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Naruto is used to being shunned by now. After all, he's four years old and knows exactly what to expect from the world. So, when two shinobi invite him to the forest to show him "fancy ninja moves" guaranteed to impress everyone get him new friends, how could he say no? The strongest shinobi always has the most friends, he reasons. Therefore, all he has to do is get stronger and everyone will start liking him.

Soon, Naruto will be able to outshine the old man Hokage and become Hokage himself. That would show the old geezer! Still, nothing could have prepared Naruto for the special lesson the shinobi had planned for him. When they had been walking deep into the forest for several minutes the shinobi stopped and declared the clearing as their destination. It was filled with tall grass that make Naruto's legs itch when it brushes up against him. Wildflowers dot the tiny clearing, swaying with the wind. The full moon gave them plenty of light along with their lanterns now that the canopy of trees wasn't blocking the moonlight. Naruto is usually asleep by now, but he can fight against his fatigue to learn some ninja techniques. Besides, it's not like anyone will notice Naruto snuck out. They never did.

Naruto began to chatter excitedly about his cool new moves when he was suddenly knocked to the ground with a hard blow to the back of his head. He tastes dirt and grass while he felt the world shift listlessly underneath him. After that, all he knows is pain after he is struck repeatedly with blunted objects again and again. Eventually, his cries for help fade as he slips into blissful unconsciousness.

He wakes up with shallow water lapping at his face. He blearily blinks his eyes open to see iron bars lit dimly from an unseen light source. In front of his face, behind the bars, he notices the giant red paw before he hears a low growl echoing all around him. Naruto pushes himself to his knees with a jolt. The growl shakes the whole cavern all the way down to his bones. He peers between the bars and is shocked to see a massive red fox with many tails twisting about in agitation. The fox laughs at Naruto's slack jaw expression with a dark chuckle.

Naruto gulps and clenches his fists as he stands up. He takes a big breath to calm his nerves and opens his mouth, no sound coming out. He closes his mouth after he realizes he has no idea what to say to a giant fox. Well, he guesses things can't get much worse now that he's dead, because he must be dead. This must be the Pure Land, though it looks a lot different than the picture book at the orphanage suggested. The author must have been a bad artist if he got it so completely wrong. Regardless, if this was the Pure Land Naruto was determined to make a friend here, even if that friend was a scary giant fox. Death would be different than the life he came from.

"Mr. Fox, my name is Naruto Uzumaki and I'm gonna be the strongest shinobi in all of Konoha and everyone is gonna be my friend! Even you!" Naruto declared with the earnestness that only a young child could muster, before he remembered he was dead and couldn't befriend all of Konoha anymore. "Well, I was gonna be the strongest, but I guess I can't anymore since I'm dead."

Mr. Fox regarded him for a long moment before breaking down in uncontrollable laughter. He sure likes to laugh a lot, Naruto thought to himself. Maybe he's the kind of fox that likes pranks, too.

"You're not dead, runt," Mr. Fox said after winding down from his laughing fit, "Not yet anyway. You're very close to dying soon unless you release me from this prison."

"What are you talking about?" Mr. Fox grins viciously at Naruto's question.

"Once you release me, I'll rip those filthy humans to shreds and kill everyone that ever scorned you. They'll scream and beg for their lives as I tear their-" Mr. Fox growls out with a bloodthirsty rage before Naruto screams to get him to stop.

"No! You can't do that! It's not nice to kill people!"

"Not nice? You understand that they're trying to kill you right now, don't you? They lost their chance for nice," Mr. Fox sneered, "Now free me so I can pay them back everything they deserve and more!"

"No! Not if you're gonna hurt people," Naruto stomped his foot down, "I won't be your friend if all you're gonna do is be mean and hurt people."

"Whoever said I wanted to be your friend you snot nosed brat? This is our chance at revenge on Konoha."

"I don't want revenge. I won't let you hurt anyone! I'll show you how great everyone is and then you'll have to be nice and be my friend!" Naruto glared at the fox, daring him to contradict him. As the future Hokage it was his duty to stop murderous foxes from attacking the village.

"Fine, you want to go back to those 'great' people killing you, be my guest. I'll give you another chance to suffer under their hands and we'll see how soon you come crawling back to me, begging for their blood. Then, we'll see what's so great about Konoha." Mr. Fox gave one final huff of annoyance before turning his back to Naruto and settling down to sleep again. The prison before him began to fade and suddenly he was falling down and further down into nothingness.

In what felt like forever and no time at all, Naruto wakes with a gasp and bolts up with a start. Two shinobi are before him and Naruto instinctively backs up against a tree with his arms shielding his face, fearful of further attacks. When no blows land on him after a moment, he peeks through his arms. Their faces are partially cast in shadow, but a nearby lantern lights up just enough of their faces for Naruto to realize these are two completely different shinobi. He lowers his arms cautiously trying to get a sense of who the two before him were. One turns out to be much younger than he had initially assumed, with dark hair and eyes. The other is older and has much lighter hair in a spiky ponytail and blue eyes. The younger of the two begins frantically shoving his hand in Naruto's face.

"How many fingers am I holding up? Who's the current Hokage? Do you remember what day it is? Or night? Do-" He asks rapid fire questions Naruto can't keep up with or answer quickly enough before the older man shushes his companion. Naruto stares at the both wide eyed.

"The boy is in shock. Give him some breathing room, Shisui." The older man chides before turning to Naruto. "It's Naruto, right?"

Naruto nods mechanically, not trusting himself to talk yet. The man is looking at him so softly with kind eyes. Nobody has ever looked at Naruto like that before.

"My name is Inoichi Yamanaka and this is Shisui Uchiha. He beat up those bad men that were hurting you. They won't be coming back. You're safe now." His tone is soothing after listening to Mr. Fox's gravelly voice."Can you show me where you're hurt? I don't want to move you the wrong way and make it worse."

Naruto considers his question. He feels perfectly fine, even better than fine, now that he thinks about it. He shakes his head.

"I'm okay, Mr. Yamanaka." The two share a Look that Naruto has come to know means that adults don't believe him. Naruto looks down at himself preparing to show them how he didn't have so much as a scratch on him, but then he notices he's covered in sticky blood. Naruto's stomach does a flip and he squirms around, scrunching up his nose. On second thought, he is very much not fine and blood is very gross and uncomfortable to sit in.

"We should take him to see the Hokage and-" Shisui starts to suggest, but Mr. Yamanaka is already shaking his head before the young teen can finish.

"It's safer if everyone believes those two succeeded. The Hokage's rules protects the village's feelings, not Naruto."

"So you want to lie to the Hokage?" Shisui asks incredulously.

"What would you do if Naruto was an Uchiha? What would you do to protect someone who was in danger due to the prejudice of people? They would be under constant threat just for existing. Sometimes situations call for drastic measures. The Hokage can't remain neutral about something like this, he has to answer to the village even at the cost of a child's life. This would be better for everyone. Naruto gets a happy childhood and the village gets to live in fearless bliss."

Shisui frowns with a far off look, contemplating Mr. Yamanaka's words. Naruto tries to understand what he said, but there were too many confusing things only adults can understand. He can't understand why adults always make everything so complicated. He does understand that an important decision is being made by Shisui, so he tries to let him think in peace. He hopes he decides soon, Naruto is feeling pretty gross and wants to change soon.

"Alright," Shisui sighs after what feels like an eternity to Naruto, "What do you suggest we do then?"

"Between my being head of T and I and your 'suggestions' it will be a simple matter of convincing those two that they succeeded. Nobody would think to check otherwise with all of this evidence if we cover our tracks carefully enough." Mr. Yamanaka pauses, his face changing into firm lines as if coming to a decision.

"Naruto will come live with me." He says.

"What?!" Shisui and Naruto exclaim at the same time with different levels of shock and enthusiasm respectively.

"Can I really come live with you? Are you serious?" Naruto asks, suddenly feeling shy, trying to not let it bog down his excitement. What if he is just joking or changes his mind?

"Of course, but if you're not comfortable with that arrangement I'll try to figure something else out." Mr. Yamanaka smiles reassuringly at Naruto.

"Yes I'm comfif- I want that!" Naruto trips over his words trying to get them out fast enough before anyone could change their minds. Anything is better than the orphanage. Besides, Mr. Yamanaka seems really nice, like the dads that would come to adopt little kids at the orphanage. None of them ever picked Naruto though. This time Naruto was going home with someone, even if the circumstances were bizarre.

"Shisui, can you take care of our two prisoners while I take Naruto home? We need to settle all of this before dawn and this little guy needs some rest." Shisui removes all lingering traces of doubt, nodding at his orders. The young Uchiha disappears in a blur. Mr. Yamanaka shifts his attention back to Naruto.

