I have to warn you first. This is long. We're talking about roughly 4000 words here (I checked). This is the longest short story I have ever written.
I also am not very sure what it was that I wanted to convey here. I'm still sort of... figuring it out. If anything here seems off, please tell me. Thank you.
Also, please don't ask me why I didn't use the Japanese terms for parents. The only things I did lift from that language are the honorifics. Maybe I felt like it would be laying it on too thick...?
I therefore disclaim Naruto, created by Masashi Kishimoto.
Tsunade-sama tells me that I was born in the winter solstice. "The pregnancy was unexpected," she said, "but your parents' joy could be felt throughout the village."
When the day came, the baby – in other words, me – wasn't the boy everyone expected, either. However, my mother tells me that my eyes, blue, inherited from my father, warmed up the household for the rest of the winter. My father ruffles my hair, a funny sort of peach pink, and says that my laugh reminds him of my mother, and she blushes behind me. I don't particularly believe them, but I can feel the love between them, and my heart bursts with happiness.
My sixth birthday came up. I begged Mama to buy me the green hair ribbon I saw in the shop across the other day, and she agreed, laughing at my enthusiasm. Daddy said he already had my present ready for giving away, but no matter how hard and how many times I pleaded him to tell me what it was, he just chuckled and told me to be patient. Mama always scoffs at this memory, saying he's a hypocrite for telling me to be patient, but Daddy always throws a grin at her and tells her she knows him well.
And when everyone had given me their presents, all were marvelous in their own unique way – flowers arranged into the congratulating phrase of Happy Birthday from the Yamanaka family, adorned with my favorite daffodils and cherry blossoms, somehow; one of the newborn puppies from the Inuzuka family – I was touched with this one, because I knew how much they treasured their canines; a shining, green silk kimono from my aunt Hinata-san (to match my mother's present, she said), and many, many others; even a glass vase sent all the way from Sunagakure, made by the famous Gaara himself – but in the end, it was Daddy's present I loved most.
For the next few weeks, I rode the bicycle proudly around (even if rather clumsily), annoying passengers by swerving in front of their way and my uncle Shikamaru with ringing the small bell every time I passed him cloud-gazing.
I turned nine. By then I understood that my birthday was something of a grand event, coupled with hordes of gifts, so I had stopped asking my mother for presents and let everyone choose what to give, if to give at all. Besides, I had thought then, Daddy always says to give everything, and ask for nothing.
I walked down the usual way from the academy – I hoped to be as good a kunoichi as Mama someday – but I saw two men talking in a sort of angry voice, and I debated a little whether to ask them what they were doing or not ask them. I finally decided not to, since Mama always told me before I went to the academy to not talk to strangers. However, my little delay had caused me to catch some snippets of conversation. Something about hunting foxes with nine tails. I hadn't understood then, being the child I was, and I wondered amusedly whether foxes with nine tails existed.
"Look, isn't that the–"
"Oh, yeah. Hey, kid! Over here!"
I looked around. There wasn't any other kid they could have meant, and I was curious about them, so I came over.
"Did you call me?"
"See, I was right. You can almost see the whisker marks on her face."
Reflexively I touched my cheek. I didn't have whisker marks. In fact, the only person I knew that even had whisker marks was Daddy.
"I think you mean Daddy, not me," I told them. Maybe they were looking for someone who had the marks.
They both laughed. I wasn't sure I liked their laugh then. It sounded surprised, but also pleased, in a way that made me shiver.
"'Daddy'?" one said, and they laughed again. "See, I was right!"
Instinctively, I took a step back, readying myself to run. There was something I didn't like, not at all.
Instantly the other one called, "Where are you going, kid? We ain't done with you yet!"
I ran, but found my way blocked by Stranger 1. "Where do you think you're going?" His voice slurred, and his breath smelled like the liquid inside the bottle Tsunade-sama drinks from. I knew that it turned people upside down, and Mama had warned me to never drink that stuff. Sake, I think she called it.
"That monster killed my brother, you know? If we do away with the offspring I think it'll be equal."
"It killed my father. A life for a life, eh?"
They surrounded me. One of them grabbed me – I didn't know who and I didn't really care, by then I was almost too overwhelmed by fear. I don't think I had ever been so scared before.
I lashed out insults and they just laughed. The one who gripped me held me tighter and the other one took out a knife. It was quite small, I think, but in the evening light it looked sinister and glinted evilly. He brought it down on my forearm and pressed it until it drew blood.
It stung, but otherwise didn't hurt very much, so I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of seeing me do so.
