A/N: I apologize for the wait; I don't have much to say except nothing's been Beta'd so expect a spelling mistake or two. This chapter wanted me to write about another 3000 words before releasing it, but I knew it'd never get out if I didn't release it now. Thank you for your patience!
"Now, my pretty maidens, who may this story hear,
to silly, idle, flattering words, I pray you ne'er give ear;
unto an evil counsellor close heart, and ear, and eye,
And learn a lesson from this tale of the Spider and the Fly."
~ 'The Spider and The Fly' by Mary Howitt ~
Once upon a time there was a girl, an Uchiha, who wanted nothing more in the world than for her loved ones to be happy.
This girl was blessed with a best friend, a boy, who wanted very much for that girl to be happy.
However, both boy and girl were clan-bred and thus destined for the world of the shinobi. A world that was in and of itself, unhappy.
Such was their destiny, to live a life of pain and sorrow. The boy didn't see this, blinded as he was by the things he had, never aware those very things were what he had to lose.
The girl was less naive, her eyes weren't so easily fooled. She saw the world for what it was, shinobi for what they were. She knew this path she had chosen was blood-soaked but still she walked it. Not out of blind loyalty, but with eyes opened, learning all she could to protect those dearest to her.
At some point the two joined a mighty battle, barely scraping by with their lives. It was during such that the boy tasted grief for the first time, a pain so acute and encompassing that he swore to never let himself feel it again. And thus a dark power blossomed, tearing into his mind and distorting his thoughts.
From a loyal shinobi to an enemy in the span of moments. The boy quickly grew into an adversary the likes of which Konoha had yet to see. The Hokage gave his order, for the good of all the boy must die. His best friend, his closest companion, in a fit of compassion incomprehensible to most, sacrificed one of her eyes to save the boy from himself.
She brought his thoughts to the light, made him aware of who he was. And thus the friends survived, nay thrived. With pain, and heartache, but with happiness too.
That girl was known as Uchiha Naori, and that boy was Uchiha Naka. They were my ancestors; my great aunt and uncle respectively. And their story was legendary in the clan, even if Naori's use of her Mangekyo was largely glossed over. However, that was only half of the story, the part that was relayed to kids or other villagers.
The truth was far less palatable.
For, you see, while Naori was one of the few Uchiha to have never succumbed to the Curse of Hatred she was still an Uchiha in a time when the village as a whole mistrusted us. Her act of kindness was seen as an act of stupidity, she had sacrificed a valuable asset (her eye) to return a defected soldier. Her abilities, too, were misunderstood which sewed fear in the hearts of her allies.
But the most damning part about her was her mind. In order to cast Izanami one had to be absolutely at peace with themselves. Most shinobi never attain this peace because their coping mechanism is compartmentalization. Naori, however, would have had to face herself, face all of her actions and then accept them before she could ever ask such of others.
The result was a sharp mind, brilliant tactician, and undeniable rebel. The name 'Naori' means recovery, her parents probably named her that for the same reason as mine - a child to fix what's been broken. What they never imagined, however, is what we so readily saw; it was this world that was broken.
I was the first Uchiha to bear her name, because, for all the good she did and was known for, nothing changed the fact that at the grand age of 25, 2 years after she'd lost her eye, Uchiha Naori was charged with treason and executed. Her name was a curse as much as a blessing.
My parents had no intention for me to live up to her legacy. And to be fair, I had no intention of being executed. That being said, my name was Uchiha Naori, if I saw something broken right in front of me I was almost obligated to fix it.
Part 1 - Test
"I've nominated the three of you for the chunin exams."
It had been a week since we'd said goodbye to the Land of Waves. A week since we'd successfully completed a C-rank turned B-rank turned A-rank. A week since we introduced the last living Yuki Clan member to Konoha. I don't know what I was expecting when sensei summoned us after a week off but I was cursing myself for not seeing this coming.
For not anticipating this and trying my best to prevent such idiocy. Canon may have been wonky on timelines, but I knew the exams weren't slated for long after that mission. I should have seen it coming, but I no longer looked at my life in terms of 'canon' and 'manga,' basing my expectations on the physical world around me. And those expectations had me blindsided.
"But we're rookies!"
"And?" Kakashi baited, as if he wasn't aware that this simply wasn't done. Even Kakashi himself, genius graduate, genin at age 5 had to wait the full year before taking his exam! Itachi, who had graduated at 7, had to wait 3 years! Signing us up, less than 6 months out of the gate? It was crazy.
