Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Naruto.
General Warnings: Self-insert fic, OC-centric, AU, violence, language
Full Summary: I've had a lot of crap come my way over the years – Dad ditching the family, me working three jobs to support myself and my alcoholic mom – so when I got run over by a drunk driver one day at the age of twenty, well, it wasn't as if my life was going anywhere fast anyway. Then I woke up as a baby again, taking my first breath and screaming my lungs out. I'd always been the pragmatic sort though, and there's only so much panicking you could do before you shut up and got a grip. It took me a few months of eavesdropping on the orphanage workers who took care of me, but I eventually strung enough together to realize that some higher being had dumped my ass in the Naruto world. Okay, fine, I could cope with that. But several handfuls of months later when I caught a faint glimpse of my reflection in a dirty window and recognized the shock of white hair and two short, delicate red lines extending from my eyes staring back at me? Yeah, reincarnation was a bitch.
Author's Notes: I've always wanted to try my hand at one of these and I've never written in first person before, so that'll be interesting. Don't like, don't read.
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Chapter 1
Once upon a time, when I had been in the first stages of rebellious teen-hood, I used to rage at the hand life had dealt me. I mean, no twelve-year-old should have to listen to her parents shout at each other day in and day out, and then watch her dad drive away one morning and not come back ever again. No fourteen-year-old should have to watch her mother succumb to alcohol like it was some sort of lifeline, losing both job and purpose in a bottle. And no sixteen-year-old should have to work her ass off every day just to make sure they had enough to pay the electricity bill each month.
Of course, I eventually got over it. There was no use complaining. Life was unfair, and you could only make the most of what you had. Some people had it better, some people had it worse. I was just one of many who had it worse.
So I worked and coaxed my mom to the dinner table every night and dragged her outside for some fresh air twice a week and didn't even think about applying for university after I sped through high school and graduated a year early. It left me more time for job-hunting and more money to put away in the bank. By the time I hit twenty, I had three jobs going, relatively steady ones, and each new day was as dull and predictable as the last.
Then there had been the whole hit-and-run bit and dying, but to be honest, I didn't really remember much of that. I remembered the screech of tires and a flash of headlights, crimson blurring my eyesight, a shock of agony, and then nothing.
Until I woke up again who-knew-how-long later, sucking in what felt like oxygen made of ice, trying to form words that wouldn't quite come, and only managing a high-pitched wail as I tried to convey my discomfort.
It didn't take long to figure out that I was a baby. Duh, it was embarrassingly obvious when I had to have my diaper changed regularly and bottle-fed several times a day. After the initial oh-my-god-what-the-hell-is-happening panic, I simply calmed down and allowed myself to sleep and eat and sleep some more as my body seemed to want to do all the time.
And then, as the weeks – or months – passed and I could actually turn in my crib and take in my surroundings, I realized that I was in an orphanage and not in a home or even the hospital. I had worked in one before, in my... past life? But the place, filled with more children than adults, had made me uncomfortable and sad, not to mention the pay hadn't been enough to put dinner on the table that particular month, so I had gotten out of there as soon as I had secured another job.
Wherever I was, the orphanages were certainly the same. A bit rundown, and the one I was in was much simpler-looking, with wooden walls and wooden cribs. This was probably the place they put babies though since I couldn't see any kids older than about two years old at most.
More weeks passed and I listened with growing disbelief and then increasing resignation as I heard the workers exchange town gossip, whispering about news from the hidden village, and muttering about shinobi travelling through.
The first few days I had started hearing all this, I was convinced that I was either dreaming or this new world I had apparently been reborn in had also made me crazy.
Back in my old world, I had never had much free time, obviously, but a girl couldn't grow up without some form of entertainment and I did love watching anime and reading manga, thank you very much. I'd save up and stop by the local net café to steal a few hours on a computer, or linger in a bookstore until the owner kicked me out, so, needless to say, when I heard shinobi and hidden village, I automatically thought of Naruto.
I was rather intimate with that series. Perusing anime and manga was my only hobby, really the only thing I enjoyed between working in a convenience store, serving drinks in a bar, and cooking in a restaurant, and when you enjoyed something, you tended to become an avid and learned follower of it. Naruto was a rather popular series and I had liked reading and watching it in my near-nonexistent free time.
Still, what were the chances that I had died and been reborn in the Naruto universe? Before, I would've said none, but I would've said reincarnation wasn't possible either and look where I was now. So next to none then, but still highly unlikely.
Until I started hearing stuff like Fire Country and daimyo and even freaking Konoha, and even I couldn't ignore that.
But if there was one thing I was good at, it was adapting. I've had to be, to survive. Adapt when Dad left. Adapt when Mom started drinking. Adapt when one job wasn't enough, and adapt again when two jobs weren't.
Keep calm and carry on, the British once said.
