A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Interlude, Soldier-Mask-Man-Cat

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!

(Title)

"A Song for Them"

A/N: The world conspired against me every time I sat down to write this chapter. It's ridiculous. Welp, it's here now and you guys have been so patient, I love you for not pressuring me or anything like that. I see other authors talk about it so often and I just feel so lucky to have you guys! Muwah! With a new Interlude comes a new favorite chapter for me. It just kept getting bigger and bigger, and frankly, overwhelmed me. I had to take out a couple scenes -that i liked- and it still ended up being this long. But it's finally done! YEA!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! If you really thought I did then we need to have a talk.

WARNING! RATED M! It's horrible. Just wrong. Guys... it's... it's happened again. It's back! It's the F-word! FLUFF! …oh, and some blood, language and violence.

Interlude,

"Soldier-Mask-Man-Cat"

"Sometimes what you're looking for comes when you're not looking at all." -Yuno Woo

We passed the sixth checkpoint after yet another thorough inspection to confirm our identities and I was becoming more anxious with every kilometer we came closer to the Village. No one had mentioned the reason behind the extra layers of security but I think that was because no one had the answer. At the first checkpoint I had written off the tense air as just normal work-related stress or even a personal matter involving the ANBU stationed there.

At the third, paranoia had begun to stir in the back of my mind but I had also dismissed that as just extra measures for the Chuunin Selection Exams. It wasn't that unusual for it to happen during these events. Still, I kept a closer eye out for anything.

By the fifth I knew that something had happened while we were away.

My worries seemed to be justified as I spotted Kakashi-senpai leaning casually against the stone wall in a hall of the underground ANBU HQ, somewhere he was specifically banned from being by Hokage-sama. I signaled the rest of my squad to go on ahead without me, they deserved a good rest after the mission. I know I could use a shower myself but there was something that made me uneasy about the way Senpai wasn't meeting my eye. The fact he seemed to have been waiting for me did nothing to relieve my anxiety.

"Kakashi-senpai." I greeted, pulling my mask off to rest on the side of my head. I crossed my arms over my chest plate and mirrored his stance, leaning back against the wall opposite of him.

"Have much trouble getting in?" he asked, scrutinizing the floor tile. That was another warning, he wasn't reading that obscene novel he loves so much.

"More than any of us had been anticipating." I allowed, still tense and waiting for the reason why he was here. "No one had any details on what has happened to call for the extra checkpoints." He was quiet, confirming my suspicion that he knew the details. I waited patiently. He was here to tell me, that could've been the only reason he was here.

"Something's happened." he informed me before he stopped again, eye still not meeting mine. His hesitation is making me anxious. Kakashi-senpai never hesitates. After a minute that seemed to last much long than it should have, Kakashi-senpai pushed off the wall and began walking towards the exit.

"Senpai?" I called, pushing off the wall as well and quickly falling into step beside him.

"I'll tell you on the way to the hospital." he said over his shoulder as he continued walking through the hall.

"Who's there?" I asked. I frowned, My mind beginning to run through the possibilities. Was there an intruder that had been injured when captured? I wasn't T&I. This was their department if that was the case, and if Kakashi-senpai was here waiting, then it somehow involved me.

He finally looked over, meeting my eye.

"Sora."

Tenzō, (Age 16) October 14th: Konoha Hospital, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

I rolled my shoulders back as I rotated my neck, feeling the stiffness in my muscles. A surveillance assignment wasn't always the most exciting of assignments, I knew. But I had to admit, there were worse places to sit for hours instead of a empty space in a ceiling. I shouldn't complain, I had asked Sandaime-sama for this assignment after all. Below me, the sounds of music began again. I listened as the girl began to play the same song she had played when she first received the metal flute after waking up. It was soothing to listen to. if a bit melancholy. It suited, I suppose. Not only had she just lost her Mother, but she might have also lost her voice for the rest of her life.

It has been two days since I had listened alongside Sandaime-sama as the medics explained that although the wound across the girl's throat had been closed, she had not been healed correctly. Something to do with impure or eroded chakra mending the vocal folds in her neck improperly. They said how there had been damage to the 'Thyroarytenoid' muscles and one side of her 'posterior cricoarytenoid' among other terms were used when informing Sandime-sama of her condition. I wasn't a medical professional by any means but I did understand when he said in plain terms that any surgery -most likely multiple in this case- to repair the mishealed muscles could end up not only failing to restore the girl's voice, but risk disrupting the chakra network to her neck even further. She could end up losing the ability to breathe without assistance, impair her mental processes, lose her eyesight...

In the end, Sandaime-sama didn't think it was worth the risk. The girl would just have to learn another way to communicate.

The music stopped, looking down through the slit in the ceiling tile I could see the girl had fallen asleep curled up into a ball that made her seem even smaller than she was. Her hands were clutching the ribbon and flute to her chest tightly. She had stayed asleep for to hours before jolting upright with her hands flying to her neck, gasping with tears running down her face. She was having these nightmares every night now, last night and the night before she had woken up around two a.m, and couldn't get back to sleep until five. It was nearly four now.

The girl eventually calmed down as she became fully awake. I watched in curiosity as she crawled out from the bed and moved the visitor's chair beside it, dragging the chair over to the window. She climbed into and pushed the blinds to the side, revealing the night sky through the glass. It was another three hours until she fell asleep watching the sun rise and I was relieved of my shift.

Tenzō, (Age 16) October 20th: Hokage Residence, Sandaime's Private Study

He exhaled from behind his writing desk, a trail of smoke wafting from his mouth. "So, how has Sora-chan doing?"

My voice was emotionless as I gave the report of my observations over the last week. "The girl, Sora, has isolated herself from the other children and makes no attempt of her own to communicate beyond basic answers. She helps the young caretaker, Mikaza Fumie, with the small children but mostly keeps to herself, always busying her mind or body with chores or writing in the notebooks she keeps on hand."

Sandaime-sama nodded with a frown, his eyes drifting to the window looking out into the Village. "I've heard Boar's assessment, but what is your opinion on Sora-chan?"

"She isn't adjusting well to the Orphanage, Hokage-sama, or to Konoha. It is my opinion that she continues with her self-isolation like this, she poses a risk of defection when older. That is my professional opinion."

The Sandaime looked back over at me and arched an eyebrow, "And what about your personal opinion, Tenzō-kun?"

