Disclaimer : Naruto and all related characters and settings belongs to this guy in Japan that can draw actual people. Not me. Can't draw worth crap.
Rating : Err … T for swearing and bad language in general? Might make it to M for gore and violence later on.
Author's Note : Woot! Editing in progress… stand by, you might run into bad grammar and horrible sentence structures in the future parts. My wacky English skills were taken on by Memory25, who is also in the progress of helping me with the next parts, with some context aid from New and Old. Be warned, I'm not taking down the prior ANs unless there was something majorly wrong with those.
Déjà vu no Jutsu came out of a vague idea after a binge of Naruto crossovers, time travel fics, and self-inserts scenarios while I was working my crummy gas station job with little to nothing else to do besides think, which is why it's just inching over twenty thousand words long. Half a year of thinking about it, nearly fifty pages in 10 point font, right here.
I'm still of two minds of what happens to Minato and Kushina later on, or what will happen to Natsumi in the very end, so let me know what you think should happen or any other changes. And no, if I screwed up something majorly, I really can't explain why. I've got a vague timeline with this story and I'm good with just that to work with. If you find something wrong with the Japanese, feel free to scream at me. Want to see something especially happen in the story? Let me know, there's no fixed plot for this. I just want to finish it, and get it far past the baby years for crying out loud, since there really are more unfinished stories like this than completed ones. All in all, if you just want to yell at me for not updating my other fics, pm me instead of leaving a review here, please.
One last thing, the answer to the question posed under this section's title will be answered in part two. Then part three will have a question answered in part four, and five, if we have a part five, will be … eh. Something. If you don't like reviewing a story's grammar or contents, try answering that.
Summery : Take one dead, thirty-year-old career soldier, stick in the body of a child during the Second Great Shinobi War. Add a mini-Namikaze Minato, ninjas, chakra, tailed beasts, and shake well. Is it any wonder she thought she was insane? Second/Third Great Ninja War era SI AU.
Part One: Of Taijutsu and Insanity
There's a fine line between genius and madness.
So if you can tell the genius he is mad with little problem, why can't you tell the madman he's genius without awkward questions being asked of your own sanity?
Mesuji Natsumi frowned absently at the slightly younger blond kid standing before her. Namikaze Minato flushed lightly under her stare but continued to hold her gaze steadily. She had to give him credit for the guts it took to do that, because not even the caretakers at the orphanage they both lived in could look her in the eye for long without shying away.
Minato had just asked her to help him with his taijutsu, seeing as she was noted as one of the strongest kunoichi in their year. Not that being best in taijutsu in a group of eight or nine-year-old children was any great accomplishment to be boasted of, but Natsumi saw the intelligence in asking a sempai for help instead of trying to do it all alone and possibly screw something major up. However, her reservations about helping the other kid kept her silent as she mulled the request over thoroughly.
The child known as Mesuji Natsumi, orphaned kunoichi trainee of Konohagakure, was a bit of an abnormality. Something the girl herself would freely admit to. Where most children were happy playing games of ninja all day every day, Natsumi preferred either reading under a shady tree somewhere, working out on her own, helping out the caretakers who looked after the fifty other children of varying ages, or running errands for them to get her out of the crowded building. The other children thought she was stuck up because her now dead mother had been a kunoichi and raised her for the first three years of her life.
In truth, Natsumi had a really hard time equating the woman who may have visited her every few weeks for the first hazy days of her life with her mother.
Her differences from the other children could be narrowed down to one actual reason. Natsumi could recall another life that didn't include shinobi or Hidden Villages. She had been a twenty-seven-year-old Staff Sergeant enlisted in the United States Army and she was reasonably certain she had been killed in action after insurgents ambushed her company's patrolling squad. So she was still rather unsure if she was hallucinating being a kid again or not, since she had followed the Naruto manga storyline somewhat past Shippuden but lost interest around the time her unit was gearing up again for another deployment across the pond.
Natsumi knew the kid before her was going to be the Fourth Hokage, who would have a son that he would sacrifice his life to seal the strongest demon of the Elemental Countries into, that she was attending the academy with the next generations' clan leaders scattered through the three years, and that everything seemed to go to hell in a hand basket after three or four generations from her current point in time now.
The question was: What was she doing here at all?
A hesitant shift drew the young 'girl's' attention back to the blond-haired, blue-eyed academy student still waiting her response. She figured she had better answer him before he wandered off and she got an even worse reputation for anti-social tendencies.
"…reflexes and speed."
Natsumi's lips twitched at the bewildered expression on her classmate's childish face, then huffed a sigh and explained further. She couldn't get the Yondaime killed by advice before his inauguration and impending death, right?
"Train your reflexes and speed first. Katas are good too, but we're not going to remain this size our entire life. So unless you train with someone that's the same size and is just as good as you, you're not going to get a good feel of a real fight's rhythm just yet. Just concentrate on muscle memory for the moment instead of trying to find a way to keep up with someone who outsizes you, since they won't half a decade down the road… and stamina now that I think about it. Staying power." She shrugged, waving one hand to indicate the small stretch of yard behind her where she had been working out before the other child had interrupted her. "Flexibility is also something you would want to develop now, seeing as it's easier to keep up with than start on it out cold later on."
Minato flushed red in embarrassment, seeing as he had interrupted Natsumi's nightly ritual for his request. Stretches that were nearly an entire exercise regimen in itself. A few girls their age had tried to keep up with Natsumi's routine for a while on their own but they gave up after the first few nights, claiming that no one should be able to do all that every night and still rise with the sun to do another different set. To be honest with himself, he really hadn't expected the odd girl almost half a year older than him to humor his request at all. It was well known that Natsumi couldn't stand many of the kids that lived in the orphanage with them, she would frequently get impatient or annoyed with the attitude most had.
What they all didn't know was that the 'girl' was just following a habit of nightly yoga stretches and early morning calisthenics she had established in another life, just much earlier than she had before.
The blond watched the slightly older girl ponder his proposal a bit more. She wasn't much taller than him, but she had flat, wiry muscles under her dark, earth-toned second hand clothing, and even less baby fat than most other shinobi-in-training. She had a kendo-user's back, steady balance, and was light-footed due to the physical exercise and posture she held herself to. She had her mother's eyes, as per what the caretakers whispered to themselves when they thought the academy kids were too distracted to eavesdrop. A curious, mismatched pair of light blue and green. It gave her a bit of an asymmetrical look from a distance, as if her blue eye was smaller than the other. Her hair was frequently up, either in a bun or a high-tail, and it reached the small of her back because the caretakers refused to let her cut it to shoulder length.
She could keep up with a Nara's intellect on occasion, frequently by going off in tangents that Shikaku hadn't gotten around to thinking about yet, and seemed as resigned by the whole academy curriculum as any member of the clan. She could also understand people almost in the same way Inoichi could, but was better at articulating that than the Yamanaka clan heir. She was smart but hated attention, he knew she frequently threw her paper tests and screwed up her own homework to remain comfortably in the middle ranking of their academy class. There were a few rather interesting rumors about who her father could have been... but if she knew, Natsumi wasn't talking.
"If you want to join me, you can." Her childishly high voice brought the current Rookie of the Year back to the present sharply. "But I won't go easy on you. You'll have to catch up on your own."
She tapped one finger against her lips and inspected Minato.
"If you do manage to keep up with me, I'll spar with you every evening."
Minato visibly brightened at that. After all, that was what he had been after when he had approached her.
Minato cursed Natsumi out in the safety of his mind. He cursed her unnatural exercises and her freaky ability to find and correct just about every error he had made in the last two days with all the eloquence of an eight-year-old. Mostly by calling her stupid.
Natsumi's stretches hurt. They turned muscles to mush, tendons into overcooked noodles, and left the blond in an exhausted heap that he had to drag into bed once the night was over. The girl herself was completely unapologetic when she dragged him out of his futon and out into the predawn light the next day to do another set of movements, exercises, and katas.
Better get used to it now than in the middle of a fight where you're out of chakra, injured, and trying to get your scrawny butt back home out of enemy territory.
Minato frowned into his mattress as the trainee kunoichi's favorite encouragement echoed in his head. She was even odder than he had thought. Natsumi had ignored the girls when they tried to copy her habits, but had efficiently taught him to do what she did. He had never seen her teach anyone else, but after thinking about it he chalked it up to her mother's own teachings.
The woman had to have been worse than her. He spent a moment thanking kami that he was only dealing with the child and not the mother.
Two weeks later, Yamanaka Inoichi finally managed to corner Minato about what he had been doing the lunch break. "You asked Mesuji-san for help with your taijutsu?"
"How did you know?" Namikaze asked brightly, causing the eavesdropping girl-woman to smirk to herself. She imagined the same smirk was on Minato's face as he played innocent.
"The way you sidestepped that punch this morning during practice," the drawl could only belong to the Nara clan heir, Shikaku, the boy who was confused and intrigued by her on a daily basis. "That was just how she does it, but she's more graceful about it. Almost fluid-like. You both caught the instructor's attention with that."
A huff of sheepish embarrassment escaped Minato. "Rub it in, Shika-kun. But I am learning, and Natsumi-sempai hadn't told me to scram yet."
It was said with an edge of wonderment that caught the woman-turned-girl in surprise. She hadn't been that bad, had she?
"How?" Ah, that had to be one of the Hyūga twins in the year above them. Or maybe the Uchiha heir Fugaku the year above that? Someone with a large stick shoved somewhere uncomfortable with how grated the word had come out. Then again, it couldn't be the younger of the twins, Hizashi, he wasn't as uptight.
"I asked her." Minato sounded so smug about it as he indulged in a bit of childish bragging between friends. Natsumi almost wanted to laugh at the predicable reply, if it wasn't for her curiosity keeping her silent. "She stared at me for a bit, almost if she couldn't understand why. But she finally gave me a few pointers and told me I could join her when she trained in the mornings and evenings." His tone of voice changed from smug to wondering to satisfied, and the girl could almost see it as if the blond kid was standing in front of her. "She also said if I catch up to her, she would spar with me."
"That's… not how the other girls described her." Inoichi mused aloud, almost to himself. He had to be one of the closer ones to the open window she was sitting under. "They told us repeatedly she was standoffish. If that were true, wouldn't she have ignored you?"
There was a splutter, and even before the inhale and high-pitched voice, Natsumi just knew it was one of the civilian girls shoved into the academy without proper instruction or warning, in the hopes that a kunoichi would increase the family's social social standing. Mei, or Mimi, or something inane like that. "She is. You're just being led along until she decides to be cruel to you, Mina-kun! You should avoid-"
Natsumi quickly used the window's edge to haul herself up to sit on the small ledge. True to what she thought, Inoichi was sitting in the desk closer to the window and spotted the kunoichi in question first out of the group still lingering in the classroom. A few others scattered around and in position to see her on the sill gave her an unimpressed look for using the window instead of going around to the door.
"You know…" All the first year academy students who hadn't noticed her yet stiffened at her sarcastic drawl, then whipped around to face her. "I find it fascinating that you know me so well when I'm mostly sure I don't even know your name, girl."
The soon-to-be-eleven-year-old Uchiha Fugaku had been the one to question Minato's efforts, not either of the nine-year-old Hyūgas. Then again, if one of the twins had been present, Natsumi was sure she wouldn't have been able to eavesdrop without difficulty. Damn that clan and their all-seeing eyes.
Mei, or Mimi, started to splutter again, an embarrassed flush rising up her pale, chubby cheeks. "I know you, alright. You're a mean little girl with no talent."
"Yeah!" Another girl came up to Mei's, or Mimi's, shoulder and sneered with all the weight of her eight years. "Shut up, weird eyes! Stop bothering Kyoko-chan."
