”

There, a way to avoid completely laying the blame on Itachi without implying that she knew the massacre was done on government orders, and didn’t blame any specific person that she would later have to apologize to if they found out.

Well, maybe whoever was providing Itachi psychological counselling, if anyone was, but they were probably beating themselves up for ‘missing the signs’ already, and wouldn’t care anyway.

“And do you plan to continue on your path to become a kunoichi, Satomi-chan? Your Academy teachers told me that you’ve expressed interest in certain civilian careers in the past.”

Well, fuck them, then. “I have, yeah. I like business and I’d enjoy a career in marketing or something similar, I think, but given my new circumstances, that could easily be a slow path to suicide. I don’t know if Itachi’s planning on coming back to finish the job,” that was a filthy lie, “but I do know that even if he wasn’t, Sasuke and I now have massive targets on our backs anyway, as the sole remaining possible Sharingan users, save for Itachi. He’s probably been deemed too dangerous to risk trying to capture for genetic samples or bloodline theft, so it comes back down to us anyway. I’d rather be able to defend myself, when the time comes, so I’ll become a kunoichi. If I have free time, maybe I’ll try to pass the CPA exam or something, though that’ll take… a lot of studying.”

She frowned. Accounting wasn’t exactly fun like some other business disciplines, but she was capable, at least, and it was more useful in the Elemental Nations right now.

“Satomi-chan?” The Hokage said, drawing her attention back when it had wandered. “Why do you feel like you need to be an adult?”

Where the hell did that come from? Well, yes, she’d been talking about business opportunities and logistics and psychology, but she was a noted prodigy, right? Goddammit.

“I don’t. I just… need something to do.” That was close enough, “And Sasuke may be older, and technically the heir now, but I’m more responsible, I think.”

The Hokage continued to look at her, and then sighed and nodded to the social worker. “Akiyama-san, I believe that this has been enough evidence that Satomi-chan and Sasuke-kun may be able to live alone. Satomi-chan, at least, has demonstrated foresight and planning skills, and I am inclined to believe her regarding her claims about household skills. Assuming that her Academy teachers were correct about her mathematical skills and interest in economics, I don’t doubt that she will be able to manage their funds without trouble.”

“With check-ins.” Akiyama said (that was the woman’s name? She hadn’t been paying attention). The woman clearly knew that she wouldn’t be winning an argument with the Hokage, but seemed determined nonetheless to get at least some kind of supervision for the Uchiha twins.

“I can live with that.” Satomi said, something in her chest easing up. They wouldn’t be absorbed by another clan or used for a reputation boost by a civilian family. They were safe.

She wasn’t sure how Sasuke had gotten away with it in canon. Probably sheer stubbornness and bitchy attitude, maybe. He might have had a more frequent caretaker instead of just check-ins, too.

Whatever. She’d gotten what she needed.

o.o.o.o.o

In the movies, waking up from a coma was often dramatic, or just a little underwhelming. The lights were always on, and there was always someone there to scream out “they’re awake!” or a nurse would be alerted by some technological sign and show up within minutes to welcome back the patient to the world of the living.

Sasuke did not wake up in a movie.

When Sasuke woke up, it was three in the morning, and all the lights were off. Some of the machines shone, but it was a dim and unreliable light. There was, in fact, no one to greet him for the first six minutes, as the nurse on duty had taken a bathroom break, under the assumption that it was highly unlikely for one of her patients to wake up in the short time that she was away.

She came back to a sobbing, hyperventilating seven-year-old curled up in the corner of his room, all the IVs and measuring devices ripped out of his arm so he could get to the relative safety of where the walls joined up. He was babbling about everyone dying, and refused to let the nurse touch him.

“Your sister’s still alive.” She tried, and Sasuke stilled, staring at her with wide, frightened eyes. “She got released from the hospital a few days ago, and it’s against regulation to let her stay here at night, so she can’t come see you until tomorrow, but I promise you she’s alive.”

Sasuke stared a bit longer, and then nodded. “Everyone else… the Uchiha?”

His voice was raspy, as though he’d just been screaming his lungs out. For all the nurse knew, he had; it wasn’t like anyone in this ward was going to be bothered by it.

“…Dead, Sasuke-kun. Itachi has fled the village and has been declared a nukenin. The rest were found dead in the compound.” The nurse held out a hand. “How about you go back to bed, and I’ll see about getting your sister to visit in the morning?”

Sasuke waited a moment longer, and then nodded.

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi received a message via genin courier at seven the next morning, telling her that her brother was awake. She stopped by the Academy first to tell them that she would be missing another day, and was informed that no, she would not, and that she could wait until after school to go visit her brother.

Satomi stewed the rest of the day, answering every question posed to her in excruciating detail, speaking for as long as possible whenever she had a question, comment, or answer, and otherwise making as much of a nuisance of herself as possible without actually breaking any rules.

The teachers were glad to see her leave at the end of the day.

She ran all the way to the hospital, checked in with reception for barely a moment, and rushed off again a second later.

Satomi paused outside the door to Sasuke’s hospital room, took a deep breath full of the penetrating scent of antiseptic, and pushed it open.

“Hey, onii-chan.”

Chapter Text

 

Satomi really didn’t want to be here.

She wanted to see her brother, yes. She wanted to see him safe and undamaged.

What she was seeing here was not ‘undamaged.’

“Imouto…” Sasuke was only a few minutes older, but the age had cemented itself in how they referred to each other anyway. His voice was rough, like he’d been screaming, and the room had the washed-out greyish feeling that hospitals got when they tried and failed to combat the harsh white electric bulbs with open windows and sunlight.

Satomi hesitated, and then walked over to sit next to Sasuke. The chair was metal and plastic, and not very comfortable, but it wasn’t really supposed to be. Wordlessly, she took Sasuke’s hand into her own, trying to swallow past the lump in her throat that had been building up since she left school.

“They told me it wasn’t a dream.” Sasuke finally said. “Itachi really killed everyone except us.”

Itachi. Not Aniki. That was… telling.

“Yeah.” Satomi could feel her grip tightening around Sasuke’s hand, and forcibly relaxed it. Her hands were even stronger now than they had been before, and she’d hurt people in her old life without meaning to, when stressed and holding hands. There was no need to break his fingers here and now, just because she couldn’t control herself. “He did.”

“Why?” Sasuke asked, as though this was something she could answer.

She could, in the sense that she knew the truth and was capable of speech. She couldn’t, in the sense that everything she knew could get her killed if people found out it wasn’t as secret as they’d hoped.

“Being a shinobi is a life made of sacrifices,” She said instead, looking out the window and away from Sasuke’s broken eyes. “You give and you give and you give, and sometimes, there’s nothing left inside and you just… crumple in and stop thinking like a person, because everyone treats you like a weapon. I don’t…”

She took a deep breath and soldiered on with the not-quite-lie. “I think Konoha took a lot from Itachi when couldn’t fill himself back up as easily as the adults can. And nobody noticed when he crumpled. And so he was just… people break sometimes, Sasuke. They snap. Brains and hearts, especially young ones, can’t always take the strain of being a shinobi. A lot of people died, and I think it’s because nobody noticed Itachi breaking until it was too late.”

“…You don’t blame Itachi.”

“Everyone’s responsible for their own actions,” Satomi said, “But you can’t discount that which drives them to make the choices they do. A person’s upbringing and society have more to do with their choices than anything else in most cases.”

Sasuke frowned at that. “So blame Itachi… but also blame Konoha?”

Blame the old geezers that put him up to it. “Blame the fact that Itachi was pushed into war at a young age and then forced into the shinobi life on fast-forward instead of being allowed to grow up, exposed to violent events and traumatized consistently enough by the negligence of adults who should have known better for the better part of his childhood, driving him to the point where he just… broke.”

Sasuke blinked at her.

“…Sorry.” Satomi realized she was standing. Huh. When had that happened? She took her seat again. “I just… have a lot of opinions about the psychological stress that young shinobi undergo.”

That… that made Sasuke frown. “You’re talking weird.”

Satomi flinched. He’d noticed the expanded vocabulary. “I… there’s a reason that happened. I can’t tell you why, though.”

The frown deepened.

“When you’re a genin.” Satomi decides on the fly. “When you’ve graduated the Academy and I know you can keep secrets, I’ll tell you the stuff I’ve been hiding.”

“Like why you’re always weird?”

“…yes, actually.” Satomi bit her lip, and then came closer to the hospital bed. “Scooch over. I’m climbing in, and then we’re going to hug it out.”

“I don’t need a hug.”

Yes, you do, Sasuke. “Okay, but I need a hug.”

He seemed to accept that, at least.

o.o.o.o.o

“We can’t just do that, Satomi!” Sasuke slammed a fist against the table in their kitchen a few nights later, looking angrier than she’d ever seen him. “That’s… that’s our family. Our clan! How can you just—?”

“Stop.”

Sasuke stared at her, taking in the clenched jaw and uncomfortably white knuckles that showed just how hard her grip on her arms was. The calm voice was a mask, after all.

“Fine.” Sasuke crossed his arms, too. “Convince me.”

That was… she could work with that.

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi knew that the academy teachers had been considering moving her up another year. She was already a year ahead of Neji and two ahead of Sasuke and Hinata, and this would have bumped her up even further. She’d have been on track to graduate at nine, just a year and change away.

This was… complicated by the massacre.

Nobody wanted another Itachi, after all.

On the other hand, the paperwork had all be finalized before the massacre, and while Satomi’s parents couldn’t actually force the issue anymore, for obvious reasons, Satomi herself could.

It was just… so much easier to force the teachers to understand that she was ready to move on. Understanding the material wasn’t an issue anymore. She wasn’t having trouble reading or understanding the lectures anymore. She hadn’t had that problem for over a year. She could memorize all the information necessary for any given class in a single weekend, and that was assuming she hadn’t been putting in the effort all semester to learn the normal way, and even that was without the Sharingan, incomplete though it was.

And she had, if nothing else, the maturity that held most geniuses back. She was… unsure of how to count those first few years since she hadn’t been properly awake until three or so, but even if she didn’t count them, she was over twenty-five years old.

(And as strange as she was, as much fun as she had playing the oddball, it showed.)

(It showed in petty fury and meticulous details and laughter at jokes she was too young to understand.)

“On one condition,” the Hokage finally allowed. “You have to go to therapy for the massacre and other pressures.”

Satomi pursed her lips. She hadn’t gone to therapy since she’d died. It might be useful. “How often?”

“Once a week,” the Hokage said, “and convince your brother to go as well.”

That would be harder. “He’s stubborn.”

“I’m aware.”

It wasn't a bad plan, but it felt unfair. Her ability to progress in the ranks and in school should have been partially predicated on her mental health, yes, but Sasuke’s relative stability shouldn't have been an influence on her in this way.

Then again, ninjas.

And desperation.

“I’ll see what I can do.” She said, forcing her hands to remain relaxed instead of digging her nails into her palms or something else that would show the Hokage how unstable she could be.

o.o.o.o.o

She managed it. Sasuke wasn’t happy about going to therapy, but the doctors had already been pushing it, and if Satomi was going, then it wasn’t as much of a slight against his emotional strength or however he’d been reading into it.

“I’d feel guilty about holding you back,” he said, and Satomi felt her heart clench up for a moment.

She’d known that her existence would affect him somehow, but she hadn’t expected to hear her own phrases parroted back at her. Not like this.

She’d always had a bit of a good girl complex, and the power of guilt was heavily featured in that.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about Sasuke apparently absorbing some of it.

o.o.o.o.o

“Is it true your entire family died?” A girl at school asked, like it was water-cooler gossip and this was somehow acceptable.

I don’t know, asshole. Is it true that you have no tact or discretion, and are clearly going to grow up to be the worst kind of gossip and fail as a ninja, you little piece of shit?

“Yes,” Satomi said instead, because saying her first reaction was a terrible idea, “I’d prefer not to talk about it.”

She hoped Sasuke wasn’t dealing with the same problems. He had neither the same disregard for children being tactless assholes nor the same ability to cover up said disregard with politeness as Satomi did. On the other hand, he was far more capable of starting and finishing a fight if he chose to.

(Satomi was still struggling on that front. With older sparring partners, she had less trouble making herself aggressive, but they were also larger and more experienced in taijutsu than she was.)

“Why not?” The girl asked, and really? Okay. Children were the worst.

“Because the whole ‘everyone I love is dead except my evil older brother and my twin’ thing kind of puts me into a bad mood.” She smiled, closing her eyes and letting out a tiny hum of a laugh. “I’d appreciate it if you left me alone.”

“But—”

“Please leave me alone.”

“But—”

“Do you have anything relevant to say or are you just going to keep asking me about something I’m clearly not interested in talking about?” Satomi pressed. It wasn’t that she was bad at listening to people talk about things she wasn’t interested in (she was, in fact, strangely good at pretending to care), but that was for things that weren’t personally painful.

The girl pouted. “Geez, I just wanted to ask a few questions.”

“A few questions that were incredibly rude. Please leave me alone.”

Satomi watched as the girl’s face colored in and she rushed off, probably to talk to classmates closer in age and temperament to herself. Satomi sighed to herself. Being pushed up so much, useful as it was in the long term, was causing her trouble in regards to connecting to classmates. They either looked down at her for being a three years younger, or resented her for being better than them at almost everything except taijutsu.

(She wasn’t better than everyone at everything, but she wasn’t stupid and she wasn’t a child. The few that could probably outpace her were either keeping their heads down for whatever reason, like that one civilian-born who seemed like she’d be sent to pre-ANBU as soon as she was out of the Academy, and was making herself seem average to prove she could be discreet, or were simply too lazy to do more than the bare minimum.)

(Stereotypes for clans didn’t always hold true, but the Nara were… usually pretty laidback and a little lazy.)

(Or just playing everyone.)

(Usually the latter, actually.)

She didn’t foresee any positive, workable team setups, honestly. Most of the class disliked or dismissed her by too much for her to be accepted by them as a teammate, and the ones that didn’t were almost all spoken for already in one way or another.

Jumping out of Sasuke’s year had put her in the very unenviable position of being surrounded by unknown variables.

She couldn’t graduate any earlier than she was already on track to. She couldn’t connect to her classmates. She couldn’t connect much with most people.

So she focused on other things.

o.o.o.o.o

Sasuke had to deal with crushes, instead.

Satomi’s life, as awkward as it was with the age groups she regularly studied with, at least had the positive side of not involving any romantic overtures. She would have blankly and bluntly rebuffed them without any ambiguity if someone had asked her out, after the first few times when she’d used Neji as a buffer, but it was a moot point since no one did anymore. She was too young for her year-mates, too weird for her age-mates, and already engaged to boot. Uchiha or not, she just wasn’t an attractive option for most people yet.

(That wasn’t to say she wasn’t attractive. She’d worked damn hard to love and accept herself over the years, and even though she was a child, she could say with certainty that she’d grow up to be a classic beauty by Uchiha standards, thank you very much.)

(Sasuke called her vain. Neji just rolled his eyes, and Hinata tried to hide so that Satomi didn’t start complimenting her instead, trying to help the younger girl’s self-esteem.)

“Why don’t you just tell them that you’re not interested in anyone, and that the more they try to force the issue, the less likely you’ll be to ask them out when you do start looking?” Satomi asked when Sasuke explained the problem one night.

He looked embarrassed, and a little uncomfortable. “Mom always said to be polite to girls.”

Wow, that was… that was a very sad reason for him to put up with their bullshit. They’d almost all grow out of it eventually, but still. It was annoying now. “Do you have any friends in class?”

“That’s the problem.” Sasuke stabbed at the food on his plate with his chopsticks. Satomi wasn’t a very experienced cook, but she could do rice and fish, and Sasuke was learning as well. He was better than her at it, actually. "I usually sit with Hinata, but all the girls that like me decided that means she’s their rival now, and they’re making her cry.”

Sasuke and Hinata as best friends. She’d made the oddest changes, really.

“Did you tell them that it’s because of me and Neji? They might believe it if you say that you’re friends because of the engagement, or because you’re both future clan heads and want to establish strong relations now instead of later.” Satomi suggested.

“I don’t think they’d buy it.” Sasuke said, stabbing at his food again.

Satomi tapped her chopsticks against her chin. “I have an idea.”

“…Okay, so tell me what it is. Don’t make the dramatic pauses, they’re stupid.”

“No, they’re not, shut up.” Satomi stuck out her tongue at Sasuke, garnering some rolled eyes in return. “No, I’m serious. Tell them what you’ll actually look for when you need to find a partner in the future. Someone strong enough to defend any children you have. Someone loyal. Someone capable of discretion. Someone that your friends approve of. And most importantly…”

Sasuke looked a little worried at this.

“If they want to ask you out at all, they have to go through me, because if I don’t approve, then you won’t approve, and I won’t approve unless you’ve told me you like someone.”

Sasuke frowned. “This isn’t some weird attempt at… match-making, is it?”

“Not in the slightest! If I think you should get together with someone,” if I ship it, “I will tell you straight out that I think you’d make a good couple even if I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever, and you are under no obligation to agree. I am simply offering myself up as a willing sacrifice to be your fangirl deterrent. Rawr. I’m a scary monster.”

Sasuke dropped his head into his hands and made a strange whining sound. “Don’t do that. It looks stupid.”

“Oh no, I looked stupid in front of my brother.” Satomi deadpanned, voice completely flat. “Whatever shall I do?”

“Stop.” Sasuke picked up his head just enough to glare at her, and she looked as unimpressed as she could manage in return. After a few seconds, he sighed. “You really think that would work?”

“Won’t know until we try!”

Satomi almost thought that was the end of it, and then Sasuke shook his head.

“No. I’m not going to hide behind you.”

(He dealt with the fangirls his own way. It didn't seem nearly as effective, but Satomi caught some rumors about Sasuke having said that he wouldn’t date anyone until he was chuunin, and that anyone he dated had to also be at least chuunin at that time.)

(It had… some effect.)

o.o.o.o.o

The Phoenix Corporation, she called it. It was an old inside joke that no one would understand, save perhaps Itachi, but that didn’t matter. She understood it, and that was enough.

(She was occasionally tempted to make a silly reference and go with “Bishop Publishing,” but she had a feeling that cross-dimensional copyright infringement was a thing, and she wanted no part in it.)

It wasn’t even a corporation, especially not now in the planning stages. She was earning money and such, yes, but that was solely through the management of the Uchiha estate, which was mostly clan money, save for that which went to her for the time she put in. Most of the rent went into clan holdings, and some went to the lawyer, financial advisor, and real estate agent that she hired when she ran into places where she needed help. There was a lot of that when she first started off. She handled most of it on her own, nowadays. The lawyer had drawn up some contracts that she could reuse. The financial advisor came in and helped her with her accounting when she needed it, which was less and less as time went on. And the agent kept the available rooms and properties listed at the prices that Satomi requested, for as long as they were available.

This was not the future Phoenix Corporation. This was clan business.

(Official clan accounts manager was a position. She’d stepped into it by accident, but given that Itachi and Obito weren’t coming back anytime soon and that Sasuke wasn’t interested, it seemed she’d be staying there.)

(She… minded a little, but not as much as she probably would have if money weren’t already of interest to her.)

No, the Phoenix Corporation was her plan. Satomi would, until her twentieth birthday, receive a stipend from clan holdings no matter how much money she was earning otherwise, as a shinobi or through other means. She was also earning money through the relatively small salary that she was assigning herself for running the estate every month. And when she graduated the academy, she would be earning money from missions as well, though 20% of each mission’s pay would be going to clan accounts (until she made chuunin, at which point the percentage would grow, and so on).

Some of that money was immediately reinvested into night courses on finance and accounting, dreary subjects, and more enjoyable classes like management of multinational corporations and intercultural communications. She was, according to clan law, also allowed to partially subsidy these classes with clan money as well, which she did, of course.

The Uchiha had been very insistent on providing for their orphans and providing an education. It was very nice to have these policies in place, because Satomi didn’t want to use a ryo more of clan money than she had to when she started up her own business.

That was the crux of it, really. If she used more than a certain amount of clan money to start the business she eventually wanted to have, it would be an Uchiha Clan-held company.

And she wanted this to be hers.

She wanted to start a company of her own. She wanted to run a company and grow it with principles she’d learned at school in her old world and the ones that existed in her new one. She wanted to build it up and own it, all by herself. Clan money wasn’t really a copout, but it would be considered a clan investment, not a loan, and she refused to let this be a clan-owned company.

So she saved and she saved and she saved, and she knew in her gut she was going to make this work.

Satomi started looking into publishing companies.

o.o.o.o.o

“Satomi.”

The sun was shining in that strange way that spring and autumn sometimes brought, where it didn’t glare down and burn, and didn’t just trick you into thinking it was warm when it was actually freezing outside, but rather… pooled.

The sunlight pooled.

Satomi.”

Neji’s voice broke her out of her musing, and Satomi looked away from her window to see her friend (her best friend, which was a little sad) holding a newspaper and crossing his arms.

“Neji?” Satomi frowned. “How did you get into my house?”

“Sasuke let me in.” Neji waved it off. “That’s not important. Remember when you used to complain about that man running some shipping company in Wave Country?”

“I still do that, why?” Satomi had a feeling she knew exactly why he was asking, but she hadn’t seen the paper in his hands and couldn’t be sure. Besides, she did complain about Gatou. A lot. He was a dick and, more relevant to her discussions, prone to making poor business decisions that should have sunk his company years ago if it weren’t for the illegal practices.

(Actually, it wouldn’t have. Satomi didn’t like admitting it, but after the initial setup was taken care of, a shipping company was much easier to keep afloat than industries that relied on constant creativity and marketing. All you had to do was prove you had better rates or speed than the competitors or something, at least in this world.)

“He’s been arrested by Kirigakure.”

Satomi’s jaw dropped open.

How the fuck.

The newspaper landed on her desk, and she picked it up and scanned through it. A Kirigakure merchant had suspected he was being fraudulently charged, some vague hints about unhappy drug dealers among the civilians and unhappy drug lords with the money to hire someone, and oh. Yes, Kirigakure had definitely sent a paperwork ninja in with a team of Chuunin and a professional accountant to do a secretive audit of Gatou’s activities and then arrested him the next time he set foot in their country.

A few more lines made it obvious why they hadn’t just assassinated him, too; they got to confiscate the entire company until such a time as the matter was resolved, which meant never, which meant more money and resources for Kirigakure.

Satomi closed her eyes and breathed deep, because this wasn’t an outcome she had quite prepared for, and because she was definitely why this had happened.

Not even in a butterfly of doom way, but directly responsible for this.

o.o.o.o.o

“And this?” Itachi asked, “Gatou and Wave?”

“…take him out before he can hurt an entire country like that, aniki. I don’t care if Team Seven needs it to work together; that can always be handled some other way. It’s not worth that many ruined lives.”

“Butterfly effect, Satomi. You don’t know how this will affect the future.”

“…if he gets taken out of the game now, that’s hundreds of lives saved and hundreds of people kept from extreme poverty and oppression, and that’s in Wave Country alone. We don’t know how many will be hurt if he’s gone now, but I’d wager that it’s much, much less than the people he’d hurt in the long run.”

“Are you willing to shoulder the responsibility for that risk?”

“…yes.”

o.o.o.o.o

But she hadn’t expected him to go to Kirigakure. Not the Bloody Mist. She expected Kumo, actually, since Lightning Country was notoriously hard-assed about drugs coming into the country and corporate transparency, but wasn’t as terrifyingly severe in punishments as the other countries that Gatou operated in. Kiri also seized the assets, and with Yagura still in power, she wasn’t actually sure how they’d be put to use in a positive way. That was part of what made this not quite a worst case scenario, but at least a very bad one.