"Do you really think we're ready?" I pressed, partly to shame him and partly out of true curiosity. It was a fair question, after all, there were a million reasons to sign a team up for the Chunin exams; to give them experience, allow their faces to get out there, give the illusion of a larger workforce, etc. A million reasons and not all of them required faith in our abilities.
I nodded silently to myself, taking Sensei's offered paper and shrugging off his warning about turning in our consent by Friday. I was deaf to the world around me, mechanically making my way home, even while running a mental relay.
'Do I want to take these exams?'
"Do I really have a choice?'
'-is unlikely to appear. He never met Itachi this go around, he shouldn't be obsessed with the sharingan. And he'd definitely not attack a Konoha that still had a functioning (Uchiha-led) police force.'
'But do I really want to be a chunin?'
The answer, unsurprisingly, was 'no.' I didn't want to take on more dangerous missions or have the added responsibility of leading squadrons. I was fine with taking point with my team but they were two people. I didn't want to have to create battle plans for ten people. Honestly, it's not like there were actually many perks to being chunin, at least none that would appeal to me.
Jutsu were accessible based on your reserves and your chakra control. If sensei deemed me ready to learn an A-rank jutsu he could teach it to me, regardless of my rank. Missions too were assigned based on experience and skills rather than title. It was more than possible to be an eternal genin and powerful shinobi - Maito Dai did it! The only things that really came with the promotion (outside of the snazzy jacket that'd look much cooler in black) was the ability to apprentice under different divisions and the flexibility to take missions with shinobi outside your genin team.
Neither of which I cared for. Sasuke would want to promote so he could start shadowing father but I had no interest in working for the Konoha police department, or truly for any department. I'm sure my parents were expecting me to jump at the chance to join R&D but while the thought of research was exciting, the development was less so.
Perhaps if Konoha wasn't a military dictatorship, perhaps if I believed they'd fund research for research's sake, perhaps if I wasn't worried my every discovery would be twisted into a weapon of some sort…
But that was not the world we live in.
Now, that's not to say I had no interest in the division. I was definitely rather curious. I just wasn't curious enough to warrant rushing into a promotion. And I was certain that if I entered I would be promoted.
Perhaps it was conceited to just believe I was going to pass, but I really didn't see how I could fail? It wasn't that I was the strongest genin around, after all, if things played out like Before then Gaara would be there. It wasn't even that I was the smartest around, since Shikamaru definitely had a base IQ above mine.
But being a Chunin wasn't about being the strongest, or the smartest, it's about being mature enough to lead-and while I lived my life with reckless abandon I was still a reborn 20-something. There was some maturity buried in my soul...somewhere.
Entering was tantamount to asking for a promotion in my mind. Which was why I'd firmly decided against it.
Unfortunately, Sasuke vetoed my decision by informing Naruto and Shino that I was going to make them miss their chance at promotion because I was lazy. And, well, there was nothing I could really do in the face of two put out preteen boys.
That being said, Sasuke had better watch out.
The secret prelims passed without much fanfare. Iruka didn't even bother testing me, which kind of stung. Even if he has been trying to get me to promote since I was 7. Things of note; Naruto didn't feel the need to yell into a sea of genin hopefuls about his chances of success, most likely because Shino and I already believed he could succeed. Ino didn't feel the need to hang over Sasuke with the only females of the Rookie 9 being her, Sasuke's engaged sister, and Hinata-who was such a Naruto fanboy that she definitely didn't register as a threat.
Kabuto was still here, although he didn't feel the need to approach our group. He was seated next to me for the first exam, though. And we made small talk (my cover for how I knew his name.) Basically, everything passed without a hitch. In fact, I didn't even bother to cheat.
Which, to be fair, was partially because it was a moot point anyway, what with the whole "tenth question" bit. But also, largely because my very essence still rebelled at the idea of cheating. Yes, yes, I know, of all the things expected of a shinobi cheating on a written exam was hardly high up there. And I understand that it's one thing to refuse to kill, and another to refuse to copy someone's answers. I'm not so insane as to die on that hill.
But it doesn't change that instinctive revulsion.