I said, calm or not, if you don't carry on, you die, so suck it up and do what you have to do.
That's worked well for me so far and I wasn't about to stop now just because I was less than six months old and stuck in an anime world.
So I accepted it. Over time, I managed to pick up enough to grasp the fact that I was actually in Fire Country but not in Konoha, just a small town nearby. And if I was already in the Naruto universe, it wasn't that big a leap to believe that Naruto and Sasuke and Akatsuki and everything else existed and the 'canon' would eventually happen one way or another.
Though there had never been a Jiraiya's-illegitimate-child in the storyline, so I was probably meant to stay out of the way.
There were also other things I discovered, like my new name, Rei – I liked it; it was short and simple – and that warm but foreign feeling in the pit of my stomach that, if put in context with the Naruto world, was probably chakra, and this actually helped me move about faster than the other toddlers. Before long, I was crawling all over the place and even taking wobbling steps before I had hit half a year old.
I was also a rather quiet baby, not fussy or wanting for attention, something that seemed to relieve quite a few of the workers there, who already had their hands full with the other children. They swiftly realized that I was smarter than your average kid, or at least smart enough not to get in trouble or make a mess when they took their eyes off me, not to mention I was very, very, quick to 'potty-train' myself, so I was left alone in the nursery for the most part besides mealtimes and naptimes, something that I very much approved of.
For a while, I thought things would be alright. Sure, I was in the Naruto world, but I could grow up and, already knowing more than enough to take care of myself, I could find a job or travel a bit, sit through school before that maybe. I could even become a kunoichi, though that thought still came with a healthy dose of disbelief.
And then, one day, over two years after I had been reborn, I managed to hoist myself onto a low ledge and peer out of one of the dirty windows, wanting to know what the outside looked like, and I found myself frozen in place as my brain tried to comprehend what my eyes were taking in.
The reflection was very faint, the smudges on the window not helping, but it didn't take the eyes of a hawk to see the shock of white hair, still short but filling out nicely, as well as the delicate red line that extended from each of my eyes, about an inch in length, like carefully-applied mascara that made my eyes look almost exotic.
I had heard some of the workers remark on how I would 'grow up to be a beautiful girl', but most adults say that about babies. Now though, with all the other brown- or black-haired children around, all with brown or black eyes, maybe the odd redhead or a pair of green eyes, my white hair and grey eyes with their red markings stood out like a beacon in the middle of the night.
And you would have to be either a civilian in a small town like the one I was in or frog spawn at the bottom of a pond to not be able to point out who my father was with one glance.
Oddly enough, my first thought was, 'I always thought those red lines were face paint.' My second thought was, 'Damn, I hope they don't run all the way down my face when I grow up.'
Yeah, I had bizarre priorities.
It wasn't really until now that I thought about parents in general though. I was in an orphanage, enough said.
My mom, my first mom, was probably drinking herself into oblivion, and while I felt sorry for her, and a little guilty for leaving her all alone, there was also a rush of relief accompanying the regret. Taking care of her was no longer my responsibility. Even before my bastard of a dad had walked out on us, I had more or less raised myself because my parents were either too busy working, too busy yelling at each other, or too busy trying to one-up each other when attempting to take care of me.
I suppose a part of me loved her, but I resented her too, and really, I was dead and in my next life – there was no point weeping over it. As for my dad, I hadn't thought about him since he had left.
(A voice at the back of my mind called bullshit but it was easily ignored.)
Now though, with what I knew of Jiraiya's... extracurricular activities, it was doubtful that he even knew he now had a daughter. The pervert didn't have any children in the anime so some twisted god from above must have pulled a string or something, made him careless, and – ta-da! – I was conceived.
Or maybe Jiraiya had just been careless, period.
My new mother was probably a prostitute from some brothel. I had been too busy trying to breathe, having a mini panic attack, and screaming at the top of my lungs when I had been born into this world to really concentrate on what was happening that first week. I remembered being moved around a lot but I couldn't recall anything of my mom's face.
The very next day, I sought out one of the matrons there and enquired, "Who was my mother?"
I had been able to talk since before I was one, and after giving half the orphanage workers semi-strokes with my supposed prodigal skill, they had all accepted the fact that they were apparently raising a genius, which really just meant that they had one less kid to take care of. They were good enough to give me books to read though, and not just children's stories, thank god.
The matron frowned down at me as she bathed one of the other toddlers and tried to come up with an answer to my question at the same time.
"She was a very beautiful woman," The matron finally said in a careful manner. "She... entertained people for a living. She died at childbirth though, which is why you're here."
Which was just another way of saying that my mother had been a whore at the local red-light district so I didn't bother asking her who my father was. It was doubtful she even knew. Heck, I'd probably have been shipped off to Konoha at the earliest opportunity if any of these people had known I was the Toad Sage's daughter. Most people knew Jiraiya by name, but only shinobi in ninja circles could put a face to the same man.
