Hey, welcome to a fic that's been years in the making! TCOS is going to be a very long fic, so buckle up and get ready. I'm going to say this once, right here: THIS FIC IS RATED M. It will contain violence, blood, death, attempted sexual assault, mentions of rape, attempted child sexual assault, torture, and a realistic depiction of shinobi lifestyles. There will be sex scenes, romance, children, etc., as this story will go all the way to the Boruto Era.

On that note, ALL SHIPS HAVE BEEN DECIDED. Yes, Natsume will end up with someone. HE IS BISEXUAL. There will be exploration of sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ elements and characters, and more than one love interest / relationship before we reach Natsume's ENDGAME SHIP. Girl or boy, the option is open for him. Even mentioning that, romance is not the main concern of this fic. This is a story that delves into the shinobi world and all its faults, explores Uzu culture, and deals with major character development.

If you're still interested, I hope you enjoy reading!

HE DOESN'T COME into awareness immediately. At first he thinks he's dreaming, or in a coma and getting glimpses of reality. What he manages to perceive is blurry, distorted and — initially — painful. The earliest, earliest thing he can recall is the color red. Sheer and screaming. What follows is numbness and the heavy feeling of detachment that generally accompanies barely-lucid dreaming.

Then one day that's no longer the case.

He surfaces from the fog without warning, as though woken from a deep slumber by ice water being thrown over his head. He coughs, splutters, hiccups — and his eyes focus on a white, aged ceiling with a single, spindly crack in the plaster. To his left are carefully sanded wooden bars and to his right is another baby, sound asleep, with whisker marks on their cheeks and a head of hair so blonde it looks like it came out of a bottle.

Well, this is happening. Upon attempting to move he discovers that not only has he lost almost all motor function, but he can't speak beyond gurgles that sound suspiciously adorable. He is completely, totally, absolutely — a baby.

Now, he knows absolutely nothing about babies. What he does know is that he shouldn't have all this knowledge in his head, even if most of it is basic. There's just a yawning, gaping nothingness. It's as if he's poofed into existence — except he gets the feeling he was alive before this. He hadn't died a child, but he had died. How he'd died remains a mystery, as did his previous name, family and friends. It was as though he'd gone through the reincarnation process half-way. Maybe the big man's (or woman's!) memory-wiping machine had gotten jammed. Either way, here he is. A baby in everything but mind.

And it's impossibly boring. All there is to do is sleep, eat, shit and cry. It's a routine he becomes intimately familiar with in a very short amount of time, especially since he has a front row seat to the other baby. Who he's quite certain is just a regular ol' baby, not a botched reincarnation or whatever like he is.

Another thing he notices, which is incredibly alarming, is that they don't seem to have parents. Or a consistent guardian. And too many people wear masks. Actual, full-on ceramic masks painted to look like various animals in a style that seems classically japanese. They always change, like they're on rotating shifts, but he sees a Boar, Cat, some kind of Bird, and a Dog. The Dog doesn't come very often, and he never touches them, only looms in the corner of their room like a ghost, or a cloud of depression in human form. Dog-Mask also looks young, like, middle school young. It's all very concerning, and all very alien. The masked caretakers aside, it's the sheer lack of care he and his (should he assume) brother are getting that really throws him off. When he thinks of infant care, this isn't what comes to mind.

The language, however, is actually familiar. Sadly, familiar doesn't mean he's fluent by any means. To his infantile ears it sounds Japanese, and from there he can make out a few words and sentences, but that's about it. And it's not like their stoic, mask-wearing babysitters actually speak often enough for him to even begin to try and learn the language. They almost go out of their way not to say a damn thing, relying on hand movements that are at times too quick for his eyes to fully comprehend.