Natsumi raised one eyebrow in the face of the insults, amused at the shallow attempts of bullying.
"Really." She deadpanned, looking the two wannabe kunoichi over, less than impressed with their name-calling. "… I thought her name was Mei. Or Mimi."
Ignoring the flush of rage going up Kyoko's face, the appalled expression on her friend, the snickering from Inoichi, and the ever-placid Chouza's amused expression; Natsumi tapped one calloused finger against her lips.
"I really can't recall meeting the two of you. Care to explain?" She drawled out with all the commanding edge from another life spent barking orders to unruly soldiers.
Kyoko squeaked, actually squeaked, and dropped a cringing Minato's arm like she had been burned. The blond kid took no time in repositioning himself on the other side of Fugaku to get away from his insistent fangirl, keeping his eyes curiously on what was going on. The Uchiha heir, contrary to the mild rivalry that existed between himself and the first year academy classes' Rookie of the Year, stood firm with a blank face and allowed the younger Namikaze to use him as a meat shield. Then again, Uchihas were rather infamous for hating the inevitable fangirls they collected like used gum, so it wasn't unusual that he was giving assistance to someone else trying to avoid them.
"You were the one who threw a senbon through my ear!" The girl screeched, making everyone in the vicinity flinch from the high pitch she used.
The Aburame kids, who had been listening in silently over by the corner, winced and exited the classroom as soon as they calmly could, followed by the scrambling lone Inuzuka girl and her two ninken almost on the bug users' heels. Both clans were sensitive to loud sounds, and the civilian girl had just irritated or annoyed the latest shinobi trainees of both clans.
Natsumi snapped the fingers of her right hand, recalling the one and only time she had seen the girl anywhere other than in the classroom. "Right! You were the idiot that questioned Tsubaki-sensei about the effectiveness of precision senbon throwing to the point where she was contemplating throwing you out of the kunoichi classes."
She had hit the girl in the ear with a practice senbon with enough force to pierce the skin, and the sensei had admired her aim out loud first before taking the girl to the nurse station set up in the front of the building, telling her to 'toughen up, it's not that bad' the entire time.
Now Natsumi inspected the deathly pale girl standing in front of her and mused out loud enough to be heard. "I really thought your name was Mei, or Mimi. Or something stupid like that."
Inoichi was smothering his laughter into both hands by this point, blond head bowed to keep his eyes off the two girls and losing his head entirely. Shikaku had a lazy grin stretching his face because this had nothing to do with him and so he could just enjoy the show freely. The others were a mix of studied indifference or sheepish embarrassment, either trying to conceal their chagrin at being caught out gossiping or being spied upon successfully. Except for Chouza, who just kept on eating to maintain his clan's inherited metabolism at peak efficiency as he ignored the drama unfolding before him.
The other girl, whom Natsumi still didn't know the name of, hesitantly spoke up over the Akimichi heir's munching.
This strange eyed kunoichi had never before bothered to do something about Kyoko's rather mean rumormongering, and she didn't quite know what was going on to make the strange girl snap at them. "My name is Mei."
"Right…" Natsumi shook her head after a moment, not at all embarrassed by getting their names wrong. "Still don't care. If you're going to spread misinformation, at least have the decency to do it at least with some kind of skill."
She hefted a painfully fake sigh, well aware that baiting the two girls probably wouldn't do her much good in any popularity contest. But still, it would probably get them to shut up for a bit and cause others to avoid her when the news that she wasn't an easy mark for bullying got out. Hey, she was supposed to be a child, after all. Why not have a bit of fun with it?
"Just because you have no talent in any really practical skills doesn't mean you should sink to toddler-level insults. We're supposed to be better than that."
Kyoko flushed completely red, either in rage or embarrassment, and spun around, only to lose the color again nearly as fast as she gained it.
Looming behind her, probably having moved just that instance with a carefully controlled shunshin so no one was taken off guard by him, was the main instructor for the first year academy students. Hiruki-sensei had carefully blanked features as he watched the girl staring fearfully up at him. "Is there a problem here, children?"
Ignoring the dutiful muttering of 'no, sensei', Hiruki-sensei looked over at the girl perched in the window sill. "Are you sure about that, Natsumi-chan?"
"Yep." Suppressing the grimace at the tag on her name, the misplaced soldier shrugged in false innocence. "Was there something you wanted from us, sensei?"
"Hmm." His dark eyes inspected the faces of the children before him before focusing back on the troublemaker herself. "A moment, Kyoko-chan? I need a word with you."
The girl gulped fearfully, but followed the instructor out of the room. Natsumi just shrugged to herself as she watched the two of them leave the classroom.
Either Kyoko was going to get chewed out for screeching in a room with an Inuzuka and two Aburames nearby without an immediate need, or disciplined for starting damaging rumors about a fellow classmate for personal and petty, therefore wasteful, reasons. Either way, the girl needed it badly.
Now left with about six other kids of various ages, she contemplated leaving. Not that she was anti-social like most thought, she just didn't like meeting new children and trying to figure out how to not insult them unwittingly.
On the other hand, maybe she was kind of anti-social at the moment given her own height.
"Sempai! You're still here!"
Well, there went that idea. With Minato beaming at her with a hint of evil intent around the edges, Natsumi was sure she wasn't getting away anytime soon.
Minato was still grinning. He really couldn't help it.
Natsumi-sempai was grudgingly getting along with the rest of his friends. Mostly, he was sure, because he hadn't left the sometimes-taciturn kunoichi trainee much choice in the matter.
Tuning out Shikaku's third attempt to explain the rules of Go to the strange eyed girl, he puzzled over the last few hours in his head.
Natsumi had stiffened up when he had introduced her to the other boys, but that rigidity had melted away after a few minutes when Mei finally left to find her friend while the rest of that unbending edge had dissolved once five minutes passed without much of anything said. Now she was just awkward as if unused to making more friends or talking to others.
That made him just as sad to think about as watching Natsumi do her exercises alone every evening at the orphanage. Like the rest of the academy kids with a higher than average intelligence, Natsumi was unused to relating with others her age since most of them couldn't understand her, and vice-versa.
Minato knew he was smarter than average. Not nearly as smart as Shikaku, but the Nara heir could outthink his own father. His own intelligence went along with his ability to remember everything he saw, but that was nothing compared to the shadow user's intuitive intelligence. Natsumi was smart too. Not like the Naras or himself, it was more like she could think on multiple levels at the same time. She saw much more than Minato could at first glance, and normally understood what it all meant in that same moment as well.
Comprehension was what Natsumi excelled at. Able to understand underneath the underneath naturally, really, Minato mused to himself as Natsumi gifted Shikaku with a lopsided, teasing grin and admitted she knew how to play, she just wanted to know how long it would take him to get fed up with explaining the rules to her.
There was something else to her too, almost like the tone of voice the girl had used against Kyoko. Something else that gave her a confidence that was hard to fake.
He wanted to know what that was.
Bemusedly, Natsumi played three games with the shadow user before bowing out and dragging Minato back to the orphanage for their nightly stretches. She had lost all three, but Shikaku had had to work hard for them. Something that had the Nara heir considering her thoughtfully yet again.
"So?" Her new kouhai asked while trying his third yoga stretch. "What d-do you think about—ah!"
Natsumi grabbed ahold of Minato's leg before he could overcorrect his balance and fall face first on the ground.
"Shut up and concentrate, gaki, or you'll do worse than face plant." She couldn't keep the fond tone out of her voice even as she tried for irritable. "They're alright. Even the Uchiha-baka, and I never thought that was possible."
The blond pushed himself upright with a grin, ignoring the trembling of his limbs as he took a seat on the ground for the next set which she was already on. "Will you hang out with us more often then?"
"Why?" She really couldn't understand his motives. Natsumi was mostly content with continuing as she had been, there really wasn't a reason to get a friend she would have to lie to. The whole lived-another-life thing could get her sent to the mental hospital at best, a one-way trip to T&I at worst. Not really anything she really wanted to risk. Besides, she still had to figure out what the hell was going on.
"Cause you're lonely." Minato puffed out, pulling one leg up as far as he could and wincing at the sensation of pulling tendons and ill-used muscles flexing. "I could see it, heck, even the caretakers could. Where's the harm?"
Natsumi eyed the angle the blond was bending, ignoring his description of her for the moment. "Why do you care?"
"You're a comrade." Her fellow academy student shot back, unperturbed at the rude question. All geniuses had quirks you ignored if you wanted to get along with them. Shikaku's were laziness and strategy games. Apparently, Natsumi's included rudeness.
The supposed girl's mind was wrenched back to the soldier's memories and the many nights she had spent with the others of her unit either just screwing around drinking or playing some kind of multi-person shooter game. She had to admit she missed that kind of closeness while stuck in the body of a kid in wherever the hell here was. "Fine."
Natsumi turned into a bit of an unwilling friend after that.
She stopped objecting to the blond's insistence on including her, and it was becoming less of a rarity for her to seek out the boys when they had some free time. The Hyūga twins, or at least half of them, were indifferent to what the mismatched eyed girl did and didn't do. Hizashi tried almost as hard as Minato to include her, but had only half the succession rate the Namikaze kid did. Unless she managed to win one of their irregular shogi or go games, Shikaku didn't react at all except to eye her like he was trying to puzzle something out. Following along with the Nara heir, both Inoichi and Chouza would try to include her every now and again. Uchiha Fugaku simply focused on maintaining his silent rivalry with Minato, the two years between the boys notwithstanding, which took a bit of a hit when he was told Natsumi could have had the title but didn't want the attention, forcing him to acknowledge the girl as something other than an annoyance.
Minato didn't mind when his sempai wandered off on her own for a while, seeing as she was less lonely than before and kept up with training with him every evening. After all, she always came back.
Sometimes though, she would come back and throw in a comment or two that would turn their thoughts on their heads instead of keeping her opinions to herself like she usually did.
Inoichi had been complaining to the rest of them about the mandatory field excursion for their year, which was more like a week-long field trip to one of the farthest Training Grounds that was still inside the walls of the village. "I was going to ask tou-chan about training me in the next level of our clan techniques. Why can't I skip this trip?"
"Brainwashing… or mental conditioning. One of the two."
The flat reply had all the boys spinning around. Natsumi had an odd expression on her face as she quirked a grim smile at them all.
"Your clan does mind-walking jutsus and specializes in reverse psychology and psychological warfare in individual combat outside the village, right?" At the platinum blond's nod, the girl cracked her neck before sitting down with the rest of them and pulling out her lunch. "Think of it this way. If social expectations and pressures can form a mob mentality you can direct to violence from just the impression of an insult done to them from a specific controlling group, why wouldn't the stigma attached to killing in civilized society be as easily ignored or worked around in a similar group mentality with the right encouragement or leading? You do recall we're training to be killers, right?"
Inoichi blushed a bit as he worked it out in his head, though he was sure she wasn't irritated at him for overlooking that angle, pulling his bento box closer to his body. He just hadn't thought of that, too caught up in learning to read another person's mind with his clan's jutsus. Chouza patted his friend on the back, commiserating with him since it seemed none of the others had had the same thoughts, offering a chip from his ever present bag to the blond.
The Nara heir snorted from the Akimichi's other side, giving the girl a long, sideways look. "So you think this is only to get the hesitation of a kill out of the way."
"Unless there's going to be a surprise attack by bandits or nuke-nin that somehow evaded the village's security," here she gave a nod of recognition to Fugaku as part of the Uchiha clan controlling the main chunk of Konoha's internal security by the Second Hokage's decree, "not so much getting the hesitation out of the way as making us kill at least one animal and associating the death with something else besides the socialized stigma of murder. Like say, a pleasant camping trip with friends."