It was an ingrained belief, at this point, that cheating was wrong. Something drilled into me in that past life, first as a student, then a tutor, and finally as a teacher. I knew that not only was cheating shooting yourself in the foot, but that nine times out of ten you didn't really 'get away with it.' Just because your teacher didn't call you out, doesn't mean they didn't notice you googled the answer, or uploaded your answer to the cloud, or just spoke to a kid from a different period before coming in. There were a million ways to cheat, each more stupid than the last: keeping a crip sheet in your open bag, your phone on your lap, formula's written on your arm, to name a few. Some were slightly inspired, tapping out a code, via pencil, for multiple choice questions. But all were obvious.
So I couldn't bring myself to cheat, not with the knowledge that all these Chunin would know but would simply let it go - provided I was good enough.
So I didn't cheat, I did however, use this moment to complete Ibiki's real goal.
I gathered information.
First on the test itself, I flashed my Sharingan and committed the questions to memory - to study later. Then on the proctors; how were they observing us? What were they recording? Were they communicating amongst themselves? Were they showing bias?
Finally, I turned my attention to my fellow examinees. More specifically, the abilities they were so quick to blatantly showcase.
Although, I suppose I did just flash my Sharingan, so that's a bit hypocritical.
I began recording my observations on the back of the test paper in Romanji as a basic "code".
Garaa - uses sand that moves autonomously, is able to see through his sand (psychic connection?) Did not share gathered knowledge with his teammates.
Kankuro - uses puppets, shared information with teammate.
Temari - book smart, was able to answer some questions without cheating.
Neji/Hinata - Byakugan; able to write while it's activated, either writing blind or can focus on multiple points at the same time. Byakugan not just 359° view, but ability to focus on multiple degrees concurrently?
Tenten - Versatile, was able to subtly summon mirrors to ceiling, attach ninja wire, and angle mirror to reflect correct answers to teammate.
Kiba/Akamaru - able to speak dog, Akamaru is surprisingly stealthy.
Sasuke - trying to cheat off my paper; ha! But also, when did he unlock his sharingan?
Shikamaru - sleeping; I feel you.
Chouji - nervously glanced until catching sight of Shikamaru. Relaxed in the face of Shika being asleep.
Ino - Slumped over in a manner too uncomfortable to be sleep. Likely utilized her clan jutsu on a shinobi in front of her.
Kabuto - looking down at my paper and trying not to chuckle at me disregarding the game. Hi, Kabuto! Have you already cracked my code?
I didn't bother to record anything on Naruto or Shino. I had no doubt that Naruto would never assume he needed to cheat, and Shino likely gave up trying after I did. He trusted my judgement on things like this.
I wasn't worried.
And I had no need to be; the test ended with Naruto sending a panicked glance my way and immediately relaxing at the sight of my blase attitude. No grand proclamations, no Bardic Inspiration to rejuvenate the common man. Just a nod.
I was hopeful that the smaller numbers would eliminate the need for a preliminary tournament. And was excited for a chance to effectively (in my mind) go camping.
It had never occurred to me that things could go so wrong, so quickly.
Part 2 - Forest
It started perfectly fine. I used my Sharingan to lip read Neji and Hinata's relaying of who had which scroll. (Stupid Byakugan being so useful.) Shino then tagged every team that had an Earth scroll and informed us of which teams immediately noticed and/or destroyed his kikaichu. And Naruto...kept Konohamaru busy? Point was, we'd successfully chosen our target before even stepping foot into the forest, and using some basic chakra string manipulation I'd managed to pick their pocket before they'd entered the forest.
We were literally done before we'd even begun, all we had to do was make it to the central tower. Easy, right?
So very, very wrong.
We'd made it maybe a quarter of the way in when I felt it.
Now, I'm not a sensor, not by any stretch of the imagination. I've always just relied on my Sharingan to observe foreign chakra. But there was sensing, and then there was not being deaf. I didn't "sense" this chakra because I didn't need to. It was so powerful, so present, so dense, that it would have been impossible to ignore it.
In a world of fireflies this was a sun.
It didn't matter if one was looking for the sun; because they always knew it was there. In the same way this chakra felt present in an unavoidable way.
And it was moving.
I'd barely called out a warning before wind ripped through the trees scattering us like bowling pins. I hadn't felt wind like that since my first life, walking through an eye of a hurricane. Absolute calm and then wind that could (and would) sweep you off your feet.
It had been a literal life time since I'd dealt with anything remotely resembling this wind, and yet, instinct kicked in.
I dropped to the ground, curled around my knees like a turtle and brought my arms up to shield my newly exposed neck-all the while using chakra to anchor myself to the ground. I was proud of my decision for all of a second until the air died down and I realized three things.
