Actions

Work Header

Overhaul

Chapter Text

Shizuka wakes up in the hospital. Abruptly. Sitting up with a gasp.

The car had impacted the taxi on her side. Her little brother was sitting next to her, but if she is ok, he must be ok too― has to be ok too…

Except, she doesn’t have a little brother.

And she has never travelled by automobile, never mind a taxi. She wasn’t coming home for the holidays. Her brother didn’t pick her up at the station. She entered her house and the bodies of her parents were there― there had been a lot of blood on the streets, she had run. Her brother had― Itachi had― he was a traitor. No. He wasn’t. Because he had been ordered to do it. And she wouldn’t have found out until after his death, so so many painful years into the future…

This is so absurd that she’s skipping disbelief completely, to just go directly into the anger. She will also skip all the way down to acceptance at some point, but right now she is just going to carry on while being very, very angry.

Angry because people were very stupid and it messed up her life. Angry because it could have messed her up very hard, if not for the bizarre reaction to the Tsukuyomi that made her remember a past life in another reality.

Shizuka lays down again on her bed, and takes a moment to breath and lower her heart rate. And she is Shizuka, indeed. The accident is clear and vivid in her mind, visceral and terrible like a nightmare, but just a nightmare. She feels like herself. Shizuka knows how Eli would have reacted and it is not like this.

The Shizuka from before wouldn’t be reacting like this either, she is already being influenced by Eli’s memories and she is not sure how much she likes that, except. Except the Shizuka from before would be reacting just like Sasuke.

So she is thankful for Eli.

Eli had been a civilian foreign languages teacher, in a land where shinobi, as Shizuka is learning to be, are just fiction. Kind and soft at 23 after spending her childhood being mean and edgy, Eli had learned her own lessons and changed, but she had always had a soft spot for some villains and antiheros. She had also spent a decade being a huge Naruto fan. And all of that is going to save Shizuka from  doing all the shit Sasuke did.

Now she needs to plot. She needs to plot really hard and she needs to know how accurate is what she remembers. She needs information. She needs a concerned responsible adult who will answer questions. What is a good way to attract the attention of a concerned adult?

She thinks of her parents, she thinks of her cousins, her uncles and aunts. She thinks of all the members of her clan that were loosely related to her, that she didn’t know and now she can’t never get to know. She thinks of her brother who is a murderer and plans to be a martyr― no, a sacrifice. She also thinks about Eli’s little brother and how she will never know if he was ok, if at least he got to live. She thinks about how Eli’s family lost their daughter. And she thinks about all that is to come. And cries. She is mourning and she will use it. She will use her pain and the memories to suit her purposes and eventually. People. Will. Pay.

*

The nurse that comes is a responsible concerned adult but she won’t say anything, so Shizuka cries a bit more, begs a little and eventually the nurse goes to fetch someone who can give answers.

*

The nurse comes back with the Hokage and then leaves them alone to talk.

Shizuka doesn’t want to talk to the Hokage. She is scared of the Hokage. He won’t let anything scape he doesn’t want her to know and he is likely to notice that there’s something off with her, that she knows too much― but who else was she expecting?  She is just deluding herself if she thinks it would be easy to extract information from some other ninja.

And ROOT is probably watching. If she is scared of the Hokage, she is terrified of ROOT.

So she will bear it. She will try to act as Shizuka from before. A little girl who witnessed something terrible but doesn’t know anything, and she will learn from him as much as she can. She will do with what she has and she will succeed, there is no alternative.

The Hokage tells her that he’s sorry for her loss and Shizuka can believe him. Shizuka can believe he is sorry and regretful, but she can’t believe he has her best interests in mind. He then asks her what happened.

She can do this. She steels herself ―and she hopes that it looks like she is doing it to prepare herself to recall something awful ― and she wraps herself in the clueless Shizuka from before, and she tells her tale.   

And she apparently passes the test.

Then she gets to ask her questions: what will happen with the bodies of her family, they will have a proper burial, right? They will be cremated, right? Will she have to organise it? To wash them and dress them as she’s the only left to do it? She wants to. She does! Really! She wants to do right to her clan, it’s her duty to send them off. At least can Hokage-sama see that they are tended properly? Will he promise to see to it himself? And what will happen to her? Where will she go? And her classes? What happens to her house and the houses of her family? And someone needs to do something about the pet birds trapped in their cages before they die! And to take care of the ponds and see if there aren’t any dogs and cats trapped in the houses. She doesn’t want them to die too. And they are going to catch Itachi, right? He can’t go free, they must catch him.