At the blank looks on their faces, she huffed in exasperation.
"Did no one else read the notice? We're expected to hunt our own food. That would include killing and preparing it. There are some people that can't even bring themselves to harm the local wildlife much less another person, you know."
There was an almost wordless inhale of comprehension from the others. Minato acquired an unusual expression as he studied the girl's fading expression of cynicism, but Natsumi figured she would be grilled about how she understood that much later that night at the orphanage. For now, she turned her attention forcibly back to what drew her over to them in the first place.
"Do any of you know that new redhead girl in the first year classes? She apparently showed up this morning, but I wasn't here to hear what's going on."
"Why weren't you here?" Hizashi eyed the bandages that covered the girl's forearms, noting one was a bit more bulky than the other. "Pull something?"
"Sprained my wrist this morning, actually. The workers over at the orphanages panicked over it." She shrugged the concern away idly, accepting the sympathizing nods from the rest of them and the sympathy potato chip Chouza automatically handed to her with a slight, quirky smile. There hadn't been a week yet where they didn't have some kind of injury, ranging from cuts and bruises to even a broken rib once in Hiashi's case. "Well?"
"Uzumaki Kushina, Mesuji-san." Fugaku supplied, sneering at her. The sneer was ignored by all reflexively now, the clan's famous superiority complex was rumored to be a genetic trait along with their kekkai genkai. Kind of like the Uzumaki's verbal tic and their insane stamina. Quietly, of course. "Loudmouthed little girl from Uzugakure claiming that she is going to be the first female Hokage."
It hadn't been difficult to overhear that, given how boisterous the girl was.
"Huh." Natsumi tapped her chopsticks against the edge of her store-bought bento as the name rang a loud bell, idly thanking the kami that she had learnt how to eat rice with them from fellow soldiers in her previous life. She found that any skills she didn't already know before were harder to grasp with a child's motor control and attention span. Damn throwing skills, she still needed to work on them. "Just to let you know, Uchiha-sama, Uzumaki-san latched onto Mikoto-san as a sempai with a death grip and has given no inclination that she's going to let go."
Fugaku blanched, temporarily forgetting his Uchiha stoicism in light of the warning and the consequences it would have for him. He didn't really care about the odd kunoichi Minato had offered friendship to either way, and she was thankfully similarly indifferent to him, but she would give him tips about his legion of fan girls and any rumors linked to his clan in return for his tolerance of her presence when she showed up.
"Dear kami-sama, please no."
The aforementioned Uchiha girl was a year younger than him, and Mikoto was rumored to the leading candidate for the position of his wife on the elders' lists. That meant if she did become friends with Uzumaki Kushina, the loudmouth red-headed kunoichi would become a familiar headache to the Uchiha clan heir sooner or later. He ignored the Akimichi's offer of sympathy and Hiashi took it instead. No use in wasting good potato chips.
"So what brings you back to your fellow humble students, Natsumi-sempai?" Minato cheerfully asked the dark-haired girl, smirking when she gave him an odd look.
"Must you continue calling me that? You're making me feel old." The sole kunoichi muttered without venom, used to the title after four months of continually being called that despite her protests, "And nothing, really. I was getting kind of bored."
She shrugged, concealing the gleam in her eyes by narrowing them. It was a bit too late, as the shadow user and her kouhai were both eyeing her worriedly.
"I've a question. What is a large group of shinobi called? A flock, a mass, or a murder?"
Fugaku understood it first, excluding Shikaku's groan and slump since he was a Nara. The raven haired shinobi-in-training managed to fix his sneering mask. "That was horrible. Kindly cease attempting to jest, Mesuji-san."
Chouza boomed out a laugh half a second later, while the Hyūga twins bore identical expressions of stoically pained tolerance as they too understood the joke she was trying to make. Inoichi shot a glare at Minato, as if his fellow blond was solely responsible for the girl's horrid sense of humor.
Natsumi's fellow orphan had a hand over his eyes and so, didn't notice the Yamanaka's ire. "You know, Natsumi-sempai, if I had known about your pathetic attempts at making jokes beforehand…"
"You probably would have asked me for taijutsu tips anyways." The lone kunoichi of the group shot back, ignoring the exasperated tone and posture. "How you managed your standing with only the academy style under your belt is beyond me, especially before you started working with me on it."
Minato shrugged without care and uncapped a bottle he had brought along to take a sip. "I either outlasted or outthought most of my opponents. The ones I couldn't outthink didn't care and the ones I couldn't outlast didn't really want to fight a friend."
He waved his own chopsticks at the terminally lazy shadow-master-in-training who was pretending that he was alone and staring up at the sky since it didn't look like the others were going to be quiet today, and the forever-eating walking mountain that was the Akimichi heir.
"Now though, with the speed and reflexes I have, I think only you and the clan-taught kids can keep up with me."
Natsumi had to give him that as she chewed, both on her food and over her kouhai's logic. She had her previous life's combatives that most thought was merely an unfinished style her mother had favored, a mash of many different martial arts unknown to Konoha and combined by the soldiers of her last life into a very effective offensive style, and Konohagakure's academy style, which was more defensive than offensive.
Minato had refused to learn anything more than flexibility and strength training, however, explaining that it was a point of pride for him to excel only at the style taught to the pre-genin of Konoha.
Stupid, stubborn blonds.
Then the bell rang.
"So, want to come with me?" Minato asked cheerfully, ducking under the punch from his sempai that would've loosened a few teeth.
"Whose birthday is it again?" Natsumi asked in return instead of answering his question. She wasn't even breathing hard as she caught the blond's returning punch with her left and swung him around by his arm to knee him in the back and knock the breath out of him before he could compensate for the reversal of his person.
The last Namikaze wheezed painfully between clenched teeth and hit the ground face first, rolling to the side to avoid the drop kick that impacted just after he hit the dirt.
He just knew that his back was going to bruise, and he thought again that it was horribly unfair of her. Since the girl had been exercising for so long already, she was rarely out of breath during their spars even though he would start flagging around the middle. His stamina was getting better, was better than most of the children in their year, but the girl with mismatched eyes had been doing her exercises for so long that she was leagues ahead of him.
So far, at least.
His sempai had confided that in the long run, he would trump her in stamina simply because he was a boy the same way she would him in speed as a girl. Which meant that, in the future, she could still get in some really good hits before the end when the spar tipped into his hands.
Natsumi really didn't want to go to a birthday party, heck she couldn't even recall her last one in either life, and she had no desire to see how it the present would differ to previous experience. Probably less alcohol, though. Although, she was mildly impressed with herself for recalling both dates of birth.
Of course, this was if the blond was really inviting her to a birthday party.
Minato coughed as he pushed himself up to his knees. "Damn, Natsumi-sempai. That one hurt. And it's Shika-kun's."
With a short glance at the newly emerging stars to check the general time, the displaced woman in a girl's body shook her head and motioned for them to start their cooldown stretches. "Do I want to spend a night being challenged to Shogi or Go games and being guilt tripped into playing with Shika-kun's clan when I don't want to?"
Her fellow academy student blushed at her dry tone.
"Really, Mina-kun. Your actual reason, please."
"Umm…" Ignoring that Natsumi only called him 'Mina-kun' when she was starting to get irritated with him, Minato mustered his courage and promptly quailed at the glare the girl was pinning him with. "W-what do you mean actual reason?"
"Because before it was Shikaku-kun's, it was Inoichi-kun's. I heard that from the twins. And before that, Chouza-kun's birthday. From Shikaku-kun himself. Remarkable that they were all born on the same day, huh?"
Minato slapped a hand to his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut. Apparently they hadn't coordinated as well as they thought they had, "Well… that's just… damn."
"Just ask the question that's been bothering you, would you? You're starting to worry me." Natsumi threw up her hands in uncharacteristic exasperation, stopping mid-stretch and glaring at the other child in a similarly alarming deviation from her normal routine. "I've answered all of the ones you've asked, right?"
The future Yondaime Hokage flushed in shame, taking in the stress that lined the face of his only female friend's from his and the others' subterfuge. He supposed he and the rest of their little group had done the girl a disservice, since she didn't lie to them. And any question they had asked of her were answered… just not fully.
Shikaku had been the first to catch on to the girl's quirks. The cynicism aimed at the instructors' methods of teaching, her inability to deal with large groups of people, her skill at a game Minato had admitted he had never seen her play before. She was blasé to the extreme in some aspects but touchy about others. Inoichi had been the first to bring up that she may have been a spy.
But if that were true, why would she bother them with her horrible jokes? If she was aiming to get close to the future clan heads, why go off on her own so much? She never disappeared, just kept herself at a slight distance, and lost herself in whatever was occupying her mind. Even Fugaku had been skeptical when the possibility had been brought up. Besides, why would she give the time of day to a nameless orphan?
"Aa, sorry." Minato held his hands up at her irritated glare. "Really! Just, okay." He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Not very well done, huh?"
"You don't say?" Natsumi gritted out. "Where do you want to ask, Minato?"
The blond sighed tiredly and fell back into his own cool down routine. "The Nara's clan compound. Shikaku-kun got us permission to camp out for the night in the forest behind his house."
Shikaku had his head buried in his hands when the two orphans finally showed up. Obviously, he had already discovered the miscommunication. He waved off Natsumi before she could comment. "Yes, we screwed up. Shut it, Natsumi-sempai."
The woman in a girl's body shrugged, offloading her academy-issued sleeping bag onto the ground before approaching the campfire Chouza had started and was still feeding firewood to. "So," she began for the uneasy group as she took a seat next to the Uchiha heir, "you couldn't just come out and ask me what was going on?"
Inoichi blushed beet red, not looking at the girl. The twins exchanged looks, and then shrugged. Fugaku kept his attention on the roasting rabbit as Minato took a seat next to Natsumi. Chouza was the only one to speak up, though he was more focused on the rabbit than the girl they had gathered to question. "I told them to, Natsumi-chan. But they like the conspiracy theories better."
"Really." The dry tone she used had all the boys wincing with various levels of shame. Natsumi scoffed at the automatic reaction from the males around her. "I'm not going to remain the only girl to hang out with you all. Better get used to it."
That had expressions of distaste crossing their faces, and the kunoichi cackled at them all. Ah, the wonders of foreknowledge. All of them procreated in the story she recalled, and that held a potential treasure trove for blackmail.
"Yeah, but they won't be as scary as you, Natsumi-chan." The shadow user grumbled just loud enough to be heard, lifting his head enough to see the girl clearly. "Now will you tell us what's going on?"
Natsumi shrugged and nodded to their collective surprise. She had chewed the questions in her head thoroughly, but was still unsure if she was actually concentrating on the important parts. Maybe telling someone would help, though she wasn't expecting it to do much good. "Sure. I'm trying to decide if I'm insane or hallucinating."
They were obviously confused as they exchanged looks before turning back to her. Those were not the words they had thought would come out of her mouth.
"Insane?" Inoichi prompted, looking fascinated. Everyone else around the campfire just looked uneasy.
Natsumi eyed him and his eager expression, snorting quietly to herself. Figures it would be the mind-walker that would take that declaration in stride.
"I can recall about twenty odd years of another life. Seeing as I'm not twenty-something, and I'm mostly certain I've died once already—being gutted hurts by the way—that leaves me with only a few options left for what's going on. Insanity, hallucinations, you know." She glanced to the stone-faced Uchiha at her side staring at her as if in anticipation of her pulling any tricks. "Though, if I am dreaming in a coma somewhere or hallucinating, there must be something really wrong with my head."
Cue genetic Uchiha sneer. Fun.