It would have been safer to dodge the attack, like Shino did.
Naruto had been successfully separated from the three of us.
There was an evil Snake man standing in front of me.
"They said you preferred original answers to problems," the voice I was desperately trying to pretend didn't exist, chuckled, "but I wasn't expecting you to duck and cover."
I squeaked, rolling as far from Orochi-freaking-maru as I could. "Wha-wh-who? They? Whose they," I spat.
"Oh, no one of import. Not like you." I shivered at the way his eyes took me in. This was an Apex predator, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was his prey. But, for the life of me, I didn't know why!
"A-are you sure you have the right person? I'm just a genin. I'm nobody!"
"...you are Uchiha Naori, correct?" At my terrified nod he continued, "then yes, you are the person I've been searching for."
This was a man so beyond my level as to be laughable. Not just my level, this man was strong enough to make my sensei seem weak. The sad truth was that there was nothing, nothing I could do to stop him. So freezing made sense, what made less sense was my instinctive need to question.
"Why me? Why not Itachi if you're looking for the best of my clan? Or Toriko if you're looking for the youngest? Seizing an opportunity I can understand, but I'm not worth searching out specifically. So, why?"
His eyes slid in the direction that Naruto had been blown and it was then I noticed that he wasn't wearing the same outfit as I'd seen in that long-forgotten show. Instead he was wearing a black cloak with red clouds. Rather reminiscent of-
"Let's just say," he drawled, "that this is an opportunity seized."
"Imagine my surprise," he continued as if I wasn't busy reworking a million assumptions, "when I ask my spy about Konaha's jinchuriki only to receive a detailed report...about his Kunoichi teammate."
What did I do? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I should have avoided Kabuto entirely.
"It seems like," the akatsuki member chuckled lips pulling up in a cruel smile, "Konaha has a new genius scientist in their midst."
"...what?" From the corner of my eye I saw Shino shift likely readying an attack. "I'm no genius," I continued hoping to somehow, miraculously, distract him from Shino's existence. "I'm just a girl who likes science."
For some terrifying reason Orochimaru's grin grew. "I read your theory on developing a universal anti-venom to indigenous snake species."
"It was quite a compelling read, I especially appreciated your idea to use the common method of 'salting out' employed when creating soap to increase the percent of proteins extracted."
"But I have to wonder...why did you suggest using sheep as a host for generating venom antibodies? Wouldn't a human be a much more efficient incubator?"
"Wrong," I muttered, face twisting in disgust. "It's bad enough having to use live animals but to experiment on humans?! I would never advocate for something so unethical!" I shot out, ignoring the power differential between the two of us.
"Ethics?" Orochimaru questioned, "what does that have to do with science? Or shinobi? Whether by kunai or scalpel they'll all die in the end. At least this way their death could have a greater purpose. Ethics," he sneered, "are best left to the philosophers."
And wasn't that our society in a nutshell? A place where ethics were relegated to the unenviable position of, "someone else's problem." I knew it shouldn't have surprised me, even in my original world the idea of ethics in science was ever changing. It was a difficult balance between sensibilities and responsibilities made harder by the very real fact that some of our most groundbreaking (and life saving) discoveries came about through experiments that were horrific to contemplate.
Orochimaru claimed ethics to be a problem for philosophers and in a way I understood him. After all, what was unethical about injecting venom into a prisoner to develop a universal cure when Konaha injected poison in prisoners to suss out information all the time? How is it wrong to kill a child in an experiment for the betterment of science but right to kill them in a war to better make a statement?
Logically there was no way to resolve the hypocrisy of a shinobi society killing innocents being okay and yet a scientist doing the same being taboo.
I understood this, just as I understood Orochimaru's game. His hope to shake my belief in "ethics" by belittling it as a concept entirely. To what end, I wasn't sure, but he clearly wanted me to accept the idea that following science could be no more amoral than following orders. Unfortunately (for him) his argument fell flat for one very important reason.
"...no one has the right to decide when someone dies whether by kunai or scalpel."
I never considered shinobi ethical to begin with.
"That's...a view," he drawled, unphased by my words, "a childish, naive, view to be sure. But I suppose one is entitled to their opinions."
I readied my kunai, there was no telling when he'd tire of this game and it was my duty to distract this madman for as long as physically possible.
I stilled my breathing.
My eyes bled red.
The world slowed to a crawl.
And Orochimaru moved.
He was untraceable. Never mind that I had my sharingan on, never mind that I regularly trained with Shisui, I may as well have been blind for all the good my eyes did me.