So. Not great. The whole thing's kind of scary, even. Finding himself in a place he doesn't recognize or understand as an all-too-vulnerable baby means he's at a severe disadvantage. Everything is monotonous, dull and boring. The days drag, his brother cries, they remain mostly ignored — there's no way a baby can grow fully functional with limited care such as this. At first he waits, wondering if perhaps their parents are away, in the hospital, or unable to see them yet. But then days turn into weeks and he realizes with harsh, blinding clarity that no one is coming. They remain ignored and uncared for, aside from the bare minimum requirements. It also becomes clear that the masked babysitters barely know what they're doing, most likely they were guards of some kind. Trained for combat, not infant care.

Which is, you know. Great again. He thinks, scathingly.

Being ignored for so long with only the blond-haired baby for company, who has eyes the prettiest shade of blue he's ever seen, means that he's getting...attached. Quickly. The whiskered baby is his only source of entertainment and company, and probably the only reason he isn't going absolutely crazy in their unfortunate solitude. Which is why, within the span of what must only be weeks, he's decided that this is his baby. His to raise and protect, since no one else will and no one seems to care. He has the mental awareness for it, body be damned, and he can learn along the way — but there's no way he's letting some poor kid suffer in the hands of dumbass adults.

( Even if half the masked babysitters don't look tall enough to be considered such - but who was he to judge age with height? )

He doesn't think about it too often, but there remains the ever-present fact that he knows neither his or his brother's names. Me, myself and I have worked well enough in regards to himself, but the other baby has been Blondie or, even simpler, Baby. Blondie cries quite a bit though, always whining for attention or food or because he messed up his diaper.

The Masks seem a little more hesitant around him (not-Blondie) because he doesn't cry. Baby in body does not mean baby in mind, and he'll be damned if he'll go around howling all hours of the day until his face is coated in snot. The Masks don't exactly care enough to wipe their faces well. Their experience with children is clearly limited, their hands always awkward and too gentle.

Days and weeks and months probably pass, though it's hard to keep track of it all. This must be some form of torture. Deprivation of time, touch, stimulus… it's enough that he feels almost insane. He plots things. How he'll get strong enough to run with Blondie and never look back. Sometimes he stares at whichever masked figure is on guard duty and wonders what it would be like to hurt them. It's a chilling experience, because he doesn't think the desire for violence is a trait he had before. If Blondie isn't quietly gurgling, he's screaming, and with those sounds being his only source of verbal stimulation, it's no wonder he's feeling a little cuckoo.

The reprieve comes when he's vaguely mobile and rolling around. Sitting up is easy and he can bash his little baby fists against the bars while sneering at the masked men. They don't respond the way he wants — which is to cower in terror, obviously — but there's nothing else to do since his baby has fallen asleep.

That's when a new person comes.

An old man with a tired, wrinkled face and long white robes. He looks important, and vaguely familiar. He can't tell if the guy has stopped by, since a lot of his earliest memories are blurry or non-existent. Pursing his clumsy lips, he twists his face into a suspicious look — which definitely doesn't look it, he can just tell. The old man doesn't look scared or worried, he smiles at them with a weary sort of softness, and his hands are gentle when they pick him up. Something in japanese is said, the man's deep voice rumbling through his chest and vibrating under his little baby palms.

The only thing he makes out is Natsume-chan. Which he's quite certain is a name. His, if he had to guess, since the old guy is looking right at him.

It's a bit of a relief, actually.

Natsume rolls the name around in his head. That's fine, he can work with that.

"Ba!" He exclaims vehemently, waving his arms gracelessly. Being a baby really does suck. The old man carries him carefully, moving to peer out of the single window in this whole damn room. He's speaking again, but Natsume can't understand what he's saying at all. Annoying, but it's not like the guy is expecting Natsume to know in the first place.

The world outside the window is awash with sunlight and color fills his vision. Buildings of all shapes and size rise and mesh together like carefully placed dominos. In the far distance he sees patches of greenery that must indicate a forest. To the left, rising high in the sky, is a colossal mountain with four faces carved into it.

Old Man's eyes are on them, but Natsume can't really tell which one he's staring at. Actually, now that he thinks about it, the old guy kind of looks like the third face, if not more weathered and aged. Huh. Old Man smiles down at him, soft and a little bit painful.

