*pulls self out of grave* another chapter has arrived yeah. Due to depression and the hectic times of the semester ending, as well as a really foul review, it took awhile for me to get this chapter out, sorry. shorter chapter than usual, but short update is better than no update?

idk if I mentioned, but haha-ue and chichi-ue are like the super formal versions of okaa-san and otou-san. Raku uses them with Kaito and Mebuki to distance them from the parents he had in his past life.

Also, holy shit: Raku is male. Raku identifies as male, and uses he/him pronouns. The only time this fic addresses him with female pronouns is when other characters that don't know are addressing him. Please do not use she/her pronouns to describe Raku.

Chapter summary: Introducing Yamanaka Ino. No Raku, you're not getting a break. Now have hyperactive five year old girl that wants to be friends with the weird kid her dad told her about.

Raku shouldn't have said he was bored.

who am I? ah, that's the great puzzle

"My name is Haruno Raku, my name is Haruno Raku," was what he mumbled under his breath when no one was looking, no one was listening. Haruno Raku is five, and young, and has never fallen in love, and lives in a world with shinobi and ninja and an eternal state of cold war. Jin An was twenty-seven, and he had loved, loved fiercely, loved brightly, and burnt away because of it. Ironic that he had been blazing-bright and then reborn, like some bird cursed to be a phoenix- with all of the pain and so little reward.

He has to compartmentalize. There's no time, (he has plenty of time, sitting in his bed, but he ignored that) to think of Mikhail now, no time to reflect on the past and grieve. No room to grieve, even- Mikhail has no grave here, nowhere that Raku could pay respects. No time, either, because Raku knew he was teetering on his emotions, that if he let himself remember too much, dwell too long, he would make a mistake of the past. And that chance of another rebirth, another chance at his own life would be for nothing.

"I am Haruno Raku," he said again, firmer this time as he shoved all of his grief and love and joy he remembered (that he doubt he'd find again in this life) to the side, deep underneath layers of dead apathy and a list of things he needed to do in this life. Things that he could occupy his time with, so that those emotions wouldn't break from the depths again.

He breathed once, twice, and his tears stopped as Jin An was shoved away and Haruno Raku carefully didn't think about it.

Raku wished that he had read the Naruto manga, not just listened to Mik- not listened to people rant about it and terrible characterization and terrible endings. He had very little clue about how to even start on his list of "helping Naruto save the world". Item number one was finding Naruto, obviously, but it was easier said than done, because Konoha was big, and it didn't help that Raku's legs were short.

... or that he still had occasional migraines and his parents have been keeping him in the house, the doctor's order of strict bedrest hampering any of Raku's freedom.

"Can I go out today?" he asked, an edge of a child's petulance in his voice as he looked at Mebuki with all the pleading he could muster. He hadn't even been able to sneak out lately, what with his parents checking in him often in the middle of the night to make sure his headaches weren't acting up again.

The woman looked him over, sighing before kneeling in front of him and patting him. "I'm sorry, Sakura. Doctor's orders. Just another week, and then we'll go see Shiratori-sensei, okay?"

The thought of another week of staying indoors in a world where there was jack shit to do indoors other than housekeeping or sleeping make Raku want to scream. "But haha-ue, I'm bored." He stressed the word as much as possible. "There's nothing to do! And I can't go and play with anyone when I'm stuck here."

Mebuki pinched the cloth of her skirt. "Don't worry, Sakura. I'll do something about it, okay? In the meantime, just another week! Everything will be better soon and you'll be able to go outside again."

I am neither Sakura nor pleased. Raku mentally grumbled, but nodded curtly, in assent, not expecting anything. Mothers usually didn't live up to expectations.

Except, it seemed that Haruno Mebuki did live up to expectations. Well, then again, Raku hadn't had any expectations, so her having done anything positive would have been a surprise.

"Sakura, we have guests! Wear your green dress, okay?" Raku looked up from his book with a puzzled expression as she popped into his bedroom that evvening. "The family that owns the flowershop down by the corner has a little girl around your age too!" She pulled out aforementioned green dress and gave it to Raku. "You said you wanted someone to play with, so I hope you and little Ino-chan get along."