"Naruto, can I pick you up? We need to hurry home to get you washed up and tucked into bed, okay?" Naruto's heart skips a beat at the mention of home. Their home, his home. He nods, not able to talk with his throat feeling tight like this.

Mr. Yamanaka picks him up gingerly, ignoring the grime and blood covering Naruto. In a whirl of leaves they were out of the clearing and moving through the alleys of Konoha. Soon they were entering one of the clan compounds, jumping over the wall. Naruto had always looked at the compounds with a mix of jealousy and awe. A whole tiny village for a big family and now Naruto was going to live in one too.

Mr. Yamanaka brings Naruto into one of the buildings through the back door, closing it behind them silently. The lights are off in the house, but he moves without any hesitation through the dark and up the stairs. Naruto is so focused on being quiet that he almost doesn’t notice when Mr. Yamanaka tenses at the sound of a voice.

“Inoichi, I thought you would be home sooner-” A woman that appears out of one of the doors they passed gasps when she turns on the light and sees Naruto. “What happened? Is he…”

She lets the sentence fall away as she rushes forward to check Naruto for injuries. Her face is pale, making her light brown hair appear much darker than it actually is. Naruto shies away, not used to being fussed over.

“He’s okay. No injuries, just in need of a bath right now. Naruto, I’d like you to meet my wife, Harumi.” She gives her husband a sharp, questioning look. “I promise I’ll explain everything later, but I need to settle a few things before it’s too late. Can you wash him up and I swear I’ll be back in an hour or two?”

Mrs. Yamanaka lets out a world weary sigh and softens her expression as she addresses Naruto.

“Naruto, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m sure you’re tired, but let’s freshen you up before I tuck you into bed. How does that sound?” Naruto looks up at Mr. Yamanaka who nods encouragingly. Naruto smiles shyly and reaches over for Mrs. Yamanaka to take him. She settles him on her hip and accepts her husband’s kiss on her cheek as he leaves. With another sigh and mother’s determination she gets ready to give Naruto the cleaning of a lifetime.

Mrs. Yamanaka manages to get Naruto squeaky clean while telling him all about her daughter who’s just his age. Her name is Ino and she wants to be a shinobi just like her dad, but she’s staying at an aunt’s house tonight. Tomorrow they could go and play with the new chalk set they had gotten earlier that week. Naruto is completely enamored with the idea of a playdate, especially one that promises chalk.

Mr. Yamanaka returns home quickly enough to find them facing a conundrum of what clothes Naruto could wear to bed. He is a little smaller than Ino currently, but they still have her old clothes that would fit him. However, she’s not sure if he would be comfortable wearing girl clothes and she doesn’t want to offend him on top of whatever horrible night he’s been having. He showed up covered in blood after all. Despite how cheery he seems now, it must have been a nightmare until her husband brought him home.

Her worries turn out to be for naught when Naruto cheerfully picks out a sunflower patterned nightgown. Once she helps him pull it on he immediately starts to twirl around while laughing, admiring the way it flows around. He never got to pick out his own clothes in the orphanage. Sure, these are still hand-me-downs, but he got to decide what he wore. The confidence gained by choosing your own clothes gives a person shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Yamanaka’s are having a very heated hushed discussion outside the bedroom they left him in. Naruto runs his hands along the bedspread. It’s extremely soft, unlike the scratchy blankets he’s used to. He throws himself onto the bed and rolls around before stretching himself out as much as possible. He could fit three of him on here! Maybe more, he decided. It is a big bed, he reasons. He can toss and turn in this bed all night and not fall off once.

There’s a soft knock at the door, pulling Naruto out of his drowsy thoughts. Mr. Yamanaka peeks his head through the door. Looks like they are done talking now. Naruto sits up, placing his hands on his lap.

“Naruto, can we come in?” He asks. Naruto isn’t used to adults asking his permission for anything, but everyone has been so considerate of what he wants tonight. Well, almost everyone, he shudders. He nods after realizing Mr. Yamanaka was waiting for his answer. He and his wife come in and sit on the end of the bed.

“Do you remember earlier how I said you were going to live with me from now on?” Naruto nods, trying to mask his fear. He will be brave despite his heart falling through his chest. He knows he should have expected Mr. Yamanaka to change his mind, but it still hurts. He won’t cry. He won’t.

“I know this is going to be hard, but if you’re going to stay with us, it's very important that you understand that you can’t be Naruto anymore.” He continues on, trying to keep his voice comforting. He sees Naruto panicking, but misunderstands the reason for his panic. Naruto’s confusion is currently pushing his panic aside however.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Naruto confesses as the gears in his mind struggle to keep up with all that’s happening. It’s been a very long night for a four year old, but anyone would have trouble keeping up after the kind of night Naruto has been through.

“If everyone knows that you’re Naruto, they’ll try to take you away from us. We can’t protect you from people like those bad shinobi if they take you away.” Naruto’s eyes widen in horror at the thought. Mrs. Yamanaka rubs comforting circles into his back. “So from now on you need to be someone else. That way we can be your parents and keep you safe. You have to pretend to be a new person. Do you understand? Nobody can ever know that you’re really Naruto. I know it’s confusing, but it’s the only option.”

Naruto tries swallowing to clear the lump that’s formed in his throat, but no matter what it won’t go away. Tears threaten to spill from his eyes. Parents? His parents? He will do anything for that. He will clean his room and the whole house and eat all of his vegetables. He will even stop being Naruto if it means he has parents.

“I know this is hard Naruto, but we want to be your family. So we’ll do whatever it takes for that. We will tell everyone you’re a long lost cousin and that we decided to adopt you after you lost your parents. We’ll practice the story with you until you can say it in your sleep.” Mrs. Yamanaka explains in a soft voice. Mr. Yamanaka ruffles up his hair when Naruto looks up at him with watery eyes.

“I went to the stores to get you a disguise kit. We’ll give you a new makeover in the morning.” Mr. Yamanaka says.

Naruto rubs his eyes with his fists before the tears can fall and nods. Somehow the worst day in his life was also the best day in his life. It was a little, okay, a lot overwhelming. At any rate he’s well on his way to proving Mr. Fox wrong. Konoha is amazing if it has people like the Yamanaka’s in it.

“Now, we thought it only fair that you get to pick your own name. After all, you’ll be stuck with it from now on. What do you think? You don’t have to pick now, so don’t stress over it.” Mrs. Yamanaka smoothes out his now ruffled hair, tossing her husband an annoyed look. Naruto looks down at his lap, tracing the sunflower pattern with his finger. A new name. A whole new person. He can be whoever he wants. Probably. He looks up at Mrs. Yamanaka who has made him laugh more times in one night than he has in months.

“Can I pick any name?” He asks quietly, biting his lip, “And I can be anyone?”

Mr. Yamanaka goes to say something, maybe realizing that a four year old’s idea of anyone might turn out to be pretty far fetched. His wife shushes him before he can shoot down any ideas and gestures for Naruto to continue.

“Then,” he clenches his fists, the nails leaving indents on his palms, to ground himself, “I want to be called Haru and I’ll be a girl.”

“Are you sure? This is who you’ll be everyday from now on. Once we introduce you to everyone you won’t be able to take it back.” Mr. Yamanaka cautions.

“I’m sure.” Naruto, no, Haru looks up at him with steely determination. Mr. Yamanaka must see from her expression that she’ serious and sighs with relief. Haru, despite what the public thought of her, could be very mature for her age. She shouldn’t have to be this mature at four and that makes the Yamanaka’s hearts hurt a little bit more.

“Then welcome to the family, Haru Yamanaka.” Mrs. Yamanaka says, pulling Haru and her husband into a big hug. If Haru takes too long to hug back, paralyzed by shock, then nobody says anything. They say nothing, except soft murmurs of comfort, when she cries herself to sleep in their arms. After all, that’s what family is for.

Chapter Text

The disguise kit turns out to be a bottle of bleach and a necklace with a “blemish removing” seal attached to it. The necklace will hide the whisker marks on her face and the bleach will lighten her hair enough to match the traditional Yamanaka shade, Mr. Yamanaka explains. She’ll pass for a long lost member of the family with not problem, they hope.

They finalize her disguise after she has breakfast, which is really more of lunch since she slept well past noon. Mr. Yamanaka isn’t able to stay around long since he’s being called into work for emergency interrogations. He pushed off going immediately to make sure Haru settles in okay. He ruffles her hair into a spiky mess when he can’t put off leaving any longer.

“I’ll see you two tonight. Have fun, Haru.” Haru puts her hands on the top of her head, trying to not let warmth escape while she watches him leave through the kitchen window.

“Haru, dear, let’s change you out of those pyjamas.” Mrs. Yamanaka calls from the living room. Haru tears her gaze away from the window and enters the living room to see her sorting through piles of clothes. “I’m so relieved I haven’t gotten rid of these yet. Of course, we’ll go shopping for your own clothes later, but these will do for now.”