I hesitated.

I was still unaccustomed to voicing my own views to a superior. Sandaime-sama was very different from Danzō-sama in that respect. I spoke slower this time, more carefully. "I think that, taking what she said about how she was raised as truth, Sora-san might not know how to interact with others. She's gone from a completely isolated lifestyle to the total opposite. Perhaps... given time and some help, Sora-san could establish strong bonds and ties and one day she might become a productive member of the Village."

It sounded more like a hope now that I've said it aloud.

He nodded firmly, "I agree! It will just have to be up to us to help Sora-chan feel more at home here in Konoha."

I blinked, unsure of what I'd just heard.

"Hokage-sama?" I questioned.

His lips twitched up in an almost smile, "Tenzō-kun, why did you request to take this assignment?"

"Uhm…" I uttered intelligently. My words seemed to have failed my in that moment as the smile grew on the Sandaime's face. Thankfully, Sandaime-sama didn't wait for me to come up with an answer to his question and dismissed me. Even after I retired to my bunk in ANBU HQ for the night, the question lingered in my mind.

Why had I requested this assignment?

Tenzō, (Age 16) October 23rd: Southern District, Konoha Orphanage

I paced on the roof, hidden from view of course. I've been doing it for the last six minutes and I still was at a loss as to what to do. The girl, Sora, was sitting below me on the back porch of the Orphanage. She had woken up from another nightmare again, it was becoming a habit for her to sneak out of the common room and sit out here for hours either to watch the skies or to play her instrument under the moonlight. As for why I was pacing, I was still thinking about what Sandaime-sama had said the other day. The part about it being up to us to help her. Was he speaking in general terms of 'us' as in the Village, or was he actually telling me to break protocol and interact with the subject of my surveillance?

As I was trying to figure this problem out the girl had did something odd, inadvertently making my decision for me. She had stopped playing her flute and pulled out a notebook, writing on it before raising it above her head.

"Do you want to request a song?"

She knew I was here.

Hm. Sandaime-sama had noted after one of his visits to the hospital that she seemed to be sensitive to the ANBU presence in the room, which I remember thinking was odd for someone so young but she actually hadn't made any reaction before this. It was on an impulse that I rarely ever indulge that I hopped down from the tree, landing in front of the girl. Upon recognizing me she smiled slightly, spine straightening as she sat up. She lifted a small hand in a wave, I dipped my head in greeting.

There was a quiet that hung in the air between us, there weren't even any crickets nearby.

What now?

She made the first move, writing on her notebook again. She turned it back around to show me, "Do you like music?" it read.

I was conflicted. By interacting with her while on assignment I was breaking protocol. But... then I thought about what Sandaime-sama had said, about what I had told him of my own opinion of her. If given time and help, she could adapt and become an asset to the Village. That's what this was, I realized. This was developing an asset. There were no rules against that while on assignment, granted one usually didn't develop assets so close to home... it could work.

I knew what I had to do.

I took a step few steps closer to where she was sitting, she didn't tense but she did give me an odd look. Her expression turned to one of extreme curiosity when I motioned for the notebook, she handed me the book along with a ink brush and pot. That was... quite old-fashioned. Putting that thought aside, I wrote swiftly before holding the book with one hand and straightening my other hand into a Sign.

"This means Affirmative, Understood, Go."

Her eyes darted between my mask, the book and my hand until I saw a clear look of realization dawn on her. She slowly raised her left hand and straightened her hand to mimic my own, her eyes lifting to mine for confirmation. I nodded and she cracked a small smile. I tapped next sentence on the page once and corrected the sign, bending my fingers slightly to showcase the difference. "Agreed or Yes."

She attempted to copy it but only managed to do it halfway. I reached out my hand to correct the sign and the second my fingers brushed over hers, she flinched back suddenly. Her eyes widened as her mouth opened to speak... nothing but air escaped her lips. Her mouth shut with a click as she with drew in on herself again, shoulders hunching up defensively. I took a step away to give her space. She didn't relax again and we both turned our heads towards the sounds of incoming footsteps. I returned to my post just as one of the caretakers walked out from the building and proceeded to scold Sora for being outside so late.

I continued my surveillance until Yamada-san came to relieve me at dawn.

The next night she came out again but immediately I could tell she was acting different than usual. She was tense, nervous and awake. She hadn't gone to sleep yet, instead she waited until the caretakers had and snuck out. I had the uncomfortable feeling that it had to do with my actions the previous night. I watched as she took the same seat as last night and set her notebook in her lap, she began tugging on the end of her nightdress as she shot glances up to my new position. After checking the immediate surroundings for any onlookers, I hesitated only a moment before hopping down and standing in front of her again.

She lifted her hand in a meek wave.

I dipped my head in greeting.

Her eyes darted to the pad in her lap and she chewed on her bottom lip, contemplating something. I couldn't guess as to what. The minute seemed to stretch on longer than it should have until she looked back up at me. She tentatively held out her hand towards me. I found myself hesitating once more in concerns to the girl in front of me. I stowed the feeling away for deeper inspection and reached out, slower this time, and folded her hand into the sign she attempted last night.

'Yes.' she signed. She grinned wide, violet eyes lighting up as she looked at her hand. I felt a smile of my own grow as she excitedly began writing, asking me to teach her more. It was only developing an future asset in the interest of the Village. When my assignment was over I would go back to Team Ko with Kakashi-senpai and Sora would probably end up attending the Academy and learn how to communicate with her agemates there, and that would be it.

This was only temporary.

The look of surprise that turned into bubbly happiness when I gave her a ink pen for easier communication the day after that was of no real importance, though her sincere thanks was appreciated, I was only doing my job as a responsible member of Konoha.

That was all.

My assignment had finished after a month's observation when it was deemed by Hokage-sama that the girl was no threat to the Village's security and I was sent on a number of missions that had me outside of the Village as soon as we reported a mission complete, some stretching for weeks at a time. Relations with Kumo were still tense after the incident with the Hyuuga and we were sent out to make sure the borders were secure, find and retrieve any Missing-nin leftover from the Third War among other various tasks. No matter how many times it would happen, I couldn't get over the feeling that extermination missions left me with after their completion. They reminded me of the assignments I was given when I was younger, when I answered only to Danzō-sama.

