I shut up the scream I left behind, and I don't have the courage to open the box.
I want to cling to our tender relationship, that at this rate will vanish into thin air.
—Laterality, Yanagi Nagi
What do you wish for?
Death was not glamorous. It was not tragic, nor was it the grand, dramatic moment Hollywood imagined. It was unfairly abrupt and immediate.
There was no time to think. No time to repent.
It wasn't like falling asleep. It wasn't like closing your eyes.
It wasn't even like the curtain falling at the end of a scene.
Death came like the crackling finale of a burnt-out light bulb, or the snuffing of a flame.
And then there was nothing.
If I had a wish?
I want to do it again.
I want to get it right.
There were two sides to everything. Heads, tails; life, death. Left, right; past, future.
Jenn could recall that, in her past life, many believed that death was a gateway to the next great adventure. Another life.
Oh, if she could only see their faces when she told them they were right.
The first time she became aware that her soul was not traversing the dark expanse of purgatory, or even possibly hell, where horrific cries of anguish surrounded her and claustrophobic walls squeezed her breathless, was the moment she opened her eyes.
It was bright—to a painful degree that made her flinch. The cries, the screams, continued, and large hands—hands of giants—passed her along, rushed her away, until she came to rest against a solid warmth. She could feel a thrumming heartbeat through the warm wall. Someone was holding her. Carrying her.
Nothing was clear. When she tried to get a feel for her environment, all she could see were blurry light streams dancing by and tan smudges like dabs of paint against a canvas—faces, she was certain.
There was the tang of blood. There was the familiar, unpleasant sterile stench of a hospital.
She was becoming aware of small, stubby limbs; the tiny digits stretching, curling around the blankets that swaddled her. The everything-too-small that corresponded to what she once was.
There was the familiarity of life.
This was the other side.
This was her rebirth.
The world that resembled an impressionistic oil painting came slowly, slowly into focus. Blotchy faces gained detail; the setting was defined.
Jenn—no. That was no longer her name, she concluded. Not in this life. In this life, she was only a girl.
The Girl came to realize that she spent most of her new, merely days-old life within the confines of a pink-blanketed perimeter that was no doubt still within the hospital—the stark traces of sterile disinfectant were still present.
Several faces had come and gone, lingered over her, confirmed her well-being, fed her, changed her…It was a bit humiliating to be so dependent, but it wasn't as if she could do it all herself. Not anymore.
These faces were the faces of kind, though anonymous, nurses—it worried her. Not once had she seen the expected, overjoyed visages of her "parents." Not once had she felt that familiar presence of "Mother." Had she been declined? Set up for adoption? Or, perhaps, were the parents no longer alive?
Mothers did pass away during childbirth, at times. As for fathers…perhaps she had been secretly conceived. Perhaps he didn't know of her existence. It wasn't an uncommon scenario.
The Girl did not know.
However, one day, that unmasked, ecstatic face she'd been hoping for finally came to meet her. It was a woman—Mother? No. Not Mother. She felt different. Smelled different. The Girl did not know this woman, and so she cried.
"Is she alright?" The woman—Not-Mother, queried in alarm as her eyebrows furrowed.
At the sound of the voice, The Girl's crying ceased. It was a familiar language—not her native tongue, not even of the same dialect of the second language that she was accustomed to, but it was a string she was able to grasp. A piece of the puzzle that was her new life.
It was Japanese.
"Is she alright?" was simply an approximation of what she could understand, guided along by the nonverbal tics the speakers displayed.
The Girl watched the woman's expression carefully, until it left her view and turned towards the nurse.
The nurse glanced over the edge of the bassinet and her eyes were wide with wonder. "This is the first time she's cried since her birth. She's a quiet one. I'm surprised."
"I see." Not-Mother's face returned to the child's view. Her eyebrows were still furrowed and a small smile graced her face, but her tone was nervous. The Girl noted that Not-Mother couldn't have been any older than herself—her past self. Possibly even younger.
"Please take care of her. If you need any help, or have any questions, feel free to consult us." The nurse reached down and gently cradled the girl-child within her arms, raising her from the bassinet and arranging her swaddle before nodding towards the other woman.
"R-right, of course. Thank you." Not-Mother took the small child from the nurse's arms—a little clumsily, excessively carefully, and gently set the crook of her arm beneath the young girl's neck. The Girl was glad that at least the woman was aware of how to properly hold a newborn. Again, it was slightly humiliating, but there was also a certain, primal comfort to being held so close to another person's warmth—safe, and guarded by another when she herself couldn't yet protect herself.
Yes, it was something she could vaguely recall from within the deep confines of her past, when she had been in this very same state some twenty-three years before. Childhood memories were tangled and ambiguous vestiges caught in between the realm of make-believe and did-I-maybe-dream-this, but the feelings that remained could never be mistaken.