It also explained how I could pick up the usage of chakra so easily. Jiraiya might have been a pervert but the man wasn't called a Sannin for no reason. I remembered, from the episodes I watched and the comics I read, most of the seals of various jutsus, though I didn't dare try them at two years of age without even reading any scrolls. If I was his daughter, and I was, then at least some of his genes would've passed down to me.
Dear god, I hope I didn't get his perverted genes too.
In the end, being Jiraiya's daughter didn't mean shit. I was still Rei – Tsukino Rei, the matron had looked up for me; my mother, Tsukino Mai, had been one of the lucky few who had had an actual last name to call her own – and I was still the genius orphan born in the small, dusty town of Kosai several dozen miles west of Konoha, who stayed out of the adults' way and went through books faster than the workers could get them for me.
Deep down, perhaps I felt a touch of hurt and a shadow of resentment that, even in this life, I had no father to depend on, but that was firmly tucked away and disregarded as well. I had never needed a father, or a mother for that matter, and I might have been two in body but I was already twenty in mind. What did it matter that I had no parents here? Even if my mother was alive, she'd hardly be in any position to take care of me, and I knew all about lousy fathers.
Don't get me wrong – I've always thought Jiraiya to be a fine character. His antics at the hot springs and bathhouses were mostly funny, he was a kickass ninja, and his death at the hands of the Six Paths had made me want to shoot something, but I doubted that the Sannin would be all that great in childcare.
Then again, he had sort of raised Namikaze Minato, along with the two other kids on the Yondaime's Genin team, and Nagato hadn't really gone off the deep end until Yahiko had been killed. Konan had just been following Nagato, and all three of them had been reasonably sane when they had been under Jiraiya's supervision.
And then there was Naruto of course, who had been as safe as he could possibly be in his godfather's care.
Okay, so Jiraiya might know a thing or two about children. That didn't mean that I needed him. At all. I was twenty in mind, for God's sake; twenty-two if you counted the two extra years in this life. I didn't need him, and things that I didn't need were usually locked away into an obscure corner of my mind, never to be thought of unless it was in times of extreme nostalgia, which I never had anyway.
So the years passed, and I spent my time reading anything I could get my hands on and even helping out around the orphanage when the workers looked like they were in need of some rest. I was soon known as the orphanage's angel, simply because I could help them with changing diapers and setting tables and making sure the other toddlers didn't wander out the front door or fall out a window or something stupid.
"A godsend," Some of the matrons would comment fondly, and a part of me was pleased that I was useful and the people I helped out actually cared enough to thank me.
In my spare time though, I'd head out into the small backyard and work on using my chakra. I had the skill – why not apply it? I had always been of the mindset that if something could be useful, learn it, and in a world of ninja, learning how to use chakra was kind of the whole point.
It had been tough going at first, especially since it took a while before the orphanage workers could bring me some old texts and a few plain scrolls on shinobi and chakra after I had expressed an interest in them.
But once I managed to focus enough to really feel the chakra coils I had, dredging up everything I remembered from the anime and manga and soaking in what little information that the orphanage workers could bring me, I began exercising and trying to channel chakra.
I was still undecided on whether or not I would become a ninja. First of all, I'd have to leave this town and head to Konohagakure, which I couldn't see myself doing in the near future, not as a toddler anyway. And secondly, stepping foot into that village was practically equivalent to wearing a neon sign that said, 'THREE GUESSES TO WHO MY FATHER IS, AND THE FIRST TWO DON'T COUNT.'
On the other hand, ignoring the 'how I was going to get there' part, stepping foot into any other hidden village would probably be even worse. Yes, Konoha did seem to have more than their fair share of shit thrown their way, but the everyday livelihood of that place was by far the best out of all the villages across the continent – certainly better than Stone or Mist or even Suna, and I'd never liked excessive heat anyway.
The whole having to kill people bit if you're a ninja didn't bother me as much as I thought it might. I'd never been squeamish over blood, and I'd even killed a rat or two when they had gotten into our dingy apartment in my past life. Granted, killing rats and killing humans were two very different things and I'd probably feel something if and when I was faced with murdering an enemy shinobi, but I was fairly certain I could get past the issue in the end.
At the moment though, I concentrated on moulding chakra and manipulating it around leaves and small rocks. I was pleased to realize that my eidetic memory from my past life had stayed with me, so while I didn't try any actual jutsus just yet, I did go through all the hand seals that I could remember for various techniques.
By the time I turned four, I could walk up walls and trees and even across the small pond out back with no problem, much to my delight. Jiraiya had graduated from the academy at the age of six, and while I would never be able to do that, if only because I wasn't even in Konoha, I could at least work on what I was good at. I had the mentality of an adult and the same potential talent of my new father – I wasn't going to waste either.