It had been nearly six months when we were finally granted some rest days. It was by pure chance than on our way back to HQ that I spotted a little girl with bright hair, blonde in tow, running through the crowds from a very eye-catching Loe-senpai. Our entire squad had stopped to look at the bizarre scene before I made an excuse and broke away, going to meet the girl who was smiling much more easily than when I had left. I had felt relief.

Then she had been taken.

Sora had been taken right off the street on her way back to the Orphanage without anyone noticing.

When I discovered that it had been the Foundation behind Sora's disappearance I had acted on impulse only, hardly sparing a thought to the consequence of my actions. Even if it meant going against Danzō-sama once again. It wasn't like I couldn't see her potential, she was clever and her already intimate knowledge of Fuinjutsu was a desired skillset but it didn't change the fact that Sora wasn't suited to that life. To my life. She was far too gentle to carry out the tasks Danzō-sama would give her, too... compassionate. There was no doubt in my mind that if left there, the Foundation would destroy her.

For a reason I didn't fully understand, I couldn't allow that to happen.

I'd searched the training facilities I knew about, most of which had been long abandoned before I'd gotten there. Sora had been missing almost an entire month until I had finally found a break. The Foundation's latest recruits. There had been at least a dozen other children along with Sora, each of them with hallow eyes that I knew too well. The look on Sora's face when I'd found her was rejection, complete denial. She had stared at me like I was an illusion, like I wasn't actually standing in front of her.

I saw what state she was in -dark bruises, busted knuckles, malnourished- and taken her to the ANBU ward in the hospital where I knew Yūgao was on duty, Sora struggling in my arms the whole way, and watched with a sickness churning in my stomach as she went into a frenzied panic as soon as my teammate tried to begin healing. She had to be sedated in the end.

Tenzō, (Age 17) October 7th: Konoha Hospital, Private Ward

She didn't speak as she recovered. Physically, at least. The psychological damage was what worried me the most, it was really like she was mute now. She refused to sign the most basic answers or look at any of the nurses that would come in to check on her. The new notepad and pen lay untouched on the tray beside her bed.

I knocked on the open door. She didn't react, just continued to stare at the white ceiling of the windowless room.

"Morning." I said quietly, the porcelain mask muffling the sound of my voice slightly.

She didn't acknowledge my presence today either.

Taking stock of the changes to the room since my visit yesterday, I noticed the small storybook that wasn't there before and I did not frown at the sight of the untouched food beside her bed. It wasn't until a few days into her hospitalization that I found out that Sora was malnourished because she had been refusing to eat, that she still wasn't eating even now. The realization struck me harder than I had anticipated.

Sora had wanted to die.

I sat with her for an hour, trying to come up with something to say. By the time I left, I still hadn't figured out a way to say sorry.

Tenzō, (Age 17) October 11th: Konoha Hospital, Private Ward

"You need to eat something." the medic urged. Sora didn't respond but her eyes did move to the tray, that was more than yesterday. The woman sighed in frustration and stepped over to change out the IV bag, leaving the lunch where it sat. Shooting the girl another look, the nurse shook her head with a sigh before exiting the room. I lightly knocked on the door to announce my presence, not that it was needed.

"Morning."

...no reaction or acknowledgement.

I ignored the uncomfortable rolling in my gut and walked in, passing the end of the bed and coming to stand next to the tray of food. It all looked quite delicious. "Mm. Those soba noodles look quite good." I murmured aloud, glancing out of the corner of my mask. "Some eggplant and beef, that looks tasty as well. But, ahh, the salmon is probably the best though."

There was a loud growl, one that was easily recognizable. I turned my head to see Sora holding her hands over her stomach, a look of immense embarrassment on her colored face. I felt my lips twitch into a small smile, a feeling of victory blooming in my chest that felt more satisfying than many of my missions of late. She finally, after days of lifelessness, glanced up and scowled at me.

'Low.' she signed, causing that feeling of victory in my chest spiraled and grew larger.

"It does." I retorted. Her eyes slid over to the tray of food and I nudged it towards her, she showed more interest and in my enthusiasm I picked of the food tray and began to place it on the bed. That was my mistake. As I placed the tray, my gloved hand brushed against her wrist and she gasped, recoiling away until her back hit the wall at the top of the bed. I watched in rising alarm as her breathing pick up in speed, she clutched her arm close to her chest and I began to ask questions. "S-Sora? What's wrong? What just happened. Do I need to get the nurse-wait right here, I'll-"

'Injury,' she signed in Konoha Standard, stopping me in my tracks. I didn't understand. All of her injuries had been healed by the medic's while she was unconscious. She elaborated further. 'Injury, Contact.'

My eyes widened.

I spoke slowly, my throat feeling tight. Why? "It... it hurts, when someone touches you?"

She nodded, eyes lowering to the sheets pooled around her feet.

'Fire.'

It burned her.

We sat there in silence, hers was a painful one while anger bubbled under my skin, an indignant rage. She hadn't deserved this. The Wars were over, this was supposed to be a time of peace where children didn't have to fear walking the street alone, where they didn't have to fear being abducted by the people that were supposed to protect them! Danzō-sama… he saved me from that damned tank in Orochimaru's laboratory, he trained me himself and taught me how to defend myself. I will be grateful to him for those things for the rest of my life, but... back then I didn't have any other choice but to live in the roots of the Village, in the shadows.

Sora does.

Eventually, she picked up the notepad and wrote for the first time in over a week.

"I want to go home."

She had been different after everything that happened. The girl that had been so carefree and smiled so easily was gone. Sora had closed herself off to everyone and everything. She had barely acknowledged Sandime-sama as he assured her that something like this would not happen to her again. She never signed or wrote one word about what happened during her training and no one had pushed for answers. It was our fault that we had allowed this to happen in the first place.

I took her to the apartment she was going to be living in while attending the Academy and watched from the shadows as Uzumaki Naruto-kun tearfully reunited with her. And for the first time in days, saw a little life from her as she gasped and embraced him just as tightly.

Tenzō, (Age 17) March 14th: Northern Residential District, Sora's Window

Over the last few months I've checked in on Sora in person and peeked at the occasional report from the ANBU on-duty assigned to watching the Host of the Nine-tails, -and now her once more- making sure that she was readjusting well. I was concerned when I saw mentions in the observations that she was displaying signs of manic episodes, she had a limited attention span in the classroom, fluctuations in moods, switching to being hyperactive and overly excited to uninterested by anything other than Uzumaki Naruto-kun for stretches of days at a time. Besides that? It'd been quiet, nothing exciting had happened.