He smirked. "Tiger, aren't you?" And then he pushed the knife lower and deeper, creating a clean cut from mid-forearm to my elbow.
It hurt. A lot. Naturally I screamed.
They both laughed. "That's a nice scream. Very pretty. Will you do it again for us?"
"No!" I shouted, my hair messy from all the struggling I had done.
He grinned. The breath still stank. "All right then" was all he said before he made another cut across the first wound. It hurt even more.
I screamed again. I wished that someone would come before I–
"If 'Daddy' has whiskers, how come you don't?"
No, no, no!
"Let's make some, shall we?" The knife touched my cheek, and it almost felt like caressing below my cheekbone until it drew blood. The pounding was the most painful under my eye.
They chuckled as I screeched out something unintelligible in pain – my loudest yet – and the knife moved down in the desire to wound again.
A new voice shouted out, angry and horrified beyond words. "What the hell are you doing?" Iruka-sensei's eyes fell upon me and traveled up my bloodied arm, and then across my cheek. "No," he breathed.
The both of them ran away. I did not care. I was too exhausted to do anything else but fall on the ground. I felt the wind whoosh beside me, stinging the cuts, and knew that Iruka-sensei had rushed beside me when his hands held me steady. "Do you feel all right?"
I didn't. Of course I didn't. I felt my head shake slightly.
"They… told me I should have whiskers. Like… like Daddy."
I heard someone else come, probably called over, and another familiar voice state gravely, "Naruto. What will we tell him?"
I felt myself pass out into sleep as I was gathered up, headed home, I was sure.
I was awakened when I heard someone scream my name. Mama.
"Mama?" I asked, trying to stand from the person who I knew had taught my parents. Who was he again…? Oh yes. Kakashi-sensei.
"What happened?" Mama asked, gathering me into her arms, healing me with chakra. The only other people I knew who was better than my mother at healing was Tsunade-sama and Shizune-san.
"I think it was the grudge again," Kakashi-sensei replied quietly. "If Naruto knows," he added, "he'll start blaming himself again."
Mama hugged me tightly. I could feel her shaking – was she crying? I hated it when she cried. Daddy hated it, too. She knew, so why was she crying?
"He has to know, though." Her voice trembled. "It's our daughter. He has to know."
"Why does he blame himself?" She hugged me tighter, and I could feel something wet hit my head. "It wasn't him. It was the Kyuubi."
Kyuubi? The nine tails thing again. What did this have to do with Daddy?
"Sakura, please calm down. I'm sure you can get him out of it." There was a pause. "If all else fails, I'm sure Tsunade-sama can knock the sense into him." I felt the smile he was wearing. Even if I could see him with the arms around me, he would have been wearing a mask.
A hiccup. I think it was my mama trying to laugh. The atmosphere grew serious again. "Does the Hokage know?"
"She's being notified as we speak."
My mother held me at arm's length, and I feigned sleep. I felt her caress my cheek. "This will leave a scar, you know."
She went to my bedroom and tucked me in, then went back to the living room. I heard her talk to Kakashi-sensei for a while, then a knock reverberated loudly from the door.
"That'll be Naruto," Mama said. There was a click signaling the door opening, and then I could hear Daddy's voice.
"Sorry, Sakura." I could picture him rubbing his head. "There was additional stuff in the mission we didn't know about, and we–" He stopped. "Kakashi-sensei, why are you here?"
Mama spoke up. "It's… it's about–" There was a sob. Mama started crying again.
A pause. "Why?" Daddy's voice was urgent. "What's wrong with her? Sakura…" His voice turned tender. "Why are you crying?"
I felt sleep take me over then. Despite how interesting the conversation seemed to be, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was sleep.
The two men were caught. I forget their names, but they were given severe punishments. On the day I returned to the academy, Iruka-sensei told the class another reason for the scar on my cheek, and told them anyone who asked me about it would get a week's toilet duty.
Needless to say, the day went on smoothly, as if nothing happened.
I would have believed everything was all right, but for the fact that Daddy was absent most of the time. He was often gone by breakfast time or even before Mama woke up. And when he was gone, it was often for days.
Sometimes, when Mama thought there was no one else, I would see her pick up Daddy's jacket – the old one, what used to be vibrant orange was now a musty color – and cried on it, sometimes wearing it for the day. I could tell she missed Daddy. I did, too. Why didn't he see it?
One year later–
It was dinnertime, and outside, it was raining heavily. Mama had exchanged my blanket for a thicker and warmer quilt. I noticed she was wearing Daddy's old jacket.
