Would you ever write a fic set in the “(They Call It) Soulless” ‘verse? (Caretaker!Shikako in a universe where most people start getting soulmarks as babies, blanks are either killed as babies or monstrously consume spiritual energy/souls from everyone around (including themselves), and she discovers her younger brother Shikamaru is a blank the night their parents die. She feeds him (eventually, recycles) her own spiritual energy and hides the truth of his condition from everyone, including him.

Whoa! O_O Okay! I… did not know this ‘verse existed… let me go check that out real quick. I mean, I know about Caretaker!Shikako, but not about this particular iteration of it so… wow.

To the index page I go~~

Okay dona, I had to do some sleuthing because soulmate/soul mark stuff is no longer on the main index page since it’s become it’s own forum thread, but I thiiiink I’ve found what you’re talking about over on this index post.

Are there only the three installments? If not, uh… then this answer is only based on these three installments:

OH MY GOD. OOOOOOOOHHHHH MYYYYYYY GOOOOOOODDD!!!

DONA! WHAT?!?!!? DONA WHAT?!?!?! DONA WHAT DID YOU MAKE ME READ? WHAT ARE THESE FEELINGS YOU MADE ME FEEL? WHY AM I CRYING?!?! GODDAMNIT, DONA!

The feels! You always know how to get me with them feels, dona.

I’m gonna say yes, because it is an amazing ‘verse, and because I’ve said yes, here is your ficlet:

~

The first time Kako agrees to take a mission that will bring her more than a day away from Konoha (away from Kamaru) she is fourteen years old.

She is fourteen when she meets–and fights and kills–her first (real) Soulless.

The gnawing, gaping hunger claws at her even as she fights, even as she burns away at its empty vessel. It is excruciating, her teammates have fallen, screaming, the agony of their souls being torn out of them, breath into the void. She thinks, for the briefest of moments, that she might finally understand why there is a set procedure for babies without soul marks .

But she immediately bats the betrayal away, shreds it before it can take hold. It is because of Kamaru that she can pull through. The thought of Kamaru, figuratively and literally:

She cannot die out here, not when Kamaru still needs her, not when she hasn’t figured out a cure not yet.

But also the way Kamaru needs her, the manipulation of her own spiritual energy to sustain him, recycling it out and through and back in, that she can withstand what the rest of her squad cannot.

Genma-taicho bursts through the treetops, hoping for the best but expecting the worst and gets something in between.

She is fourteen years old when she earns her first service ribbon for surviving (killing) a Soulless.

It is not her last.

Genma keeps a better eye out for Kako Kinokawa after that. Guilt at first, then curiosity, then honest fondness.

Chouza-sensei was friends with her father, which in the convoluted bonds of Konoha teams, makes her something like a cousin.

A better cousin, hopefully, though considering his competition in the Nara clan… it’s not exactly difficult.

The second time goes, arguably, both worse and better.

Worse because she makes the mistake of letting it touch her. She screams.

She cares less about the nails tearing across her face and more about the way her life essence is being peeled away in vicious layers.

She kills it. (She has to)

Nobody (else) dies.

Gai’s specialty is taijutsu.

He is ineffective against Soulless.

But he was as much a student of Chouza-sensei as Genma, and just because he cannot help Kako in this matter does not mean he cannot help her at all.

The third she doesn’t remember so well.

“Severe head trauma,” the medic tells her when she wakes up in Konoha General, that stupidly familiar box with a stupidly familiar service ribbon on the night stand beside her and Kamaru curled up on the visitor’s chair, his hand gripped tight around hers.

“It must have been worse than previously reported,” the medic continues, “It took you much longer to wake up than expected. Your brother visited every day.”

Kako can only remember bits and pieces of the mission, much less the fight with the Soulless.

Spiritual energy contains memories.

The third she remembers mostly as a catalyst: she has to improve her control, it must be perfect–no, beyond perfect–she has to be able to do it unconsciously.

Jiraiya returns to the village a few months ahead of schedule.

It’s hard to follow up on rumors of Konoha’s enemies when all everyone wants to talk about is the shinobi from Konoha who specializes in killing Soulless, so he may as well meet her for himself.

Better now than later.

For one horrific, heart wrenching second, she thinks the Soulless screeching across her senses from the Forest of Death is Kamaru.

It can’t be, she tries to reason with herself, he can last so much longer now, it’s only been a few days.

A few days of exertion. Of high stress situations and jutsu use. He’d eat through the energy she gave him at a much faster rate.

No! It’s not Kamaru. It’s not. She won’t let it be

She enters the Forest of Death, Anko and ANBU on her trail, but until she locks eyes on the Soulless, she’s sickened, doesn’t know if she’ll be able to go through with it.

It’s not Kamaru. She knew it.

But Kamaru is there, too close for her comfort, frozen the way the other kiddies of Konoha are (she forgets, sometimes, that not everyone has built up the same resistance she has.)

It’s wearing the Oto headband, the soulless husks of its former teammates already collapsed around it.

She doesn’t hesitate.

Long ago, Orochimaru was just a little boy, smart and, more importantly, curious about how the world worked.

But then his parents died and instead he turned inward. Surely, there must be a better way to solve the problem of Soulless?

(Does this sound at all familiar?)

She feels bad about dragging TenTen into the fifth.

She hopes TenTen’s first service ribbon is her only service ribbon.

No one else should have to go through what Kako has.

After Tsunade is sworn in, she gets a breakdown of her forces. For genin and chuunin it’s enough to know them as rough figures per department–she’ll familiarize herself with them as needed, she doesn’t have the time to go further than that–but for those ranked higher than that, she needs to know the individuals and their specialties to effectively utilize them. Thankfully, most shinobi only get up to chuunin, and so the list of tokujou and jounin is not too long.

For the most part, the specialties are to be expected: a few medics, a few genjutsu users, some intel, some sensors.

“What is this?” Tsunade asks, finger tapping next to Kinokawa, Kako. She doesn’t recognize the symbol beside it–it might be a new one, it has been a few decades since she’s had to actually do paperwork.

Her Jounin Commander, a Nara of course, scans where she points. A furrow between his eyebrows appears then disappears, quick as a flash.

“Slayer,” Nara says, because why use a full sentence when a single word is much less troublesome? “Five Soulless,” he elaborates.

Tsunade blinks in surprise. With that context in mind, she takes a closer look. She remembers the tales her grandmother used to tell her as a child.

Not a new symbol, no.

An old one.

Konoha deals with the problem of infants-born-Soulless in the traditional, practical manner as it always has.

But there were Soulless before that.

If Kako is successful, there won’t be any after.

~

A/N: I kinda jumped about in places, so it’s not as coherent or cohesive a ficlet as I would like. I had a lot of different ideas tugging at me for this ‘verse and I also wasn’t sure which iteration of Caretaker!Shikako this was (like her teammates, for example, if this Kako would push so hard and graduation early with Itachi or would she hold back since she has to be able to take care of Kamaru?)

Anyway, I hope you liked it 🙂

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