The steady rhythm of being held by Not-Mother as she walked soon lulled The Girl into dreamland.
Though, before she departed, she distinctly heard Not-Mother speak the words that changed her life and defined her from that point onwards: "You're a brave girl, Namie."
Not Jenn, not The Girl, but Namie. Her new identity.
From the small bits and flashes of information she'd received, Namie gathered that she'd been reborn into an Asian culture in which the language was very similar to Japanese. The architecture was also considerably Japonica, though in a somewhat old world sense. The world she was in now was a far cry from being as advanced as the world she'd known before.
The woman, Not-Mother, took care of her much in the sense of a nanny. She hadn't yet learned her name, but she was a constant in her life. A stabilizing pillar of support. As of the moment she picked her up from the hospital, Namie's world revolved around her.
Other than Not-Mother, a young blond child had occasionally entered into that small, closed world. Unrelated to Not-Mother, as she was far too young to have a child that age.
Immediately, Namie had felt a connection to the child—boy, or girl, she couldn't be certain. The child was at that age where appearance and voice could still be ambiguous, especially to her newly developed senses. Regardless of gender, she was certain this child was her older sibling.
When the child gazed over her crib, they did so in open wonderment. A mild curiosity that could only be sated by seeing her tiny form.
The first time their eyes met, a tender grin spread across the child's face. Namie found that her own mouth made an attempt to mirror the expression. Unable to properly execute the action, she instead cooed out loudly. The child was taken aback by the sudden cry, but when they were certain it wasn't the start of an oncoming fit and merely a jubilated shriek, their grin only grew wider. They extended their hand towards her, carefully, and Namie immediately latched onto their index finger with the entirety of her small hand like it was a lifeline.
Even if her parents were no longer around, she would never be alone. She wasn't alone. This blond child was her blood, as she was theirs.
She hadn't valued her older sibling nearly enough in the past.
This time, she knew she would.
By the time Namie regained control of her motor functions and began practicing her walking motions—skipping past the crawling stage, because only God knew how much she wanted to grow up and properly take care of herself again without having to subjugate herself to the brunt of the humiliating childcare routine—she also gained perspective on where exactly she'd been reincarnated.
It was a world she'd expected only to exist in black-and-white print. In fiction. In comic books. Within the minds of great creators.
She realized it when she spotted a familiar hitai-ate on her Not-Mother's forehead, stamped with the insignia for Konohagakure. She realized it when she spotted a peculiar, but distinct, ANBU tattoo on her Not-Mother's upper arm when they were bathing together. She realized it, and accepted it without objection, when her Not-Mother used the henge jutsu during her hyper-involved live-action story times.
It was, undoubtedly, the world of Naruto.
A year passed by, and Namie was able to associate names with the faces of her new "family."
Her young Not-Mother was named Taji. She'd seemed ever-present in the past, during the first few months of her life, but she eventually noticed that the woman's presence had dwindled. No doubt because of her status as an ANBU shinobi. Why she was raising her at all, she wasn't entirely certain. She couldn't recall the woman from the series.
During her absence, her reliable elder sibling took over the basic caretaker duties.
Namie didn't mind the humiliation part so much anymore. She was elated to have such a caring family.
What concerned her the most, however, was the identity of her sibling. The blond child was a young boy that Taji called Namikaze-kun.
There was only one that Namie was aware of in the entirety of the story, so it could be no one else. Her older brother was none other than the Namikaze Minato. The Yondaime Hokage. Nowhere near his future status just yet, but a living legend all the same. She couldn't help but feel a grand swell of pride for her older brother already.
…And an equal amount of despair.
Namie hadn't been fully caught up with the series since her teenage years, having only gotten partway through Shippuden and catching bits and pieces of the story from friends, forums, and social websites as time passed, but she did at the very least remember that, on the day Minato's future son would be born, his life would come to an end. So, too, would his wife's.
On the day this revelation struck her, the cogs and wheels in Namie's head began to crank slowly—turning, turning.
Why, she wondered, was I given a second chance in this world, in this family, in this particular time, if not to change the status quo?
She'd been born into an extremely opportune time period—though wrought with two wars, it was filled with events whose outcomes she could heavily influence if she tried hard enough, because like hell she was going to just accept the limit death had placed on her precious new sibling.
It was only a matter of where to begin.
A/N: Here I am posting this on impulse while being sleep deprived, so I hope there's no glaring mistakes. I can't promise you I'll see it through to the end, but I do have quite a bit of the story planned out as of today and it's my current focus. I think it goes without saying that this idea has been inspired by all of the other amazing SI reborn fics out there. I mean who can resist messing with the storyline? I'm having fun with it so far, so I hope it's at least entertaining.
Thank you for reading!