My curiosity got the better of me a few months after my fourth birthday and I decided to try my hand at the Clone Technique. My first three attempts ended with partial copies, but my fourth was intact, though it wavered before dissipating within seconds. My fifth, sixth, and seventh went the same way, but I almost did a jig across the lawn when my eighth try ended with a perfect clone of myself. To my elation, the Transformation Technique and Body Replacement Technique came quite easily as well – E-rank jutsus were definitely not beyond my reach.
I suppose I didn't really need to point out that I never did get along very well with the other kids. While they learned to walk and play with building blocks, I wandered the streets of Kosai, poking my nose into any and all establishments I could wriggle into. I'd learned quickly that, here in this universe, children were pretty much given free rein as soon as they could walk, though most had a modicum of sense to stay near adults and not go anywhere they weren't suppose to. Other than that though, kids as young as three could be seen running around outside playing tag or hide-and-seek or whatever. Hell, I'd found out that I could walk into a store and buy groceries for the orphanage so long as I had the money for it.
Which was one of the first things I had done with the pocket money that the matrons gave me in exchange for me helping them out – shopping, that is. Even in an out-of-the-way town like Kosai, I didn't want to chance bumping into anyone who might recognize me through my looks so I was quick to buy a grey toque to cover my hair and mostly-waterproof face paint, the same shade as my skin, that covered the streaks of red extending from my eyes. I was relieved that they had only gotten a little longer, the elegant lines arching gracefully downwards and the ends just brushing my cheekbones, and neither of them seemed like they would be growing anymore than that.
I had considered using Henge to hide the lines but it would mean holding the jutsu in place constantly, not to mention other shinobi might sense it and call me out on it. Face paint that wouldn't wash off without a specific soap and a good scrub was the safer bet.
As for the toque, made of a material that wouldn't affect my hearing even when it covered my ears, I could pull it down so that it concealed everything save for some of my bangs and the last inch or so of my hair, the strands peeking out and falling neatly at mid-neck. The locks were still white since I didn't want to dye it, but it was pretty amazing what a hat and some makeup could do to hide certain resemblances.
Some of the workers at the orphanage had looked concerned the first time I had come home hiding both my hair and eye markings, one matron even going so far as to assure me that my looks were 'nothing to be ashamed of'. I had merely smiled at them and told them that I only liked the accessories and not because I disliked my appearance. A few had seemed unconvinced but they had left me to my own decisions as they had done since I had proven myself to be independently capable.
It wasn't a bad life, through and through; honestly better than at least the last eight years of my previous life when I had done nothing save work and take care of my mom. Even going to school had lost its appeal when I had had to drop all the unnecessary courses and rush through all the necessary ones before graduating.
Here though, I could do as I pleased – I was learning something new every day, and the orphanage and most of the town genuinely seemed to like me as I became known as the prodigal child Kosai had produced. I had bouts of childishness and bursts of emotion that I was never sure where they stemmed from – either from a lack of a proper childhood in my past life or the reincarnation process itself and part of my brain really was a kid.
Either way, I still helped out the orphanage whenever they needed me, but the other townspeople soon knew to ignore my age and would sometimes stop me for a chat or give me a few coins in exchange for running an errand or doing inventory in a shop. Sometimes, I was even allowed to lend a hand at some store counter since I knew how to work the cashier and calculate change. I could swear like a sailor if times called for it but knew how to be polite in everyday interaction – I had worked in a bar once upon a time, and my employer would've fired me at the first opportunity if I hadn't been perfectly courteous towards the customers.
Sometimes, it quite literally paid to be smart.
Life was simple, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. However, as all things did, this too came to an end, and the new beginning that followed was something even I didn't expect.
"How would you feel about going to Konoha, Rei-chan?" Kazuki asked one night as I was helping him wash the dishes. I had just turned six a few days ago.
Kazuki was one of the workers in the orphanage whose main job was acting chef, and after discovering my 'affinity' for cooking, he often had me lending a hand in making meals, as well as passing on several recipes that I had never even thought of making. It wasn't five-star, but Kazuki could make the simplest of meals taste like heaven, and he knew a lot about food. And after knowing him for half a decade, the man had become a sort of surrogate older brother to me.
I peered up at him now, puffing my cheeks as I blew a few stray bangs from my eyes. "Konoha? Mm, I've never thought much about it."
Kazuki raised an eyebrow as he handed me a wet dish. "Really? What with all the ninja training you've been doing in the backyard, I would've thought you'd have at least considered it."
I flushed a little as I hastily dried the plate and put it aside. "Well... maybe. I haven't decided yet – whether or not I want to be a ninja."
