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Hear the Silence

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The new mission meant she missed Yuuta's funeral.

Tou-san and Ryota both assured her it was okay, that it wasn't her fault, but Kyo still felt bad about it and made the two men promise to take her to the grave as soon as she came back.

They all got so incredibly busy it felt like no time at all before she turned seven.

Kyo felt like they'd been running back and forth to the border so many times they might as well have run thrice around Fire Country by now.

She'd gotten a few scars, accidentally gave Maki food poisoning once -it was very important to remember to wash your hands after handling poisonous plants- and Taku had broken his leg during one mission when they'd been intercepted by a small group of Iwa Chuunin when they'd made a run up to the Kusa border.

Earth jutsu were scary, and it was lucky Taku hadn't lost his leg, rather than just broken it.

Genma had turned one year old, and got a small party.

Tou-san and kaa-san were both home, for once, Ryota was there and Kyo invited her team. Katsurou sensei had politely declined but Maki, Taku and Kisaki had all showed up. With presents.

Genma loved his stuffed dog, and Isshun had very much appreciated the very cute t-shirt Maki's mother had sent with him.

“I can't believe we never got time for that tour of the green houses,” a familiar voice said cheerfully behind her.

Kyo turned around with a bemused smile. “Hello to you, too, Inoichi,” she greeted placidly. “How've you been?”

“Busy,” Inoichi said. “Did you get taller?”

“I'd hope so,” Kyo snorted, giving him a slightly narrow-eyed look. She didn't want to be as short as a six year old for the rest of her life; that'd make her current career rather difficult.

“Since your team's not with you, does that mean you're not busy?” He asked curiously, glancing around as if waiting for her teammates to pop up out of nowhere.

Which didn't sound outside the realm of possibilities, actually, now that she thought about it.

“Sure,” she said. “You still want to show me your green-houses,” she guessed. She'd planned to go visit one of the many blacksmiths in Konoha to buy more needles, but she could do that later.

“Yeah,” Inoichi grinned a tad self-consciously. “That, and also make friends. You seem like a person it would be nice to keep on your good side, you know?”

Kyo's lips stretched in a smile. “I'm sure Taku and Maki would agree with you,” was all she said. “I take it that means you're not busy either? You want to go right now?”

“If you don't mind?” Inoichi perked up at the prospect of actually getting this done. Almost a year after he'd first brought it up, but better late than never!

“Sure,” Kyo agreed, readily enough falling into step when the eleven year old Inoichi began to lead her down the street towards his Clan compound.

“Most Yamanaka don't actually live in the compound any more,” he confessed on the way. “They've been converted mostly to farm lands.”

“I always figured Katsurou-sensei lived somewhere in the Village on his own,” Kyo said. And this confirmed it, didn't it?

One step closer to figuring it out!

She really wanted that sleepover at Katsurou's place, okay? He'd agreed... on the condition that she figured out where he lived on her own, and she wasn't allowed to stalk him.

Katsurou-sensei was such a party-pooper.

“You don't know where your sensei live?” Inoichi asked, blinking confusedly at her.

“No, because Katsurou is a stubborn, grumpy old man who hates to have fun,” Kyo told him seriously. “You should look into that; he's your uncle, right?”

“We're related,” Inoichi corrected absently, before he snorted. “Shinzu-sensei lives in the Sarutobi compound so that's pretty easy.”

“Lucky you,” Kyo teased. “Hey, do you ever hang out there?”

“Rarely,” Inoichi shrugged, “but it has happened.”

“Have you ever bumped into the Hokage?” She asked curiously. Kyo still hadn't gotten to meet Sarutobi Hiruzen, herself.

It might have something to do with how busy he must be as the war dragged on, the fighting getting more vicious and the slowly but steadily dwindling numbers of active shinobi kept stretching the rest of them thin.

“Once,” Inoichi admitted with a slight grimace. “It was... awkward.”

“Tou-san says he really likes the Sandaime, though,” Kyo mused, crossing her arms over her chest and absently following the outline of a few hidden senbon with the tip of her index finger where they rested under her clothes.

