A/N (updated Jan 2022): So this is my first fanfic, and I kinda just ran with the idea, a reincarnation story that drew some inspiration from the Chinese online stories I had been reading, which were all the rage back in the 2010s. I started this story back in 2016 and updated it until 2018 to chapter 43, then real-life stuff started kicking in and beating me around, so there was a three-year hiatus. I came back in 2021, after finally finding some balance in life and regaining some of my passion for writing this story, and continued from chapter 44 until now. Everything up until mid-chapter 47 was written pre-2018, so trust me when I say that I ask myself every day what the hell did I write five years ago? But umm, too late to change that now, I guess. I hope that my writing has gotten better over the past years, but that may or may not be true, depending on who you ask. I came back hoping to finish the story, tie up some loose ends, and express this mini-universe that has nagged my brain for many years.

(updated Aug 2022): Whoa, I made it guys. After six years, this is completed! The main plot of the story concludes with chapter 84 and the last four chapters are epilogue/side stories.

(updated Jul 2023): I have vague plans of rewriting the beginning chapters, mostly to smoothen out the mistakes, and fix the immaturity in my writing six years ago. The overall idea and events will not change but there might be changes in how scenes are executed. I will periodically replace the rewritten chapters starting from Ch. 1 because I don't know when I will have the time. The rewritten chapters will resemble my writings after the break (post ch.44). So if you notice an inconsistency in quality and writing style, as well as some minor contradictions, that's probably it.

Some general clarifications, the OC does not know anything about the Naruto world prior to her reincarnation, so she's like a stranger to the new land, but with perks since she retains her past experience and intellect. So please, give it a try!

Huge thanks to my beautiful friend and beta Alice J, her grammar tips saved me countless times.

I named the story after a kind of flower in a Chinese legend, 昙花 (tan hua), which loosely translates to night-blooming cereus. It was said that it only blooms once in a lifetime for one night and then it dies. It was often used to describe a one-hit-wonder, but not always.

Anyway, enjoy!

Chapter 1 - Reanimated

On June 18, 2016, I died.

That year, I thought I turned eighteen. At least, that's what my identity should say.

How did I die? Most likely from the severe burns and multiple punctured organs caused by an explosion.

It sounded sketchy. I knew that. In fact, it would be even more sketchy when I add in the part where I was the one who planted the bombs.

It was a standard raid and kill mission. The target was a group of international drug dealers. Surely, in the eyes of some, those people deserved to go to hell. However, by that definition, I'd fit that bill too, in the eyes of many, if only they knew.

I was not there for justice, far from it.

Those drug dealers were simply in the way of the organization "OLYMPUS". I, formerly operative 31, now given the codename 'Artemis', was ordered to lead this mission.

OLYMPUS was … difficult to encompass. It did all kinds of things. Black ops, assassination, infiltration, cover-ups. I was still not sure how they decided what mission to take or reject, even after working under OLYMPUS all my life. OLYMPUS was strange, it was an organization that didn't simply rely on money or authority.

I lived in OLYMPUS, lived for OLYMPUS, and in the end, died for OLYMPUS. They picked me up as a baby - from where? Didn't know, didn't care - and raised me as their tool. It didn't take long for me to understand that there was no way out of the organization - when was that? Didn't remember, didn't matter - either I became strong enough to survive, or I would be disposed of.

Perhaps there was a thing called a natural talent. The first time I put a bullet into another - around six? Hard to be exact when you don't know when you were born - I solidified the first ticket to continue living. The fact that I received the name 'Artemis' from OLYMPUS should have meant that all their training for me - assassination, infiltration, combat - paid off.

I was sure that I became a perfect agent. Efficient, emotionless and loyal, letting undeserving deaths stain my soul, all in the name of survival.

Or, so I thought.

It was supposed to be simple - standard. The plan was to get in, kill the ones in charge, plant the bombs, leave and explode the place into a million pieces.

So, we got in, killed the ones in charge, and planted the bombs. Then, everything went wrong.

The bombs were set to detonate in 10 minutes, plenty of time for us to get out and set the building on fire. However, just as my team was retreating, the bomb went off, merely one minute after I set the timer. Just like that, 'Apollo', 'Medea', Operative 19, Operative 63, and me, forever disappeared in the fire and smoke.

We all had no name to begin with and now, no dust remained in the end.

The bomb might have malfunctioned, thus resulting in the explosion earlier than we planned. But there was also this extra function added in, allowing the explosives to be remotely detonated by the ones supervising our mission.

Just like that, I died, most likely at the hands of the organization that I gave my life. I was disposable, so after I died, someone else would be given the codename 'Artemis', and my bleak existence would be erased and written over.

Surprisingly, it was in death that all the taboo was broken.

