Our Broken Bonds

Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters belong to Kishimoto-dono-sama-sensei-san-senpai-kun.


It was a well-known fact that most members of the Uchiha Clan were born during summer. Since time immemorial, the clan believed that their fragile embers needed the heat for them to grow into unwavering bonfires – and so the peculiar tradition of conceiving in the coldest season took root. It was a silly superstition that had been utterly debunked by Uchiha Madara, but old habits died hard. Now, chasing after each other in winter was a favourite pastime of the stereotypically stoic Uchiha.

That was one of the reasons why Shinkai was taking a walk not at the park in the compound, but at the park where her guardian had pointed out the Hokage Monument to her for the first time. It was either this or to shut herself in at home until spring came, since the girl was pretty sure that she was allergic to Uchiha embracing each other in public. Just the thought of it made her feel like throwing up.

Of course, myths were best propagated when mixed with the real facts. In the days when ninja clans were constantly at war with each other, supplies of food were always on the short side in the coldest season. Combined with the lack of medical knowledge, stillbirths were most common and children were most prone to falling ill and dying during the winter – that was true for everyone who lived in those years, be they ninjas or civilians. It had simply been a lot more symbolic for the Uchiha Clan.

The girl tugged the oversized red jacket that Blondie had given to her closer, a double layer above a thicker tan article. The sound of snow crunching under her boots abruptly halted when soft mewling reached her ears. Both Kagami and Shisui stopped as well. All three of them quickly looked around.

"This way," Kagami said, steering both his children by their shoulders towards a lone snow-covered bench. As a group they dropped to all fours to peek under it, gasping when a pair of tired azure eyes met their own lively obsidian ones. It was a small orange tabby. The stray was a frail and dirty thing – it was dangerously thin, its bones seemingly protruded from its fur that was matted with sleet and dirt, and its demeanor was like that of a delirious kitten. Perhaps because it was a delirious kitten?

The three Uchiha silently stared at it for a long moment, feeling their chests constrict at its plight.

"Tou-san," Shisui finally broke the ice. "Can we keep it?"

"You know my missions take me away from home for half the week. Can you two really look after a sick cat on your own?" Kagami reasoned. Shisui puffed his cheeks indignantly at the reply, but could not counter the sound argument. Cats were cute but he did not know a thing about them.

"We can."

Both of them turned to Shinkai, who had finally spoken for the first time since they had left the house. "We can take care of it on our own," she resolutely said, her heart already captured by the orange tabby. "We'll clean it, feed it, make a bed for it, train it and play with it. We'll look after it."

Kagami was not so certain. "Do you really know how to?" He received a stiff nod in response and relented. "Then it's a promise, okay? And if you two can't take care of it, then it has to go. No buts."

"But—"

"Shisui..."

Suddenly the smooth, velvety voice of a woman asked, "What do you three think you are doing?"

Kagami and his brood backed up just enough to lock gazes with Hyuuga Harumi, who was in return looking down on them in more ways than one. At her condescending expression, the three looked at each other and noted that their heads were under the bench and their rears were pointing out and up.

A long moment of awkward silence passed. And then... "We found a cat," Kagami weakly said.

Harumi simply arched an eyebrow, her expression unchanging. "Pray tell me. Why is it that every time I chance upon you out in public, one way or another you are on your knees... Commander? Wait. On second thought, I do not wish to know," she said, before turning and walking away.

Kagami watched her figure quickly disappear into the horizon. "I feel like I'm misunderstood by just about everyone," he dejectedly muttered. "Whenever I try to explain myself, nobody listens."

"That's because you're a... you're a..." Shisui paused. "Fugaku-sama said you were im... impotent?"

"What."

"Yeah, he said it really strangely too. I swear it almost looked like he was smiling. But that can't be it, can it?" Shisui wondered. "Fugaku-sama never smiles. Fugaku-sama can't smile. It's impossible."

Shinkai was inclined to agree with that. And then, feeling oddly mischievious (for the first time in forever), the girl asked with her purest and most innocent voice, "So... what does impotent mean?"

Kagami's eyes twitched and he darkly muttered, "Nothing. It just means someone's going to die."