The Hokage does promise to see that the bodies of her clan will the treated properly, and she hopes that her half-hysterical and tearful questioning makes him feel guilty enough about what  he did to her and her clan, to see himself the bodies and realise that some mysteriously lack eyes. He tells her that some teams will be sent to clean and that they’ll be told to round up animals and close down houses and locals, and that everything will go to her. He promises that they will do everything possible catch Itachi. But about what is to happen with her…

“Even if you don’t really need it, you will get the same monthly allowance other orphans receive, Shizuka-chan.” Oh Gods, he’s not actually going to say what she thinks he’s going to say next, right? She’s a little child. He won’t dare. “You will get assigned an apartment for yourself.” He just said it. “And you don’t have to go back to the Academy until you feel ready.”   

It actually will make easier some things she needs to do, but she could have liked to believe that someone cares about the children.

“Thank you, Hokage-sama,” she says in a soft voice, trying to look like she’s demurely lowering her eyes, and not like she is hiding her face so he doesn’t see the disbelief about the callous disregard to her welfare. “I― I would like to be alone for a bit now. Would that be ok?” He goes away, thanks to all eight million gods. 

*

Once again alone, she resumes her mourning, but now just for herself and her family, and cries herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

The thing is, when Eli was alive, Sasuke was one of her favourite characters. Eli had liked him mostly because he was a mess who made terrible life decisions, but knowing that Shizuka could have made those same terrible decisions is― jarring. Until the moment she had woken up with an extra set of memories, Shizuka’s childhood had been very much like Sasuke’s, their personalities had been pretty much the same, too. Even worse, Shizuka, like Sasuke, is pretty much obsessed with revenge, she is just going about it in a different manner; people will pay, even Itachi (but not in the way he wants), and she will have a good life in the process.

*

The medics keep her an extra day in observation and she uses that time to think, to try to remember all she can about the manga and all those weird plot-twists (for one, Sasuke was supposed to be the reincarnation of some mythological personage, if that is also true in this universe, what does that make of Eli?!) and to plan. She’d like to write it down but there’s no way she’ll do something so dangerous, so she’ll have to hope that the Uchiha genetics hold true and she'll able to keep it all straight in her head.

The next morning, as promised, she gets escorted to a small furnished apartment (in a building near the Uchiha compound. What is this man thinking? There’s no surprise about how Sasuke ended up like that) and she’s introduced to her new landlady, who is a lovely old woman. Then she is left alone.

Probably there are ANBU, ROOT and otherwise, watching her.

She spends the next couple days holed up in her new little apartment that is actually pretty nice, the kind of place Eli would have liked to live in, sunny and cosy. She is still mourning ―because it’s good for her emotional health to allow herself to feel grief; she has, even now, the ability to compartmentalize, but she knows this is something she needs to process now ― but  she still tries to make simple meals she ends up eating mechanically at exact intervals of time, she also does what schoolwork she can do on her own and lays sleepless on her bed at night.

Then the third night she just gets up from the bed, puts on shoes, gets out to the street, and walks in her pyjamas to her house.

Thankfully the cleaning crew had already completed their work so it’s not that hard (it is hard enough already) to walk resolutely through the eerie empty streets, past the place where her parents died, and into her room. The familiar bed and smell of the sheets make it easy to fall asleep after having been awake for so long. 

Next morning, she realises she entered Itachi’s room. 

She returns sheepishly to the pretty apartment and follows her routine, goes to bed, turns and turns, gives up, gets up, goes home and sleeps in Itachi's room again. 

Then she returns to the apartment in the morning. Follows the routine. At night she makes herself a ball under the blankets, doesn't sleep, doesn’t go out and is restless all the following day.

She cleans all the barely lived in apartment until she gets blisters, forgets to eat her scheduled meals, and spends that night, once again sleepless in a ball.

She goes home in the morning to train in the garden and ends up sleeping a nap in the engawa.

She doesn’t go back to the apartment.

And no one comes looking for her.

To think she was worried about sleeping in Itachi’s bed, because, in her opinion, that was a bit too high in the worrying behaviour list. Either she isn’t under surveillance anymore or actually no one is concerned about her mental health, but if no one will stop her, she’ll keep living home and she’ll move to Itachi’s room permanently; it is bigger than hers, anyway.

(She totally finds Itachi’ secret stash of candy and eats it all.)

*

Now that she’s sleeping regularly, she has some nightmares; mixed incoherent scenes of That Night and The Car Crash that wake her up violently and leave her gasping for breath just like that first time at the hospital. She also dreams of Eli’s life. Those are bittersweet and nostalgic, but overall good.

She is eating better, but she still cries sometimes and, at moments, the loneliness of all the empty space around her and Eli’s interrupted life gets to her, and the only thing she can do is to keep busy training, doing schoolwork (because even if she isn’t planning to be absent from the academy for too long, she doesn’t want to fall behind) and doing chores. In this case, the natural Uchiha pig-headedness is an advantage, because she decided to live there and so she will live there.