“He seemed nice,” the blond boy hurriedly assured. “It was just a bit intimidating.”

Kyo smiled. “I bet. So is this it?” She asked, peering up at the rather nondescript gate.

“Yep.” Inoichi instantly regained the full force of his good mood.

“No guard?” She asked curiously.

“Not a Yamanaka one,” Inoichi said, smiling innocently when Kyo glanced at him.

So ANBU, then? Kyo supposed it would make quite a bit of sense if this was where they grew stuff like medicinal herbs for the hospital and food for emergencies.

“I seem to recall being lured here with the promise of poisonous plants,” Kyo said instead of pestering Inoichi to tell her more about a subject she was pretty sure she'd already figured out on her own.

Inoichi pouted at her for all of a second, before quickly pulling her towards one of the green-houses in the very back of the compound, placed in a shadier spot than the rest.

Kyo could admit to being rather intrigued.

“Here, put these on,” Inoichi said, handing her a pair of thick leather gloves with an interesting collection of stains when they stepped through into the moist, almost sweltering heat inside.

Kyo stared bemusedly at the much-too-large gloves and then put them aside.

Inoichi was already walking down the stone path, so he didn't notice.

She followed eagerly, paying close attention to the plants they walked passed. Most of them had dark, thick leaves, often large and fuzzy. Other plants looked like innocent flowers, almost misplaced amongst the more visibly toxic vegetation.

“I know most of these,” Kyo admitted, running fond fingers over the leaves of a Bloodroot. “And even the ones I don't know by name I'm familiar with.”

“This is the Fire Country section,” Inoichi admitted cheerfully. “Don't touch that!” He added hastily when he saw what she was doing. “It'll give you a bad rash. Why didn't you put on the gloves?”

“It's fine,” Kyo grinned and held out her hand for Inoichi to see. Not the slightest discolouration in sight.

“How?” Inoichi asked, staring at her hand, inspecting every finger he'd seen touch the Bloodroot leaf. “I've touched that one; it's super itchy!”

“Immune,” Kyo chirped happily. Was this how her mum had felt all those years ago?

Inoichi's eyes boggled. “Immune?” He repeated confusedly.

“Mhm,” Kyo hummed, reached out to pick a small leaf off the stem of the Bloodroot and put it in her mouth, crushed it between her teeth and then swallowing.

“Oh, Kami.” Inoichi sounded faint, “I have to take you to the hospital. Tou-chan's going to be furious with me,” he fretted.

“Relax. I told you; I'm immune,” Kyo shrugged, not as bothered as she probably should be. If anything, she was rather amused by the blond's reaction.

Ah, her past self would probably be appalled. Or, she mused uncertainly, inappropriately entertained.

She couldn't quite decide.

“I still think we should seek out a medic,” Inoichi insisted, watching her closely for any signs of an adverse reaction.

“I promise I will let you take me to the hospital if I get the least bit sick, okay?” Kyo compromised, looking further down the green-house. “What else have you got in here?”

“Uh, we have some plants from other countries, too,” Inoichi said slowly, giving her a worried look, before he began to go further into the oblong space. “These ones are from Kiri,” he said, a measure of his earlier enthusiasm slowly seeping back into his voice.

Kyo peered at the plants, wondering if it'd be alright to ask for samples. Not that it would be enough to get herself used to them, but still.

“How potent are they?” She asked, poking a bit experimentally at one of them, until Inoichi's nervous fluttering was enough to make her back off. She didn't want to accidentally damage a rare plant from another country.

That would've been awkward. And probably expensive, not to mention the possible grudge from the Yamanaka Clan and any potential medics that would need the plant for their work.

Right, better not to touch anything she couldn't replace.

“Not very, I think. They're mostly meant for the hospital, remember.” The boy smiled. “Wouldn't want to accidentally kill the patients.”

“As far as I've understood it, the most dangerous plants can sometimes do the most good,” Kyo mused. Not that she knew anything about how that worked; she could only kill people with them.