"Hah?" Raku barely managed to verbalize his confusion before a kettle-whistle came from the kitchen. Mebuki's eyes widened and she bustled out to tend to whatever food she was making and Raku was left with a green dress in his hands.

Raku hated dresses, but unfortunately he didn't have much freedom of choice at this point in this life. He sighed and reluctantly shrugged it on, pondering Mebuki's words. "Flowershop at the corner? Ino?"

A shudder went through his body as his brain froze in realization. Isn't Yamanaka Ino the name of a Naruto character? Her and Sakura were childhood friends. What the fuck what the fuck I did not calculate this- wait that means the Yamanaka that saw my breakdown was...

Her... dad.

Fuck I hope he didn't tell her about me fuck fuck I hope to the seven hells Yamanaka Inoichi didn't tell her about the weird kid he saw- wait, we met at a bar, he wouldn't have told her, right? Right? Fuuuuu-

"Sakura!" his mother yelled. "They're here!"

Fuck I should have just wallowed in the silence.

Raku slipped down the stairs as quietly as possible as he heard five voices twining together in greeting, the most cheerful of them all greeting him the moment he saw them. "Hi!" Short platinum-blonde, pupil-less blue eyes, and the same height as this body. "I'm Yamanaka Ino!"

Raku pasted on a practiced smile that he hadn't worn since he was twenty. He'd sworn that he would never have to wear that smile again, but things never liked to go as planned. "I'm Haruno Sakura!" he said back, holding his hand out for a greeting. Ino shook it enthusiastically, but before she could say anything else, they were both ushered to the dining room.

"It's so nice to see you again, Mebuki-chan!" a green-eyed woman with no pupils and signature Yamanaka blond hair hugged his mother in greeting as they sat down.

"Kana-chan, it's only been a week!" Raku averted his eyes from the adults. He was used to them in all their formality and all their distance and all their business dealings, so watching them behaving as anything other than his parent was strange, almost. "-this is Sakura, my daughter... Sakura?" his mother nudged him and he smoothed over his confusion with the same polite practiced smile he had given Ino.

"It's nice to meet you, Yamanaka-san, Yamanaka-san," he said, bowing quickly to Kana and Inoichi before taking his seat next to Ino. Inoichi himself hadn't offered any greeting, watching him intently. It looks like he's not going to tell them about the hospital. Thank god.

Dinner was over quickly, Mebuki and Kana discussing something about flowers and fabric and a half dozen other topics, Kaito carefully engaging Inoichi about some meeting. Raku, though, was tense, having said nothing to Ino. ot out of rudeness, but rather because she hadn't said anything to him outside of that short introduction.

Anything. She occasionally got scolded for messy eating by her parents, and complimented the food, but other than that, she had just... stared at him. Just like her dad. Two sets of pupilless blue eyes watching your every move was unsettling, to say the least.

"Thank you for the food, haha-ue. May I be excused?" Raku set his chopsticks down and looked at the adults expectantly.

"Me too!" Ino burst out, chopsticks clattering. Her parents looked at her indulgently, and after a nod and a suggestion from Mebuki to go to the backyard, she trailed after him, still not saying a single word.

Pushing the back door open, Raku shuffled on some slippers and gestured vaguely around the garden. "It's not much." It was a decorative rock garden, lined with pebbles and occasional shrubs poking up, as well as the single tree that Raku used to sneak out, other bushes lining the fence. He waited for Ino to run off and grab her outdoor shoes before walking to the tiny patch of grass around the tree.

He had resigned himself to her staring at this point, so the, "What's your name?" nearly startled him. "Are you Sakura-chan or are you Raku-kun?"

Fuck you, Inoichi.

"Soooo?" Ino drew out the word, poking the other child. "Tou-san said that Haruno-san had a kid my age called Raku-kun! But you said Sakura, so am I supposed to call you Sakura-chan or Raku-kun?"