The front door opened. Daddy hadn't bothered to knock. He trudged in (thank goodness he wasn't wearing his sandals inside or I'd have to scrub it for hours, I thought errantly), sopping wet, and headed towards the main bedroom.
Mama shook. Her voice quivered when she asked, "Aren't you going to have any dinner?" If it was any normal day she'd have scolded him about the miniature puddles he was making.
He didn't even look back. "I'm tired, Sakura-chan. I'd like to sleep. I can have dinner later."
The door slammed shut. I had seen Mama's expression crumble at the '-chan' Daddy put after her name. I was angry at Daddy. Why was he acting like a jerk? Mama was only trying to help.
She must have seen my face scowl, because she said, "Be patient with your father. He's going through a tough time." However, she added in a murmur, "Though I wish he'd let me in."
I continued to eat. I didn't see Mama touch her plate again, but I didn't ask about it. After a while, she called my name, I looked up, and she asked me, "Can you do the dishes tonight? I'm sorry to ask you when it's not your chore today, but I–" She stopped, and without waiting for a reply, she said, "Thank you," and went after Daddy.
I played around with my food.
I was the only one left in the dining room.
My bedroom was only a wall away from my parents', so I could always hear whenever they raised their voices.
That night, the argument was bad. It had started when Mama asked Daddy why he wasn't around anymore. She said that the family needed him to be around, that I needed a father.
He didn't answer, merely saying "Sakura-chan…"
I think that was what made something break out in Mama. She started shouting, with a few sobs in-between. She asked him why he was distancing himself. She occasionally threw in the name Sasuke. I didn't know who he was; just that he was once a teammate with my Mama and Daddy.
Daddy shouted back things like how it was his fault, everything that had happened to me a year ago. How he couldn't bring back Sasuke for my Mama. How he was sure he was only second choice, that if he had succeeded in bringing Sasuke back, Mama would have married him instead–
There was something like a clap and a whip crack sound. I think Mama slapped him. I didn't know who this Sasuke person was, but I wasn't too sure that I liked him at all if he could put such a rift between my parents.
Mama asked him, softly, how he dared think that.
The rest were murmurs and mutters, and I couldn't hear anything else, so I fell asleep, sure that they had at least made up.
The next day, Daddy joined us for breakfast. Both he and Mama were smiling again, and he also told his horrible jokes. I was glad that things had returned to normal, even if Daddy sometimes looked a little sad when he saw my cheek.
I was happy that my family was happy for the first time in a year. Time went by quickly.
And then, that night.
I was working late, scrubbing the kitchen, cleaning, making sure everything glittered satisfactorily. I wanted to please Mama. She was our housekeeper and a kunoichi, making sure the house was in order and taking missions at the same time – it had to be tiring. I did it so that she wouldn't have to clean the kitchen for months.
Mama was in the living room, waiting for Daddy to come home. I knew she thought I was asleep in my bed. I was getting better at making clones.
He did come. I peeked from behind the counter. He looked exhausted, pained, and terrible, as if he needed to do something that would torture him.
Mama felt the same as I did. "What's wrong, Naruto?"
When he replied, I felt myself turn cold. "I… Sakura, I…" He heaved a sigh. "I have to leave the village."
The main thing that decorated Mama's face was fear. Fear in amounts. "Why?" Her voice was almost a whisper.
"There are riots, Sakura. Rebels. They're gathering. It's like another Root."
"What is it they want?"
A precarious pause filled the room. Daddy looked straight at Mama.
"Me," he said finally. "Well, not me. What I hold." He sighed again, sounding and looking tortured, running his hands through his hair. "I don't want to leave, but I have my family to protect. I could probably take them on, but obaa-chan said… Sakura, I–"
Mama kissed him forcefully. "When?"
"I don't want anything else to happen to–"
"Tomorrow. Before dawn."
I ran there and then to Daddy, hugging him around his waist. "You'll come back, won't you, Daddy? Promise me you'll come back!"
He smiled, and ruffled my hair. "Of course," he assured me.
His smile widened, but other than that, didn't acknowledge my demand.
All of a sudden, Mama threw her arms around Daddy, like she couldn't help herself. "Come back to me. Always come back to me."
Daddy took her in his arms and kissed her, more forcefully than she had. "Always."
The next few months passed by in a blur. Mama was working harder than ever, now that Daddy wasn't around to help her. She also helped in taking down some of the people who had wanted Daddy dead. I wanted to help, but Tsunade-sama said I was too young.
Every now and then I'd ride on my bicycle, acknowledging that I haven't forgotten him.