Haru examines the piles of clothes with starry eyes. There are so many options to choose from and all of the clothes were in much better condition than the ones donated to the orphanage. The colors were still vivid and not patched up at the parts where they had been rubbed thinly. She is immediately drawn to an orange tank top with frilly straps. Mrs. Yamanaka notices her interest and encourages Haru to try it on with a pair of shorts. When Haru walks out in her new clothes Mrs. Yamanaka claps as if they’re at an impromptu fashion show, urging Haru to spin around and show off her new look. She can’t help but laugh along with the excitement.

“A perfect fit. Now, don’t forget your necklace. Let me help you put it on.” Mrs. Yamanaka kneels behind Haru and clasps the necklace behind her neck. It’s an unassuming piece of jewelry. On a simple metal chain with a small purple stone pendant. Haru reaches up to feel her cheeks, checking for a difference, but is disappointed to feel the same smooth face as always. She still feels exactly the same after trying on all parts of her disguise kit. Is this disguise really going to fool anyone?

“Now, let’s see what we can do about that hair before we go pick up Ino.” Mrs. Yamanaka hold up a brush as if she’s preparing for war, which, in this case she might as well be. Haru has never tried to tame her hair besides one unfortunate incident with what could be described as Entirely Too Much Hair Gel.

After some struggling, Haru ends up with two spiky pigtails sticking almost straight up. Mrs. Yamanaka declares her work as done with a defeated sigh. It’s really hard to style short hair that doesn’t want to cooperate. Haru reaches up to feel her pigtails and mentally compares them to paintbrushes. She immediately thinks of the pranking opportunities that could provide her with, but decides to shelve the idea for later. Mrs. Yamanaka hands over a hand mirror carefully for Haru to examine her new disguise.

Her pigtails are held in place with hair ties that have little orange slice charms that Haru immediately loves. They clack together loudly when she shakes her head really fast. The whisker marks that she’s had since birth are completely gone. She squishes her cheeks together, unsure how to feel about the lack of her facial marks. She feels weird without them if she’s being honest, but nobody was allowed to figure out her true identity. She likes the hugs, colorful clothes, and the bed she gets all to herself. She will trade whiskers for those anyday, especially for hugs.

“What do you think? Ready to go out and play?” Haru looks up with a big smile and throws her fist in the air.

“Yeah! Let’s go!” Mrs. Yamanaka takes Haru’s hand and leads her out the door, laughing as Haru jumps down the steps. Leaving the Yamanaka compound they enter the crowded streets. They were meeting Ino and Mrs. Yamanaka’s aunt at the park nearby.

“Aunt Hotaru!” Mrs. Yamanaka calls out to an older woman sitting on a park bench. The woman has short gray hair that curled around her ears and a newspaper in her hands that she set aside as they approached.

“Harumi, my dear,” they embrace with bright smiles. Aunt Hotaru notices Haru clinging to Mrs. Yamanaka’s skirt, trying not to be obtrusive, “Oh, and who is this little cutie?”

“This is my daughter, Haru. Inoichi and I are adopting her and finding about her family circumstances.” She lightly prods Haru to stand in front of her while she kneels down to her height, for Aunt Hotaru to see properly. Haru claps her hands together in front of her heart. Daughter? She knows they said family last night, but didn’t realize that meant they were like a real family with a mom and dad and everything. Does that mean she gets to call Mrs. Yamanaka her mom?

“Oh my, the poor dear,” Aunt Hotaru says, with a hand covering her mouth in pity.

“Where is Ino? I still need to introduce the two. They can play while we talk privately.”

“Oh, she’s off playing with some other children over there. Such a social butterfly that girl.”

“Ino! Come over here for a moment please.” Mrs- No, her mother, called out to the group of children. A girl with short platinum blond hair came running over. Her bangs were pulled out of her face with a purple clip. Haru’s hair now matched her dad’s and new sister’s perfectly.

“Mama, we’re making a chalk town and I’m running the flower shop!” Ino declares proudly while eyeing Haru curiously.

“That’s wonderful Ino, I’m sure it’s the highlight of the town.” Ino grins at her mother’s praise. “Ino, I’d like you to meet Haru. She’s your cousin, but starting today she’s going to be your sister.”

“You got me a little sister?” Ino reaches forward and grabs Haru’s hands in her own. “Oh, I’ll dress her up in the cutest clothes and do her hair and Ami-chan is gonna be sooo jealous. Mama, we’re gonna go play now. I’m showing Haru off to everyone.”

“Have fun you two. Auntie Hotaru and I will be over here chatting for a bit.” Haru’s mom stands up and waves from the bench while her two daughters run over to the group of kids.

Ino is already dragging Haru to her playmates before the girl can even respond. Haru feels nervous. What if they don’t want her to play with them? Nobody ever wanted her to join them before. They would usually jeer at her until she left.

“Everyone, this is Haru, my new little sister. Haru this is Miki, Ami, Kaoru, and Narumi.” Ino barrels on, leaving Haru in the dust. Which one is which? Those introductions were too fast! “You can help me decorate the flower shop Haru.”

A piece of chalk is placed in her hands and Ino leads her to the flower shop while the others go back to designing their own shops. Haru sees the beginning of flower displays blooming in the shop walls.

“The register goes right here so you should draw that and I’ll draw the sale sign.” Ino sets to work with a hum while drawing a big, bubbly sale sign. Haru thinks back to a shop that she had been kicked out of the other day. They had a really fancy register with all sorts of swirly designs on it. Maybe she can draw something like that.

“Oooh, Haru, that looks so pretty! Our shop is totally going to be better than everyone else's. Miki just drew a square for her register.” Ino sticks out her tongue at Miki when she loudly protests that her register is fine. Haru quickly makes a mental note of which one Miki is. Spikey hair and glasses Miki, got it. She can’t make new friends if she can’t get their names down.

“What’s your shop Miki?” Haru asks, standing back up to get a better view of it.

“I’m making a toy store. Miki’s Magic Toy Shop Emporium of Super Fun!” She says proudly as she readjusts the glasses that keep slipping down her nose.

“Mine is a takoyaki stand and I did all of the street stuff too. Those are the benches for us to sit on and talk about stuff like weather and how old we are. Y’know, just like grown ups.” A girl with a brown ponytail begins an impromptu tour of their chalk town.

“Ami is making our weapon shop here so we can go on shinobi missions. And Narumi is making the post office so we can send important mail.” She continues on down the ‘street’.

“We’re going on shinobi missions?” Haru lights up.

“After we finish the town. We can’t be kunoichi without a village to protect.” Ino drags Haru back to the flower shop.

It takes them roughly another half hour before they declare the town finished. By that point they had decided to make it a group effort rather than individual projects. The end result is a neon mess of now smudged shapes, but they’re rather proud of their new town. They all sit down on the chalk benches to discuss their first shinobi mission.

“Well, first we need to stock up at the weapon shop.” Kaoru nods to Ami, signalling her to lead the way. Haru is rather proud of herself for memorizing everyone’s names without asking for help.

“Alright, step right up! I’ve got kunai, smoke bombs, katana, and even some paper bombs! All of your shinobi needs right here!” Ami gestures grandly to her ‘merchandise’ which consists of sharpened twigs, acorns, some larger twigs, and a pile of leaves.

Haru picks up one katana and, after a moment of careful deliberation, picks up another one. The only thing cooler than a sword is two swords.

“That will be eleventy-billion money please.” Ami holds out her expectantly.

“What?” Haru whines, “But I don’t have money!”

“That’s okay. I’ll cover both of us.” Ino places some imaginary money into Ami’s hand. “Keep the change.”

“Please doing business with you.” Ami shoves the money into her pockets with a merchant’s grin. After everyone is armed to the teeth and ready to go, they stand in front of the playground.

“Oh! We finally have enough people for teams.” Narumi realizes gleefully.

“Then Ami and I will be team leaders this time. Haru is on my team, of course,” Ino decides for the group.

“Then I pick Kaoru.” Ami moves off to the side for her team to group up around her.

“That leaves Miki with me and Narumi you go with Ami,” Ino claps her hands together, “Okay, today for our first mission we have to secure the fort and stop all the bad guys from taking over. Team Ino, that’s my team, will handle the slide. Team Ami, you guard the monkey bars. Got it everyone?”

The girls around her nod solemnly. Haru grips her twig katana harder, ready for battle. Ino and Ami suddenly lead with a battle cry and charge into the enemy occupied fort, splitting off to the assigned targets.

“Oh no,” Ino cries out, “The enemy shinobi are invisible! We’ve got to stop their evil plans!”

She stabs in front of her with a twig kunai and then spins around with a flying kick. With a well placed leaf paper bomb she runs up the stairs to avoid the incoming explosion, which she voices loudly.