The rest of the tour was interesting, but since Kyo's knowledge of the local -and not so local- vegetation was limited to ending people's lives rather than helping them... she felt it was largely wasted on her.

“What were you even doing when I ambushed you?” Inoichi asked when they finally left the humid heat of the green-house behind.

“Heading to the blacksmith.” Kyo smiled. “And I still have to go; wanna come?”

“Sure.” Inoichi seemed rather happy she had asked. “Are you getting anything in particular?”

“My order should be ready by now, so I'm picking it up.” Kyo barely resisted the desire to laugh. She'd placed her order a couple of months ago, actually, and she just hadn't had the time to swing by until now. Team Six had been swamped with missions lately, running all over the country.

“Oh.” Inoichi blinked, looking vaguely sheepish. “Sorry.”

“That's okay; this was a very nice break from training and missions,” she said honestly. Which was what most of her days consisted of. “I just need to re-stock, is all.”

“Yeah.” The boy sighed. “It feels like I've been out of the village more than in it lately.”

“Us and everyone else,” Kyo muttered.

Kaa-san was doing missions again, her maternity leave having been cut rather short. Kyo had been two before Isshun had been sent back out, but Genma hadn't even gotten to turn one.

She hated this war.

“Welcome,” the man behind the counter said when Kyo pushed open the door and stepped inside, Inoichi right behind her.

“Hey, ossan.” Kyo smiled.

“Ah, young Shiranui-san, you finally grace me with your presence!” Toumi-ossan exclaimed affably, getting to his feet with a friendly grin. “Let me get your order, sweetie.”

“Thank you,” Kyo said, waiting calmly by the counter.

Inoichi browsed the store while pretending not to be itching with curiosity.

“You know, you can come over here if you want to,” she said idly, watching Inoichi startle minutely from the corner of her eye, before he approached her with a sheepish grin.

“Sorry. Tou-chan says I'm too curious for my own good.” He shrugged, but didn't seem particularly apologetic. If anything, he looked a bit chagrined at having been caught out.

Kyo shrugged.

“Here we are, young miss.” Toumi-ossan came back, quite the hefty package held in one hand. “Your selection, as ordered,” he said, and proceeded to place the package on the counter, unfold the leather wrappings to reveal quite the few bunts of needles.

Kyo picked up a few random ones, each one from a different bundle, and tried them carefully like kaa-san had showed her.

Weight, quality and shape were all important when you used as much precision as their particular specialisation required.

“If you'd like to try a few,” Toumi-ossan said, removing a few tools to reveal a wooden post that was littered with plenty of marks from a wide variety of weapons.

“Thank you, if I may?” She asked, mentioning towards the post with a hand, two needles already slotted between her fingers.

“Of course, Shiranui-san,” Toumi-ossan said, backing away and well out of the firing line. “Go ahead.”

Kyo flicked her wrist and fingers, sending the needles through the air with little effort. They stuck quite firmly in the wood, too, though she hadn't used enough force for them to be difficult to get out.

“Excellent as always, ossan.” Kyo smiled. “How much do I owe you?”

While Kyo and Toumi discussed prices, Inoichi picked up one of the small needles, inspecting it curiously.

Kyo didn't mind; the thing hadn't been coated in poison yet, and was obviously no more dangerous than your average sewing needle. If more durable.

“Always a pleasure doing business with you, Shiranui-san! Give my best to your mother,” Toumi-ossan said once she'd handed over the agreed upon amount of money. Quite the sum, admittedly, but this was a rather large batch.

She'd been running low, so she'd decided to splurge.

Not that Kyo was spending much money on other things, and having had a steady pay for a little over a year now, she had more than enough saved up it wasn't an issue.

Unlike most people, Kyo made all of her own poisons, so that wasn't an expense. Unless you counted time as an expense, but... eh. It was fun, if a bit tedious at times, but she was so used to it by now she hardly even thought about it.

Her parents paid for living expenses, obviously, so she just had to buy the occasional snack, her own weapons and anything else she might want to get.