Satomi wondered how he’d done it. It was a larger change to the timeline than she’d wanted to admit, but she’d given him enough information to, hopefully, handle some of the fallout on his own. Maybe he’d blow up all the confiscated ships. That would be useful.

“Satomi?”

“I’m fine, Neji.” She bit her lip, scanned the article one last time, and then picked up the phone. “I have to make a call.”

Neji took a seat, clearly not interested in leaving until he knew what was going on. He’d taken her promise to explain everything when he made genin very well, especially after she told him she’d made the same promise to Sasuke. That didn’t change the fact that he was doing everything in his power to figure her out.

“Hello, is this the International department at the Hokage tower?” She waited a few seconds for a positive answer, and then continued, a fake smile coloring her voice even over the phone, “Thanks. I’d like to see if I can get some current and projected employment statistics for the Land of Waves. Yes, I’ll hold.”

She wouldn’t be able to pull this off immediately, especially since she wanted to start domestically, but it was always good to get a look at the terrain ahead of time, right?

o.o.o.o.o

“We can totally do this.” Satomi promised to Neji, hand on his chest, right over his heart. Her other hand was over her own heart, the position just as full of almost sarcastic reassurance as her voice. “I trust you.”

“I don’t trust you.” Neji said, following it up with a, “not with this,” when Satomi made her eyes all big and shiny, and her lip pouty and wobbly.

She was good at overdone facial expressions. They were funny.

“You’re both going to die.” Sasuke said, falsely casual. He’d been trying to get back into the casual dark humor that he’d occasionally used before, where death and injury were jokes instead of a horrifying reminder of what he’d lost. “And nobody is going to be surprised.”

“We’re not gonna die, silly. Just horribly injure ourselves.”

Satomi was helping, mostly.

(She figured it was some kind of exposure therapy ordered by the doctors. It seemed like the sort of thing they’d do.)

“Fine,” Neji eventually said. “I’ll give it a shot. We’ve done the basic part before, and it would be an interesting thing to practice.”

“I-I’m going to get a medic.” Hinata said quietly. “Just i-in case.”

Neji ignored her, which was better than the glare he’d have sent a few years ago. Instead, he positioned himself in front of Satomi on one knee, facing away. She came up behind him, put one hand on his head, and one hand in his when he held it up. With a deep breath, she jumped up enough to put herself into a handstand that was partially on Neji’s head, and partially on his arm.

Then she lifted her hand out of his, ever so slowly, until her weight was entirely resting on Neji’s head. Had she known anything about yoga, she’d have called her own position a one-handed tree pose.

(Those acro duo videos had always been impressive, and with ninja balance, everything was so much easier.)

(She’d have actually broken something if she tried this before. Or at least torn something important.)

(And she knew for a fact that Neji was using chakra to lessen possible strains and unhealthy pressures on his head and neck.)

“Okay,” She breathed in. They’d done this part before, if rarely and only with adult supervision. Now came the hard part. “I’m ready when you are.”

Slowly but smoothly, Neji got out of his genuflecting position and up onto both feet. Out of the corner of her eye, past the swinging mass of her ponytail, Satomi saw Sasuke staring at them, a look of barely-hidden worry on his face.

Silly boy. They had medics for any damage that was done, and even that was likely to be unnecessary, because if she fell, she’d catch herself.

Ninjas.

“Ready?” Neji asked, and Satomi almost nodded before she remembered what position she was in.

“Yeah.”

Neji began to run through one of the simplest kata he knew, all while Satomi balanced on his head. Halfway through, as she began feeling more confident, she began to twist her torso downwards, until she was almost upright again, legs spread in a wide V that pointed forward.

There was a small noise from Sasuke, and Neji froze beneath her. Satomi’s field of vision wasn’t quite as good as Neji’s, and she wasn’t in a position to twist around and check much either. “What’s wrong?”

“It may be a good time to get off,” Neji said stiffly.

…Probably Hiashi, then.

Satomi took the hand that Neji brought up for her, and used it as extra balance for the dismount. She turned around, and… yep. Hiashi.

“So, we’re in trouble, aren’t we?” Satomi asked. Hiashi technically couldn’t do anything to her and Sasuke besides banning them from the compound for a few weeks, but that was still an undesirable option.

“I told you all not to experiment in this manner without an adult or a shinobi with chuunin or above rank present.” Hiashi said.

Satomi opened her mouth. Then she closed it.

She actually didn’t have an answer for that.

(Oh hell.)

(Oh hellity hellity hell.)

(Fuck.)

“I guess I was just impatient, sir.”

(Her brain was still, physically, that of a child. Her body and hormones, too. She could usually tamp down childish urges and impulses, but they sometimes crept up on her without warning. It was usually fine, because it made her seem like an actual child to those that were suspicious.)

(Sometimes, though, she found herself making a mistake that she didn’t even realize until it was over.)

“Neji,” Hiashi said, and the boy stood straight at attention, hiding the omnipresent hatred and anger at his uncle behind a blank, polite façade. “Satomi. While you are both still young, I expect better of you. You have both shown constant maturity, and that is why I leave you to your own devices so often. To betray that trust will have consequences.”

We’re totally in trouble. Satomi thought.

(She needed to work on tamping down the childishness that still threatens to overcome her sometimes.)

(She had to.)

(She was not a child.)

“That trust will be indefinitely retracted. An adult Hyuuga will accompany you or your brother whenever you come to visit Neji and Hinata, until such a time as I consider that trust earned once more.”

Hiashi turned on his heel and left, and the Branch House medic that had been hovering behind him rushed forward to check over Neji’s neck.

“I’m fine, Chiyome-oba-san.” Neji grumbled irritably, but he let her fuss.

Satomi moved to sit on the porch of the building next to the tiny training grounds behind Neji’s house, and plopped down, shoving her chin down into her hands as her elbows landed on her knees. She resolutely did not think about what her hands had been touching in the last hour or so while training.

“You have a twig in your hair,” Sasuke told her as he took the seat next to her.

“Thanks.” Satomi rolled her eyes, but nonetheless ran her fingers through her hair to find the offending particle. Her fingers caught in her hair too many times for comfort, the waves from the top tangling even more as they got curlier and curlier towards the bottom. Unbound, her hair reached midway down her back, which was about the length she intended to keep it forever, honestly. Long enough to satisfy her aesthetics, but short enough to not get in the way.

Sasuke was still staring at her when she finally found and ditched the twig, and by that point, Hinata had joined him.

“What?”

“Just making sure you don’t get all gloomy again because an adult got mad at you.” Sasuke said, which almost startled a laugh out of her because wow, did he really have a leg to stand on in terms of moodiness?

(He did. He wasn’t always happy, but he didn’t get the same kinds of mood swings that Satomi did, even in canon.)

Instead, she turned away and glared at the ground, because they… well, they weren’t wrong. If she hadn’t been a bit distracted by the problems she saw creeping up on her from having a body below her mental age, she’d have probably done just that. Honestly, she’d have probably done it anyway as soon as she moved past the brain stuff.

“It’s okay,” Hinata said, getting her attention. Oh. Neji was standing behind her. When had he gotten here? “I-I do the same thing, if I’m alone.”

Sasuke stared at them both, and then looked at Neji, whose face was blank of emotion.

“An adult being angry or disappointed shouldn’t be enough to make you cry,” Sasuke said, apparently in lieu of anything else to say. “How the hell did—”

“Language,” Satomi reprimanded on reflex.

“—you end up with this kind of reaction?” Sasuke steamrolled right past it.

“Um…” Hinata pokes her fingers together, “Father is very strict. And I don’t cry much, I just hide and f-feel bad.”

Satomi shrugged. “I’m just bad at people and the crying is probably a defense mechanism I picked up when I was young to induce sympathy in a way that would make the lecturing end or something. I can’t stop it even when I want to, now.”

The other three stared at her.

“What?” She asked, feeling defensive. “I’m not doing it on purpose. It just happens.”

They all seemed to keep a closer eye on her after that.

(I am not a child. She thought. And I am not a maiden in need of defending.)

o.o.o.o.o

A little while later, after a snack of watermelon that one of the women from the Branch House had brought over, Neji and Satomi were alone. Hanabi, still just four years old, had come over to ask if she could play too. Hinata had, of course, acquiesced, and Sasuke had followed along. Neji and Satomi had, instead, gone to sit in one of the gardens, sharing a child-sized bench. Satomi’s head had landed on Neji’s shoulder, which was surprisingly comfortable so long as she remembered to move the hair out of the way.

(Hanabi had once seen them sitting like that and asked if that meant they were in love. Neji’s answer had been a short “No.” Satomi’s answer had been offended sputtering that didn’t really have any words, because ew, gross, he was a kid and she was old enough to be his mother, and besides, she wasn’t straight enough for this anyway.)

(It had devolved into a playful spar that resulted in a tickle fight between Hanabi and Satomi, which only ended after Satomi had gotten Hanabi to promise that she’d never try to imply that there was anything romantic about Neji and her again.)

“Satomi?” Neji said after a few minutes.

“Mm?”

“I need to ask you something somewhat personal.”

“Can’t promise an answer, but go right ahead and ask, buddy.” Satomi’s eyes were on a leaf that she was slowly spinning by the stem between two fingers. She was… very sleepy, in the way that food frequently made her.

Neji took a few seconds to gather himself, and then asked, “You have activated your Sharingan, correct?”

Satomi froze.

When he didn’t get an answer, Neji continued. “I noticed that there was slight expansion in the chakra pathways to your eyes, indicating regular, if infrequent, usage of a doujutsu.”

“…You need to talk more like a kid.” Satomi said, grasping for words. “Does this mean all the Hyuuga know that I’ve been practicing?”

“Anyone that took the time to examine your chakra system in detail, yes.” Neji shrugged, jostling Satomi a little. “Certainly anyone you’ve sparred with.”

Fuck. “That’s unfortunate.”

“I don’t think Sasuke knows.” Neji offered, like a consolation prize.

“He’s not the one I’m worried about.” Satomi muttered. “I didn’t even consider that it might be obvious if I didn’t use it around you guys.”

“You don’t know the secrets of the Byakugan.” Neji said. “There are clan secrets you will never be privy to.”

“No, really? I thought I could just waltz right in and grab them.” Satomi rolled her eyes and sat up straight. “Seriously though, this is a problem. I can’t just… I can just hope the wrong people don’t find out, now.”

“Hm.” Neji made a small noise of agreement, but didn’t elaborate. After several more minutes of silence, where Satomi only ran through contingency plans for what to do if Danzo found out, he spoke up again. “How many languages do you know?”

“Ah… why?”

“I’ve heard you speak in several when you’re frustrated or distracted. And during sleepovers, you sleeptalk. It’s rarely intelligible, but some of it is recognizably not Continental Standard.” Neji raised an eyebrow, which, no, not fair. He was better at that than she was. Boo.

“Four. Or, well, three and a half. Continental Standard, Rural Lightning, Traditional Waterfall, and a language that’s only spoken in a single province in the Land of Earth. I’m still working on the Waterfall, though. That’s the half.” Continental Standard was, of course, Japanese. Lightning was English, Waterfall was Spanish, and Serbian was just rare. Other countries had other things, when she managed to check on them; Tagalog was surprisingly common in Water, for instance. It hadn’t been as thoroughly overridden as so many other languages due to the geography of the area, so a number of islands still spoke in predominantly Tagalog. Wind Country, similarly, had pockets of people that still spoke primarily in Arabic, the dialects strong due to the geographic isolation that some of the groups experienced. Fire Country actually had a minority that still spoke Mandarin Chinese or Korean, or, in still smaller populations, other languages that Satomi would have once associated with East Asia. She still couldn’t figure out how the languages had ended up thrown about the way they had, since the Germanic languages somehow made a hop-skip-and-jump from Lightning to the land of Rain, despite the Land of Fire between them, along with a handful of countries that spoke either Romance languages or Hindi. It honestly made no sense whatsoever from a linguistic standpoint since there wasn’t enough geographic separation to enforce that kind of diversity in language, but…

“Only spoken in one part of Land of Earth?” Neji asked, brow furrowed.

There was also the Land of Earth.

“The language family that exists in the Land of Earth is known as the Slavic languages. The most common one is Ruski, and there are smaller groups peppered about. The one I speak is one of the smaller ones, Srpski. There’s… maybe thirty thousand speakers, total, for the latter. They also all speak Continental Standard fluently and often know more than one of the smaller languages.” Had there been a non-Japanese overarching language while preserving the ‘certain areas speak certain languages as well’ facet, she’d have compared it to China. From what she remembered, while either Mandarin or Cantonese (or both? She couldn’t remember) were spoken by the majority of the population, each city or province had its own regional dialect or language, and people were generally fluent in both. Well. Not all the cities. A few cities did, and the provinces were more of a general guideline to the dialects than a hard-and-fast rule.

That said, the entire continent ended up feeling a lot like that sometimes; people knew Japanese too well and needed it too much for daily life in any large city, as a rule, for it to be like English or another attempted global overlord language back home, but the strength of the remaining languages was too much for the situation to be like the Americas or Australia, where local languages had been stamped out with a vengeance.

Of course, other aspects of population and culture vs. geography didn’t make sense either. Of the five largest shinobi villages, Kumo had the largest population of black people, despite being in a city that was largely dominated by cloudy skies and cold weather. Conversely, the people of Suna were abnormally pale for living in a desert country. It implied a large amount of nomadic movement, probably explained by the Warring Clans era, but the continent was so massive that that kind of mass movement could only take place over centuries.

“And you know it… why?” Neji asked, snapping Satomi out of her musings and back into the present.

“Um,” she scrambled for a few seconds. “Remember when I said there were some secrets I’d be keeping until you made genin, and then I’d tell you? This is one of them.”

Neji pursed his lips, but nodded.

“Why were you asking, by the way? Just curiosity?” She looped her arm through his, lacing their fingers together. He was warm. Good, she didn’t feel like putting up with chilliness because of silly old weather patterns anyway.

“I have been trying to understand the political environment that lead to my father’s death.” Neji started, which, okay, that made sense. “You’ve spoken about cultural and societal impact on politics and economics often enough that I’ve taken it upon myself to begin studying it, at least a little.”

“And? Do you want me to translate political literature or something?” She knew that the Land of Earth had something similar to the Communist Manifesto floating around out there, but that probably wasn’t something Neji was interested in, and her Russian was basically nonexistent anyway.

“I want you to teach me Rural Lightning.” Neji said, turning to look her straight in the eyes. “I’ve learned of how common it is in the Land of Lightning, to the point where their ranking system is partially based on the alphabet and some names are derived from their words. If I ever want to engage in the political process so that I can prevent something like this from happening again, then I need to be able to know if someone’s talking behind my back.”

(Fugaku hadn’t been completely accurate in his explanation of just how many people spoke the supposedly dead languages.)

Satomi stared.

Neji wanted to be a diplomat.

To Kumo.

To keep something like his father’s death from happening again.

That was. New.

“Sure!”

o.o.o.o.o

The school year ended as it always did, with graduation tests for the top three years (optional for the lower two, mandatory for the top one) and placement tests for everyone else. Satomi was not allowed to take the graduation test.

She spotted, as she waited for Sasuke outside the testing room, a little blond head on the swings, going back and forth and watching the other students morosely. She ran the numbers through her head, but Naruto wouldn’t be trying the graduation exam for another two years.

(Sasuke, much like Satomi, wouldn’t be allowed to take that exam either. There were often very special requirements in place for who could take which exam when, and Satomi wasn’t entirely sure why Naruto would be allowed to take the exam three times at all. Maybe it was just because nobody expected him to pass anyway.)

She made her way over.

“Hey,” Satomi said, stopping in front of Naruto. “What’s up?”

Naruto stared at her, and then whipped his head to the side to glare at the ground and pout. “What do you want?”

“…to know why one of the Academy’s students looks so sad when summer vacation is coming up, normally a reason for students everywhere to be happy as they get a few weeks of sweet, sweet freedom?”

She was going to be studying for civilian business exams during that time, but Naruto didn’t need to know that. It was also shorter than the summer breaks she was used to, but she didn’t know if that was a facet of being in ninja society or a facet of Japanese schools that had carried over. She’d never learned enough about Japanese schooling to know for sure.

Naruto turned his glare to her, but it was softened, cleared, until she was only looking at the very confused and admittedly still somewhat belligerent eyes of a young boy. “Because they all have parents, okay?”

“Maa, not all of them.” Satomi said, leaning against the tree. “I don’t. Neither does my brother, and he’s in your class, even. Hyuuga Neji and TenTen, in the year above you are both orphans, but only TenTen’s clanless. I’m sure there’s more speckled around, here and there.”

“What happened to your parents?” Naruto asked, apparently yet another person who’d never heard of ‘tact’ in his life.

“That’s a very rude question.” Satomi said. He probably hadn’t been raised to know better, but that didn’t mean she shouldn’t tell him when he messed up.

Naruto pouted and turned to stare at the ground again. Satomi sighed and answered anyway.

“They were killed in the Uchiha massacre. My twin brother and I were the only survivors, save for the perpetrator. My twin is in your class.”

Naruto turned to stare at her, studying the pale skin and fine bone structure and finally connecting the dots to the name she’d given. “You’re related to that bastard Sasuke!”

“Pretty sure our parents were married when we were conceived, so no, that’s not a descriptor that applies.” Satomi said, crossing her arms and raising one eyebrow halfway, which was about as far as she could get it. “Also, again, very rude.”

Naruto squinted at her. “You don’t seem to be as much of an asshole as he is.”

“Again, rude. Please stop insulting my only remaining family.” Satomi put a hand on her chest. “It makes me sad. Right here. I’m crying inside right now, I swear.”

Naruto’s eyes narrowed further, to the point where Satomi wasn’t sure he could see anything at all. “You’re being sarcastic.”

“Oooooh yeah. Totally.” Satomi smiled brightly at him. “And hey, let me remind you: summer vacation. You can, I don’t know, hang out with your friends or practice your techniques or study or go swimming or anything. The world is your oyster. Grab that pearl.”

“Don’t have any friends.” Naruto said, returning to staring at the ground.

How the fuck did he hear only that part? I mean, yes, I understand why, but there was so much else to talk about there. He didn’t even ask me about the oyster thing.

“Now I know that’s not true.” Satomi said, snorting a little. “My brother’s complained enough about you playing pranks with that Inuzuka kid and the Akimichi and the Nara often enough that I know you’ve got a little posse. I’m not even sure how you managed to motivate Shikamaru into helping, since he seems to be about as interested in moving as a dead fish, but hey, you did it.”

“They’re not friends!” Naruto protested, “I’ve never been over to their houses or met their parents or nothin’!”

“Did you ask to?” Satomi tilted her head. Was that really Naruto’s only measure of friendship? She’d wondered why he said Sasuke was his only possible friend as a kid in canon, when he’d clearly been skipping class with Kiba and Chouji and Shikamaru whenever he felt like it.

“No, ‘cause the orphanage lady said that would be rude when I asked her, and I don’t want their moms or dads telling them not to talk to me anymore.”

“Depends on how you phrase it.” Satomi countered, ignoring the second part for the moment. She knew that Shikaku, at least, wouldn’t react too negatively. Chouza would probably be the same, and she wasn’t entirely sure about Tsume, but her instincts leaned towards positive. She wasn’t sure if it would be rude, but she wouldn’t put it past Naruto to phrase something badly, get a negative answer for that specific thing, and then assume it was a blanket ban that he didn’t want to touch out of fear that he’d lose the friends he did have. Given that he’d moved out of the orphanage… a year or two ago, she’d forgotten exactly, then she really wouldn’t be surprised if the lessons he’d learned there hadn’t begun to fade yet.

“Whaddaya mean?”

“Well, don’t just go over there and ask ‘hey, can I come to your house’ or ‘hey, can I meet your mom’ or something. Be indirect. Ask if you can hang out during the summer, and then they’ll probably ask their parents, and then you can hang out. And before you say anything…” Satomi held up a hand, and then leaned in close, “Do you really think Kiba or Chouji would stop hanging out with you just because their parents said no?”

Naruto blinked. “Wait, what about Shikamaru?”

“I’m pretty sure he’s terrified of his mom, and he’d use it as an excuse to sleep instead of play. Shikamaru doesn’t count. He’s more like a plant than a person.”

She managed to startle a short laugh out of Naruto with that.

“And anyway, I don’t think his parents will hate you. So go on, go ask one of your friends,” she stressed the word, widening her eyes just a fraction to make sure it stuck, “if you can hang out over the summer. Maybe mention something they said they have at their house that they talk about a lot, and mention that you want to see it, since they’ve been talking about it so much. I don’t know, maybe Kiba’s been talking a lot about some puppies that were born recently or something? That seems like plausible.”

Naruto made a face like he wasn’t sure what to do, and then nodded vigorously and ran off. Satomi noted that all the parents they’d been talking about caught sight of him before he actually chose someone to approach, so they all caught him in the moment where he looked nervous and scared before he slapped his happy mask on and charged over the Kiba, shouting something that Satomi couldn’t quite understand.

There was a moment where Tsume gave Naruto a noogie, but as the group parted ways, Satomi saw their faces well enough to know it had gone well. The process repeated itself with minor differences with Chouji and Shikamaru, whose parents were all standing in a group (no noogies, for one), but that seemed to end well in turn. Satomi was fairly certain, as Naruto was bundled away by the group, that the Akimichi had decided he was too skinny and were dragging him off for a good meal, with the Nara following along as usual and, once she checked, the Yamanaka bringing up the rear.

Naruto turned and gave her an excited wave as he left, in a manner he probably thought was pretty stealthy.

“What did you do?” Sasuke’s voice came from behind her, and she turned to see him looking between her and the entrance that Naruto had disappeared through in what was probably surprise.

“What do you mean?”

“You made friends with the idiot!” Sasuke pointed to where Naruto had left.

Satomi blinked at him, and waited.

“…fine, you made friends with Naruto.” Sasuke amended after he realized what the problem was. He was rolling his eyes, but it was a work in progress.

“I gave him advice and helped him figure out that he has friends.” Satomi shrugged. “I’m not planning on interacting with him in the future very much. I know that, outside our conversation, he’s probably very loud and obnoxious, in a manner that I would personally not find very enjoyable, but he looked sad.”

“Did you hug him?” Sasuke asked suspiciously. “Because that seems like a thing you’d do.”

Satomi blinked, and then looked up at the leaves of the tree above her as she thought back through the conversation. “I was planning on it, but now that I think about it, I didn’t. Hm.”

She turned to Sasuke, widening her eyes into a ridiculous doll-like look. “Give him one for me when you see him in class again?”

“No.” Sasuke deadpanned. “Now let’s go home.”

Satomi followed behind him, humming to herself.

Okay, so maybe children weren’t that bad after all, even if they didn’t have any tact.

o.o.o.o.o

Sarutobi Hiruzen was used to dealing with psychological profiles. Every time one was completed for an active shinobi, it crossed his desk. In the case that it was marked as abnormal or unstable, he would read it in depth, which was more often than not. With profiles that were marked as unchanged or stable, he simply skimmed.

The profiles he was being handed today were not for active shinobi.