Natsume feels like he's missing something important.

The orphanage is a shithole. Natsume does not say this lightly. He's completely serious. The complete lack of childcare, management and order is disgusting. Being outside the four walls of that white, too-white room is a relief, but really?

Blondie's name is Naruto, which he learned shortly after his own. It's pretty cute. Their names carry the same amount of syllables and both start with Na. The fact that he knows a language that is distinctly not Japanese is throwing him off a little, because he's already worrying about exactly how their grammar rules change things. The odd collection of random information in his head very helpfully tells him that Japanese has kanji, hiragana and katakana. He doesn't know the difference between the three just yet — but he's pretty sure kanji is supposed to be the more complex alphabet.

Either way, Naruto and Natsume. It feels good to have a name. They're pretty nice ones too, all things considered. What isn't great is their current living situation. Don't get him wrong, the orphanage is leagues better than that room, but the matrons are so….weird.

There are two women, both with brown hair and dark eyes. He can't tell if they're related, because their faces aren't very similar and one is tan where the other is pale. Both of them are jerks. They aren't malicious or anything, just neglectful and wary. It's like they're scared of him and Naruto. Who gets scared of a baby?

Him and Naruto are allowed to lay in a room with a bunch of other babies, but their blanket is clearly set apart from the rest. Naruto wiggles and belly crawls weakly, fascinated by the loud laughing and squealing of the other children. Natsume does his best to distract his brother, but there isn't much he can do in his baby body, even if he is practically crawling by now.

They must be nearing a year old, right? Or maybe younger...Natsume's knowledge didn't have much on babies or how to tell the difference in age...or milestones. He should probably observe Naruto for that, but Natsume has no desire to slow his development. He needs to pull himself together as quickly as possible so he can care for his little brother.

So two weeks later he's pushing himself up against the wall on wobbly knees. Frankly, baby legs are like very limp noodles. Trying to walk is exhausting. Exhausting. All that mostly-unused muscle is suddenly forced to carry the strain of his full weight. Which — he doesn't really weigh that much, being a baby.

"Ba! Ba!" Naruto gurgles, rolling over and waving his fists. His crystal blue eyes are wide as he kicks his legs and gives Natsume a gummy baby smile. It's so adorably fluff-inducing that if Natsume had any teeth they would have rotted immediately.

He takes it as an attempt at cheering him on and pushes himself further.

His butt smarts from meeting the hardwood one too many times, but the force of it is more startling than painful. Natsume refuses to cry over something so miniscule. He keeps standing and falling, over and over.

Over and over.

Natsume is walking while his little brother still crawls around awkwardly. The movements are clumsy and slow, but at least he has his feet under him. One foot in front of the other. Finding his balance is a lot harder than it sounds, but he gets it.

The only good thing about the orphanage is the fact that they don't starve — and that being surrounded by so many loud, talkative people means that learning the language gets easier. Natsume desperately wants to read. Toys don't hold his attention and, as much as he loves Naruto, he can't stare at his brother for hours as a source of entertainment. It's not a pastime that Natsume wants to return to. Unfortunately, books are out of his reach right now. He's still struggling to understand the spoken word, never mind the complexities of the written.

The dark-eyed lady with tan skin feeds them, her eyes hawkish yet fearful. Like she's anticipating something terrible. Her hands shake. Natsume has no idea what's running through her head. He doesn't know why he and his brother are so obviously held to a separate standard.


It pisses him off. That anger grows as each week passes because how could this be right? How could any self respecting adult see these neglectful actions as okay? Contempt and anger is easier to foster — easier to hold close to his chest, so he can ignore the looming, poisonous loneliness. In truth, all this rage is really just a culmination of a lot of stressors. Someone hit his factory reset button and now there's no one willing to provide support.