Why did people celebrate birthdays? The only thing to be gained would be the knowledge that you were one step closer to old age and death. Sure, Shinkai had encountered death first-hand – but she remembered very little of it, so the possibility of eternal oblivion still terrified her to the very bones. Perhaps, even more so now that she had died once than before. Birthday parties were a pain in the—

The front door to the apartment flew open.

—ass.

"Happy birthday!" both Kagami and Shisui exclaimed. Behind them, Shinkai mumbled something along the same lines, though she was, quite literally, shaking in her boots and oversized red jacket.

"Welcome!" greeted a certain yet-to-be-named-Fourth-Hokage, yet-to-become-a-father, yet-to-die young man with the gaudiest shade of messy blond hair and the clearest set of blue eyes Shinkai had ever seen. The man gave his three Uchiha guests a wide smile as blinding as a thousand suns. "Kagami-san, I can't believe you're this late. I hope you're prepared for a scolding from Kushina."

Kagami nervously chuckled. "Sorry, my daughter was oddly fussy about going..." He looked down to the small figure hiding behind his legs. "Shin-chan, don't you have something to say to Minato?"

The blond perked up at that. "To me?"

Shinkai scowled at both adults, although the effect was lost entirely due to how her still round face made all her expressions look harmless. Inhaling deeply, the girl mustered all of her courage to face this reminder of the future. Oh, damn it all. "Hello," she squeaked. "Thank you for the present lots!"

She paused and blinked. That sounded a bit off.

Minato only laughed her mistake off good-naturedly. "I'm glad to hear that. I'm sure the others will too! Now, come in! Kushina made lots of food, so no need to hold back. There's enough for us all!"

True to Minato's word, Kagami was captured by the Lady of the Uchiha Clan and the jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi as soon as he stepped foot inside the living room. What followed was nothing short of a verbal lashing that had the man trembling as if he had just dived into a lake in the middle of winter.

'I just saw a middle-aged man get bullied to near tears by two young women,' Shinkai marvelled to herself, watching as Kagami was consoled by both Minato and Shisui at a corner. Then she found that without her distraction and shield against the she-devils, she was their next target practice.

Eyes wide with fear, Shinkai slowly backed away as the predators approached with a hunger in their eyes, step after heavy step, their arms outstretched menacingly towards her. Was this how she was going to meet her end? Death by eldritch encounters of the red-headed and eerily smiling kind?

Suddenly her back bumped into someone and before she knew it, a pair of hands steadied her.

"Kushina-san! Mikoto-san!" a girl's voice scolded. "You're not doing anything strange, are you?"

"Eh? Whatcha talkin' about?" Kushina asked, blinking all too innocently. "Strange things? Nah, I wouldn't know anythin' about that! Yer just bein' a spoilsport as usual! Isn't that right, Mikocchi?"

Mikoto nodded, smiling far too serenely for Shinkai's comfort. "We're not doing anything strange. Introducing Shinkai-chan to Kusshiko is my duty as a friend, you know. You're so silly, Rin-chan."

Shinkai froze. 'Rin...?' Her gaze shot up to look at who was defending her from the wild serpents of Konoha, and she felt as if her heart had dropped to the floor – nay, the centre of the planet, actually. With a yelp the girl quickly scampered back towards Mikoto and latched onto the hem of her skirt, burying her face in its flowery scents. The three older girls could only stare at the peculiar scene.

"Well," Kushina said. "That was quick. But now we get ta play with 'er hair as much as we want!"

"She's too young for you to corrupt!" Rin protested. "And once you start, you never know when to stop. I would know something about that; you two almost cut all my hair off when 'playing' once!"

"But Rin-chan," Mikoto whined. She picked Shinkai up and nestled the girl into her arms despite her silent struggling. "Look! Her hair isn't nearly as messy as her father and brother's, and it's so soft, too. This kind of not-too-messy and not-too-straight hair is rare, especially for my clan!"

Kushina was wide eyed. "Mikocchi, we found a treasure!"

Mikoto winked at her. "Will you get the scissors, Kusshiko?"