Haru begins slicing and whacking any and all targets around her. She jumps up high and slices down in a crisscrossing pattern with her twig katanas. She yells for Miki to duck and slices an invisible enemy down where the girl was moments ago. Miki throws down an acorn smoke bomb and grabs Haru’s hand while they flee up the stairs. The enemies are hot on their tails so she throws out a fistful of paper bombs to cover their tracks. They jump up the final steps as the explosions barely miss them.

They manage to catch up to Ino, who is currently guarding the top of the slide with her life. She uses the overhead bar to do a swinging kick into the air and lands besides her teammates.

“The enemy is super strong! We need to use super special jutsu to defeat them all!” Ino begins to form hand seals that may or may not have been actual seals, “Giant Mind Explosion Jutsu!”

“Sky Unicorn Jutsu!” Miki calls out, pointing to the sky with a shout.

“Lightning Fireball Jutsu!” Haru mimes holding a ball of fire and lightning overhead, not to be outdown. She tosses it with a grunt and mimics what a ball of fire and lightning would probably sound like if it existed.

“We did it! We captured the fort.” Ino breathlessly pulls them into a hug in a fit of celebration.

“Ami, our team is done fir-” Ino starts to call out to her friends when she notices them being cornered by actually enemies and not just invisible ones. Some older boys are snapping their weapons in half and taunting the girls. Narumi has broken down in tears while clinging onto Ami’s arm. Kaoru is being pushed away from picking up what remains of their weapons.

“Hey!” Ino jumps down the slide and runs up to the bullies, followed closely by her teammates. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What? More little girls playing shinobi? Don’t you know girls aren’t fit to be shinobi? Why don’t you run home and play dolls like good little girls?” The boys were all a good several inches taller than the girls. The apparent leader’s hair stuck out from underneath his beanie at odd angles.

“I’ll show you a good little girl!” Ino rushes forward, attempting to stab the boy with her twig kunai, but he easily grabs her wrist and twists her weapon out of her grip.

“Let go of my sister!” Haru growls while brandishing her twig katana high in the air. She goes to strike him on the head, but ends up on her back staring at the sky after just a step. One of the boy’s cronies had flipped her over and laughs when Haru scrambles back to her feet for another attempt. Her second try meets the same fate and she grits her teeth as her back slams into the cement. It doesn’t hurt, but she’s getting extremely frustrated with not being able to move anywhere. She’s preparing for a third attempt when suddenly Aunt Hotaru and her mother appear.

“What’s going on here? Let go of my daughter right this instant young man.” Her mom threatens with a venomous glare. The bully is unperturbed, but lets go with a shrug.

“We just noticed them playing a dangerous game, ma’am. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt, so we just had to stop them before it was too late. But ya know little kids, always exaggerating and blowing everything out of proportion.” He places a hand over his heart with a smarmy grin, trying to convey his sincerity without any success.

“I’m sure Miss Suzume at the Academy would be pleased to hear about your actions,” their mom’s tone suggests that ‘pleased’ suddenly has a new unfortunate definition, “Your mother runs a tailoring business, isn’t that right? I’ll be sure to have a chat with her about your charitable actions today. I wonder what she’ll have to say about it?”

“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go guys, this is lame.” The bully tries to act nonchalant, but his face has gone pale at her silent threats. Their mom watches the boys leave with a tut and then turns to the girls.

“Is everyone alright?” She crouches down to get to their eye level.

“I don’t wanna be a stupid shinobi anyway,” Narumi grumbles, rubbing the nonstop tears from her eyes.

“You can’t just agree with them! They’re dumb boys,” Ino groans trying to get through to her friend. She reaches out to grab her elbow, but Narumi jerks away.

“Leave me alone! I wanna go home. I want my mommy.” Aunt Hotaru kneels down trying to calm the girl, who wasn’t having any of it.

“Come now, Narumi. Let’s get you home. I thinks it’s about time the rest of you got on home now anyway. You’ve all had quite the eventful day.” Ino looks ready to protest, but her mother places a hand on her shoulder and shakes her head. Ino glares at the ground, annoyed with Narumi and with those boys especially. Couldn’t she see that those dumb boys didn’t matter?

“Bye Ino. Bye Haru.” The girls say glumly in a discordant chorus. Ino mumbles back a reply while Haru waves goodbye. Haru glances at her sister. Why do bullies always ruin everything so quickly?

“Alright you two, let’s get home and start making dinner. I hope I have two little helpers ready to cook.” Their mom grabs ahold of their hands trying to brighten the mood.

“I don’t want dinner. I want to make those dumb boys sorry for making Narumi cry,” Ino kicks at an unfortunate pebble that happens to be in her path to its doom, “Once I go to the Academy I’ll beat up anyone that bullies my friends like that. Even if my friends are being dumb.”

“Ino,” her mother chides, “You shouldn’t call your friends dumb behind their backs.”

“But I’m not behind her back. And she is being dumb. We’re all supposed to be shinobi and go to the Academy together.”

“Don’t be smart with me. What I meant was, don’t say bad things about your friends when they aren’t here to defend themselves. Would you like it if Ami was calling you dumb and you weren’t there?”

“...No, but-”

“No buts,” her mother’s tone leaves no room for argument, “Also, not all of your friends are going to become shinobi and that’s okay.”

“But why? Being a shinobi is the best.” Ino is genuinely confused. Who wouldn’t want to be a shinobi?

“Take a look around. See all of the shopkeepers?” Her mother continues on when Ino nods. “None of them are shinobi. Actually, most of the village is made up of civilians, people that aren’t shinobi. It’s the shinobi’s job to protect the village and the village is all of the shinobi and civilians.”

“Now. Haru, why did you keep trying to attack that boy?” Their mom decides to let Ino sift through her words while she moves on to scold Haru.

“They were hurting Ino!” Haru protests. Shouldn’t her mother be proud of her? She tried to protect her sister. That should be a good thing.

“Did letting that boy hurt you help Ino?” Her mother’s eyebrow lifts up questioningly.

“No?” She doesn’t understand what she did wrong. Is she upset that she couldn’t beat them? Sure, she failed, but she stood up each time she got knocked down.

“You know, a good shinobi knows when to retreat and get reinforcements,” she recites sagely, “You should have gotten me sooner.”

“But what if there aren’t any reinforcements? What if you can’t-”

“I’m not playing ‘what ifs’. I want you two to think about what you could have done differently today. Think of it as a learning opportunity.”

“Yes mama.” Ino pouts, already used to her mother’s ‘resourceful’ lessons.

“Okay…” Haru feels bad for disappointing her new mom already, but what she says goes against all of her instincts. She can’t imagine ever running away from a confrontation, but she might consider it for her mom. All of these new rules were so confusing. It’s so hard to be a good daughter.

The jounin of Konoha are in a frenzy. The jinchuuriki is dead. Killed by Konoha shinobi no less. Shisui had arrived too late to save him, but he was able to single handedly capture the two perpetrators and turn them in.

Accusations and blame were being flung about like a bloody hot potato nobody wanted to end up with. Where were the Anbu members assigned to watch Naruto? Why didn’t the orphanage notice he was missing in the middle of the night? How did nobody see them leading a child into the forest?

The Hokage can’t help but blame himself when he finally has a moment to himself. There were so many different choices he could have made leading up till now. Mikoto Uchiha had barged into his office earlier claiming as much with fury in her tears. She had accused him of letting her best friend’s son get murdered right under his nose. She is right, he thinks, though he doesn’t venture to say it aloud. He needs to be decisive without any signs of weakness during times like these.

If the Uchiha weren’t blamed by the public for the attack on Konoha four years ago, she could have taken the boy in, she cried. Now the only thing left of Kushina was gone. Her husband eventually managed to pry her away from the Hokage’s office, but had thrown his own disapproving glare at the Hokage in turn.

He isn’t looking forward to the other reactions of those that were close to Kushina and Minato. One noteworthy silver-haired Anbu member is currently away on a mission, yet to hear the news. He’s not sure if the shinobi’s forced stoicism will hold out against the news or not. It might be better if it doesn’t. It would be far worse, he concludes, if the man continues to bottle up his emotions and blindly throw himself into missions. He’ll have to make sure that isn’t the case when he returns.

Regardless, he isn’t looking forward to breaking the news that Naruto is dead.

Chapter Text

“Mama,” Ino whines, “Can’t Haru go back to her home? I don’t want a little sister anymore. She’s so annoying.”

The aforementioned little sister is currently with their father on an errand. Just when gets a day off finally, Haru has to hog him all to herself. Meanwhile Ino is stuck at the flower shop with her mother, dying of boredom. It’s completely unfair. He was her dad first.

“Ino,” he mother explains patiently as if she’s said this hundreds of times already, “This is her home now.”