The things I didn't want to feel - regret, guilt, self-loathing - burned me from the inside out. The things that I wasn't allowed to feel - loneliness, anger, hatred - froze my veins and shaved my bones. I felt like I just experienced a life full of negative emotions because only in death, did all my effort to survive become useless.

I thought that when dead people were drifting in space or consciousness or wherever people were supposed to drift after they died, it should be painless. As if to mock my naivety, I was revisited by the memories that I rejected the most, flashing through those particular moments from the end of my life all the way to the beginning - my first kill, my first hidden emotion, my first choice that sold my soul, and operative 32 ...

I am a horrible human being, I concluded one last time. No wonder I deserve a worse end than death. But even then, I shamelessly prayed for mercy. Please let me have a moment of peace. Just a moment, when I didn't have to remember - to suffer from - the details of those worst-kept secrets, lying to no one but myself.

I swear, that was the only thing I asked. However, someone, something, some power, screwed me over. I was ready to die, take my punishment and end this meaningless life. Then I opened my eyes once again, staring into a group of huge men and women with clearer vision than I had ever experienced.

It was hard to tell if the splitting headache was my imagination or not, but it felt like something flowing inside of me was getting sucked into my eyes to support this surreal experience. In my short attention span, I noticed a flow of a strange current inside all of these men and women watching me, like ribbons threading the humans together.

The people - giant humans - were muttering something, I couldn't hear them, but I could see the movement of their lips perfectly. Japanese? Formal Japanese? That was all I could conclude before I closed my eyes due to the painful headache and the heavy exhaustion.

I slipped into slumber again, praying that this was just a phase before I got to die completely. However, a small part of me, even if I didn't even realize it, was hoping that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't the end just yet.

I am a horrible human being, deserving of an end worse than death. But I still shamelessly hope for a second chance. A second chance at living my own life - please, let me be free - or at least a chance of redemption for my sins.

After all … in the beginning, I didn't want to be a horrible human being.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Kunai. Good for close combat. Mainly used to stab and slice. Can serve as projectiles and are especially compatible with wires. Chubby fingers slid into the metal ring at the end of the handle, doing their best to smoothen the transition between different grips.

Shuriken. Mostly used as projectiles. Offers more range and curvatures than kunai, but is also harder to work with. I tried to pick it up with my other hand, just like I did with the kunai. Anchoring the shuriken with my finger, I flung the star-shaped weapon toward the target mat hanging on the wall.

It did not go in the direction I wanted it to. The shuriken spun off of my finger and went the opposite way. Before I could blink, it zoomed toward my face and hit me right in the forehead.

Ouch. It took every ounce of my willpower to suppress the biological desire to cry that was inscribed on a child's body. Still, I was pretty sure that I whimpered indignantly when I toppled back onto the ground.

"Maiko!" "Hime-sama, what are you doing!" Immediately, my vision was covered by two faces, both completed with dark pupils and black hair that came with the Uchiha bloodline.

An equally chubby hand - okay, maybe slightly less chubby - hovered over my forehead and rubbed the sore spot where I got hit. Its owner asked with eyes that spoke of worries and comfort, "Are you hurt?"

This was Uchiha Itachi, my biological brother, the first son and oldest heir of the Uchiha Clan Head, Uchiha Fugaku and his wife, Uchiha Mikoto. Once again, the contrast between his childish voice and his reassuring demeanour reminded me of why he was my safety umbrella in this new, foreign world, in more than one way.

You see, when I first came to realize my situation - the fact that I died, then became alive again, but in the body of an infant, born in the world with ninja and chakra and active wars - I needed examples to know how to act my place.

Babies. Infants. Young kids. How do they act when they were not raised by black ops organizations? How do they act when they have parents that actually acknowledged them as their own? And how would that change when concepts of shinobi, duties, conflicts, and strength were exposed to them as the norm of this world?

Itachi was my example. I thought, with a brother that was only one year older than me as the mirror, Uchiha Maiko could exist normally.

Turned out, Itachi was a model example alright. He just wasn't a fitting example of normalcy.

"Oh no, are you going to cry? Please don't cry. I only took my eyes off of you for a second, I swear," the other boy said as he flung away the shuriken that landed on my belly and fumbled around the bags that had bandages and ointments.

Before he could apply the ten steps of first aid that he just learned, I pushed myself up from the ground and replied, "I'm fine. No crying." The weapons were only made of rubber. This world was crazy, but not crazy enough to give real weapons to untrained children.

The boy turned around with the bandage in hand. The sigh of relief turned into a cackle of laughter before it even left his mouth. Lightly, Uchiha Shisui dabbed the gauze at the corner of my eyes and wiped away the tears that leaked out from my biological reaction. "Sure you aren't. No shame in crying, though. Your grip on kunai is already cleaner than many my age."

