Author's Note:

Design notes after this. Hope everyone enjoyed!

As William Hand, his body a battered ruin from Nekron's carelessness, was carried away on a stretcher by a rather brave group of paramedics in the company of four police officers watching his unconscious form for the slightest twitch of movement, Clark watched Shikako's body let out a sigh.

"We should speak with Alan Scott before returning to the Watchtower," the Life Entity said. "Before that, we must caution you on the appropriate use of the talismans Zatara gave you."

Clark nodded, pulling out the ever-so-faintly black-glowing object.

"While learning from what you encounter is important, we do not recommend attempts to channel either the White Light or the Black Light without careful training in the case of the first, and extreme caution in the case of the second." The Life Entity smiled at him. "Please ensure that you tell the young Green Lantern as much. It may be useful for him to remember that."

"You sound like you know something we don't," Clark said, scrutinizing the girl's face carefully.

"We are, by definition, the most empathic being in existence," the Life Entity informed him. "We do not know the future, but we are very aware of the present state of the universe. We are thankful for your aid, so we do not feel a few words of advice and drops of light are out of place. It will be up to all of you to determine what such things blossom into, if they blossom at all."

"...I have to ask," Clark spoke slowly. "That final strike... you took it on purpose, right? You had plenty of eyes in the sky, so you must have seen it coming."

The Life Entity merely smiled inscrutably, and walked towards the approaching Justice League, beckoning the elderly Green Lantern down to her.

As the bemused man flew over, Clark turned his attention away. Super-senses weren't an excuse to spy on everything.

"I take it everything worked out on your end?" Clark asked Diana as she stopped next to him.

"No, they were... decidedly less of a threat in death than they were in life," Diana admitted. "They were persistent, but..." She shook her head. "We laid them to rest."

Barry zipped around, checking up on everyone. Clark traded a nod with him, before the Flash left- probably to look after Jay's remains, Clark figured. Batman conversed briefly with J'onn before heading in the direction of the two police squad cars that were bracketing the ambulance. Clark was rather impressed with their fortitude. It was their job to show up to things like this, of course, but that didn't mean people always did. Seeing them working to protect the world in spite of beings like Nekron was inspiring.

"Well, it seems she was right about not being in any real danger from Nekron," Clark told Diana. "She took a clean hit from him without as much as a scratch..." He frowned. "Seems a little cavalier with Shikako's body in my opinion, but I suppose she knew what she was doing."

"In my experience, beings like that usually do," Diana responded after a moment, looking towards Alan and Shikako. Alan was cradling a small flower of white light in his hands, something visually similar to a lotus blossom. "There are two things you need to watch out for: the things that surprise them, and the fact that they sometimes just don't care about the consequences of their actions."

"...This could have turned out a lot worse," Clark concluded, in agreement with the sentiment. They shared a moment of quiet contemplation.

"I think I'll take Alan to see Cassie while we're in the area," Diana spoke up.

"You've mentioned her before," Clark recalled. "She's Zeus's latest, um..." He floundered a little.

Diana cracked a grin. "Let's go with 'demigod'. Hera was... not pleased, but I've been asked to keep an eye on her now that she's growing into her powers. No one wants her to turn out like Hercules did. Her mother is all for the help, the poor woman is being run ragged trying to wrangle a super-strong eight-year-old that wants to fly everywhere..." She glanced at the elderly Green Lantern again. "I think it would do Alan good to be a little more involved with the new generation; he's been holing himself up in his house a bit too much lately in my opinion."

"We wish to thank you again for your assistance."

They'd spent a couple of hours helping out emergency services, and the Life Entity had taken a close look at each of the Justice Society members' bodies to make sure Nekron hadn't somehow pulled a fast one, and finally gathered together, along with Zatara, on the Watchtower. Shiho, Chiyako and Hanabi stood off to the side, and only Hanabi managed to put forth any real effort into pretending to not be thoroughly impatient to have their friend back.

"It's what we do," Superman said simply. The Life Entity smiled, and turned to the children.

"Our power exists within this parallel alone," it told them. "You will not lose the ability to comprehend and utilize the English language- though the skill will fade with time as all unpracticed talents do unless you make the effort to retain it- but once you leave this world, the gift of tongues we are currently granting you will no longer allow you to communicate with any sentient being."

"Wait, what?" said Shiho, befuddled, then her eyes somewhat belatedly widened. "So that means... I thought the writing in those books was weird!"

Shikako's face curled into an amused smile as the air around her began to glow brighter.