“But whyyy.” Ino hangs off of the countertop, trying to will her mother into relenting to her pleas. So far she’s not having much luck suddenly gaining mind control powers.

“We’re family, Ino. We don’t abandon family,” she reaches over and pokes Ino’s nose, causing the girl to scrunch up her face, “Not even ‘annoying’ little sisters.”

Ino groans dramatically and drops to the floor with a thud, faking her tragic death. She peeks through one eye for a reaction. Her mother is still trimming the plant before her, content to ignore Ino’s theatrics. She can’t see her mom backing down on her stance anytime soon. While Ino is extremely stubborn by nature, her mother is the master of stubborn. She once went two days without eating until Ino would eat her green peppers. After that particular incident Ino learned that she’s no match for her mother.

“I thought you were excited to have a little sister finally,” she says teasingly. Before now, Ino had always begged for a little sister after seeing her cousins.

“That was before!” Ino rolls her eyes, careful to not let her mom see. “Now she’s taking all of my stuff!”

“What? When did she take your belongings?”

“I was supposed to go out with Papa today, not her!” Ino slams her foot into the ground for good measure. “He promised to take me out to eat for cleaning my room.”

Her mother places the scissors on the countertop before pulling Ino up to sit on her lap, heedless to Ino’s protests of being a ‘big girl too old for this stuff’.

“Ino darling, we’re so sorry,” she starts off, “With everything that’s been happening, I guess we lost track of the days. You know your papa and I love you very much, don’t you?

Ino shakes her head stubbornly, refusing to look at her mother’s face, because if she does, she'll cry. She’s not a baby anymore, so she won’t cry. It’s just really hard to not cry right now, especially when her mother hugs her tighter, heartbroken.

“I know the past few days have been tough on you, but you’ve been so strong and such a big helper. I want you to know that I’m so, so proud of you. You’ve helped Haru settle in and you’re doing a great job as a new big sister. And do you want to know a secret?” She whispers the last part into her ears, causing Ino to squirm because it tickles. Ino nods, teary eyed.

“Haru thinks you’re the coolest big sister. She told me herself.”

“Really?” Ino whispers back. How could Haru think that after only a few days?

“Of course she does. Last night, she told me that you come up with the best games to play and that you know everything about shinobi and she wants her hair to look ‘pretty like yours’,” she grins when she sees her daughter’s reddening cheeks. Ino is prone to boasting, as most headstrong four year olds tend to be, but she is so easily flustered with sincere compliments. Of course that means that her parents love to torment her with compliments at inopportune times.

Now Ino is starting to feel just a teeny bit bad about wanting to send her sister to some faraway place to never been seen again. She’s still miffed about being left behind, of course, but maybe she doesn’t need to resort to such drastic measures. Yet.

“And Ino?” Her mother interrupts her inner moral bargaining, “When your papa gets home, I’ll make sure he takes you out on your special day today, I promise.”

Ino immediately lights up. She needs to start looking for the prettiest flower to wear in her hair. Afterall, it’s a special day, she needs to look her absolute best. She hops off her mother’s lap with a quick hug and ‘thanks’ to immediately get to work on her outfit for today.

Harumi shakes her head. Children are so fickle. Drowning in sorrow one moment and leaping with joy the next. She misses that kind of energy. Oh well, at least her daughter is all cheered up again.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet up today, she’s been begging to see you all week,” Inoichi chuckles, “Still, I had no idea she planned on asking you to be her teacher.”

Inoichi thought she just wanted to thank Shisui for saving her, but as soon as she saw the teen she begged him to be her teacher. He certainly wasn’t expecting the Uchiha to agree to her request either. Inoichi knows that Shisui has been swamped thanks to the investigation into Naruto’s ‘death’, since he was the last on the scene. Inoichi himself hasn’t been able to get any time off until today. Faking a death and also investigating that death is tiring work. He won’t be doing it again anytime soon, that’s for sure.

“How could I say no? You Yamanaka’s are hard to deny,” that last bit is grumbled under Shisui’s breath. First, he agrees to lie to the Hokage. Now he’s teaching a four year old. Hopefully the family won’t drag him into anymore of their schemes, but he’s not holding his breath.

Currently, his newly minted student is running laps around the training ground they had set up at. Haru had protested fiercely at first, demanding to be taught “cool ninjutsu’ and other ‘cool’ techniques. Frankly, Shisui has no plans on teaching her anything of the sort anytime soon. Her body isn’t anywhere near ready for any ninjutsu. Besides, she should enjoy her childhood a little more without worrying about training so much. Though he doubts he’ll be able to hold her off from training completely, so he decided to at least build up her stamina and endurance in the meantime. At least she’ll be able to run away from any danger if she builds those up.

He knew that Haru wouldn’t buy that reasoning however, so he told her they were training her speed for one of his techniques. He told her she had to be as fast as possible in order to do it. He almost feels bad for how quickly she bought his lame excuse. He makes a mental note for the next lesson: don’t always believe everything people say. She needs to learn to be warier of adults. She’s way too trusting for his liking.

Sure, Inoichi and him were actually there to help her in the forest, but she had no way of knowing that. What if they had bad intentions? She’s probably the type of person to befriend big bad wolves and whatnot. He’s starting to suspect he’ll be having a lot of headaches in the future.

“Shisui-” Haru calls out breathlessly, “How. Much longer. Do I have. To run?”

“Until you can’t run anymore.” Haru stumbles in shock and glares at Shisui’s smiling face.

“What?!” Haru stomps over and points to Shisui’s face accusingly, “You’re not even really teaching anything! I’m just running all by myself!”

“I’m supervising,” Shisui keeps his facial expression serious, trying not to laugh.

Haru crosses her arms and muster up her most fearsome glare, which is negated by how utterly adorable her pigtails and puffed out cheeks are. She has a long way to go until she can strike fear into her opponents with just a look.

“Shisui, if you don’t train you’ll get slow and old and won’t be able to do the jutsu anymore,” Haru scolds in her grown up voice. Inoichi doesn’t even bother trying to hide his laughter at Shisui’s expense. Where is the respect?

“Alright, alright,” Shisui holds his hands up in defeat, “We’ll train together, okay?”

Inoichi shakes his head in amusement. Shisui might be the ‘teacher’ in this scenario, but he definitely isn’t in charge. Not that Inoichi can claim to have any power over his daughters’ decisions. They’re much too hard headed to listen to anyone else. He has no doubt that one day they’ll have the village wrapped around their fingers. He’s so proud of them.

Kakashi has just returned from another successful Anbu mission. A rather simple intel gathering mission, it had ended up longer than he expected when some slight hiccups occurred. Nothing he couldn’t handle, but annoying nonetheless. Not that anyone would be able to trace the mishaps back to Konoha if they were all dead.

He feels antsy after being away from the village for so long, but he can never shake that uneasy feeling no matter where he is. Staying in the village too long drives him up the wall. He needs to constantly be on the move, focused on something else at all times. Anything to keep him from actually thinking too much.

He’ll hand off the intel to the Hokage, visit the memorial site, check on Naruto real quick, and then head out on the next mission. It’s a busy life, but it’s his life.

The Administration building is usually a pretty active place with shinobi constantly moving about like busy bees, but today that activity is on a much more ridiculous level. It’s as if someone has kicked the hive, sending every shinobi in sight into a mad frenzy. Kakashi side steps a frazzled employee rushing down the hallway and walks up to the Hokage’s office. The two Anbu guards move to prevent his entry before recognizing his Hound mask. They nod silently and let Kakashi pass through after informing the Hokage of his arrival. He can’t even see their faces, but it somehow seems as if they’ve had less sleep than he has. Which is saying something considering he almost ran nonstop back to Konoha.

If the two Anbu guards look dead on their feet it’s nothing compared to how the Hokage looks. For everything the Hokage has been through before, Kakashi has never seen the man look so downtrodden. He’s starting to dread hearing the news of whatever it is that could make even the Hokage lose all hope.

Kakashi places the intel he recovered on the desk and slips into a kneeling position, awaiting the Hokage’s orders. The graying man sets the scroll aside and gestures for Kakashi to take a seat. He hesitates for only a moment before following the order. This certainly doesn’t bode well if the Hokage is ignoring vital information the village had been so desperate to retrieve.

“Five days ago, two Konoha shinobi betrayed the village.” Kakashi doesn’t clench his fists despite his thoughts going dark. Were the two apprehended yet? How much damage were they able to do to the village? He hadn’t seen any damage outside, so maybe it has something to do with information.

“The two lured Naruto Uzumaki away from his Anbu guard in the middle of the night and killed him in a remote location inside the village. An off duty chuunin apprehended them, but he was unfortunately too late to save the boy’s life.