Uchiha Shisui was our cousin. The exact family tree was too complicated for even the adults to explain, quite a normal occurrence in a large, prominent shinobi clan, apparently. He was, in the words of our parents and everyone around them, a child prodigy in the arts of shinobi.

At the tender age of six, Uchiha Shisui was brought here by his uncle and authorized by our parents as a babysitter, playmate, and training instructor - yes, all of those, maybe even more - to Itachi, the undisputable rising child prodigy at the age of three.

Therefore, the fact that I became a part of this … rendezvous of geniuses really should have said something about the example that I modelled my behaviours on. Well, at least now with Itachi around, nothing I do would surprise the adults anymore.

"Here, you need to … lock it more." A gentle voice from the side drew my attention to Itachi. He placed a rubber shuriken in his right hand and threaded his middle finger into the centre ring. Slowly, he curled his finger and tilted the shuriken with light pressure. This time, when he set the blades in motion with his thumb, it spun in his palm in perfect balance. Just like that, what his expanding vocabulary couldn't explain, he did with his action.

I couldn't take my eyes off of the spinning shuriken until someone - Shisui - slid another into my hand. I pressed my lips together in concentration as I tried to recreate the images freshly engraved in my memory. Push the finger in more. Curl it slightly to anchor it. Tilt it with a slight pressure.

With a hard push of my thumb, the shuriken spun in perfect harmony.

A smile appeared on Itachi's face. He turned towards the target on the wall - a drawing of a human torso - and settled his gaze on the X etched in the position of the heart. The wind only shrieked for a moment before the rubber blade buried itself into the soft material, landing right on the mark.

It was my turn next. All I needed to do was to mimic the motion. Mimic, wasn't that something I was so good at - a skill imprinted on my soul that got migrated over? I stared at the target and the human torso stared back at me.

Simple lines demarcated regions of the chest, the neck, and the head. There wasn't any detail other than the Xs drawn at the position of vital points. It looked like a children's drawing and it was. Shisui was the one who made it.

What am I doing?

Was I really going to go from one life of violence straight into the cradle of another? What was the point of my second life then? Actually, why was I given a second life? Will it end up like before, where I did everything ordered of me and still not enough to be allowed to live?

Worst of all, I didn't even think this life of Uchiha Maiko was mine to ruin.

For a moment, the drawing of the target seemed to come alive in my eyes, solidifying out of the paper and being filled with flesh.

Clack. With a muted noise, the shuriken flew out of my hand and crashed into the ceiling. I was shaken awake and the demon rescinded back into the innocent drawing pasted on the wall.

"Focus, Hime-sama." Shisui caught the stray weapon before it could be deflected again. With a light flick of his wrist, almost like he was showing off, Shisui sent the shuriken back to the way it was supposed to go until it landed on the target with a thud.

"Don't call me that." I pushed the words out of my teeth as I rubbed my eyes, trying to rub off the sting that lingered like the smoke of burning charcoal.

"Mai." Don't call me that either. I swallowed my words when Itachi tried to take a look at my eyes - the source of my distress in his understanding.

Life was a blessing. But was it a blessing that was meant for me? The girl that they called out, was it me that should answer?

However, when I saw Itachi's baby face trying to squeeze past the fingers covering my eyes, full of worry and care, directed straight at me, I couldn't help but be greedy.

I was always a guilty survivor anyway. I did the devil's bidding in exchange for more time to live, clinging onto the scraps of life by taking away that of others. This life was a blessing. It was my flaw - my immorality - to want to take it, to cling to what I could have.

"There, there." I could feel Shisui patting my head like how Mom would do sometimes, albeit quite awkwardly. "The shuriken is clearly broken. Our Maiko-chan is doing it right." Okay, now that's too much.

The sting in my eyes had subsided before I noticed. So I gave Shisui my best glare and pointed at the shuriken that he aimed perfectly, asking him to repeat that with his conscience in mind. "Eh … I mean …" Yeah, I didn't think so.

No matter. I turned to Itachi and grabbed his hands. With my most comforting smile, I squeezed his hands, feeling the skin that was already starting to harden on his palms. Just like that, Itachi chuckled. Innocent, childish, finally befitting of his age.

Reaching for another rubber shuriken, I turned to Shisui and asked, "Again." The older boy shook his head in exasperation, but he flicked a shuriken into his hands out of nowhere, all with that cheeky smile on his face.

However, before the training session could continue, all of us heard the commotion that was just across the backyard.

"It sounds like … someone is arguing." Shisui leaned into the wooden wall, trying to decipher the nature of the disturbance.

"... Thief … ashamed … dare … gouge … eye …" All I could hear from the conversation were broken words and it was not the kind that spoke of a friendly discussion. Shisui must have noticed it too. The boy that was usually brimming with cheekiness frowned with seriousness.

