The Earth hung suspended below her, round, blue, streaked with wisps of clouds, cradled by a blanket of stars. Her breath caught in her throat. Despite herself, tears welled up in her eyes. She had never seen something so terrifyingly beautiful in either of her lives.
The Earth as seen from the Moon was glorious, amazing, beautiful, and humbling. The sight of it stabbed her heart, took a jackhammer to her soul.
It was here. It was real.
Irina looked up from her manual as Shikako approached.
“Hey Shikako, I have to go back to Earth for a bit; do you want to come with?”
Shikako blinked, ears ringing.
Irina smiled easily, “We could go get a real New York pizza. Don’t get me wrong, you have some excellent food here, but some things soothe the soul like none other.”
“Oh,” she continued, smiling slyly, “I was thinking as a treat for you, I could set up a meeting with one of my Advisories who specializes in worldgates and find you a Wizard Jedi to teach you how to use your lightsaber properly.”
Irina leaned forward, smile dropping. “Seriously Shikako, you’ve done it. You’ve defeated Madara and the Akatsuki, dealt with the biju. You’ve earned a break. It’s well deserved, and I think the Powers will agree. You have time to rest and do things you want to do, rather than need to. Your job as Planetary is important, but so is your mental health.“
Shikako choked on nothing; the world trembled under her feet.
Irina stood up, brushing off her pants with swift strokes. “Think about it, okay? The offer is on the table. If you don’t want to go now, maybe you would like me to send you some books?”
“...Harry Potter?” The words came out involuntarily, but it was perhaps the hardest thing she had ever done.
“You got it.” Irina stepped up to Shikako and put a hand on her shoulder. “You did a good job. You survived. Your friends survived. A lot of people who would have otherwise died survived. Yes, some people died, but you did your best, and that’s all anyone can ask of you.”
Irina stepped back and regarded her thoughtfully. “Take care, alright? I’ll see you later.”
Shikako stood stock still for a long moment after Irina left. Then - her legs buckled under her, sending her to her knees. Fuzzy static filled her vision; her hearing filled with her harsh gasps for air.
She couldn’t think; she couldn’t breathe. Cracks that she had forcefully ignored, driven deep into her shadow, clawed at her, starting to break open.
Space was quiet. In their cube of air on the Moon, all Shikako could hear was their quiet breathing. It was oppressive. It was relaxing.
Irina hadn’t asked her why she wanted to visit the Moon before going to Earth. Hadn’t asked how she enjoyed Harry Potter. Not that she read it. Every time she tried, she had read “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley…” and then slammed the book shut. It hurt.
(The copy of the Harry Potter series had been written in the Speech. Apparently, some things were truly universal.)
Shikako curled up. This was too much. The Earth was so close, yet to jump that distance felt insurmountable. A high pitched whine crawled up the back of her throat.
“I can’t —“ she whispered. “I can’t, I can’t, I CAN’T —“ Shikako’s voice cracked. The shadow inside her felt more like a void.
Irina stayed quiet, eyes still fixed on the spinning Earth.
“Every day for years and years I woke up knowing that my old life was gone, my family was gone, my friends were gone, my culture was gone , my language was gone, my planet was gone. People thought I was so creative for coming up with songs and stories off the top of the hat, when I was really stealing — plagiarizing from people down there!
“No one understood. No one could understand that I knew that a nigh immortal madman wanted to put the world in an unbreakable dream. They thought I was paranoid. Maybe they thought I was jealous of Naruto and Sasuke. Maybe they thought I was power hungry.”
Time was supposed to have sanded down these wounds. Cracks in her foundation widened into faults. Emotion meant to be kept where they couldn’t touch her oozed from the depths of her soul.
“That’s why, Shikamaru!” Shikako screamed as though he could hear her over the tens of thousands of light years that separated them. “That’s why I couldn’t quit, couldn’t take a fucking desk job.” Shikako hurled a rock. It flew much farther than any rock had a right to.
“Why didn’t you tell him?” Irina interjected calmly. “Prophecy isn’t unknown on your planet; wasn’t there a toad that could do them? Were you afraid that they’d turn you in?”
“What? No!” Shikako struggled to get her emotions under control. They poured out of her anyway. The void yawned. “I mean — maybe at first? Shika trusted Dad, and even if Dad didn’t trust Danzo, he probably trusted the Third, which was pretty much the same thing as trusting Danzo. And then I would have been snatched.
“But the longer I didn’t tell them, the more I couldn’t — can’t .” The thought of telling them now inspired even more dread than going down to Earth. “How could they ever trust me again knowing I had lied to them all my life?” Time had a way of becoming an insurmountable barrier.
“They all wanted me to confide in them, you know? I couldn’t just tell them what was wrong with me — the adults weren’t safe. My friends were — are children who needed their own emotions looking after and I couldn’t. I couldn’t deal with them and me and I needed to not break.
“I couldn’t just go up to Sasuke and say ‘Oh, by the way, I knew that your brother was going to get blackmailed and manipulated into killing your entire family and didn’t do anything to stop it.’ I knew and did nothing because I was scared and they weren’t real and I didn’t care enough. I was an adult. I was older than Itachi. I should have done something.”
“You were a child,” stated Irina firmly.
Anger came swift and fierce. “I was an ADULT! I COULD —”
“Shikako, you were seven,” Irina stressed. “You may have had the memories of an adult, but you were in the body of a child. Your brain was still at the level of a child. You had experienced traumatic experience after traumatic experience and then had to recover practically alone. One wrong move could have spelt calamity for not just the Uchiha, but yourself and your family. You were at a disadvantage.”
Shikako’s throat ached. Her eyes burned. She unsealed a box of tissues and blew her nose.
“Shikako, you were put in a terrible situation and made the best of it. Even if they can’t understand what happened to you, even if they never understand what you did for them and what you sacrificed, know that we know. Know that we know and thank you for your hard work. Even if you never became a Wizard, we would have known what you did and what it took to save your planet.”
Shikako roughly wiped at her face. Her eyes felt like acid had been poured in them. Tears slid traitorously down her cheeks. An explosion had gone off inside her, and she was the emptiness of the aftermath.
“I think you might be giving yourself and them too little credit, however. I think that they could and perhaps do understand what you did for them.”
Irina slowly opened her arms and drew Shikako into a hug. There was plenty of time to escape. It was warm. She didn’t feel confined. She didn’t feel judged. She pressed her eyes into Irina’s jacket and sobbed.
Shikako drew back and turned to look at the Earth. It gleamed, bright and beautiful.
“Thank you.” Shikako tilted her head to see Irina still looking at her. “Thank you for trusting me with your emotions and your vulnerability. It means a lot to me, and I want you to know that I’m here for you.” Shikako mustered up a half smile for her.
She laid back on the surface of the Moon, exhausted. Moon dust was probably getting in her hair.
“I want to go home.”
She didn’t mean the planet in front of her.