"Twenty-odd years?" Shikaku asked, sharp eyes taking in the relaxed posture Natsumi had as she made the claim. Body language alone told him that the girl was unconcerned about their opinion of her mental state. "I can see why you're thinking insanity."
She pulled a sour face in return for the scrutiny and the comment. "Funny thing is, Shika-kun, about seventy percent of that is mind-numbingly boring guard shifts and deployments. For it to be insanity, you would think it would be more interesting than that."
"Deployments? Which village and conflict do you recall, Natsumi-san?" Hizashi asked next. The woman turned girl was mostly certain that the forehead hidden behind the bandages was furrowed as the younger twin tried to imagine the headache of living two lives.
"None of them from current history, which would mean the last thousand years at least. I looked. Also wasn't a kunoichi before, I was just a soldier." She waved a hand dismissively, thinking back to the effort she had mustered to find anything she could recognize when she had been five. Just before she tripped over the whole 'ninja' thing and promptly started panicking about comas and hallucination. "As a matter of fact, I nearly had a heart attack the first time I saw a map of the Elemental Countries. Looks nothing like what I can remember from mission briefs."
Then the roof hopping ninja that triggered her one and only panic attack. She couldn't forget that ill-fated walk to the library if she wanted to.
When Minato finally spoke up, it was with a hint of incredulity lacing his voice as he stared at her. "Is that where you learned to fight then? Your style doesn't match anything in the village and there are the occasional times you overcorrect when training with me, like you're used to more reach."
Shikaku sat bolt upright at that reminder, having thought through and discarded many doubts about her sanity already. "You fight too well not to know your style inside and out. Even the academy instructors agree with that. Is that from your past and not from your okaa-san?"
"Yeah. We called it combatives back then." Natsumi shrugged idly, unsure where this tangent was going but willing to humor them. "It was taught to all the soldiers in the army I belonged to before my death. It was a mash of a lot of other styles of martial arts used around the world at the time. And no," she pulled a weird face at the reminder of her second mother, "kaa-san didn't really teach me anything before she died."
"And that's where you got the habit of going out at dawn and dusk to train?"
Natsumi eyed the blond on her right skeptically. "Yeah, and?"
"It's a possibility then, though not a very good one." Shikaku mused almost to himself, taking in the bewildered girl with mismatched eyes across the campfire. "Think about it—what if your previous life was before the Sage of Six Paths? Reincarnation is said to take a minimum of five hundred years. How would anyone know that if no one recalled their previous lives before? Legend does hold that there were super powered nations a long time ago, and the world might have changed over centuries. You said you could recall dying, right? What if you were reincarnated with memories intact?"
"Shikaku-kun, I haven't discarded the possibility that I'm hallucinating all of this." Natsumi threw her hands up in disbelief, rather unwilling to go along with that particular assumption of her mental state. She opened her mouth to ask the resident mind-walker a question but was derailed by the look of almost absolute manic glee on the blond's face. "What- Inoichi-kun?"
"I'll be able to tell! We're trained to catch that kind of detail when looking through someone's mind." The blond leaned forward, intent on proving it either way with his clan skills. "And I'll be able to tell if you're just suffering from delusions or badly implanted memories."
"Or flat-out insane." Huffed Hiashi, but was ignored when the Yamanaka got up and practically threw himself on the ground next to the girl.
"Look me in the eyes and concentrate on your past life."
The other boys milled around, thinking about Natsumi's little revelation while Inoichi explored the girl's mind. The rabbit was rescued from charring and eaten, a portion saved for the two distracted members of the group.
Their attention was drawn back sharply to the Yamanaka heir as he hurriedly scrambled for the bushes; leaving Natsumi to groan in pain, lurch upright while listing to the side, and lunge clumsily to catch the other eight-year-old's longish hair before it ended up striped with the blond's lunch on the forest floor. "I already said getting gutted was a bad experience, what the hell were you thinking, exploring that memory?"
"Sorry!" Inoichi gasped between heaves. "Just-urk!"
Natsumi made a face and closed her green right eye as she propped herself up against the tree the mind-walker was next to. Her sense of balance was shot, and neither the pounding headache nor the blond now dry heaving into the bushes was helping to dull the horror of her last life's final moments. "That was… extremely unpleasant. Let's never do that again."
"I made you feel the memories, too. Wasn't supposed to happen." Inoichi muttered dazedly, his face a mix of severe nausea and sincere regret. "Didn't really realize that if you recalled being killed, I'd feel what it felt like to be gutted too. But I don't know enough about my clan's jutsus to keep either of us from experiencing that again."
"Inoichi-kun? Natsumi-chan?" Shikaku's concerned voice drew their attention back to the others. The Nara had gone pale under his tan and the rest looked no better off. Natsumi was distantly proud of herself for putting that gaping fish expression on the kekkai genkai users' faces. "Is she sane or not?"
"She's not crazy!" The blond whooped suddenly, all but jumping upright and startling the girl into taking a few steps backwards in case he started laughing manically and demanding all their dango, or else. With how this night was going, she wouldn't put it past the Yamanaka heir just yet. "I mean, yeah, not entirely working with a full-length of ninja wire, but given what happened to her that's almost to be expected."
Natsumi took offense to that. "Oi! I think I'm doing well enough for being on my own, thanks."
He waved a hand in the air as if to dismiss her words. "You need some serious therapy, now hush."
The mind walker staggered his way back to their little circle of friends, grin still affixed to his face as he rapidly listed a crude summary of what the girl knew and what he now knew she knew.
"Thousands of years of history, Shika-kun! Three different languages, working knowledge of a few others, countless hours of schooling in military-related matters of the time, even years of combat leadership experience!" The grin only slipped as Inoichi reached the memory that had thrown him out of her head. "Definitely needs some kind of therapy, not the same we give for traumatic physical injury and losing teammates, but something all the same. She's just suffering from a severe case of survivor's guilt, disassociation with reality, and a few other major things. Since Minato-kun's pulled her out of the worst of it just by asking for her continued company, she's been working through the issues she could identify. And now I can help her with the rest!"
She flipped him off with a scowl, stubbornly ignoring her deathly pale and very concerned kouhai on her right as she sat down again to keep her knees from shaking. Damn the mini mind-shrink ninja and screw his therapy to hell. She was fine, damn it.
She suppressed the reminder of her frequent nightmare of desert nights, the smell of blood, throbbing pain and ohmygodisthatmyspine!?
Okay, not fine. Not even remotely… but she was still working on it!
Everyone else now looked less like someone had whacked them upside the head and beat them bloody with a frozen fish, Chouza even started snacking again as he considered the mentally unfocused girl while Inoichi all but gushed about her past life and the psychology she had studied.
Not crazy or insane, but the hallucination angle was still possible. Again, if someone you hallucinated said you were sane, were you?
Natsumi bit her lip and stared into the small camp fire, struggling with her own head and feelings as the others pressed Inoichi for answers. There had to be a problem with that logic. Not that there was any real logic to finding something you read as a hobby to be truth, but if she was hallucinating or in a coma somewhere in the desert she thought she died in, how could she tell without killing herself here?
She always did hate how Minato's kid had been treated in the manga. Would saving her little blond kouhai and his soon-to-be wife get the littler gaki killed later on down the line, or solve most of the problems before they became S-class threats to Konoha? Was it even a problem?
"Natsumi-chan? You alright?"
Minato's worried voice called her back to the present, and to the little niche she had carved out for herself here, insane or not. Blank, mismatched eyes slowly refocused on worried, bright blue.
"Yeah, I will be eventually." She risked a quick look to Inoichi, not at all surprised to see the knowing look in his lavender, pupil-less eyes. "Inoichi-kun will help me see to that."
Natsumi did eventually write out the choppy, bastardized, military-style psychology she had been taught for Inoichi to all but devour in return for her 'therapy'. He did, after all, come from a clan of shinobi that dabbled in psychology on the side when not in the interrogation department of T&I.
In a world of hired mercenaries and killers, the triggers and warning signs of an unbalanced mind in their ranks should be somewhat similar to her own experiences.
She did so only with the understanding that if he wanted to use any of it, he wasn't to mention her past life to anyone.
He only agreed because the reincarnated girl was uncomfortable enough with only the few of them knowing of her past life. No matter how blasé she was, the only reason she had shared her secret with them was because she had decided she wouldn't be getting much farther on her own. Having keenly felt the uncertainty in the girl-woman's mind just before he brought up her earliest memories, it wasn't too difficult for him to agree as long as she abided by his advice.
The Yamanaka heir had insisted on weekly therapy at minimum to work through her issues, much to the girl-woman's horror. Said therapy would happen whenever the group managed to get one of the academy student accessible training grounds for themselves through their clan influence, since Natsumi was not comfortable telling the current Yamanaka clan head why she needed therapy to use one of their sound-proof rooms.
Which the girl was still certain she didn't need.
There was a twenty-seven-year-old career soldier inside her sneering at the thought of shrinks and barking to drop a pair and move on, soldier! Crying about it won't help shit! Mental health checks had always been dreaded in her past life.
They refrained from going through her mind again, which Natsumi was pathetically thankful for. She wasn't sure how Inoichi had missed all her thoughts on the storyline, but didn't want to risk the scare she had after she realized what it would mean for a mind-walker to stumble upon them later that night.
Hizashi was the one to bring up informing the Hokage about her knowledge first, since it could be considered prior command experience if you tilted your head to the side and squinted.
"I tried, for the first year I could coherently string together a solid thought." Natsumi blithely informed them all one afternoon, a week after their camping trip in the Nara's backyard/training grounds. Class was out and they had gathered in the empty practice grounds for taijutsu sparring, with Shikaku taking a nap and Chouza playing referee, since anyone going up against the Akimichi clan heir was just asking for a broken bone.
Currently, they were stretching for a free-for-all which would be followed by pairing up for what practice they could fit in the remaining time. "But consider the difficulty of convincing Hokage-sama that I wasn't a spy of some sort, given the war going on outside the gates. Remember, I wasn't even sure I was sane at the time—still not so sure—so it was probably a good thing his secretary didn't take me seriously and never let me through."
The misplaced soldier was mostly certain that both Fugaku and Hiashi still thought her completely insane, whatever the Yamanaka clan heir said or not. Fair enough was all Natsumi could say to that, because she had had the same doubts the first nine years of this life and sometimes even now despite Inoichi's frequent reassurances. The Yamanaka didn't have all the parts to her mind puzzle, after all.
Thankfully, before the blond could repeat himself for the umpteenth time or prod her for more information, a certain red-haired girl and self-proclaimed rival of the current holder of the 'Rookie of the Year' title came screeching to a halt in front of a bemused and exasperated Minato. "I challenge you to a spar, Namikaze!"
It was always amusing to watch the two of them argue, but this afternoon Natsumi risked missing something potentially hilarious to share with Naruto, if she survived long enough to, to observe Mikoto, who was splitting her attention between her reluctantly acknowledged best friend and her all but confirmed betrothed.
With her newfound if questionable 'sane' status she really didn't know what to make of the girl. The girl who would apparently abandon her best friend's child to the orphanage and later the streets, while she played house with her husband and ignored how Naruto was the splitting image of Minato. She occasionally had the same thoughts about Fugaku even before Inoichi took a dive through her head. "So, anything new with you, Mikoto-san?"
The physically older girl gave the other kunoichi a small smile, starting out as polite and 'formally distant Uchiha' as ever but relaxing to something approaching pleasant near the end. "Not really, Natsumi-san. Kushina-chan has stated fūinjutsu lessons with Mito-sama, which leaves me with a bit more free time than before."