"A lot of training for being undecided," The cook continued lightly. "You're out there every day at the crack of dawn."
I smiled sheepishly but then tacked on stoutly, "I keep saying we should get the backdoor hinges oiled. It always creaks on my way out. It's a wonder the entire building doesn't wake up every time I open it."
Kazuki chuckled and handed me another plate. I dried that one methodically even as I glanced at him with a puzzled frown. "Why? It's not like I can go to Konoha anytime soon."
Kazuki shrugged, a suddenly crafty smile playing on his lips. "Well, I wouldn't say that..."
I narrowed my eyes, instantly suspicious. "What did you do?"
Kazuki looked amused. "Don't sound like I've committed a crime, Rei-chan, and it isn't just me. Look, anybody with a pair of eyes can see that you don't really fit in here, you know?"
My hands had stilled and I stared at him with wide eyes, just a little hurt at the implication. "I- I thought I was doing a good job here. I mean, this is my home – I like it here!"
Kazuki had stopped washing the cutlery as well, drying off his hands before raising them in a placating manner. "I know you do, Rei-chan – that's not what I mean."
He paused to gather his thoughts before sighing and ushering me over to a nearby workbench. "Look, Rei-chan, I know this isn't the first time you've heard this but you're so dam- darn smart, and I'm no ninja but even I can tell that you've got talent. I mean, you've already got half a dozen of those jutsus down and you don't even have a teacher; just those basic scrolls that anyone can buy, and the ones we managed to get for you were practically falling apart. You genuinely seem to enjoy using chakra and meditating and whatnot, and you're wasting it here in Kosai. You deserve more than this life."
I turned red again. I didn't like special treatment. Just because I was smarter than your average kid didn't mean I was unique or anything. Well, besides the reincarnation thing, but nobody knew about that. "It's fine, Kazuki-san. I'm happy here."
"Yes," Kazuki agreed with another sigh. "One of the greatest mysteries in the world. Someone of your calibre should be itching to leave this backwater town."
He met my eyes again with a serious gaze. "Me and some of the others got together and talked about it. Shinobi life is dangerous – we understand that, but you obviously enjoy it so far, so we thought that the least we could do was give you a chance to continue. We sent a missive to the Hokage a few weeks ago and a reply finally came back last week. Konohagakure does take orphans in from small towns like ours sometimes if they express an interest in becoming ninja. It's an uncommon practice but it happens. Anyway, we told the Hokage about you – about your intellect and how you can take care of yourself better than some adults – and he's agreed to either place you in one of the orphanages in Konoha or set you up with a small apartment of your own. ...What do you think?"
I gaped at him. What did I think? "But- But why? I mean, I never said I wanted-"
"You didn't have to," Kazuki interrupted gently. "You may be happy here, Rei-chan, but you're also getting restless. You love learning, and Kosai's not the best place to seek knowledge. Konoha might be good for you."
I closed my mouth with a click and blinked down at my hands instead, calloused from work and hours of training. "...Don't you have to pay for the entrance fee and books and stuff to get into the Academy? I don't think the Hokage would pay for that. I have money, but not that much-"
"You don't really think we'd send you off with nothing but the clothes on your back, do you?" Kazuki admonished. "The entire town's pitching in on this one. We've collected enough money for you to buy everything you need and then some."
My head shot up. "What?! You can't do that! They can't do that! They don't owe me anything!"
"We didn't coerce them into giving some money for the cause," Kazuki soothed. "They all volunteered when we asked around. Rei-chan, you've been a big help to everyone here. Heck, the ladies at the red-light district adore you, even though they normally frown on any children coming from one of their girls."
I shifted in my seat. When I was four, I had gotten curious about a real red-light district and I also wanted to know where my mother had lived, so I had snuck into the brothel and had promptly gotten caught. Apparently, while I had my father's white hair and eyes, my facial structure (and later, smile) was my mother's, and the Madam who had caught me had instantly recognized who I was.
She had been displeased at seeing me at first, and that was how I had found out that my mother had chosen to keep me instead of getting an abortion, had even been saving up so that she could leave the brothel to raise me, but had unfortunately died while giving birth to me.
My first mother would never have done something like that, not the woman I was used to anyway, so the notion of someone actually wanting to keep me despite the risks was a novelty in and of itself. I had begged for a picture of her and the Madam had finally relented and dug up an old photograph of a woman with sleek black hair and enchanting blue eyes, nothing at all like me, and I had been surprised that I hadn't at least inherited her black hair, but her cheekbones and jawline were the same as what I saw in a mirror every morning. Upon closer examination, I had noticed that my hair texture took after hers instead of Jiraiya's spiky quality.