Kakashi’s racing mind ground to a halt. He can’t think anymore, not about this. Naruto was supposed to be safer if nobody could connect him to his parents. Anyone close to the couple were under strict orders to not interact with the boy, as it would keep him safe, lonely, but safe. Kakashi knew that he should especially stay away, given how anyone close to him dies. If he kept his distance, Naruto would be safe. So he stayed away, far away on missions, far behind his mask, far away from the boy’s tears.

So how could this happen? He stayed away, so this shouldn’t have happened. If he gets close, people die. If he stays away, they die too. What is he supposed to do? Can Kakashi not keep anyone safe?

“-Kakashi!” His head snaps up. The Hokage had apparently been calling his name a few times already, but Kakashi couldn’t hear him over the roaring in his ears. He had blocked out the world, but he needs to get a grip.

“Yes Hokage?” Kakashi is almost shocked at how calm he sounds, but he’s been through this detached feeling before. He’s used to grief and going through the motions of polite society. His voice sounds like it belongs to someone else. It’s easier this way. To pretend this is happening to someone else and not him. Easier to just separate himself from all his emotions. There’s no way he would be able to sound so calm otherwise. Not when he feels like he’s slowly falling apart inside.

“Kakashi,” the Hokage’s expression remains grim, “I’m ordering you to take mandatory time off. We can’t have our agents distracts in the field.”

Kakashi grits his teeth behind his mask. At least with a mission he can distract himself. He won’t have to look around the village seeing ghosts wherever he goes. The village is full of memories he’d be happy to forget at the moment. An order is an order however and Kakashi can’t argue.

He lowers his head, glaring at the floor. He needs to do something otherwise he’ll lose his goddamn mind. An idea pops into his mind while he burns holes into the ground.

“You mentioned an off duty chuunin?” He keeps his tone light, cocking his head to the side innocently. The Hokage somehow manages to frown even more.

“Kakashi, he tried his best for someone who just happened to be passing by. I can’t have you going after the poor boy for being too late.” Kakashi can’t really fault the Hokage for jumping to the conclusion. There’s certainly nothing in the past few years to suggest Kakashi is anything except ruthless. Still, he’s a little offended that the Hokage thinks so little of his self control.

“Hokage, I would never attack a fellow Konoha shinobi like that. I just want to thank him for his efforts,” and ask him some questions he adds silently. Even if the Hokage doesn’t tell him what he wants to know, he’ll find the shinobi himself. The Hokage sighs, realizing just a much. He only hopes that Kakashi will find some peace while speaking to the boy.

Haru is laying on the ground, gasping for air, after finally running herself to exhaustion. Shisui is frankly a little terrified at the amount of energy the girl has. Sure, she’s a little slow, but she has no end to how far she’s willing to go in training. He wonders if her endurance has anything to do with the Kyuubi or if it’s all uniquely Haru.

Shisui glances over at Inoichi, who’s looking a little winded. Haru had dragged him into their impromptu training session shortly after she forcibly roped Shisui into running as well. She can probably open up her own gym or be a motivational speaker someday, if the shinobi thing doesn't work out. Nobody will be able to slack off under her supervision.

Shisui suddenly tenses as the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Somebody is watching him. He keeps his movements casual as he stretches and scans the treeline, only to see a gray haired shinobi with most of his face covered standing plainly for all to see. How did he get so close without Shisui noticing?

Of course, Shisui knows exactly who the man is. Kakashi Hatake, the last remaining student of the Fourth Hokage. Which makes this situation awkward for a multitude of reasons, the first of which is lying on the ground beside him.

He raises his hand to greet the man, casually stepping forward so he blocks Haru from Kakashi’s sight. Sure, he probably saw her already, but better safe than sorry.

“Kakashi, right? What can I help you with?” Shisui’s smile is blindingly polite.

“I heard you’re the man of the hour,” Kakashi’s smiling eye is just as fake as Shisui’s, “I had a few questions.”

“Do you? Well, I can probably fit you into my schedule later today.”

“It’ll only take a few moments, I promise.” Kakashi shows no intention of taking ‘no’ for an answer, much to Shisui’s annoyance. He’ll just have to bear with the man for a minutes before-

“Shisui, who’s the old man?” Haru peeks around from behind him. Shisui goes to shoo the girl away quickly when he notices Kakashi’s staring at Haru intently, smile frozen in place. Shit.

“Oh?” Kakashi asks, polite expression glued to his face as he suddenly pulls out a kunai and goes for Shisui’s neck. Shisui reacts purely on instinct, meeting the man’s kunai with his own, metallic clash ringing in the air. Inoichi is already holding Haru protectively, preventing her from rushing to her teacher’s aid.

“I see,” Kakashi says mildly, kunai still struggling against Shisui’s, “Who would question the head of T&I? The only thing I can’t see is why you would kidnap Naruto and hide him right under everyone’s noses. Was the attack faked by you two as well?”

“I’m not Naruto!” Haru yells before either of them can respond. Inoichi had told her that nobody could figure out who she really is or she’ll have to go back to the orphanage. Shisui clenches his jaw. He doesn’t want to use Kotoamatsukami on the man, but it might be the only option they have to keep the situation under wraps.

“What, did you two brainwash him?” Kakashi’s expression darkens murderously. Shisui needs to act quickly before this escalates.

“Kakashi, let’s put away our weapons so we can talk about this. Let me explain,” Inoichi pleads. He knows how close Kakashi used to be with Minato and Kushina.

“What is there to talk about? You tricked the Hokage and kidnapped a child.”

“Don’t hurt Shisui! He saved me!” Haru struggles against her father’s arms, desperate to save her teacher. Shisui appreciate the sentiment, but she’s not really helping with the whole ‘we swear we didn’t brainwash her’ thing. Kakashi’s glare is really starting to unsettle him.

“Tell me why I shouldn’t turn you two in immediately,” Kakashi says after an agonizingly long staring contest. Shisui breathes in slowly. Maybe there is hope to convince the man with words instead of resorting to his Mangekyo Sharingan.

“I thought Naruto was already dead when I found her,” he ignores Kakashi’s questioning look and continues, “The two bastards didn’t hold back at all. Inoichi happened to be nearby when I apprehended the two. When we went to check on Naruto, she was barely breathing.

“But then she woke up, completely fine. All of her wounds were gone.” Shisui lets the implication sink in for a moment. They still haven’t explained to Haru exactly why she woke up perfectly fine that night. “We realized that Naruto would be safer from people like those two if everyone thought Naruto had actually died. We also knew the Hokage would never approve of a plan like that.”

“So, I adopted her instead.” Inoichi says without any traces of regret for his actions. He is firm in his belief that he made the right choice that night. “Naruto chose a new identity as Haru, my daughter and I won’t let you take that from her.”

Everyone is quiet after that declaration. Shisui still can’t risk a glance back at Haru, not with Kakashi’s kunai still trying to stab him. This is the first time they’ve mentioned that night in front of her since then. She’s been acting like any other cheerful girl with maybe too much enthusiasm for training, but Shisui knows that trauma can resurface at any moment. He has to trust that Inoichi can comfort her for now if she gets too upset. His arm is really starting to get tired when he finally feels the pressure against his kunai fall away.

“Five days and you two have already failed to keep a secret.” Kakashi pockets his weapon, unimpressed with their current track record.

“That’s a little unfair,” Inoichi points out, “You’re one of the few people who would actually recognize Naruto regardless of the disguise.”

“You call this a disguise? All you did was add hair bows.” Kakashi points out. Maybe it isn’t too late to use Kotoamatsukami on him, if this is what Shisui has to look forward to.

Haru manages to finally convince her father to release her and runs into Shisui’s side. She grabs his hand and points accusingly at Kakashi.

“Hey old guy!” Kakashi looks around the training ground and points to himself questioningly.

“Don’t be such a bully! You have to be nice to Shisui cause he’s the bestest teacher! And you can’t tell anyone I’m Naruto or he’ll beat you up!” Haru threatens the man more than twice her size. Shisui almosts thinks the whole thing is adorable, except for the part where she’s signing him up for deathmatches. “You have to pinky promise.”

“Pinky promise?” Kakashi asks, amused.

“Yeah, Ino showed me how. Stick out your hand like this,” Haru instructs, holding out her pinky, “No, your other hand.”

Kakashi obeys with surprisingly good humor. He doesn’t really seem like the type to handle kids well at all.

“I promise I won’t tell anyone. I don’t want your super scary teacher to beat me up.” Shisui doesn’t miss the mocking tone in his voice, but Haru doesn’t seem so perceptive. She’s very pleased to have threatened a shinobi into a pinky promise.

“Well,” Inoichi says, “My wife is expecting us back soon, so Haru and I will be going now. I’m sure you’re very busy Kakashi, we can talk about the details later if you’d like.”

“Oh, I’m not busy at all,” Kakashi smiles, “I’d be happy to come along.”