"Bullies," Shisui muttered under his breath, clearly recognizing the voices when Itachi and I didn't. Shisui looked at us, a debate brewing in his brain. But soon, he made a decision and proposed to us, "Let's go see what it's about."

Shisui couldn't just leave us alone when it was a duty given by our parents. However, I didn't think it was necessary for him to bend down and wave at me to get on his back.

"Come on, your legs are short. We have to be fast," Shisui said. Excuse me? By that standard, Itachi's legs were also short. But the commotion was getting louder and definitely more heated, so I pushed down my argument and did what he asked.

With some stealth moves - well, as best as a six-year-old prodigy could make it - Shisui snuck us over the fence and right into the heart of the disturbance. It was a good thing that the ones in it were much too engrossed in their business to notice the uninvited guest - or to be more exact, all of them except for one.

"How dare you step foot into the Uchiha Compound, snooping around with a stolen Sharingan." The trio of black-haired teens - Uchiha, no doubt about it - cornered the boy with peculiar silver hair as its leader spat out the strong words.

The silver-haired boy, on the other hand, spared a look for us, movement too minute for his accusers to notice in their heated emotion. Standing motionlessly under the oak tree, he replied, with such a dispassionate tone that it almost sounded like he was mocking, "I'm not snooping around. I was told to wait here."

Perhaps it was the boy's reply, or maybe it was the way he pulled his headband even lower over his left eye, the leader of the trio snapped in irritation and charged forward, yelling, "Who are you mocking, thinking you can hide the evidence of your crime with a hitai-ate?"

The Uchiha teenager thrust his hand forward violently, but it was something else that made my breath freeze in my lungs. I could barely see it, the tension that amplified in the silver-haired boy's muscles, all in the span of a millisecond, just like an injured leopard. It was never him that was the prey.

But the tension unwound as quickly as it built up. The boy merely took a step back, so that his attacker's hand only grabbed the headband and pulled it off of his head. The Uchiha teenager was turning purple in the face and he was clearly someone that couldn't brake on his own.

"What's this, Keiichi? You've fallen behind on training so much that you can't find any Uchiha you can bully, so now you're harassing guests. Is that it?" Shisui yelled from across the alley. He was always very good at getting on people's nerves, I must say.

"What did you say, you little …" Keiichi swung his head to the side, but his curse words died in panic when he saw Itachi and me there, knowing that our parents, the Head of his Clan, would not appreciate what he was about to say.

That panic only lasted for a moment though, until he glanced back at the poor boy he was terrorizing and seemingly found a conviction for his behaviour.

"Stay out of this, Shisui. He is a criminal to our clan. I'm doing what every Uchiha would have done," Uchiha Keiichi shouted, his eyes shifting between Shisui and the silver-haired boy as if he was trying to scare both into submission.

"Yeah, go back to babysitting." Another backed up his leader, fueling the flame of 'justice' that must be brewing in Keiichi's chest.

"Of course you wouldn't understand, seeing that you don't even have the Sharingan," Keiichi mocked with a smirk. His eyes flashed red for a second, showing the blood-like irides and a single ink-coloured tomoe spinning around each of his pupils.

Sharingan this, Sharingan that. Every Uchiha Elder that looked at me reminded me of how important, how prestigious, and how miraculous those eyes in my sockets were, regardless of a child my age could understand. It was as if they were looking through my underdeveloped eyes for a different future that I wasn't aware of.

But right now, when I look at Uchiha Keiichi's Sharingan, all I could see was arrogance and blinded pride. I lowered my head and hid my face behind Shisui before my eyes could start to sting.

Despite the incredible visual acuity that Sharingan could give me, I lacked control with my chakra system still in development. It wasn't unusual for another pair of Sharingan to rile it up - to result in a forced activation - as proven plenty of times by the Elders trying to get a better gauge of my Sharingan. To test its potential, they said.

I could feel the way Shisui tightened his fist, not necessarily because of what the older Uchiha were saying about him, but the fact that they were twisting their logic - twisting the Uchiha name - to justify their selfish actions. But one could hardly win a battle of words with fools who refused to listen. Unfortunately for Shisui - and perhaps the silver-haired boy as well - he had reasons holding him down from bruising the older boy's ego, the old fashion way.

To deal with this kind of people required one to have a thick skin. Still, it pained me to have to resort to this.

I tapped Shisui's shoulder as a signal of some sort that we definitely did not agree upon. Before Shisui could turn to me, I dug my nails into my palm until the pain squeezed out the tears in an unmitigated biological response.

With no other warnings, I started crying.

Shisui gawked for a moment, but before the scale in his mind could tip to the side that said 'absolute panic', the shinobi side of him quickly gathered the situation and found the best way to capitalize on this opening.