After that, somehow or other, I had become a regular, if unorthodox and for all the wrong reasons, visitor there. I knew how to charm people when I wanted to, and the other courtesans had all rapidly warmed towards me. The Madam had thrown up her hands after the fifth visit and several pouts from her girls before warning me to stay out of the way of customers and then letting me do as I pleased. It also helped that I could organize the accounting books and cash for them in exchange for stopping by.
"And they all offered some money?" I asked in a small voice. I cleared my throat and said more strongly, "I'm not a charity case, you know."
Kazuki dropped a hand on my head in a familiar gesture. I had a feeling he would've taken to ruffling my hair if I didn't wear my toque all the time. "We know that, stupid. Excuse us for wanting to see you off in the best condition possible."
He sobered again and ducked down awkwardly to my eye-level. "You know we're not kicking you out, right Rei-chan? You're welcome to stay here for as long as you want. But you're too... too big for this place. You could become something great, make your own name in the world, and one day, all of us here in Kosai will be able to point to you and say, 'Look at her. She's from our little town, and she's one of the greatest ninja alive.'"
I released a shaky laugh. "Oh, I see. You're all in it for the fame then?"
Kazuki grinned back teasingly. "Definitely. I can see the money pouring in now from all the people wanting to see the great Tsukino Rei's hometown."
I snorted, shoving the cook in retaliation. "Jerk."
Kazuki laughed, wheezing a little as he literally scooted back on the bench. "Oof! Watch your strength, Midget. I'm fragile compared to one of your fists."
I rolled my eyes. I had only infused a little chakra in my hands. My chakra control didn't come as naturally as Tsunade's or even Sakura's, but it was competent, especially after all the time I had spent experimenting on how much chakra it took to dent a piece of wood and crush it. It had been hit-and-miss at first – I just hadn't been born with natural chakra control.
"I don't know," I said abruptly. "I mean, there's the survival rate to consider, first of all."
"We thought of that," Kazuki nodded ruefully. "But again, that's something for you to decide, and we're not going to try to hold you back because of it. Besides, you remember you weren't even four when you climbed the tree out back. Gave all of us collective heart attacks when we spotted you near the top!"
I couldn't help smirking. Yes, I suppose I did have something of a daredevil streak in me.
"Think about it, Rei-chan," Kazuki patted my shoulder. "You've got a few days before we have to send back a response. But remember – it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I doubt the Hokage would be willing to offer again."
I was shooed off to bed without finishing the dishwashing, but I probably would've broken something if I had continued. As it was, I didn't get much sleep that night.
My toque and face-paint were good enough to hide the more glaring evidence of my parentage, so that was the least of my worries.
More importantly, I had found out the date a few years back and, matching it with the anime, I was fairly certain that I would be around the same age as Naruto and the other 'Rookie Nine'. That being said, if I went to Konoha and entered the Academy, what would happen then? I had been perfectly content to live out this life without interfering, but now that this prospect had emerged, it was almost as if whatever higher being was in charge of reincarnation and fate and all that other rot that I wouldn't have given half a thought to six years ago was now painting giant arrows towards Konoha for me.
As a general rule in my past life, I had always placed my mom and me as the top priorities. I couldn't afford to do anything else so I had never gone out of my way to really change something I thought was wrong. But if I slipped into the lives of the Konoha residents, I might change things for the better or I might change things for the worse.
For the better was good. For the worse was kinda bad.
It wasn't something I was good at either. I didn't do the whole getting close to people thing. I was on friendly terms with the townsfolk, and a select few – like Kazuki – I even considered friends or family, but I could count those on one hand with fingers left over, mainly because once I got close to them, it would take nothing short of divine intervention to stop me from protecting them. That was probably the main reason I had never given up on my first mom, even when she had forgotten who I was in some of her drunken episodes.
(My father didn't count – at least before he walked out on us, my mom had attempted to do motherly things for me just for the sake of being my mother. My dad, in the few times he had been fussed to take care of me, had only done it to show the public that he was the better parent.)
It was one of my more annoying personality traits but it was mine, so, knowing me, if I made any friends (not that I was much of an expert in that department), I'd probably meddle sooner or later, and that was only if I didn't change something as soon as I stepped foot in the hidden village.
On the other hand, what was life without a bit of risk? Kazuki had hit the nail on the head – I was getting restless. There was only so much one could do in a small town like Kosai, and while I was content to live out my childhood here if I didn't become a shinobi, I had always planned to leave when I grew up and travel to other places.
I was in a ninja world and I had all the potential to become an accomplished ninja. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had dropped into my lap – who was I to throw it away?
A spark of excitement stirred in my gut. It was a dangerous profession, but I was nothing if not adaptable. In a dangerous world, there was only one solution – get strong enough to protect yourself and those you cared about.
And it was a direction, something I could dedicate myself to. I hadn't ever had that in either of my lives so far.
"Kazuki-san? I want to become a ninja."