“Sasuke is handling things about as well as can be expected.” Yamanaka Santa was, at the age of twenty-one, old enough to know what he was doing, but still young enough to not be deemed intimidating to highly traumatized children. He also always began with Sasuke when Hiruzen asked for a report on the twins, because Sasuke was, if not easier to handle, less complicated. “He still seems uncomfortably fixated on the idea of hunting down Itachi and getting some answers out of him, but the revenge has been coming up less. He’s also told me that the nightmares are dying down.”

And was telling the truth was implied, there. A Yamanaka who couldn’t tell when an Academy student was lying was either very poor at the clan’s most common specialty, or dealing with a very, very interesting Academy student. Which lead into…

“And Satomi-chan?”

The man seemed to fight the urge to close his eyes or sigh or exhibit a similar sign of frustration. “She’s mentioned nightmares when I ask, but only very normal ones, and rarely are they intense enough to wake her; if you listen to her tell it, her sleeping patterns are entirely unchanged from before the massacre.”

“Santa-san…”

“I’ve tried, Hokage-sama.” The man shrugged. “She doesn’t try to hide things like Sasuke, and if I ask a question, she answers directly. She’s got a surprisingly thorough grasp on the way she thinks and deals with things, and every time I ask about an issue she’s admitted to having, she tells me it was around since before the massacre, and her brother corroborates the story. She’s not a recalcitrant patient at all, just… very much not reacting as a child should, and very much boxing away the trauma in a way that leaves me worried.”

Hiruzen motioned for Santa to continue.

“My guess at the beginning was that she was simply extremely traumatized, engaging in high-level compartmentalization and possibly repressing the memories, but in the time since then…” He shrugged helplessly again. “All signs point towards the initial reaction being precisely what it seemed to be. She was using the projects she set up as a way to distract herself and got most of her grief out in the first week or so, and then went more or less back to normal after that. I can’t say for sure what’s going on there, Hokage-sama. If she were an adult with previous experiences of large-scale loss, I would understand, but in a child, it’s concerning, confusing behavior.”

“Children are resilient, and Satomi-chan’s teachers intimated that she did claim to have some memory problems.”

Santa understood the sentence for what it was; not a slight against his skills or an attempt to teach him about something he was an expert in, but a prompt to explain what these facts meant in relation to the situation

“Children can bounce back easily from a lot of things, yes, but psychological damage is much harder to heal than physical damage. You can use healing chakra on bumps and bruises, on broken bones and failing organs, but the mind is… harder to deal with. Healing chakra can, at best, deal with some issues caused by physical problems like chemical imbalances or tumors. It can’t do anything about trauma, Hokage-sama, and Sasuke’s a much better example of how you’d normally expect a child to react to an event like the massacre.”

“And the memory problems?”

“Aren’t particularly extreme, from what I’ve seen. She has some problems with visualization that I noticed, and she described those in ways that make me wonder if she’s just describing how everyone visualizes things or if it’s actually an abnormality, but her memory is only a little spotty and it’s mostly in regards to information she deems relatively unimportant anyway.” Santa explained. “At best, I think she may have shoved the Uchiha clan into that box of ‘unimportant’ to dim the pain and move on faster.”

Hiruzen took a deep breath from his pipe and sighed. “Will her handling of the massacre cause problems down the line or lead to another Itachi situation?”

(He knows that trauma didn’t make Itachi kill the Uchiha, but that’s…)

(Well.)

(S-Rank secrets don’t stay that way by being told to everyone, unless the Kyuubi’s involved.)

(He still doesn’t know how that secret hasn’t leaked to the younger generation or other villages yet.)

 “…Doubtful. She doesn’t seem all that committed to the shinobi lifestyle anyway, simply keeping with it because she believes she’ll need to defend herself and her brother in the future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she retired to a civilian lifestyle the second Itachi died.” Santa shrugged. “Sasuke is more committed to being a shinobi, but he’s also more committed to Konoha itself.”

“And the two in relation to each other?”

“Satomi clearly leads the two, even though I think she’d prefer to let someone else make decisions much of the time.” Santa bites his lip before continuing. “Sasuke has shown some resentment over how quickly she’s been going through the academy, but not by much; he’s more worried about her insistence that she’s an anomaly in the universe and that she’s not supposed to exist, but whenever I ask her about it, she starts talking about existentialism and dimensional theory. I’ve decided to leave it alone for now since that belief doesn’t seem to be putting her in danger. They’ve spoken about splitting chores and such, though Sasuke spends his free time outside of that training, while Satomi… may be over-reaching a little.”

“Oh?”

“She’s running the Uchiha Estate already, and while not many people want to live in the scene of a recent massacre, there are enough takers that she has to spend a significant amount of time on that alone. She also has training for the academy, homework, business classes that she convinced the civilian college to let her take, planning for a business she wants to establish herself at some point, and even hobbies, somehow.”

“…She’s going to burn herself out.” Hiruzen sighed.

Santa raised one hand and wobbled it a bit. “She delegates or hires out for much of the estate handling, and she’s admitted to have very little trouble with the Academy work. The hobbies seem to be her way of preventing that sort of problem, so while I’d keep an eye out for the potential burn-out, I suspect she has it handled.”

“And when she graduates the Academy and begins taking missions?”

“I suppose we’ll see.”

o.o.o.o.o

She was so bored.

Okay, so she had homework for both the Academy and the business courses, but the first was easy enough to finish, and she wasn’t allowed to take more than two classes at a time at the civilian college because…? She wasn’t sure, but it probably had something to do with her age. Even at that pace, she was running out of courses to take; Konoha’s business college was really just a small satellite campus for the larger school in the capitol. She’d have to switch to correspondence courses soon if she wanted to get any kind of degree.

(“You’re eight,” Hina-sensei had told her with a frown. “You don’t need to graduate the civilian college by twelve, Satomi-chan. You can slow down.”)

And she had hobbies, sure, but there were only so many books she could import from Lightning Country that were written in English, and she hadn’t gotten into the groove of reading fiction in Japanese yet. Writing was even more of an issue, because if she didn’t read fiction in Japanese, then she wouldn’t be able to get a feel for how to write it either.

Also, fanfiction communities either didn’t exist, or were completely beyond access for her. The second the internet gained traction, she was hiring a web developer and building a fanfiction site, come hell or high water. Sure, she’d have to write for completely new fandoms, but that was hardly the point.

She also had training, but there was only so much training a person could do in a day before it began to do more damage than help, and she’d quickly found her limits in that regard.

Running the estate, after she handed off the parts she wasn’t qualified for to people who were (and would do as she asked so long as she paid them), also didn’t take all that much time up. It was mostly just fielding requests for repairs and some paperwork.

Basically, while she had plenty of things to occupy her time, the gaps between them were boring as hell, because the internet didn’t exist. She had even gotten a sketchbook and started drawing again. She had even gotten embroidery thread and started knotting bracelets again. She had even bought some fabric and tried to learn how to sew again. That was how bored she was.

(She tried cooking, too, but most of that was better left to Sasuke. Satomi could make crepes and banana bread and a handful of simple dishes, but once Sasuke started learning recipes, they’d both realized he was better at it than she was.)

(Satomi wasn’t that insulted that an eight-year-old was a better cook than she was.)

(…really.)

If Neji and Hinata were free, the twins would visit them, and Neji was usually pretty amenable to dancing with her. If they weren’t free, Sasuke was occasionally willing to dance with her. She was normally alone on that front, though.

At least she could have her music, now. Itachi had taught her how to access memories she’d thought lost, and while it didn’t really help much in day-to-day life, she could pull back songs if she meditated a bit first. Even playlists were possible. It was kind of awesome to actually, sort of, play music in her head properly, instead of the basic melody and probably-not-correct words and snatches of bass or drums or whatever else was in the background.

Still, though.

Sometimes she just wanted to go on a wiki walk on TvTropes or something. Read some fluff. Chat with a friend on tumblr about social justice or fictional characters. Things that didn’t take effort the way non-internet things did. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy non-internet things. It was just that there were only so many times she could do them before they got boring too.

“Stop brooding.”

Satomi yelped and maybe jumped a little, turning around in her seat to look at Sasuke. Satomi was sitting on a porch chair, and Sasuke had just come out of the front door.

“I was not brooding.”

“You need to have more situational awareness, and yes, you were.” Sasuke made a slightly pained expression, apparently mimicking her. “You had that look on your face.”

“I wasn’t brooding,” Satomi repeated. “I’m just bored.”

Sasuke’s brow furrowed. “You have, at minimum, eight hobbies.”

“Not in the mood.”

“Training?”

“Already ran and did strength training and practiced taijutsu, yes.” She made a face.

“Ninjutsu?”

“Did or tried both of the ones I’ve been taught twenty times. Haven’t done henge yet.”

“Okay, what about the Katon we learned before the… what about the Katon that father taught us?”

“Did it, like, twice. I’m not risking chakra exhaustion without a good reason.”

“Chakra control excercises? The ones that don’t eat up your reserves.”

Satomi paused. “Um… no, not really. I guess I could work on that. My control’s pretty good, though.”

“No excuse to slack.” Sasuke said as he pulled the door shut behind him.

“Where are you headed?” Satomi asked, already running through which control exercises she could try.

“Hinata wants to go see a movie called Princess Fuuin. Her dad won’t let her go alone, Neji obviously refuses, and none of her usual official escorts are available. Hanabi found out and decided to call me, since she thought Hinata wouldn’t want to be a bother.” Sasuke said, fastening a bag over his shoulder.

“You like princess movies?” Satomi tilted her head.

“I don’t mind them, and if Hinata wants to see it…” He shrugged. “She’s basically the only person in class that I’m actually friends with.”

“That’s kind of sad.”

“Name one friend you have that isn’t Neji or Hinata.”

She opened her mouth to answer.

“I’m family, I don’t count.” He cut her off.

She pouted at him. “Rude. You are rude, my good sir. And besides, I have… acquaintances.”

Sasuke raise an eyebrow. Asshole.

“Stop mocking me, Sasuke. I’ll set your hair on fire, don’t think I won’t.”

Sasuke rolled his eyes and left. Satomi watched him leave, a small smile playing on his lips. Having a sister and friends had definitely helped keep him… not happy, per se, but less sad. Less revenge-filled, certainly.

She turned her attention back to the matter at hand. Chakra control. Right.

Basics was just… attaching a leaf to each fingertip and holding it there with chakra, or spinning one on the forehead. Satomi had gotten both of those down a year or so ago, but if she started with them and water-walked or something…

She didn’t know enough control exercises, to be honest. Oh well.

Satomi took a deep breath and shunted her reticence regarding germs to the back of her mind, boxing it up until such a time that she could deal with it. The leaves wouldn’t do any immediate damage. She could wash her hands as soon as she finished. She just had to avoid touching any of the openings in her face.

She opened her eyes and made her way over to a bush, quickly picking off ten leaves and beginning with the fingertips exercise. She made her way over to a tree and began pacing up and down, trying to see if there was a way to actually challenge herself. Maybe if she tried spinning the leaves? That would involve the pushing of chakra the way that…

Oh.

She… she had been meaning to try. The teachers always told them not to practice a technique they didn’t know unless they had a responsible adult nearby, or were judged competent by such. But this wasn’t a technique, though, was it? It could be utilized as a technique, but at its base, it was just an applied chakra exercise, like wall walking.

Satomi carefully fed some chakra into her finger, trying to balance the push and pull and stick that the chakra needed. The leaf fluttered out to half an inch from her fingertip, held in the air for but a second, and then her control wavered. The leaf fluttered to the ground and lay there, taunting her.

For a second, though, she’d had a very, very short chakra string.

There was a new project for Satomi to work on.

(She had plans.)

o.o.o.o.o

Flashback:

“Everyone’s mind manifests differently. Mine tends to end up looking like the Uchiha compound.” Itachi told her. “I don’t know how yours will appear.

“Naruto’s was a sewer.” Satomi told him. “So I know there’s a pretty wide variety. For all I know, we’ll have to navigate the entirety of New York City. Or Manhattan, at least.”

Itachi shot her a look of confusion, clearly feeling safe enough to not hide his emotions.

“The city I lived in during college. Total population was about eight million, and for Manhattan alone… two million, maybe less? I don’t remember, but there were five boroughs and Manhattan was the smallest geographically, but had the highest population density. I’m not sure how big a chunk of the total population for the city it got.” Satomi looked over at Itachi. “What?”

“That is… a very large city.”

“Mm… well, Tokyo was bigger. So were lots of places. My old world had an overpopulation problem.” Satomi shrugged. “We had… a lot of problems, honestly, but it wasn’t all bad.”

Itachi nodded, and then they came to a white door that stood out against the rest of the landscape. It smooth and looked like plastic, and there was a keypad next to it. Itachi stared at it.

“The path from one mind to another when connected by Sharingan is always different. I think you need to be the one to put in the code,” he said after a few seconds. “Are there any that come to mind?”

“Using just numbers? A few. With only four digits? Only two. It’s probably the code I used to unlock my phone.” She punched it in, and the little number pad beeped. Bingo. A hissing noise alerted them to the door sliding open.

“Alright, let’s see where this takes… us…” Satomi trailed off as she ducked through the door, finding an empty white space with no visible end. Itachi stepped through after her, and the door closed behind them. From this end, Satomi saw, it looked like any door you’d find in Konoha, with the Uchiha symbol painted on at eye level.

“What’s that?” Itachi asked, drawing Satomi’s attention back to the front.

“Wait, so this isn’t just some in-between space?” Satomi made a face. “Okay, I’m going to come up with some really cool reason my mind is apparently just boring white space instead of something cool and interesting.”

“Satomi.” Itachi said, and then repeated himself, “What is that?”

She looked to wear he gestured, and saw a silvery cylinder standing in the empty space, maybe four feet tall, with a sloping surface like someone had cut it in half diagonally and turned the flat side to face the door.

In the center of the flat oval that was the surface, there was a small red button.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say we should press that to find out.” Satomi said after a few seconds of staring. “Gotta push the big red button, you know.”

“It’s only two centimeters across.”

Satomi rolled her eyes and walked over to the cylinder. Really, it was like a circular podium, more than anything. She hesitated only slightly, and then went ahead and just pushed the button.

What looked like a holographic screen glitched into being at eye level, and what seemed to be a similarly holographic keyboard did the same just a little in front of the podium. There was only one word on the screen in question.

Search: ___________

“…You know, I’m not sure what I expected, but somehow I’m not surprised.”

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi knew that Itachi wasn’t evil. Not many other people did, but that was alright. She knew.

She also knew that, Itachi being Itachi, he’d probably run through almost all of the memories she’d pushed onto him by now. There had been the odd hiccup (like the fact that they found he couldn’t understand the memories as soon as they moved the ‘files’ from her mind to his, and would apparently need to learn English from scratch since distinct skills and knowledge couldn’t be transferred as easily as memories, which just… what), but Itachi was a fast learner, and Satomi was sure that he’d worked through enough of the important bits to make it to the pile of references she’d handed over. The references were plans for how they’d confirm one another’s identity if they ever met in life, since none of the source material seemed to exist here.

She knew Itachi had gotten to that point, because she was interrupted during breakfast on the morning of her ninth birthday, partway through her final year in the Academy, to knocking on the front door. She exchanged looks with Sasuke, and then went to get the door. “Yes?”

“Are you Uchiha Satomi?” The deliveryman asked, looking somewhat harried.

“I am.”

“Is Uchiha Sasuke there as well?”

“Yeah, just give me a second.” She turned to yell over her shoulder, “Sasuke! You’re needed too!”

She turned back to the deliveryman. “I’m sorry, what is this about?”

“Got some packages for the residence.” He hefted over a box as Sasuke appeared. “Uchiha Sasuke, this one’s for you, and you’ll need to sign here. Uchiha Satomi, yours is too big to carry, and I was instructed to leave it in the side yard.”

Satomi blinked and signed for her package as well once Sasuke was finished, listening as he opened the package. The man handed her a paper. “Any issues pop up, call this number.”

“Will do.” She was so glad phones existed, even if landlines were the only common ones.

“It’s a sword.” Sasuke said, staring down at the package once he’d opened it. “It’s… from a really famous make, too.”

“Is there a card?” Satomi asked. She didn’t really know who would send them something quite this expensive for a gift, but given the general attitude from the villagers (and a card from the Daimyou, who apparently took interest when powerful clans that belonged to his contracted village suddenly went almost extinct), she wouldn’t be surprised if it had come from a complete stranger).

“Yeah, it’s…” Sasuke trailed off, face paling. “It’s from Itachi.”

Satomi let that thought process for a few seconds, and then frowned. “Wait, how? He’s been an S-rank nukenin for a year now, and that’s not a lifestyle that lends itself to a lot of well-paying missions since so many of the potential clients are too terrified to hire him. I mean, I guess he could have stolen the sword or the money for the sword, but I still find it incredibly unlikely that he could have both afforded this and sent it to you.”

Sasuke turned to stare at her. “You’re not even a little suspicious?”

“…You’re right, he totally stole this.”

“That’s not the point, Satomi! Why did he send it at all?” Sasuke demanded.

“He feels sorry? He’s not mentally stable? He wants to mess with you? Take your pick, based on your interpretation of his motivations and sanity.” Satomi shrugged. “C’mon, I wanna see what I got if he sent you that nice of a sword.”

Sasuke stared at her for a few seconds, and then sighed, “Fine, but if something goes wrong, it’s your own fault.”

“Meh. If he wanted to kill us, we’d already be dead. He wouldn’t be doing something like this. He’s way too efficient to waste time on mind games if he doesn’t have to.” Satomi waved off Sasuke’s concerns as she walked around the corner of the house. “Seriously, he’s not…”

It was big.

“Satomi?”

It was blue.

“Satomi.”

It was a box.

Satomi.” There was a hand waving in front of her face. She grabbed it and shoved it away.

It had four little windows that she could see from here.

“Seriously, Satomi—”

It had doors and a little light at the top.

“—what are you—”

And along the top,

“—even looking at—”

in boxy white capital letters,

“—what is that—”

were the words:

POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX

“Sasuke?” Satomi cut him off.

“What?” He sounded relieved. That was good. “Why are you smiling so much?”

“He got me a TARDIS.”

“He… he what?”

“I don’t know how or where, he probably just hired a carpenter or something, but the point is, he got me a TARDIS.”

“Satomi, I don’t know what that is.”

Time and Relative Dimensions in Space,” Satomi said in English, sing-song, “Yes, that’s right. Names are funny, aren’t they?”

“Can you please explain?”

“He got me a TARDIS.” She breathed out, a little laugh in her words. She could feel her grin growing again.

Satomi.”

“He got me a TARDIS!” Satomi squealed, finally breaking and giving in to the urge to be giddy. There may have been jumping on the spot and dancing and more squealing. She ran forward to hug the box. “I got my box.”

Sasuke seemed to have given up on figure out what the hell was going on.

“It’s my box I love it I’m keeping it forever.” Satomi said in a rush. She took a step back and pulled the door open. The inside was plain wood with what looked like mock-circular Gallifreyan written all over it in gold paint. She closed the door behind her, latching it and ignoring Sasuke for a moment, and closed her eyes as the sigils began to glow. Okay, that was worryi—

The glowing stopped, but there was a light now. She opened her eyes, took in the sight, and held out a hand. It looked like the inside of Eleven’s TARDIS, the golden version that he had when he was with Amy and Rory, with natural light seeming to filter in through the windows, shifted over proportionally, but her hand came to a stop in what seemed like solid air. It felt like the wood of the inside of the box.

She unlatched the door and the sight faded.

Genjutsu.

Really, really cool genjutsu, linked to a bunch of seals that were mocked up to look like circular Gallifreyan.

She turned to leave and noticed an envelope taped to the inside of the door, just above eye level. Opening it, she found a short note in Itachi’s handwriting.

I had to bribe Sasori, but here’s your “timey-wimey” box. Take good care of it, and I’ll see if a few years of research might yield seals that’ll actually make it bigger on the inside.

(By the time she was fifteen again, Satomi would have given up on seals that gave her a properly bigger-on-the-inside box, but it was the thought that counted, and even then, she had her own TARDIS. The only TARDIS, in this world.)

“I’m going to live in here forever.”

“Satomi, no.”

o.o.o.o.o

Graduation was just around the corner by the time Satomi was confident enough in her usage of chakra strings to start trying them out in practice. She didn’t use them that way around anyone, preferring to keep them a secret for the time being, but she had a feeling Hiashi might have guessed. Sasuke only thought that she’s been using chakra strings to move stuff without having to touch it, which.

Well.

He wasn’t wrong.

The idea of being able to do things without using her hands to touch stuff was more of a factor in her original interest in chakra strings than she would have liked to admit.

But the point was that she was competent. Not as competent as a Suna puppeteer, maybe, but she wasn’t a puppeteer, she was self-taught, and she was technically nine, so she had her excuses. She was good enough that she’d started experimenting with attaching the chakra threads to other parts of her body, seeing if she could latch on to something with a string from her hand, and then transfer the string to a tenketsu on her hip without letting go of whatever it was attached to.

She, er, had ideas. Plans, even. Plans that may have eventually needed Neji or Hiashi or Hinata, but were currently just fine.

(Satomi had very, very little practice using the tenketsu on her hip. It was a learning experience. She doubted she’d ever be able to aim anything from anywhere other than her hands, given how only Sasori had shown the ability to do so, and that was only after destroying his body too thoroughly to have hands at all. Still, being able to ‘anchor’ the strings there? Useful. Currently very weak and unstable, but eventually useful.)

But in testing out her competence, she had remembered that she had once heard that chakra strings were used to hold ANBU masks in place. She couldn’t remember if it was canon or not, but it certainly seemed plausible, and finding out how ANBU managed to keep the strings in place without losing so much focus that they lost their fights would have been useful in the aforementioned plans.

This information and these skills would all become useful once she graduated. At the moment, however, she was a little preoccupied by something else.

There was a wig store in Konoha that she’d never seen before.

She wanted a lot of things from a wig store. Clip-in colored streaks. Really cool, fun colors of wigs in general. Clip-in bangs. A lot of it could be fun, and some of it could be useful for undercover work, but her eyes landed on one specific thing that would almost definitely be useful in battle, and she smiled.

She went into the store.

o.o.o.o.o

Graduation was easy, comparatively. She aced the written section easily, and while her Kawarimi was still a little shaky and her henge required some very careful manipulation in her mindscape, or something in her line of sight to use as a reference (she was shit at visualization, it was fine, everything was fine), she was more than good enough at them to pass the ninjutsu section as well. Weapons and taijutsu could have gone better (she was ranked third or fourth in the class in those, last she checked, while Sasuke was currently top of his own year), but much like ninjutsu, she was good enough to get through.

She was also asked to wait outside the room until the teachers were finished with testing everyone, even though everyone else was allowed to leave as soon as they got their headbands. She looked down at hers; it was on black fabric, not navy, which boded well for future fashion choices, at least. People did tend to vary their outfits a bit more than Naruto himself, though they still tended to limit their choices more than in her old world. Satomi was not fond of this trend; she wanted to wear all the cool stuff. She’d even gotten those clip-in colored streaks she’d been eyeing at the wig store.

“Sensei?” She asked when the testing was finally over. “Is there a reason I was kept back?”

“Ah, yes, Satomi-chan.” Hina-sensei said, looking up from the papers she’d been sorting. Keisuke-sensei nodded to her as he left the room. “We had a full complement of teams before you were moved up into our class, so we had to make some alternate arrangements for you when it comes to teams. There was another young graduate this year, privately trained, so you haven’t met him, and the two of you will be on a team with an older genin and her Jounin-sensei, since the two teammates left and they need to fill the gaps.”

