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Once More With Feeling

By Unstoppable_Hanger

Humor / Action

Death and Rebirth

A/N:

On Author's Notes: I've decided to leave the pre-and-post-notes in, because some people liked them. If you don't, just skip over them. Some won't be relevant here, such as ones talking about update schedules.

On the Main Character: Is it still a self-insert if the person you're inserting isn't yourself? While Ami shares a number of characteristics with me, she has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire. Her back-story is also entirely fabricated.

On Reviews: I want 'em, you got 'em. Reviews touching on aspects of writing (positively or negatively) are especially appreciated, but all reviews are welcome.

On Pairings: There will probably be some.

On Rough Beginnings: I have been told (and I grudgingly agree) that the beginning of this story (particularly the first chapter) needs some polishing. It was one of the first things I ever wrote, so I'm not terribly surprised. I'll probably go back and fix it up at some point, but if you're reading this then I haven't yet. This fic is generally agreed to pick up, in quality and excitement, around chapter 4. If you don't like it after that then you have my blessing to go read something else.

Disclaimer: No one owns anything. Edit: My legal counsel has informed me that this is not, in fact, true. My bad.

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Chapter 1: Death and Rebirth or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chakra

Dying is not fun.

You would think I'd have figured that out the first time through, but, well, here I am again. There were a few differences this time. Instead of going to meet the Reaper, this time I would be greeting the Shinigami. I wonder if he will be as forgiving? Somehow I doubt it.

There were other differences, of course. This time my death might actually accomplish something, it might be just enough to…

No. I am doing this all wrong. Starting the story at the end again. Something about imminent death makes it hard to concentrate. I should have plenty of time here though. Finally, now that I can no longer use it.

Get comfortable: my story is not a short one. Nor is it a particularly happy one, though there were some times I wouldn't trade for the world.

Enough of this cryptic bullshit. I'm going to do this right. Begin at the beginning, or maybe a little earlier. Naruto would never forgive me if I told this wrong. So without further ado, here it is: the story of my death, rebirth, life and eventual return to the void.

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My first life was nothing special. I was born to parents, had a brother, went to school, went to more school, got a job, and died at the tender young age of 24 in a way that I will never tell any shinobi because they would never take me seriously again.

It feels weird to look back on my life and call it ordinary, but it was. Like almost everyone on turn-of-the-21st-century Earth I drifted through life (by everyone I mean everyone upper-middle-class in a first-world country). I was smart, everyone told me so, but that almost made it worse. I never had to try very hard for anything so I never did. I am not complaining; I was happy, had friends and was mildly successful at everything I put my hand to. I am just trying to give you a picture of who I was: someone without any grand ambitions and the accompanying spectacular failures or successes.

I do not know why I of all people got reincarnated. Maybe everyone gets a second chance. Hell, it's entirely possible everyone else has already been reincarnated dozens of times but they just keep quiet about it. I certainly wasn't telling anyone.

I still haven't ruled out the possibility that this is all an (incredibly elaborate) hallucination. It makes no difference. I lose nothing by treating it like it is as real as it seems. It would be almost impossible not to, at this point. Perhaps my "first life" was the hallucination. Something to consider in my fleeting free time.

Being born is very disorienting, especially when there is no discontinuity between death and birth. One second I was lying in a hospital, machines beeping around me. The next second I was in a hospital of a very different nature, not that I could tell at the time. A newborn's eyes do not work particularly well and my other senses were not picking up the slack. Everything was so bright, so loud. People—giants—were touching me, lifting me, rocking me.

It was overwhelming and I did the most natural thing: I cried at the top of my lungs.

In my defense, I was not in my right mind. Dying really does a number on your psyche. On top of that, my mind did not seem to be working properly. I cannot even begin to guess at the mechanics of a consciousness being transplanted into a newborn, but I don't think my newborn brain could fully handle it. A software-hardware mismatch, if you would. Add that on to the fact that I had no idea where I was, everything was huge and people were speaking a language I could not understand, and I was a singularly unhappy baby.