Exactly three weeks later, after a week-long waiting period for the Sandaime's confirmation, the send-off party the town had thrown for me, the promises to come back and visit once I had become a successful kunoichi, the long ride from Kosai to Konoha, and a short meeting with the Hokage himself – the man looked exactly like, well, the Sandaime; it was almost creepy – to run through a list of basic questions about my personal information, I finally found myself standing in the doorway of my new apartment.
It was nothing special, smaller even than the apartment I had once shared with my first mother. There was a bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, an area that held a washing machine and a dryer, and a tiny sitting room.
And it was all mine.
I could manage money better than most financiers so the first thing I did was put aside the next two months' worth of rent. The Hokage had assured me that a monthly pension for the lease and other necessities would regularly come through the mail but I liked to be prepared. Having the threat of being booted out of my own house hanging over my head was not prepared.
The rest I divided for food, clothes, and school supplies. Food and clothes were easy for now – Kosai had made sure I had enough ryou to buy proper shinobi outfits and gear, which I would have to figure out tomorrow. I was good with chakra, but I had never held a single kunai and shuriken in my life.
I settled into my new life easily enough. I now wore a mesh t-shirt under a long-sleeved light grey shirt that matched the colour of my toque, dark grey pants, and black open-toed sandals. Which meant that the only bright colour I had on me was my hair. I'd never liked reds or yellows or, god forbid, pinks before. Greens and blues were alright but I didn't like wearing them either.
The five weeks I was there before the new school term started were spent trying out my new weapons. Bluntly put, my first attempts were pathetic. I had absolutely no idea how to hold a kunai or throw a shuriken, and I was lucky if I could hit the target, much less bulls-eye.
But I had proper books and scrolls now, and figuring that having the teachers show me at the Academy how to use the weapons would be the more practical choice, I had decided to go through the reading material instead.
I kept up with my usual exercise of course, and spent the rest of the time exploring the town. It was one thing to know you were in the Naruto world while in a town that didn't show up in the canon, but it was another thing entirely to know you were in the Naruto world and see the Hokage Monument on your left or the Hokage Tower up ahead.
Sometimes, it almost felt like I was dreaming the entire thing, and wouldn't that be a fucking treat? Waking up in a hospital one day back in my old life and having some nurse tell me that I had been in a coma all this time, and then having to return to three jobs, late rent, and an alcoholic mom – yeah, I'd probably kill myself. The problem with getting a taste of something good was that going back to something bad was twice as hard as never having experienced the good in the first place.
And now I was getting cynical. Terrific.
It was pure coincidence that I didn't bump into anyone I 'knew' until a few days before I started school. Maybe a part of me had been subconsciously avoiding all the places that anybody I might recognize would hang out in.
Of course, even in a village as big as Konoha, it wasn't exactly a bustling city, so word of a new face wandering through the streets on a regular basis would get around eventually, especially when it was a lone child from a small town getting ready to enter the Academy. The gossip mill in Konoha was ridiculously well-informed.
"So you're the new girl soon to start at the Academy?"
I glanced up from the far left corner of Ichiraku Ramen where I was eating. The stand was one of the cheapest eating places around and I had already been by three times before, making sure Naruto wasn't there first of course.
Until now though, Teuchi had never attempted to talk to me before, though he was smiling kindly down at me from behind the counter now.
"Ah, yes," I nodded, not big on smiling back. "I arrived a few weeks ago. I'm Tsukino Rei."
"You can call me Teuchi," The chef said. "Welcome to Konoha."
And that was that. Over the next half hour, Teuchi would sometimes wander over for a word or two – how I was settling in, how I liked the ramen – but seemed to understand that I didn't like talking all the time as well.
And then, just as I was leaving, dropping the correct amount of coins on the table, I heard a familiar-foreign shout that made me involuntarily look up.
"Hey, Teuchi-san! One large serving of miso ramen with roasted pork fillet please!"
"Hello to you too, Naruto!" Teuchi called back with a rather fond smile as an orange blur shot past me. "One miso ramen with roasted pork fillet coming right up!"
And then, freezing me firmly in my tracks just as I was trying to tiptoe out of there, the chef continued, "Oh, Tsukino-chan! If you have some time, why don't you stay for a bit and meet my number one customer?"
"So you live alone like me?"
I nodded with something akin to morbid fascination as I watched Uzumaki Naruto down ramen like it was going out of style. Huh, what do you know? Naruto really could eat a dozen bowls of ramen in one go.
Naruto's always been one of my favourite characters, perhaps because his childhood was even shittier than mine and it never kept him down for long. Though now that the blond-haired, blue-eyed orange semi-eyesore was sitting right next to me, I really couldn't think of him as a 'character'. The boy was very real, as real as I was now.
"Where are your parents then?" The blond continued his line of questioning in between slurping up his noodles. My eyebrows twitched at the relatively tactless enquiry.