I knocked on the glass pane of the window, knowing she was already awake. Sora untangled herself from Uzumaki Naruto-kun, making sure he was still wrapped up in the blanket before grabbing a spare one and draping it over her shoulders. Reaching the window she opened it and gestured me to move back, I complied and she crawled out and onto the roof with me, shutting the window behind her and walking across the tiles until she reached the small balcony next door. She hopped onto the old, red railing and made herself comfortable.

'Greetings.' she signed in Standard. She pat the place beside her with a small smile. I chose to lean against the railing, more than an arms length away from her.

"Evening. How did your physical go?" She grimaced, hiking the blanket further up her shoulders. So, not good, I gathered.

'Spar, Contact, Injury.' It was my turn to grimace. That must not have been easy for her.

"Are you doing well in your studies?" I ventured, trying to change the subject to something. "Are you... making any friends in your class?"

I knew it was the wrong tactic as she closed up after the words left my mouth, body language becoming guarded. 'Hard.' she admitted, 'Not studies.' she corrected quickly, shifting uncomfortably before signing again, 'Connections, Hard. No connections, Except-' she gestured towards the window, where Uzumaki Naruto-kun was sleeping.

Right. No connections.

I finally sat on the railing beside her.

My heart was pounding oddly loud in my ears as I reached up and pulled my mask off to the side of my head. It felt a bit strange to feel the breeze on my bare face, it was rare for me to take my mask off at any occasion, especially out in the open like this. I kept my eyes trained out on the lights of the Village as I spoke, my voice coming smaller than I would've liked.

"I... don't remember the name my parents gave me. If I was given one at all." I confessed, taking a deep breath. "But... my comrades call me Tenzō."

I focused on the sounds of the Village below our feet and not on the sense of exposure I felt at the moment, I think I could hear an owl in the distance. The silence between us stretched on and when I finally looked over at her, her eyes had widened and her mouth was open in a gape as she stared at me unabashedly. Suddenly I felt self conscious but I resisted the urge to put the mask back on, it would only regress my progress. I met her gaze uneasily, waiting for her to speak.

Slowly, she lifted her hands to sign.

'Repeat.' she asked.

"...Tenzō. My codename is Tenzō. My, uh, Senpai was the one who started calling me that." That's what i said but, Yukimi had been the one who called me that first. Sora had let out a sudden breath before she began laughing. I stared incredulously as she began to gasp for breath, I then became annoyed at her continued laughter and... a little hurt.

Then tears began to roll down her cheeks and my annoyance quickly morphed into panic.

"S-Sora?! Wha-what's wrong!? Why are you crying! I-I-" I don't know what to do. My training never covered how to deal with crying girls. I wish I could ask-no. Senpai wouldn't know what to do either. "If there's something that's wrong, I-"

She tackled me to the ground, I let out a grunt of surprise as her smaller body landed on top of mine. I was frozen in place, resisting every instinct that urged me to throw Sora off and held my hands hovering awkwardly to my sides. She was touching me. On her own.

"Uhm-I..."

I don't know what to do.

Sora grinned down at me, face still wet as she pressed a hand over her heart before planting in the center of my chest piece. She lifted her other hand and signed. 'Mine.'

"Ah..." I had lost the ability to speak.

Her grin widened as she leaned down and wrapped her small around my neck, pulling up into a hug as she buried her face into my neck. Her breathing picked up as she started to laugh again and it-I squirmed as her breath puffed against my skin- Hey, that kinda-"Eheehehe!"

I slapped my hand over my mouth. Sora pulled her head back from the, embrace I think it was, and looked down at me with wide eyes. I didn't really just... please no. Oh, Kami. She tilted her head to the side, causing her long hair to slide over her shoulders as her eyes took on an unsettling look of curiosity. Her fingers wiggled, brushing lightly against my neck and eliciting an unwilling giggle from my throat. Oh, Kami...

Her eyes lit up with glee.

Tenzō, (Age 17) June 3rd: Northeast Residential District, Sora's Window

"That's not what it is."

"Yes, it is."

"No, it's not!" I insisted, beginning to feel annoyed that we're even having this conversation in the first place. The entire idea was ridiculous!

She tapped the page again with a smirk. I had the suspicious feeling that she was enjoying this. She wrote again and I braced myself, "Tell me Neko, do you feel happier when he's near?"

I warily narrowed my eyes at her, but yes, I did feel happier when he was near. He was my closest friend. I nodded and she tried to suppress her growing grin. "Does he make your heart beat faster when you see him?"

I frowned, what did the pace of my heart have to do with anything? But... I supposed it's true during training and team combat drills. He takes training very seriously and works the team into the ground and we're all usually left literally on the ground gasping for air. So, yes, he does make my pulse quicken. I still didn't see what this had to do if what she was implying.

She was stopping herself from laughing at me, I could tell from the slight trembling in her shoulders. She wrote with barely contained humor. "You are so clueless, my Neko."

"I am not!" I said indignantly.

She shook her head, grin widening, "Has anyone ever told you that you are adorable?"

Heat rushed to my face and I was thankful it was currently night. I huffed and ignored the way my ears began to burn in favor of changing the subject back. "Sora, would you please get to the point of these questions. I fail to see their connection."

'One more.' she signed before picking up the pen again, her expression turning serious as she posed the next question. "Would you give up your life to protect him?"

"Yes."

Without hesitation. Kakashi-senpai is my Capitan, my comrade, my friend. He saved my life, taught me that there was another way other than the Foundation's.

"That, my dear Neko, is called Love."

I groaned.

Tenzō, (Age 18) March 22nd: Northeast Residential District, Apartment 4C

There was an insistent knocking on my front door. I lied in bed, buried under my blanket, hoping that they would eventually get tired of knocking and leave me to my misery. They didn't. Eventually I managed to push myself up and out of the futon and stumble over my feet towards the door with a none-too-friendly look on my face. My head ached, my breaths were wheezy and I was sweating and freezing my ass off in turns. I couldn't really be held responsible for my bad mood.

I hardly ever get sick.