Unhappy is an understatement. The trauma, confusion and mental mismatch were too much for me. I withdrew from the world. Dissociation is the technical term, I believe. For the first year of my new life I had only three states: sleeping, inert and crying.

I feel quite sorry for my "parents". They tried everything. They took me to several different medic-nin, all of whom diagnosed me as—physically—perfectly healthy. They tried reading to me, playing music for me, throwing me and catching me. They bought me every toy ever made for a baby. Nothing could get a reaction out of me beyond insensate crying. It's lucky my vocal chords were not developed enough to form words or I might have raised some awkward questions.

I came back to myself shortly after my first birthday.

I awoke one morning to see a young woman leaning over me, a sad look on her face. I tried to open my mouth to ask her where I was and what was happening but my mouth refused to form the syllables and only a burble came out. She started at that and a hopeful look came over her face. She said something in a language that was probably Japanese. I opened my mouth to tell her I didn't understand her when it hit me: all of the past year, the birth, the cradle I was in, my death, my pudgy legs and stubby arms.

My mind nearly broke again, to run gibbering and screaming back into some dark corner of my head, but something stopped me.

I paused on the threshold between sanity and madness, held back by the look of hope that had come over the woman's face. Images sprang unbidden to my mind. The blurry but undeniably happy face of my mother—for that was who she must be—beaming at my father and me as we returned from the hospital. The contentment on her face as she rocked me in her arms and sang me to sleep—or tried to, at least. Her endless patience slowly giving way to tightly controlled despair. The tears she shed over me when she thought I was asleep.

She didn't deserve this. Didn't deserve to have her child, supposed to be a source of pride and happiness, turn to despair and shame. Didn't deserve to hear about little Bobby's first steps and little Alice's (or little Haruto's and Yui's, as the case may be) first word while I lay here inert and inarticulate . Didn't deserve to be responsible for spoon-feeding an inert lump of flesh that she loved desperately despite herself.

I looked her deliberately in the eyes, put my lips together and happily burbled "Mama".

Never have two syllables caused so much joy. After a short celebration, she returned me to my crib and went to find her husband.

It was lucky that 'mama' as a word babies use for their mothers is almost universal among cultures (a result of 'a' being the easiest vowel sound to make and 'm' being the easiest consonant to make while breastfeeding). She probably would have been happy with any sign of sentience at this point, but I have always had a flair for the dramatic.

Left alone now, I needed to confront where I was. Hard as it was for me to believe, I recognized the hitai-ate on my parents' heads. My blurry memories of being carried outside had the Hokage monument in the background. I was in Konoha. This was the Narutoverse.

That was actually easier to accept that I thought it would be. The existence of reincarnation had already destroyed my worldview enough that it didn't seem like that much more of a stretch that I end up inside a piece of media. If you're going to live again after death, why not do it in the world of a manga?

The Hokage monument had had four faces on it, placing me somewhere between a couple years pre-Kyuubi attack and the time-skip. That meant things were going to get very hectic pretty soon. I had some important decisions to make, but I needed more information to make them.

I heard two voices approaching speaking excitedly, so I set aside my ruminations, put on my happy face and dusted off my acting skills.

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Being a baby is incredibly boring. I'm not sure how babies stand it. I've heard people wax poetical about how nice babies have it, with no responsibilities, nothing they have to do, and the ability to laze around all day. I may have had some very lazy friends. Regardless, they are wrong. Babies have nothing they can do and they have to laze around all day.

I was actually really thankful that the local language wasn't English. Without the intellectual stimulation of learning a new language, I'm not sure I would've made it through my second year without cracking and revealing myself for the adult I was. Starved as I was for things to do, I almost did anyway. Instead, I "learned to speak" far more quickly than any child would or could have. By my second birthday I was talking in full sentences and performed basic abstract reasoning.

I considered holding back but decided against it for several reasons. Firstly, I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up the act. If a ninja told their two-year-old daughter not to touch hot things because they'll burn her and she unthinkingly responded "thanks for the tip, Captain Obvious", they'd be a somewhat surprised. If she were already talking like a sapient being, they might smile and shake their head at her precociousness. If, on the other hand, the most complicated thought she had previously expressed was "Mama gimme food" they would probably start checking her for mind switch jutsu.

