She stares at the photograph heedlessly, watching the trail of smoke from the incense beside it on the altar. Around her, her clan members murmur. She could eavesdrop if she cared enough, but she doesn’t bother.
She already knows what they’re saying.
Kinokawa died of old age, older even than Sembei-obaasan, almost as wrinkled and bald as the day he was born. He’s smiling in his portrait; it’s accurate, he was a happy man and lived a happy life.
Shikadai stands behind her, enough noise in his step to be audible. Shinobi manners, the polite way to nonverbally request attention.
She turns to look at her nephew. There are lines around his eyes and gray in his hair. He’s a grandfather, has already passed the role of clan head onto his daughter, Shikai. He looks so old.
“Kako,” Shikadai says, simply, but those two syllables are loaded. It’s affection and shared mourning, of course, but that he calls her that at all–without the honorific–a thin veneer of plausible deniability against the truth.
She doesn’t look old enough to be his aunt. She can no longer be Shikako Nara.
It might be time for her to leave Konoha. For good.
In her convalescence, she keeps herself distracted–if she doesn’t think about how she died, then it must not have happened, surely?–sealing projects and kunoichi meetings and all the secrets she’s taken from Gelel.
She doesn’t mention the whispers in her dreams. She definitely doesn’t mention that they sometimes follow her in her waking hours.
That isn’t the only thing that followed her from the desert.
When the Gelel shrine broke, life energy flowed back into the Dead Wastes, an impromptu oasis sprouting where not even desert fauna could endure. But Konoha is so green already and she’s been keeping herself busy, she hasn’t noticed what’s been sprouting in her footsteps (why would she look behind her, when that’s where unpleasant truths live?)
The last Ancient could make flowers bloom in a land devoid of life.
It’s only a coincidence that Konoha’s lost bloodline could do the same. (But what a dangerous coincidence it will turn out to be).
A/N: I wasn’t really sure what you meant by before and after, anon, but hopefully these will suffice?
[If anyone else wants to do a softer world prompt that isn’t on the list, you can just send the page id number for the original comic instead.]