I own nothing.
They're everywhere; we're sure you've seen them. In the streets, in the schools, in the house next to you. In the bed in the room next to yours or sitting beside you in the hospital waiting room. They're so, so small and yet their hands are callused and the fingers more accustomed to holding kunai than pencils or chopsticks.
The child soldiers, the toy soldiers, the little dolls that are wound up so they can go to war.
They're everywhere, and they're not hard to spot. No matter how well-adjusted a child soldier may seem, no matter how cheerful, how outwardly normal, there's something that gives them away. Be it some sort of trigger, the way they never laugh, the way their eyes are entirely too old for their young bodies, the way they flinch at loud noises or something else, you always know them when you see them.
Nara Shikaku somehow manages to combine the role of "child soldier" with "old soldier". At eighteen he tells stories and drinks like a hardened veteran, which he is, really. The Second War has just come to a close a year ago and he already has the first of his many famed scars. As time wears on they will come to cover his body but for now he just has one, thick and red and knotted, stretching across his cheek and distorting when he smiles.
Shikaku entertains young genin with tales of battle and long nights. He joins old comrades at the bars even though technically he's too young to drink—bartenders in Konoha tend to look the other way where their young nin are concerned; most bartenders are retired shinobi themselves.
If asking his on-again off-again girlfriend Yoshino, Yoshino will say that Shikaku doesn't always sleep very well.
Half the time he sleeps like a corpse, so much so that she has to kick him in the morning to wake him up. Shikaku rolls over the moment she leaves the room. The other half of the time Shikaku doesn't sleep at all, and Yoshino ends up sleeping on the couch because he keeps reading books or sharpening his kunai or reciting shinobi rules and Yoshino can't get him to stop or at least turn off the light.
I hope he isn't still like this by the time we have children, Yoshino thinks moodily the next morning at breakfast, when Shikaku is picking unenthusiastically at scrambled eggs and looks like he hasn't slept in a week, which he hasn't.
No one should have ever let Mitarashi Anko anywhere near a kunai. Ever. Or near Orochimaru for that matter; keeping her away from him probably would have helped too. We wish beyond words that this was all, but unfortunately there's a story in that and you're probably curious now, so here goes.
This is the story of a ten-year-old girl with skinned knees and a taste for blood spawned by early exposure to the front lines and exacerbated by the man whose care she came under three years ago. Anko was always a little off, and Orochimaru is naturally gravitated to "off" children; they're so much easier to manipulate than well-adjusted ones.
Orochimaru teaches Anko all the deadliest and most brutal techniques and Anko laps it up with an eagerness bordering on desperation; anything, anything at all not to lose that small bit of power she has. She's the most devoted student he has ever had or will have (with the exception of Kimimaro) and there's no doubt that Anko is a quick learner.
That all comes to naught when Orochimaru leaves her by the wayside.
Before, Anko's thirst for blood was a means to an end: something to keep her alive in battle, because even the most hardened of shinobi are a bit unnerved by a little girl who happens to be more fond of blood than even the most deviant of sadists. Now, Anko drinks the blood of the fallen because she wants to, because it's amnesia incarnate and if she smears her eyes with it enough she won't see Orochimaru in the corners.
There is no one in Konoha who isn't at least a little wary of her. Oh yes, Anko's proven her worth over and over again and she's more than proven that she has no intention on going back to Orochimaru any time soon, but she's a loose cannon. Someone that bloodthirsty must be watched.
There's a saying in Sunagakure no Sato: while Chiyo says that the slaughter of her son and daughter-in-law is to blame for Sasori's psychosis, everybody else agrees that if she'd taken him to the Academy before setting him loose on the battlefield a whole lot of trouble could have been avoided.
There's also a way in Sunagakure to bypass the Academy. The final exam is given out every three months and anyone can take it whether they've been through the Academy or not. It's thorough enough that if you can pass it, chances are you have skills enough to be a genin without getting yourself killed on your first serious mission. Sasori took the test at the age of seven and passed it without ever taking a single class.
We really wish he'd taken the classes anyway.
Sasori was a bit unbalanced to start with; parents dying a gruesome death and being exposed to war by his grandmother tended to do that to a child. But there's something the Academy provides for all students that can't be found outside of it: mental conditioning.
In Suna's Shinobi Academy, all students regardless of whether they've had previous battle experience are required to take psychological counseling and pass a psychological exam. The reasoning for this is two-fold. A: to weed out the bad eggs and the crazy ones before they can be trained to kill and possibly snap and wipe out the whole village, or at least a neighborhood, before they can be stopped. B: to equip all future shinobi with the ability to get through battle with their mind unscathed even if they were in a full-body cast by the end of it.
There's a big difference between Suna and Konoha. Konoha has no problem in sending brilliant and half-mad or wholly mad children out onto the battlefield and winding them up later by sending them on even more missions. They fully embrace the mad and they'll use them until they snap entirely or until they keel over dead on the front lines.
Suna, on the other hand, prefers for their shinobi to be sound in mind as well as body. It's probably why Sasori was such a social outcast all his life. It's probably why most everyone except the few that knew and cared for Sasori breathe a secret sigh of relief when they discover that he has up and left during the night.
Good riddance to all mad children.
Uchiha Itachi is the prime example of a child soldier done right. However, much to the grief of his clan, he's also the prime example of a child soldier done wrong.
Itachi never really wanted to fight. He hates war, hates battle, hates bloodletting and all the subterfuge and deception associated with the life of a shinobi. It's a pity, therefore, that all children of shinobi clans are required by law to become shinobi themselves and it's a pity that Itachi was so good at the thing he hated above all else.
It's a pity he was such a good killer.
Now he's dead. All told it's probably better that way; Itachi is in more peace dead than he ever was in life. No one in the afterlife will ask him to kill for them and he will be content (Of course, aside from the whole "Kabuto resurrects Itachi and forces him to fight for him" thing).
They say the tragedy of Itachi's life was that he was manipulated by a paranoid, distrustful council to kill his own family. They say it was that he ended up a tool of men and women who didn't give a damn about him.
The real tragedy here is that Uchiha Itachi is far happier in death than he could ever hope to be in life. The real tragedy is that death is the only place where he could ever find happiness.
Namikaze Minato never liked the idea of child soldiers. He never did like the idea that we as a society could wind our children up like toys, put kunai in their hands and use them like shields. He never liked the idea that children, so plenteous, were of use only as cannon fodder. This is of course the reason why the idea of a jinchuuriki so offended him, and not just because his girlfriend was one.
His student Kakashi was one. Minato saw the bitterness and desolation of stolen youth and joy every time he looked into Kakashi's eyes and he was never quiet able to see something beside that. Minato didn't know what to do with Kakashi so he only stuck with him. He didn't know what do when a boy of eight squirmed away when he tried to hug him and pulled away.
So Minato knew what he had to do when he was given the Hokage hat. New laws were passed, glares glared, obstructive bureaucrats at all levels of government shouted at until they submitted.
Then, he died.
And all those laws were repealed.
Because Sarutobi Hiruzen knew better. The best soldiers were the ones who could kill from the time they could stand. The best soldiers were the ones who trusted without question and there was, is no comparison to the pure, simple trust of a child. Toy soldiers have no equal; even from beyond the grave he will tell you that.
It's not a perfect system. It's about as far from perfect as anything will ever be. But if those children have to be destroyed from the mind down for them to survive long enough to see adulthood, so be it.
As long as they live, no matter what state the little toy soldier is in Hiruzen will be happy.