"I heard the Uzumaki clan is really good with seals." Natsumi looked back to the red streak that was Kushina, admiring the shade of crimson the future jinchūriki's cheeks were turning. "I imagine it would be difficult getting her to sit for calligraphy lessons with that kind of energy, though."
Most of the boys' attention was on Minato's attempt to turn down Kushina's challenge. Only the Nara heir could have claimed to hear them and he really couldn't have cared less about the topic of discussion.
Mikoto was a bit surprised that the slightly annoying girl who had all but welded the two of them together had that kind of clan history. "They are?"
"What, you didn't look up her bloodline and kekkai genkai the moment you knew her clan name?" Natsumi gave the Uchiha girl a lopsided grin. If it was a bit sharper than normal, eh. She wasn't that good at hiding when she was irritable or upset yet. There wasn't much of a point at the moment. "Uzumaki is one of the major bloodlines from Uzugakure, and a few of their women have married high ranking shinobi from our village. They're known for fūinjutsu and have a vitality-based kekkai."
Slapping a hand over her eyes, Mikoto sighed heavily as her shoulder slumped. "Damn, and here I thought she was unique. You're telling me there's more like her?"
Natsumi nodded faux-importantly with a barking laugh, "And all of them are rumored to be just as hyper as her. Hard not to be, when they have high chūnin or low jōnin level chakra reserves by this age bracket."
The girl winced at the mere thought before turning to the increasingly-incensed redhead. "Kushina-chan! We're going to be late to Mito-sama's!"
After checking the sun's position in response, Kushina screeched in alarm and all but vanished in a streak of red with her friend in tow.
Leaving a bemused blond, a gaggle of indifferent boys, and one smirking kunoichi. "Well, that was interesting."
"I don't know why she keeps doing that." Minato rubbed the back of his neck, looking in the direction the girls had left in. He liked Kushina, but she always wanted to spar instead of hang out and they really only had so much time before the clan kids had to be home for their family training sessions.
"Pigtail pulling." Natsumi offered, far too innocently to be believable as she fell into a ready position with Fugaku across the field.
Inoichi was the only one to laugh, in hysterical bursts that brought him to the ground, and the rest decided they didn't want to know after a good look at Natsumi's 'innocent' grin.
The rest of the academy year went by easily with a few hiccups and the occasional struggle that the group resolved by heavily abusing Natsumi's prior-combat experience. She was oddly amused by that, especially the few times the twins and the Uchiha heir asked for her advice on their homework.
The few times the girl-woman tried to avoid her sessions, Minato would drag her back, and said therapy would happen anyway.
Natsumi tried only once to completely remove Inoichi from being able to force her into talking about her other life, and the blond boys got the Hyūga twins to block her tenketsu points while the Nara heir trapped her in a full-body bind. However, that did mean that Hizashi, Hiashi, Shikaku, and Minato got to hear the gory details of how she and her patrol had died her first time around for themselves. They abandoned the rest of that day's therapy and clan training just to screw around and cheer up the 'walking dead' girl. Fugaku and Chouza were informed later that same night so they wouldn't bring up any bad memories by accident.
The end of the first academy year was dedicated to unlocking chakra coils in the clan-less students while the clan kids were set up with beginner chakra control exercises. It was one of the few areas that the misplaced soldier's prior life knowledge didn't cover, and so she was slightly nervous about it.
Minato had maybe five minutes to panic over the idea that Natsumi wasn't born with enough chakra to activate her coils while the kunoichi struggled to prove it wrong. The end of those five minutes gave him another reason to worry over as the flair of chakra that proceeded the unlocking of the ex-soldier's coils became visible—meaning that she had more than enough chakra—but with a color unlike the norm.
Natsumi's chakra, although in a higher volume than any other girl's except Kushina's, was a light purple.
She was rather indignant about the lilac color once the group managed to gather before the winter break, and was still muttering vile things about her unknown father, the only prospect they concluded that could have affected her chakra in any manner.
Her final comment about the oddity was, "What good is purple chakra anyways?"
"We would like to know that as well, Natsumi-chan." An affable, but gravelly voice answered from behind the group as they wandered around the marketplace that was where they split up for their various compounds or homes. The mid-sized group of academy students turned nearly as one to see the war-strained Sandaime Hokage smiling down at them from under his wide brimmed hat and over his smoking pipe. Next to him was an unknown shinobi, whom they figured to be some kind of medical specialist from the way he was dressed in a mix of scrubs and ninja gear. "Would you mind letting us take a look at your chakra system?"
The girl with mismatched eyes inclined her head to their village leader, turning to look at the rapidly paling blond at her side with a crooked grin. "Of course, Hokage-sama. Oi, can you tell the caretakers I'll be back much later, Minato-kun?"
"Actually, I've been meaning to invite you two over again." Shikaku announced suddenly, wide eyes still on the patiently waiting Hokage. "Come to my clan's compound later, Natsumi-chan."
It would have been funny at how worried the boys were for her, even the two sticklers holding out on deciding her sanity, if it hadn't been for the scare all of them had been given recently.
Not that they were doing anything wrong, there weren't any laws on keeping one's past life from your Hokage after all, but being snuck up on by said Hokage wasn't a laughing matter.
Natsumi rather freely gave out the diagnosis the hospital had given her. Telling it once to the Hyūga and the older Uchiha, who had actually graduated three weeks early but was waiting around for his proposed genin team to come back to the village, and then again at the Nara compound to Shikaku and company as he pinned her with a mildly anxious look from between the Yamanaka and Akimichi clan heirs.
"High spiritual energy compared to a much lower physical one. That caused the discoloration in my chakra. Usually, it's the other way around."
Although that was normally green, as produced by medics when healing, not purple. That part didn't need to be spread around, Natsumi was strange enough as it was.
Even more quietly she shared the rest with Minato, hopefully out of the recovering Nara clan head's hearing. "If I didn't have the habits I do, it would have been worse."
"Well then, I'm glad to hear that it wasn't anything serious, Natsumi-chan. Would you and Minato-kun like to stay for dinner?"
Natsumi gave Shikaku's mother a wry grin, ignoring the arched eyebrow the shadow-user's father was giving her for her unusual chakra composition and coloration. "We didn't tell the caretakers at the orphanage we'd be later than usual, ma'am. We should probably get going."
"Oh alright. But the two of you don't be strangers now." Aikido smiled down at the only girl friend her son had, and the blond child that had included her.
"Yes ma'am." The girl with mismatched eyes nodded to her and the other boys, giving Nara Shikai a bow. "Nara-sama, my thanks for letting the boys hang around while I was at the hospital with Hokage-sama."
The clan head nodded once in acceptance of her gratitude, but waved a bandaged arm with a slight wince to dismiss it. "Call me Shikai, please. There are way too many Nara around for formalities. And leave off the 'sama', chibi-chan."
"Sure, Shikai-san." Natsumi bowed again and all but dragged Minato out of the Nara compound. She started to fill in the smaller details as they walked back to the orphanage. "Hokage-sama wasn't really alarmed outside of what the coloration would mean for me. Apparently, strange colored chakra pops up from time to time and the only concern is that I need to work on the physical half more. There's even a clan with white chakra somewhere in the village. I do have to wonder if that means there were others who could recall what they had been in another life."
She left out that a higher physical core of energy wouldn't mean jack other than a fitness freak or insane hyperactivity. Which meant she was still the only one to have her unique circumstances in Konoha's medical history.
"Well, that's good, right?" Minato asked as the plain building they lived in came into view. "Means it really wasn't a fluke, or something the Shinigami is going to come after you for."
"That's morbid, Minato-kun. And here I thought my sense of humor was dark."
That was not a consequence she had thought of yet. Damn blonds.
The second year of academy instruction for Minato and Natsumi was much less exciting. A few birthdays were celebrated and Minato got to pay his taijutsu coach back by helping the girl with mismatched eyes with her throwing stance and grips, although she still had better accuracy than anyone without a dōjutsu. The curriculum became harder, meditation was introduced, the three standard academy jutsu were practiced, and a few inches were added to many a midget.
Other than the kunoichi of their year discovering hormones for the first time, it was almost uneventful.
Natsumi found the fangirls and their talent for multiplying rib-crackingly hilarious, much to the dismay of the boys. They had held out hope that she would at least get annoyed with the encroachment and deal with them before laughing her butt off. Kushina just found them sad excuses for kunoichi and scorned them all. Mikoto, on the other hand, showed them why no Uchiha fangirl had ever succeeded in tempting an Uchiha shinobi with copious Killer Intent especially aimed at the girls gossiping about her recently graduated betrothed.
The three girls soon found themselves lumped together during any practical exercise despite the differences in year level as the other kunoichi trainees allowed their skills to fall by the wayside in lieu of more faux-romantic pursuits. It continued in the same vein for a good few months until Natsumi finally got fed up with the high pitched noises made over half of her boys and the waste of the kunoichi sensei's time.
So she told the boys with the most fangirls how to distract them.
Hey, Inoichi had told her that getting possessive over her friends was normal. A long awaited sign of recovery, right?
Well, something like that anyway.
Hiashi's left eye twitched once Natsumi was finished explaining her plan during lunch in the second year's classroom, as they were eating indoors since it was raining outside. It kept on twitching even as his twin started slamming his already bandaged head against his desk repeatedly. Fugaku, who had had the luck to receive a D-rank mission to fix the academy roof with his new but slightly older genin team earlier that same day, looked as if someone had told him she was a kami reborn and managed to prove it after slapping him in the face. Minato was a laughing heap propped up by his own desk, though admittedly it sounded a bit hysterical.
Slowly raising his head off his usual position over his desk, Shikaku pinned Inoichi with a dark look over his folded arms and behind Chouza's suspiciously shaking shoulders. "Your clan deals with psychological warfare. It's practically their thing. Why the hell haven't they come up with this yet?"
The shadow user refrained from commenting on Natsumi's skills, as the two behind her didn't know about that yet.
The mind walker spluttered around a mouthful of rice, still staring at the lead of kunoichi trio in awe of himself. Progress! A bit later than he would like to see in the girl, but an improvement all the same.
"Look, you don't even need to start out small. They're idiotic enough to believe anything at this point." Natsumi rubbed her temples in irritation, ignoring the knowing look in Inoichi's eyes. "As long as enough of them hear that you're looking for girlfriends with certain skills that require a lot of attention to develop, they'll be too busy competing with each other to even direct enough brain cells to bother you. They'll leave you alone and the majority of our generation of kunoichi won't be massive wastes of space, a win for everyone. Pick a cardinal point and shout it if you have to. I can understand wanting a distraction, with the war and all, but this is getting a bit much."
"And soon, please." Kushina tagged on with a firm nod, rolling her green eyes in exasperation when a group of whispering and giggling girls tripped their way into the classroom only to stop and glare at the girls already talking to the boys they were fixated on. "This is just embarrassing, you know."
Mikoto nodded along as she chimed in. "The faster this is over with, the better."
"We'll return the favor, honest."
Minato finally caught his breath and peered up at Natsumi. "What do you mean by that?"
His sempai grinned grimly, echoed by both Kushina and Mikoto. "You'll see eventually."
The end of the second year of the academy gave weight to Natsumi's promise. More than a few shinobi trainees started tagging after Mikoto and even Kushina, offering to assist them with everything much to their shared ire.
They solved that developing problem by cornering Natsumi and asking what she did when presented with persistent suitors. She had a working solution for the boys still in effect, after all.
The girl-woman raised an eyebrow, wondering at the intelligence of the kids around her, when said cornering happened in a closet of all things.
"I'm apparently creepy-looking enough that no one's tried to ask me on a date." The misplaced soldier gestured to her mismatched eyes as if to prove a point even when she knew it had to do with her attitude and not her looks. "Dear old kaa-san is to thank for that. Though I don't expect that to last for long, given the curves I'm developing."