I swung open the door, a scathing reprimand on the top of my tongue but before I could ever day a word there was a four-foot nine year-old marching into my apartment. My head spun around -making me slightly nauseous- to watch a long ponytail swishing back and forth as Sora walked past me without so much as a wave.

"Whaa?"

Someone else walked through the door. A smaller blonde boy whom I recognized immediately. He looked up at me, arms full of books with a grin on his face, "Oh! Hiya, I'm Uzumaki Naruto! And you're Sora-chan's Kitty-guy, right? She talks about you a lot!" he said loudly before walking past me as well. And then I had a three-foot-two seven year-old in my apartment, too.

I... I didn't understand what was happening.

I shut the door again and pressed the palm my hand against my eye, feeling my headache increase. I shuffled behind them, Naruto-kun took a seat at the small dining table and dumped the pile of books on it while Sora began... doing something my kitchen. She had a bag full of vegetables and was prepping them while a pot of water sat over the stove. I didn't own a pot like that. Why did she have vegetables? It looked like she was making soup. Why was she making soup? Wait, wait, wait! There was a more important question. "Sora, how did you find out where I live? I just moved in last week. No, why? Why are you here?"

She gave me an unimpressed look over her shoulder before she turned around and signed. 'Bird told me where and why you haven't shown up in days.'

It took me a moment longer than it should have for me to figure out what she meant after I got past the images of her communicating with live birds. That just wasn't probable. It was most likely Nanako that slipped Sora my address, knowing her mothering tendencies. I really shouldn't talk about Sora to those people. I sighed, groaning softly as my throat began to get scratchy again. Nanako-san is such a mother hen sometimes. I told him that I'd be fine after a few days of rest!

"Sora, you didn't need to come here. I'm not even feeling that sick anymore." I informed her, standing straighter and willing the cough building in my throat to stay down. I smiled slightly to assure her, "You two should head back home instead risk getting sick as well."

She placed the prepping knife down and walked up to me, she then scowled up at me before grabbing my wrist and pulling me behind her. I followed without putting up much resistance, my head was feeling foggy now and I doubt that I could stand up for much longer. I closed my eyes only briefly before I opened them again to find myself standing in front of my futon. I looked down as Sora took a stance, jutting out a hip she didn't have, and gave me a stern look as she pointed at my futon. I felt more amused than I probably should have been.

I kneeled down and fell back into bed. Now, I didn't get back into bed because a nine year-old told me to, no. It just also happened to sound like a really good idea at the moment. I closed my aching eyes again, for only what seemed like a few seconds before Sora was shaking me awake. There was a bowl of soup in front of me now and Sora was looking down at me expectantly. I sat up myself up and began to eat the soup without protest, taking orders seemed like the smart move here. Sora smiled in satisfaction, validating my decision.

I frowned, a thought coming up through the fog of my mind. I glanced at the midday sun streaming in through the windows and then squinted at the small girl with bright hair, "Shouldn't you be in class right now?"

She stopped flipping through the pages of the large, old book in her hand. Then she shrugged one of her small shoulders. Man, she was really small. 'Yes. But it's boring.'

I sighed, setting the empty bowl down and giving her my best disapproving look. Or, trying to at least, "You're supposed to be setting a good example for Naruto-kun…"

She smirked, and wow did it look odd on her little round face. Little girls shouldn't smirk, I thought. 'Who do you think I followed out of the classroom?'

"Soraaa…" I tried to admonish. It came out more as a whine instead.

She waved her hands in a placating manner, 'I'll make it up. Promise.'

"Good." I mumbled, my stomach was full and I felt tired again. "School is important. You should learn." Sora nodded placatingly as she gently pushed me back onto the bed and pulled up the blanket before disappearing into my tiny kitchen. I looked in curiosity at the blonde sitting in the middle of the room, his nose in a book with Sora's handwriting on the cover. Did she finish another book?

"What're you reading?" I ask, my words slightly muffled my the pillow. He heard me anyway as blue eyes glanced up at me and he grinned so wide his eyes closed, it reminded my a lot of Sora's grin actually. Both their noses scrunch up in the same way.

"It's called Treasure Island! It's Sora-chan's newest story! It's about Pirates and adventure and kicking bad guys' asses and an entire island made of treasure 'ttebayo!"

"Ah...? You like reading, Naruto-kun?"

"Well," his grin fell off and he frowned at the book, "it's kinda hard sometimes 'cos I don't know a lot of the words Sora-chan uses but..." his grin returned in full force, "I'm gonna be Hokage one day so I have to know all this stuff!"

I cracked a small smile. That was nice. Even though it was hard, he was doing it anyway for his dream. It was nice. Sora came back out from the kitchen and ruffled Naruto-kun's hair before she kneeled by my futon again and frowned. Why was she frowning now. She leaned forward with pursed lips and rested her forehead against mine. When she pulled away her little frown was more pronounced. Wasn't that what mother's do to small children to check their tempature? I think I read that somewhere. Sora does act very motherly, doesn't she? I don't think nine year-old's should sit like that, should they?

'You are hot. Too hot.' she signed, 'Also, you have been talking out loud.'

"I have? Huh... weird." She disappeared for a moment -she keeps doing that- and when she came back she placed something nice and cool over my forehead, causing me to sigh in relief. That felt really nice. Her small hands then lifted my blanket and brought it to my chin, tucking me in.

"You're so tiny." I blurted. She snorted, her unique way of letting someone know she thought something was funny. She doesn't have to do it, I know, but she does it anyway just so other people can know what she's feeling. "But you are!" I insisted. She pat my hand a bit patronizingly with an indulgent grin as she reached into the cloth bag and retrieved her instrument. I dozed off into unconsciousness again to the sounds of a soft melody.

I woke up the next morning feeling better than I have in days, head foggy and unsure how I came to have so many blankets stacked on top of my bed. That is, until I laid my eyes on the sight of a dozing ponytailed girl, my ANBU mask on the side of her head, curled up on my couch with a even smaller sleeping blonde in her arms. The memories of the day before came back to me and for some reason I didn't quite understand, my throat became tight, making it hard to breathe suddenly.

I stared up at the ceiling, wondering how things ended up this way.

