Shikako doesn’t notice him at first. Just another face in the crowd of children that flock to her even here in the Ikioi-En; small and eager and easily pleased.
Though he is the smallest and youngest of the group; the most eager to try and help her even after her shadow puppet show is over and his peers drift away.
She doesn’t think he can read yet, much less understand the fuinjutsu of a long dead ancient civilization, but it helps to think aloud while analyzing the recovered chunks of Gelel shrine rubble and, unlike the Sand researcher assigned alongside her for this joint-village mission, he does honestly seem happy to just listen to her talk.
Then again, she treats him to dinner whenever she realizes hours have already passed, sky growing dark, and he has a soba addiction nearly as bad as Naruto’s obsession with ramen.
She should have realized there was more to it than that.
(He remembers his first Father a little bit: a large man with gentle hands who tried his best, despite the disease plaguing him. The illness making movement and speech and, eventually, thinking difficult.
It’s why they had moved to the Ikioi-En, hoping the healing springs would cure him. But it didn’t. Instead it left Araya alone, surrounded by strangers who didn’t care.
He doesn’t remember his first Mother at all.)
One day, her littlest fan doesn’t show up.
She notices immediately.
She doesn’t think it’s vanity when, after a few hours of distraction and concern, she goes to find him. She knows it’s not when the endeavor turns out to be more difficult than expected, worryingly so.
“His name is Araya, he’s four maybe five years old? Brown hair, green eyes. We eat here like, at least twice a week.” She says to the woman at the soba stand, whose interest waned as soon as it became clear that Shikako wasn’t planning on buying anything.
“Then shouldn’t you know where he is?” She asks, apathetic but not cruel.
Not wrong, either, but Shikako doesn’t appreciate the thought when she’s going out of her mind with worry.
Desperate, she unfurls her chakra sense as far as it can go, even though being so close to where the Gelel shrine used to be and the resulting healing springs is like trying to listen through white noise.
Araya is young, not much chakra to speak of, but familiar after so many weeks researching in the Ikioi-En. The smooth surface of porcelain and polished wood, subtle and beautiful.
She finds it, small and wavering and feverish, surrounded by other signatures which feel sickly, too. She runs, as fast as she can–uses shunshin when that proves to be too slow–and barely skids to a stop in front of a small clinic, one of many that have cropped up around the healing springs.
The medic startles, goes for a kunai–the Ikioi-En is almost an off-shoot of Sand, the healing springs and attached clinics shinobi-monitored if not outrightly controlled–but relaxes when he notices who she is. She’s the only Konoha shinobi here not on medical leave, and somewhat famous besides.
“Araya?” she asks, too keyed up to ask a proper question, honing in on his chakra flickering ever so precariously like a candle in the wind.
The medic rolls his eyes, beckons her to follow him to the back where, on one of the cots, Araya is curled up. Shikako drops to the floor next to it, hands glowing green with a diagnostic jutsu.
“It’s just a cold,” the medic says, “He probably caught it from one of our other patients. He’ll be fine in a few days.”
Her jutsu tells her the same, but she still keeps a hand on Araya’s hot and clammy forehead. He leans into it, no doubt seeking some relief against the fever.
“It’s gonna be annoying taking care of him, though,” the medic mutters, loud enough for Shikako to hear him and shoot a glare in his direction.
“Isn’t that your job?” she grits through her teeth.
He looks far less intimidated than she’d prefer. “No. I run a clinic, not an orphanage.”
Immediately the fight goes out of her–that answers her other question.
(Araya wears a mask, feels more comfortable with a barrier between him and the rest of the world. Likes knowing that something as basic as his appearance is a secret for him and his family.
He also likes how all it takes to disappear in the village is to remove it. Easily becoming just another face in the crowd, a stranger nobody can find.
Except for Mother.)
The next couple of days Shikako takes off from researching–she’s ranking leader on this mission, she’s allowed to do that; and even if she wasn’t allowed, she’d do it anyway–and spends it watching over Araya.
They’re kicked out of the clinic on the second day–the medic none too happy with her loitering. Thankfully, the inn that she’s been staying at provides an extra futon when she asks; the owner also allows Shikako use of the kitchen.
It takes four days for his fever to break, her journals and errant thoughts keeping her company until then. She plans then hesitates, writes letters that she doesn’t send.
Shikako has never thought of herself as particularly maternal. Taking care of people is a necessity not something that gives her enjoyment. But Araya is all alone in the world, and when has she ever let that stand?
When he’s awake and lucid, she asks him a very important question. He says yes–eager and easily pleased.
When he’s well enough to travel, they go to Sand to make it official.
(He’s been with Mother and Father for long enough that he barely thinks about his early years. It’s mostly a distant memory, but something he can remind himself of easily by simply looking in a mirror and unmasking himself.
Mother found some information about his first Father, and every year on the day he passed they light a stick of incense for him.
He’s no longer hungry and alone and constantly sad. There’s so much life around him now, noise and smiles and gentle touches. Araya is happy being a part of this family, and he thinks his first Father would be happy for him, too.)
*SCREAMING* Okay, so, I swear to god I was going to post all three of their parts together in one singular Dreaming of S(haring the World) but it is getting TOO LONG, so here’s Araya’s part so I can post something before midnight. I will definitely be posting at least one part tomorrow if not both Yodo’s and Shinki’s.
The feels weren’t as expansive as I thought it would be since apparently ~plotty things~ like how the NGSS got adopted in the first place wanted to be written instead. Even though feels would have been easier…