A.N: There will be action. There will be badassery. There will be doubt and cruelty, but also change and progress and hope.
Inspired by the great SIs out there. Vapors, Dreaming of Sunshine, Deja Vu no Jutsu, etc.
What Doesn't Kill You
[Unnatural: 1. Contrary to the laws or course of nature. 2. Lacking human qualities or sympathies; monstrous, inhuman.]
Aoi Momoru was unnatural, verging on disturbing.
When asked about her, her parents wouldn't say much. Oh, she was a quiet baby. And, well, she ate. She slept a lot, even for a baby. The father's eyes would stray away after a while and he'd switch the topic of conversation to something else, probably work-related. It was obvious that he didn't really care about his daughter, though no one commented on it. How he chose to raise his children was his business.
The mother, Nana Momoru, wouldn't add anything interesting. The way her eyes shifted was stranger than the father's; almost like one would look away from an uncomfortable topic, rather than a boring one. Why she would be reluctant to discuss her own daughter was anyone's guess, and if asked directly she would smile and agree that Aoi was perfectly adorable, and did you hear that the Onasu had a new dog? The more curious relatives had found that indeed, the baby was normal. She gurgled and reached and crossed her eyes in that funny way babies had, and was generally adorable and cute.
But when no one was around, the gurgles ceased abruptly and Aoi turned serious, yellow eyes sharp and intense, almost burning as they darted around her surroundings. The expression was frightening on the babyish features. No baby was supposed to look at the world with such awareness.
Nana, like everyone else, didn't notice at first. Until a month after the birth, when she walked into the room where she'd left her for a moment and caught a glimpse of that look. Aoi quickly dissolved into a smile and made reaching motions with her hands, and Nana thought that perhaps she'd imagined it.
But no – because as she watched her daughter more closely, she realized that the high-pitched gurgles tended to decrease in enthusiasm when their relatives fussed over her for extended periods of time and were replaced by flashes of that other expression. It was as if the attention bored or annoyed Aoi. And worst of all, it was as if she was trying to hide it, as if the baby was consciously acting, which was simply impossible. It scared Nana, and from that moment on she preferred not to sneak up on her daughter so she wouldn't see her like that. If she ignored it, if she pretended it was just her imagination, everything would be fine, and hopefully no one else would look closely enough to tell.
When Aoi was four months old, Nana started hearing very deliberate sounds coming from her room at night. Her husband never noticed, he was exhausted from work and slept like a log, but she remained awake through most of the night listening to her baby daughter practice syllables and words like an adult learning a new language. It sent chills down her spine, and she turned around restlessly on the bed, biting her lip.
She remembered her first word very well – after a while of repeating the same sounds over and over, she said, slowly and clearly, Chris. It didn't even sound like Japanese, but Nana was certain it was exactly what the baby meant to say as triumphant, childish giggles broke out from the other room.
Nana shivered. Her daughter was unnatural. She was frightened and ashamed of herself for thinking that.
Like most first-time parents, all Nana wanted was a little bundle that she could tickle and snuggle and cuddle with, and Aoi seemed to fill that role most of the time, and Nana convinced herself that it was enough. When, six months later, Aoi let out an excited "Mommy", she pretended to be as delighted as any parent would be at their child's first word, and not like she'd been eavesdropping on her every other night while she fluently spoke an unknown language for the past half year.
Nana remembered the first time she'd taken her outside the house. It must have been when she was three weeks old or so, and Nana was still blissfully ignorant of her daughter's abnormalities. Looking back on it, she realized she should have seen it then.
"Here, Aoi-chan, look. This is Mr. Dog." She pointed at the small garden-gnome, a stupid present from Rai's mother when she married him.