After two more days of recovering and being pestered by an eight year-old my sickness had passed and I was cleared to return to my duties. I came back to a lockeroom filled with the most horrible people in existence. Every single one of them made sure to share their thoughts on my leave of absence and suddenly it became a regular thing for them to mock my friendship with Sora. Insinuating that I have romantic feelings for her of all things!

The bastards...

Tenzō, (Age 21) April 27th: Northern Residential District, Sora's Window

"What happened to your hair!?"

Sora smiled sheepishly, raising a hand to pull on the lopsided fringe. I couldn't stop staring at it. It was shortest in the back, where it looked like someone took a kunai to it and shaved it. How did this happen?! She waved her hand dismissively, 'It nothing to worry about, it will grow back. I just got worked up during class.'

"You did this to yourself?" I asked incredulously.

She nodded, 'It was worse before Mouse fixed it. Trust me.'

"Why would you do this?"

'To be dramatic.' I sighed, somehow not very surprised at the flippant answer. She shrugged, 'My hair kept getting in my face when sparring anyway. This is fine. Like I said, it will grow back. Besides,' she smirked, 'you have enough hair for both of us.'

Self consciously I raised a hand to pull on the end of my own hair. It was rather long, I suppose. I suddenly found myself wondering if I should get a haircut?

Tenzō, (Age 21) December 11th: Northern Residential District, Sora's Window

"Have dinner with us tomorrow."

I blinked in surprise at the page, my eyes lifted up to see a grin that was just a tad too hopeful. I frowned in confusion. It was the eleventh, right? "But... It's the Rinne Festival tomorrow, aren't you and Naruto-kun going to attend?" There was sure to be many stalls and games ready for the festival, I was sure Sora loved attending the seasonal festivals. It had relieved me to hear all about how she spent Tatabana this year with her classmates, she wasn't keeping her distance as much as she used to.

Sora shook her head, her smile wilting as he wrote. "We can't. This time of year is almost as bad as October 10th for Naruto. So instead we stay home and celebrate my birthday."

Wait-"Your birthday!?" I exclaimed in shock. Since when!? And on the same day as the Rinne Festival, what are the odds of that?

She grinned again, obviously pleased with my reaction. "I don't know the exact date I was born. Mother always celebrated it in the winter though. The Hero asked me about it a couple years back and we chose the Rinne Festival. Your only hearing about it now because you're always busy outside the Village around this time of year."

Oh. I subtly brought my cloak over my shoulder more to cover the bandages around my torso. Sora didn't need to know the reason why I wasn't on an assignment right now.

"You can even extend the invitation to your super-senpai if you want to. I'm eager to meet the man you think so highly of." she grinned and her eyes sparkled in the way they usually do when she's mocking me. I was unamused. "You know, meet the man behind the mask."

I snorted. "You have no idea..." I muttered. I then shook my head, "No, no. Dinner's aren't really Senpai's thing."

Her smile became more tentative as she began to close off her body language, beginning to guard herself. I felt a slight disappointment but didn't let it show. She wrote, "Are dinner's your thing?"

There was a moment of hesitation on my side. Sora was looking up at with a guarded hope in her violet eyes. I sighed and ran my hand through my hair. She grinned, knowing my answer.

"Alright, I'll come."

Tenzō, (Age 23) June 2nd, Present Day: Konoha Hospital, Recovery Ward

The years passed faster than I noticed and before I had realized it, I had befriended a seven year-old girl and watched her grow up before my eyes. It was irrational and unprofessional in every way. Yet, I had done it anyway.

It was when I suddenly found myself in a kunoichi supply store, buying a pair of shinobi grade earrings that could also double as lockpicks as a graduation gift that I realized that very soon, I wouldn't be able to look out for Sora like I had in the years since I found her at that dark training facility. I wouldn't be able to help her if she needed me. That frightened me in a way I couldn't understand. And one day my fears came true, in a way I hadn't even considered to be a remote possibility.

I stood outside the hospital room, knowing that she was waiting on the other side and all I could think about was how I'd failed to keep my promise again.

Tenzō, (Age 16) October 9th: Seventeen miles Southeast of Otafuki Gai

I hadn't been with Team Ro like usual, Kakashi-senpai had been injured during a mission and we were all delegated to other Teams as he recuperated. It was on a patrol with Team Ko that we came across the report of a burning Inn of Otafuki Dai. We collected eye-witness reports of an attack by unknown hostiles while Sho-san, our tracking specialist, picked up a trail consisting of an unknown kunoichi with a child being pursued by ten shinobi of unknown skill and affiliation. We followed the sound of the explosion, finding the charred remains of one man and a large stone slab, crushing the remains of another. Our Squad leader, Akane-taicho, ordered us to proceed with extreme caution.

When we arrived on the scene it was to carnage. There were bodies everywhere and kunoichi was on the offensive, driving the last three attackers back. One broke away and headed towards-"Kaa-chan!"-the child, the woman spun and intercepted him and allowed the other two to take advantage of her split attention. Akane-taicho then gave the signal to engage, we leapt from the trees. As soon as the unknowns were engaged by Sho-san and Yamada-san, the woman was upon on Akane-taicho and I, eyes wild with a roar from her throat. It was only as she closed the distance did I finally noticed her warped appearance in the dim light, her grey skin and black and yellow eyes, there were even horns protruding from her head. She looked like real a demon. Akane-taicho was not inflicting any injury to that woman and I followed his lead, dodging the woman's flurry until I could get an opening and bind her with my Wood-style.

One of the hostiles had slipped away form the others.

"...K-Kaa-chan?" uttered a weak voice. The woman had stopped in her attack, attention snapping to the source. The hostile had a grip in the child's hair, a kunai pressed to her throat. The woman and I were the closest, in my peripheral vision I could see Sho-san moving into a position to strike the hostile. I raised my hands, drawing attention, my palms towards the target.

"Let the girl go." I said.

He tightened his hold and the girl whimpered in pain. She was trembling with tears running down her face, her head forcefully pulled back at an awkward angle by the fist buried in her hair. It was a dark night. The moon was hidden behind the clouds, stretching the shadows across the ground and shading the features of everyone present. Perhaps that's why in that moment I saw a different girl. A girl with darker red hair and freckles.

I saw Yukimi with a knife to her neck.

My muscles tensed to move. I waited, Sho-san was almost in position to-

"This is for my comrades, you bitch!"

The blade slid into her neck, trailing a line of red behind it.