Naruto babbles beside him on a pale blue blanket, a few other young children on the other side of the room. Young kids are loud and annoying — or maybe Natsume is just angry at everything. He actually thinks he likes children, or just the thought of a family. It's a pipe dream obviously, he and Naruto are clearly orphans and with the way everyone looks at them? No chance of adoption in their future. While he's practicing moving from sitting to standing he thinks about possible reasons for all the avoidance and fear. Anger at the fact that it's even happening has been at the forefront of his mind the whole time, so he hasn't really considered anything else.

Of course, the idea that two babies are something to be feared just doesn't click at all in his head. Babies are literally the most defenseless creatures out there — human babies even more so than others. They had to be the one species that didn't have an inborn survival sense straight out of the womb. Sometimes it never came in, either. Far too many idiots around for that to not be the case.

He takes another wobbly step, chubby features screwed up in concentration. The blanket is soft under his feet, but the cool temperature of the floor below it seeps through. He hasn't really seen outside since the time they were moved to the orphanage, so his sense of time is pretty screwed up. Is it fall? Winter? Based on the faint sunlight trickling in and the sound of bird calls, it's probably… anything but winter. Which doesn't help much at all.

The kids that are a little older know a few words or broken sentences, and the matrons speak to them slowly and softly — they're doing it right now, while doing their best to ignore Naruto and Natsume in their little corner.

Fuck you, too.

He glances at his brother, who's managed to roll over on his back. The little blond has his own feet in his tiny hands and is sucking on his own toe. It doesn't look like he's going anywhere. Natsume takes the chance to very carefully walk. One step after the other. He doesn't plan on going all the way over to the group — he's not stupid, thanks. But making it to the halfway point is fine. That way he can hear the childish lessons the matrons are trying to instil in the other kids.

They have little books, ones with pictures and what looks like basic kanji. The tan matron visibly startles when her gaze lands on him, but he just stares back at her. It's somehow amusing and irritating when she begins to look vaguely nervous, her voice wavering.

He's literally just standing here.

"Ao." She says, pointing to the square of blue in the picture book. Natsume mouths the word. Ao. Blue. Colors and shapes make up the first book, all basic. Natsume already feels a looming sense of dread at the idea of learning an entirely new language. Couldn't he have skipped this part and 'awoken' after the language learning process?

His legs start to ache from standing. Carefully, since his balance is still all out of sorts, he does the baby-move of leaning forward to press his palms to the floor, then folding his legs until he's sitting. He still hasn't mastered the art of sitting directly from a standing position. As it is, he can barely walk in a straight line. He'll take his victories where he can get them.

"Gah!" A yell behind him pulls his attention away from the sort-of-lesson. Natsume looks back to see Naruto halfway to him, his pudgy palms slapping against the hardwood and an expression of intense concentration on his chubby face. Ah, that's adorable.

Smiling gummily at the sight, Natsume twists and crawls back over to his brother. Naruto looks at him with wide, happy eyes, his little hands tangling in Natsume's dark blue onesie when he gets close. Natsume very, very carefully pats his little brother's head with his clumsy hands. At least one person doesn't fear him.

And Natsume will never fear Naruto, either. Never.

Learning a language kind of sucks. Natsume already established that early on, but midway through the process he still feels the exact same about the situation. One the other hand, it's something to do. Exploration is limited and he can't read or interact with anyone aside from Naruto, so stolen lessons and running his limited knowledge of the language through his head until it's memorized is all he can do for stimulation. Japanese is a beautiful language. He might be annoyed at the situation, but there's no denying that.

His first word is, of course, Naruto. In return, Naruto's first word is Natsume. His little brother doesn't have the extra mental help that Natsume does, so he's quite a ways behind in...everything. Still, by the time a few more months have passed, he's walking and babbling a few words. Natsume is already close to running, and his words are more like half-finished sentences. It's almost a matter of pride for him — he doesn't talk a lot to anyone but Naruto, and he likely won't until he has the language under control a little more.

But maybe not even then, he thinks to himself, It's not like anyone else is worth talking to.