The baby didn't seem to have any interest in the gnome. She was squinting into the distance in the direction of the Hokage mountain. Nana remembered something about babies' eyes not being fully developed, and provided the running commentary, not that it would make a difference, or so she thought. "That's the Hokage mountain. There are four faces on it. That's the first, second, third and fourth Hokages. They're the protectors of Konoha, along with all the other ninja." Aoi's face pulled into an adorable little frown. Nana chuckled to herself. "We can't go visit today. Maybe tomorrow."
As she was about to go back inside the house, Kurenai Yuuhi stepped out from hers, suited up in mission gear. She wandered over and started cooing at Aoi much like every other of her neighbors had at some point after she brought her from the hospital.
Though this time, Aoi did something strange. As Kurenai leaned over her, she reached up, and her fingers caught on the edge of the ninja headband on her forehead and tugged. Kurenai smiled, obliging the silent command to lean closer. "That's a Leaf headband, sunshine." Aoi tugged more insistently with the weirdest look on her face. Kurenai laughed a little and pried her fingers away from it. "No need to be so impatient. If you want one, get your own."
To Nana's surprise, Aoi started screaming her throat out.
When she was fourteen months old, Aoi tugged on her dress. "Mommy! Story, story!"
Nana suppressed a shiver, managing a smile as she picked her up. "Alright, alright." Aoi wriggled happily in her arms while she picked out a book from the bottom level of the living room shelf (they'd arranged them so that all the picture books were at the bottom, and Aoi could reach them easily if she wanted to). She'd almost been dreading this moment, the moment when her genius daughter decided she wanted to learn how to read. Because that was clearly her intention – she'd never shown an interest in the picture books before.
Her suspicions were confirmed when she interrupted frequently to ask "What does this squiggly mean? And this one? And this one?" Her yellow eyes were blazing with intensity as she nodded at Nana's answers, mentally cataloging them.
After two months Aoi stopped asking for stories, and instead, books started disappearing from the shelf. Nana was frozen in place when she realized it wasn't just the picture books.
At night, she heard her come alive, moving about in her room and reading Basic Haematology aloud to herself. During the day she was lethargic and unenthusiastic and fell asleep in the playdates she set up for her. The vague feeling of unease at the pit of Nana's stomach had transformed into a black knot of fear – when her daughter looked at her, Nana couldn't help feeling that those eyes could stare straight into her soul and know exactly what she was thinking.
She was terrified. Of her own daughter.
She was aware of the rumors starting among her relatives, as well. Not about Aoi's fast development – luckily no one else seemed to have noticed, yet – but about her yellow eyes and high cheekbones and general lack of resemblance to Rai. She even caught someone whispering that it made sense he cared so little about his supposed daughter. Nana sighed. Harpies, the lot of them, they didn't even know the whole story. Though even she herself was starting to avoid the toddler more and more often lately.
She placed a hand on her stomach distractedly. Rai seemed more enthusiastic about this pregnancy than the last one, which was understandable. A soft smile lit up her features. Hopefully the new baby would be more… Normal, this time.
The alarms went off while she listened to Aoi read a chapter on emergency medical procedures.
Three short strikes, one long. Hostile invasion. All civilians were to evacuate into the tunnels in the mountain immediately.
That was the only warning before the house started shaking. She shot out of bed and jostled Rai awake, before bursting into her daughter's room and grabbing her arm. She seemed shocked about being caught reading, but Nana had no time to care about any of it as they ran out of the house, wooden beams falling around them.
The rest of the night was confusion and running. At one point Nana looked behind her to see a monstrous shadow silhouetted against the moon, a cluster of tails shaking wildly and slamming into the ground and buildings like demonic chains. The air around the creature seemed to be curling in darkness, seeping upwards from its shape. She'd lived among ninja since she was a little girl but she'd never seen anything like this in her life. She screamed. A particularly violent earthquake threw her daughter and herself apart. Nana landed on her knees and tried to get up, but the ground shook again, and she was slammed against a wall.
She lost consciousness in a few seconds.
A.N: Whether you decide to continue or not, I would really appreciate feedback on this chapter, I'm always looking for ways to improve.