"Raku," he whispered, eyes darting about. "My name is Raku. And please, keep your voice down. My parents don't know."

Ino sat down across from Raku-kun on the grass, frowning in confusion. "But they're your parents, how come they don't know your name? And how come you look like a girl if you told my tou-san you're a boy? And why do you-"

The boy-that-looked-like-a-girl turned his head away. "They don't know because they named me Sakura, but I named myself Raku," he answered, cutting off her questions with an odd sort of smile on his face. Ino didn't like it. "So you can't call me Raku when my parents are around, okay? And I look like a girl because this body is a girl's body, but inside," he tapped his head, "I'm a boy."

"I don't get it. How come you named yourself and why do you say you're a boy inside?" Ino fired back, curiousity raging. She'd been full of questions ever since tou-san came home last week and told kaa-san about the very strange child he saw at the hospital, and even more curious when he told her to look out for a Haruno Raku. And tonight her kaa-san had made arrangements to eat with the Haruno family, and tou-san had gotten surprisingly quiet when he saw Raku, so even though Raku-kun had said his name was Sakura, Ino knew he had to be the boy that had confused tou-san. And no one could confuse tou-san! Well, except Shikaku-jii when they played shogi, or Chouza-jii- Ino shook her head and went back to staring at Raku-kun.

He was looking at her very hard. Ino wondered if his hair was normal, and then remembered that his dad had the same color hair too. "Well?" she demanded. "Why-"

"I named myself because Sakura is a girl's name and I'm not a girl," Raku-kun hissed, eyes dark. "And my parents don't know because I don't want them to know. It's a secret. You can keep a secret, right, Ino-chan?" he looked to the side again, like he was afraid someone would hear. "You and your tou-san are the only ones that know, and I don't want my parents knowing, okay?"

A secret. Ino grinned from ear to ear. He wanted her to keep his secret! Not even his parents knew it. "I won't tell anyone!"

There was something strange about his smile again when he reached out a finger to her. "Pinky promise?" Ino quickly linked hers to his, and they shook once, and it was almost as if all of Raku-kun's oddities fell away after that.

"What's living in a flowershop like?" he asked. "Do you help out? Do you like flowers, even?"

She'd grown up surrounded by flowers, how could she not? "I love flowers! Do you?"

"Flowers are... nice," Raku-kun said slowly, "Are you going to take over their flowershop when you're older then?"


A look of surprise flashed across his face, and he tilted his head to the side. "Why not?"

Raku-kun is a bit silly, Ino thought. Or maybe he just doesn't know? Well, he is a civilian... "I'm going to be like tou-san! I'm gonna be clan head and head of T&I just like him, serving Konoha!"

"Sounds fake but okay," Raku-kun muttered.


He looked abruptly guilty for a moment. "I mean, well. How come you want to serve Konoha like your dad?" Ohh, civilian mentality, she realized.

"Because shinobi are the military force of the Elemental Nations, and the Yamanaka clan have a long history of being shinobi." Ino remembered the talks her father would give to some cousins that didn't want to join the Academy. "We have unique clan jutsu that no other clan can mimic, not even the Uchiha and their Sharingan, and since we have the talent to be great useful shinobi serving Konoha, why shouldn't we?" Ino brightened a bit, "And tou-san is a great shinobi, so I want to be like him, just as good as him!"

"Indoctination at it's finest," something strange came from his mouth, sounds that didn't quite sound like any words Ino knew. She'd have to ask tou-san later. "But isn't the death rate high?" Raku-kun asked.

Ino shrugged. "I saw one of my cousins get her name carved on the Memorial Stone last week." Raku-kun flinched. "But even if we do die, at least that means we died doing our best, right? Not just doing... I don't know, what do civilians do?"

It was Raku-kun's turn to shrug. His expression was a bit odd, though, like he was testing her- it looked weird.

"And if I'm a shinobi I get to learn all the clan jutsu!" Ino added, "Like mind-walking and body-switching and stuff! And when I get older I'll get to join the Academy, and learn how to channel chakra and use kunai right because tou-san won't teach me until I've joined the Academy, and- what's so funny?"

