The Happy Kunoichi

She smiles and greets him enthusiastically. Brother, I have missed you so much. Look at what I've made for you. She holds up a piece of paper, a drawing. It has a house and a sun and two stick figures holding hands standing in front of it and a tree and many, many red flowers. It is colorful and joyful and very inexpertly done in a childish way, and only the red, red flowers are so very prevalent.

She hands him the picture and smiles cheerfully while he examines the drawing. He nods at her, his smile slightly strained when he carefully folds it and puts it into a pocket on the inside of his jacket. Later, at home, he will add it to his ever-growing collection of art from her, that lies closed away in a drawer in his dresser. He doesn't like looking at those pictures because they remind him of what has become of her, but he also doesn't want to throw them away because they are a sign of her affection, and deep, deep down he still hopes that she is somewhere inside that child that has taken over her mind.

She laughs again and runs through the room with her arms outstretched, pretending to be a bird soaring high in the skies. He smiles slightly when she jumps as high as she can, not as high as she could before because they have sealed away her chakra so that she doesn't hurt herself with it, and lands on the bed with a soft whump and a bounce. Play with me, brother. Come on, let's have a tea party. You can be the princess Otohime, and I'll be the big bad ninja that tries to take her away. Brother, where are mommy and daddy? When are they going to come back?

Without waiting for the answer he doesn't want to give, she jumps up and runs to get her doll collection and starts arranging everything for the tea party on the carpeted floor. Otohime looks a bit like her, with her shoulder-length black hair pinned haphazardly against her scalp by many childish hair clips. The big bad ninja is of the same make as the Otohime-doll, a rag doll stuffed with cotton until it can be used as a pillow, the face drawn onto the head with permanent markers, arms and legs and torso and head limp and infinitely bendable in ways that would be just so wrong on a real human. But the big bad ninja also looks different from the Otohime-doll; he has a rough approximation of a cloud etched into his forehead, his smile isn't painted but stitched on in a gruesome facsimile of joy, and he's wearing and tearing at the edges in a way that doesn't signal a favorite doll but something that has been mistreated and thrown against walls and stomped into the ground in fits of rage.

And she always chooses the big bad ninja for herself, and he always gets Otohime, and Otohime always gets raped and beaten and tortured by the big bad ninja before she loses interest in the game and it can't be played to the conclusion that Otohime gets rescued by a team of strong, good ninja with a spiral on their forehead.

The most prominent reason for that is that she doesn't have any dolls with a spiral on their forehead.

So they play, and Otohime lies there limply and the big bad ninja lies on top of her, and his sister freezes for a moment before grabbing the big bad ninja by his hair and throwing him into a corner. One of his beady eyes pops loose and a button rolls across the floor.

Before the big bad ninja even hits the wall, she has already forgotten about him and about the Otohime-doll still lying face down on the ground, and she's smiling again and running around the room like a child with no troubles. She pulls a large and colorful children's book off a shelf and holds it out to him. Read to me, brother? Please?

And he can't resist the puppy look she graces him with from beneath her eye-lashes, he never could, and he sits down on the bed with her next to him, snuggling into him and wriggling her way into the circle of his arms holding the book. Look, a bunny! she exclaims. And there, a toady!

He nods and makes an affirmative sound in the back of his throat, having learned long ago that it doesn't matter whether his voice becomes choked or not when he sees her this happy. He reads and she points out what is in the pictures and spins her own stories and scolds him for not making the bunny talk higher and the toady talk lower, like the one huge toady with the pipe and the sword she has dreamed of, as huge as the whole wide world and as tall as the sun and defeating the bad foxy that tried to hurt the brave toady.

Thankfully, she grows tired quickly, leaning into him more heavily, and he is a bit uncomfortable because despite her being his sister and her mind being a child's, she is still a fully grown woman snuggling into him. But he has enough control that his body doesn't react, because that would be a sure way to trigger one of her panic attacks. That, and she is his sister and a child and he doesn't like her that way.

Will you come back tomorrow? she mumbles sleepily when he moves to set the book aside and get up. She never asks him to stay; she only asks him to return. It is the only thing she asks of him, so he tries to make sure he won't disappoint her. Although it probably won't be tomorrow because he is a jounin and jounin have missions that take many days and they get hurt and need to heal, just like he is doing at the moment, but she hasn't asked about the bandage around his forehead or the splint on his wrist or the gaunt, hollowed look in his face because he just barely survived being poisoned. She only asks for him to return, and so he will. Until the day comes when he won't, when she will have to come to him to visit his name on the stone.

But hopefully that day is still a long time off.

He tucks her in and strokes across her forehead and waves good bye with an aching wrist, taking care not to trip over the abandoned Otohime-doll still lying on the floor. The bad ninja's loose button-eye has rolled so far that it lies almost next to Otohime's limp, out-stretched hand, like a macabre form of revenge. He ignores it.

She will be thirty-one in two months, and maybe she will be seven or ten or twelve the next time he sees her if the doctors can coax her mind to slowly grow out of its childish trappings. He doubts it, because she has been six for nearly a decade already. And although she has moments when she seems older than their father had when he had died at fifty-five, they are gone in the blink of an eye to be replaced by innocent joy all over her face.

Sleep tight, he says and turns off the lights behind him.

A/N: A bit of a break in style with the other two, but I think this drabble fits into the Almost-Ninja collection. Comments and suggestions how to improve always welcome!