*

She still keeps the apartment, in part because she doesn’t want to talk with the Hokage again to explain herself, in part because the landlady is a lonely old woman whose only income is the rent from the few tenants of the building and Shizuka feels bad taking it from her when Shizuka doesn’t actually need the rent money and it comes from the village’s coffers, anyways. Her clan’s assets have been sealed until she is 16 or makes chunin, whichever happens first, but she has been given free access to her parents’ personal accounts to supplement her meagre expenses. It helps that all clans that joined the village before the First War are exempt from property taxes for as long as they keep providing shinobi to Konoha, because they had been bribed into loyalty with the promise of free real estate.

Shizuka finds weird not having to worry about money, doubly so because she had never worried about money before, and it bugs her until she chases down the feeling and it leads directly to Eli.

When Eli was young, maybe the same age Shizuka is now, she didn’t understand why ―because her parents did their best to provide and keep it secret from her― but she had to always try to keep her shoes from scuffing when she played because she had to wear them to school too and when they didn’t fit anymore, she cried because was told to wait, just a bit, please, just until the next year starts, to get new ones. Her uniforms had been always hand-me-downs and she was sent to birthday parties without presents. At some point they had to move into her grandmother’s house.

Eventually her parents had gotten better paid jobs, and her favourite dish was revealed to be something her mom only made when they didn’t have enough for anything else. Tortilla cut in pieces soaked in chicken broth from a bouillon cube and, sometimes, lime juice from the tree in the sidewalk, the Dog Soup, Eli’s mother had called it, because in her own childhood her family feed their dogs with old tortilla boiled with chicken feet and heads.

After graduating Eli had to move out to another state to find job, but it wasn’t easy and she had had to resort to the Dog Soup every once in a while, and then she died.

But now Shizuka can give herself the luxury of splurging just a little bit. The apartment had some stuff in the fridge that she is taking home (no sense in letting it spoil) and she has enough to indulge in a bit of real chicken meat and vegetables to make the broth. Tortilla is not something easily acquired, so she’ll just use bread instead this time.

The only problem with her plan is that she doesn’t know any shops near her clan’s district, her family had always done most of the shopping at businesses owned by aunts and uncles. Exploring the village feels― daunting.

Her landlady catches her dithering in front of the building, the farther she dares go.

“Do you need some help, Shizuka-chan?”

 Shizuka nods cautiously in answer. She doesn’t know what to think about her landlady. Is she aware that Shizuka isn’t living at the apartment? Does she care? Will she do something about it? Shizuka doesn’t know how much she likes the idea of everybody just allowing her to live on her own in the house where she saw her parents be murdered, but the alternative is to live somewhere else and, well, no.

“You are going out for groceries, are you not?,” her landlady asks, nodding towards Shizuka’s bag. “I have to do some shopping myself. If you’d like, we could keep company to each other”.

That would be nice, thinks Shizuka before accepting the offer. To have company, that’s it.

Her landlady holds her hand before crossing the street and it is reassuring. They walk hand in hand all the way down to the grocers. Shizuka marvels at being treated her age for the first time since she was released from the hospital, and it lasts until she gets tasked to help carry a bag full of cans along her own shopping.

“Do you need something else, Shizuka-chan?”

“I need to go to the butchers and the bakery, Nadeshiko-san.”

“I’ll show you the way, dear. And you can call me Obaachan if you’d like. My grandchildren are about your age, you know, but I have never been called grandmother before because they live very, very far and they have never been to Konoha to visit. My daughter is apparently always too busy to make the trip, you see.”

“That’s sad, Obaachan,” she answers, because, what else can she say?

They finish their shopping and return, hand in hand once again. At the entrance to the apartment building Shizuka stops, indecisive. Her landlady smiles at her and takes back the bag of cans with surprising ease for a frail looking old lady. She takes out three cans of tuna and hands them to Shizuka.

“Here, as a thanks. Shizuka-chan, I know that you’ll be careful and you have been handling yourself very well, but if you need something you just have to ask, alright? My door is always open for you, dear.”

“Thank you, Obaachan,” says Shizuka, suddenly feeling bashful. Her landlady pats her head and enters the building. Shizuka looks wistfully at the door for a moment before starting her way home.

*

Shizuka crosses the yellow barricade tape and stops. There is a white and grey cat hissing to a seemly empty roofline. It is a very fluffy cat and it seems to be very angry with the empty looking roofline, did the cleaning crew forgot it or did it come back? Shizuka considers bribing it with tuna so she can take it home, but once it notices her standing there, it instantly becomes the friendliest kitty ever and allows itself to be picked up, hanging like dead weight from her arms. It doesn’t let her approach the house with the empty looking roof, but it purrs contently all the way home.

*

Shizuka eats her soup, it is rich and filling, even more delicious because it is being eaten with company. The cat eats his own soup, with carefully deboned chicken and the tiniest piece of bread, cooked separately and with no salt.

The Cat Soup, she is calling it, for when one wants to pamper someone.

*

The cat is lazy, bossy, doesn’t like heights and has a melodic meow, Shizuka calls him Old Man Gyu after a Korean singer Eli had liked. He doesn’t leave, even when Shizuka leaves the window slightly open. At night he sleeps with her, in a ball against her belly, and his warm weight anchors her.