Additionally, I wasn't that worried about seeming impossibly prodigious. Kakashi had attended the academy when he was four and finished in one year at the top of his class. The developmental guidelines my parents had cared so much about when raising my brother didn't seem to apply to ninjas at all. In fact, depending on when exactly this was, I might need to be seen as a "prodigy". If Oto and Suna were going to attack Konoha when I was five, I would much rather be a ninja-in-training than a civilian child who could only run and hide. At the very least if I had ninja skills I could run and hide much more effectively.

Those specific fears were allayed when, shortly after my second birthday, I overheard my parents discussing the cohort of clan heirs that were my age, wondering if I would be able to ingratiate myself to them, perhaps at the academy. They didn't say it in so many words of course, but that was the gist of it. I didn't judge them for it; from what I'd gathered opportunities for advancement in the ninja world that didn't involve exceptional skills or a high probability of grievous bodily harm were few and far between.

Now I had a choice to make as to the path my life would take. There were really three options for me that I could see. The first would be to aim for a civilian life and to elope (in the non-marriage sense) to the countryside before all the insanity hit Konoha. This had some obvious downsides. The Narutoverse was not a particularly happy place for most non-ninjas from what I had gathered: quality of life comparable to that of feudal Japan, with the addition of a truly ludicrous number of bandits and the occasional superhumanly powerful murderous psychopath.

That would have still been a possibility worth considering were it not for the fact that it would have meant abandoning my new parents. They would never leave the village in its hour of need, and I had grown to love them deeply. If children were conscious of all their parents did for them in the first few years of their life there would be way less strife between them and their parents. It is impossible for anyone with the slightest shred of empathy to see the devotion of their parents and recognize the sacrifices their parents make for them and not care for their parents in turn. Impossible to feel that unconditional love and not return it.

Which meant that I essentially had no choice but to become a ninja. As a ninja though I had two options: I could join the rank and file, keep my head down, change as little as possible and hope for the best. Or I could throw myself into the middle of things, try to get onto one of the Rookie Nine teams and use my foreknowledge to ensure things came out for the best.

Sounds like it should be an easy decision, but it really wasn't.

I know everything (for the most part) worked out in the canon storyline. Sure, a lot of people died and it would be nice if that could be avoided, but all the existential threats were dealt with. For obvious reasons, I didn't want to mess that up. That being said, I probably already had. However small a difference my presence had made, the things I was talking about were years down the road; by then the ripples would have spread far indeed.

People underestimate the power of the "butterfly effect". There are lots of science fiction stories where someone gets sent back in time and steps on a prehistoric insect. Then when they return to the modern day their job is different or their wife is dead or there's been some other change which might be huge for them but is laughably insignificant on the scale of the world.

If you went back to the Mesozoic era for a split second and did nothing but displace air with your presence, the face of the world would be completely different. Every person ever born would be different from who they were originally, if humanity as a species even evolved the second time around. Even leaving aside the fickle nature of decision-making minds, meteorology and genetics are both so chaotic, able to be influenced by the movement of a few molecules, that small changes make huge ones years later. When it came to fights between ninja, where a split second makes the difference between dodging and taking a kunai in the eye, I would not expect things to go at all the same.

But I digress. The point is that I could not count on things going the same way just because I didn't get actively involved in them. Which left the question of whether or not my active involvement would positively or negatively influence their outcome. I wanted to say positively, but that would require me to not be a liability. I would need to become strong. Really strong. Impossibly strong. The kind of strength that manifested itself maybe ten times in a generation. And I would have to do it without out the advantage of clan techniques, bloodlines, tailed beasts or dōjutsu.

I didn't know if I could do it. For perhaps the first time in my life, I was standing on the precipice of a task that I wasn't sure I could complete. I have always had a fairly elevated view of my own abilities, the inevitable consequence of never having failed at something I tried, but this…this would require hard work and determination the likes of which I could barely imagine. It is one thing to have the will to sacrifice yourself, to make the grand gestures, to push yourself to the limit in the moment. I think I could do that if I had to. It's quite another to work yourself to the bone training every hour of every day, burdened by secrets you can't share with anyone with only the nebulous threat of future danger for motivation.

