As requested by T.D.:

Reibi no Yūrei = Zero-Tailed Ghost. "Phantom" or "specter"— to replace "ghost", I mean— if you're feeling fancy.

It probably wasn't obvious— or maybe it was, I mean, it was meant to be— but Junko literally— not literally, literally— pulled that name out of her ass.

Disclaimer: It's ya [insert gender here]. McDoesn'tOwnNaruto.


"Oi, Noriko!" The call was accompanied by the clattering of cabinets as Noriko's charge— a chakra-beast in the shape of a human— mucked about in the kitchen. "Where's the food?"

Noriko had faith that Hokage-sama knew what he was doing when he had assigned her to monitor 'Kishimoto Junko'. As it was, Noriko hardly did anything other than work so she could hardly let any valuable information slip unless she was deliberately attempting to do so. She had faith in Hokage-sama's faith in her.

'Not complete faith', Noriko reminded herself. 'A man who trusts implicitly is a dead man', her father had said to her. Once upon a time.

"Noriko~" The call was followed by the rhythmic sound of bare feet slapping against the floorboards until the sound stopped to Noriko's left. The girl— because it was difficult, disturbingly so, to remember that this was not a little girl— appeared to have some aversion to footwear and was overly fond of the obnoxiously large shirts that the orphanage handed out so easily. Disregarding Kishimoto Junko's childlike attire, the girl had... not an unusual appearance, but one that could be described as 'abnormally picturesque'.

Kishimoto Junko was a creature of abnormal contrast; blood red eyes and emerald hair held so starkly against skin so pale it was almost unnatural. Her face was all sharp angles and creases, the only exception to that being her eyes and even then, as large as they were, they were heavy-lidded to the point that it appeared as if she were constantly narrowing her eyes in thinly-veiled irritation.

Yes, those eyes hardly belonged to a child.

"I haven't been here in some time..." Noriko cocked her head. How was she meant to address her charge? For the sake of discretion, it would likely be best to address her as 'Junko-chan', but the knowledge of her supposed age made such familiarity distinctly uncomfortable. Showing any degree of deference, however, would be akin to attaching the leash to her own neck.

Briefly, Noriko met the eyes of her charge, hoping there would be some sort of clue. The girl met her gaze with confusion and childish curiosity. In other words, it showed her nothing.

Noriko swept a lock of brown hair behind her ear and spoke confidently. "Kishimoto-chan."

The girl's brow furrowed as she stared at Noriko with an obviously growing confusion. "What?"

"I haven't been here in some time, Kishimoto-chan," Noriko continued. "All my food had gone bad so I tossed it out."

She had been working and it was easy enough to get food and rest outside of her house. There had never been a real reason to stop by, so she had not; her work was much more important than the place.

Kishimoto-chan raised a brow. "You don't have anything like crackers or somethin' around? Anything non-perishable? No, of course not— there's no food here."

Noriko deigned it unnecessary to remind her ward that— technically— the spices she had in her cabinets qualified as 'non-perishable'.

Noriko watched as the irritation that she could see building behind Kishimoto-chan's crimson eyes slowly came to a head before vanishing entirely. It was obvious the girl— and there it was again, she can't allow herself to forget— was not purposefully smothering her emotions but they had vanished at that moment all the same. Something to take note of, she supposed.

"Do you even eat snacks, Noriko? You look like the type who doesn't. Shinkokuko."

Noriko pointedly ignored the remark. "I eat takoyaki."

Kishimoto-chan pulled a disgusted face and Noriko imagined that if it were possible, that the girl's face would've become a shade green far too similar to her hair.

"That's not a snack. Takoyaki is basically just dango-shaped yakitori and do you call that a snack?"

Noriko blinked slowly.

"Let's go out Kishimoto-chan."

The girl's brow furrowed at the sudden change of subject. "For takoyaki?"

"For dango, Kishimoto-chan," Noriko replied in a tone reminiscent of an indulging caretaker. It was better to put on her mask now, rather than wait for them to step outside. "Tomorrow, if you'd like, we can get takoyaki while we go grocery shopping."

The pair held eye-contact only briefly before Kishimoto-chan looked particularly uncomfortable.


"Go on then! Fetch your boots and gloves. I'll wait right here for you."

"Hai~" The girl ran off with a flagrant show of enthusiasm, teeth bared in an almost-smile but her eyes looked bright with joy rather than old and heavy.

Noriko appreciated that at the very least; Kishimoto-chan was quick on the uptake. She had not asked any unnecessary questions. She had fallen into a role easily if only a bit awkwardly.

Looking up, Noriko saw a small jorōgumo— perhaps the size of the nail of her thumb— swaying by its web from the ceiling. She eyed it oddly before she held a hand beneath it, allowing it to rest on her palm. She moved slowly to the corner before holding her hand against the wall, the jorōgumo quickly making its way off of her hand. Before it had left her hand completely, it pressed its chelicerae to her skin, as if intending to bite before refraining and leaving her hand entirely.