One second he was in front of me, the next the kunai slipped from my fingers as a hand slammed me into a tree by my neck.
"Such an interesting mind," he purred as I froze.
I don't want to die.
"It'd be a waste to leave it in Konoha."
Please, God, Kami-sama, whoever is out there, please!
"But your spirit is so...rebellious."
"I suppose I could always bring you with…"
I don't want to die!
"...train you, break you of these notions."
P-p-please! Someone, anyone?! Sh-shino!
"But first," he moved his head two centimeters to the right and I watched as a kunai smoothly sailed by just missing his carotid artery. "I need to do some pest control."
There was no time for thoughts, no time for worry. One second I was pinned to a tree barely breathing the next Shino was lying in a puddle of blood on the forest floor.
I couldn't make sense of the scene in front of me.
What was Shino doing laying down? This wasn't the time to play opossum? Surely there were better strategies out there?!
I tried to walk to him, but my legs gave out as my body started to shake. I couldn't make sense of the scene in front of me, but my body understood what my mind refused to acknowledge.
"There we go," the MoNsTeR chuckled. "That was much easier than I'd anticipated."
"Y-y-you," I stuttered, words difficult, "Sh-shino! Y-you!"
"Killed him? Why yes, yes I did."
The world screeched to a stop like a bad record player; my muscles seized, my breathing ceased. Every thing was still, and then, all at once, my thoughts exploaded.
Shino can't be dead.
He didn't die in the manga.
He's a main character.
He can't be dead.
Orochimaru is lying.
I hate him. I hate him. I hate him!
...I hate myself.
My vision shattered like glass the world flickering different colors as line's carved their way down my perception. I growled chakra rushing to my hands and lept at Orochimaru, only, he wasn't there.
More importantly, Shino wasn't there, not on the floor anyway.
No, instead he was standing next to me, hand on my wrist, looking completely unruffled. "I have sent my chakra into your system," he murmured voice wonderfully alive, "why? You were unresponsive and seemingly trapped in a genjutsu."
"But those don't work on me?"
Except, apparently they do. At least, that's what I interpreted Shino's raised brow to mean. And really, who was I to argue? I was just a genin a smart one, sure, but I had so very little experience in this profession, definitely not enough to best Orochimaru in anything. Even something as simple as genjutsu.
Honestly, this was my fault. I should have picked up on it instantly. Wasn't that why I'd been so surprised at him referencing my paper? Because I hadn't thought to publish yet? And that chill down my spine? Was that not his chakra entering my network?
Was that all it took to trick me? Some words of praise, a token debate? I should have known better, Orochimaru wouldn't care about me, not with Itachi still an option. Part of me knew this, which was probably why the genjutsu addressed it at all. Bringing attention to his...cloak.
"We need to find Naruto now." I hissed, reaching into my pouch for our scroll. There was very little chance that the chunin it'd summon would be of any help but hopefully he'd at least be fast enough to get help.
Shino just tilted his head in a silent, 'follow me' direction. And despite the rollercoaster that was my emotions I couldn't help but question, 'how long have you had us tagged?"
"I have tagged Naruto since we were first made a team. Why? For moments such as this."
"Right." With a flick of my wrist the scroll unfurled and the summoning seal was activated. Shino shot me a look, and I knew he'd question me later on how I knew the scroll would react in such a way. I wasn't sure what I would tell him, but that was future-Naori's problem. Present-Naori had to deal with a disappointed Iruka who stepped out of the smoke ready to knock us out.
"Orochimaru," I shot out, cognizant of the way his eyes narrowed, "he's here and he's targeting Naruto."
Shino stiffened, and Iruka stilled. A small part of me marvelled at how these two handled stress, how they managed to calm (or at least slow) their fears and focus on the moment. Focus on what need be accomplished. I was not like them, I couldn't calm my heart let alone my thoughts. Instead words started spilling from my lips while my hands shook.
"He's wearing that cloak, he's part of the Akatsuki," it never occured to me that I could be over sharing, "Naruto or Gaara they have to be here for one of them." That I'd have to answer for my knowledge. "...he's got to have a partner somewhere nearby; you need to tell Hokage-sama!" That I could be signing my own death warrant. "Please Iruka-sensei. You have to believe me!"
When you're friend's life was on the line you didn't think about such things; I didn't think about such things. Rather, I just ran...and rambled. To do anything else would have driven me insane.