"Consider the things we have said," she told the Justice League. Superman nodded slowly, while Alan touched the pocket he'd stored the flower in. "We prefer not to interfere with this world, so we expect this will be the last time we speak to you. Though, perhaps..."

She cast a lingering look at Kyle, who blinked back in confusion, but she said nothing more, simply nodding to herself. She spoke one last time-

"Live well."

-and the white light poured out of Shikako's body, vanishing into the ether.

Shikako blinked several times, muttered something about stars, sunk to her knees, and toppled, as the other children from Konoha rushed to steady her in panic...

...only to relax as she began to snore gently.

"Geeze," Shiho complained as she carried Shikako over to the couch. "That thing could have warned us. ...So troublesome."

Chiyako giggled, and Hanabi rolled her eyes at her.

"What? What's so funny?"

"You're moving a bit easier," Diana noted.

Alan grinned. "I'm still an old fogey, but I'm not too proud to turn down an offer to fix my arthritis problems."

"Is that what the flower does?"

He hummed, shaking his head. "No, she gave me a little tune up. As for the flower... I'm just... holding onto that for the moment. If that kid blossoms into something really special, I'll pass it on."

"Kid?" Diana asked, but Alan just shook his head.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "If nothing else, it's still a pretty flower, so it isn't like it's a waste if it doesn't happen. She didn't want to put any pressure on him about it, so I'll keep quiet like she asked."

"I don't see any obvious ill effects," Zatara told her. "But, you understand this will likely happen again in the future if you do not learn to prevent it? Not the same entity perhaps, but there are always creatures looking for ways to effect the material world, and currently you might as well be an open doorway."

"Yes," Shikako admitted. "This is the second time I've been possessed actually, but... I was so busy and I thought I could get to it later, so I put off the training. I didn't think that it would happen again."

Stupid, really. Gelel was probably one of a kind due to the unique circumstances that had led to its creation, but there were other things out there. She had just assumed that sage training was something she could put off, do a little later when she had the time. She had really been considering it a valuable force multiplier rather than a necessity… Foolish. If you can't control your power, it can hurt you. And she had only narrowly avoided being burnt.

"Do not train alone," the magician warned strictly. "You could suffer a fate worse than death if you welcome the wrong things into yourself. You need someone who can separate you from the energy pouring into you when things go wrong. And things will go wrong, and more than once. I fear it will not be easy for you, though it is very much necessary."

"There is an order of monks in my country. A sage recommended that I go study with them when I was ready to learn," Shikako told the man quietly. "I wasn't ready at the time. I think I am now."

Countless voices raised in silent songs. Each a symphony in themselves…

Yes. She had learned a lot of lessons these past few days. Back when Gelel had flowed through her, she had been swept away by it all. She'd almost dissolved in the flow of life, her ego nearly erased. It was different this time. Gelel hadn't had the type of cosmic understanding that the Life Entity did. It had been smaller. It had been the air. The earth. It wasn't meant to think, to feel.

She had learned a different lesson back then. That Shikamaru would cling to her in the face of any danger, that he considered her special and his and loved and would fight a god for her… and it hadn't really made things better. She'd been damaged by it, scraped raw by Gelel and her brief death and she had survived, but she hadn't really dealt with it well.

She hadn't really learnt anything from Gelel itself. It hadn't been sentient in the same way the Life Entity had been. It had just poured through her body, her mind, her very soul, like an ocean draining through a hole, and she had nearly been washed out to sea in the process.

We were stars…

She understood better now.

She'd been so very lucky the first two times. She wouldn't wait around for a third.

"I do appreciate you letting us stay here for the time being," Shikako said to Clark.

He smiled. "We aren't about to kick you kids out, especially after how much you helped us."

Shikako raised an eyebrow. "I can't really take credit for any of that," she said.

"Who knows how Nekron's plans would have progressed without you being here?" Clark mused. "Your presence in this world saved a lot of lives, even if it wasn't planned on your part."

The girl weighed the thought, and nodded. Superficially, Clark had to admit, she had a lot in common with the elemental that had possessed her. Her mannerisms, her somewhat blank-faced politeness, her calm surety... It made him wonder if Shikako had had more influence on the Life Entity than it had let on.

"Let one of us know if you need anything," Clark told her. "Reference materials, resources, help getting places..."

"Thank you," the little ninja smiled up at him. "I think we have what we need for the next few days, at least, though..."