"Oh no! What have you done!" Shisui exclaimed with enough dramatism to last him for a month. "Your shouting is making Hime-sama cry!" Okay, I thought we had an agreement on that name.

"Do you hear it, the fear in her voice! Oh my, what would Uncle Fugaku say, after he learns that you made his daughter ball her cute little eyes out like this!" The moment those words left Shisui's mouth, I had to use every bit of self-restraint I had not to strangle him. The rage fueled me and I cried even harder. "Uncle Fugaku, where are you? It's an emergency—"

"Shut it!" Uchiha Keiichi couldn't help but interrupt Shisui in a panic as if my cries could actually summon my father here. The boy laid his eyes on me, annoyance mixed with fear towards the Clan Head, then he glared at Shisui with a burning rage that had nowhere to explode.

"Let's go, come on!" Keiichi waved at his band of friends while whispering in a hushed tone. Given everything, he didn't want to be caught at the scene with the Clan Head's child crying because of him. If he left now, the blame would only be placed on Shisui and the guest.

Still, he had the audacity to leave his biting words, "This isn't over, Shisui, you better—" I wailed at a higher decibel and that made the Uchiha teenager forget his words and scram even faster.

I counted five seconds after they were out of sight before I cut the cries like hitting the off button on a recording machine. After all, I didn't actually want to get Shisui or the silver-haired boy in trouble. Still, I was crying so fiercely that I had to take a few moments to catch my breath, making it sound like I had broken airways.

"Whoa. I didn't know you could cry like that. Just don't use it to screw me over in the future, deal?" Shisui whispered but he could barely contain his laughter. I, on the other hand, couldn't help but roll my eyes.

Gently, Itachi rubbed me on the back, trying to ease my breathing back to normal. His panic died the moment Shisui started performing his lines like an idiot.

This meant that the only one confused here was the boy being cornered under the oak tree. When Shisui returned his attention to him, the boy's hands looked like they had nowhere to be, stuck in a state in which he wanted to help but had no idea how.

Realization seemed to dawn on him when my cries went silent. Shisui's comment was the last piece of confirmation he needed. The silver-haired boy let out a sigh of relief before he retreated back to the shell he was before - passive, dispassionate, enduring.

With light steps, Shisui approached the boy with Itachi and me in tow. "Sorry about them. Keiichi is always like that, picking on people that are above fighting back." Shisui pressed his lips together after that. He couldn't offer anything else when he didn't really know the context, only knowing the rights and wrongs on an instinctual level.

The boy seemed to think so too, for he merely shook his head before bending down to pick up his fallen headband, squeezing his left eye shut the entire time. I could see how his silence could be interpreted as rude by the wrong person.

"Yours." The boy paused at the small hand stretched towards him, offering the headband before he could bend down fully. Itachi kept his big, soft eyes on the older boy, unafraid of his lone-wolf attitude and having none of the intention to pry.

"I … thank you." The silent aura surrounding the boy cracked a little as he accepted the headband from Itachi. Perhaps the boy didn't even realize it, but his body relaxed ever so slightly - including the eyelid that he kept shut until now.

If Sharingan was a manifestation of one's emotion, then what would one see from the other side of the window when the curtain couldn't be pulled shut? My eyes opened way too early before any semblance of control could be gained. I had always wondered - worried - if those that examined my Sharingan could see what fueled it underneath - the emotions and memories that shouldn't belong to Uchiha Maiko.

The pool of red was embedded in the boy's left socket. The two tomoe spun in and out of the shadow created by his lashes like ink blots. Guilt, sorrow, regret … It felt like I was invading a private territory as my eyes took in every little detail like a snapshot of the camera.

I should have realized before the splitting headache crashed down. My Sharingan was triggered into activation by another.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Nothing really happened.

According to Shisui, I fainted from the chakra drain, almost stopped his poor heart, and the commotion disrupted a meeting between Father and a really famous shinobi in Konoha. It's Namikaze-san, the Yellow Flash himself. They said that he's going to become the next Hokage, Shisui had said with admiration oozing out of his eyes.

No harm was done - no more than the usual, anyway - so being reasonable people, my parents did not take it out on Shisui or the silver-haired boy that was unfortunate enough to be caught up in this, or so they had reassured me.

I didn't see that boy under the oak tree again, nor had I learned anything more about him. His existence was like a taboo, to be buried under the rug as if the stain wouldn't exist as long as it was out of sight. When asking Shisui proved to be no more informative, I wasn't about to look for trouble when I had other things on my plate.

At the age of three, my chakra system was deemed sufficiently developed. My sharingan no longer caused a splitting headache when activated, although I still couldn't use it for too long before my chakra was exhausted. The sight of another pair of red eyes no longer made it spring to life without my permission. I hoped that this also meant that I had sufficient control over what was shown in my eyes - things that I wanted to hide and bury under a rug.