The woman's howl tore through the air.

I felt my chakra reacted as wood shot out of my palm and slammed him into the tree behind him. The girl's body began to fall, l caught her and laid her down, pressing my gloved hands over the wound. I began observing the damage aloud to Yamada-san, our medic. "She's bleeding out. I'm keeping pressure but the wound is deep, I think her trachea was damaged." Yamada-san began to approach and I narrowed my eyes behind my mask at the lines of blood trailing down her cheeks, like tears. Was there another injury to her head from before we arrived? "What's wrong with her eyes? I don't see another injury, are they hemorrhaging?"

"I need to do a tracheal intubation, move aside Tora. You need to remove your hands so I can work." Yamada-san ordered as he kneeled on the other side of the girl, I did as he said and watched as he placed pale-green hands over her neck. I stepped away, feeling the dampness on my gloves as my attention was pulled away to the woman. Akane-taicho was interrogating her while Yamada-san worked on the girl.

"-name is Uzumaki Ikari, survivor of Uzushiogakure and that girl bleeding out is my seven year-old daughter! If she dies, I'll-I'll-" she choked on her words, eyes squeezing shut as she clutched the wound on her stomach that was bleeding profusely. I noticed that she no longer looked like a demon. She turned her head suddenly and looked directly at me. "You, the one who spoke! Come here."

I stood straighter, glancing at Akane-taicho for permission, he gave the slightest of nods and I stepped forward. The woman reached under her chest plate, ignoring how Sho's Tantō pressed against her right carotid artery, and produced a scroll. She held it out towards me, expression hard and voice authorative.

"Take this boy, it is to be delivered to Uzumaki Kushina, do you understand me?" she demanded, her gaze boring into my mask, "Repeat the name. Uzumaki Kushina."

The sound of Yamada-san's voice interrupted, "Her lungs are filling up with too much blood too fast, I can't stop-"

"Move." the woman ordered. Sho removed his Tantō before it drew across the woman's neck too deeply as she walked forward without waiting for any response. Yamada-san removed his hands and stepped away, the blow began flowing freshly from the girls throat again as the woman fell to her knees beside her. She placed her lips on her daughter's forehead, whispering. "I'm so sorry, my Clever girl... but I'm going to be leaving you here."

The woman placed her fingers into the girl's mouth and opened it before using her other hand to force the girl's jaw up, around her fingers. I watched in amazement as the girl's entire body began to glow, bathing the area around us in a green light. The wound on her neck repaired itself, the skin stitching together and sealing it back. The wound closed and the light subsided, leaving a visible scar behind.

"-what? What just happened. She... the wound is gone. It's healed, what did you do?" I asked quietly, taking a step closer. I've never seen healing like that. Something hit the ground and I looked over to see the woman collapsed beside her daughter, choking for breaths. She was still bleeding from the gut, I noted. She lifted unfocused eyes to her daughter's face as she brushed her fingertips across her cheek.

"Please..." she whispered. "Please, keep her safe."

She choked once more and her chest stopped rising.

"Ushi, get over here! She's stopped breathing!" Akane-taicho ordered. There was a rush of movement from the side but I stood where I was, next to the girl.

I looked down at the scroll in my hands as Uzumaki Ikari was declared dead.

Tenzō, (Age 23) June 2nd, Present Day: Konoha Hospital, Recovery Ward

Ikari-san hadn't been asking me, specifically. I knew that. It was a quiet prayer that I happened to overhear. A few weeks after Sora's arrival in Konoha I had tried to fulfill Ikari-san's last wish. I had looked for the woman called Uzumaki Kushina only to find out that she had been one of the many lives lost the night of the Kyuubi Attack. Sora was alone and without kin. It was almost hilariously familiar to me. It was against my training to become attached, it was drilled into my brain by the Foundation to not heed my emotions, not to even have emotions. In the beginning I had foolishly convinced myself that I was only acting out of sense of decency towards a girl -that reminded me too much of another girl that might've been my sister- who had just lost her mother and could still have a living relative she didn't know about. I'd told myself that Kakashi-senpai would've done the same in my place.

It didn't matter in the end because the woman Uzumaki Kushina was dead and the mission was declared complete, the reports sealed. I don't know if Sora ever knew about the woman, Kushina, but I never asked in case she didn't. I didn't want Sora to mourn a family she never got to meet.

The heart monitor's consistent beeping was the only sound that sprung up in the shuttered hospital room. Even Sora's deep and even sleeping breaths were nearly imperceptible. I had to keep checking to make to make sure that she was, in fact, still breathing. Yeah. That training worked out real well. I ran my hands tiredly over my face, feeling the stress wearing on me. I was tired, and not just physically. My eyes landed on the bandage wound around her upper arm.

Orochimaru.

How the hell did this happen? How could I have allowed it to? I had promised myself that I wouldn't allow anything to happen to her if it was in my power to stop it. Especially inside the walls of the Village that was supposed to protect her. The chuunin selection exam was going to hold dangers, yes, I accepted that. I accepted the fact Sora was going to get hurt. As Shinobi it is impossible to live our life and not expect injuries, I know this all too well, but...

…why did he come after her?

This was really like my worst nightmare come to life.

He had come back, but not for me, no. He came and he hurt one of the very few people I call friend. This girl that... that... That night all those years ago, I'd thought I'd seen Yukimi with a knife to her neck. It had been impossible. I knew that then as well as I knew now how it couldn't have possibly been her. Yukimi was older than me by at least a few years and though there were similarities to how she looked the last time I saw her and how Sora had looked, it still... It hadn't been fair of me to see her instead of Sora. It didn't matter that I eventually stopped seeing the girl that might've been my blood and started seeing the girl that was lying before me now.

This girl that treats me like her family.

The heart monitor picked up in speed, the once steady rhythmic beeping rising in pace drastically. I stood, ready to call the nurses when there was a movement, my eyes followed it and I watched as Sora began to squirm and writhe. I was about to reach out and wake her when she bolted upright in the bed, gasping for breath as her hand flew to her arm.

To the Cursed Seal on her skin.

I tightened my jaw and kept my expression clear I say back down in the visitor's chair, waiting for her to wake up fully. A few long minutes passed and her breathing evened out once more as she released the death-grip on her arm. Half-lidded purple eyes lifted to meet my own.