The nightmares stop now that she is not alone in the house.

Chapter Text

The funerals take a lot of time to prepare due to the number of bodies; they all needed to be processed and all of them went through an autopsy, then they were washed and dressed. And every part of this process racked, because there had not been a clan member present to ensure that the bodies were not harvested for their kekkei genkai, because if there had been irregularities found in the autopsies, she was not informed. Even worse, they couldn’t have a wake, as Shizuka was still technically untrained and wouldn’t be enough to guard the bodies from further possible desecration.

Instead, Shizuka, the Hokage and former teammates of different members of her family dress in black and reunite directly at the crematorium.

It’s a sad small group, the death outnumber them so much that it is obscene. They have all the furnaces operating since dawn and still, the next morning arrives, and then the next, and her clan has not finished burning yet.

Shizuka would have liked to build massive pyres that made thick columns of smoke and turned the sky black. Something visible and undeniable that would leave everybody in the village with their throats and eyes itching. She would have liked to make everybody― her brother, Danzo, Tobi, the Hokage and the council, even the teammates that didn’t show for the funeral and those who did, the heads of the other clans, everyone who noticed something was not right, everyone who should have noticed and did not, everyone who had a hand in creating the problem in the first place, she would like to make every single one of them painstakingly gather one by one the 115,154 bones that belong to her clan with chopsticks, to place them in their urns as civilians would do.

What sense does it have to keep to tradition, to maintain secrecy, if all the vultures have already feasted on the choosiest parts? Wouldn’t it be better to let everyone know? To let everyone see? How your loyalty is paid with slow quiet betrayal, with suspicions cast unwarranted upon you until you have no choice that to prove them right. How they still try to keep you, now tame and toothless, until they can squeeze the last drop of useful blood out of you.

Not everyone stays, some come and go, some return and some do not, and Shizuka makes a point of not paying attention to who they are. She makes a point of not paying attention to what the Hokage does. She only drinks and eats when someone puts something in her hands, and it is not safe, but they won’t poison her because they need her alive and for the moment she doesn’t care if they do.  

When everything is done, almost five days after it started, when she returns home from the cemetery, she banks her anger, so when she sleeps that night, curled around the only other presence still alive in that house, she doesn’t dream; the next morning she’ll need to get up early to go to class.

*

Shizuka hesitates at the step to the genkan.

No one is pressuring her to go back to classes yet and she can keep on her individual studying for a bit longer. But…

She knows is a bit silly, but the only “canon character” she has interacted with ever since the hospital has been the Hokage and she’s worried about fucking everything up. She is different than before, she plans to change things, but that is easier to do when you only talk with your cat and your landlady― and that’s not healthy. The more she delays going back to the Academy the harder it will be. She knows, Eli did it all the time. Hiding from people, stop going to places, it is easy, but those things have consequences.

From his place on the comfy cushion Shizuka reserved for him, Old Man Gyu opens an eye and meows encouragingly. Shizuka steels herself and steps on her shoes.

“I’m going! I’ll be back soon!,” she calls on the way out. Gyu meows and it sounds to her a lot like a “good luck”.

*

She arrived early on purpose, with the hopes of speaking with Iruka-sensei first, because that is the appropriate thing to do after you have been absent for a long time. She is in luck and finds him outside the classroom.

Iruka-sensei offers her his condolences and reassures her about her absence not being a problem. He tells her that she can go home if she needs it and offers to help her if she doesn’t understand something or for anything, really, he’ll be always available.

Shizuka remembers then that Iruka-sensei was just a bit older than her when he lost his parents.   

*

Inside the classroom there are only some other early risers.

Shizuka used to have twenty-two cousins attending the Academy and four of them had been at her class. They had not been― close, or at least she had not been particularly close with any them, but all five had mostly hanged up together while at the Academy, which only feed into the clan’s reputation of being aloof and stuck up, and alienated them from the rest.

In the beginning it had happened out of awkwardness; Shizuka had not been well socialised with other children, her cousins had only interacted before with other cousins. And then they had started to eat up their own reputation.  She can see now that the Shizuka from before did have a sense of superiority, over her classmates and over her cousins, and her cousins over their classmates. Now that she knows what she knows, it makes her feel nauseous.

Shizuka ponders if it could be better to sit in her old place at the front or somewhere else. Of the “canon characters” she can only see Hinata, sitting at the back.  It is tempting to try to approach her. Shizuka doesn’t want to sit alone where she used to sit with her cousins and Eli had liked Hinata since her first appearance in the manga, but Shizuka has never interacted with Hinata before. There are also clan rivalries to consider.

The third option is to sit alone somewhere else, but the third option is Sasuke’s.

Shizuka does as Eli would have done. She sits next to Hinata and smiles. Hinata smiles back, just a bit unsure. They wait in silence to the class to begin.