"Natsu-me." His name is split into two kanji. Both of which are far more complex than his brother's. Every child around their age — and there are six, not including him and Naruto — is sitting with paper in front of them and markers in hand. Most of the kids aren't paying attention. The matrons have drawn out kanji for all of them to trace. There's a few basic ones for basic words, like colors and shapes, then there's their names. Even if the matrons continue to seem relatively fearful of him and his brother, at least they aren't attempting to completely leave them out of the lessons.

But back to the names. Naruto is written with three characters, ナルト. Each one corresponded with a syllable. Na. Ru. To. He isn't sure if there's even a special meaning for it. Natsume, on the other hand, has a name with two kanji he can not, for the life of him, get his clumsy baby hand to trace correctly. They aren't even too hard, in a broad sense. But far different from the literal lines that make up Naruto. For Natsume? 夏明, Natsu and Me. Scrubbing the english language rules from his head took a second — because his name sounds a lot like Not-sue-may, being made up of three syllables, and Japanese clearly doesn't care for the concept of one character per letter. Or syllable. There are single kanji characters that mean whole words! For what reason did there need to be so many? There must be hundreds or thousands of kanji, with half of them meaning the same thing as something else or just being a less complex form of the same damn word. Naruto has it easy.

(And Japanese is written and read top to bottom, right to left. Completely opposite from what his brain instinctively wants to do.)

It's also during these lessons that Natsume realizes that the four characters just before Naruto and Natsume are the same. U. Zu. Ma. Ki. Embarrassingly, it takes until about the third session for him to realize that that's their last name. Truthfully, he hadn't given much thought to them even having one — hadn't seemed very important in the grand scheme of things.

うずまき夏明. Uzumaki Natsume. He traces the kanji with a finger, the characters sloppily outlined with his blue marker strokes. It's also the same lesson that he learns something even worse.

Kanji can have several different pronunciations and meanings for the same character. That first one, 夏, is pretty widely known as natsu, and means summer. The second? 明 has several different pronunciations and meanings, and it's even the lone character for a few names. A person can read his name as Natsuaki. That second character means bright, so in a way, aki isn't wrong. Except aki is also how you pronounce fall, as in autumn. Even though the kanji is different.

It drives Natsume absolutely crazy.

It's also perfect for him to focus all his mental energy on.

Naruto isn't really grasping the lessons just yet, instead scribbling all over the pages. He sticks the end of his purple marker into his mouth and chews on it. Natsume keeps having to tug it out of his brother's mouth. Unfortunately, they're at the teething stage. Have been for a little while now, actually. Absolutely nothing is safe from his little brother's sore gums, Natsume included. Naruto has used Natsume's little hands or parts of his arm to gnaw on while whining in discomfort.

After a few days of their combined baby complaints — Naruto's far louder than Natsume's, because he's not much of a crier — the matrons gave them little teething toys. Some are in the oddest shapes. A knife? Or maybe-knife. He can't really tell if it is, because it looks more like some kind of old age ninja weapon from a cartoon. Maybe it's a Japanese thing? Not that Natsume really has any solid memory of…literally anything. He knows that Japanese is a language. That there's a country of people who speak it. He knows nothing of what they look like or make or where they live. Almost all his knowledge is just… this is how you do math. This is how you tie shoes. Smacking two rocks together makes sparks. People and places? Zip.

So he's taking everything in as he goes.

It's fine.

Even if, for whatever reason, the sight of a child with light green hair seems inherently odd. He's not sure why, because no one else seems to have a problem with it. It's just a feeling. The kid is maybe a year older and the hair looks natural, so all Natsume can do is accept it and move on. Eyes and hair can be any color on the spectrum, apparently. Noted.

Naruto throws his marker in childish aggravation and yells out his favorite word. "No!" He then grabs his well-loved teething toy, one of the rubber knife things, and sticks it in his mouth. Natsume gives him a mildly unimpressed look, but can't really blame his little brother. Who's an actual baby. Toddler? Baby. Eh, somewhere in the middle.

