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For All the Works and Days of Hands

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It says something unflattering about her, Yukiko thinks, that she could forget Yuichiro and Mei's second anniversary. She stares down at the pointed note from Uncle Yutaro, reminding her that this is not an optional attendance event, and wonders when she and Yuichiro drifted apart.

When she was growing up, Yukiko spent pretty much every weekend with her cousins -- in the yard of her mother's apartment building, in the back room of Uncle Yutaro's grocery store, out in the streets, in one or another of the parks that dotted Konoha, wherever. She and Yuichiro were the oldest, born within a month of each other, so they tended to get saddled with looking after the babies. Neither of them really liked that idea -- Yuichiro was too afraid something would go horribly wrong and he'd take the blame, and Yukiko was much more interested in playing ninja vs. samurai.

When she learned how to do genjutsu, Yuichiro had the brilliant idea that she could put his little sisters to sleep so they'd be safe and out of the way. Yukiko practiced until she had the technique down cold, and the next time she and Yuichiro were assigned as babysitters, she got Yura and Yume to sit on the floor and listen to Yuichiro tell a really boring story about a fish made of stars that tried to eat the moon. Eventually they were distracted enough that the genjutsu caught and tightened, and they curled up to sleep all at once. Yukiko jumped up and down and Yuichiro clapped his hands, but the girls just made funny high-pitched snores; they were safe until Yukiko did the release. She and Yuichiro grinned at each other until their cheeks hurt.

That fell apart the minute Aunt Hanako came in to put Yusuke down for a nap and make sure Yume and Yura hadn't up and died while she was upstairs drinking sake with Yukiko's parents. She was not amused to find her daughters lying curled up on the cold concrete floor of the stock room, while Yukiko and Yuichiro climbed the shelves and threw wadded up cardboard missiles at each other.

After that, Yukiko and Yuichiro had to figure out games to distract a pair of bratty little girls who were five and seven years younger. They never did get very good at that, but luckily Yura liked playing house, and once she was six or seven, they could leave her to watch Yume and Yusuke and make their own escape.

Yuichiro was her best friend as far back as she could remember. So when did that change?

Not when she graduated the academy. Ame and Kasumi didn't replace him -- they just slipped in alongside him, so she had three best friends instead of one. Not when her parents died. Yuichiro was the one who came over to visit each week, bullied her into doing laundry and buying groceries and generally keeping up the facade of a functional life. Kasumi and Ame would have, but they were busy on missions and just weren't around as often as Yuichiro could be. And he kept that up after the Kyuubi, until Yukiko pulled herself together to stand on her feet.

So when did they drift apart? Because they have. Yukiko hasn't seen her cousin in months, not since... well, since he and Mei bought their store and had the grand opening last spring. That's over half a year.

The obvious thing would be to blame Mei, but Yukiko's not stupid. Mei's a sweetheart and she just wants Yuichiro to be happy. She would never pry him apart from his family. (Well, maybe from Uncle Yutaro, but that's just good sense. Everyone thinks he keeps too tight a grip on the clan.) And she doesn't remember Yuichiro telling her all about Mei as he fell in love, which he should have done. He told her all about his crushes when they were younger, after all.

Sometime in those gray, choking months after she lost her team, she must have said or done something to push her cousin away. Yuichiro being Yuichiro, he assumed it was his own fault, taken the blame, and decided not to burden her with his presence anymore. That's just the kind of stupid he is. And it's just the kind of stupid Yukiko is that she got wrapped up in her day-to-day routine and never noticed her best friend wasn't around to shake her into life. Not until the kid showed up to do the job for him.

Naruto and Yuichiro. That's a funny juxtaposition, Yukiko thinks with a private smile. One does nothing but worry and the other doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word. They might like each other anyway... but she doesn't think it's a good idea to introduce them. Not yet, maybe not ever. After all, there's the minor issue of the Kyuubi killing Aunt Hanako to work through.

Still. Thanks to the kid, Yukiko's remembered what she's been missing these past few years. And now that she knows, she can start to make things right.

"Hey, Naruto," she says, without bothering to turn. "Let's go out for ramen tonight, just because."

The kid stops halfway through his attempted ambush and cheers.