*

The classroom fills gradually as the class is about to commence, and Shizuka searches for the familiar faces of the other “canon characters”.

Sakura and Ino are sitting together a couple rows down, so they are still friends. Also in the last row, but at the other side of the room from Shizuka and Hinata, are Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba in a small knot of boys. Shino is sitting at the front, one bench up Shizuka’s old seat. The only glaring absence is Naruto.

She is somewhat relieved. She still hasn’t decided how to deal with, well, everything that dealing with Naruto involves. His role in everything is too big. Sasuke’s destiny was too intertwined with his. The world’s destiny is too intertwined with his. She doesn’t know how much she likes her future to depend so much on him, but Naruto is destined to be great. He has the will be a hero, brave and loyal and inspiring. Naruto had loved Sasuke and had gone to great lengths to save him, just like Shizuka’s brother. Eli had loved Naruto a lot.

Shizuka wants to be in Team 7 with him and Sakura, who will also grow to be so strong and confident. She wants for the three of them to be as they should have been if Sasuke hadn’t fucked it up so much. She needs to don’t fuck it up.    

So yeah, not having Naruto in the room is a bit of a relief.

*

The lesson is a continuation of something she had studied on her own, so she isn’t lost. It is math and she has the suspicion that is the reason Naruto is skipping class. Maybe he’ll come after lunch when they’ll have chakra practice.

*

At lunch she goes out to find a quiet place to eat. Her classmates had been giving her looks after realising she was there and she doesn’t want to hear their genuine condolences when she is still too bitter to accept them. Sitting next to Hinata was a good idea; shyness aside, Hinata is also a clan kid and understands one doesn’t talk certain things to near strangers. Iruka-sensei is different, he is one of the few decent adults in the village who actually care about her wellbeing.

Shizuka goes to sit by a tree and sees Shino crouched, looking at a bush. He’s attentively looking at a measuring worm walk down a branch and she can’t help herself, she wants to look too. Measuring worms are just too cute, they are calming, meditative; Shizuka needs more cute calming things in her life. Shino tenses a little when she comes near, but relaxes when he sees her also observe the worm. A step to close and a step to oooopen, one to close, and oooopen, close, and oooopen. It’s actually a very slow worm, because it walks fast but stops every once and then to inspect his way, so Shizuka sits on the floor so she can watch as she eats. She shares an apple bunny with Shino, and he smiles at her, sweet, shy.

The lunch break ends, and they didn’t talk, and it was very nice.

*

Back at the classroom Shizuka realises that Hinata ate alone inside and thinks she too would have liked to watch the measuring worm walk his way down a bush. Hinata looks the kind to appreciate small calm things like that.

*

Naruto doesn’t show up to chakra practice.

*

In the evening, Shizuka goes home and picks up her groceries on the way. She’ll make more food tomorrow so she’ll have enough to share with two people. Food is a good way to break the ice, and to show appreciation.

She is thinking about what to make when she arrives to her house. she doesn’t know what Hinata and Shino like to eat for lunch, but one can’t go wrong with omelette, right? Everyone likes omelette. She should have enough eggs for that. She distractedly calls to announce she is back and enters the kitchen to put the groceries away. There’s a meow. Old Man Gyu is probably hungry. She should make dinner for herself too― there’s a dead rat on the kitchen table.

“Old Man Gyu! Not on the table!” 

She turns looking for him and instead she sees a white cat calmly watch her and clean its paw. There’s a bit of blood on its fur. The white cat then goes to her and rubs itself on Shizuka’s legs. Old Man Gyu enters carrying a tiny black kitten from the scruff of its neck, and once he puts it down, meows in a way that sounds to her a bit sheepish.

The white cat is a girl, Shizuka calls her Riceball, because she had a red spot just like a pickled plum. The black kitten is a boy and has a single white star in the middle of his chest, Shizuka calls him Little Myung, after another singer. 

*

At night she realises she feels― content.

Chapter Text

One day, about a month after the funerals, Shizuka sees while shopping a familiar image on the cover of a manga book. The girl isn’t wearing a sailor uniform, instead it is a girly and kind of frilly version of a samurai armour, but her hairstyle is iconic. The manga is called Adorable Guardian Samurai Moon.

Shizuka buys the first 5 volumes.

She walks home while reading the first one. Adorable Guardian Samurai Moon has pretty much the same story as Sailor Moon, but written in a way that is pretty much recruitment propaganda to convince little civilian girls to become kunoichi. By the time she arrives to the gates of the Uchiha district, she is completely hooked and already planning to buy the other 13 volumes, thinking that, maybe, she’ll be able to find other familiar mangas. She dearly hopes ‘Ninja One Piece’ exists, because Eli died before it ended, and Shizuka really needs to know what happens.