Besides, all that would do would get me to the place where I could be useful in a fight, where I would then need to make the grand gestures. The fights themselves would take more from me than I'd ever had to give before.

I didn't know if I had it in me.

There were other ways I could be useful aside from fighting, of course. I'm not very confident in my foreknowledge (see above) but it would provide approximate outlines of the future that might help. My knowledge on the other hand would be incredibly useful. I know that Orochimaru was starting his own ninja village. I know that Obito is still alive. I know about Akatsuki. I know what Black Zetsu really is.

Problem is, in the ninja world power was authority. Kage was used to mean both political head of a village and the highest power class. To be in a position to capitalize on much of my knowledge I would first need to establish myself as a competent ninja and a master of tactics (or possibly espionage).

Also, the events of the manga looked at through the lens of the real world were just so…implausible. The important characters face a series of opponents that they manage to beat by the skin of their teeth. After each one they heal up, train for a bit, become much stronger when a new threat appears that they once again just barely manage to beat. On top of that, despite several times fighting people who were way out of their weight class, almost every main character made it through every fight without even serious injury. Ridiculous.

I'm not trying to disparage the Naruto manga, that's just how action media work. Without an omnipotent writer looking over the main characters' shoulders ensuring that everything would work out in the end most action heroes' stories would end pretty quickly. I had to assume that wouldn't be the case this time. If there is someone writing what happens here then it doesn't really matter what I pick, I'm sure whatever is most dramatically satisfying will happen anyway.

On top of that…I have always wanted to be special. I know that I am by no means unique in this (and yes, I realize the irony of that), but that doesn't change it. I always felt like I could be great (in the classical sense) if only I had the opportunity. And here it was: you can't get a much grander ambition than saving the world, or at least helping to do so.

That was years down the road, though, with dozens if not hundreds of fights and challenges between then and now. There was lots to do to prepare. I would start small. Baby steps, if you would. The first step to becoming a great kunoichi would begin with sticking a leaf to my forehead.

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I really hoped the zeroth step to becoming a great kunoichi was having a leaf fall off your forehead, because I was getting quite adept at that.

It had been almost two years since my grand resolution and I had instituted a training regimen of sorts. The presence of my parents hindered it somewhat, as did my annoying need to sleep thirteen hours a day. Still, I spent as much time as I could "training".

I say training with quotation marks because there really wasn't that much I could do at that age. I was wary of strength training, as I knew that (back on old chakra-less Earth) doing so at a young age stunted your growth and could have other deleterious effects. I figured chakra mitigated that to some extent, given how intensely the child prodigies of Naruto were depicted as training, but I didn't want to risk it too early. I would've liked to have kunai or shuriken to practice throwing, but I didn't think my parents would be too enthusiastic about that idea and I didn't know where else I could get some. I considered trying to recover some from the training grounds, but feared the repercussions if I were caught with them.

Let it never be said that ninja coddled their children. I spent hours every day outside "playing" alone, even at that age. Independence and initiative were highly valued and were extolled to young ninja at every opportunity. Still, my parents would probably draw the line at giving me the tools that could get someone—or myself—killed or seriously injured.

So I did what I could without tools. I threw rocks at bottles, slowly increasing the distance as my aim improved. I walked along the top of the thin, foot-high wall that surrounded our garden, first with hands out for balance, then with hands in pockets, then while balancing a cup of water on my head. I taught myself to juggle and to cartwheel. I dropped things with one hand and caught them with the other. I spent hours stretching, contorting myself into shapes I would not have thought possible as a slightly-out-of-shape 24-year-old.

Balance, reflexes, hand-eye-coordination, flexibility. Everything I thought I would need as a ninja I practiced to excess. I sometimes felt like I was trying out for the circus. I improved quickly, though I had no idea how I compared against the naturally gifted.