"Stop it you two! I'm going to tell on you!" Rin feebly whined.

"Just a sample! I have to get it as a souvenir for Itachi back home!"

The three then began squabbling over Shinkai, and the girl in question was waved around high up in the air and passed between them like a sack of potatoes. The urge to cry was strong but the girl held herself together for dignity's sake (or, whatever remained of her dignity). So there she was, stuck as the ball in their little game. These three she-devils were not as nice as Naruto canon would suggest.

'Who even allowed them to be near children? Hell, who allowed two of them to have children?!'

She was beginning to feel sick from being swung around. The girl was so very close to breaking down when a gruff voice halted the game. "What are you three ladies doing with a fragile babe?"

The dizzying movements promptly stopped. It was as if the rays of the heavens had shone down upon Shinkai. Her hopeful eyes, filled with unshed tears, settled onto her chivalrous saviour—

The man grinned. "The handsome Toad Sage of—"

"Tch." She turned away. 'Nevermind. It was just a dirty hobo.'

"Huh? Oi, what's with that look? Little girls shouldn't have such a disdainful look when gazing upon the handsome and rugged features of the noble Toad Sage of Mount Myouboku, Jiraiya!"

"Handsome? Rugged?" Kushina repeated incredulously. "The last time I ever seen somethin' that matched yer looks was when I had a massive diarrhea one week ago ya peepin', good-fer-nothin', juvenile delinquent! I haven't forgotten how ya dragged Minato to the bathhouse to spy on girls!"

Jiraiya quickly put up his hands in surrender. "Oh, come on! That was last autumn! Live and let—"

Between Kushina repeatedly punching him in the gut and slapping his face with a sandal, the old pervert never got the chance to finish his statement.

But the man did distract Shinkai's tormentors; soon she was quickly let down and ushered towards another group in the kitchen by Mikoto, although they too seemed to be in some sort of argument. The girl realised too late exactly which lion's den she had been tossed into, because soon she was the centre of attention of two boys whom she recognised all too well. She looked to Mikoto with pleading eyes, but the she-devil only smiled and waved at her before leaving to rejoin 'Kusshiko'.

"What's this squirt?" a disinterested voice asked. Shinkai felt an eye twitch at being designated a 'what'. She said nothing, though. Seeing those two was making her fingers itch for a sharp knife.

"Come on, Kakashi. Doesn't she actually look like... like... Wait, what was that lady's name?"

Kakashi sighed. "You're an idiot, Obito."

"You bastard, what did you just say?"

"Are you deaf as well? I said..."

Yet another argument started. Or rather, resumed. Shinkai glanced between Obito and Kakashi as the former muttered childish insults and the latter threw down some harsh, sarcastic jabs in return. Fortunately, the girl was soon saved the pain of having to see two children quarrel by Kagami and Minato; the former took her into his arms and the latter asked his lover to keep the party... friendly.

Puffing her cheeks, Shinkai levelled her guardian with a scowl that was much less effective than she thought. Where the hell was he when she was being bullied by just about everyone at the gathering?

Then something unexpected happened. Shinkai was taken to what appeared to be a Minato's private study; both messily opened and neatly tied scrolls cluttered just about every corner of the room and the shelves were filled with precariously placed piles of books that threatened to tumble to the floor at the slightest disturbance. Profusely apologising for the disarray, Minato hurriedly cleared the low table in the very centre of the room while inviting everyone to make themselves comfortable there. Kagami promptly settled down as told, keeping Shinkai within his arms' hold on his crossed legs.

The girl squirmed uneasily. And when she heard the undeniable click of a door being locked, the uneasy feeling condensed into a cold stone that settled heavily in her gut. What were they doing? There were only three others with her now – Kagami, Minato and Jiraiya. Awkward silence ruled while the latter two men settled down. Shinkai had the suspicion that a secret was to be discussed.

Did this concern her?

It was Jiraiya who broke the tension that was taut in the air. Shinkai did not like the way the way the Sannin looked at her guardian while he spoke. Gone was the jovial warmth in his eyes and voice, a biting frost having taken its place. "Of all the people to invite to a birthday party... Minato. Why?"