She poked at her own chest and hips in turn to draw attention to the expanding dimensions she was growing. The joys of puberty, take two.
"You know," Mikoto mused, looking at each eye and the separate colors they held, "you could probably use a genjutsu to hide that."
Natsumi considered the possibility, but shrugged the suggestion off. "Why bother? I've got my kouhai and Chouza-kun, and even Shikaku-kun helping a time or twice with a lot of griping, to scare off the beginnings of my meager admirers, and the eyes kind of identify me to everyone else. If I suddenly showed up with two matching eyes, people might think I'm a spy or something."
The boys had actually chased off suitors only because the girl-woman admitted that even thinking about going on dates with them made her feel like she was robbing the cradle. Just a bit.
"Chouza-san, huh?" Kushina's eyes gleamed with a wicked light as she recalled the Akimichi heir. He had started wearing the main parts of his clan's signature battle armor every day, and already had more bulk than the other academy students. If you ignored the fact that he didn't like confrontations and was pretty easygoing unless you insulted one of his friends, he was imposing to look at. "Do you think he would mind helping us out too?"
"Chouza-kun's good like that, just get him a snack of something and he'll help." Natsumi gave them both a lopsided grin. "It could even be store bought and he'll still appreciate it."
The last year of the academy went even faster than the first two, with the ever looming academy exams and the expectations of assisting in the war effort haunting their dreams. The rumor of Uzugakure's destruction made the rounds in the break between years two and three, with a certain red-haired Uzumaki princess being absolutely shattered for a long time after its confirmation.
Without Mikoto around to bug, bother, and annoy during her free time that year, Kushina started hanging around the only other kunoichi she could stand. Natsumi sympathized with the redhead, seeing as she still couldn't deal with many of their other peers despite Inoichi's best efforts. Many of the girls, and a few boys, wanted to poke and prod at the Uzu shaped hole in the fūinjutsu princess' heart.
Natsumi, knowing intimately how much it hurt to lose that part of yourself, simply listened to Kushina when she wanted and kept silent when she didn't.
The Uzumaki girl also had many chakra control tips which she freely exchanged for Natsumi's taijutsu pointers once the misplaced soldier explained she had higher chakra reserves than most kunoichi did, almost as much as a few of the boys.
Minato tried to ease the other girl into their ever-shrinking group by asking what kind of things the redhead did, only to end up listening with fascination as Kushina extoled the wonders of fūinjutsu. Shikaku slept through it, Inoichi gave up understanding within the first few minutes, and Chouza munched through three bags of sweet rice crackers to keep awake.
It was times like this that made the misplaced soldier miss her other boys and the never-ending sniping between them, but Fugaku was out of the village on patrol with his team while the Hyūga twins were running communications to various sentry posts within Fire Country with their own jōnin-sensei and, surprisingly, Mikoto as their third kunoichi teammate.
Natsumi came back to the conversation when Kushina finished her impassioned speech with the fact that Mito-baa-sama would be taking her on as a fulltime apprentice, and that one of the sannin was coming back to the village to take on a genin team. "Like who?"
That rang a dull bell, something about Minato's next step in his shinobi career.
The redhead looked over to the other kunoichi, pursing her lips.
"From what Mito-baa-sama said to me, the sensei is supposed to be one of the sannin returning to the village. I've got a special 'circumstance' that keeps me from a normal shinobi career, so there needs to be something done with the other two that would have made up one of the genin teams." Kushina scoffed at her 'special circumstances', a worried frown on face. "They were hoping there would be a slightly uneven number of students graduating this year, you know. Supposedly, someone they had thought would fail last year didn't."
Natsumi dimly recalled that the Uzumaki girl inherited her fuzzy, still murderous 'tenant' just before Mito-sama died and a few days after she was kidnapped by foreign-nin, Iwa maybe, and carefully suppressed the pity and pain she felt. Kushina would hate being pitied, after all. The sannin she spoke of had to be the Toad Sage Jiraiya, since Minato did end up signing the Toad Contract before his death at 'fuzzy's' claws, and the sannin supposedly taught him enough fūinjutsu to create the next jinchūriki's seal. The reminder of the ticking clock on her friends' lives had her blinking back tears while staring blankly at the nearly empty room.
Shikaku finally sat up at that piece of information, giving the girl-woman a slightly confused look for her inattention. "You're at the bottom of the class rankings, right Kushina-san?"
"That's not my fault, you know! Stupid buushin clones." The Uzumaki girl muttered to herself viciously, crossing her arms over her chest and pouting. "Stupid E-ranks jutsus!"
Natsumi shook her head once to clear it before shrugging at the shadow user. "That would leave a team with two kunoichi. It wouldn't be sorted that way, Shika-kun. As a matter of fact, I don't think we can count on traditional team sorting while the war is going on."
"Isn't that the point?" Countered the lazy preteen easily. "Who would argue 'untraditional' with a sannin teaching?"
"What way?" Kushina asked with another pout. She was sure her class rank would be brought up again.
"The top and bottom of the class, rounded out by one of the students in the middle. That's one of the traditional team sortings." Quirking a lopsided smile at the redhead, the misplaced soldier chuckled. "There were three of us aiming for that middle position the whole three years, now that I think about it. Shika-kun, one of the Aburame kids, and myself."
"You were aiming for average? Why?" Kushina sounded horrified, probably by the very idea that some of her classmates had sabotaged their own scores.
"It's kind of traditional for the clan, even if everyone already knows we're smarter than we let on." Shikaku shrugged in a boneless way that caught the girl-woman's eye. "A few even went so far as to take the bottom ranks."
Natsumi took an utterly inappropriate moment to wonder if the Nara clan had similar flexibility exercises as she did, and what they could possibly do with that, before turning to the redhead to chip in her own observations built up over the previous two years.
"I did it just to see if I could, but that changed to fulfilling my goal specialty's requirements about half way through the first year here. And I think the Aburame was aiming for intelligence work instead of the usual tracker division." At the incomprehension on the Uzumaki girl's face, the misplaced soldier tugged a hand through her high-tail and tried to explain the convoluted way the wartime academy actually graded the students with for the girl who hadn't seen through the rather horrible and transparent act done during the first month of instruction.
Which had been done to give most of the trainee ninjas a good idea of how to narrow their specializations before the formal graduation.
This was a shinobi training academy, and they were at war after all.
"There is an unspoken but widely known agreement between the Jōnin Commander and the ANBU Division Commander that if a student can dupe the instructors within a certain margin about their real level of skill until the months leading up to the final exam, they could become ANBU trainees right out of the academy. The few trap specialists we have are actually moonlighting as class clowns to display their working knowledge against chūnin-level opponents almost every day and are graded on successful pranks, upkeep of troublemaker covers and alibis rather than regular homework. Homework which I don't think has ever been completed by a successful trap specialist before. I don't know what the genjutsu and iryou-nin specialists do to advertise their skills, but I think the medics just intern at the hospital. That's one of the few more straightforward self-advertising methods I know of, but then again they have almost insane requirements and control just to be able to use medical jutsu. I also know the Intelligence Division take almost exclusively from students that can maintain a nearly exact sixty percent success and a forty percent failure rate, mixing the subjects you fail and pass at, for at least a full year." After wracking her mind for anything else, she turned to the boys still in the classroom. "Did I miss anything else?"
"Hunter-nin and trackers." Inoichi added without missing a beat. "Hunter-nin have these little chakra puzzles and hints scattered around the academy that leads you to them, kind of like a scavenger hunt, but you have to find a part of them first. Usually a team of students try to tackle that on their third year if they think they're good enough. Trackers take the kids who can spot and go looking for them, but those mostly end up being Hyūga, Inuzuka, or Aburame. Then there's what Minato-kun's aiming for." He added with a grin, jerking a thumb over his shoulder at his fellow blond.
Said blond was almost beet red when Kushina turned to him. He blurted it out before she could give him more than a curious look.
"Command. I'm trying for Chūnin or Jōnin Commander, ANBU General, and the Hokage's seat." He waved one hand at the various shinobi in training seated around him. "I have to gather up specialist candidates from more than one division and hold them together without injury or homicidal attempts for at least a year. I've got Intelligence," Inoichi threw a sloppy salute to the red head, "ANBU," Natsumi waggled her fingers discreetly under her folded arms, "general chūnin or jōnin candidates," Chouza and Shikaku both nodded, "the twins for trackers, and Uchiha Fugaku for Military Police… since everyone knows that's where most Uchiha end up."
"Which, now that I think about it," Natsumi chimed in again with a wide, evil grin, "means that Minato-kun's got the largest and longest record ever attempted in Konoha before. Uchiha-sama and the Hyūga twins still keep in contact, even if they've graduated. And more than just a few of us are future clan heads."
She nodded importantly, and then snickered at the future Yondaime's embarrassed expression and slinking posture under Kushina's wide-eyed stare. The misplaced soldier was more than a little sure there was a case of mutual attraction going on there.
Finally gathering her wits, the redhead started to sort through the information with what she already knew. "But wait, what about genin teams? If you've already picked specialties, doesn't that affect who's assigned to which team?"
"Pretty much." Shikaku joined in, now that most of the explanation was out of the way. "Special Ops candidates get retired ANBU or hunter-nin as jōnin sensei to keep an eye on their emotional health and pre-training polishing. Tracking teams get either a support-orientated jōnin or a still active hunter-nin since tracking is easier than subduing captives. Intelligence get assigned to generalists teams for field experience before being banished behind desks to deal with the legions of paperwork. Everyone else gets distributed among that line up since they usually end up being support-nin."
Kushina thought about that for all of five more seconds before exploding. "That means I'm out of the running for Hokage!"
"Nope, you still qualify." Natsumi interrupted before they attracted the attention of any instructors passing the classroom, or even the group of students a few chairs over. That wouldn't help her complete the challenge posed to those in her chosen field. "I'm trying for ANBU, remember? They're all known to be a bit quirky, so keeping company with a possible one allows for a wide margin of error. With Mikoto-chan as Military Police or genjutsu specialist and me as your third division candidate in ANBU, you meet the minimum requirements. Especially since we spent most of last year together. If you can keep meeting up with Mikoto-chan while hanging out with us, you're golden."
She snickered as another thought crossed her mind.
"That was how Sandaime-sama managed his candidacy with his teammates, though he had a general jōnin candidate and a genjutsu specialist, so you're just doing the same thing with an all kunoichi team. A Nara's worst nightmare."
Shikaku's eyes widened and his jaw dropped in horror, eyes locked on Natsumi's gleaming mismatched ones.
The redhead gaped at her for all of a minute. Her little rivalry with Minato had waned halfway through second year, but she still tried to beat the boy at sparring now and then. To hear that he was aiming for the same position as she was, even if he hadn't said it outright, rekindled that dwindling spark of competition in her. The boys covered their ears while the dual-eyed girl laughed as she crowed her success on the first step to Hokage as loud as she could, shocking the only unprepared shadow-user off his chair. She then launched into an impassioned speech about how she was going to beat Minato to the hat, no matter what!
The girl-woman expertly ignored her kouhai's betrayed expression at the news. She was getting rather good at that.
Come to think of it, Natsumi mused to herself a little later, as the very late temporary sensei finally got into the classroom to begin the lecture on POW handling regulations only to step on a cleverly hidden tripwire and get a face full of sticky feathers courtesy of a loudmouthed redhead, in a wartime footing both Naruto and Kushina also qualified for trap specialists for their pranking skills as well as combat ninjutsu specialists for their insanely high chakra levels.