Isshun had sat her down and discussed what she should spend her pay on and what she and Kou would provide a few months after she'd made Genin.

Kyo had been more than willing to get her own weapons, but had asked if it was alright for them to help a bit with her wardrobe, depending on how much she had to spend on it.

She was still growing, and that wasn't even counting the amount of clothes that had to be thrown away due to pure, simple damage.

Taku had even managed to burn one of her shirts to a crisp during training a few months ago, so.

Kaa-san had smiled and told her, for all that she was legally an adult and earning her own wages, she was still their child, and should try to keep that in mind.

“You're not getting anything?” Kyo asked Inoichi, who shook his head. “Okay.” She shrugged and wrapped her purchase up again.

It was heavy, but nothing she wasn't used to or couldn't handle, so that wasn't a problem.

“Well, I have a lot to do now, Inoichi, but it was nice to spend time with you.” Kyo smiled at the boy, who grinned back.

“Let's do it again, sometime,” he agreed eagerly. “It was surprisingly nice to spend time with someone who isn't either of my stupid teammates.”

“Right?” Kyo snickered an agreement. “See ya later, Inoichi!”

“Bye!” The boy returned.

Kyo gave him one last nod and then ran up the side of the closest building. She wanted to get home as soon as possible and get started on the rather overwhelming task in front of her.

She had a lot of needles to coat with poison.

.

About a month later, Katsurou-sensei spoke up before they could scatter after the day's training.

They'd been focusing mostly on elemental jutsu, which was interesting, because Kyo and Taku were devastating together, so Katsurou had taken them to a rather sizeable lake to practice over; no one wanted them to set all of Konoha on fire.

Turns out, fire jutsu amplified by wind jutsu were absolutely terrifying.

Kyo's inner pyromaniac was silently but gleefully ecstatic.

“Kyo, wait a moment; there's something I wish to discuss with you,” Katsurou sensei said, making her stop in her tracks and give him a curious look before she could dash back home to kaa-san and Genma.

Taku and Maki both glanced questioningly at her, but Kyo merely shrugged; she had no idea what this was about.

“What is it, sensei?” She asked curiously, absently scratching at the healing burn on her left forearm, watching her teammates reluctantly wander off. Accidents happened, and Taku had apologized several times, despite her assurances that it was alright.

It wasn't like he'd burned her on purpose.

“Come,” Katsurou said instead of giving her any sort of explanation.

With a mental shrug, Kyo happily fell into step next to him. Or, more like bouncing along next to him, munching on one of her energy bars while she was at it.

She'd planned to eat something first thing when she got back home, but with this delay -for who knew how long- this would tide her over until she got access to real food.

Katsurou gave her an amused glance, wordlessly handed her a rations bar when she finished and walked on in silence.

Grinning at her sensei, Kyo bit into the less tasty, but definitely more nutritionally correct treat. She was a young, small, growing girl who spent most of her time physically active; she needed to eat as much as she could.

And it never hurt to have something edible to throw at Taku's head whenever he got grumpy as his blood-sugar fell.

“Are you gonna tell me what this's about, sensei?” She finally asked, stuffing the empty wrappings in one of her many pockets to throw away later.

“No,” Katsurou said, sounding all casual and not at all bothered by the frown Kyo graced him with as she peered up at his calm face. “Not yet,” he added after a too-long pause, mouth curling into an amused smile.

Kyo huffed a sigh. “You can be so annoying, sensei,” she told him honestly, though she was rather entertained in addition to being mildly vexed.

“It's my only joy in life,” the man mused, scanning the street around them in a seemingly-casual manner she'd seen him do during missions often enough it made her follow suit automatically.

Looking for a threat that most likely wasn't there.

Konoha was safe, but it wasn't air-tight. At least it made the chances of being outright attacked minimal.

Kyo sighed, but didn't stop walking next to him. She blinked a little when she realised where he was taking her.

Or, maybe not exactly where, specifically, but what type of area they were in.