My parents were somewhat bemused by my activities. I intentionally cultivated the personality of a perfectionist. It wasn't that I thought it was really important to be able to balance on one foot while catching leaves flawlessly, it was important that I be able to balance on one foot while catching leaves flawlessly. I could always have come clean about the fact that I was practicing to be a ninja. I'm sure my parents would have been delighted. Easy though that would've made things, I couldn't. I was desperate to avoid early entrance into the academy.

My childhood was a period of rare peace for Konoha. Tensions with Cloud were still high after the Hyūga affair, but overt hostilities had stopped. Children were now being allowed to have childhoods, instead of being sent off to war as soon as they possibly could be. It was rare for even prodigies to be allowed to finish the academy in a year or two, like Kakashi and Itachi had, but early admittance and grade-skipping still happened pretty frequently. I couldn't let that happen to me. By far the most effective place for me to be would be as one of the Konoha Nine, Team Seven in particular. That meant even a single grade-skip could be disastrous.

Not that that seemed likely anyway unless I could figure out how to get my chakra to work. Over the past two years I had spent hundreds of hours meditating, trying to feel and manipulate my chakra. Over time I got the sense of…something inside of me. The exact feeling that chakra has is very hard to describe.

It's kind of like the feeling of a warm drink on a very cold day, the way it heats you up, revitalizes you and spreads throughout your body. But that's not quite right…

It's kind of like the feeling you get when you touch a Van de Graaff generator, your whole body tingles and all your hair stands on end. But that's not quite right either…

It's kind of like the feeling of sunlight on your face, of wind in your hair and of earth between your toes. But none of those really do it justice…

There's nothing quite like it. It's chakra. It is. And it. Feels. Fantastic.

I don't know how any ninja were ever unhappy with chakra inside them. I could only imagine they got desensitized to it eventually. That would explain why ninja children were always so happy and full of life and why chakra exhaustion was so dreaded.

For me chakra was also a source of endless frustration. Despite feeling it inside of me, I still couldn't use it for anything external. Sure, I felt it whenever I did anything physical, pumping through my muscles, giving me that extra little push. I also felt it dwindling whenever I pushed myself for an extended period. After the time I tried to run around my whole neighborhood and almost fainted from exhaustion I couldn't feel my chakra for hours.

I could move it around inside me and, after endless hours of practice, could deliberately use it to reinforce certain muscles (to a greater degree than I was doing instinctively). It took me several minutes of stillness and meditation and with it I was only able to lift a rock that weighed all of ten pounds, but I barely weighed thirty myself and considered it a huge accomplishment. It left me smiling the rest of the day. When my parents asked me why I was smiling, I told them I was smiling all day as part of an experiment to see if I smiled because I was happy or if smiling made me happy. Kind of an unnecessarily complicated lie, but dissembling had become second nature to me by that point, and I had actually spent a day like that in my past life.

Somehow lifting that rock was what made everything seem real. Until that day I'd felt almost like I would wake-up at any second back at my apartment to find out I had slept in and was late for work. After that small but nonetheless impossible-without-chakra feat I really, finally, fully realized that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. As this non-Kansas was not a very friendly place, that only made me redouble my efforts.

Which made it all the more annoying that this damn leaf refused to stick to my forehead.

I was sitting in the backyard of my parent's two-person apartment. It was relatively small—my mother had only just made chunin and my father was still in the Genin Corps—but it was large enough for my purposes. The sun and the wind and the earth calmed me and made me feel closer to nature which seemed to help me reach my chakra. I was sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed. I doubted the crossed legs and bent wrists had any intrinsic chakra-channeling properties, but if felt like it should help so it did.

I took a deep breath and prepared to try again. Attempt number one-thousand seven hundred and something. Just because every other time had failed didn't mean this one would. Right? Right?

I shut down that thought before it got out of hand. From what little I'd been able to find about chakra manipulation in the civilian library expectation, will and intent were crucial to the effective molding of chakra. If you thought you were going to fail, you probably would.

I sat for a couple minutes, feeling the ebb and flow of the chakra inside me, slowly gathering it in my forehead. I lifted a leaf to my forehead with the solemnity of a funeral procession and the reverence of a catholic holding the pope's pointy hat. I held it there, willing my chakra to reach out and grab it, expecting it to stay there despite gravity's best efforts.

