He learns a lot on his travels with Ero-sennin–cool ninjutsu and how to fight better, yeah, but lots of other things, too: like how to gamble and how to drink and how to figure out which brothels have valuable intel and which ones don’t.
Not that he went inside any of them! But the ladies who work there always appreciate it when he brings coffee and snacks, and he never minds acting as security and kicking out asshole perverts.
He learns about different people, about their ways of life and their personal stories. He learns about different cultures and their values. He learns about the things he didn’t pay attention to at the Academy and things they never mentioned at all.
He learns about himself. About being a jincuuriki, about his parents, about all the things that were denied him in Konoha–about legacies and secrets. But he also learns about himself.
As in, what he likes and what he doesn’t, his limits and his strengths and how to go beyond both, and what distances he’ll go to protect the people he loves.
When he returns, it’s not a surprise the rush of fondness he feels–Konoha, despite its sins, is still his home–and it’s not unexpected, the excitement he gets gets from seeing all his friends again.
But most of all, when he sees her, its like realizing something he already knew, like going to a place that he’s never been to before but was made just for him.
Naruto learns a lot on his travels, but the most important is waiting for him at home.
She’s not just waiting.
That’s part of it, yes, but not the whole of her, not the entirety of who she is, not even the majority. She has to get stronger, has to keep things running, has to try not to get tangled in all the different threads, stuck and futilely struggling like a fly in the web.
Things don’t stop just because these three years are a giant blank. Time keeps moving on, people growing and changing (and dying), like a river flowing even without someone there to witness it.
But it’s a definitive event. A start line. A point in time that creeps ever nearer and signifies the beginning of… something. Everything. The end of the world.
Sometimes it’s something to dread–when he comes back, that’s when it all goes to shit, that’s the make or break moment. She’ll have to find out if she did enough, if she trained enough and changed enough and made everyone strong enough to survive the oncoming storm.
Other times it’s something to anticipate, eager, when things stop being a vast unknown and her knowledge becomes relevant. An almost hunger to have it over with, the suspension looming over her heavier than her guilt. Make it now, she thinks, before I ruin everyone beyond the point of saving.
But that’s not really fair, is it? Reducing him to the harbinger of some story’s plot from a long ago life–he’s a person. Her friend. Its hard to remember that when he’s so far away, out of sight out of mind. It’s as if all she can think of is the name of a character and not the sound of his laughter or the gleam of his grin, strong arms wrapping around her.
It’s hard to remember his warmth when she feels so cold.
She lives and she fights and she survives, regrets and near misses and encroaching war and the fear that maybe she’s made mistakes so beyond herself that not even he can fix it, but somewhere in all of that she waits, too.
Shikako needs him to come home.
A/N: … this ship is like pulling teeth, I swear.
Anyway! I hope you enjoy this, anon, even though it’s not entirely fluffy. At least its not as painful as the last one?
[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.]