Little Myung receives her at the door, rubbing his cheeks to her legs and climbing to her shoulders, meowing all the while; she slips out her shoes with care to don’t dislodge him. Old Man Gyu opens an eye as a greeting when she passes his spot in the hall that leads to the main parts to the house, and she stops to scratch behind his ears. At the door to the kitchen she almost trips over Icing or Frosting, she is never quite sure which one is which, because they look exactly the same and both of them are assholes, very elegant siamese assholes.

The cats just keep appearing. Shizuka doesn’t know where they are coming from, or if they are former pets of her clan returning home, but by the point she had found herself collecting an entire Korean boyband worth of names, she was already resigned to turn around at any moment and find a newcomer meowing for attention.

She likes it. She enjoys the company and how they keep her busy. She has even begun to appreciate the presents Riceball leaves regularly on the kitchen table. She just needs to figure out what to do with them.

*

Over the course of the following year, it becomes a regular occurrence to hang out and eat lunch with Hinata and Shino, and perhaps Shizuka gets a bit carried away in the beginning and they have to make explicit rules about how much food she is allowed to make for them. And of course Shizuka totally cheats and makes a habit to carry around snacks and candy she can slip into their pockets when they are distracted (Iruka-sensei always notices with his magic teacher powers, but his silence is easily brought with cookies), but she only does it to show that she cares. She is infinitely glad to have them. They care about Shizuka, they worry about her, they make her feel calm. They are excellent friends.

Shino is kind and mindful, but also, at 9 he is already a scarily competent shinobi. Hinata is sweet and painfully shy, but Shizuka has discovered she is also quite stubborn and, once one gets pass the insecurity, more cold-blooded that Shizuka had believed her to be. This means that Shizuka gets her ass handed very often when they train together.

On the other hand, her interaction with the rest of her classmates has been varied, and Shizuka can’t really call any of them friends. She has no problems with Shikamaru and Chouji, as they are easy going and likely to avoid conflict and drama, but neither they bother to befriend Shizuka, nor she attempts to try. Ino is friendly with everyone, but she mostly hangs out with a group of very outgoing girls, the kind to tease jokingly, be very honest and ask direct questions, the kind that have been friends forever, socially intelligent people; they really intimidate Shizuka, even if they remind her of Eli’s own friends. Sakura is always with Ino and still shy, but she is getting bolder, more confident, and Shizuka longs to approach her and introduce her to Shino and Hinata, but Ino is too scary to either poach from her or steal her too. Kiba just glares at Shizuka every time she gets near, she doesn’t know why, she has never talked to him. Naruto…

Naruto is in and out the class all the time. Sometimes he is absent for days on end until Iruka-sensei makes him attend again. Fanfiction had always portrayed him as having no friends― that is not quite true. He does get along with the boys, specially Shikamaru, Chouji and Kiba, he is just not very close to them and often he is left behind. He has lived alone for a while and whatever guardians he had before, they were probably shitty ones. What he wants is for people to pay attention to him, that is his whole thing and he is going to grow up to be great at it. Great at getting people’s attention, to keep it and make them listen to him and want his attention back. She wants to help, but he doesn’t like her at all. He didn’t like her even before That Night, because she used to be. Too. Much. Like. Sasuke.

*

Shizuka gets paired up with Naruto at taijutsu practice and Shino knows it is going to end up badly.

Inexplicably, both his friends care deeply about Naruto and his opinion of them. Hinata, he understands a bit, as Naruto not only is nice to her, but also exhibits several qualities Hinata believes herself lacking. In Shizuka’s case, Shino doesn’t understand why she bothers trying to befriend Naruto when all her overtures are rudely rejected. Furthermore, Shino doesn’t understand Naruto and how he can’t see how much Hinata and Shizuka look up to him.

The match goes as Shino had expected, ending with Naruto thoroughly defeated and Shizuka standing over him. Also predictably, Shizuka offers him a hand to help him up.

“Good match”, she says, as she always does after a spar but, in this case, Shino thinks it is a bit of a stretch, even if Naruto probably did try his best. “Uhm, I could, if you want, I mean, I could help you if you uh― need help with your taijutsu”.

“Ah! Shizuka-chan is so cool!”, Shino hears Haruno exclaim next to him and so does Naruto, who scowls and slaps Shizuka hand away before climbing to his feet on his own.

“Don’t look down on me!”, he yells, pointing at Shizuka way too dramatically. “I don’t need your help! Next time I’ll defeat you Witchy-zuka! You’ll see.”

Shizuka blinks and lowers her hand. “Okay”, she says and steps back to let the next pair into the ring.

Shino sighs, shares a look with Hinata and prepares to deal with the fallout.

It doesn’t come immediately, it never does with Shizuka, and she spends the rest of the day acting normally until after classes. They go to Shino’s house; he has instructions from his dad to invite them home as often as possible, so they can train under supervision, but Shino knows it is because his friends’ home situations aren’t the best and his dad is concerned about them. They are sitting on the engawa when Shizuka leans face first on Hinata’s shoulder.

“He hates me more now.” Hinata pats her on the back. “I just want to help. He― has so much, argh, potential. And, and, no one helps him. And he is all alone. And he is tiny. He needs to eat more.”