"Don't make mess." He says to his barely listening brother. Natsume doesn't dare get up to grab the thrown marker because babies are remarkably like dogs. Or would it be the reverse? Bring them whatever they toss, and they'll toss it again like it's some game you've unwillingly started. He's much more invested in trying to figure out how to speak and read. Dear gods above does he want to get his hands on a book. It doesn't even matter what it's about at this point!

He traces the rest of the remaining characters. It's still sloppy, but at least he's seeing a slight improvement from when they started this a few weeks ago. Natsume isn't really sure if kids are supposed to start all this stuff so early — as clearly almost none of these maybe-two-year-olds are very interested in what's happening, Natsume aside. Either way, he's grateful for it. He smacks his palm on the table to draw the matron's attention. It's the pale one. She glances at him with dark eyes, her mouth set in a slight frown.

"I finished." He articulates slowly. "Gimme 'nother."

She very carefully places a new sheet on his low desk — and they really are low, there aren't any chairs so all the kids sit on these flat, square pillows. The desks look more like stools, actually. She takes care not to touch his hands when she does so, instead awkwardly scooting it across the surface. There's no attempt to take the one that's already filled out. He likes to keep them on the floor under his and Naruto's crib so he can look over them in his free time. Helps with memorizing.

The first time she'd tried to take it, he'd glared at her. Apparently that was enough to make her flinch away, even though he's quite sure a baby glaring is in no way intimidating. Maybe she finds his awareness and clarity alarming? Oh well. That's her problem.

The new sheet still has his name on it, but there's a new set of characters. He has a feeling he's blowing through whatever carefully paced course they've set up for kids.

"Konoha." He sounds out as he outlines the characters. That's the village they live in. "Hi." Fire. "Hokage." Fire shadow, technically, but also the title their leader carries. Natsume knows the absolute bare bones of how this 'village hidden in the leaves' works. Being small, determined and able to walk means he can sneak around and listen in on the older kids' lessons while Naruto is safely napping in their crib. He tries not to do it too often or for too long. Leaving his brother alone in a place like this fills him with terrible anxiety. Like — what if Naruto tries crawling out of the crib (which is what Natsume does) and ends up falling and cracking his head open? Or what if someone kidnaps him?

"Aka. Ao. Midori." Red, blue, green. These characters are more familiar.

Natsume steadies his hand as best he can and continues.

When they're finally able to spill out into the yard, Naruto and Natsume can both run. Naruto is still far clumsier, more prone to tripping or wobbling, but at least he can keep up. They're dressed in worn, clearly secondhand clothes; thick jackets and red, moth bitten scarves. Naruto had attached himself to a burnt orange jacket with yellow sleeves, and Natsume settled for the dark purple and blue one.

The air is crisp and cool, leaves scattered across the ground in varying shades of brown and red. The yard is barren aside from children's toys, the patches of grass among the packed dirt are yellow with death. A forest lines the back, and while there's no fence to keep them out, the children are told they aren't allowed in. The matrons spin tales of a monster that will steal away and eat any foolish child who wanders in. It keeps most of the kids away, and whoever gets too close is quickly stopped by the watchful adults.

The same watchful adults who turn away their gazes when Naruto is shoved to the ground by a child who looks to be at least five years old. As far as Natsume can tell, he and his twin likely aren't even three yet. Which begs the question of why an older kid even bothers bullying a kid who clearly can't understand what's happening.

Except Natsume does understand what's happening. His little brother is being bullied. At the age of maybe-two. They're clearly setting their sights on him next, but Natsume is consumed with rage at the sheer audacity of these brats — and at the audacity of those shitty adults who refuse to acknowledge what's happening.

He puts whatever weak, feeble energy he possesses into his tiny fist and punches the older boy in the dick. The kid lets out a squeak and immediately starts crying.

"Try it again." Natsume goads.

"You're crazy!" The boy's friend, a six year old with dark purple hair, exclaims with childish anger.

Natsume is still young and weak, his reflexes poor and slow. When the kid shoves him in retaliation as his stupid little friend cries in the dirt, Natsume goes flying. Naruto doesn't like that very much, his high pitched yell likely heard three blocks over.