What accompanied this stabilization of the chakra system was, of course, an advancement in training. Like the rainwater that descended onto a land of drought, the chakra was life to everything that defined a shinobi. It not only formed the basis of ninjutsu, but was also used as a form of bodily enhancement, allowing shinobi to push their speed, their strength, and their agility to be above the physical limits.

Shisui no longer visited us as often as before, but Father had reassured me repeatedly that it wasn't because of what had happened that day under the oak tree, but the fact that Shisui had his own training to do. Itachi and I, too, must proceed with training that was befitting of our levels. This made the time that Shisui could spare with us precious indeed.

"What's that, Maiko-hime? Do I hear you asking for advice on your body-flicker?" That annoying tone peaked out from behind the leaves as the boy with the curly hair teased with feigned innocence.

"You're hallucinating," I muttered under my breath as I balanced myself, speaking the vocabulary that was clearly out of a three-year-old's league. But it was always okay with Itachi and Shisui. It made this whole ordeal of acting and pretending a lot less suffocating.

I eyed the circle drawn by white chalk, just a dozen metres away, tucked in between a nest of tree roots. Tuning my breathing in rhythm, I pushed the chakra into my limbs and ignited that one moment of explosive release. The wind sliced past my skin for a split second and the world halted again. My feet landed in the white circle, that was, until the momentum pushed me sideways and I had to take a step to steady myself.

Shisui let out a snicker from above, making me look up just to roll my eyes at him. He brushed off my irritation with a wave of his hands. The branches under his feet shook and in the blink of an eye, he had already landed on another one.

"Come on, say it," Shisui's voice echoed around me as he body-flickered away without a pause. "'Shisui-senpai, please teach me your way', that's all I need." Another body-flicker and he was behind me. "I promise that you won't regret it."

Immediately, I turned around with a shuriken in my hand. Shisui's eyes widened for a moment when I launched the metal weapon right at his face. However, it only took him one more body-flicker to get onto the tree again and my shuriken hit nothing but a tree trunk.

"Just once!" A shuriken followed Shisui onto the tree. "You never called me that before." Another one pierced into the branch where his toes had landed a moment ago. "Even Itachi has!" This one skidded on the ground just before Shisui flickered away. I could see Father's point. This was not a productive session for Shisui.

I reached into my weapon pouch again and paused. There was only one shuriken left. Shisui noticed my pause and his smirk grew wider. Then, he started to flicker around, faster, more frequently, until he was starting to blur in my vision. Show off.

I blinked and the world cleared up in front of me. Every sway of the leaves, every ray of sunlight, and every dust that Shisui had stirred up were unveiled under my Sharingan. I whipped my body around and threw the last shuriken with conviction.

The world seemed to hit a mute button when Shisui caught the Shuriken - still spinning - between his fingers. The glow of red in his eyes matched mine in perfect synchronization. "Oh, that's cheating."

"And you're four years older than me," I answered, adding in my mind, in this shinobi business.

"Fair enough." Shisui accepted it with a chuckle. "My offer still stands, though."

It was a good offer, I must admit. A simple phrase for a technique that could save me a lot of time. But really, I had seen all I needed to see and Shisui must have known that.

Returning my attention to the white markings on the training ground - some were covered in dirt on our earlier chase - I flowed the chakra over my muscles again. Lower my gravity, visualize the momentum that will still be there at the end of the body-flicker, and prepare before I even take the flight.

That was what Shisui had been doing and what I forgot to do before it was too late.

This time, I landed in the white circle with no faltering steps. Again, again, and again. I flickered through all six markings drawn on the ground before a series of clapping sounded in the background.

"With that, Maiko-hime, you can give Itachi a run for his money," Shisui said with pride on his face. No matter how much I tried, that nickname stuck with Shisui until I thought, why bother?

All of a sudden, I told him, "Thank you, Shisui-senpai." He was being helpful, after all. Upon hearing that, Shisui smacked his palms into his chest as if he had been wounded by an arrow made of happiness. The boy even fell backwards for dramatism, only to hook his legs onto the branch at the last second before flipping back onto the ground.

I moved my eyes away to avoid looking at that embarrassing display. The blue sky had long dipped into the colours of the dusk and a suspicious feeling started to rise in my chest.

"It's late," I commented out of nowhere.

"You're right. Want to call it a day?" Shisui asked, but it wasn't what I was talking about.

"Itachi-nii is late," I clarified. Itachi had training sessions with Father, but it should have ended long ago. Given how much he treasured the time we had with Shisui, he should have made it here already.

"Ah, that." Shisui turned uncharacteristically quiet at the mention of Itachi. I whipped my head around and narrowed my eyes at him. He turned his face away. Something is up and he knows.