Inoichi falters. On one hand, he really doesn’t want Kakashi to come, but on the other he’s way too emotionally worn out to argue. Oh well, it’s probably best that he comes along anyway. Better to keep an eye on the shinobi until he can fully be trusted. Though maybe he should have protested when Shisui invites himself along as well. His life is way too complicated now.

When Harumi had assured her daughter that she would get a father-daughter day no matter what, she didn’t really expect to be watching over two shinobi in addition to her daughter. A promise is a promise however, so she accepts her fate to be mediator for the night. Haru is blissfully unaware of the tension in the room as she instructs the two shinobi on the intricacies of playing shinobi with stuffed animals. The sight is too adorable to not take a picture of so Harumi takes her chance while she can. She may have officially adopted Haru, but she might have also unofficially just adopted two fully fledged shinobi even if she hasn’t realized it yet.

Chapter Text

Inoichi has somehow convinced Haru’s two new followers to go do something, anything, else for the day. A week in their insistent company is enough to drive anyone to crawl up the wall with insanity. Besides, Kakashi should really be acting far more depressed if he plans on keeping Haru’s new identity a secret. And doesn’t Shisui have missions or something he should be doing? It doesn’t help that his wife has been so graciously inviting them to dinner despite his pointed coughs. These are fully fledged shinobi. They don’t need to be coddled so much.


Today is going to entirely be dedicated to Ino-Shika-Cho relations, plus Haru. While Haru isn’t going to become apart of their three man formation, it will be nice for her to be around children her own age instead of questionable teens. They’ll be classmates soon enough anyway, might as well meet now.



Ino had told her they were going to the Nara compound to play with some ‘dumb boys’. Their parents are teammates and have high hopes for their children filling their shoes apparently. Ino had of course rolled her eyes when she explained it all to her sister. Just because their dads get along doesn’t mean they will. However, despite Ino’s misgivings regarding her arranged team, Haru can’t help but think it’s extremely cool to have a team before even enrolling in the Academy.


Now they’re standing before the Nara backyard, which is a statement that undersells the enormity of the ‘backyard’ considering it consists of an entire forest. The Yamanaka house certainly isn’t small by any standards, but the Nara house is on a different level.


“Ugh, there’s two of them now? What a drag.” The two turn to see a dark haired boy lounging on the house’s engawa, fixing them with an exasperated look.


“See?” Ino gestures with her hands to convey how monumentally annoying this is, “Dumb boys.”


The boy rolls his eyes at that, electing to ignore the insult. A heavier set boy exits from the house with a bag of potato chips clutched in his hand.


“Who’re you?” He asks without any regard to his mouthful of chips and looking straight at Haru.


“I’m Haru,” she answers at the same time as Ino.


“This is my little sister,” Ino says proudly. Chip boy looks between the two girls with an intensely confused face.


“When did your mom have another baby?” And how did the baby grow up so fast?


“My mom didn’t have another baby,” Ino says exasperated. Shouldn’t this be obvious? Honestly. Boys. “It’s called adopting, duh.”


“Anyway, Haru, this is Choji and the lazy bum is Shikamaru,” Ino introduces the two with a half assed wave.


“So, this is the newest addition to the Yamanaka family.” Haru looks up and sees a brown haired woman carrying a tray of tea. She quickly introduces herself to the woman with a quick bow. “And so polite unlike a certain son of mine.”


“Yoshino,” Inoichi steps forward to help her place the tea on the table, “I heard Shikaku is still held up at the Hokage’s office.”


“Yes, well with you know -” She pauses mid sentence with a glance at their audience of small ears. “Why don’t you four go play in the backyard. We’ll call you back in when lunch is ready.”


Shikamaru gets up, clearing displaying his inconvenienced state at having to move , but gets into gear with a sharp glare from his mother. Haru and Ino wave to their father as they rush to catch up to the two boys who have already made it to the treeline.


“So what was that about?” Ino asks as they continue their trek further into the forest.


“Whatcha mean?” Choji glances back at the two girls and pauses to let them catch up. Also a pause to eat his chips at a more leisurely pace.


“Shikamaru’s mom sent us away so they could talk without us listening. They never do that.”


“It’s pretty obvious though,” Shikamaru turns around, hands shoved into his pockets, “It’s about the investigation. Hasn’t your dad talked about it?”


“He never tells me what he does at work.” Which Ino finds very annoying. She doesn’t get why he’s always so tight lipped about it.


“Figures.” Shikamaru shrugs and looks up at the leaves hanging overhead with his perpetually bored face, “Apparently some kid got murdered last week. The whole village is freaking out about it.”


Haru’s heart skips a beat and she feels goosebumps rise up on her arms. They’re talking about her?


“What? Is it safe for us to be out here by ourselves?” Choji looks around as if a killer could be lurking behind any of tree ready to pounce and shove a kunai into their hearts. The snacks he’s been eating aren’t settling in his stomach very well now and he huddles closer to Shikamaru. Safety in numbers.


“They already caught the guys, we’re fine.” Shikamaru is content to leave it at that, but notices Choji’s dubious expression. “Besides, they only went after the kid cause he was a demon or something. They’re not going after actual kids.”


“Demon?” Haru asks extremely confused. Why would people say that? How could the story get so messed up already?


“I overhead my dad talking to some politician or something the other day. Something about the Kyuubi pretending to be a kid. What a joke.” Haru’s thoughts spin. The Kyuubi almost destroyed the village four years ago, but there’s absolutely no way she’s the fox demon. She feels like should would know something that important.


What about Mr. Fox then? She hasn’t thought about him much since she appeared in that weird cave, but now suddenly the mere thought of him sends shivers down her spine. She was a little too preoccupied to count the many tails of Mr. Fox before, but she has a sinking feeling that they would amount to nine if she attempted to count them now. It can’t be possible, but yet… Can she really deny the dots starting to connect? She had been talking to the Kyuubi without even realizing it. 


No wonder he was so rude to her. At least that makes sense, but the rest doesn’t. The two shinobi attacked her because they think she’s the Kyuubi? Except she’s not the fox demon. So they must be mistaken, but why would they even believe that in the first place? It’s absolutely insane. She’s just a child, not a disaster inducing demon.


Yet, apparently other people think she’s the Kyuubi as well? Shikamaru’s dad has been talking to other people about it. Why would everyone think that? Know that? Know something about her that she doesn’t?


She doesn’t want to believe it, but what if it’s true. Is that why the orphanage caretakers kept their distance from her when she was Naruto? Why everyone always looked at her with such hateful eyes when she walked down the street? Does everyone know? If she’s really the Kyuubi, then why would her dad and Shisui bother saving her? Wouldn’t it be better if-


Haru feels a sharp smack to the top of her head. What the hell?


“Earth to Haru,” Ino says loudly while waving her hand in front of her sister’s face, “Anyone in there?”


“Ino,” Haru whines while rubbing the sore spot on her head, “What was that for?”


“You completely zoned out on us! I’ve been trying to get your attention for, like, 10 years.” Despite her scolding tone, Ino looks concerned. Haru glances around at the other members of her group, feeling like she just fell into her body after floating aimlessly. Choji is shoving chips into his mouth at a concerning rate, deep into the nervous binge eating. Shikamaru eyes feel like they’re staring straight through her and she has to look away before she begins to squirm under his scrutinizing look.


“Sorry, guess I’m still sleepy.” Haru rubs the back of her head with a forced laugh. She feels guilty for creating such a weird atmosphere in the group. Besides, it’s not like she can tell them that she’s the kid that was murdered. Ino still looks unconvinced, but graciously drops the subject.


“Let’s do something else,” Ino the master of eloquent topic changes decides. Shikamaru begins laying down, but Ino catches on quickly with a glare. “Something besides cloud watching!”


“Ugh, girls are so troublesome,” Shikamaru groans.


“And boys are so boring,” Ino shoots back.


“Guys shut up!” Choji whisper-yells, “You’re scaring the deer!”


Haru perks up at the mention of deer. Choji holds out his hand, beckoning a young doe to come closer. The deer cautiously steps closer with a sniff while Haru holds her breath in anticipation. Choji slowly steps forward, careful to not spook the animal who nudges her head against his hands, trying to get to the bag of chips.


“I wanna feed the deer too” Haru tugs at the hem of Ino’s shirt unable to hold in her excitement.


“You can’t feed deer human food. It’s bad for them.” Shikamaru bursts the bubble of quiet tension.


“What?” Haru’s eyes widen in horror. “Choji don’t kill the deer with your chips!”


“Tell that to the deer!” Choji has his back turned to the deer, huggin the bag of chips to his chest for dear life. The deer butts her head against him insistent on getting her forbidden snacks. It pushes him harder in an attempt to push the boy over and snatch the bag from his hands, but Choji manages to hold his ground.