The blond gently tried to explain. "Sensei, isn't it time to put the past behind us? Kagami-san—"

"Was not there when Sakumo needed him the most," Jiraiya bit out, his entire form stiff and hostile. Shinkai blinked at this turn of events. It was certainly... unexpected. What was even going on here?

There was no reply, no objection from an unusually tense Kagami and Minato did not try to restrain his teacher as the man took the silence to his statement as a cue to continue."To think he thought you of all people would understand. Shows just what comes out of trusting an Uchiha dog—"

"Sensei!" Minato scolded, his features torn.

In her guardian's lap, Shinkai was still, wide eyed with shock. Those were not the kind of spiteful words that she had expected someone like Jiraiya to ever utter. Danzo, yes. But not Jiraiya. Never.

The Sannin did not stop there, however. If anything, his student's reprimand only served to make his ice burn hot. "I tried to give your kind a chance. I really did. But even myths are based on the truth. The Senju should've imposed stricter restrictions on your clan... in fact, you traitors all deserve—"

An unbearably cold, suffocating pressure suddenly seized Shinkai – the girl felt like she had fallen through the floors, the ground and landed on the seabed beneath the collective oceans of the world and it was all so hopelessly cold, so abjectly unfeeling and cruelly empty of anything beyond stark oblivion that she wondered if she had been dreaming of life in her death all along and her soul and heart and entire existence was crying and screaming under the force that was trying to break her—

The pressure suddenly lifted and Shinkai gasped, her lungs greedily devouring air as if there was no tomorrow. The girl went limp and slack in her guardian's arms like a puppet that had its strings cut, her muscles trembling and unable to summon any strength whatsoever. She violently shuddered.

She had felt the currents trying to swallow her, bring her down, drown her and keep her in what was without a doubt the loneliest place in the world. She had a feeling back then, that if she had stopped resisting then she would have never seen the light of the stars in the sky again. If there ever was one sensation that could fit the very definition of death, then that abject despair that she had felt was it.

"Shin-chan."

Warmth snapped her out of her trance. For a few moments, the girl simply sat still and dazed. Then her wide blank eyes slowly found its focus and the sensations gradually returned to her numb body; Shinkai soon became aware of the cold dampness that stuck to her skin, the shuddering chill that ran up and down her spine and the shaken breaths that left her pink lips in short bursts. The girl weakly looked down. Kagami's large hands were wrapped around her own, his warmth enclosing her fully.

He was whispering a chant of reassurances in her ear much like a lullaby. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, sweetheart. It's over now. You're fine. Just fine. You're here. With me. So breathe... just breathe..."

Shinkai responded to his words mechanically, her chest rising and falling at a gradually slower pace than before. With her head spinning as if she had just had the wind knocked out of her, the girl was only vaguely aware of the hot tears painting her cheeks being gently dabbed away by her guardian.

A cough brought her back to earth. Minato looked worse for wear than when she had last seen him, which had not been very long at all. He seemed uneasy. "Please forgive Sensei... he's just a little..."

Kagami only chuckled, sounding quite broken. "I can accept his misgivings towards me personally. But to speak of my entire clan like that... that's something I can't overlook. Despite everything, I..." He shook his head as if to shake the very thought off of his mind and sighed heavily. "I apologise."

At that, he held his daughter closer to him. It was some measure of comfort, reassurance, apology and reminder all at once – to the both of them.

"I'm sorry, too."

All eyes in the room landed on Jiraiya. "I stand by what I said, but I shouldn't have said them in front of your daughter. But then again, you shouldn't have done what you did, either," he said.

Kagami did not deny it. "You don't have to tell me. More than anyone else, I know that I'm not a good father. I'm not even a good person. And I'm not asking to be forgiven. I just—I want you to understand, Jiraiya-san, and I ask that you allow me to make up for the things that I failed to do."

Jiraiya narrowed his eyes. "Sakumo might've been your apprentice, but he was my sworn brother." Then he rose to his feet and went to the door, unlocking it. "He knew you and got hurt. Kakashi doesn't know you... and I don't intend on letting history repeat itself. So stay away, Uchiha."