Hinata hums and shares a look with Shino over Shizuka’s head. Then she sighs and rubs circles on Shizuka’s back, like one would do to calm a baby. “Shizuka-chan”, Hinata says and Shizuka immediately stops her mutterings about ‘ruining everything’ and ‘everything being her fault’. “D-do you… like him?”

Shizuka raises her head to look at Hinata with what can only be described as horror.

“B-because if you like him, I―”

“I DON’T!”, Shizuka interrupts her, grabbing Hinata by the shoulders. “I don’t like him. I know you like him. And I don’t say I don’t like him because I know you like him. I don’t like him. Even if I liked him― you are, uhm, you are my friend, and I― and I care about you. You are more important.”

“Thank you, Shizuka-chan, b-but I just wanted to tell you it d... it wouldn’t change anything b-between us.”

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“I― am an idiot.”

“That’s not true, you just care too much. You are a g…g- an excellent friend. Isn’t she, Shino-kun?”

“Hinata-chan is correct. And I’m sure that Uzumaki-kun will get around. Why? Because you are a good person, Shizuka-chan. You have been a good friend to us and we will help you make him see that.” Shino leaves the ‘or else’ unsaid. “While it is true that you used to be more arrogant in the past, you have changed and since then you have been nothing but polite to him. He may have the right to keep his distance, but that doesn’t excuse the name-calling, pranking and general rudeness.”

Shino thinks that, if Naruto truly wants Shizuka to stop trying to approach him, he should also stop trying to antagonise her at every turn, if only because Shizuka herself appears incapable to set her own boundaries. Shino is about to tell her exactly that, but he is then suddenly hugged.

Without releasing Shino, Shizuka half-turns to also throw an arm around Hinata. Before they became friends, Shino had not expected her to be so affectionate and it still takes him by surprise, but it is nice.

“You know”, she says. “I feared Hinata-chan was, was going to, uhmm, declare us rivals. Or something.”

Hinata giggles. “You read too much shoujo manga.”

“I do not!”, protests Shizuka. “Do I?”, she asks Shino.

It is good to have friends.

*

Unbeknownst to them, at the same time, somewhere else, Sakura gets into a fight with Ino over her crush on Shizuka.

Chapter Text

Hinata notices something has changed when she arrives to the classroom in the morning and finds Sakura and Ino, not only already there, but sitting away from each other. It is very strange, because Hinata arrives very early and Sakura and Ino have always been inseparable, so Hinata can’t imagine what could have happened over night to cause it.

At lunch she comments this to Shino and Shizuka, still wondering what would be so dire as to divide such good friends. Shino says that they should not speculate as they don’t know them well enough and Shizuka asks them to talk about something else, poking with her chopsticks at a cherry tomato from her bento until it bursts. Hinata thinks that Shizuka must be still embarrassed about the Shoujo Manga Misconception and believing that Hinata would fight her over something so silly, so she changes the subject.

“My… my aunt is searching homes for her cat’s kittens and she still has two left. I would like to keep one, b…b-but Father won’t allow us to have animals. I thought… maybe you would you like one?”

She is already expecting Shino to decline because he doesn’t like on principle anything that kills bugs, but Shizuka really likes animals and it takes Hinata by surprise when Shizuka says she can’t.

“I don’t- I don’t think it would be, uhm… wise”.

“Does your landlady have a no-pets policy?”, asks Shino, probably intrigued at the choice of words.

“Oh, no. I think Obaachan also, ah, keeps cats. It’s just that, well, space is not a problem, but a new kitten would need too much… too much attention, and it may not get along with the others…”

“D-do you already have cats, Shizuka-chan?”, asks Hinata. She and Shino have been at Shizuka’s before and she had never seen anything to indicate the presence of a cat; it barely looks like Shizuka spends time there, so empty it is.  

“Uhmm, well, yeah. Do you want to meet them?”

And that’s how Hinata and Shino find themselves at the Uchiha compound later that day.

*

Shizuka can’t deny she feels thrilled about introducing Hinata and Shino to the cats, even if she knows there is a conversation about her living space coming ahead. While her friends weren’t particularly fazed after Shizuka revealed that she doesn’t really lives at the apartment, they had looked a bit disturbed by the barricade tape. Understandable, really, since the beginning Shizuka has been questioning the common sense of whoever decided it was a good idea to let her return to the compound. That’s not to say she could agree to live somewhere else. It’s just that the part of her who remembers being a twenty-something civilian finds the whole affair alarming.

But those are concerns for later. Now is time for friends, cats and cake.

“I’m home!”, Shizuka calls when they enter the house and then hands slippers to her friends. They are immediately greeted by the enthusiastic Little Myung, who has long since grew quite a lot, and Dino Woo, who is very small and she had given the name both for the irony and because his personality is uncannily reminiscent to the Korean idol Jang Dongwoo. The two pairs warm to each other quickly. “Let’s introduce you to the rest and after that can eat some cake”.