There were houses and a couple of small-ish apartment complexes a few streets further on, which made her realise this was without a doubt a residential area.

She perked up. “Am I going to get to see where you live?” She asked, latching onto Katsurou's hand before she could consider the possible repercussions of the action.

Right. Don't grab Jounin without warning.

Thankfully, Katsurou merely gave her an amused look and slowly curled his fingers around hers', tentatively but readily enough.

It made her grin happily and bounce on the balls of her feet, swinging his hand back and forth slightly.

Her sensei let her, with an indulgent snort.

“Come on,” he said, turning off the street, quite clearly heading towards one of the houses. “Don't touch anything,” he added before he opened the door.

Kyo gave him an offended look. “I'm not stupid,” she muttered under her breath, letting go of Katsurou to take off her shoes and put them neatly on the floor in the sparse hallway.

She had learned the lesson of see-but-not-touch very early on in her first life; her mother then had been a goldsmith. Lots of small, shiny, very expensive trinkets to go around and her then-mother would have without a doubt cried if she or either of her siblings had displaced something.

She'd spent enough time crawling around on the floor looking for dropped diamonds and other kinds of precious jewels as it was.

They hadn't been allowed to touch anything on her work bench, but Kyo had quickly figured out that if she put stuff back exactly as she found them, her then-mother wouldn't notice, and -most of all- wouldn't mind.

“Tea?” Katsurou-sensei asked idly as he wandered into the house, Kyo trailing a bit nervously after him.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, peering around at the rather Spartan home. “What's this about, sensei?” She finally asked, settling down at Katsurou's kitchen table.

She was small enough it was more comfortable to sit on her folded legs on the chair, which gave a few extra centimetres of height.

“You,” Katsurou returned evenly, taking a sip of his tea, eyeing her calmly, a considering look on his face.

“Me?” Kyo blinked confusedly.

“You've been my students for a little over a year now,” he said. “I am very good at what I do, and there are some things that just don't quite,” he paused to tilt his head, “add up. About you, Kyo.”

Kyo stared at Katsurou, fingers tightening around the tea cup she'd been provided with and mouth feeling like it had dried up the moment those words left Katsurou's lips.

“You're not in trouble, if that's what you're worried about,” the man continued sedately, bringing his mug to his lips for another sip of tea. “If that'd been the case, I would've brought you to T&I rather than my house.”

Which was only mildly reassuring.

Kyo swallowed thickly and couldn't think of a single thing to say.

Couldn't really think much of anything, actually.

She was drawing a blank.

When it became apparent that she wouldn't be able to speak anything comprehensible for a while, Katsurou-sensei put his tea down and gave her an intent, considering look.

“I'll speak and you'll listen,” he said, and it wasn't quite an order, but it was clear that he expected his words to be followed.

Kyo nodded jerkily.

“You're a very intelligent young girl; bright, curious, polite, surprisingly mature and even-tempered. Patient. All things that, together, are very rare to find in prodigies,” Katsurou mused, tone casual but eyes sharp.

All Kyo could think in response to that was, “I'm not a prodigy,” she blurted.

Katsurou tilted his head. “I admit that you're not as intelligent as the Nara heir, for example, but you have something young Shikaku does not,” he leaned forward a fraction in his seat. “You're wise, Kyo. That's very rare for a child your age.”

Wise.

The problem was that she was wise?

Okay, she was maybe having a small mental freak-out, but that didn't mean she couldn't appreciate the irony of the situation.

She'd been called that her first life, too. Along with precocious and things like brainy and 'know-it-all', however fondly it'd been said. That last one always made her want to snort. She liked to learn, that didn't mean she knew everything!

Contrary to what her sister had always insisted.

Katsurou-sensei looked content to wait her out, because when she finally returned to the present, he was calmly sipping his tea, looking like he didn't have a care in the world.

“Are you sure I'm not in trouble?” She couldn't help but ask quietly, trying and failing to unclench her fingers from around the poor ceramics cup that she might accidentally break before this conversation was over.