"Not here," I retorted brusquely. 'Where are yours' seemed petty so I said nothing, sketching tiny random seals on a napkin with a pencil. Good by-product of my photographic memory – I remembered practically every single seal that had ever shown up in the Naruto world, and now that I could properly study them, I could start figuring out how to create my own.
"Why'd ya have grandma hair anyway?" Naruto prodded next.
I glanced up with a frown this time and noted the challenging glint in his eyes. What, trying to run me off? Hah! Like hair insults were going to work. Though maybe I should take this out and book it.
"Thought that'd be pretty obvious, Blondie," I tugged at the end of a few strands sticking out from my toque. "One of my parents had white hair of course."
Naruto half-scowled at me before swallowing another mouthful. I studied him for a moment. Why did he want to run me off?
He met my gaze again and this time I caught a glimmer of suspicion.
...Duh. He was the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, not that he knew it yet. But he was the 'demon' almost everyone scorned. It wasn't that far a stretch to realize that, for all his loud openness, Naruto would still be somewhat guarded.
I inwardly scoffed. Well that made two of us. I didn't trust a lot of people either.
But this was a ridiculous standstill. Teuchi had been throwing hopeful looks at us for the past twenty minutes now and we hadn't even really exchanged our names yet. Teuchi-san had been the one to introduce us. And it would be rude if I just up and left, but then again, I'd never had a problem with being rude before.
I considered my options. I was already in Konoha. I would undoubtedly become at least acquaintances with some of the Konoha Twelve (Eleven, whichever), and I was already changing something, big or small, just by being here.
I might as well jump right in with both feet. It didn't hurt that this was Naruto, and I wouldn't mind being his friend, though how to go about it was another matter entirely. I hadn't had an actual friend since I graduated at sixteen, and even those few had been distant friends, our ties easily cut.
Well, when in doubt, be direct. Don't beat around the bush.
I stuck out a hand across the table and watched the blond do a double-take at the proffered appendage.
"I'm Tsukino Rei," I started bluntly. "You can call me Rei. Other than Teuchi-san, I pretty much don't know anyone else in the village, so, wanna be friends?"
Naruto's mouth hung open and I was very careful not to wrinkle my nose when I spotted half-chewed noodles. Thankfully, the blond dragged together enough brain cells to swallow his food even as his eyes darted between my hand and my face.
I arched an eyebrow.
"You can always find someone else to be friends with," Naruto huffed, poking at his ramen with his chopsticks. "In fact, you'll like that better."
My other eyebrow rose. "I'm asking you. And you don't even know me. Don't assume stupid things about me or I'll punch you."
Naruto looked downright perplexed now. His gaze dropped to my hand again, which, by the way, was starting to get tired.
I sighed. God, this was awkward. Blowing out a breath, I shot to my feet, reached forward, seized his right hand, chopsticks and all, and shook it firmly. "Nice to meet you, Uzumaki Naruto. First thing you should know about me – I don't do anything half-assed. I'm your friend now, so I'm afraid you're stuck with me."
And without another word, I released him and sat back down, focusing on tucking my napkin away and biting the inside of my cheek to stave off the burn of embarrassment threatening to rise in my cheeks.
Frank and straightforward – that was the way I always did things... unless being underhanded and vague was required. I wasn't beneath that either, but not when it came to human interaction. Probably why I had never had many friends.
"...Nice to meet you too," Naruto finally muttered. My eyes flash back up to find him staring back with an odd look on his face. "Ya still have grandma hair though."
I snorted. "Whatever floats your boat, Shrimp."
Naruto automatically bristled but the previous scowl didn't surface. "You can't call me Shrimp! You're as short as I am!"
I unconsciously straightened in my seat. "I'm taller."
Naruto drew himself up even more, looking indignant. "Nuh-uh!"
I bit my lip to hide a grin. "Uh-huh."
I couldn't help it – I snickered. Ludicrous. Absolutely absurd. I was taking part in the most childish argument known to mankind.
"You don't eat vegetables," I pointed out instead, nodding at the greens he had pushed aside in his ramen. "Those are needed for growing up properly."
Naruto made a face. "Vegetables are yucky!"
"They still help," I maintained. "And since I eat them, I'll always be taller."
Naruto peered apprehensively at me before going for his vegetables. "Hmph. You're a girl. You're never gonna be taller than me."
I leaned forward and rested an elbow on the table as Naruto finished up the rest of his meal. "You keep telling yourself that, Shrimp."
"I'm not a Shrimp!"
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Tsukino – Of the Moon, Moon Field
Rei - Bell
This... yeah, I've only got a vague idea as to where this is going. Might put this on the backburner after a few chapters more. Anyway, this was just an introductory of sorts. Here's to hoping it continues.