Raku-kun hid his mouth behind his hand, but his eyes betrayed his laughter. "You have everything set out for you, huh?"

"Why are you laughing?" Ino persisted.

He waved his hand, almost in apology. "I'm sorry, Ino-chan. It's just, you're five, and you're talking about growing up to be a hired killer and you're so excited about it."

Very little of that sentence made sense. The words made sense, but the way he phrased it and his tone made it hard to interpret. 'You're five too," she shot back.

An emotion she couldn't identify flashed in his eyes. "I'm six," he said.

"So, you're not that much older than me. And it's not funny that I'm going to be clan head and head of T&I and follow tou-san's footsteps!"

He smiled, lips curling up at the corners as he fought down another laugh. "It's not funny, that's why it's so funny!"

Ino stared at him. "I don't get it," she said flatly.

His eyes were shining with laughter too, now. "Just because you know one of my secrets, Ino-chan, doesn't mean you know them all. There's a lot of things that you won't get when it comes to me."

Ino couldn't wait to get home and tell her dad so he could figure out what was confusing her so much. "Maybe you should come to the Academy with me!" When stuck, change subjects.

His laughter stopped, and he tilted his head to the side again. "What? Why?"

"We're friends, right? Raku-kun." She wore a sly smile, eyes dancing with mirth at knowing a secret his parents didn't get to know. And if he trusted her with the secret that big, then they had to be friends. "And... I don't know, I think you could be a shinobi too! Even if you do have some funny civilian ideas."

Raku-kun smiled, and itfelt genuine- as if all the smiles Ino had seen up to now had been fake. "You have to get your dad to persuade my parents to let me enter the Academy though, Ino-chan."

"I will-"

"Ino!" the children's attention was jerked from each other to Ino's mother standing on the back porch. "We're leaving now!"

"But-" Ino didn't want to go yet, she wanted to know more about Raku-kun and all his secrets!

Raku-kun stood up and offered her a hand. "It's okay, Ino-chan!" he chirped, smile gone and something fake there instead. "We can meet again! I think your mom will let you come over to play if you want, and haha-ue wants me to make friends, so she'd be happy if you came over again!"

Do you really mean that? Ino wondered, at the strangeness and the smile. "Really?"

"Of course!" she glimpsed a bit of that other smile, just for a moment. "We're friends now, aren't we?"

"Hey, Ino-chan, do you want to know another secret of mine?" Raku-kun asked a month later as he held up a hand full of cards. He put down two on the pile in between them, "I put down two queens."

"BS," Ino fired back. Raku-kun smirked, and flipped the cards to reveal two queens. Ino grumbled as she added the stack to her hand, and then put down some cards. "Three kings. What secret?"

"Pass. I'm looking for someone. Do you want to help me? One ace."

Ino pouted that he hadn't called BS She wondered what BS meant anyways. "Pass. Who are you looking for, and why are you looking for them? Two twos."

"I'm looking for a boy with whisker-marks. On his cheeks, and blond hair and blue eyes. He our age!"

"Why?" the description felt familiar.

"Promise me you won't tell anyone?"


"I'm looking for him because when I saw him, he looked very sad."

"Sad?" Ino looked up from her cards to a stone-faced Raku-kun.

"Sad like I was before I got you as a friend."

Ino wanted to call BS. But she didn't see any reason to- Raku-kun would give her a real reason, later, when they found this sad boy, probably. He was strange like that.

To clarify: last two scenes are in Ino's perspective. Wanted to try to relay how confusing Raku is compared to other kids, and how he confuses other kids. And yeah, he taught her how to play Bullshit (card game) because he has very loose morals. And hey, good practice for trying to catch lies.

the "that sounds fake but okay" line is 100% a meme reference and dedicated to meme-loving shit exocara

(quoted italicized words are spoken in English btw)

Reviews are appreciated, I'm one of those people that thrive off of feedback.