Satomi doubted that they actually had to fill any gaps, but she wasn’t really going to question what was going on. She was more curious about the “other young graduate,” right now.

“When will I be meeting them?”

“I had the paper somewhere,” Hina-sensei said with an apologetic smile, turning to dig through a drawer; dark purple hair obscured her face for a moment. “Ah, here. You’ll be meeting them in Training Ground Twelve. Do you know the way?”

“I can find it.” Satomi assured her. There was a map in the Hokage Tower next door, so it wouldn’t be too hard to make her way there. She bowed before she left the room, “Thanks for everything, Hina-sensei!”

“Ah, it was a joy to teach you, Satomi-chan!” Hina-sensei said, waving cheerfully as Satomi left. “I look forward to seeing what kind of kunoichi you become.”

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi’s initial meeting with her team could have gone a lot better.

The other new genin was there, and Satomi was struck with a sense of recognition as soon as he turned to look at her.

“Hello,” he said, with a painfully fake smile. “I am Sai.”

“Uchiha Satomi,” she replied, bowing. “It’s nice to meet you. Please take care of me.”

(She still didn’t add the last part as instinctively as she was sure most people did.)

“Do you know when our sensei will arrive?” She asked, taking a seat next to him and leaning back to rest against a tree, eyes closed. “I only got a place, not a time.”

“Five minutes from now.” Sai answered, and then left it at that. He didn’t seem to have many ideas in the way of small talk. That was fair. She didn’t expect him to, and she wasn’t big on small talk herself.

“I’m going to nap,” she declared after a short period of thinking. “I trust you’ll wake me when they arrive.”

“Understood.”

Satomi didn’t quite manage to nap (which, okay, this was a Thing, and she did indeed take the opportunity to nap away short periods whenever she had nothing better to do), but she did manage to doze enough that she missed the arrival of her new team until they were practically on top of her.

She opened her eyes when Sai poked her shoulder, and immediately screamed.

It was very high-pitched and not at all befitting of a shinobi.

She also scrambled out of the way with a small whimper, eyes wide and fixed on the very large dog that had been looming over her, its snout only half a foot from her face.

It took a confused step closer, and Satomi scrabbled against the ground to put a few more feet between them.

“Um,” came the voice of a teenage girl, and Satomi dared to take a quick glance in her direction. Oh god, there were more dogs. “Is… is there a problem?”

Satomi’s eyes were already fixed on the dog nearest to her again, and she let out a small whine, because it was still looking at her. She opened her mouth and closed it. She did that several times, actually, and finally managed to say, “I don’t do well with dogs. Or large animals. Or just animals in general.”

“I see.” The girl, an Inuzuka (obviously, a voice in Satomi’s head laughed mockingly) didn’t seem to understand at all, but whistled. “Haiichi, over here, please.”

Satomi relaxed as the dog left, and with the immediate threat gone, suddenly realized how much of a fool she probably looked like now. She could feel her cheeks heating up, and looked over to the Inuzuka girl to apologize. The apology died in her throat as she laid eyes on her new teacher, who had a particularly amused look on his face, eyebrow raised and everything. Satomi was pretty sure her own face was a bit more ‘deer in the headlights’ than anything.

(Sai’s face was completely blank, head tilted to the side as he watched.)

(The Inuzuka’s face was mostly just curious with a hint of concern, petting one of the dogs as she watched.)

“Well,” Shiranui Genma said, “Looks like we’re going to have a lot of team-building exercises on our hands.”

Chapter Text

“So…” Genma said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together. The kids were, after some awkward scrambling, arranged in front of him in a little row, with the dogs ringing the Inuzuka girl. “Let’s get to this. Either of you know Konoha’s standard introduction format for new teams?”

Satomi blinked, and quietly thought to herself, you have got to be shitting me.

She raised her hand anyway. “I’m not sure if the one I know of is actually standard or not.”

“Name, likes, dislikes, hobbies, and goals.” Genma rattled off. “I’d personally also like to know what you think your strengths and weaknesses are, and anything else you think may be relevant.”

Hana spoke up from her own position. “I’ll go first, to show how it’s done.”

Genma nodded in her direction.

“My name is Inuzuka Hana. I like studying, horror novels, and my favorite food is tsukune. I don’t like betrayal of any sort, unnecessary secrets, or avocadoes.  I spend a lot of time doing veterinary work, if that counts as a hobby, and I want to succeed my mother as Inuzuka Clan head.” Hana tilted her head, thinking it over a little more. “I’m pretty good at taijutsu, clan ninjutsu, and medical techniques, though I’m more used to treating animals than humans. I’m no good at traditional infiltration, though, and my genjutsu and elemental techniques are pretty low, too, and I’ve got next to no experience in fuinjutsu.”

“Most people don’t,” Genma noted. “Okay, Uchiha, you next.”

Satomi blinked, and scrambled to gather her thoughts. “Um… I’m Uchiha Satomi. I like learning about the international economic environment, fantasy and scifi novels, and foreign languages. I don’t like… germs, I guess, or the cold. I agree with Hana about the avocadoes, actually, but I’m a pretty picky eater in general. I have a lot of hobbies, since I had a lot of free time, but I’m probably going to cut back on a lot of them now that I’m on a team. My goals…” She looked up at Genma. “Just stuff related to our careers as shinobi, or any goals?”

“Anything goes.” Genma said with a smile and a shrug.

“I want to found and run an internationally-operating entertainment company, starting with book publishing in Konoha and expanding from there.” Satomi stated, looking Genma in the eye and daring him to call her irrationally high-reaching for the next part. “And since everyone wants to be the best at something, I want to become the richest person on the continent.”

The rest of the team stared at her. Satomi kept her gaze focused firmly on Genma’s eyes.

“And what would you do with that money?”

“Reinvest, expand, and donate to or run charities.” Satomi stated without hesitation.

“That’s… certainly not what most kids would say.” Genma allowed.

Well, it wasn’t like Satomi could just say ‘I want to be a mildly terrifying cross between Pepper Potts and Walt Disney,’ seeing as nobody here knew who either person was.

(It was the best way to put it, though.)

“Your goal is just to be rich?” Sai asked, as though judging her heavily for something so shallow.

“Not quite.” Satomi frowned. “I want to prove that I’m competent at business. My goal is get good enough to have actual influence over the world around me in a positive manner. Just saying ‘I want to be great at business’ isn’t quantifiable. But success is often measured in wealth, so I’m going to go ahead and say ‘richest in the world,’ because that’s quantifiable.”

“Huh.” Genma said, but didn’t elaborate. His face didn’t betray anything about his feelings on the matter, and a glance at Hana revealed nothing either. “And the rest?”

Satomi screwed up her face and thought hard for a few moments. She resisted the urge to reach back and drag her fingers through her hair as she thought, letting it catch in the tangles and hang. She folded them in her lap instead, pinching the meat of her palm between her nails and using the tiny stab of pain to focus.

“Strengths, weaknesses, and anything else you think might be relevant.” Genma prompted.

Satomi huffed out a breath. “I’ve only just graduated the academy, so I’m not sure how much you’re expecting, but… I’m good at auditory, emotional, and evocative genjutsu, but my skill with visual and other sensory genjutsu is more unpredictable. My taijutsu’s a bit lower than most people would expect from an early graduate, and my stamina and strength are pretty low. I can do Katon, though, and overall my ninjutsu scores were fairly good. And I guess my control’s pretty high for my age.”

Genma nodded, as though everything she’d said here had confirmed something he’d already read or been told.

“Oh, and I speak four languages.” She tossed in at the end, because dammit she was proud of getting that far.

That seemed to catch his attention. “Oh? Which ones?”

“Continental Standard, Rural Lightning, a dialect from Southern Earth, and Traditional Waterfall.” Satomi rattled off, and then went back to the same challenging glare as before.

“Can you pass for local or do accents for any of them?”

“Continental Standard and Lightning.” Satomi confirmed. “The Earth dialect… I’m fluent enough that I can pass for a child of emigrants, but not local.”

“And Waterfall?”

“I’m… nowhere near fluent yet,” Satomi admitted, “But I’m working on it.”

“Okay.” Genma said, but his eyes were focused on the air above her head for a moment before snapping over to Sai. “Alright, now you.”

“My name is Sai.” Oh god, that smile… it almost hurt to look at from how obviously forced it was. “I enjoy art, and I like my brother. I don’t have any dislikes, and I suppose art would also count as a hobby, yes? I wish to join ANBU, eventually. I have adequate ninjutsu and taijutsu skills for my age, as well as kenjutsu, but my genjutsu are below average. I have some experience in basic fuinjutsu as well.”

Satomi leaned back a few inches so she could look around Sai and see Hana’s face. She looked a little worried and disturbed, which was… probably good. Sai’s attitude was even creepier on a nine-year-old than on his teenage self. And Genma still had on that slightly-amused, mostly-bored expression that he’d held through the entire mee-

Wait, ‘brother?’

Shin was alive?

That was—

Unexpected.

Satomi wasn’t sure what to do about that. Shin was an aspect of the canon that she hadn’t expected to have any access to prior to his death, so she hadn’t done much planning in respect to possible interactions with him.

This would require some consideration.

“What about you, Genma-sensei?” Satomi asked after a few moments of silence in the clearing.

 Genma smiled. “Well, you’re not getting that answer.”

Satomi tilted her head and waited. Sai, she was fairly certain, was doing the same thing.

“You’ll get those answers as a prize if you pass the next test.” Genma elaborated a little. He was, Satomi figured, probably waiting for them to freak out like most new genin.

Unfortunately for him, Sai was ROOT, and Satomi was older than she looked, and both had information that made the information less-than-surprising.

“And if we fail your exam?” Satomi asked, after Genma made it clear he’d be playing a waiting game.

“You go back to the Academy,” Genma told her, and then shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a huge shame, either. You’re only nine, and you’ve already admitted you’re more attached to civilian goals than shinobi ones.”

“I… doubt that.” Satomi said, drawing out the words slowly as she considered every thought carefully before she dared speak it aloud. “It would be a dangerous move, politically.”

Genma raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

“I’m one of the two remaining loyal Uchiha; opinions are still split, but with an entire clan gone, most negative opinions have swung back around in mine and Sasuke’s favor. By refusing to let me remain a genin after I graduated, you would risk alienating those who believe it is owed to me, even if you gained the favor of those who think I might take Itachi’s path, or those who would prefer I have a longer childhood.” She pulled back out of whatever haze had let her talk endlessly for that long, just enough to gather her thoughts, and plunged back into the bafflingly clear and crowded headspace that always came with babbling.

“Sai would be even more of an issue; the only way privately trained shinobi are accepted into the ranks, especially at such a young age, is if they have a massively powerful sponsor, which usually means clan heads sponsoring their children. Even then, Hokage-sama usually insists that the genin-hopeful spends a year or two in the Academy to get used to their peers and learn basic skills that they wouldn’t necessarily learn privately. This means that Sai, whom I’ve never met before, and who lacks a clan name, is probably being sponsored by one of the most politically powerful figures in the village, independently of any clan obligations. So it’s someone that I’ve probably never met, but also someone that could probably press you into a corner if you failed Sai.”

Satomi could feel the eyes of everyone in the clearing on her, even though her own gaze was focused squarely on Genma.

“…what are you scared of?” Genma asked. “What do you hate?”

That wasn’t the question she’d expected. Judging by Sai’s face, he was a little taken aback as well, if she was reading his cues right. Hana didn’t seem surprised, though.

“To what degree?” Satomi asked, because this was the sort of question that always required clarification. “And to what level of uniqueness?”

Genma raised an eyebrow.

“Well, everyone’s afraid of dying or their loved ones being killed or something to that effect. Or, well, most people are, at least. So do you want the weird fears, the deep fears, the normal fears, or what?”

Genma kept a straight face for another ten seconds, and then started chuckling. “You’re going to be an interesting one to work with, I can tell. Any fears that you wouldn’t consider near-universal, then.”

“Germs,” Satomi said without hesitation, “And I’m sorry, Hana, but I really do have a thing about large animals, only part of which is tied to the germs thing. And loss of financial stability. Mind-control genjutsu freak me out, but I’m pretty sure Genma-sensei knows why already. People deciding I’m too annoying or stupid to bother remaining in contact with.”

She paused, and then allowed, “And water being spilt on my technology back home.”

The computer was so early-90s that it hurt, but it was still a computer and she still loved it, and she still freaked out a little when people brought liquids near it.

“That’s an extensive list.” Genma told her. “And now, I have to ask, why did you tell me all of it?”

“Because you’re my teacher and you already made it clear that we’d need to work on certain things because of a fear that I have. I’m assuming you’re asking so you know what we need to be desensitized to, or whatever.”

Genma turned to Sai. “And what do you think?”

Sai shrugged. “Revealing one’s weaknesses to people is a risk, but Konoha stresses teamwork, and it is at least somewhat reasonable to assume that we will be expected to cover one another’s weaknesses in the future.”

“And do you agree with it?”

“My opinion is irrelevant,” Sai said, tilting his head and giving Genma a look that, if Satomi squinted, could be considered confused. “You are the team leader, so our actions follow your orders.”

Satomi closed her eyes and focused on not expressing her dismay beyond that.

She had a feeling that Hana and Genma were having similar reactions to the idea of a nine-year-old being this fully indoctrinated. Yes, Konoha liked its soldiers to follow the rules, but this kind of adherence and lack of… well, creativity in bending the aforementioned rules, really, were the hallmarks of young geniuses who would proceed to get even more fucked up as they got older, and remain too rigid to adequately improvise when missions went wrong.

Kakashi was one of the prime examples of the first part.

“Can I ask a slightly more personal question?” Satomi asked after the silence had gotten a little uncomfortably long, and opened her eyes to focus on Genma.

“I may or may not answer, but ask away.”

“I thought you were a Tokubetsu Jounin.” She hadn’t heard much about Genma in this life, but his rank was one of the few things she had. “How are you teaching a team?”

Genma’s smile widened at that, and Satomi felt a tiny bit of her heart drop down towards her stomach.

(Most of it was down there already. Confidence was easy to bluff, sometimes, but Satomi had never managed to turn off the unfortunate habit of getting incredibly stressed about tests that were presented by people whose opinions she cared about.)

“See, I was hoping one of you would ask that. That’s going to lead us into your test; you were right that the political fallout of failing Sai would be unfortunate, even if you overestimated your own importance a little—”

Rude. Especially since Sai was probably only there because Satomi was, considering she was the lone edit to the timeline.

“—but I do still need to test you.” Genma continued. “And your test is to gather at much information on me as both a person and a shinobi before five today. I will not be there for you to observe while you do this, and you’re allowed any methods you deem necessary, so long as they’re legal, or you don’t get caught. Hana will be following you on the test, and you are allowed to ask her one question every hour to help you out, and any information you gain directly from her will not contribute to your final score. Any clarification questions?”

Satomi took a few seconds to consider this, and then asked, “Are we allowed to ask Hana questions that aren’t about you but may help in our search?”

“Example?”

“Where certain records are kept, for instance. Or questions about what types of questions we’re allowed to ask.”

Genma gestures at Hana. “Up to her to decide on the first, and you’re allowed to ask for the second. You have four and a half hours. Good luck.”

He disappeared in a Shunshin, and Satomi turned to Sai. “Let’s talk.”

o.o.o.o.o

The thing was, Sai was very good at following proper procedure and knowing all the ways a shinobi was supposed to do something. He had some very good ideas about where to start looking.

Satomi respected this, but also wanted to note that Genma probably wanted more personal information than what records would reveal. This, she argued, was especially true since the records they wanted were probably too well-protected for two new genin to break in, and the ones they had access to were probably too sparse to help much.

“I think we should ask his friends,” Satomi suggested instead, “We’d only need to ask Hana one question to find out where they are, and there’s always one friend in the group that wants to share embarrassing stories.”

“There is?”

“Well, not always, but usually.” Satomi shrugged. “Now we just need to know how to phrase our question so that Hana doesn’t slip out of answering the way we want her to.”

“And what makes you think I’d do that?” Hana asked from where she was lounging among her dogs.

“Ninja,” Satomi answered without hesitation. “Also, as far as either of us know, you’re supposed to be making this hard for us.”

“If you say so,” Hana said with a smile, letting her head loll back and gazing at the sky. “Tell me when you’re ready.”

It took some finagling, but the two baby genin finally came up with a question they deemed suitable. Sai was the one to present it.

“Inuzuka-san?” Sai said, and waited for Hana to wake herself up from the impromptu nap she’d fallen into. “We have our question.”

“Call me Hana, kid, but sure, go ahead. Shoot.”

“Where might we find friends of Genma-sensei’s who would be willing to share pertinent information with us, within a reasonable distance and in an easily or, at minimum, legally accessible location?” Sai rattled off.

Hana raised an eyebrow. “Legally accessible?”

“We’re not allowed in the Jounin lounges,” Satomi explained, “Or outside the village.”

“We are not allowed in bars either,” Sai added, frowning slightly, “But there is an unspoken rule that anyone with a forehead protector is allowed into them so long as they do not attempt to purchase alcohol.”

“Hence the easily accessible part.” Satomi finished, looking Hana in the eye. “Our answer, please?”

Hana shook her head. “Okay, so… there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find some of them at—”

o.o.o.o.o

The Blue Lotus was a slightly more upscale bar than most, as a result of the amount of money that the shinobi who frequent it spent there. It wasn’t because the alcohol was better, but rather that they paid more for the alcohol because of what came with it.

And what came with the alcohol was the assurance of complete privacy, should one choose to enter a walled booth or a back room, instead of staying on the main floor, at a table, or in an open booth. The higher prices weren’t just used for decoration, but to pay seal masters to etch and ink layers upon layers of privacy seals into the tables and walls where asked.

(Civilians tended to think that bars with names like The Rusty Kunai or The One-Eyed Ninja were the kinds of places that shinobi went to. They were even right, sometimes, but those bars were mostly the haunts for recent genin and civilians hoping to see a fight. The higher-level ninja frequented places with subtler names than that.)

(Naming a bar after a delicately-titled but horrifyingly deadly move from one of Konoha’s oldest taijutsu styles? Subtle.)

(Until Gai started crying about it, anyway.)

The point was, as far as Satomi cared, that Genma was a high-level ninja with friends who were also high level ninja. And high level ninja, when they went to bars, tended to go to the best ones they could reasonably afford.

And the one of the best ones for ninja on tokubetsu Jounin or Jounin pay was The Blue Lotus.

Satomi paused about a block away, reviewed what little plan she’d managed to come with on the way over, and changed tactics. “Hold on.”

She pulled out a compact and made a few faces as she looked into it. It only took a few seconds to come up with the appropriately doe-eyed and childish look, with which she snapped the compact shut, stowed it away, and clasped her hands behind her back.

Satomi turned to Sai and gave him the tiniest of pouts, with a blink of large eyes with seemingly nothing to hide. “What do you think?”

“You look like a very young civilian.” Sai answered. “Is this intentional?”

“Yep!” Satomi tossed in a giggle for effect, and then nodded to him and said, “After a few lines, come in after me and stand behind my shoulder, and try to look as professional as possible. I’m going to be pouring on the oblivious baby kunoichi act, and I need you to play the foil.”

They made their way closer, and Satomi nervously tried to pay attention to Hana at their backs, her stomach twisting as she remembered, quite clearly, that this was a test.

The second her hand made contact with the doors, though, a calm settled over her, a ‘you can’t do anything more to prepare, so quit worrying and get on with it, you can bother with the consequences later’ kind of calm, and she pushed open the doors and flounced in. “Hello everyone!”

She waved as cutely as she could, squeezing her eyes shut and smiling widely, and listened for the halt of murmured conversation. She popped back to her earlier position, hands behind the back and eyes open and trusting, and asked the room at large, “Are any of you friends with Shiranui Genma?”

Oh, she was glad she wasn’t planning to use this voice for much after the first few minutes. It hurt her throat to keep it so high-pitched for too long.

“Why do you ask?” one of the Jounin finally asked, eyeing her with what could have probably been amusement. There was a condescending quirk to his lips.

“Well,” Satomi ducked her head and dropped her gaze to the floor and let her shoulders hunch in a little, and twisted her leg to rub the toe of one foot into the wooden boards. “He’s my new Jounin-sensei, see? And we gotta find a lot of information on him for our test, and I figured it might be a good idea to ask his friends for embarrassing stories and stuff.”

She lifted her head enough to stare bashfully at the Jounin through her lashes, and let her body language shrink a tiny bit further inward as she twisted her foot a little further.

“You sure you’re a ninja, kid?” Another Jounin asked, her dark blue hair cut down to short spikes. She looked at the two genin with dark gold eyes and continued, “A real ninja doesn’t just come out and ask people or tell them their goals.”

“Why not?” Satomi tilted her head and blinked, deliberately slow. “I’m in a friendly village, right? And it’s not like I’m looking for stuff that’s against the law, just random stuff. And there’s always that one friend that will tell the embarrassing story to anyone just to annoy their friends, right?”

She moved to bounce on her toes a little, feet close together and hands clasped under her chin. Her eyes widened even further. “C’mon, just a few stories, please?”

Sai took a step closer, just barely audible. “We would appreciate some aid in this situation.”

Thank you, Sai. Satomi wasn’t sure how well Sai would be able to play his role, given that she wasn’t too sure how thorough Danzo’s brainwashing was at this point in the timeline, but Sai clearly knew enough to act professionally.

“That’s cute, kids. Run along and play ninja somewhere else.” The kunoichi gave a sarcastic little wave, and Satomi turned to look around at everyone else in the room. One or two faces seemed almost sympathetic, but no one seemed that interested in helping.

So Satomi dropped the act, slouched a little and drawled, “Okay, actually though, did he tell you not to help us, or is there some rule against helping genin with their exams, or are you just that uninterested?”

A few of the patrons blinked, obviously surprised, while the rest either stared blandly back or didn’t bother to hide their grins.

“I knew it.” The kunoichi said, and held out a hand to the side, smirking as the Tokubetsu Jounin next to her dropped a few bills into it.

Satomi tilted her head. She’d expected them to know she was faking, of course, because she was a genin, and they were significantly higher-ranked than that, but for them to bet on it… “Did you bet that I was faking, or that I’d drop the act when it became clear that it wasn’t working?”

“Give me your best guess.” The kunoichi said, though there was a slight hint of sarcasm to it. Satomi elected to ignore that.

“The latter; you’re all much better than I am, and assuming I would have been able to fool any of you well enough for you to consider my attitude real would be greatly overestimating my abilities.” There were one or two people in the bar who looked embarrassed when she said that, but she didn’t draw any attention to that. “So my guess is that you were betting on whether I’d be aware enough to stop pretending when none of you bothered to go along.”

“Got it in one, kid.” The kunoichi took a swig of her drink and leaned back in her chair, throwing an arm over the back of it and nodding in Satomi’s direction. “You’re better at that whole… thing than I’d expect a new genin to be, but not good enough.”

“Can you answer our question?” Sai interrupted, and Satomi had to close her eyes, purse her lips, and breathe deep to keep herself from snapping at him. He was nine. He was brainwashed. He was not, in fact, in any position to be tactful or understand that banter opened up a line of positive communication that could lead to actual conversation.

(Satomi hadn’t ever been very good at making friends naturally. It had been trial-and-error, based on what other people did, and often resulting in tears on her part.)

(It was part of why watching Sai freaked her out so much. She’d never been as bad as him, but there were elements that hit too close to home.)