The last word had been spat with such a venomous tone that Shinkai found it hard to associate this Jiraiya with the man that she had known from canon material. In her previous life, she had thought that the Uchiha had been their own undoing and deserved much of what happened to them, but now she was not so sure. Then again, could this case just stem from a personal conflict? No, the hate was too broad in scope. Jiraiya was not the kind of person to bear such feelings without having a reason. Was there something about him that she had missed in the manga? She could not think of anything.

With nothing more to add, the Sannin quickly left and slammed the door shut behind him. It was a long moment until Minato pinched the bridge of his nose. "Why didn't you just tell him the truth?"

"Because it doesn't matter what it was in hindsight."

Silence. Then the blond's tone softened. "Hokage-sama told me because he was concerned about you. Both he and I agreed that Jiraiya-san can be included in the secret, as well. You can tell him."

Still, Kagami shook his head. "It's a matter of principle."

Minato tried again. "It would do Kakashi a lot of good to know that the infamous Mirage was his father's tutor. If you explained things to him, I'm sure he'd understand his father's decision better."

Kagami chuckled dryly. "You think the boy will forgive me?"

"No. I don't think he can. How can he forgive you when you've done nothing that needs forgiving?"

This time, Kagami laughed. However it was not his usual hearty laugh that always made him throw his head back, nor was it anything that was filled with mirth. It was empty. And when his shoulders finally stopped shaking, he said, "Let's get back to why we're here. Can we carry out the test now?"

Minato was mildly startled at the abrupt change in topics, and more than a little upset at his senior's dismissal of any chances at reconcilliation with the past. But he filed his thoughts away for later. It was not an immediate concern. Right now, he had to focus on the task before him. He moved over to sit beside Kagami, who shifted so that they faced each other, Shinkai sitting in between them.

So this was why she had been brought along.

With his best attempt at a reassuring smile, Minato placed one warm hand on the girl's torso and said, "Shinkai-chan, just relax, okay? It's going to feel a bit wierd, but it won't last long. Ready?"

'For a chakra scan? Again?' she wanted to ask.

He did not wait for a reply. There was a tingling jolt. Her vision blurred before refocusing and the girl slumped back into her guardians' arms again, feeling drained. For a long moment Kagami held her quietly, outwardly patiently waiting for Minato's word. He stiffened when Minato pulled back.

"Well, how is it?"

Minato shook his head, brows furrowed in deep thought. "It's just as the doctors said when she was born – there's a large surplus of spiritual energy, although her chakra pool has come a long way in growing to accommodate all that excess... so I don't think she'll be overloading her chakra pathway system from now on, or at least the frequency of it will decrease and eventually stop," he stated, curt and analytical. "If she gets her physical energy up, she'll have a lot of chakra to tap into."

"So no complications, then?" Kagami asked.

Minato was unsure about what counted for 'complications' in a case as strange as this, the first of its kind ever recorded. "No, there shouldn't be," he reassured. "Honestly, I'm a lot more worried about you. I thought Hokage-sama was exaggerating when he said you weren't doing very well, but then you went and released such a powerful killing intent."

Kagami winced, now feeling lower than dirt. "I did suppress it... or at least I thought I suppressed enough of it. I'm sorry—I... I lost control of myself. It was very unbecoming of me," he admitted.

Then he rose to hist feet, his tired daughter snug in his arms. Thanking Minato, he made for the door but stopped in his tracks when he heard his blond junior say, "Let's keep trying our best, Kagami-san. I'm sure if you properly explain everything to Jiraiya-sensei, he'll understand."

Kagami was not so sure about that. He peered over his shoulder and gave the blond an apologetic smile. "Thank you for everything, Minato," he murmured. "But I'm sorry, this is as far as I can go."

To say that Minato was disappointed and frustrated was an understatement. But he held his tongue out of respect, for both Sakumo and Kagami. Yet as he bid farewell to the latter who took an early leave from the party with his children, he could not help but wish that the village was... different.