The blond tackles into the purple haired kid, though too small and weak to really do anything. Natsume sits up, feeling winded and achy. Pain hadn't really been a factor in his life so far. While it didn't really hurt, his knee is skinned and his little baby body does not like that.

"Okay, break it up!" The tanned matron comes over, moving to console the two older boys.

Naruto totters to his side. "Nacchan? You 'kay?"

Natsume looks up at his brother, "I'm fine." He lies, and listens to the matron soothe the other boys, not once reprimanding them for their actions.

She ignores the twins entirely.

Natsume has never actually seen his reflection. The matrons bathed them, always very quick and efficient about it, clearly not caring to handle them more than necessary. When they reach maybe-three, Natsume decides to take up that responsibility on his own. He marches himself and Naruto to the bathroom and bathes the both of them, washing his brother's hair and scrubbing his little body with a ratty washcloth. The matrons don't do anything to stop it, seemingly grateful that they don't have to deal with that anymore.

It's during one of their bathing sessions — and the bathrooms are pretty big and communal, with multiple showerheads in the wall and little stools to be sat on. There's a little room that you have to walk through before you reach the shower area and it's where you leave your clothes in a little cubby, and grab fresh towels. It's like.. A locker room, almost. Because it's also where bathroom stalls and sinks are. Then you hop into the next room for the showers. Their baby teeth are almost entirely grown in, and they have cheap toothbrushes to use. Natsume has to brush his brother's teeth for him, and Naruto hates every second of it. They're both short, being toddlers, so they can't really see themselves in the sink mirrors.

Natsume has just finished brushing his brother's teeth and he's...curious. He's practically memorized Naruto's features by now, but doesn't even know his own. Glancing at Naruto, who is scowling and scrubbing his wild blond hair with a towel, Natsume takes his brother's momentary distraction to pull himself up onto the sink counter.

The very first thing that runs through his head is Red.

See, being twins, there was always the possibility that they were identical. Now? It's pretty obvious they're fraternal. His hair is red. Like fresh blood — the movie kind, because everyone knew actual blood was dark until you smeared it — or strawberries. Tomatoes. Bell peppers. Ugh, enough of the food comparisons. Bright, carmine red and somewhat spiked. It looks looser than Naruto's very obvious spikes, which are oddly soft despite their pointy appearance. Natsume's hair sits somewhere between straight and gravity-defying, while Naruto is very firmly in gravity-defying territory. That could also just be because their hair is kept relatively short, cropped to hang around ear-length. At least in his case, it looks like if he grew his hair out it would be tamer.

His eyes are exactly like Naruto's in color, the same beautiful, crystalline sky blue. Despite the fact that they are children, and therefore their eyes are very cutely too big for their faces, it's also obvious that their eye shapes are different. Naruto's looked wider, more circular. Natsume's are slightly narrower, more pointed at the ends. His eyelashes are significantly longer, too. Or maybe Naruto's are just harder to see, being blond. Natsume's are dark red and therefore more visible than the shimmery gold Naruto sports.

He is, quite honestly, completely adorable and a little girly looking. There is no doubt he and Naruto are related, those differences aside. They look alike in the way siblings do, and they both have tanned skin and the three lines on each cheek that mimic whisker marks.

Huh. That part of him that hosts memory-knowledge makes him feel like his red hair is...odd. When he thinks of red hair, he thinks of a shade of orange. Ridiculous, honestly. Red is red, after all. Kids had all sorts of hair colors. There are even a few with varying shades of blond-yellow, like Naruto — except not. His hair is bright, like sunshine and pale gold.

Natsume pokes his cheek with a finger and watches his reflection do the same. He pinches a strand of bright red hair. There's no one with hair like his.

At least, he thinks, no one in this backwater orphanage.

"'M hungry!" Naruto complains, dragging Natsume's attention away from the mirror.

He hops down, "Yeah, 'kay."

Dinner is miso and rice. Natsume is getting really tired of rice.