"...hi." I said softly, not wanting to break the quiet atmosphere of the room. Seemed like it would be wrong, somehow.

Sora lifted her fingers in a wave, lacking the usual excitement that accompanies my visit. I felt a tinge of disappointment that I quickly berated myself for. This wasn't about me. Before I could say anything more, she removed the IV from her arm with a grimace and I frowned in disapproval but held my tongue as I watched her take off the no doubt uncomfortable sheet from the bed and wrap herself in it completely. She inched off the bed and shuffled across the floor to stand in front of me. I stared dumbly up at her, unsure of what she wanted. I let out a small sound of alarm when Sora then crawled into my lap, throwing her legs over one of mine and pressing I felt her head lean into my chest from under the sheet. A small hole appeared in the white fabric, only big enough that I could see a nose poke out. She showed no signs of moving from her new position and I sighed, placing my chin on the top of her head and letting my useless arms fall to my sides. Sora could still be such a little kid sometimes.

A part of me wished she would always be.

Interlude,

"Soldier-Mask-Man-Cat"

END

A/N: Woooow. That sure took a long time. Nice job, Nanami, you slacker, you! You didn't even move the plot forward! You just dust off some threads that may have not been obvious whatsoever...

...

Well? Had you been expecting Sora's mom to know Naruto's mom? Not even Sora has any clue and no one told her. Side note: You know what I love most about alternate POV's? You get to see the differences in views. No one's perspective is 100% reliable, not Kakashi's, Naruto's, Sasuke's-not even Sora's! Probably especially Sora's. She does not know everything that is going on when she thinks she has a good grasp on it because she knows some things. You have to remember guys, Sora is crazy.

Also! Sorry if I have not been responding to any new reviews this last week or so! I've just been so wrapped up in writing that I haven't had any free computer time to do anything else, not even read some of my favorite stories that have updated! Ugh! But, I didn't make you guys wait any longer and sat myself down and kept typing and tossing a lot of extra words.

In other news. you guys may not know but I have posted two more pictures of Sora since the last time I mentioned my Deviantart page so, in case you're interested/curious my user there is: MissNanamiChan I'm generally too lazy and chronically shy to mention these things. So... yeah.

Author Question!

"This is my most serious question, yet. Tell me... what animal would be the most terrifying if it could speak?"

The PET animal of course! Just think about it. Your pet probably knows everything about you, all your likes and dislikes... all your secrets?! Now what if they just started blabbing to the whole world about the stuff! That be terrifying!

Other than that, squirrels would be the most terrifying. Those guys are nuts.

Haha! I wuv yew all! Hope to see you next time~

-Nanami

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. Prologue: Starting Over 1179 0 0 2. New Leaf Arc, Growing Pains 5710 0 0 3. New Leaf Arc, Hello World 5603 0 0 4. New Leaf Arc, Red Ribbon 5323 0 0 5. New Leaf Arc, About a Blonde 4280 0 0 6. New Leaf Arc, Hoodwinked 3920 0 0 7. New Leaf Arc, Kunoichi-to-be 4452 0 0 8. New Leaf Arc, ENTER, SORA! 5184 0 0 9. New Leaf Arc, Lucky Number Seven 5599 0 0 10. New Leaf Arc, Ninja 101 7283 0 0 11. New Leaf Arc, Smells Like Duties 5977 0 0 12. Breaking Waves Arc, Whats-his-face 5334 0 0 13. Breaking Waves Arc, Don't Lose Your Head 8216 0 0 14. Breaking Waves Arc, Our Roots 6882 0 0 15. Breaking Waves Arc, Precious Things 7963 0 0 16. Breaking Waves Arc, Tidal 6671 0 0 17. Breaking Waves Arc, Back-up Plan 7379 0 0 18. Breaking Waves Arc, Ripples 5523 0 0 19. Interlude, Hatake Kakashi Jonin-sensei 7396 0 0 20. Formula Arc, New Plan 8974 0 0 21. Formula Arc, Crossroads 9220 0 0 22. Formula Arc, His Word 4666 0 0 23. Formula Arc, Our Normal 7622 0 0 24. Formula Arc, The Art of Revenge 5170 0 0 25. Formula Arc, Kakashi Love Song 7416 0 0 26. Formula Arc, Arena 11642 0 0 27. Written Exam Arc, Chuunin Selection Exam 5540 0 0 28. Interlude, The Princess 8304 0 0 29. Written Exam Arc, Ache 7601 0 0 30. Written Exam Arc, Head and the Heart 6108 0 0 31. Dark Forest Arc, Bloodline 8738 0 0 32. Dark Forest Arc, Wake Up 9656 0 0 33. Dark Forest Arc, Fractured 5537 0 0 34. Dark Forest Arc, Day 2 4940 0 0 35. Dark Forest Arc, Distraction 9860 0 0 36. Dark Forest Arc, Dark Temptations 6455 0 0 37. Dark Forest Arc, The Day Icha-Icha 8984 0 0 38. Dark Forest Arc, Who Needs Sleep 10472 0 0 39. Dark Forest Arc, Match, START 8685 0 0 40. Dark Forest Arc, Life-risking Battles 5138 0 0 41. Dark Forest Arc, Monsters Afoot 7307 0 0 42. Interlude, Soldier-Mask-Man-Cat 9129 0 0 43. Montage Arc, Back into the Groove 7851 0 0 44. Montage Arc, New Development 8527 0 0 45. Montage Arc, Fritillaria Meleagris 6114 0 0 46. Montage Arc, Devil Woman 7410 0 0 47. Montage Arc, Sweet Thaaang 7387 0 0 48. Montage Arc, Back to Basics 6958 0 0 49. Montage Arc, Going With The Flow 3762 0 0 50. Montage Arc, Writer's Block 11988 0 0 51. Montage Arc, Moonlight Serenade 9331 0 0 52. Montage Arc, The Girl with Red Hair 10328 0 0 53. Montage Arc, Let's Talk 7039 0 0 54. Montage Arc, What is Love? Baby, Don't— 5310 0 0 55. Montage Arc, Now, theoretically… 5959 0 0 56. Montage Arc, Holster and Kunai 6835 0 0 57. Montage Arc, Cram Sessions 17057 0 0 58. Finals Arc, Let the Games Begin 18753 0 0 59. Finals Arc, SNAFU 9433 0 0