He thought of Kagami and the sacrifices the man had made for the good of the village and for his adorable saplings, of Mikoto and her friendship with Kushina that verged on sisterhood, of Obito and his determination to protect his friends and serve the common people. It was all too easy for others to judge those individuals for the reputation that their clan held in the war-torn past, and easier still to negate all the good that they had done with the argument that they were all 'mad'.

It was an old Senju belief that had seeped into the hearts of the citizens of Konoha through all the decades that said clan had held the power to rule, a stereotype at best and discrimination at worst. All the more reason to work hard to become Hokage and reform the system. Konoha was home to everyone, not just the Senju and their allies. Things needed to change, and Minato would change it.

Everyone had their bad days. Every clan had their crimes. If one looked closely at history as Minato had, they would know that the Uchiha were not any worse (nor better) than the Senju, or any other clan. It was only because of their optical powers that they were tarred with a such a brutal image. Whatever was not understood was feared, and Konoha understood very little about the Uchiha.


Shinkai was the one who gave him the name of Tama. Nursing him back to health was hard, and despite their efforts, he walked with a limp after the cast came off. Not that any of them minded. They had not taken him in to catch mice or to play games, they had taken him in so he could live.

Since Shinkai was the one who spent the most time taking care of him, cleaning him, training him and playing with him, Tama was most comfortable with her. The girl thought it was cute, they way he sidled up to her, pawed at her and rubbed his head on her when asking for her affections. It was amazing to her, how he never simply intruded in her personal space and demanded her attention.

She thought cats were supposed to be selfish. Perhaps Tama was just a proper gentleman of a cat?

They spent most of their days together. When she studied, he stayed by her side, looking over her materials and trying to make out what the strange shapes and symbols meant. When she ate, he ate with her, never making a mess for her to clean up. When she strolled in the sprawling backyard, he walked with her, following her every footstep. When she slept, he slept with her, curling up into a ball just as she tended to do. And when morning came, he woke her up with soft mewls and purrs.

For Shinkai, it had simply been abject despair in the face of the future that had pushed her to adopt Tama. The question of whether it was her despair or his always remained unanswered. In the grand scheme of things, they were in the same position. Or had been, until Tama gained a future with her.

But now the orange tabby that distracted her from her future, from Kagami and Minato and Jiraiya and Sakumo, was carving a home in her heart for himself, and it was much larger than Shinkai had expected. She was beginning to doubt her ability to let things go when the time came for her to die.

Shisui ended up spending most of his free time with them. It was with his presence that they were allowed to go outside and play around the Uchiha Clan compound. Before long, the sight of two children and their tabby roaming the streets and lounging under the trees in the compound's park became common. They very quickly found out that Uchiha were weak towards children and cats, and children with cats, and that the older the Uchiha, the more likely they were to give free food.

(The only person who disapproved of the fair trade between children who provided cuteness and adults who provided sweets and snacks was Kagami. Even then, he was not too difficult to sway.)

Shisui was beginning to receive his sibling's smiles – they were not aimed at him specifically, not yet, but they did tell him that she enjoyed his company. They were far and few in between, but he did not mind. Every single time her lips tugged upwards, it was enough to fill the void in his heart for many, many nights after that smile faded away. It was as if his mother was also smiling at him. He was all too happy to smile back so she knew he cared, to fill the silence with his ramblings so she knew she was not alone, to drag her around the village so she knew her home, to hug her and hold her hand and share everything he had with her so she knew she could do the same with him.

Shinkai was seriously doubting her ability to let things go when the time came for them all to die.


Tensions have been brewing for years. The skirmishes between villages have finally borne its fruit, and now he would eat it whole. This was not the first bite of the new fruit. His missions had taken him into the unofficial conflicts before – now he was simply diving headfirst into the official one.

War.

Again.

A tourniquet. A roll of bandages. A tube of iodine tablets. A pack of soldier pills. A roll of wires. A bundle of explosive tags. A bunch of smoke bombs. An array of very well kept shuriken and kunai. A small storage scroll for more weapons and supplies. His trusty wakizashi, polished to perfection.