I graduated from the academy. I passed the clone test with flying colors, though the rest was just average. I think Mama went a little over herself, gloating and telling Ino-san about it over and over again until she groaned, "Kami help me. Get over yourself, Sakura!"
However, during the next few months, Daddy's absence made itself known. We would stare at the empty seat at the table during mealtimes. Mama became a little grouchier every day and then started to make a habit of wearing the orange jacket I began to despise whenever she was home, because wearing it meant that Daddy was not here.
Then Mama became sick. Often in the mornings, she would throw up, and sometimes pass out even when doing nothing. One day, she was particularly bad, and I took her to Tsunade-sama.
After a few minutes of waiting outside her office, the door opened, Shizune-san beamed at me and congratulated me. I didn't quite understand. Maybe she was congratulating me for graduating? That was weeks ago. I thanked her anyway.
Then Tsunade Hokage-sama came out. She was smiling at me, her eyes glittering in something like satisfaction. She congratulated me. I asked her why. This time, she grinned.
"You'll be a big sister soon."
I jolt out of my musings. When Tsunade-sama uttered that sentence to me, it was over seven years ago. Now I'm nineteen, a jounin of one year, and sometimes help out Mama in the hospital.
Daddy still hasn't come home yet.
My sister – it was yet another girl, but no one had any complaints – will be starting in the academy today. I walked her there earlier this morning, and she told me about her jitters and nervy jangles of starting out in a new environment, as well as asked me hundreds of questions.
Were the teachers strict?
Did I think they would like her?
Would she make friends?
And dozens of others I've forgotten.
With the arrival of a new family member, Daddy's memory is swept under the bed – forgotten most of the time, but still there.
As of now, I usually volunteer to watch the front gate so that I can see if Daddy is returning. We had disbanded and apprehended the rebel groups about two months ago. I never went through anything like that mugging ever again, but I feared for Mama, my sister, and Daddy. I touch the scar on my cheek again, now only barely visible.
Mama had been especially active in the disbanding – going on missions as soon as her second daughter could be trusted not to injure herself, posting bills on the corkboard, and lashing out with a fierce anger – often physical – when something frustrated her. I understood then, how much she wanted Daddy back, how much she loved him. I wondered errantly how Daddy was doing, and had a sneaky suspicion he was quite restless as well. He wasn't the type to sit idly around all day.
I am at home, doing dishes still wearing my head protector, my little sister drying them. I am often glad that my house was near the village gates. I can come and go as I wish.
And then I hear the shouts. My heart beats faster. Can it be true?
I put down the dish, telling my little 'assistant' to do the same, and turn off the faucet. I open the door, cautiously peeking out, and the first thing I see is a blur of pink hair – Mama?
I see Mama run as fast as she could to the gates, to a small crowd. In the middle, unruly blonde hair stands out, but before I can see the face of the owner, Mama slams into him, sending him down onto the dirt.
They both laugh as they stand up, clinging to each other like lifelines. Mama holds his head and kisses him square on the lips, eliciting a few comments from among bystanders. They embrace.
"You're back," I could hear her say as I walk towards them, bringing along my little sister. "You're really back."
"I promised you. How could I not come back?"
She laughs, sounding extremely carefree for the first time in five years. "Idiot! You haven't changed!" She slaps him lightly on the side of his head, again making the others in the crowd laugh, but then she embraces him again. "Never do that to me again."
I feel my mouth move of its own accord, hear my voice speak. "Daddy?"
The crowd slowly parts, and Mama withdraws. For a brief second, she looked reluctant, but wears her beaming smile again.
"Daddy!" I let go of the child's hand and reach for him, and when I hug him, I can feel that he is there, he is real.
After a moment, I say, "I'm a jounin now, Daddy. I passed last year!"
He just hugs me, not saying anything. He looks over my shoulder and mouths sideways, "Who's that?"
I look where he is looking, and feels a smile tug at the corner of my lips. "My little sister." I can feel Mama start to grin, too.
As predicted, Daddy's jaw drops.
Giggling like a schoolgirl, Mama beckons to her, and she comes walking, looking nervous. "Naruto," Mama begins, her eyes sparkling, "meet your second daughter. She was born a few months after you left."
"I… I…" The watching audience laughed, but grew solemn as the little girl with blonde hair and eyes of bluish green runs to Daddy and throws her arms around him as high as she can – that is, around his knees.
She closes her eyes in happiness as she says, "Hello, Daddy."
Daddy smiles, carrying her into his arms, and embraces her in return, just as tightly. "Hello, kiddo. Welcome to the family."
Mama hits him lightly again. "She is already in the family, idiot!"