Though with how the blond jinchūriki had been outright hated in his childhood, she was sure that those marks of achievements had not been given to the poor kid since Konoha was at peace during that time. There probably hadn't even been ANBU recruiters to pick the best at subterfuge for their own divisions without a war to fight outside of the village's gates.
She had royally screwed up.
The instructors were trying to catch her out on knowing more than an average academy student should. Natsumi had two encounters of verbally dodging and bullshitting her way through increasingly pointed conversations before she caught on that they were on to her.
She panicked for all of ten minutes before common sense reasserted itself. It had to have been the explanation of the academy's sorting system they had given Kushina that was overheard, though only partly from how they were dealing with her. Thankfully, the instructors only thought that she only comprehended more than she let on and was aiming too high as a result. But that still left the misplaced soldier in a bit of a bind.
There were five more months of the academy to go, and giving up now wasn't an option. She knew ANBU candidates who failed the academy 'test' were given infiltration specialist tags on their records, but she wanted the ANBU one, damn it! Inoichi had told her to pick a goal and concentrate on it when memories of her past life started interfering in her present one, and so she had picked ANBU out loud and Minato and Kushina's survival in her head.
It was something that she had wanted in another life. Special ops appealed to her. But in the US Army, females had not been allowed combat roles. The village was less concerned with a kunoichi's ability to procreate, since they were all started on hormone therapy pills developed by the Slug Sannin herself after graduation that stopped menstruation until the counter dose was taken. Assuming they survived long enough to take it.
Natsumi knew she had been a damn fine soldier in her last life, all gender-bias aside. She didn't argue with orders and marched when told, fought when needed and talked her way through a lot, but there had been a few things her gender had denied her that still grated at her pride. She also knew that she could still qualify for ANBU consideration after graduation even if she failed the challenge, but that would only be after she 'matured' enough to hold a cover identity for long periods of time.
She wasn't sure how much maturing she had left to go before she hit her second childhood. Technically, she was already in it.
Leaving aside taking the infiltration tag for admitting she had been better than her scores said, she could either run or hold her ground for ANBU. Running would mean being fast and slippery enough to prove she had what it took for ANBU, but there was a chance that she would still get infiltration since she would have failed the challenge. The second option was much harder but would guarantee her ANBU candidacy. Holding ground would also cover information gathering and informant turning, something she wasn't all that sure about in the first place. She would have to lead the instructors to the conclusion that someone was playing a nasty trick on her, and that she was honestly bewildered by the sudden attention.
Easier said than done, they were chūnin level.
…or maybe that wasn't the hurdle Natsumi thought it was supposed to be.
Honestly, for an establishment that dealt with training ninja of all people, why was it so easy to infiltrate?
Admittedly, a few of the locks and traps had given her pause, mostly because she had never seen them before and spent at least five minutes checking them visually before deciding to disarm or avoid. She knew she was wasting time carefully checking each and every room for anybody and anything out of place, but hurrying now and screwing up more was a nightmare she had had frequently leading up to this afternoon.
Afternoon, because night was just so cheesy… and she had a curfew. Embarrassing enough on its own, but getting caught outside it? She would never live it down in the orphanage.
It was also easier to hide her body, clad in the darkest clothing she had, in the various shadows thrown by the early evening sun. Slipping by the instructors had been something she played at often enough throughout the last two and a half years that it wasn't much of a trouble to begin with.
Besides, why trip a well-hidden alarm when she could be behind the trap's range before it was even armed?
Luck was with her, as the main sensei for their year had left for the day already. Unluckily, it seemed as if Hiruki-sensei knew what he was doing in securing documents.
Thankfully, she had thought to inform the others what was going on beforehand.
Kushina had been aghast that their freely offered advice, not to mention the Hokage requirement explanation, had injured her friend's chances for her 'dream' and had thrown practically everything she could at Natsumi to help her fix the misstep. Including a few scrolls on fūinjutsu that the girl-woman was sure the Uzumaki heiress hadn't intended to give her.
The misplaced soldier felt terribly guilty about not mentioning them to the redhead yet, but she knew Minato didn't learn enough from Jiraiya to make the seal he used on his son. And Jiraiya wasn't a master in the art of fūinjutsu yet. Kushina could have possibly helped, but Natsumi was mostly sure the seal used to contain the Kyuubi no Youko in Naruto had been a rushed hack job, as brilliant as that had been later on.
Minato was smart in his own way, but blind in others. Natsumi intended to learn enough to help her future Hokage find either another solution or not need to sacrifice his life at all, damn it. No one in that family deserved it.
For now, small simple seals were all she could do. Mostly through copying pre-existing seals.
Carefully peeling off the chakra-draining tag she had gotten from Kushina's stores of practice seals, Natsumi drained the chakra from the alarm tag Hiruki-sensei had sloppily copied to seal his cabinet holding the student's records. Once the sloppy tag was inert and simply a piece of paper on the wooden doors, the ANBU candidate carefully peeled it off with a special kunai from Mikoto to replace and rearm later. Checking her gloves given to her by Hizashi to ensure they were tight enough not to slip and snag something or leave her chakra signature behind, she eased the point of the kunai around the edge of the doors, listening for the clinks of metal that would tell her where any hidden traps were.
When all she could hear was a wire trap, probably projectile in nature given the sensitive information that couldn't be replaced easily, Natsumi stuck the kunai back under her left forearm and slowly inched the cabinet doors open. She could see the shuriken launcher only by the gleam of oiled metal deep in the wood's dividers. It was aimed at the general height of the heart on an adult's body, almost overhead for a short academy student.
She could also just see the trigger mechanism and the trip wire on the back of the cabinet door, which looked like she needed a hook with a long reach to prevent it going off. That she didn't have.
Well, maybe wire would work to lift the latch worked into the wood that would pull the trip wire and launch many a sharp spinning thing at her head.
Fugaku had sneered at her for her clumsy error, but forked over a spool of the high quality razor wire his clan favored in battle. Lightweight enough to hide easily, slightly difficult to control, but stronger than standard issue by far. She had it coiled around her right wrist.
Surprising how helpful the Uchiha clan was even if they pretend they didn't care about you.
Loosening the length of flexible, razor sharp metal, she used her left hand to hold open the cabinet door and her right to catch a loop over the trigger. She eased it upwards, not letting up until she heard it click into safety.
There wasn't anything else obvious, and so she eased the doors open the rest of the way, giving a silent breath of thanks to her friends when nothing shot out at her.
Now in, it was ludicrously easy to find her records. There had been a few complaints from a fellow kunoichi trainee, one Kyoko that she only vaguely recalled from the first year of the academy. A note of an exceptional espionage attempt from the same year. Second year only really had one item of note, and that was a confusing one about tactical planning and comprehension in regards to crowd control and a note of merit from the Yamanaka clan member who did the random mental health screenings through the years.
Thankfully, she never had to see Inoichi's uncle about the state of her poor head.
Third year held the report currently giving her a problem.
It hadn't been an instructor that overheard the group, which was a relief. On the other hand, there was no record of the reporter's identity at all. Confused, because other people would have to check her records in the future and that kind of notation left more questions than answers, Natsumi made a split second decision. Deftly taking out Minato's, Inoichi's, Chouza's, and Shikaku's records, she fished out another scroll that Kushina had given her to copy anything written as she glanced at the girl's in question.
Her scroll, like the other clan kids, had her clan's symbol stamped on the ends of the rod holding the paper. Unlike the others, it had elegant script on almost the entire exterior. Knowing the Uzumaki were some of the best fūinjutsu experts around, she had no intent to touch the scroll unless the clan heiress said she could.
Shaking her head sharply to bring her wandering attention back to what she was doing, Natsumi copied the scrolls, rolled them up, replaced them, and started cleaning up after herself.
Rearming the shuriken trap was the only part she was unsure about, but the cabinet apparently automatically armed that when the doors were closed. Checking herself over, the five scrolls of information she had stolen, the tools her friends had willingly given her, and the office one last time; she then reapplied the seal to the front of the cabinet in the same crooked way it had been slapped on. Setting Kushina's chakra leeching seal on top, she let out the small store of Hiruki-sensei's chakra to rearm the tag.
One last look around, and Natsumi slunk out of the office through the window that only opened with a certain jutsu Fugaku just happened to have acquired with his recently activated dōjutsu that same morning and passed on to her, since the door was now armed to alert ANBU of any intruders. She had a date with a certain Nara's backyard.
Sarutobi Hiruzen chuckled softly as his crystal ball showing the academy instructor's office went dark. There wasn't anything else to see now that the girl had left. "I see now why you brought this to me. She's a remarkable little kunoichi. Quite an array of talents cropping up these last few years."
The Sandaime puffed on his dying pipe as his guest nodded once.
"She's one of my hopefuls, and with that neat and clean operation right there I have no objection to her eventual introduction to ANBU." The man in the bear mask on the opposite side of the desk replied as he took his eyes off the crystal ball and locked gazes with his Hokage. "I take it you don't have an issue with us taking her and a few others a few months before graduation?"
"I would wish for them to undergo at least six months of genin team exercises, but I have a sneaking suspicion both you and the war won't let me do that to them."
"They won't disappear into our world without a squeak, Sarutobi-sama. I'll make sure they keep up with their little friends for the first two years." The man took off his clay mask and seated himself in the chair normally reserved for visiting dignitaries. A lopsided grin stretched his scarred lips up on one side of his face. "But you wanna know something interesting? She's the first one to complete the AnBu academy challenge in the last five years. Knowingly at that."
Hiruzen paused in filling his pipe and blinked. "There are children able to do that without knowing?"
The Hokage was supposedly all knowing and unflappable, but Sarutobi wasn't against Bear knowing he was surprised in this instance. They had worked together for a long time now.
"The Nara clan." The burly man grunted out as the Hokage lit his pipe. It was both identification and reason, and the Sandaime's disbelieving expression turned into one of bemused understanding. "They all admitted to hiding skills, though. ANBU's too troublesome for them. Nearly all other ANBU candidates run, hide, or bullshit their way through and are dropped or reevaluated depending on how bad they do at it. Last candidate to hold their ground and try to find a way to answer the final test like her, was me."
"So you want her to replace you."
"Do you blame me? Mesuji-chan is good for an academy student."
The man gestured in the direction of the Nara clan compound with an impatient frown, knowing the girl was there with Namikaze's little clique of friends and her prospective ANBU captain, Wolf, shadowing her and the information she had stolen from the academy. Wolf was one of three ANBU tagged for discrete mentoring for eligible students, and the only one to draw a student who won the academy challenge. Bear foresaw bragging rights to Wolf on behalf of the little kunoichi if she passed the questioning portion. He continued on, ignoring the amused expression on the Hokage's face as the Fire Shadow deuced the path of his thoughts.
"She can fully admit when she screws up, she can plan good missions if that was any example of her talent for it. Halfway decent stealth skills and mid-mission improvisation. Good taijutsu, adequate chakra levels, could work on her chakra control more, damn good aim if somewhat bad throwing habits with anything other than senbon and kunai. Methodical, quiet, and damn protective and possessive of her friends." Here he paused, a flash of his canines peeking out in a grin. "I could go on, but that would make me sound like a stalker. Point is, Hokage-sama, we've been watching her for most of her second year. She'll be a good ANBU operative in time and an even better ANBU General with enough help."
"I noticed you didn't say anything about the other children."
"They're okay. A few need some serious help getting their skills up to par for trainees, but no one else has Mesuji-chan's potential. There were a few others, but they're clan kids. Need special permission for them." The career ANBU agent grunted irritably. Clan kids normally made up the top ranks of all academy years, simply because they had extra training and mentoring. Unless the less trained kids pulled together a group of friends like the Namikaze kid did, the ranks were usually skewed towards clan children. "But while we can use normal protocol for easing the others into ANBU, Mesuji-chan will just see through it. We'll have to use prodigy protocols for her."