I took my hand away slowly, tentatively, trying not to disturb the delicate web my chakra was (in theory) weaving. I lifted my hand away and the leaf stayed where it was. For about a second, until the wind stopped blowing towards me.

I scowled and bit back a curse. This wasn't working. I wasn't making any progress by myself and the day of my entrance into the academy was rapidly approaching. I'd hoped to already have the basics of the academy jutsu by then. I wasn't particularly worried about the entrance exam. I was sure I could score well enough on the intellect-based parts to make up for any physical shortcomings. Still, it was one of the large milestones of a young ninja's life, and I'd hoped to be much further along by then.

Perhaps I was old enough now that I could ask my parents about chakra without raising too many flags. Sasuke was able to learn the Great Fireball technique when he was seven and he still went through the academy the slow way.

I found my parents sitting together in the kitchen/dining room/living room (when your house only has four rooms, you get creative with their layout). Mom was sewing up a rip in her flak jacket and Dad was putting the finishing touches on a mission report. They were in their early twenties, a little on the old side for shinobi parents with a small child. Life expectancy as it was for shinobi, most of them did not wait for children.

They smiled as I entered, looking up from their respective pieces of work.

"That was fast," said Dad "I don't think I've ever seen you spend less than an hour meditating once you've gotten going."

"Not by choice, at least," added Mom. They shared a smile, probably thinking of the tantrum I'd thrown the time they'd interrupted me when I was on the cusp of figuring out chakra muscle enhancement.

"I didn't know meditation was something you could 'get going' at" I said, adding my smile to theirs. "Mom, Dad, how do you use chakra?"

My parents looked at each other, as if trying to decide who would tackle this one. Dad nodded and Mom asked "Who told you about chakra?"

"Well, Fuki's brother just became a genin and she said he just learned how to walk up trees using something called chakra which sounded like fun and I wanted to try it but she said that he said that first you had to learn how to get a leaf to stick to you so I tried that but it kept falling off and I want to walk up a tree so how do you use chakra?" I spoke with as much excitement as I could muster and told my convoluted story in one breath. I didn't want to have to worry too much that what I said was too complicated for children of my age, so I had tried to adopt the mannerisms of a child. Even if the message weren't childish, at least the medium could be. Excitability and a tendency to ramble were things I had enough of as an adult that I could pretty easily exaggerate them here.

The story was a complete fabrication, of course. Fuki was another neighborhood kid around my age and she did have a brother who had recently graduated, so it would probably check out, but I hadn't spoken to her in months. I didn't speak much to the other children. I didn't really know how to interact with them. I hadn't been a particularly sociable four-year-old the first time through and the intervening twenty-four years hadn't really taught me any better. I'm not sure it would've worked out anyway. The kids found me strange and I found them boring. My tendency for loquaciousness and disinterest in their schoolyard squabbles marked me as an outsider. Kids like to ostracize anyone who is different, so I saved them the trouble by not giving them the chance. If I'd had the opportunity to make inroads with any of the people who would end up being important (Sasuke, Hinata, Shikamaru, etc…) I would have made the effort, but from what I could tell the kids in my neighborhood weren't worth the time or energy.

I'd considered telling my parents I'd read about chakra in a book, but they were somewhat misinformed about my reading proficiency and I didn't want to get sidetracked on a discussion about that. Besides, the civilian library—the only one I'd have access to until I'd enrolled at the academy—had very little information on anything ninja-related. There were plenty of fanciful tales but almost no hard info. The most useful thing I'd been able to find (aside from the hint I'd already mentioned, which may or may not be true) was a chart of hand seals which I'd laboriously traced and practiced off of whenever my parents weren't looking. The hand seals wouldn't do anything without chakra behind them though, which brought us back to the matter at hand.

"To use chakra you first need to be able to manipulate the chakra inside you," Mom said. "Once you can do that, you move it out through your tenketsu, that means chakra points, and, depending on what you're trying to do, either use hand seals to shape it or force it to do what you want with your will."

"OK!" I said brightly. "You're a sensor, right? Can you watch me and see if I'm doing it right?"