"Where is he?" I asked. "Shisui-senpai," I even added nicely.

Shisui's gaze travelled to the sky as the silence stretched uncomfortably thin, but before either of us could explode, Shisui glanced in the direction of the Main House and let out a sigh of relief.

"Itachi is back if you want to know," Shisui said. How did he determine that? Probably some chakra-related techniques that I had yet to learn. "Go home safely, Maiko-hime. I'll see you both next time."

The improvements that I had made today to my body-flicker were, no doubt, put to good use. I jumped over the fence and trod past the koi pond. The living room was basked in the warm hue of night lamps, leaking out of the shōji screen like glowing mists. In contrast, the window to Itachi's room felt like it was being painted on the other side of the colour wheel.

I almost thought that Itachi was not in his room until I climbed over the window and saw my brother sitting on his bed, making no moves to deal with the dirt that had stained his clothes and smudged his skin.

What happened? Where did Father take you? What did he make you do … I had so many questions ready to burst out in my head. But when Itachi turned around in surprise and colour seemed to finally flow into his flesh at the sight of me, all of those messy noises quieted down to one sentence. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. It's just been a long day," Itachi answered, rubbing his eyes as if to drive the fatigue away.

A moment later, I found the courage to ask, "Where did Father take you for training today?" I had thought that Itachi would be holding his tongue back just like Shisui, but to my surprise, it only took him a moment to gather his thoughts, before telling what could only be the truth.

"Father took me to clean up the battlefield."

I reached forward, grabbing Itachi's arm before he could bring it up to his eyes again. Itachi didn't resist and we stayed - waited - like that for a few seconds. Red started to bleed into Itachi's irides as the black tomoe spun into existence.

I should have enough control over my Sharingan, really I should. But in that moment, the lingering sorrow and disheartenment in Itachi's eyes resonated with mine, fueling the swirling rage that was already boiling inside of me. For the first time in the last half a year, my Sharingan activated against my will.

I let go of Itachi and jumped off of his bed, wanting to go to the living room where I knew my Father would be. Itachi is four. He is four! My brother was kind, gentle; he was … perfect. So what else did he need to do just because he could perfectly take on anything?

I didn't even reach the door and the arguments had already reached us.

"What were you thinking? Taking Itachi to a mission like that!" That was Mother, screaming at her husband. The words got muffled behind the walls, but her anger did not.

"It's time for him to learn. It's time for him to witness the bloodshed that will inevitably come with the life of Shinobi." Uchiha Fugaku stood his ground with a firm tone that crushed all room for negotiation. "They all need to get used to it, the earlier the better."

"That boy is only four!" Mom shouted back. Her voice sounded strained as she pushed the next sentence out of her mouth. "Couldn't you have waited? He's already … they are both already so …"

Father was silent for a moment. Perhaps there was a sigh, perhaps it was just my imagination. "This is my duty as the Uchiha Clan Head. And it's Itachi's duty as my son."

"Mikoto, please understand." Surprisingly, there was an ounce of pain in Father's voice as he pleaded with his wife. "Any other Uchiha children, they don't have to open the Sharingan, they don't have to be measured with intelligence and maturity beyond their years."

"They don't even have to be good shinobi; we have plenty of civilian jobs in the district. But not my children; not Itachi and Maiko."

The argument died right there, signifying Mother's acceptance of Father's action and apparently, our fate. Slowly, I turned around and retraced my step back to Itachi's bed. My brother waited with patience, pulling me up the sheets that were already dirtied by the mud and soil.

"I don't like … what happens because of wars, but I see how bad it is," Itachi spoke up in his soft voice, smoothing away the twisting feeling in my stomach. "I would want to see it, than never knowing it."

"I'm glad," Itachi said all of a sudden, pushing his face forward until our gaze could meet, one pair of Sharingan to another. Realizing what he just said, he explained in a hurry, "Not because of the battlefield or the corpses or all those deaths."

"I can finally be there for you now," my brother said and his red eyes curved into a small smile. I also have the sharingan now. I'll finally understand your experience; I'll finally feel your struggle; I'll finally know your distress. It was incredible how much I could understand from his spoken words.

Ah, how could I hide behind this boy's smile, as he tried to shield me from all that was burdening? A love so pure that it became an instinct. A love so precious that this flawed soul was undeserving of. A love so heavy that I didn't know if this flawed soul had the capacity to return.

"Wrong," I whispered. Before my big brother could open his mouth again, I wrapped my short arms around his back and pulled him into a hug. "We'll be there for each other."

In the next year, I waited for my turn to be taken to the battlefield - to be baptized in the aftermath of violence as part of the training. Except, it never arrived.