She opened her eyes and pasted on an open, friendly smile and pitched her voice just so, no longer going for cutesy, barely-more-than-civilian new genin so much as just plain old customer service. “My apologies for Sai’s bluntness. If there’s any chance that you’d be willing to help us now that we’re no longer trying to—”

“Stop.” The first Jounin held up a hand. “Your earlier question. About the genin exams and whether we’re allowed to help.”

“You’re not, then?” Satomi asked, feeling a little dismayed.

“Oh, we are, so long as the Jounin-sensei doesn’t warn us off first, and Genma hasn’t. But generally, it’s at our discretion whether we do or don’t.” the Jounin smiled. “So convince us you’re worth the information.”

Satomi tilted her head to the side, ever so slowly, and smiled. She clasped her hands under her chin, and closed her eyes to hide the Sharingan that whirled into existence. “Okay!”

The thing was, Satomi wasn’t good at visual genjutsu. She had a weird amount of trouble with visualization, to the point where even trying to think of a simple red circle was near impossible. Movement was easier, but it was still… not enough for most genjutsu.

But Satomi had a cheat code called the Sharingan, and another called “Itachi taught me some very interesting brain tricks on the day he killed our entire family,” and that meant that she could fake her way to near-competency once in a while.

More importantly, she was good at evocative genjutsu. Evocative genjutsu preyed on the mind by building from experiences the victim already had, bringing up the smell of blood or the feel of rain or just about anything using experiences that were identical to things the person had already gone through a hundred times before.

(Or they brought up hallucinations of worst fears, or memories of trauma, or any number of things that didn’t rely on the caster painstakingly crafting every detail, but coaxing the mind to create them on its own.)

And her skill with auditory and emotional genjutsu was enough that, when asked to prove her worth, Satomi could cheerfully execute a small-scale area genjutsu that ensnared most of the senses with an attempt at a mild suspension of disbelief genjutsu thrown on top. She was sure they could all break out immediately, but she was also sure that they’d stick around for at least a few seconds out of sheer morbid curiosity.

Sai shifted behind her as he noticed the thousand-yard stares that came over the people she’d caught, and leaned closer to ask, “What did you do?”

“Genjutsu.” She answered, not elaborating. Not yet. “There’s a reason I didn’t catch you in it.”

It takes just five seconds for a few people to choose to leave it, though she notices a few more stay longer, looking around and examining it from every angle. Finally, everyone is out, with the two Jounin that called her out being the last to leave. The kunoichi talks first. “The massacre? Really?”

Satomi shrugged. “It worked.”

“That was, what… evocative plus multi-sensory?” The first Jounin asked, “Using your memories for a basis and then letting our minds do the rest of the work?”

“Along with a few other things, yes.” Satomi smiled. “Sai’s better with the physical aspects, I’d wager, but we haven’t had an opportunity to test that yet. I figured genjutsu would be the least overall damaging.”

The two Jounin that had, for whatever reason, been leading the situation, turned to look at each other, and then nodded.

(Satomi got the feeling that Genma had warned them of his team’s test, even if he hadn’t told them to withhold information.)

“Raidou! You’re up!”

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi had a little notepad filled with miscellaneous information on random parts of Genma’s life, from food to embarrassing genin stories to publically-known skills, hopefully all true. Raidou had told them that the information he was giving them was either well-known enough of easy enough to find that there wasn’t a security risk in telling them, but that they’d need to be a little more careful in the future.

“We have an hour and a half left.” Sai said after a moment, and Satomi winced as she glanced at the little watch she’d taken to wearing a few months ago.

(Not having a cellphone sucked for a lot of reasons; the lack of immediately accessible time was one of them, which the watch didn’t quite make up for, because it was the habit of a lifetime.)

“I have a question about the questions that I think won’t count against our numbers.” Satomi said, turning to look at Hana. The older girl had been silent for most of the test so far, generally staying behind and out of the way until they addressed her. Hana was, Satomi felt, not quite as much of a judge in this test as Genma himself, but her opinion was almost certainly taken into account.

“Shoot.”

“Do they roll over? As in, if we don’t ask a question in one hour, do we get two in the next?”

“No.”

Satomi pursed her lips and turned back to Sai. They’d wasted two questions by accident, then. Not good. That would count against them.

“Another, then.” She said after a second, and waited for Hana’s acknowledging noise. “If we were to, say, use your clearance levels to get access to files we normally wouldn’t be able to get, would that count against us?”

“I’m a genin, too.”

“Barely. You and Genma-sensei both acknowledged you were a Chuunin in all but name.”

“And the name is what I need for those clearance levels you want.” Hana answered, shrugging. “You haven’t really used up your question yet.”

Satomi frowned and turned to Sai. “We could split up and meet back here for an hour? You’d be better at the files than me; I get the feeling you’ve got more access than I do.”

“And what will you do?” Sai asked.

“Well… I was thinking I’d see if any of Genma-sensei’s own genin teammates or Jounin-sensei were in the village.” Satomi said. “But if you need help with the files, I’d rather do that. I want to have evidence of having attempted multiple sources of information rather than just repeating the same strategy twice.”

(They got the files, in the end.)

o.o.o.o.o

“Dodge,” is the word that Genma greets them with when they meet up with him back in the training grounds just a few minutes before five. Both Sai and Satomi react without hesitation, too used to drills in the Academy (or in ROOT), where an order to get the hell out of dodge was given and needed to be followed. Given the kunai that whizzed through the air that their stomachs had just occupied, this was a good thing. Satomi hoped that Genma had used something blunt.

Hana followed Satomi immediately with a kunai in hand, and Satomi saw her aim for the—

Oh, that bitch.

She wasn’t a bitch. Hana was great. But at the moment, the insult flowed more naturally than anything else.

Because Hana was aiming for the notepad that had all the stories and information that Satomi had collected, whether to slice it to pieces or to steal it as part of the exam.

And that just wouldn’t do.

The notepad was in her hands, but she was going to need her hands if this fight was going to keep going. Which meant, hm…

She flipped backwards and out of the way on her free hand, skipping back a few more steps as Hana followed. She kept running long enough to come to a decision, and then took to the trees.

Down below, she heard a clash of steel, and assumed that meant that Sai had gotten Genma as an opponent. Hopefully they’d switch at some point, because being set to fight the genin was almost insulting, no matter how skilled the girl was.

“Running away?” Hana asked, somehow getting around in front of Satomi and forcing her to backpedal around a branch and nearly twist her ankle switching directions. “I’ll admit, I didn’t expect someone your age to know tree-climbing, but I guess that’s what you get for a genius, right?”

Hana kept up the pursuit as she spoke, herding Satomi from one direction to another. Satomi had no idea why the dogs weren’t getting involved, but who knew what information Genma-sensei had managed to slip Hana during the exam, or what plans they’d made before even meeting her and Sai?

Somehow, during all that, she found a chance to unzip her vest and stuff the notebook into the large inner pocket. It wasn’t a Chuunin vest, of course (god no, she wasn’t allowed that, wouldn’t be for years, probably), but it was still something to keep her just warm enough to deal when she left the humid heat of Konoha’s outdoors for the chilly, air-conditioned buildings.

This did leave both hands free, but also slowed her down enough that Hana tackled her to the ground in the middle of the clearing. Satomi felt her breath whoosh out of her and her elbow dig painfully into her own ribs as she slammed into the ground, her head smacking painfully against the ground.

Really hope I don’t get a concussion from that.

“I was even holding back, kid.” Hana said, and her arm was still around Satomi’s waist, pinning her to the ground with the older genin’s greater weight. There was something annoying about that.

“I know,” She said with a smile, and didn’t even need to twist all that much for her leg to come up in a kick aimed at Hana’s head. It wasn’t the kind of kick that most people bothered to learn, because it required a level of flexibility that most people didn’t bother with.

Satomi, who reveled in all the amazing things her body could do in this life, had trained her flexibility enough to get to that point anyway.

The kick forced Hana to dodge, sending her skittering back away from Satomi, who scrambled to her feet as she got free. She yanked a kunai out of her pouch and took a ready stance, keeping half an ear focused on the sounds of Sai and Genma’s fight behind her.

“Better than I expected, then.” Hana blew some hair out of her face, grinning. “But can you keep it up?”

Satomi relaxed out of her stance and shrugged, clasping her hands down in front, in just the right way to obscure hand signs. She’d spent too much time practicing in the mirror to hide them for it to be wasted. “I can try, ne?”

Hana caught the genjutsu, naturally, but not quite fast enough to stop Satomi from closing the distance between them. Her own kunai came up just fractions of a second early to catch Satomi’s thrust to the belly, and she smiled.

Satomi did not like this smile very much.

Hana’s leg snapped around to sweep Satomi’s out from under her. With an annoyed grunt, Satomi disengaged and threw herself backwards.

It was at this point that she noticed she’d stopped paying attention to Sai and Genma’s fight. She noticed primarily because Genma now had a grip on her ponytail, and a kunai to her throat. Satomi’s hands came up to start scrabbling at the base of the tail.

“Game over.” He said. “You did—”

With a triumphant little “Yes!” Satomi’s hands finally gripped where they were supposed to, yanking on the cordlock and pulling apart the combs that were keeping the ponytail fall in place. It wasn’t quite enough to make it fall off on its own, but if she just threw her entire body weight forward, it didn’t really matter anyway, now did it?

Judging by the look she saw on Genma’s face after coming up from her somersault to stare back at him, he hadn’t quite been expecting that. He was staring down at the length of hair in his hands with bemusement, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. He looked up at Satomi, noting the much smaller bun that was currently getting a little wispy where the tail had been torn out.

“Well, I didn’t quite expect that.” He finally said. “When I felt how coarse it was, I thought you just didn’t condition your hair enough, not that it was plastic.”

Satomi shrugged, breathing hard and fingering the kunai she’d pulled while getting away. “Yeah, well… I like having long hair, but it’s a liability in the field. So I use this instead.”

“Hm.” Genma looked down at the fall, and then tossed it back over to Satomi. “Test’s over. You can fix that back up.”

“You haven’t checked all our skills yet, though.” Satomi said, frowning.

“Can you tell me why?”

“The fight didn’t last long enough for us to regroup and figure out how to cover each other’s weaknesses so we could use longer techniques that would require strings of handsigns that we couldn’t necessarily manage while in one-on-one battles with shinobi that are significantly more experienced and skilled than we are.” Satomi rattled off. “If we’d been a team longer, I’m sure we could have gotten to that point a little more quickly, but I know for certain that I didn’t really have an opportunity to use anything other than taijutsu, weapons, and a single genjutsu in this fight.”

“And what would you say you’d have shown off if given the chance?” Genma folded his arms. “You too, Sai.”

“I have Katon techniques, water walking, and more genjutsu.” Satomi bit her lip. “There’s also something else I’ve been working on, but it’s nowhere near ready, so I’m not going to show that off until I think it’s viable.”

Sai took a few moments to realize it was his turn. “I have ink-based techniques in my repertoire that require a partner to cover me while I set up some of my tools.”

“The fuinjutsu you mentioned?” Genma asked.

Sai shook his head. “I have not used that on the battlefield as of yet.”

“Anything else?”

“Not combat techniques, no.”

Genma eyed them for a moment, and then motions for them to take a seat on the ground. “You already know that you’ve passed. Even if it weren’t for the political aspects that you brought up earlier, you’re both skilled enough to stick around, and while you didn’t display a lot of teamwork during the fight, there were enough signs of it during your first test for me to trust that it can be, at minimum, workable.”

“You’re not going to ask to see which information we collected, are you?” Satomi asked, a little annoyed, but understanding.

“Can you guess why?”

“You were watching from a distance,” Sai said, “And likely had us bugged in some manner.”

“Not including Hana’s presence, yes. I was watching the whole time and know exactly which information you collected. Any thoughts on the possible drawbacks of your methods?”

“Other than the ones we discussed during the mission?”

“All of them.”

Satomi shrugged. “We have no way of ensuring the information is accurate, and what information we have access to that we could assume had a certain amount of veracity was small in quantity and general in focus. In several years’ time, I can imagine we’ll be able to check their body language with more skill, or develop other methods, but for the time being, we’re too unskilled to make sure.”

“Tell me about the genjutsu you cast.”

Satomi glanced at Sai, who stared back at her. Why was she getting the questions?

“I can sort of access direct memory banks for genjutsu purposes? I can’t do it very quickly, but I can do it. And I used that to create a sort of… snapshot, I guess, of the moment in terms of sight, sound, and emotion. I used an evocative genjutsu to cover the other senses, primarily smell. I let the snapshot genjutsu fall after half a second and let the evocative carry through the rest of the way, and tried to throw in a suspension of disbelief genjutsu to throw them off for a few seconds, but I’m not sure how well that part worked.”

“Not very.”

“Ah. Well.” Satomi winced. “Something to work on, then.”

Genma nodded. “Now, can either of you answer your earlier questions about why I’m your sensei, despite being a Tokubetsu Jounin?”

“We have the story of how you became Hana-san’s sensei,” Sai said, ignoring Hana’s groaned admonishment to drop the honorific already, or at least downgrade to something more casual. “You were meant to be a temporary replacement after their original Jounin-sensei received a career-ending injury two years ago, and remained in place after the administration deemed you competent and waived the usual rules. Recently, one of the genin decided to retire and become a civilian, and another entered the cryptology department upon achieving a Chunin rank, leaving you with Hana and two empty spots on your team.”

“Can you tell me why they waived the rules?”

Sai’s lips pursed, almost imperceptibly.

Genma turned to check Satomi as well, who only shrugged. She had possibilities, but nothing truly solid.

“I’m actually low-Jounin level.” Genma told them. “Approximately 35% of the Tokubetsu Jounin in the village are similarly under-ranked to keep them from appearing too interesting in foreign bingo books, or the reverse. I made Tokubetsu Jounin on the strength of my ninjutsu. I stayed there even when I improved enough to take the next step up because I was doing more good for the village where I was.”

“You’re an infiltrator.” Sai said, and Satomi tilted her head. That… made a surprising amount of sense. “That was why you had our exam focus on information-gathering.”

Genma smiled, something a little more genuine than anything they’d seen so far today. Satomi perked up a bit. He’d been keeping a wall up for some reason so far, probably because of the test and the need to project a stern countenance for it, but he actually had a pretty nice smile.

“I am. Keeping my rank at Tokubetsu means that there’s less reason for foreign villages to memorize my face so they can recognize me on sight the way they do with the full Jounin, which in turn makes it easier for me to do my job. Similar reasons apply to the others; they either need to keep a lower profile to do their job more effectively or to avoid being targeted, or they need the bingo books to emphasize the skill they made Tokubetsu on.”

“Like… the head of T&I? Morino-san?” Satomi asked, tilting her head. “Because they need foreign villages to be scared of him on the basis that he’s so good at his job that his other skills barely matter in comparison?”

“Exactly.” Genma clapped his hands once. “So while I won’t be training your team solely in my specialties, you can expect a decent enough focus on them, and the opportunity to grow in that area if you want to.”

“Okay.” Satomi said, nodding. She wasn’t sure what else to say, but the pause at the end had implied that Genma was waiting for some kind of response.

“While we’re a team, Hana is second in command. If I’m not here, she’s the one in charge of training. She’s also a junior medic, so if anything hurts more than it should or feels off, see her. If she says you need the hospital, go. If I say you need the hospital, go. That’s an order.”

“Do you have any medic training?” Satomi asked, because she seemed to remember something about that, but whether it was fanon or canon.

“Some. More than Hana, less than a full medic. I’m good enough for patch-ups, at least. Even if I weren’t, though. If I say you go to the hospital, you go.”

“Yessir!” Satomi snapped off a salute, and smiled at him.

Genma shook his head. “Oh, this is going to be an interesting team, I can tell.”

o.o.o.o.o

“I just want to ruffle her hair.” Hana told Genma after the two younger genin left. “Except she keeps it almost all pulled back like that, and ruffling just bangs is weird.”

“Weird bangs, too.”

“Could be worse. Side-swept may not be popular right now, but she seems to like it.” Hana reached over to rub the head of one of the Haimaru triplets. “I can’t say I expected the trick she pulled with it, though.”

“I’ve only seen a handful of people use that one. The way it clips in is usually either too strong to detach when necessary, or too loose to stay on while fighting.” Genma noted, a small frown playing on his lips. “If she actually has a plan for that, I’m game, but if she doesn’t…”

“Oh joy, talking young kunoichi into dropping fashion choices in favor of practicality,” Hana grumbled, “My favorite job.”

Genma turned to shoot her a look, eyebrow raised.

“Mom makes me do it with some of the younger Inuzuka girls, sometimes.” Hana shrugged. “I’m not bad at it, but it’s an annoying chore, and I’d really just… rather not.”

“I was actually thinking I’d ask one of the kunoichi I know who do use wigs and falls like that to come help her, but if she needs the advice, I’ll know who to come to.” He chuckled as Hana pouted at him. “Anything else?”

“I get the feeling neither of them are really taking care of themselves the way they’re supposed to.”  Hana said after a moment. “Sai looks like he isn’t eating enough, and the skin under Satomi’s eyes… she’s gotten enough sleep recently, but I doubt she does regularly.”

“And personalities?”

“Sai has one?” Hana asked, and then rolled her eyes at the admonishing glare Genma sent her way. “We need to teach Sai a lot before he can pass as a normal member of society. Satomi is… weird, sometimes, but I think she can control it, going by what I saw. I’d wager half of it is played up for whatever reason.”

“Hm.” Genma flicked the senbon in his mouth back and forth a couple of times, and then nodded to himself. “I’ve got some ideas of what to do with this team now.”

“More than before?”

“Yep.” Genma rocked to his feet and started heading towards Konoha’s restaurant district. “C’mon, brat, let’s get something to eat. My treat.”

“I’m getting something expensive.”

“I’d expect nothing less from you.”

Chapter Text

Genma waited for Kakashi to leave the Hokage’s office, knowing that at least his meeting would be short. Genma didn’t have that luxury, and knew that his own meeting would take much longer. It made the uncomfortable plastic chairs in the waiting room even harder to deal with. Genma shifted in his seat, searching for a position that wouldn’t put undue pressure on the bones of his pelvis.

“Failed?” He asked when Kakashi exited, rolling the senbon from one side to the other.

“Yeah.” Kakashi pulled out his book and immediately stuck his nose in it. If Genma’s guess was right, that was the new Icha Icha that had come out just two days ago. If he was lucky, the Hokage hadn’t finished it yet either, and would choose to hurry the meeting along instead of drawing Genma into making small talk.

“So when are they going to give you a team that they actually want you to pass?” One of the other Jounin in the waiting room asked, a man by the name of Hideaki.

“There’s only two and a half sets of Sharingan in the village, and one of them is graduating the same year as the Kyuubi kid.” A chuunin by the name of Rika reminded them from her desk. “My bet’s on them.”

“Most likely, yes.” Kakashi didn’t even bother trying to deny it. “I think they’d have tried to shoehorn in the sister as well if she wasn’t already a few years ahead.”

“They tried anyway.” Genma told him from the doorway. “You were off on a mission when they were clamoring to get her sent back to her brother’s grade.”

Kakashi shrugged. “Not my problem. Now she’s yours.”

Genma’s lip twitched in response, and he shook his head as he entered the room. “Hokage-sama.”

“Genma. We’re just waiting on Tsume, and then we can get started.” The Hokage didn’t look up from his papers, but gestured for Genma to come stand before the desk.

Genma very carefully did not look at the corner where Shimura Danzo was lurking, and very carefully did keep every sense he could focused on that corner. Danzo was never a fun variable, and for him to be here…

Well, it wasn’t like Genma hadn’t suspected the man’s hand behind Sai’s inclusion on the team. There were only so many child geniuses in a generation, and someone like Sai screamed less “child genius” and more “factory-produced child soldier.”

(Which was what all the genin were, to some extent, but… not as obviously as Sai, usually.)

Satomi had been right, in any case. He wasn’t entirely sure that she’d be pleased to know that, considering what he knew of her so far.

There was one other person already in the room, the Academy teacher that had been responsible for this year’s crop of genin. The woman was seated in a slightly undersized and uncomfortable-looking chair off to the side, purple hair pulled back into a ponytail that was neither as smooth as Yuugao’s nor as spiky as Anko’s, but a middling shape that mostly just reminded him of what an apple looked like before it was removed from the apple corer.

“Hina-sensei.” He greeted her with a smile. “Here to see how your students made out?”

“Ah, yeah.” The woman smiled bashfully and scratched at her cheek a little. “You only got one of them, though…”

“Well, she’s competent enough.” Genma shrugged. “We should probably wait on Tsume, though.”

“I hear my name,” a loud voice came from the doorway behind Genma. “Who’s talking about me?”

“I was just saying that I shouldn’t give Hina-sensei any spoilers on how the kids did.” Genma rolled the senbon in his mouth from one side to the other. “I guess it’s time for me to start, though, since you’re here.”

“Indeed.” The Hokage agreed, putting down his brush and lacing his hands together on his desk. The smoke from his pipe curled through the air, and Genma knew from exposure to Hana that it was taking significant effort on both Tsume and Kuromaru’s parts to not wrinkle their noses at the smell. “So, given your answer, I’m assuming the new genin passed?”

“Yep. They’ve got a few skills I wasn’t expecting, but they’re solidly a few months or even years beyond most new genin.” Genma started off with the basics. “They both seem fairly open to teamwork, respect the authority I gave Hana-chan, and are willing to both follow orders and design plans of their own. Sai could use a bit more work in terms of creativity in his actions, though his artwork implies he has some potential when it comes to improvisation. Hana’s settling pretty well into her role as senpai, and she’s probably going to be handling their training on days that I get sent on higher-level missions. Satomi is… permission to speak frankly, Hokage-sama?”

The Hokage’s eyebrow raised a little, probably getting ready for whatever he suspected Genma would be saying, just in case it was a joke. (This was not an undeserved reputation, Genma admitted.)

“Permission granted.”

“Who the hell thought putting the Uchiha girl on a team with an Inuzuka was a good idea?” Genma was still a little concerned on this front. A lot concerned, actually. “I understand the reasoning, I think, but the benefits can’t outweigh the costs.”

The Hokage seemed to have no idea what he was referencing. Going by her reaction, neither did Tsume.

“The hell are you talking about, Shiranui?” She demanded. “What the hell is wrong with Hana? Is this a status thing with the Uchiha kid?”

“Ah, I, um…” Hina interrupted, putting a hand up meekly. “I was the one that suggested it.”

“I would like to know what the problem is as well,” Danzo finally spoke. “Has the Uchiha girl complained about the perceived gap in prestige?”

Genma suspected Danzo already knew from Sai, but… “No, it’s more an issue that… she’s scared of dogs.”

It took only a moment for Tsume to bury her face in her hands; Genma wasn’t entirely sure if she was smothering a moan or snorts of laughter. Kuromaru was making a chuffing noise that was definitely his own equivalent of a laugh. The Hokage just sighed.

“I can see why that would be a problem.”

“According to her, this extends to just about any animal over a certain size, and her issue with germs makes even smaller animals a problem if she isn’t prepared.” Genma explained. “So… you can see why I’m concerned about the team structure.”

“Hina-sensei?” The Hokage prompted, looking very much like he wanted to rub at his forehead.