She guides the way to the kitchen, pointing to the cats as they pass them. There is Old Man Gyu, he doesn’t do much, and over there is Dancing Won, the gray tuxedo, he likes to watch her practice her kata in the mornings, judging her silently. Next there is Sunshine, the tortoiseshell, and Taichou, the calico, Shizuka thinks they are sisters and that they, in turn, believe Shizuka is a particularly incompetent kitten. If they see something big, fluffy and orange, it’s probably Yeollie, and he’s harmless, really.

 “Shizuka-chan, there is a d-d... a carcass, on the table.”

“… Oh, yeah, sorry, about that. Riceball, she uhmm- brings me presents, you see, and I can’t get her to stop leaving them on the table.” Shizuka picks up the dead bird and puts it in a container outside to deal with later, then she washes the glass that protects the table’s surface, and her hands. “We can eat in my room if you want.”

*

She serves them cake accompanied with milky black tea and they have happy cats on their laps (including the most wonderful Pretty Jjong, with his beautiful long white coat, who had never done anything bad in his life, bless him), but Shino is scowling at something in a shelf. It’s one of the glass displays cases, the one with the… oh. “I’m really sorry, Shino-kun. I’ll- I’ll take them down, if you want.”

“They, they are― the cat”.

“Yeah, she uhmm caught them for me. I shouldn’t have, but she left the wings intact and they are so pretty.”

 “It’s okay, Shizuka-chan. But you must forgive me; I don’t like your cat.”

“I’m sorry. The next time you come, I’ll take down the butterflies.”

“It. Is. okay.”

“Are the skulls from your cat too, Shizuka-chan?”, asks Hinata conversationally, while Shino composes himself.

“Yep, I’ll leave the, uhm, presents outside so, so the bugs can eat the flesh”. Shizuka looks at Shino to see if that titbit awakes some goodwill towards Riceball. “That’s what I’ll do with the bird.” He does look a bit less angry. “Then I clean them with peroxide, so they look white. Aren’t they pretty, Hinata-chan?”

“They are… nice. Is that your manga collection?”

*

Once they finish their cake, Shino and Hinata excuse themselves and Shizuka offers to walk them back to the gate. On their way they find Namu, who upon seeing them, lays in the middle of road on his back, showing them his oh, so tempting fluffy black belly, pawing at the air in the cutest way. That distraction continues for at least 10 minutes, and when they attempt to leave, Namu demands to be carried along.

They part ways at the gate after saying their goodbyes, Shizuka on one side of the barricade tape and her friends on the other. She looks at their backs grow smaller as they leave, basking in the warm, calm feeling Hinata and Shino inspire, but Namu tenses in her arms. He is staring at a shadow just outside the compound. Shizuka quickly averts her eyes, least the shadow notices her looking.

She likes the company, but she doesn’t like the attention it attracts. Maybe it is benign (the same way a tumour can be benign), but she can’t afford to risk it if it is not. If she remembers correctly, Shino, at least, has already raised the interest of certain people before.

The compound is too secluded for visits, she decides.

*

Sakura did not expect such a strong reaction from Ino; she had not even known that Ino also liked Shizuka-chan. The whole affair left her feeling a bit hurt. Hurt and angry. And frustrated.

The day after the fight, she had arrived early, trying to catch a seat near to Shizuka-chan, and encountered Ino at the door. Ino had mocked her (as if she weren’t planning to do the same thing) and they had ended up sitting on opposite sides of the room, not even barely close to Shizuka-chan.

Another day, she had tried to approach Shizuka-chan and her friends to ask if Sakura could eat her lunch with them, but Ino had intercepted her and critiqued the bento Sakura was planning to give Shizuka-chan. Ino had said: “I bet not even the tamagoyaki is good; I know you don’t know how to cook”, so Sakura had to let her taste it to prove her wrong, but then she couldn’t give a half-eaten bento to Shizuka-chan, just imagine!, and to make the matters worse, the lunch break ended before Sakura could even find her.

Then Sakura had tried to ask Shizuka-chan to help her with her taijutsu, so they could spend time together that way, but Ino, as if reading her mind (which Sakura knew she did not because her dad was still teaching her how to do it), had reminded her that Shizuka-chan’s best friends were Hyuuga Hinata and Aburame Shino, so obviously she liked strong people, and did Sakura really want Shizuka-chan to know how weak she was? So Sakura had to prove Ino wrong again, but that had to remain a work in progress, because Sakura was really bad at taijutsu.

And so, every time Sakura tried to get closer to Shizuka-chan, Ino appeared to foil her plans. The only thing Ino never tries to stop, is when Sakura starts to grow her hair.

It takes her two years for it to be long enough to braid back like Shizuka-chan does, but then Ino says it doesn’t suit her, and Sakura keeps wearing her ribbon to tie it as always.