Katsurou gave her a long, serious look before he nodded. “You've been my student for a year now, Kyo,” he repeated solemnly. “If anyone tries to claim something ridiculous like you're an infiltrated enemy shinobi, they'll have to answer to me, understood?”

Which was mildly reassuring.

“I figure I died.”

The words just slipped out and Kyo let go of the cup to slap both hands over her mouth instead. Her palms were too hot from having pressed them to the tea cup for so long and it felt like they were threatening to burn her.

When Katsurou did nothing but gaze patiently at her, she cautiously lowered her hands.

“Before I was Kyo,” she tentatively elaborated, watching her sensei with wary attention.

Katsurou hummed, slowly lowering his tea cup back down to the table. “Reincarnation. Very rare, but not entirely unheard of,” he mused. “How much do you remember?”

“All of it?” Kyo offered slowly, twisting her fingers together nervously in her lap. “Except the last bit; that's still a bit foggy, but I think I know how I died anyway.”

“How old were you?” Katsurou asked, a spark of real interest in his eyes.

“Twenty six. Possibly twenty seven.” She sighed. She'd been young; hadn't really gotten the chance to live properly, either.

Yeah, she was slightly bitter about it.

“When did you start to remember?” Sensei asked next, relaxing further in his seat, which Kyo found calming.

Which was no doubt intentional, but she'd always taken her cues from body-language more than anything else. Something Katsurou knew.

Kyo frowned. “When I became aware of myself, you mean?” She asked, and it was admittedly weird, bordering on the absurd, to be talking about this with anyone after so long. “Sometime after I turned one.” She shrugged. “It was weird learning to walk and talk again,” she muttered, more to herself.

Katsurou hummed. “Kyo, would you agree to let me perform a Mind-Walk?” He eventually asked.

Kyo bit her lip, staring up at sensei. “To look at my memories,” she concluded apprehensively.

Katsurou nodded, but didn't say anything. Or move other than that, really.

“They're not really all that interesting,” she said softly. “It's a bit sad.”

Sensei's lips curled into a small, humourless smile that made her feel all kinds of bad.

Her Before life was nothing compared to the average shinobi life, she fully realised, but... there was just something sad about a life not really lived. Youth squandered, and all that.

“Okay,” she said.

For all that it was worth, she trusted Katsurou-sensei.

The man blinked, actually looking faintly surprised, as if he'd expected having to cajole and gently wheedle her to agree.

“Let's move this into the living room, then,” he only said.

“Okay, sensei,” Kyo answered, leaving her cooling tea on the table as she wandered after the Yamanaka to the other room.

.

Kyo settled nervously on the floor in front of her sensei, watching the man a bit warily, despite her best efforts.

She trusted him.

She really did.

It was just scary, sharing something she hadn't spoken about in the last seven years with someone she really respected. Something not even her parents knew about.

“You ready?” Katsurou-sensei asked.

“Yeah,” Kyo replied shakily. At least she wouldn't have to tell him everything; he'd be able to see for himself.

“I will do the hand signs for the Mind-Walk and then place my hand on your forehead,” Katsurou told her soothingly. “It won't hurt, but it might feel mildly disorienting.”

“Okay,” Kyo said quietly, taking a deep breath. “Do you need me to take off my hitai-ate?”

“It would make it easier, but it's not a requirement,” Katsurou said dismissively, giving her a small smile.

Kyo pulled the piece of metal and durable cloth off her head, wiping a hand over her forehead to make sure it wasn't unreasonably sweaty.

“I'm ready, sensei. I think.” She smiled nervously, having to fight not to fidget. “Is it going to take long?”

Katsurou-sensei hummed neutrally. “It will feel longer than it'll really be,” he said with a small twitch of one shoulder that served as a shrug.

“Okay,” she breathed, taking another deep breath. “Do I have to watch them, too?” She understood why sensei would want and or need to, but she didn't particularly want to watch her boring past life when she already knew what had happened.

“No, not if you don't want to,” Katsurou said kindly, reaching out to tentatively ruffle her hair.