The woman shrugged helplessly. “The issue came up when she was my student, on a few occasions where she was seated near an Aburame or Inuzuka student. I, ah, though it would be a good idea for her to join a team where the exposure would help her move beyond the problem. She’s going to need to work with an Inuzuka eventually, and I don’t want her having problems when that time comes.”

“Well, I can talk to Hana and see about getting the girl to visit our compound and play with the puppies, if you think it might help.” Tsume offered. “You’re right that it’s the kind of thing that might end up being a problem if it’s not dealt with as soon as possible, and this probably is the best way to handle it, but it might have been a good idea to warn everyone first.”

Hina tilted her head and frowned. “I included a note in her file about it. Ah, granted, it wasn’t very long, but I’m certain I mentioned it.”

The Hokage chanced a look at Genma, and then began shuffling through the files on his desk.

“I definitely didn’t see it when I flipped through.” Genma said with a frown. “Where did you put it?”

“The concerns section, under noted weaknesses.” Hina said. “Is it not there?”

“It isn’t,” Danzo said before the Hokage could finish checking. “I had it removed.”

There was a beat of silence, much less amused this time, and Genma had the feeling that the Hokage would have been making a helpless ‘why’ gesture if it had been just the two old men.

“Was there an actual reason, Danzo?” The Hokage asked, his tone that of a very tired, very exasperated old man.

“You just wanted to see what would happen, didn’t you?” Tsume’s tone wasn’t quite accusing, because accusing Danzo of anything was a very dangerous game, but she certainly didn’t seem happy. In the ensuing silence, she snorted. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“My reasons are not yours to know, Inuzuka-dono.” Danzo reminded her.

“They are when they affect my daughter’s genin team.” Tsume responded, crossing her arms over her chest. “But fine, whatever. It’s not a big deal in the long term. Hina’s right, this was bound to be an issue eventually. Might as well get it over with.”

“Moving on,” the Hokage said. “Do you have any other concerns regarding the future of your team?”

“Satomi’s got skill with languages, and Sai’s stealth is pretty good, so if we keep Hana in the role of combat specialist, then we’ve got a pretty good infiltration set-up. You know, potentially. They’re still young. Might end up going in completely different directions.” Genma shrugged. “Still, it gives me something to work with. My only concern on that front is that Sai is… really bad at faking social competency, so to speak.”

Tsume’s raised eyebrow was enough to make up for the fact that the Hokage was once again studiously not responding in a visible manner.

Danzo didn’t make any comment, but Genma was pretty sure he knew exactly what was going on there.

“Anyway, that’s really all I had to say. They passed, are more than competent for their age, and are probably going to work fairly well as a team. Hana’s still great, and Tsume, you’re probably going to have her asking to host some team dinners in the future.”

“Nothing new.” The woman shrugged.

“If that’s all, then you’re both dismissed.” The Hokage said. “I look forward to seeing the progress reports for your team, Genma.”

o.o.o.o.o

“So step across this way,” Satomi demonstrated with an invisible partner, “And then turn, lifting up onto your toes.”

“Is this an actual step that has a name and proper execution?” Neji demanded as he nonetheless got into position. Sasuke poked Hinata into stepping forward and taking Neji’s hands into her own, mimicking the position Satomi had demonstrated.

“No clue, but I want to see how it looks.” Satomi shrugged. “And… hold on a sec.”

“Please tell me you have actual music instead of an auditory genjutsu.” Neji said, though his tone implied that he greatly believed his request would be ignored.

“I could, but that would be lying.” Satomi cheerily told him. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but at least I can have fun doing it by blasting your brains with music.”

Neji rolled his eyes, something that, in Satomi’s opinion, looked a little ridiculous. She did not say this, because judging a person based on a physical feature looking “weird” was rude, at minimum.

It was still a little unnerving, because even after a few years her mind insisted that eyes without pupils were blind, and that Hyuuga eyes in particular were unnatural.

(Hyuuga eyes weren’t just what you could find in her original world if you looked at pictures of late-stage cataracts or anything similar. There was a level of uniformity to the color of the iris and everything inside it, like a normal iris stained pastel pale and with a white void for a pupil. A normal iris, such as it was, would have flecks of other colors, little strips that were darker or lighter than the main body of color, or even entire sections that had gone from brown to blue and yellow, leaving the rest unchanged.)

(She’d had a friend, before, whose eyes had quite strangely undergone such a metamorphosis, and had mostly just insisted that no one tell her mother so that the woman wouldn’t worry about her health.)

(Hyuuga eyes had very, very little variation in shade or hue. There was still some, because gaps in the muscles did exist, but…)

(The final effect just screamed wrong in her mind when she looked too close, and the fact that nearly half of Konoha’s clans were the same way with near-uniform shading and lacking in pupils didn’t help much.)

Satomi pulled herself out of her thoughts and focused on the music. She didn’t need anything long or special, just a simple 4/4 time that lasted long enough for them to do the move a few times.

She found a piece lingering in the back of her head, unnamed and long-forgotten, but light and airy and simple enough that she could use it without having to agonize over whether the embellishments would confuse the dancers.

Focusing her chakra, Satomi considered the piece and slowly went through the handsigns for a particularly simple auditory genjutsu that was nonetheless a pain in the neck to get right.

She forced the memory to the surface, plucked from the memory banks she could play with in her mindscape, and released the chakra to set the auditory genjutsu. After a few bars, long enough to be sure the genjutsu would hold, she opened her eyes and focused on Neji and Hinata. Her hands did not leave their position, folded in front of her to continue passing along chakra.

She nodded at them, and with another bar to pick up the rhythm, the Hyuuga cousins began to move.

Neither of them was exactly skilled in the art of dance. The dances they trained for were battles to the death, not art on a stage. They were, however, relatively competent, at least insomuch as Satomi needed to see things demonstrated, and fully capable of mimicking something they saw demonstrated almost exactly.

Adding flair and learning to improvise without flailing or hesitating would come with time, if either of them thought to continue.

“Okay, stop.” Satomi called, and broke off the genjutsu. “Neji, can you partner up with me for a bit?”

“Apparently, I’ve nothing better to do.” Neji grumbled, but his tone was distinctly lacking in real annoyance.

“I’m stealing Hinata,” Sasuke told them, pinching Hinata’s sleeve between two fingers and tugging her towards the open back door. “I need to work on dinner since someone invited her new team, and isn’t capable of making something as simple as eggs.”

“I can make eggs! Not well, but I can!” Satomi defended herself, affronted. “And I can bake! I’m just really bad at frying things!”

“And half of the main course is stir fry.” Sasuke countered, almost to the door. Hinata sent an apologetic smile and a shrug in Satomi’s direction.

“…fiiiine.” Satomi practically whined. “I guess I’m doing the dishes, then.”

“See you at dinner, Satomi-chan!” Hinata called just as the door closed on her.

“At least you can be sure that I’ll be helping you with those dishes.” Neji reminded her.

“Yeah, yeah…” Satomi muttered, leaning just a little to the side so her shoulder would bump against Neji’s. “I’m still surprised Hiashi let you guys come.”

“Hiashi-sama is… supportive of Hinata-hime’s friendship with your brother.” Neji said as delicately as he could. “He knows of your opinions on the engagement.”

Satomi rolled this around in her head for a moment. “He’s hoping that if I follow through on cancelling the engagement like I plan, he can have Hinata and Sasuke as a back-up?”

“Not necessarily. With your clan as… minimized as it is—”

“With everyone dead.” Satomi said as wryly as she could. It still hurt, and it was still her fault, but… not as much as it had a month or so after the massacre, when the numbness was fading but the pain hadn’t had the time to leave yet.

Neji gave an acknowledging nod; Satomi couldn’t see it, but she felt the shift of his chin against her hair. “The appeal of an alliance is obviously diminished, in regards to political or military power. However, with your recent activities regarding the estate, and your handling of the financials, the elders have begun to consider that retaining ties to you, no matter the form they take, is probably a good idea.”

“Because of the economic power.” Satomi frowned. “Does that make you a golddigger?”

“Stop.” Neji took an abrupt step back, letting Satomi stumble as she lost the force holding her up. She turned to face him, and there was a hint of an amused smile on his face. “In any case, your goodwill is considered an investment of sorts, and it doesn’t hurt that Hinata-hime is both more willing to train and more confident when allowed to spend time with Sasuke.”

“And happier.”

There was a downward twitch at the edge of Neji’s lip. “That too.”

Satomi frowned. “Hinata being happy isn’t a bad thing, Neji.”

“I know your opinion on the incident, Satomi. That isn’t going to change—”

“She was three years old, Neji!” Satomi hissed, quiet enough that she could be reasonably sure Hinata herself wouldn’t hear them. “There was nothing she could do; even you couldn’t have done anything at that age.”

“I’m aware.” Neji said, his muscles stiff and his face betraying as little emotion as possible. “It doesn’t change the fact that it was, however obliquely, for her sake that my father died.”

Satomi could feel angry tears building up in her eyes. Goddammit. “You can’t just—s”

“I am trying.” Neji cut her off, his voice as forceful as it could be that low. “I haven’t spent the past six years ignoring you, Satomi, but it’s not exactly an easy thing to work past.”

The knot of anger and anxiety in Satomi’s chest eased a little. Just a little, though. “You—”

“I’m interacting with her. I’m as civil as I can be. I accompany her when she wants to visit your compound even though an older member of the clan would likely be safer. I am, for better or for worse, attempting to work past my grudges.”

Satom looked at him for a few seconds, well aware of how obviously her face was probably showing her emotions. “Fine. I just… fine.”

She turned away with a huff and folded her arms across her stomach. There was a stone bench a few yards away, and she headed for it.

“Satomi?”

“I’m sorry. I know you’re trying.” Satomi rubbed a fist against her eye as Neji took a seat next to her. He still held himself stiffly. “I know traumatic associations like that don’t heal quickly. I just hate seeing what it does to both of you. I know you’ll work past it eventually, that you’re capable of having a positive relationship and everything, but…”

Neji took her hand and squeezed. “Is this related to the secret you said you’d share once I made genin?”

“Chuunin.” She corrected. “This is the chuunin-promotion secret.”

Neji let that float in the air for a moment. “The secrets… have you decided on whether to tell your Jounin-sensei or the Hokage?”

“I don’t know if I should. I probably shouldn’t, but I don’t like the idea of the consequences for either decision. It’s complicated. Telling would result in… bad things. Not telling would also result in bad things, just not as immediately.” Satomi breathed out harshly. “It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for pushing on the Hinata issue.”

“Apology accepted.” Neji answered, squeezing her hand again. “And I am almost certainly going to sound very stupid for saying this, but you can come to me about this if you need to. I won’t judge.”

“You might. You really, really might.” Satomi had to fight to keep her voice even. “I don’t want to talk about this, not now. Later, maybe, but not now. My team is going to be showing up in an hour and a half. I have a house to clean, and that isn’t going to happen if I end up having an hour-long breakdown right now.”

“Fine.” Neji sighed. “How much longer do you need?”

“…a few minutes.” Satomi pressed a little closer to him, and felt absurdly relieved when he shifted to wrap an arm around her. “I really am sorry.”

“I know. I also know you’re probably going to do it again, intentionally or not, and I reserve the right to be angry when you do.” Neji told her.

“That’s probably fair.” Satomi mumbled. “I’ll probably cry again, but I promise it’s not an attempt to manipulate you, just me being bad at keeping tears in.”

“Satomi, I’ve known you long enough to recognize when your tears are real.”

“Shut up.”

o.o.o.o.o

The dinner went better than Satomi expected, honestly. For all that Genma had talked about them getting to know one another’s families so they could understand each other’s backgrounds and support networks, Satomi was the first person to actually follow through with the plans. Hana’s mom had invited them for the following weekend, though. She wasn’t sure what Genma was planning, though she suspected that he was going to introduce them to his own original team, and current closest friends, in lieu of a family. Sai was… well, he’d mentioned that Shin was in the hospital right now, recovering from a recent bout of illness, so they’d probably meet said brother there.

Satomi hadn’t much family left, though more than most people thought. And, well, the Hyuuga apparently didn’t mind her asking to include Neji and Hinata on what was supposed to be a team+family dinner.

And it did go well, mostly.

Satomi spent more time than strictly necessary worrying over whether Sai was going to say something that would get him punched, but Hana managed to control that entire problem. The fact that they ate outside also let the ninken stay near Hana, which meant that they were satisfied without Satomi having to let them inside the house and then spending an hour or two scrubbing down everything they’d touched.

“You made this?” Hana asked incredulously, looking at Sasuke. “Seriously?”

“Hinata helped.” He corrected.

“Well, the next time Kiba says he doesn’t want to learn how to cook because it’s not for boys or kids, I know what to use as an example to tell him he’s wrong.” She laughed, taking a bit of her shrimp tempura. “Seriously, this is really well done.”

“Thank you,” Sasuke answered, following a small nudge from Satomi. “But please don’t tell Kiba. I have to deal with him at school, and he can get very loud.”

“He’s an obnoxious little shit, yeah.” Hana steamrolled past Sasuke’s minimal attempts at being polite with a shrug. “If it matters that much, I’ll keep mum about it. Still, this is impressive.”

“Kind of funny, actually,” Genma noted, pushing his stir-fry around on his plate. “Most people would expect your sister to take care of this sort of thing while you did her work with the finances or whatever.”

Sasuke made a face. “I don’t like math as much as she does.”

“And I’m barely competent in the kitchen with basic meals, let alone anything fancy.” Satomi shrugged. “Besides, I like money.”

“So you’ve mentioned, yeah.” Hana noted. “And I guess I should also extend my compliments to… Hinata, was it?”

Hinata nodded and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I didn’t do much. I’m better at desserts.”

“And what did you do?” Sai asked, addressing Neji.

“I helped Satomi with the cleaning.” He answered flatly.

“He’s the muscle.” Satomi cheerfully tacked on. “And also the one that helps me figure out when I’ve missed a spot.”

“And keeps her distracted so she doesn’t interfere in the kitchen.” Sasuke slid in smoothly, a small smirk on his face. Hinata elbowed him, while Satomi just gave him puppy-dog eyes.

“Mean. Mean. Sensei, that was mean, right?” Satomi turned the big-eyed look to Genma. “Sai, Hana, you’re on my side, right?”

“I’m not,” Neji declared.

“I didn’t ask you.”

“I’m still part of the conversation, and in case you’ve forgotten, the entire question revolves over whether my job in this situation is to keep you occupied. Which I frequently feel it is, considering how you bother me whenever you feel bored.” He took a sip of his tea.

“…bother?” Satomi asked in a slightly smaller voice than she intended. Damn it.

“You know what I mean,” Neji said, just barely brushing his knee against hers under the table and giving her a look. “Besides, half the time I can just put you in your big blue box and you entertain yourself with genjutsu for hours. You still haven’t revealed why you find it so entertaining, but I’m sure there’s some reason.”

“Right. Sorry.” She turned a bright grin in her team’s direction. “So, do Sai and I get to know what’s going on tomorrow, or is it a secret? Or are you waiting until the team is alone?”

“You get to know tomorrow.” Genma smiled behind his little bowl of miso soup, and Satomi mentally translated that to ‘probably D-ranks, blegh.’

The night continued on mostly in that fashion, though there was a small blip at one point, right at the very end when everyone was getting ready to go home.

“I didn’t realize you’d still have these out.” Genma said from the hallway, having borrowed the bathroom just before leaving. Satomi came over and noticed what he was looking at.

“Ah. Yeah.”

Genma was staring at the small collection of old family photos from before the massacre.

“Sasuke wanted to get rid of the ones with Itachi in them. I convinced him not to.” Satomi hugged her arms around her torso, cupping her elbows and hunching inwards. “He… I have opinions that Sasuke doesn’t necessarily agree with, but he said that if it mattered that much to me, we could keep them.”

“Even the baby ones?” Genma quirked an eyebrow and tapped one picture in particular, of a very small toddler wrapped up in a pink blanket with yellow flowers dotted all over it.

Satomi bit out a short laugh. “Most people would assume that one was me.”

“I met Itachi back when he was just an Academy student, and besides, you have a twin. At that age, all pictures are taken with both halves of the set.” Genma shrugged. “It’s still fairly interesting that you keep them around.”

“Like I said,” Satomi sighed, “opinions.”

“Yeah, you did.” Genma ruffled her hair as he walked past her, ignoring her scowl. “I’ll see you tomorrow, kid.”

“See you then!” Satomi called.

As soon as he left, she threw herself down on the couch and stared at the ceiling. She didn’t even bother to pull down the blanket to cover herself, just lay there and breathed. That was how Sasuke found her a few minutes later.

“Satomi?”

“Too many people,” She mumbled. “Too much socialization. I’m tired.”

“You have a team meeting tomorrow,” Sasuke urged, poking at her shoulder. “C’mon, get up.”

“I don’t want to people.”

“Satomi, you have to. You don’t get a choice.” He shook her shoulder, let out an annoyed groan when she rolled over to ignore him. “Satomi.”

“Mrphgh,” She grumbled.

“If you fall asleep here, you’ll just have a crick in your neck in the morning.” He reminded her. “If you don’t get up and go to bed properly, I will dump you on the floor.”

“Hm?”

Sasuke got up, went around to the back of the couch, and yanked on the blanket, which did indeed dump Satomi on the floor.

“Sasuke!” She shouted, genuinely annoyed now.

“Satomi!” He mocked back. “You signed up for the job, now take care of yourself so that you can do it.”

She stuck out her tongue at him, and stomped off towards her room.

Chapter Text

“C’mon princess, it’s not that hard.”

“Shut up, Shisui.”

Satomi frowned down at her textbook, digging the heels of her hands into her cheeks, pressing up against the bones.

“You’ve done calculus before, Satomi-chan.”

“Yeah, and I had to retake that class,” Satomi complained.

“You need it to get that job you want, though, right?” Shisui asked.

“I mean… sort of? I’m going to be a ninja any…way…” Satomi trailed off. She… hadn’t she gotten her hitai-ate? She felt like she—

There was a ragged breath from across the table, wet and heavy.

Satomi blinked.

There was a kunai on the table. She picked it up.

“Well? Aren’t you going to kill me?” Shisui asked, and Satomi saw his empty, gaping eye sockets drooping, the blood flowing freely down the already wet skin of his face, curly hair plastered to his head with river water. He grinned widely at her. Water flowed freely from between his teeth, pouring down over his chin and onto the table.

His hand wrapped around Satomi’s wrist as he leaned forward, grinning wider. He tugged her hand closer. “Come on, Satomi-chan. Time to kill me.”

“N—” The word got stuck in Satomi’s throat. She couldn’t move, couldn’t control a thing, just stare as her hand traveled closer and closer to Shisui’s heart, kunai digging into fabric and skin and flesh and—

She couldn’t move, she couldn’t move—

This isn’t real.

Everything got hazy.

Satomi stared at Shisui, who had stopped pulling her forward. He tilted his head and, had he still had eyes, would have stared at her.

She couldn’t move, so it wasn’t real. Satomi was already a genin and Shisui was already dead and this wasn’t real because she always had nightmares about sleep paralysis and this was close enough to count.

The kunai wasn’t in her hand anymore. They weren’t inside at the table. There was grass beneath her feet and a body in her arms and she still couldn’t control her own movements. She could move, but she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do, but it had to be a dream anyway, so that was normal and—

“I’m sorry, princess.” Shisui muttered.

Satomi looked down at the body in her arms. It was, of course, Shisui. There wasn’t a smile on his face, or any expression. Just… just…

o.o.o.o.o

Satomi rolled over and threw up over the edge of her bed.

o.o.o.o.o

Steam rose from the cup of tea on the table, nearly invisible. Satomi watched it, chin pillowed on her arms on the table, and didn’t so much as twitch as soft footsteps padded their way into the kitchen.

Sasuke hesitated in the doorway as he saw her seated at the table, and then headed for the cupboards to get started on his breakfast. “Nightmare?”

“Shisui.”

“Ah.”

Satomi waited a few more seconds before finally levering herself up to a sitting position and actually starting to drink her tea. “Do you want me to make you some?”

“Is it the bag tea or loose leaf?”

“Bag chamomile.”

“…do we have any peppermint?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

 Satomi set about heating up some more water.

“I saw the towels in the laundry room.”

“…Yeah, I had to clean up next to my bed.” Satomi admitted.

Sasuke nodded, frowning down at the eggs. He left them for a moment, heading to the table and grabbing a chair. He pushed it over to the fridge and climbed up so he could dig through the top shelves.

“What are you—”

“Bacon. Comfort food for the…”

“Oh. Thanks.”

Satomi finished her own tea just as the kettle started to whistle, and she made the next mugs immediately. Her own mug got a large, large dose of honey.

“Can you slice up the tomatoes?”

“Yeah, I’m done with the tea.”

Sasuke finished with the bacon and eggs and started ladling them out onto the plates as Satomi washed the tomatoes. He grabbed some bread from the freezer and stuck it to warm up on the leftover hot oil in the pan.

“I’m glad you learned to love fried bread,” Satomi said.

“You keep sticking it in the freezer. How else am I supposed to eat it without dealing with soggy bread?”

“Hmph.” Satomi smiled lightly at she kept cutting up the tomatoes.

(Konoha’s tomatoes were good ones, compared to what she’d eaten throughout most of her first life. They reminded her of home.)

They ate breakfast in near-silence for the most part, interspersed with short conversations on topics like Sasuke’s current school subjects and Satomi’s upcoming team activities.

Satomi’s breath still hitched up as she remembered the nightmare every few minutes, of course, but one couldn’t have everything in life.

o.o.o.o.o

“You’re distracted.”

Satomi looked up from her hand and into Hana’s face. “I’m trying to concentrate, senpai.”

“You’re failing even without my interference, kiddo.”

Satomi huffed and focused back on the leaves that were hovering over her fingertips, one on each, and spinning lazily. As she focused harder, the speed of the spinning started to vary. It started on her pointer finger, a sudden turn that petered out after a few seconds and went back to the earlier speed of rotation. One by one, the pattern repeated, until the one on her ring finger wobbled a little too far and fell.

“I kind of want to ask why you always focus on control exercises,” Hana commented, taking a seat next to where Satomi sat cross-legged on the ground. “Shouldn’t you be putting a little more effort into your taijutsu?”

“Probably,” Satomi said, “but there’s something I want to get down first.”

“Yeah? You should probably tell Genma-sensei, then.” Hana looped her arms around her knees and watched Satomi try to get the pattern going again. “What are you even trying to get perfected?”

“I…” Satomi frowned. “There’s a handful of weapons styles that I like elements of, but am not necessarily comfortable with in their entirety. There’s a chakra technique I know that could feasibly allow me to engage with weaponry in a manner that I think would suit me, but I don’t have the necessary control yet.”

Hana snorted after a moment. “That’s a lot of words to say that you want to play around with chakra to figure out a weapon style for yourself.”

“…not really, senpai. I just wanted to be as exact as possible.”

“Ha!” Hana practically barked out the laugh. “You are adorable, you know that?”

“I’m the cutest.” Satomi nodded primly. “But I’d prefer it if you didn’t patronize me.”

Hana shook her head and sighed. “Damn, kid. Okay, no patronization, then. You gonna tell me what you’re working on, though? It might go easier if we can get you a teacher who’s worked with it before.”

“It’s… not really a Konoha specialty,” Satomi admitted. “And I have to go slow whenever I do try to work with it.”

“Show me,” Hana ordered, getting to her feet and dusting herself off. She held out a hand to Satomi, who eyed it for a moment before taking it and letting Hana haul her to a standing position.