“Naught deer! No!” Ino rushes forward and waves her hands high in an attempt to scare the deer off, but it refuses to deterred. This isn’t going to work. An idea pops into her head. “Quick, Choji, pass me the bag.”


Choji manages to shove the bag into Ino’s hands as the deer finally knocks him to the ground. The deer noses his now empty hands and is quick to notice the swap to Ino’s hands. It begins to advance on the girl who is backing up into the other two children.


“Protect my chips with your life,” Choji calls after her, “And don’t eat them!”


“I’m not gonna eat them!” Ino snaps as the deer advances on her. She looks up at it with a nervous smile. “Nice deer… You don’t want these silly chips. They’ll make your tummy hurt.”


However, the deer is not swayed by the words of humans. It only has one goal and that goal is firmly in the hands of an increasingly scared little girl. Ino bumps into a tree during her backwards retreat and is now trapped with no escape from the menacing deer.


“Think fast!” Ino tosses the bag to Shikamaru in a desperate pass.


“Hey, don’t give it to me. I don’t want this!” He shudders when the deer whips around to face him. He knows exactly how violent these deer can get and looks for an escape route. His eyes land on Haru and he mentally apologizes to the girl, but it’s him or her and he’d like to live to see lunch today. He throws the bag to her before she can catch onto his plan.


“What? What am I supposed to do now?” Haru doesn’t like the way the deer is looking at her now. How can something so cute look downright terrifying? She tightens her grip on the bag unconsciously.


However, the trio of her new friends is already running back to the house with only a shout of ‘run!’ as their advice as they pass by her. She doesn’t need to be told twice. She turns on her feet and makes a mad dash with the deer hot on her tail.



Their parents hear their children’s screams well before they see their children breaking through the treeline. They’re quick to jump to their feet and rush to the terrified children’s aide only to see a hungry deer chasing them. 


The children manage to duck behind their parents before the deer can catch up to them. The deer glances at the adults and snorts, eyes wild. Yoshino takes half a step with her patented motherly glare before the deer catches sight of her and flees on sight. The kids sag in relief, drained from running for their lives. Yoshino turns her glare on them, causing them to cower behind the bulk of Chouza.


“What have I said about tormenting the deer?” She demands. They children quickly apologize in unison. They hold back their protests that it was really the deer tormenting them and not the other way around.


“Your mom is scary,” Haru whispers to Shikamaru when she turns her back on them. He nods solemnly, such is his fate.


“Since you four can’t be trusted to leave the wildlife alone, you’ll be helping with lunch instead.” Yoshino instructs with her hands on her hips. “Now go wash up. I won’t have dirty hands in my kitchen.”


The four of them walk back to the house dejected. Though, Choji looks a little too pleased at the prospect of sneaking food while ‘helping’ with lunch.


They manage to get through the rest of Ino-Shika-Cho plus Haru bonding day without any further incidents. At one point, Haru had tried to join Shikamaru and his cloud watching endeavours. She quickly finds out that Ino was indeed right about it being extremely boring as hell. Still, she manages to have a good first day with her friends after the initial chaos and unfortunate gossip .


When they return home Haru lets Ino go on ahead to greet their mother and tell her all about the killer deer. She hangs back at the entryway, head downcast as she tugs lightly at her father’s hand before he can get past. Inoichi looks down with a frown. Just a few moments ago Haru was laughing with Ino without a care in the world. Now she looks just as devastated as the night he found her after the attempted murder.


“What’s wrong Haru?” He tugs at her pigtail lightly, trying to reassure with a smile. Maybe he’s reading too much into it. “Did the deer hurt you?”


She shakes her head slowly. Haru opens her mouth, but closes it with a pained expression. Tears well up in her eyes and she clutches at her throat as if the words are stuck, unable to form. Inoichi reaches down and pulls her into a tight hug, his heart twisting.


“Take your time,” he murmurs softly, “I’ll be here for you.”


It takes a few silent hiccups before Haru can get her voice to cooperate. It feels like a hand has reached down her throat and pull all of the air from her lungs. When she’s finally able to force words past her lips it comes out as a croak.


“Am I really the Kyuubi?” She feels her father tense up. He doesn’t answer immediately which causes her heart to drop into her stomach, all but confirming her fears.


“Where did you hear that?” Inoichi tightens his grip on his daughter. She shouldn’t have found out so soon. He doesn’t want her to have to bear this burden already. What is the point of the new identity if she’s still haunted by her past?


“Shikamaru overheard it.” He didn’t deny it she realizes. Inoichi feels Haru trembling in his arms.


“Haru, you’re not a demon,” Inoichi feels tears soaking through his shirt.


“But- I saw him,” she whispers, “I saw the Kyuubi.”


Inoichi’s blood runs ice cold. Before he can even say anything, something breaks the dam of words inside Haru and the whole dream-like scenario rushes past her lips. She tells her father everything she saw that night. He holds her close through the whole retelling as if she’ll fall apart if he loosens his grip. He waits for her breathing to settle down a little before speaking softly.


“Haru,” he starts, “I’m going to carry you upstairs to your room so we can sit and talk in there without anyone listening in. And because my legs are going numb.”


He waits until she nods numbly while a small smile tugs at the corner of her lips at his attempt at light hearted humor. He catches his wife’s eye, who stands at the doorway to the kitchen. The worry is evident on her face as they exchange a conversation of a few hundred words that consists of a few facial expressions. She eventually relents and goes back to the kitchen to check on Ino who had been quickly steered away from the hushed conversation when Harumi caught sight of Haru crying.


Inoichi carries Haru up to her room and settles them both onto her bed comfortably. She grabs her stuffed bunny and hugs it tightly to her chest. Her mother had told her stuffed animals fought off night time monsters and nightmares. She hopes they’ll extend their protection to demon foxes as well.


“It’s about time someone tells you about the night the Fourth Hokage saved the village from the Kyuubi.” Inoichi drags a hand down his face, searching for the way to approach this conversation. Laws of secrecy be damned. It should be null and void now anyway.


“Not many people knew that the Fourth had a wife, Kushina. Though they knew she was the jinchuuriki. The Kyuubi was sealed inside of her. She kept it locked away to protect all of us from the demon.


“On the night of the attack she was having a baby and the Kyuubi escaped while she was weakened. It began to attack Konoha, but the Fourth was able to teleport it away and seal it away inside his son so that he could one day protect the village with its power, just like his mother had.


“The third was afraid that enemies of the Fourth would try to attack the child if they knew of their connection. So he gave the child Kushina’s last name, Uzumaki and forbade anyone from ever talking about the Kyuubi. It was all to protect the child, to protect you.”


Haru is silent, unsure what to say or even think. Nobody has ever talked about the Fourth’s wife. They only mention his heroism in saving the village from certain doom. Kushina Uzumaki. Her mother. Not to mention the Fourth was, is, her father. She wasn’t abandoned by her parents like the caretakers at the orphanage had told her. They didn’t abandon her, but they’re both dead, still out of reach.


“You’re a lot like her you know.” Her father, alive and right here, breaks her out of her thoughts. “I can’t think of anyone else who would stand up to a demon like you did. You definitely get that from her.”


“But I didn’t know he was a demon.” Haru mumbles. She certainly didn’t feel brave at the time. All she had felt was annoyance with a fox obsessed with violence.


“No, but you knew he was dangerous,” her father points out, “And that he was trying to bully you into doing what he wanted, but you stood your ground. Kushina would always beat up bullies and nobody could ever force her to do anything she didn’t want to do.”


Haru feels like she’s beginning to grasp scraps of something she’s always lacked. It feels solidly right in a way she can’t describe. She loves her current family and would never trade them for anything in the world, but learning about her birth parents feels like a part of her very being. Some part of her needs this like air.


“Can you tell me more about them?” She looks up at her father hopefully.


And so he does. He tells her about how Kushina earned the nickname ‘Red Hot Habanero’ with her quick temper and wild red hair. He tells her Minato’s questionable attempts to woo her. How one time he was chased all over the village by bees while trying to give her flowers. He tells her more and more until she’s crying with laughter with that big grin that should always be on her face.


When Haru goes to sleep later that night she drifts off with stories of their misadventures swirling in her head. She falls asleep knowing that she has four parents that love her with every fiber of their beings, even if they aren’t all here.



Itachi doesn’t sleep that night. Instead he lays wide awake on his futon, eyes itching with exhaustion. Images of his last mission invade his mind, one after the other. A masked man catching his team by surprise. His friend, motionless on the ground before him. He’s too slow, not good enough, not strong enough. Standing behind his friend, who’s protecting him, telling him to run, but he can’t move. He’s frozen, unable to act. Why won’t he move. He needs to move. To act. Before- Before his friend is dead, blood staining the dirt below him. Move! Just move. Do anything!


Itachi doesn’t sleep that night.