He methodically sorted his equipment out with a mechanical pace that could only be gained from decades of practice. Slipping into his standard issue black outfit and Konoha vest, he strapped the shuriken holster to his thigh and the supplies pouch to his belt, sliding his wakizashi into the belt's straps. Finally, Kagami tied down his pant legs with bandages, checking himself over one last time.

His dark eyes searched for his forehead protector but landed on the bed instead. A gentle caress, a soft murmur, the scent of wildflowers from their front garden all came back to him. He relished in both the comfort and the pain that they brought him in that moment. Too soon, they faded away.

Picking up his forehead protector from the desk, he gazed upon it and breathed deeply.

He had been here before, at the crossroads between knowing that he was home and safe, knowing that he soon had to fight to the death to keep others safe and at home, and knowing that he might not return to see his home safe again. He had spent most of his life drenched in blood, and though he had tried his best to not let it seep into his bones, it was still hard for him to reject the addiction that pulled him into the battlefields over and over again. That was what kept him tied down, was it not? He had an addiction. He could find no other explanation for why he had not yet retired into a less active, safer position like the rest of his original cohort. Or whatever still remained of them all.

A part of him wanted to stay, told him that he had given enough, had sacrificed enough. How many funerals had he attended? How many friends and comrades had he seen fall before his eyes? How many more until he decided that it was enough, and that he needed to be there for his children?

But that was exactly it. He needed to fight so his children could be there, away from conflict, even if the price he paid for that was him not being there with them in return. He needed to fight so that as few of his friends and comrades would fall in battle, as few funerals as possible needed to be held.

That was his addiction. He had not believed it when Danzo once said that he resembled the Second Hokage in that regard, but now when he was standing on the edge of war's cliff, he could believe it. But would his sense of duty be enough of an apology if he came back to his children in a body bag?

It was strange. He had never thought of such things until recently. Since then, he had been thinking too much of 'such things'... like a certain blond's favour.

Kagami was not sure what he was trying to achieve when he had asked Minato to perform a simple chakra scan on his daughter. He checked her regularly himself, and he was always monitoring her progress to ensure that her excess spiritual energy was not causing any damage or discomfort. He was not sure why he had needed a second opinion. Had he been trying to get someone to tell him that it was alright? Was he truly that insecure as a person? Did he have such little faith in himself?

All evidence pointed to a resounding 'YES'. It was getting worse and worse as time went on. No wonder Hiruzen had taken to asking him annoying questions ("Did you have a proper breakfast?) lately. Kagami would fix this problem he had, if only he knew how to, if only it was not so sweet. Because Shinkai looked at him but did not see him, heard him but did not pay attention to him and spoke with him but did not talk to him. Her behaviour was making him question everything he was.

Doubting yourself was par for the course as a veteran ninja. Questioning yourself was just suicidal.

Still... he needed to fight.

Quickly tying his forehead protector around his head, he took one last lingering look at the bedroom that used to be his refuge, that was now the reminder of everything he had lost. His dark eyes bled into crimson as he burned the scene into his memory, an eternal memento of a fleeting moment. That image, as well as the countless that he had taken of his children without them noticing, were what would sustain him. It was a typically Uchiha thing to do. No wonder they were so emotional.

Deactivating his Sharingan as he exited his room, he came upon Shisui, Shinkai and Tama in the living room, all of them quietly waiting for him. A little of his self-doubt melted away at the sight.

"Shisui, Shinkai," he warmly acknowledged, kneeling before them. "And Tama as well. You take care of yourselves, now. Behave, and listen to Akane-san." He firmly clasped Shisui's shoulders. "Do your best at the Academy and look after your youngers, little warrior. Just like Bishamon."

Shisui nodded at that, smiling bravely despite the unshed tears that gleamed in his onyx eyes.

Then taking Shinkai's hands in his, Kagami paused to find the courage to say the words that he had always hidden for fear of being rejected. It was now or never. "Shinkai," he finally said. "There are so many things that I want to say to you, but there's not much time left. I just want you to know..."

He gently pressed his lips to her forehead. "That whatever we are to you, you are precious to us."


A/N: This chapter gave me +50 Satisfaction and -100 Energy.

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