(There was no real way to avoid germs while training. It was… helpful, in some ways. Kind of like the subway, where she’d had to get used to dealing with the filth and… and…)

(Satomi didn’t want to think about the subway.)

Satomi pulled out a kunai and laid it flat in her left hand. She could hear some faint clanging noises from where Genma and Sai were sparring, but did her best to drown them out. She lightly touched the tips of her right forefinger and middle finger to the handle of the kunai, and took a deep breath. She glanced at Hana, who nodded encouragingly, and then focused.

She pulled her right hand away, and a chakra string, bright blue even without her Sharingan to help her see it, glittered into existence between the kunai and her fingers. Satomi could hear Hana’s sharp inhale, and there was a shuffling noise as one of the dogs came closer to get a better look, but she kept her focus on the kunai. When the chakra string reached about a foot and a half in length, she let the kunai down so that it hung from her right hand.

“Oh, so that’s what you were working on.”

Satomi ignored Hana, and began to swing the kunai in slow, wide circles, like a twisted figure eight from one side to the other. It was a careful process, since she couldn’t accidentally nick herself, but she’d practiced with blunted kunai before, and felt safe enough to speed up the spins. She’d been inspired by poi dancers, but she was nowhere near skilled enough to attempt two at once, or anything fancier than just spinning in circles and… well. What she was about to do.

She approached a training pole, and breathed deeply. She could do this. She could totally do this.

Satomi let the chakra string lengthen just enough to reach the wooden pole. It left a shallow gash, and she immediately shortened it again before it could get stuck in the ground. She repeated the process several times, and then attempted to manipulate the chakra string to drive the kunai into the wood instead of just scarring it.

She fumbled it, of course. The string fizzled out of existence, and the kunai spun off to the side, several feet off target and complete out of her control.

“Well, that was certainly… something.”

“I’m still working on it,” Satomi said, pouting. “It’s not something I’ve seen in use before, so I’m still trying to figure out if it’s even possible to use in a way that isn’t disgustingly wasteful before I ask someone for help.”

“Seems like it would be better to ask before putting all that effort in,” Hana said.

“I…” Satomi trailed off, blushing a little. “I started working on it before I graduated. I didn’t bring it up in class because it would have taken away attention from students who needed it and over to something unnecessary for myself, and I was too embarrassed to bring it up yet here.”

“Well, it’s definitely flashy. It certainly fits your plans thus far in regards to being a long-range combatant, too.” Hana rubbed at her chin. “It’s probably more dangerous than general kunai usage, but if you can get it down to a proper style, then it will give you the kind of range a normal kunai would while still allowing you to use them more than once.”

“So… not a bad idea?”

“Dangerous, but workable. I think.” Hana nodded, and then shrugged. “We should probably talk to Genma-sensei about it anyway. Where were you hoping to go with it?”

“Basically just learn to double wield them and use them in a manner more or less like what you just saw. I like the idea of being able to weaponize the chakra string itself, though, and sort of… okay, you know how the Hyuuga spin when they do Kaiten?”

Hana blinked, and considered, and made a face. “You would definitely need to be away from any allies if you tried to do that. And I think weaponizing the strings themselves is… I think I’ve heard about people doing this before, if you mean making the chakra strings as capable of slicing as ninja wire.”

“I do.” Satomi crossed her arms and tapped the fingers of one hand against her upper arm. “Or more, actually, but that’s unlikely to happen unless I’m Fuuton nature.”

“Rare as hell here, yeah.” Hana leaned back, apparently preternaturally aware of where her dogs were at all times, since one of them showed up behind her just as she went backwards. “I think… I think if we got you some help from a weapons master, you’d be progressing faster. You’ve clearly got a handle on the chakra control exercises needed to practice the strings themselves, but if you want to develop a style based off of this… I’m thinking maybe a kusarigama user?”

“I thought kusarigama involved swinging the weight around, not the blade itself,” Satomi said with a frown.

“Usually, though, but… I mean, ninjas. We get up to some weird shit, but regardless, I think the principles of swinging a something on the end of a chain are probably going to transfer at least somewhat.” Hana clapped her hands. “Anyway, I think what you do have so far is kind of cool, so let’s go show Genma-sensei and see what he thinks.”

“Joy,” Satomi said under her breath, but nonetheless followed along behind Hana.

Genma’s response to Satomi’s demonstration, pitiful as she considered it, was to bury his face in his hands for a moment and just… breathe.

“Sensei?” Hana prodded.

“Why.” Genma lamented, so flat and dead that Satomi was sure that there wasn’t even really a question mark at the end. “Why did I get a team full of people whose training is so specialized that I need to outsource it to other ninjas.”

“Because you got a team full of awesome, that’s why.” Hana grinned and punched him in the shoulder. “C’mon, we’re cool, you know it.”

“You are frustratingly difficult to teach,” Genma complained. “Also, each and every one of you has already developed a personalized technique, which is, quite frankly, a little ridiculous.”

“It’s not a technique, just… me trying to figure out if something can work,” Satomi said awkwardly. “I’m not really… no. No.”

“Just no?” Sai asked, tilting his head.

“Just no.” Satomi nodded.

“Okay, so I’ll just… ask around and see who might be able to help. Until then, I’ll be watching over your actual attempts to use live kunai with this. You’ve been using blunted ones so far, right?”

“I’ve only tried with live kunai a few times. I started with weights, then wooden kunai, and most recently blunted metal ones. Figured it was safest that way.” She rubbed her toe into the ground and linked her hands behind her back, ducking her head and biting her lip. “There’s, ah, also one more thing I’ve been trying to do with it?”

Genma stared at her with pursed lips.

She told him.

“That is just… You’re a smart girl, so I am going to trust you not to hurt yourself with that either. Either way, no more practice with live kunai until I’ve cleared you,” Genma told her. “Now, time for taijutsu practice. You and Sai, time to spar.”

“Gross,” Satomi whispered, but nonetheless got into position.

o.o.o.o.o

“Okay, so, did either of you get any education on sexual health? I know it usually happens when students are twelve, so…” Genma made a vague motion with his hands. “Where are you at? Do I need to get a medic—”

“Me,” Hana interrupted.

“—to give you a lecture on how to take care of your bodies when things start changing?”

“I’ve received the full Konoha pre-genin curriculum in this respect,” Sai told him.

“I eavesdropped when kaa-chan was telling Itachi how to deal with his period, and then they sort of invited me to just sit in, since it was a health issue.” Satomi’s lips pressed into a small, suppressed smile as she remembered the situation.

“Wait, what?” Hana looked very confused.

Satomi blinked and glanced at Genma, who shrugged. She turned back to Hana. “Kaa-chan was explaining how to deal with period stuff to Itachi since he’d gotten his pretty young, and nobody bothered to shoo me away when I listened in.”

“No, that’s not… since when was Itachi trans?” Hana seemed offended by the fact that she’d been ignorant of this. “How did I not know this?”

“I thought it was common knowledge,” Satomi admitted. “I mean, he declared he was a boy before I was even born, but he told me that pretty much everyone knew since most shinobi remembered the birth announcement since he was the Clan Heir, regardless of what he was declared at birth. So most people noticed when he started presenting as a boy, since the birth announcement during the Third War had said kaa-chan had given birth to a daughter.”

Hana pouted. “I still should have noticed.”

“Hana…” There was a warning tone in Genma’s voice. “I know you’re proud of your skills on that front, but please try to remember how rude it is to out someone without their approval or claim pride in your ability to… ferret out those who happen to be of a minority they wish to keep secret.”

Hana’s cheeks burned as she ducked her head. “Sorry, sensei,” she muttered.

Satomi decided it was high time to create a distraction.

“It was very awkward for both of them,” she recalled, “since kaa-chan had learned about periods from her mom in a pretty cissexist way, so, you know. Awkward.”

Mikoto had tried to start off with the usual metaphors about blooming flowers and entering womanhood and repeatedly stopped herself in frustration. “At a certain age, every young woman,” eventually became “Listen, Itachi, you’re going to have a period at some point in the near future. This means a lot of blood coming out of your body, and you need to know how to deal.”

Satomi had personally found it kind of hilarious. Itachi had clearly not been very perturbed by the situation, opting to let Mikoto find her footing and explain things in her own way with a minimum of accidental transphobia. Satomi suspected he’d already known most of what Mikoto told him, but he’d helped gently remind Mikoto of issues with her wording, and they’d both largely ignored Satomi after she crept out from behind the couch and crawled into Itachi’s lap.

Well, she had to learn sometime, right?

“I have a question,” Sai said, lifting one hand to shoulder level like an afterthought. “What does transgender mean?”

Satomi opened her mouth, closed it, and considered how to go about explaining this with a minimum of confusion or bigoted wording. Sai had been raised in Root, which presumably wasn’t too interested in any rules or regulations regarding gender and sexuality unless they managed to impede an agent’s work performance, and likely minimized performative gender whenever possible anyway, as it was probably considered an unnecessary luxury, which would probably do at least a little to combat gender dysphoria anyway.

“Satomi-chan?” Genma asked. “You seem like you want to be the one to answer this question.”

She considered this for a moment, then nodded. It was probably another one of Genma’s tests, but it was one she was happy to take. “Okay. So. Let’s do this.”

o.o.o.o.o

Sai seemed confused but open-minded, in much the way Satomi expected of someone who’d been raised in a culture, if Root could be called such, that refused to entertain any notions that could keep a trainee from focusing on anything other than the art of murder.

(This included social skills, for some reason. Satomi was not impressed.)

o.o.o.o.o

“You need a hobby.

Satomi was sprawled across couch on her back, hands tucked behind her head and listening to the sounds of Neji moving through kata across her living room.

Somewhere outside, Hinata and Sasuke were sparring.

“I meditate.”

“That’s a form of training. Hobby rejected.” Satomi lurched up into a sitting position and eyed the boy that was probably her best friend.

 “You can’t just… reject someone’s hobby.” Neji said, making a face. “A hobby is meant to entertain and relax you, is it not? Meditation does that for me.”

“Meditation is entertaining,” Satomi repeated slowly, and not a little dubiously. “Alright, but I still think you need a hobby that’s unrelated to your training. Most ninjas do have them, you know.”

“Satomi, I have enough to do without a hobby that is ultimately useless. Hobbies are meant for the aforementioned reasons, and for the sake of having a distraction from the horrors of shinobi life, a manner in which shinobi can destress without damaging themselves or others. I currently have not reached the point of shinobi life in which I would need this,” Neji said, giving up on his attempts to finish his kata as he got sucked into conversation instead. He came over to sit behind Satomi. “I’m going to braid your hair, by the way.”

“Careful with the tangles, it’s real right now.” Satomi said, shifting to a more comfortable position. “I understand how you feel, but like… burn-out is a real worry, you know.”

Neji’s hands didn’t pause as they carded through her hair. “You’re thinking of Itachi.”

Satomi bit her lip. “He wasn’t the only Uchiha that cracked under the stress, you know.”

Even discounting the way Obito and Sasuke broke in canon, the Uchiha had had more than a handful of geniuses that were pushed too far, too fast, and broken.

(Shisui, Satomi suspected, had been more than a little suicidal even before the mess with the coup and the massacre. He just hid it better.)

“And you?” Neji asked quietly, starting on a tiny braid. “You graduated three years early, Satomi.”

“I’m lazy when I want to be, though. I’m not… driven, the way all of you are. I just had… reasons. Advantages that will soon be irrelevant.” Satomi frowned down at her hands. “The Academy was easy to slip through. Nothing else will be. The college courses, for instance.”

“You’re not even in the double digits yet, Satomi,” Neji reminded her.

“I can’t… that’s not…” She let out a frustrated huff. “Remember how I said there were things I would tell you once you graduated? This is one of them.”

Neji made a small scoffing noise. “Of course it is.”

Satomi tried not to make any noise. Was he mad? He might be. She used that as an excuse for several things. It was always true, of course, but that still had be rather irritating for—

“I’m not mad at you,” Neji said, as though he had read her thoughts. Well. He was rather good at reading people, even from behind, and he did know her fairly well.

“What I’m hearing, however, is that you’re going to turn your civilian exploits into a hobby.”

“Yes.”

“Most people would consider building and running a company to be a full-time job,” Neji pointed out.

“I know how to delegate,” Satomi waved him off. “And let’s face it, most kunoichi leave the armed forces by their early twenties for some reason or other anyway, taking desk jobs or whatnot. You know for a fact that some of the clans own businesses of their own, like restaurants and flower shops and such. I think I can handle something that doesn’t even require me to be present during the day, since it’s business-to-business transactions instead of selling directly to the consumer.”

“Satomi…”

“I can do this.” Satomi shifted a little in her seat. “I’m not… I’m not overestimating myself. I’ve done my research, and I’ll try to take it slow, but this is something that I legitimately want to do.”

“Alright.”

“Besides,” Satomi said, almost tossing her hair before she remembered that Neji was currently playing with it. “I’ve got other hobbies. I read and write fiction, and I draw, even if it’s not very good, and sometimes I write angry letters to civilian politicians about their stances on matters of legislation.”

“One of these is not like the others, Satomi.”

“You’re just jealous that you didn’t think of it first.”

 “That is nowhere near the issue at hand, my friend.” Neji said, beginning another braid.

“Ha! You called me a friend!”

“One day, you are going to stop getting excited about that. I await that day with open arms,” Neji said, full of solemnity.

“You’re a melodramatic child, is what you are.”

“I’m older than you.”

Sure, Jan. Nope. He wouldn’t get that reference, for multiple reasons. “If you say so.”

After a moment, Neji asked. “So, if I were to get a hobby that fit your standards, what would you suggest?”

Satomi hummed a little, thinking. “Well, you already dance with me, but that’s more humoring me than an actual hobby.”

“I knew I couldn’t escape that easily,” Neji said, utterly flat in tone.

“Maybe an instrument?” Satomi suggested. “I can see you on the piano.”

“I’m not buying a piano,” Neji said immediately. “They are very large and cumbersome, cannot be taken anywhere with ease, and would not fit inside of my room without turning it into a claustrophobe’s nightmare.”

“…Okay, then.” Satomi blinked. “Uh… do you want to go traditional for your clan’s approval, or something a little more foreign?”

“…foreign,” Neji said after a long moment. “Not to irritate my clan, but simply because it seems interesting.”

“How about a violin? Fairly portable, relatively old and well-regarded, and is foreign enough to be interesting without being so foreign that you can’t find books or teachers.” She tapped her chin. “Actually, I think Uzushiogakure had a fair bit of violin music, before it fell. There are probably a few copies left in Konoha. Might get you invited to some of the festivals, that.”

Uzushiogakure, from what little Satomi had seen while doing research on the surface level of cultures in the elemental nations, appeared to be vaguely reminiscent of the British Isles, or at least the parts that weren’t England. They seemed to have Gaelic as a secondary language, which could really be either Scottish or Irish depending on the dialect; she didn’t know enough to check. There was plaid and kilts in evidence in some of the pictures, which she thought was more Scottish, and bagpipes, which she wasn’t too sure on the exact location of, and a picture of something that looked a lot like Irish step dancing, and most of the island was redheaded, and at least one place name that looked suspiciously Welsh.

So.

Basically everything in the British Isles except England, as far as she could tell. Seeing as Uzushio was on a small island country anyway, this wasn’t actually all that strange. What little geographical information she’d been able to find indicated that there were a few small natural barriers between people, enough to prevent a continuous culture, but not enough to prevent regular trade. Uzushiogakure itself pulled in hopeful shinobi and civilians from all over the country, too, since it was both the hidden village and the capitol so it was no surprise that the cultural within the hidden village was a mixture of several others; presumably, the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh elements were a little more distinct and separate in other areas.

“That would be… acceptable.” Neji seemed to consider the idea. “I will attempt it, but I make no promises.”

“Mm. Good luck.” Satomi waited for him to finish the current braid, then piped up again. “You know what I wanna do?”

“I can’t actually read your mind, Satomi, much as your brother seems to think otherwise.” Neji said drily.

“I wanna go to my box.”

Neji groaned, and there was a sudden pressure against her back, like he’d just leaned his head against it as one would thump their head against a wall. “It is incredibly cramped in there. I would prefer not to.”

“We could stay here and cuddle,” Satomi suggested cheerily. “I like hugs.”

“Once again, I would prefer something else.”

“Then make a suggestion, dearie,” she paused. “Not sparring. I already sparred today, and I am far too sore to do it again.”

“Did you stretch?”

“Yes, mother.” Satomi stuck out her tongue at him. “I’m not a novice, you know.”

“You act like one sometimes.”

“Horror! Devastation! My best friend has betrayed me!” Satomi cried out, throwing a hand up over her eyes and leaning back to fall onto Neji as dramatically as she could.

He yelped when she landed on him, however much he would later deny it.

“You utter ass,” he said after a moment, once Satomi had dissolved into giggles.

“Don’t call me that. Don’t call anyone that, it’s rude.” She said, though the smile didn’t drop from her face. “C’mon, tell me you didn’t enjoy that even a little.”

Neji pursed his lips. “Fine. It was somewhat amusing.”

“There we go. You need to loosen up a little. You’re too serious for your age. You’re going to get wrinkles, Neji. Do you want that? No, you don’t.”

“Let’s just go to the box.” He muttered, standing up. “It’ll at least be better than that.”

“You’re giving me a piggy-back ride,” Satomi informed him.

He rolled his eyes. “Yes, ma’am. Whatever you say.”

o.o.o.o.o

“Alright, what do you know about summons?” Genma said one day, after, physical training was over with. “Not Hana, she’s already gone through this lesson.”

“That we’re not supposed to have them this young, and that they’re very rare, and thus only really relevant to us in the hands of an enemy?” Satomi said with an innocent smile.

“Mostly correct, though you know that’s not what I was asking.” Genma shook his head. “Sai?”

“A summoning contract can be established with one of the summoning clans if they deem you worthy. At its most basic form, it allows a user to call upon the aid of a member of that summoning clan with an offering of chakra and blood. Some summons may demand a larger form of sacrifice, the most famous example of which is the traitor Orochimaru’s boss summon Manda, who is said to require a hundred human sacrifices with every summoning. Some summons specialize, whether in healing or in an element or some other manner, but all are rather chakra intensive to summon and maintain as a summon. All are, as Satomi said, rather rare, and are usually passed on from master to student.” Sai rattled off.

“Correct on all counts,” Genma said, nodding. “Satomi? Anything to add?”

She considered it. “I believe that Jiraiya of the Sannin was known to have found his summons by attempting a summoning technique without holding a contract, and then reverese-summoning himself to the home of the most suitable clan, the toads, as a result. He’s honestly quite lucky that they deemed him worth having as a summoner, according to my mother.”

“Is that so,” Genma drawled.

“Hmph.” Satomi crossed her arms. “It’s true, sensei. I was also going to add that, from what I’ve heard, most summons have cultures that differ from one another just as much as human cultures do. Going back to Jiraiya as an example, his toads purportedly have an organizational structure reminiscent of the Yakuza. Also, while some summons can speak, not all are capable of doing so.”

“Well, it looks like you two know all the basics. I want to talk about tactics regarding how to fight someone who has lower level summons, but first, do either of you have any questions?”

“Why only lower level summons?” Sai asked immediately.

“Because if someone has higher level summons, your tactic is to get the hell out of dodge,” Genma answered immediately. “You can’t win that fight, not as genin. Your tactic in that case is to run. Sacrifice the mission if you have to. Sometimes even a suicide run isn’t going to achieve your mission goal. If your mission is going to fail whether you live or die, then you choose to live. If the mission only fails if you live… you’re genin right now. You won’t be put in the position to make that call for a while yet, unless we end up in a war.”

Satomi pretended not to notice how Genma’s eyes landed on Sai as he said that, seemingly randomly. Sai just smiled.

“I actually have a question as well,” she said after a moment. She could see the exasperation already blooming on Genma’s face, because he was always a little tired of her questions; a decade of time to think had given her some that he couldn’t answer, or at least had to think on, first.

“Alright, hit me,” he said after a moment, the senbon in his mouth flicking over the other side.

“Summons are generally separated by species, when people speak generally, though it would be more accurate to say that they are separated more by like… suborder or genus or whatever, yes?” She waited for clarification before continuing, already seeing the ‘will I even fucking know?’ look rising up on Genma’s face. “How high does that differentian go? Because snakes, as a whole, are a suborder. And monkeys are an infraorder. And owls are an order. And land slugs are a class. Hawks are a family, and so are tortoises. Giant Clams are an individual species. And toads are only certain species of an order, species that aren’t biologically separate from any of the others as a whole. So, like, at what point do summons start differentiating? Or do they group themselves according to human understandings of them as like… types?”

Genma put his face into his hands.

“Sensei?” Hana hazarded. “Are you alright?”

“I continuously get the feeling that you kids should have been stuck with someone who was a little more accustomed to working with child geniuses,” Genma muttered, voice muffled by his hands. “I don’t know, Satomi-chan. I suspect that they grouped themselves by their own wills, and humans then began understanding groups as a whole based on how the summons grouped themselves, but I don’t know. I could ask a friend that does have summons for more information. Given the specific examples, I’m guessing this has been going through your mind for a while?”

“A couple of years, yeah.” Satomi scratched the back of her head. “But like… Okay, as an example, crows are several smaller species of corvid, right? So would magpies fall under that as well, since they’re both corvids, or would they have a separate contract? Or do magpie summons just not exist? Would they be allied since they’re cousin species? Or is there, like, a pan-avian alliance? Or do they just call themselves the crow clan because the way they choose their members doesn’t fit into human understanding of species, and that’s the closest approximation?

“What about dogs and wolves? They’re biologically considered the same species, but I know that the entire system is a model that doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, and I’ve heard that they have separate contracts, so did they just individually choose to get summoning contracts as separate clans? Why are they separate clans in the first place, since dogs are just domesticated wolves after several millennia? Did they diverge as clans gradually as dogs began to be a thing, or was there just a point where—”

“Okay, I’ll just get a summons-user here soon for you to badger, because I genuinely do not have enough experience with summons to answer all of that,” Genma cut her off. “Hana, your mom has wolf summons, right?”

“To go with the Inuzuka hounds, yeah.” Hana looked like she was trying not to grin. “I can answer the last part, though. There’s only a wolf clan. Ninken summons like Hatake Kakashi’s tend to be specially bred dogs that are then raised by humans into ninken, rather than being raised by their own in a clan. Your information on there being two different clans there was a bit off.”

Satomi nodded. She’d figured.

“I did know that one,” Genma noted. “But thank you, Hana. Hopefully, we can get that taken care of. Right now, we’re going to go over how to deal with lower level summons. Hana’s going to be your opponent for now, and then you can fight one another. Sai, you can use your ink animals to mimic summons. Satomi, use genjutsu.”

“I… I don’t think I can use a genjutsu of that complexity during a fight yet,” Satomi admitted.

“No better time to practice, then. Hop to it!” Genma clapped his hands.

Oh, hell. This was gonna suck.

(She was right, of course. Sparring always hurt, and this was no different. At least she’d gotten to practice her illusions a little. And Genma had even let her use live kunai with her attempt at a style, fledgling as it was.)

Chapter Text

“It still looks fake,” Satomi said bluntly.

Sai’s smile fell from his face. “What did I do wrong?”

“A lot of the human expression is tied up in the eyes,” Satomi said, picking at the grass, a little bored. “You can’t do much for things like pupil size, of course, but all the surrounding muscles influence the expression. Eyebrows are a big one.”

Sai blinked at her. “How can I fix that?”