What was with people and her hair?

“Okay, you can do it now, sensei,” Kyo finally said, feeling marginally more sure about this.

Katsurou eyed her carefully a moment, before he nodded.

He formed a quick series of hand-seals, and then gently placed his palm on her forehead.

Kyo closed her eyes and slowly released the breath she'd been holding in her lungs.

It felt strange.

Like meditating. She was aware of the memories in her head being examined, though she didn't 'watch' them as Katsurou-sensei no doubt did, she was still very much aware of them.

By the end of it, no more than fifteen minutes had passed, and while Kyo hadn't done anything other than sit there, she felt exhausted and her cheeks were wet.

Katsurou slowly removed his hand from her forehead, a small frown on his face as he gave her a thoughtful look.

“You were sick,” he said quietly.

Kyo nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I was tired all the time.” She sniffled. “I tried really hard, but it was never enough and the medicine wasn't working as it should.” She shrugged.

“It does explain why you hold up so well in the face of exhaustion,” Katsurou mused. “You had family,” he said next, not really giving her any time to adjust to the abrupt shift in topic.

“Yeah,” she rubbed at her eyes one last time and then picked up her hitai-ate from the floor beside her. “I really miss my then-mother and the siblings I had,” she admitted quietly.

“Not your father?” Katsurou asked neutrally.

Kyo's expression twisted briefly. “Not really. He was...” She frowned, trying to find words to explain. “Happy to pretend our childhood basically never happened. That our relationship was perfect and he never did anything wrong.” Which had never sat well with her. She'd been perfectly willing to disregard all of that, mostly, to play nice and do her best to get along -for her brother's sake more than her own- but she'd never been able to stomach just ignoring everything. As if it hadn't happened.

Katsurou's mouth flattened ever so slightly.

“...Sensei, what does this mean?” She finally asked, voice small and barely audible.

“For you? Not much,” Katsurou said on a sigh. “There will be a note in your personal file, though the highly classified version only, for basically just the Hokage's eyes and a few more potentials, depending on what career path you end up on.”

Kyo sighed and pulled her knees up to her chest, contemplating the rather bizarre situation she found herself in.

“There was a story, in the Before,” she eventually said, voice barely audible. “It was about this place.”

“Hm?” Katsurou made an inquiring noise, and when she glanced at him, he was watching her intently.

“There was a theory, back in that place; I read it somewhere,” she paused, “it said that every story in existence was merely a reflection of a world out there,” she bit her lower lip hard enough she had to consciously make sure she didn't accidentally make herself bleed. “It's the only explanation I have,” she whispered.

She could tell that Katsurou was processing the information she had just given him, what it might mean.

“It's not been very accurate so far, though,” she continued on a small, breathy laugh. She wiped at her face again. “But that story was written for children,” she admitted.

Katsurou scoffed, giving her an incredulous look.

“No matter what Academy children claim, shinobi life is not a bed-time adventure story,” the man said disapprovingly.

Kyo snickered. It was very true.

“Are you gonna treat me differently now, sensei?” Kyo asked after a long stretch of silence.

“Absolutely not,” Katsurou said without pause. “If anything, this just means you're even more annoying,” he grumbled brusquely.

All bark and no bite. Kyo smiled up at her stupid sensei, taking in his relaxed, open body-language. He wasn't holding himself differently, but-

“You're a very good actor, though, sensei,” she said with a slight smile. “I won't really know.”

“And you're wise to realise it, my dear little monster Genin,” Katsurou drawled, amusement all but dripping from his voice. “Now let's get you home, before you make a nest or something; I'll never get rid of you then.”

“Oh, yeah, sensei.” Kyo perked up a little. “We're definitely having our next sleep-over here, now. You have to join in.” She grinned half-heartedly.

The look Katsurou sent her was enough to make her laugh.

It was weak and just a fraction of her usual cheer, but it was better.

She felt better. Lighter.

If anyone had to know, Katsurou-sensei was the person she'd pick.

-x-x-x-