The Third Great Shinobi War ended when I turned four. As predicted by Shisui, the shining hero named Namikaze Minato became the next Hokage, leading the charge in this supposed new era, ushering in the dawn of peace.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

A month after my fifth birthday, Sasuke was born.

The summer that year was scalding. The cicadas chirped even louder than usual, like a crescendo in the accompaniment, all to match up to the cry of the baby that had just descended upon this world.

Mom comforted Sasuke with a quiet lullaby as our father tried to calm his cry. The sternness rarely left Father's shoulders these days, but the way he rocked the baby spoke nothing but gentleness and care.

It was a coincidence that all of Uchiha Fugaku's children were born in the heat of the summer. It's an auspicious sign, the Elders would reiterate along with their congratulations. They've all got the fire in their veins, befitting of their Uchiha name.

Looking at the loving scene in front of me, I couldn't help but wonder if similar memories had been replayed before in this very room, many summers ago when Itachi and I were born.

Did our father also look at us with such a loving gaze as he held our tiny bodies? How long did that last, before the thought of duties weighed down on his eyebrows and hardened his face? Would the same happen to Sasuke, what were the duties bestowed to him the moment he was born—

Chubby fingers bumped into my wrist, jerking me awake from my train of thought. I looked down and saw little Sasuke scrunching up his face, looking like he was terribly close to another fit of cries. Without much thinking, I placed my index finger in his flailing hand.

Warmth permeated my skin slowly as Sasuke curled his fingers around mine. His face relaxed from the premonition of tears to a look of contentment. Just like that, a smile bloomed on my baby brother's face as happiness sparkled in his dark eyes. Suddenly, all of my messy thoughts disappeared behind the symphony of cicadas.

Ah, who cares about those things? I leaned closer to Sasuke and rested my head against his bedside, carefully keeping my finger within his grasp. Will I be able to protect you as Itachi has done for me? The love that Itachi has given me, will I be able to give this 'love' to you, to him?

Like an experiment, I placed my lips on Sasuke's forehead, just a brief touch. I hope so.

Thud. The shōji screen opened with a dull noise. "Maiko. Ninjutsu training."

Father walked past the door, barely stopping to give me the words. He was busy, I knew that much. His shirt was soaked with sweat but he didn't have the time to change. He was walking towards his next agenda with conviction and he expected me to do the same.

Mom walked into the room next, already sporting an expression meant to apologize for my father's brusqueness. She had fresh towels in hand, signifying a bath time for little Sasuke.

I looked down again and my brother was still staring at my face with a giggling smile. His fingers hooked around mine with no signs of wanting to let go. A second later, I bit my lips and turned my face away. It didn't take much strength for me to slip my finger out of his grasp.

The cries of a baby joined the endless waves of cicadas in the background as I raced towards the training ground.

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

Someone was crying. Actually, a lot of people were crying.

The ceiling of the underground bunker rumbled and shook like it was in pain. The roar of a beast reverberated in the stale air as a wave of chakra remnants washed over me. Malice, anger, revenge, bloodlust … all of those negativities choked on my throat.

For a moment, the breath of Shinigami was the only thing I could feel.

Too soon. I had too little time. I have something now. I still want to …

An arm squeezed around my shoulder and pulled me closer to its owner. Itachi and … Sasuke. Sasuke was crying in my arms - our arms.

"Shh, it's alright," I whispered to the baby in my arms. I felt guilty for forgetting about the one I was supposed to protect when I was so consumed with the fear of death. Carefully, I wiped the tears that were falling down Sasuke's cheeks before they could wet the blanket even more.

Finally, Sasuke's cries lessened for a bit. However, all of my efforts were wasted when another outburst of chakra emitted through the air, originating from a force of mass destruction rampaging outside of the village. To think that just the leftover remnants could contain so much malicious intent, I shuddered to think of the requirement to survive when one was standing in front of it.

It was my first encounter with the concept of Tailed-Beast in this new world and it was a rude awakening. This was the nature of Chakra; the unimaginable limit that it could reach.

In the darkness surrounded by children's cries, Itachi reached out from behind me and touched Sasuke on the forehead. Magically, and somewhat unfairly. Sasuke's cries subsided immediately as he stared in the direction of Itachi's finger with his big black eyes.

I must have gotten used to the lingering malice that accompanied Nine-Tail's rage because I found the energy to chuckle at Sasuke's blatant favouritism. It was understandable, though. If I were him, I would have chosen the same. After all … "You're right, Itachi-nii will always be there for us. Always."

Sometimes I, too, forgot that Itachi was only six, still a child himself.

That night, Konoha lost its Hokage. As brief as Yondaime's reign was, the peace that he established did not collapse right after his death. As shocking as his demise, the village continued to move as before. At least, on the surface.

Rewritten on Jul 13, 2023.

Thanks for the read! Please review if you ever feel like it, cause I like reviews or just general comments!