Noriko— had she been a woman prone to such displays— would have sighed. As it was, her only reaction was a languid blink.

The pair entered the tea shop, Junko following diligently behind Noriko with a facsimile of childish wonder in her eyes as she let her gaze travel around the shop.

In reality, she was slowly remembering why she had always distinctly hated going out to eat. Surrounded by people she did not know in a place she would rather not be was not the most pleasant way to spend any amount of time. And while Noriko's expression had not shifted at all from the range of expressions one would expect from a loving caretaker, Junko was fairly certain that her guardian was also less than pleased with the situation, albeit for different reasons.

As it was, the sun was setting so there were quite a bit fewer people out and about as there would be at another time of day. Of course, that hardly detracted from the discomfort of the whole situation.

The tea shop was fairly 'niche' by Junko's understanding of the word, and comparable to the coffee shops— she'd long since forgotten the name— of way back when. Not to the same degree, but similar all the same.

By the time Junko was stirred from her thoughts, she and Noriko were seated in a booth.

"Noriko-san, what are we getting?"

Noriko raised a brow in amusement. "I already ordered, Kishi-chan. We'll be having an-dango and Hanami dango."

"Eh? No tea?"

Noriko's expression became sheepish and she leaned forward to whisper as if she meant to tell Junko some great secret. "I'm not particularly fond of tea."

Junko nodded slowly. "Oh."

Junko was steadily growing tired of this dialogue between herself and Noriko. It was not as if she could not handle it; it was just irritating. Noriko— not that Junko could ever profess to be able to read the woman; her face may as well have been carved from stone— seemed entirely unbothered and Junko was not comforted at all by that fact.

Before Junko's thoughts could devolve further, a kindly woman came and set down two trays of dango and in return, Junko gave her an exceptionally bright smile.

She was certain she would have a headache after all of this.

Noriko smiled at the women. "Thank you..." A frown crossed her face and Noriko narrowed her eyes at the woman. "Mitarashi-san, what are you doing?"

The woman let out a boisterous— obnoxious— laugh before pushing Noriko further into the booth and taking a seat where she had been. Briefly, the woman was enveloped in smoke that parted to reveal Mitarashi Anko.

Junko forced down a scowl and opted to watch on with faux curiosity.

"Just wanted to catch up with my favorite interrogator!" Lazily, Anko threw an arm over Noriko's shoulders. "Been a while hasn't it?"

Noriko, her expression twisted in displeasure, responded shortly, " I suppose it has, Mitarashi-san."

Anko did not look put off by the clipped reply. Instead, she let out a throaty chuckle that reminded Junko exactly who Mitarashi Anko was.

Idly, Junko reached for a dango skewer— she was not exactly sure of the flavor but she decided it must have been Hanami because of how colorful it was— but before she could reach it, it was swiped from the tray.

Junko froze in place, her hand still outstretched.

"So who's the brat?" Anko asked around a bite of dango. "Looks like a real killer."

There was a flicker of something indescribable in Noriko's eyes before her countenance became more resigned.

Junko studiously ignored Anko, even as she was introduced, and reached again for a skewer of dango. This time, she felt the brush of flesh against her gloved hand as more dango vanished from the tray and she seethed.

"This is Kishimoto Junko. Ki-chan, this is Mitarashi Anko."

Junko acknowledged the introduction with a huff and glared at Anko with all the venom she could muster. Junko was given only a passing glance in return— but she saw the mirth in those eyes and gods, wasn't that familiar.

Anko gave Noriko a sharp elbow to the ribs, an easy grin parting her lips.

"So you're adopting brats now, Noriko? And here I thought you didn't have a life outside of our little department."

Junko watched as Anko continued with her ribbing and Noriko suffered through it, offering the necessary deflections when necessary.

She looked down at the tray— it was empty.


Noriko cleared her throat as she pushed Anko from the booth and made to stand. Junko stood as well.

"We need to get going, Mitarashi-san." Noriko set her hands on Junko's shoulders as she steered them toward the entrance. Briefly, she turned back to Anko. "Please give Yūhi-san my regards."

Junko could not be bothered to turn around so she only heard Anko's amused snort.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't be a stranger, Noriko."

They had barely stepped outside before Junko found a skewer of dango shoved into her hand. She turned her gaze to Noriko, questioningly.

"Mitarashi is always this way, Kishimoto-chan." As Noriko spoke, Junko heard a distinct note of amusement in her voice. "It's fine, though; I left her with the bill today."

Junko stared at Noriko before turning her gaze back to the dango in her hand. "Oh."

The silence stretched on as they walked, darkness falling over the village. Junko did not turn toward Noriko but she could almost feel how tense the woman was.

It was hardly another moment before the silence was broken.

"You will be meeting with Hokage-sama tomorrow." The words were spoken quietly— rushed— and suddenly Junko remembered that the whole of this village only steps from civil war, constantly.


Three months. Shit.

Shinkokuko— Serious child