"Sure, honey." She smiled tolerantly at me, probably not expecting anything to happen. She placed one hand on my shoulder.

I didn't really want to show how good I was at manipulating my chakra, but I'd hit a dead end and I really needed to figure out why I couldn't do anything external. I closed my eyes and began to gather my chakra but was interrupted by Mom's voice.

"Huh, that's weird. I can feel your chakra inside you but your tenketsu feel strange. We need to see someone about this."

A short visit to the medic-nin later saw us referred to the Hyūga compound. One of the Hyūga came out, prodded me a couple times, declared me cured and sent us on our merry way. Dad was waiting for us when we got back home.

"Get everything sorted out?" he asked.

"Yeah. The medic-nin said her tenketsu were partially blocked, which would've prevented her from using her chakra externally."

"He say what could've caused that?"

"Said it was sometimes caused by intense mental trauma." Mom frowned. "I wonder what could've possibly…"

I didn't like where this was going. "Maybe…I was just born that way?" I said. I perked up as if I'd just had an idea. "Maybe that's why I was such an unhappy baby?"

"Could be…"

She didn't seem convinced, but I didn't want her or Dad to dwell on this too much further. A subject change was in order.

"Mom, what were those symbols the medic drew before he looked at me?"

Mom opened her mouth, maybe to answer, maybe to talk more about my condition, but Dad turned to her and spoke first.

"You took her somewhere she'd never been before? Showed her something she'd never seen before? Are you mad, woman?" The horror in his voice unsettled me until I noticed the playful look on his face. "Now we won't get any peace for a week!"

He winked at me and almost missed the pen I threw at his face. He caught it at the last second and held it reverently in front of him. "The wise Hibari-sama has blessed me with a gift! I shall examine it carefully, for it surely contains all the secrets of the world!"

Hibari-chan was one his pet names for me. The hibari was a type of bird whose whoop-chirp call sounded a lot like 'nan de', the Japanese word for 'how' or 'why'. I had a…slight…propensity for asking questions about every single thing I saw every chance I got, a trait my parents happily indulged and Dad found hilarious.

One day after I'd spent an hour grilling him about the structure of the village's council system he told Mom that 'nan de' was clearly the only word I knew and asked her if she'd cuckolded him with a hibari. I don't think I was supposed to understand that part so I put on a confused look and asked him what a hibari was. After he'd finished laughing he ruffled my hair and said "You are, my hibari-chan". Since then it was what he called me whenever my inquisitive side came out.

I looked at him with wide, hopeful eyes. "Really? Does that mean you can now answer all the questions in the the world? There are so many I want to ask. How did…" It wasn't the diversion I'd been aiming for, but Mom joined in our banter and the mystery of my mental trauma was soon forgotten.

.


.

After that my leaf sticking was far more successful, which is to say I had slight successes with it. I still struggled greatly, but after months with every spare moment spent with a leaf stuck to my forehead I was able to keep it there consistently.

I could only maintain it for an hour or so before I ran out of chakra, so I practiced reducing the amount of chakra to a trickle, until the leaf was about to fall off. I would then hold it at that bare minimum level for as long as possible.

I also started experimenting with other materials and other places on my body. Alternating sticking and repulsing my clothes was a convenient exercise, as it was something I could do pretty much anywhere anytime without drawing too much attention to myself. I got into the habit of sticking bits of paper to myself and maintaining it as I went about my day. At first I could only handle one stuck to my hand. It still fell off whenever I got distracted, but over time I got better and better at it. Soon enough I could hold it in place while I ran, jumped and did cartwheels. So I added another piece and was right back to square one.

By the time my enrollment at the academy came around I was keeping three bits of paper on me almost all the time. I really wanted to practice tree walking, but I didn't have the chakra reserves; the few times I'd tried I'd exhausted myself within minutes.

Describing that portion of my life in a couple hundred words like this really doesn't do it justice. Even now, looking back on the entirety of my life, that still might have been the hardest time I've ever had. The effort involved in manipulating chakra before you're proficient at it is almost impossible to describe to someone who's never experienced it. It is mind-numbing, figurative-back-breaking work.