Satomi let her eyes drift across the training field to where Hana and Genma were sparring. There was probably a shadow clone spying on them; she knew that Genma could make at least one.

“Okay,” she said after a moment, sitting up a little straighter. “You’re going to name an emotion and a situation. I will make an expression that I think fits the situation, and you will attempt to mimic it. You’re good at details, so it might work better. And I like to think that I’m not that bad at faking subtle emotions, so this should hopefully work. C’mon, suggestion time.”

Sai nodded. “Feigning interest?”

“Do I want them to know that I’m feigning interest and leave? Do I feel sorry for them? Why is my interest waning?”

Sai blinked. “There’s a difference?”

“Sure,” Satomi pulled one knee up and hugged it. “The goal is half of the point, if the expression already involves actively faking or suppressing something. You may want to start with something simpler.”

“Oh,” Sai frowned at the ground. “Delight?”

“Situation?”

“You… just saw a picture of something you consider very cute,” Sai decided, seemingly on the spot.

“Okay, so a lot of these are going to be a process, not just a single still pose or expression,” Satomi warned. “Ready?”

Sai nodded.

Satomi slid into the role. Eyebrows pinch together and go up in the middle, but remain down and relaxed at the ends. Eyelids widen enough to show more of the eyes themselves, but minimally affect the surrounding skin and muscles. Mouth drops open, almost completely lax with only the slightest downwards tug of muscles on the jaw to keep it a little more open than total relaxation would have allowed. Hands come up to cover the mouth, but ineffectually.

Sai studied her carefully, then started trying to pull his own face into a shape that mimicked Satomi’s. He wasn’t entirely successful, but she could critique him later.

Satomi let her mouth start tugging up into a grin and her eyes widen just a little, and her eyebrows lifted up fully instead of just the middle. This was the second part of sudden delight.

Sai once again attempted to mimic her.

She gave up after a few moments. “Okay, maybe this would be easier with a mirror.”

Sai’s expression fell back into his neutral blankness. “I am sorry. I am… not very good at this.”

“Nah, we’ve all got our strengths and weaknesses,” Satomi said, waving off his concerns. “People are your weakness right now. You’re not good at social stuff, so we get to work on it. I’m not all that good at teaching some things, but I’m sure we can figure this out. We’re supposed to be kid geniuses, right?”

“Yes.”

“Besides, you can actually school your expression. You’d probably be great at poker, as far as bluffing goes. Your actual luck with cards could be anything, but…” Satomi shrugged. “I once won a hand at Texas Hold ‘Em with a pair of twos because everyone else dropped out and the only other person remaining had nothing at all and was bluffing completely instead of just mostly like me.”

Sai blinked and tilted his head. “A pair of twos?”

“The lowest ranking possible hand that’s technically still a hand,” Satomi explained. “I bluffed my way into winning a lot with that move.”

Sai considered that. “I still would prefer to be able to emote, so as to attend to infiltration missions and engage with civilian employers.”

“I… may have an idea,” Satomi said slowly. “It’s not a very good idea, but…”

“That sounds like a recipe for disaster,” Genma’s voice came from behind her, and Satomi turned to see him and Hana, casually walking towards her and Sai while covered in dirt and various other gross things. “You two done with your discussion on strengths and weaknesses?”

“Yes, sensei,” Satomi answered promptly. “I have a request about upcoming D-ranks, if it’s possible?”

Genma raised an eyebrow, senbon flicking from one side of his mouth to the other. “Go on.”

“I think some time in a customer service position would help Sai with learning how to smile convincingly, or at least convincingly enough that people don’t question him directly.”

“Have you ever been in a customer service position, Satomi?” Genma asked. “Because if you haven’t, you’ll find that—”

“Yeah. Not for long, but yeah.”

Genma shook his head. “It’s such an innocent question, and yet I almost don’t want to ask why or how or when.”

“Probably not, sensei.”

“Okay, then. I’ll see if there’s anything available, since you’re… not actually wrong.” Genma shook his head again. “For now, I want to see what you can pull off with that genjutsu I gave you to practice last time.”

Satomi made a face, but obligingly got to her feet. She dusted off the front of her pants, and then squealed as Hana grabbed her from behind, arms wrapped around her waist, and spun her in a circle.

“Put me down! Put me down!”

“Cast the genjutsu and I might!” Hana laughed into her ear, and Satomi grumbled. Of course it was one of Genma’s training ideas. Of course it was.

Satomi flashed through the handsigns, trying to focus on the genjutsu despite the way Hana was jostling her about.

She failed, unsurprisingly.

“You know,” Genma said as Hana set Satomi down, “You probably could have pulled that off if you were practicing more.”

Satomi’s pout receded into thinly pressed lips and downcast eyes. Oh, she was fully aware of that.

“In fact, I’m pretty sure that you should have been able to pull that off if you’d practiced the amount I told you to,” Genma said, his tone conversational. “Which really brings up the question of what you were doing instead.”

Satomi closed her eyes and fought to keep her tone even. “Nothing of importance, Sensei. I’m just not very good at time management, and very easily distracted.”

“That’s not exactly a good excuse, kid.”

“I’m aware. I’m sorry. I… can’t promise that it won’t happen again.”

“This isn’t just a grade anymore. This is your job, and your life. Being unprepared could cost you both.”

Satomi took in a sharp breath. Do not cry.

“I know, Sensei.”

“Stop that,” Genma said, and it was vague enough that Satomi looked up at him again.

“What?”

That,” he said, reaching down and taking her hands, unfurling them from the fists that she’d made, digging nails painfully into the meat of her palm. “Stop hurting yourself.”

Satomi stared down at her hands. “Oh. I… didn’t even realize.”

Genma was silent for a long moment, and Satomi looked up to find her staring at her thoughtfully. “Have you been going to those therapy appointments?”

Satomi felt her expression flatten out. “Yes, I have. They stopped being relevant a fair bit of time ago, but if I go, so does Sasuke, and he needs it more than I do.”

“You self-harm, Satomi. I’m fairly certain that qualifies as a reason to continue going.”

“I don’t break the skin and at this point it’s more habit than anything. The pain just provides a point of focus that isn’t my emotions.”

“…we’ll talk more on this later,” Genma said. “Now, genjutsu practice. Run it again a few times, and we’ll see if you can do better when Hana picks you up again.”

Satomi squashed down the squirming ball of guilt and did as she was told.

o.o.o.o.o

“Guess who finally hit the double digits!” Satomi crowed, jumping onto Sasuke’s bed and bouncing up and down until he lashed out with one hand and pushed her feet out from beneath her. She caught herself as she fell, rolling up into a handstand and planting her feet against the wall so she could hold her position more stably with chakra adhesion. Sasuke’s voice, when he spoke, was muffled by the pillow he was lying face-down on.

“It’s five in the morning.”

“You were going to wake up in half an hour to train anyway. I figured I could do you a favor and—hey, watch it!” Satomi swatted at Sasuke’s hand, pushing it away. “You just got a year older, shouldn’t you be acting a little more mature?”

Sasuke lifted his head from his pillow and gave her a tired, disbelieving look. “Are you kidding me?”

Satomi tilted her head and smiled innocently. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“Oh, shut up and go back to sleep.” Sasuke rolled his eyes and let his head drop again. “We can get up in an hour or two. I know you don’t have training until ten anyway.”

Satomi shrugged and let herself drop down, snuggling up to Sasuke as much as she could with a blanket between them. “I’m cold.”

“You’re always cold. Circulate your chakra or something.”

“Human contact is so nice though?”

“Ugh, whatever.”

They stayed in silence for a few minutes.

“Happy birthday, bro.”

“Happy birthday, Satomi.”

o.o.o.o.o

“Again?” Sasuke asked, looking down at the package in his arms. He looked over at the longer, thinner one in Satomi’s hands, and then back at the one in his. “These were checked over by ANBU or something, right?”

“Yes, they were,” the Chunin running the courier mission said. She looked tired. “They figured it would be less worrying for you two to hear that directly this time, instead of running to the tower in a panic again.”

Sasuke’s frown deepened. “I had a right to worry about an S-rank nukenin sending me weapons in the mail.”

The Chunin shrugged, pale green curls shifting on her shoulder. “Hey, I’m getting paid for this. I’m not complaining, even if it is just busy-work.”

“We’ll be fine,” Satomi assured her. “Thanks for the help.”

“No problem,” the Chunin said, already looking down at the mission scroll in her hand to find her next location. “See ya around, I guess.”

Satomi waited until she was gone to look down at the box in her hands. She looked up at Sasuke with a grin. “You first.”

“What? Why?”

“Because if this goes like last year, I’ll probably be squeeing too hard to get excited about your gift too,” Satomi said, then tapped the box in Sasuke’s hands. “Go on, take a look. I have to leave in a few hours, and you actually have class today.”

“It’s starting late, though. Iruka had a mission or something.”

“Regardless, open the box.” Satomi tapped the box in question again. “C’mon, let’s see it.”

Sasuke rolled his eyes and took a seat on one of the porch chairs, setting the box on his lap as he pulled out a kunai to cut through the tape. Satomi took her own seat on the porch swing, rocking back and forth a little as Sasuke opened the box.

“Cookbooks?” He said after a moment, seemingly confused. “That’s… weird.”

“Thoughtful,” Satomi suggested. “You do like cooking.”

“Yeah, but… since when does Itachi know? Or care? Shouldn’t he be sending weapons or—”

“Box,” Satomi reminded him. “That wasn’t a weapon, now was it?”

“Well, no… but…” Sasuke kept looking down at the cookbooks, sifting through them. “These are pretty, um…”

“Exotic?” Satomi asked, looking closer. “I mean, he seems to have picked them up from all over. At least you can read them?”

Sasuke shrugged, a little uncomfortable. He focused on one book in particular. “Vegan? What does that even mean?”

“That it doesn’t include animal products like meat, eggs, milk, and so on,” Satomi explained, kicking her legs back and forth. “Some people go vegan as a health choice or for ethical reasons.”

“…is it actually healthier, though?” Sasuke asked, looking dubious at the book.

“I mean… ish? It puts a heavier focus on vegetables in your diet, so I’d say that eating vegan some of the time could definitely be an improvement,” Satomi said slowly. “I wouldn’t do it all the way, though, because proteins are hard to come by in just veggies and legumes and fruits and grains and whatnot. I mean, you can find them, but it’s a lot of effort to build a healthy diet solely out of vegan food and honestly I wouldn’t bother with doing it fully. I’m not that committed to ethics. I’d rather worry about how the animals are treated before they're killed, or about potential human rights abuses and—”

“I got the point,” Sasuke said, cutting her off. “I know where the rest of that sentence is going, and we do not have time for it.”

Satomi pouted. “Fiiiiiiiiine. What about the others?”

“They seem… interesting?” Sasuke shrugged. “I don’t know what to say. Open yours.”

Satomi shrugged, and did so, lightly slipping a kunai between the flaps of cardboard to cut up all the tape, and then opened it to find two firm slabs of Styrofoam keeping whatever was in there safe.

Or keeping the box safe from it. Itachi very likely could have sent a weapon.

It required a little more effort than necessary to get the foam out of the box, but she got it out. As she balanced the Styrofoam in her lap, she noticed a card slipped between the two layers.

Try channeling chakra through it. The resulting effects are purely aesthetic, but I felt you’d enjoy the extra details. I had to bribe Sasori again, but I feel that he’s going to start viewing these as a puzzle or challenge, honestly.

- Sincerely, Itachi

Satomi blinked, scanned through the letter again, and then shrugged. Okay. She trusted him.

She pulled the foam apart, and gazed down at what was inside.

She gasped, and didn’t move for a few seconds. She could feel Sasuke getting concerned.

“Are you going to scream again?”

“It’s so shiny…” She cooed, ignoring Sasuke. Careful fingers pried heavy metal out of the nest of foam, hefting it up and spinning it slowly through a simple movement she’d used previously with a bo staff.

“That looks like a weapon,” Sasuke said carefully. “But…not a very practical one.”

“It’s a prop. A replica of something I saw in a story I very much loved. It’s not meant to be used, not really, so I’ll probably hang it up on a wall or something,” Satomi explained carefully. She turned it over in her hands. “In the story, it housed a gem that had magical powers. This version, according to the letter, just lights up if you channel chakra through it.”

Sasuke picked up the letter and scanned through it, mouth twisted into something Satomi wished she couldn’t read into. “That’s… nice? There’s something on the back that’s confusing me.”

“Something on the back?” Satomi asked. She hadn’t seen that. “Lemme see.”

Sasuke wordlessly handed the card over.

Enjoy your glowstick of destiny, little changeling.

Satomi’s first thought was that fucker, because she both was and wasn’t a changeling, technically, and it was really rude yet kind of hilarious for him to point that out.

Laughter won out, though, because Itachi had called the gift by the joking name it had been given, however temporarily, in the movie.

Satomi channeled chakra through the replica of Loki’s staff, spinning it in her hands and giggling as the fake Mind Gem glowed blue. “I love it.”

“You’re so weird,” Sasuke muttered, rolling his eyes, but nonetheless asked, with ill-disguised anticipation in his eyes, “Can I try holding it?”

o.o.o.o.o

“You liar,” Satomi said, grinning. “You didn’t!”

“I’m not lying, and yes, I did.” Neji rolled his eyes, passing over the schedule. “The studio is made with shinobi in mind, so you can shift around classes if you need to for missions.”

“You’re a sweetheart,” Satomi told him, grinning widely as she scanned the paper. They were sitting on the back porch of the Uchiha house. “Seriously, you didn’t have to do this.”

“If I didn’t agree to attend swing dance lessons with you, what kind of best friend would I be?” Neji asked.

“A normal one?”

“Enjoy your birthday present, Uchiha.” Neji rolled his eyes again, and ruffled Satomi’s hair.

“Stop, stop, stop!” Satomi batted his hands away. “My hair…

Neji sighed, but there was still a small smile on his face. He smoothed the strands down and pushed them back into the braid where they’d come out. “Picky.”

“Vain,” Satomi corrected, and smiled when that got a snort of laughter out of Neji. Good. The boy didn’t smile enough at home or school, that was sure.

“Most people wouldn’t say that’s a good thing.”

“I don’t see why not. I’m a pretty person. I put effort into my appearance, at least in some ways. Why shouldn’t I be proud?” Satomi stood up and turned on the spot, her skirt flaring out as she spun. Her curtsy went deep, and she extended one hand in Neji’s direction. “Shall we?”

Neji pressed his lips together, hiding a smile. He took her hand. “We shall.”

Satomi closed her eyes for a moment. A song. She needed a… ah. Téir Abhaile Riú. Yes, that would do.

She plucked the memory from the recesses of her memory, drawn up and preserved by Itachi’s access techniques, and used a genjutsu to start playing it for both herself and Neji.

“You know I don’t know how to dance to this.”

“Neither do I, dude. Just follow along. Let’s make fools of ourselves!”

 He did, of course. Neji had long since learned to dance as Satomi did, and knew when and how to tell her no if he didn’t feel like joining in. Right now, as far as Satomi knew, there was no reason for him to drop out.

“Uh…”

Satomi turned her head towards the back porch, grinning when she saw Hana. “Hey, sempai!”

Hana waved unsurely. “Is there music I can’t hear, or are you just…”

Satomi frowned in concentration, willing her genjutsu to expand past just herself and Neji, to envelop Hana and whoever was inside the house as well.

Hana blinked. “Oh. Well, then, isn’t that something? Is this how you normally practice basic auditory genjutsu?”

“Yep!” Satomi spun out from Neji, spun back in, let him dip her, and then returned to their normal dancing. She giggled.

Hana huffed out a sigh. “Well, I guess that explains why you’re better at auditory genjutsu than the other kinds.”

“Absolutely,” Satomi confirmed, then turned back to Neji. “Hey, let’s do a lift!”

“No.”

“Party-pooper.”

Hinata ducked her head out of the house. “Satomi-chan, Neji-nii-san? We’re almost done with the food, so you guys set the table!”

“On it!” Satomi called back, letting the genjutsu go and grabbing Neji’s wrist to pull him towards the building. “Hana, come with us!”

“Yeah, okay,” Hana said, tucking her hands into her pockets. “Sensei and Sai are on their way, since you invited them. Sai said he was considering bringing his brother?”

“I told him to,” Satomi said, darting up the stairs and bouncing at the top as she waited for Hana. “We still haven’t met Shin. He matters a lot to Sai, though, so I want to know what he’s like.”

“Sure,” Hana said, shrugging and gesturing for the door. “After you, m’dear.”

Satomi rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out, but pranced into the house nonetheless.

o.o.o.o.o

Genma handed over her present privately at the door, rather than further in. It was to avoid awkwardness, Satomi knew. It made sense that Genma only brought a present for Satomi and not Sasuke, but it was still plenty reason for awkwardness.

Satomi blinked down at the fingerless leather gloves nestled inside of packing paper. “Sensei?”

“They’re pretty tough, so they should be able to protect your hands during taijutsu practice, or from when you slip up with your little trick with the chakra strings. It’s also something I want you to wear as often as possible for other reasons.”

“…I’m not following.”

“Satomi, if you wear these, it’s harder for you to self-harm.”

Satomi couldn’t hold back the flinch at those words. “Oh. I, um… I don’t…”

Genma reached out took her hands, curling them around the package. “Wear them. You’ve already been playing around with how you present yourself and how to work your style around what few regulations the non-standard Konoha uniform has. The gloves won’t be that much of a change, and we both know they fit what you normally wear fairly well. They won’t get in the way, other than in ways that help.”

Actually, they would be something of a problem from Satomi’s perspective. They’d make washing her hands and keeping them clean much more of a hassle.

“They’re not washing machine-safe, are they?”

Genma closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly through his nose. “Wear them while you’re on duty, Uchiha. That’s an order.”

“…yes, sir.”

“Besides,” Genma said, putting a hand on her shoulder and maneuvering them both towards the dining room. “I’m going to drag Sai shopping soon anyway. He needs a little more variety in his life, wouldn’t you say?”

“…you’re prepping us for something with that, aren’t you?”

“What kind of a teacher would I be if I didn’t teach you all some bits of my part of the trade? You were going to receive infiltration training eventually. Might as well start now with the small stuff.”

o.o.o.o.o

Shin was… nice. Vaguely so, anyway. He didn’t emote much more than Sai, but he was better at avoiding insults and at least seemed to have some handle on small talk.

He was also rather ill.

“We aren’t actually blood-related,” Shin told them, shaking hands cutting apart his katsudon. He’d requested silverware instead of chopsticks near the start of the meal, claiming that they required less dexterity, and would be easier on his body. “But we were raised together, so we see each other as brothers.”

Sai nodded wordlessly, his eyes fixed on Shin’s hands.

“Well, blood doesn’t always make a family,” Sasuke said, deceptively light. His movements were controlled, but the air got awkward anyway. They all knew what he was talking about.

(It was hard not to, after someone asked about the spear-staff laying as decoration on a table, waiting for a stand of some sort.)

“Sasuke-kun,” Hinata said quietly, elbowing him gently. Her eyes flickered to meet Satomi’s. “Not now.”

He poked at his meal. “Sorry.”

“So,” Satomi says loudly, drawing attention to herself and changing the subject. “You said you’d been trying to find something to work on to enhance your shinobi skills even while undergoing treatment?”

Shin smiled blankly at her. It wasn’t a very convincing expression, but it was the right one for the moment and better than Sai’s. “Ah, yes. I cannot often leave bed, or expend much chakra, so I have been attempting to learn fuuinjutsu. The tremors make it difficult sometimes, but I have good days and bad days, so I can practice on the good days and study theory on the bad ones.”

“Impressive,” Satomi said, swirling her drink in its glass. It was cranberry-apple juice, but it looked enough like wine that Genma snorted in amusement. She grinned at him and continued. “In any case, I’m glad you could come here tonight. We’re always looking to widen our social circle.”

“No, we’re not,” Sasuke argued.

“We should be,” Satomi shot back.

“I mean, you have a pretty good network regardless,” Hana interrupted. “Like the several hundred people you’re renting out to.”

Satomi shrugged. “Nobody wants to live in a ghost town, but I make prices affordable. They’re not much of a network, though. Just renters. I want actual friends and stuff.”

“Then what does that make me?” Neji asked.

“My bestie and my sidekick, but I need more. I crave interpersonal relationships. I’m a hungry dragon that hoards connections. Rawr.” Satomi kept her face completely straight.

There was a moment of silence, which was then broken by Hinata’s giggle, hidden behind her hands. Hana joined in with a snicker, and even Shin and Genma cracked smiles.

“You’re so weird,” Sasuke groaned, burying his face in his hands.

“It’s okay,” Satomi said, patting Neji on the shoulder. “You’re the second-biggest jewel in the collection.”

“Should I feel offended that I’m not the first?” Neji asked.

“Do you want to compete with my actual twin?”

“Fair enough.”

“Thank you for accepting your silver-medal status.”

“I’m concerned about the sidekick comment, but I’d really rather argue the dragon thing. I don’t think you’re quite large or scary enough to be one of them, Satomi.”

“And what would you suggest?”

“A bird of some sort, perhaps? The Uchiha were fairly well-known for their ties to both cats and birds, after all.”

“Magpies do love to steal shiny things, my dear Neji.”

“And there’s been at least one corvid contract in your family, from what I know.”

“I don’t know if it covers all corvids.”

“It could still be a sign, Satomi.”

“I guess I’m a magpie, then.”

“They do have the most unnerving laughs.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Don’t you always?”

“And this is why the Hyuuga clan elders are expecting you to actually go through with the contract,” Sasuke said.

Satomi made a face. “Ugh, don’t remind me. I want to think about that as little as possible.”

“I really don’t think I’m old enough for that kind of decision,” Neji said.

“I don’t even know if I like boys yet,” Satomi added.

(She’d been aroace before. She kind of expected that pattern to hold true in this life as well. Given all the age differences that would be in play due to her physical and mental ages contrasting to such a degree, it didn’t really matter, since romances would be creepy in any direction, but still. She’d like to know.)

“Good luck with that,” Hana said, raising her glass in a mocking toast. “Took me until last year to realize I was gay.”

“Yeah?”

“Took me until I was twenty-three to realize I was bi,” Genma offered. “You have time.”

Satomi shook her head. “I mean, thanks? I guess? I’m just planning to ignore the entire concept of romance and sex until something proves me one way or the other. Or both. Or neither. Or whatever, there’s a lot of options.”

“Once again,” Hana said. “Good luck with that.”

“And once you do find out what kinds of people you’re attracted to,” Genma said, eyes sliding over to Hana, “Try not to start pining over people outside your acceptable age range.”

“Oh my god, Sensei, let it go.”

“Anko still laughs at me, Hana. A six-year age difference isn’t going to do you any favors for a while yet.”

“First of all, it’s only a few years until I’m old enough that almost any age difference is negligible, and second of all, you were the one that said anything to her at all!”

“Hana, you’re my student and I love you, but subtle about your affections, you are not. Anko knew before I said anything, and—”

“Oh my god, please stop,” Hana whined, pushing her plate away so she could drop her head into her arms.

Satomi laughed quietly behind one hand.

“Anyway,” Genma said, taking pity on Hana’s pitiful form, “I did find us a mission that fit your request from the other day.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, kid. It’s a simple one, but it’ll do the trick.”

It wasn’t their first mission, of course.

It would be the first mission to go entirely off the rails, however, and would set them on the path they’d take towards the rest of their careers.