The older man blew out a lungful of smoke and a regretful sigh before reaching for the girl's actual records on his desk. Konoha did need more and better assassins, with how many the war effort ate up. Mesuji Natsumi would make a good one, able to hide under the cover of her young age and gender before taking out a target. The Sandaime Hokage's only regret as he handed the updated files to the current ANBU General was that it was likely he would never see how good a ninja these children would make.
They would either die in the shadows of the special ops division, or start hiding more than just skills when not behind a painted clay mask.
"Okay, that's strange." Nara Shikaku remarked out loud, for the benefit of the shadow Natsumi seemed to have picked up during her break in of the academy.
Hizashi noticed the shinobi following her when the girl came into sight, and had alerted the others before the ANBU trainee could reach them. Natsumi herself hadn't noticed until Hiashi drew her attention to the extra set of eyes. She had gone a bit pale, but divvied out the tools she had on her to the ones that gave them to her and the records she had snatched. Depending on how long her shadow had been there, the ninja would have already known that she had stolen the records and with the tools of an active duty nin.
Now they were all bent over Natsumi's records after a quick look over their own, trying to puzzle out what had happened to risk the girl-woman's chances at ANBU.
Minato scratched on cheek and looked around at the pale or tense faces. "Maybe we're thinking too hard?"
"How hard should we be thinking? We're talking about chūnin, Minato-kun." Chouza reminded the blond orphan, hand frozen halfway to his ever present bag of snacks. "Natsumi-chan already said it was kinda easy to get in, so they probably already knew she would try for her records. The instructors were probably trying to gauge her skill level with this."
The silence continued for a bit until Fugaku suddenly growled, drawn features shifting to irritated in a flash of crimson eyes. "What if this was Natsumi-san's final test?"
There were blank looks all around until the shadow-user nodded sharply in agreement. "Everyone knows the ANBU candidates get tested before everyone else, and anyone hearing the tail end of the ANBU challenge would automatically think of the three months of review before graduation, not half way through third year. We're still learning combat tactics for elemental jutsu for the moment."
"But that's unfair." Kushina interjected, scowling. "That would mean anyone trying for ANBU has less instruction than anyone else graduating the academy."
"That would be the point, Uzumaki-san." A deeper, gravelly voice broke in before the redhead could continue, making all the preteens whirl around and scramble for weapons they did or did not have.
A man in a red streaked, snarling wolf mask knelt right behind where Natsumi had been before she had practically launched herself out of her own skin. The figure cocked his head to the side at the panicked reactions, causing a few embarrassed blushes, before continuing in the same mono-toned voice.
"In ANBU, you may not have the training or skills needed for a mission and anything could go wrong on infiltrations. We needed to see what Mesuji-san would do when confronted with that scenario before deciding if she passed or not."
The misplaced soldier blinked at the man. Her heart was still pounding and her nerves were stretched taut at how easily the ANBU agent had snuck up on her and the others, and how close he had gotten before willingly revealing himself. That was an unreal level of skill. "So… are they in trouble for helping me or not?"
"You're not going to ask if you passed?"
Natsumi blinked again, then sneered at the figure in frustration.
"That's not important right now. Why the hell would I care if I passed or not when they might be in trouble-!" She cut herself off mid-shout and studied the figure before changing mental tracks as common sense reared up over the panic in her head. "How long have you been following me for?"
The masked man snorted once. "Good answer. Now I need Mesuji-san to follow me, and bring the information she managed to steal from the academy with her."
Fugaku took it upon himself to gather the records up, flashing his sharingan to record each of them with his back to the ANBU agent before returning them to the girl. Natsumi took the pile of scrolls from him with a nod of thanks. "Ready, Wolf-san."
The wolf mask bobbed again and the man rose to his feet in one fluid movement. The misplaced soldier saw how much better the man was at it than her, and could finally see how the ANBU managed to sneak up on Hyūga of all people.
The extreme of the extreme athletes, Natsumi mussed to herself while adjusting her armful of scrolls. I'm almost one myself, career soldier and all. And Minato has gotten even farther than me in turning into that kind of ninja, for all that he's been doing it for a far shorter time.
It had to be how most ninja developed that kind of skill and talent, with chakra only helpful in preventing most of the wear and tear heaped on the body. Problem was, the girl-woman was now mostly sure she hadn't been doing near enough to condition herself for this kind of life. The exercises she had were based on a life without that kind of spiritual and physical augmentation, for a job more reliant on overall endurance and stamina as needed physical skills than developing the strength of individual muscle groups and fine muscle control needed in the sort of pitched battles ninja fought.
In short, the girl growled to herself and took the hand of the ANBU for the shunshin, this is going to be a bitch and a half just to survive.
Mesuji Natsumi was in the hospital, according to the instructors when asked about her. She returned to the academy two and a half months after that botched meeting, paler and thinner than she had been the last time the others saw her. The only reason the Uzumaki girl knew the other was still alive was because her missing fūinjutsu scrolls had been returned to her one month after Natsumi had disappeared with the ANBU agent Wolf, which she finally recalled lending to the girl with mismatched eyes in the hopes they would help her keep her ANBU candidacy.
Even before Minato and Kushina managed to effectively kidnap the girl out from under the nose of the worried and fussing chūnin sensei, hilarious as that was to watch, it was apparent that the misplaced soldier was beyond simple exhaustion.
The redhead slapped down a privacy seal she had worked up under Mito-sama's teaching, mostly to prevent the same situation of being sneaked up on like last time, before turning to the girl already sprawled out in a boneless manner on the ground and exploding with all the panic and worry she had felt for the last two months. "What the hell happened to you, Natsumi-chan?"
"Well… that was descriptive." Chouza remarked lightly as he pulled her upright by a firm hold on one of her arms.
Natsumi gave an aborted wave, sagging into the Akimichi's grip as she became lightheaded from the change in position. "Good news, bad news."
"I'd think we'd like the good news first, Natsumi-chan." A pale Shikaku stated quietly as Chouza gently lowered her into a proper sitting position.
A nod and a huff of breath answered him, a hollow mockery of the bark-like laughter so common from her before the start of their third year at the academy. "Good. Yay ANBU, 'n not trouble."
"I think she means she made whatever requirements for ANBU candidates and we're not in trouble, I hope." Minato translated for his sempai after a period of confused silence.
"And the bad?" Inoichi prodded one thin arm, wincing at the bruises decorating every square inch of the girl visible.
"Bad… yay ANBU. Inoichi you teme."
Shikaku barked like she used to, except his was a laugh as worried as it was cynical and devoid of actual humor, startling a listing Natsumi into completely falling over. "Bit late for second thoughts, Natsu-chan."
Giving up on being vertical for the time being, the woman in a girl's body simply opened one green eye and glared at the shadow-user from the ground. "Know that, Shika-kun. Means not enough time."
She blinked, shifting only a small bit to get into a better position, one that put less pressure on her myriad collection of busies.
"And ow. Can't forget ow."
Kushina fluttered around, still worried and not at all confident that touching the other girl was a good idea. "Um, should we take you to the hospital? You don't look too good you know, Natsumi-chan."
"I've got… free time now. Sort of." Since lying down seemed to have given her a fourth wind, so to speak, Natsumi pushed herself back upright carefully. Her bruises had bruises, she was a little surprised that was actually physically possible. Who knew? "Stupid academy. Worked my tiny ass off trying to get free to tell you guys what happened, and I gotta go to school too? Unfair."
"Sempai? I think we would like a full answer now." Minato took hold of the girl's bruised shoulders and made her look into his eyes. "Please, Natsumi-chan."
"Mmm kay, Mina-kun. Wolf-taicho took me to Bear-san 'n a few other students. Bear-san said good work, but you screwed up. 'M chakra sensing 'n control poor, situational awareness also sucked." Squeezing her wrenched shoulders when her exhausted mind wandered was as unfair as schooling and ANBU training the same day. "Then got to work. Pre-mornings with Squirrel-san, taijutsu 'n reflexes. 'N mornings with Wolf-taicho, throwing weird 'n stuff. 'N Crane-san 'afor lunch, meditation 'n jutsu. Lot 'o other things, theory 'n med-medical, after lunch. In masks. Rinse 'n repeat. Two months, kouhai."
'Wolf-taicho?' Shikaku mouthed to himself. Then his brain started to work again and kicked him upside the head. "Wait, you've been training these last few weeks? With others? With ANBU?"
"Mmm." Natsumi managed another bleary nod without tipping over. "Improve to return. Had to hold ground ina spar with Wolf-taicho. And ow. But I'm back now."
Inoichi frowned at the wreck of a girl as the others finally let her pass out. The girl-woman still didn't really care if she lived or died, not entirely sure her reality despite his best efforts. Something he couldn't blame her for, not after having seen and felt what she had seen and felt once upon a time. That meant she was probably being more reckless than she would have been otherwise.
Up until she had admitted to him in their last therapy session that she was starting not to care whether this was a strange dream or not, since she liked them all and genuinely didn't want to see any of them hurt—even Uchiha-sama—he would have labeled her partially suicidal. She probably still was to a degree, but he worried at the kind of damage ANBU would heap on her already cracked mind.
Or maybe it would help? He could understand her calling him a teme, it was his suggestion to pick a goal that landed her in this mess.
It was her own drive, however, that let her work pass the obstacles in her way. Would something more demanding than her old life tighten her grasp on reality, or make her slip back into bad habits?
The academy was slowly emptied of the more skilled students during the last three months of their third year.
As soon as a division of the shinobi corps felt that one or two of their candidates could no longer benefit from a class setting, he or she would be yanked out and slotted into preexisting teams and rush into the battlefields for field experience. Sometimes they came back to the academy bone white and silent, and sometimes they didn't. Not all of the civilian-raised kids noticed that the students on 'medical leave' were actually already graduated and moving on with their shinobi careers, but the last month of academy classes were echoingly empty and rumors were hard to ignore.
Mesuji Natsumi had been yanked a full two months before graduation, only to be seen once or twice around the village with a hitai-ate around her left bicep and a harried, exhausted expression on her face.
Uzumaki Kushina left the academy for the last time a month and a half before the final exam, rumored to be studying under Mito-sama herself for some urgent reason.
Namikaze Minato was yanked by the arm by a certain famous white haired sannin along with Yamanaka Inoichi and a kunoichi neither knew that well three days before the last month preceding the final exam.
Nara Shikaku and Akimichi Chouza were the only ones to actually take the academy exams that year in their group. They and the passing career genin or jōnin candidates were divvied up and sent out after their classmates into the rumored last few years of the Second Great Shinobi War.
AN#2 : I will freely admit Natsumi is more than a little f#$%ing crazy and slightly cracked in the wrong way. Who wouldn't be in this situation? No, it won't really get better either. She'll always have that sliver of doubt just under the surface, she'll just manage it a bit more every chapter. Before you yell that no SI was supposed to tell the others that they were aware of the future because of a fantasy story they heard/watched/read, Natsumi didn't do that. She did recall a manga she read during her limited off time, but that wasn't the focus of Inoichi's mind diving. Her actual life was, and her preoccupation with the Naruto verse only occurred right before her last deployment. Yes the little she knew later became a driving force behind her actions, but it was something distant to her when she still thought she was either insane or hallucinating during the camping bit. And Inoichi was a bit distracted by her painful death to notice her off duty activities at the time. He really didn't have that long in her head before that came up. Why doesn't the others report our little nut job? I don't quite know yet, but it was mostly because she has been helping them, even when she really thought they were fragments of her shattered or drugged out mind.