Imagine doing the hardest math problem you've ever encountered while simultaneously carrying on a conversation. Now imagine the conversation is in a language you barely speak and your conversational partner has a heavy accent. Now imagine all the numbers in your math problem are in roman numerals. And you're working on a strict time-limit and if you make a single math error or misspeak at all you'll fail. And that once you've failed it will be even harder to succeed a second time. And someone is playing loud, off-key, off-tempo accordion music in your ear. And you're upside down.

Now you might have some small idea of the mental effort involved. Maybe it's easier for everyone else, as chakra is there while their mind develops. Maybe it was only so hard for me because I needed to create new paths of thought in a mind that had long since become set in its ways. I certainly hope that's the case. I wouldn't wish even a much milder, more drawn out version of what I went through on anyone.

I frequently drove myself to chakra exhaustion. I was always careful to stop when I felt the well within me dry up; I remembered mentions in the manga of people dying from chakra exhaustion, and I certainly didn't want to die before I got a chance to actually apply my hard-earned skills to anything. Nonetheless, it is one of the most uncomfortable feelings I have ever felt.

What I said before about becoming accustomed to the good feelings chakra gives you was very true. I'd stopped realizing it, but it was always there. It gave me energy, eased my pains and was a balm for my bad moods. Its absence was supremely uncomfortable. In my past life I had, shall we say, dabbled in the pharmaceutical arts, and experienced my fair share of hard crashes and harsh withdrawals. None of that compared, especially not when you took into account the regular exhaustion and chronic vomiting chakra exhaustion brought along for the ride.

I almost quit. In fact, I almost quit almost every day. The only things that kept me going were my parents. Every time I faltered, every time my will flagged, I saw them crushed under Shukaku's sand. Obliterated by Pain's Shinra Tensei. Turned into White Zetsus by the Infinite Tsukiyomi. The whole "precious people make you strong" thing had always seemed a little hokey to me, but now I saw the truth of it. For their sake I would become as strong as I needed to be. I may not have had much chakra, but I'd be damned if I weren't going to use it as efficiently as I possibly could.

Tomorrow I would be going to the academy, finally making my entrance into the ninja world. I could hardly wait.

Oh. I should probably also mention who I actually am. I thought at first that I had just been born to random parents who had not had children in the canon storyline, but it turns out that's not actually true. I didn't want to believe it when I first figured it out but between my age, my name—Ami—and my hair color—purple—it was pretty undeniable. I was one of the bullies from the main character's academy days. I was a bit character who had only appeared in a flashback. A flashback!

Well, this time through we'd see just how important a bit character could be.

.


.

Wow, that ending was actually a lot more ominous than I had intended. I swear Ami isn't evil or crazy, she's just excited. Tone might be a little inconsistent as I haven't fully figured out Ami's character and voice yet.

Let me know if you see any typos or grammatical errors and I'll correct them. Normally I'd take the snooty route and say any non-typo-induced grammatical "errors" were probably stylistic choices, but I changed which tense I wrote this chapter in half-way through and I'm not positive I fixed everything I needed to.

The theme of this chapter was time passing and you being told about it. The theme of next chapter is things actually happening, though this chapter's theme will still be an important motif. If I'm feeling frisky when I write it two or more characters might even interact with each other!

Hibari is the Japanese word for skylark. I have no idea what the song of the skylark actually sounds like, but I sincerely doubt it says nan de, so we'll just say the Narutoverse has a type of bird in it that has the same name as the skylark despite being completely different.

Yes, I know that the pope's pointy hat is called a mitre, but that just doesn't have the same ring to it. Pope's pointy hat. Tragically, "Pope's NOGOOGLENO mitre" (without the NOGOOGLENO in the middle) has over three times as many Google hits as "Pope's pointy hat". The true purpose of writing this fic was to do my small part to right this grievous wrong.

The medic-nin Ami saw as a child not noticing the problem with her tenketsu is not a plot hole, by which I mean I have thought up a plausible-sounding explanation for it: the blockage was only visible once her chakra system was more developed, as a newborn's chakra system is too faint to detect.

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