"Well, I have a lot of travel rations, but I think Chiyako and Hanabi would prefer something a little less... travel ration-like at this point," she admitted.

Clark chuckled. "That we can certainly manage."

Shiho sighed in frustration as she flipped through a calculus text to look something up, causing Shikako to look up from her work.

"You do know that you aren't obligated to keep going with this anymore?" Shikako checked. "...I'm really sorry about dropping that on you," she said somewhat belatedly.

"I'm not doing it because I have to," Shiho replied. "And... sorry I couldn't get you unpossessed."

"You looked after Chiyako and Hanabi. That's what I really wanted," Shikako assured her. "So why are you getting Wonder Woman to load you up with science books, then? You're really going at it. I can't say I ever took you for the type."

"...I couldn't do anything," Shiho eventually told her. "I'm a good cryptographer. A really good one. But, that's it. I'm terrible at fighting, I don't know hardly anything useful outside of my specialty, I'm not even that great at the non-codebreaking parts of intelligence..." She looked at the scroll she'd filled with a small library. "But I can read this language. And, maybe I'm not as good as you, but I am learning this stuff, even if it's slowly. Back in Konoha, only the four of us can read this language, and Chiyako and Hanabi are just kids and you... well," she waved her hands at Shikako vaguely. "This stuff... maybe it isn't useful things for ninja to know most of the time. But sometimes it is helpful, and I can learn it. This is something I can do. So, maybe I'm not the type. But... I think I want to be."

As Mera dismissed her students for the day, she was surprised to see Wonder Woman waiting for her outside the classroom.

"Diana? My goodness, I apologize. If you needed me, you could have interrupted," the atlantean sorceress said. "We weren't doing anything that we couldn't have picked back up later."

The amazon, however, shook her head. "I'm not here as an ambassador for Themyscira coming to speak to the Queen of Atlantis," she told Aquaman's wife. "Rather, I'm here on behalf of the Justice League. I'm hoping to round out our numbers a little."

"It isn't really viable for my husband to devote a significant portion of his time to your activities," Mera explained. "As a head of state, he has a lot of responsibilities that he simply can't delegate."

"Your husband is certainly powerful," Diana said with a smile. "But, I'm more looking to fill gaps in the skillsets our team has. I figured speaking to the headmistress of Atlantis's Conservatory of Sorcery was the best thing to do when trying to recruit a mage. If you aren't interested, I figured you could at least give me good recommendations."

Mera considered it. Her children were both in school now, so she had more free time than before, and helping safeguard the world was a very worthy endeavor...

"While you think about it, would you care for a girl's night out? We can go trawling for pirates." Diana offered.

Mera chuckled. "Well, I can't let you have all the fun..."

"What was it like?" Chiyako asked innocently as Shikako prodded her into getting ready to go to sleep. Hanabi hissed at her, and dug an elbow into her side. Chiyako just pouted at her. She was so young. Chiyako thought that, because it was over, it didn't... didn't really affect her now. Shikako wasn't quite willing to tell her the truth of the matter.

"Well, I remember what I saw and heard and so on," Shikako said slowly, "but it didn't really see the world that way. It was... like as far as it was concerned the things it could see with my eyes and hear with my ears were something to help it pay attention to the right bits of the universe, but the things that really mattered were... were people's hearts and minds. I can't really... I couldn't hold on to the things I don't have corresponding senses for, but it was like... Rage was red like blood, and willpower was green like leaves and... and I can name the colors, but that wasn't it. Not really. The colors were just how I could think about them, but there was so much more to it than I could grasp."

And, though she didn't continue to speak out loud, because there were some things she didn't think little children were ready to hear wasn't sure that anyone was, even herself, the experience had been...

It was a being that had all of the empathy in the universe, that felt everyone's rage and suffering, all the hopes and fears and wills, and even all the love and compassion in the universe, and was absolutely certain that those feelings were more important than anything else in existence... yet not the slightest bit of sympathy. It didn't feel like there was any reason to intervene, any reason to lessen all of the suffering and death in the universe. It had been polite, and even something approaching kind, because Shikako had thought there was real practical value to that, rather than any genuine regard for the people around her. It had thought of people almost like Shikako thought of fireflies dancing under an autumn moon. It was beautiful and precious, those little lights, but they would all die soon enough and the thought didn't bother her at all. Even the thought of the universe itself ending, of the Life Entity dissipating until something new arose in its place with new life, that hadn't been a cause for alarm. That was just how things worked.

She couldn't help but shiver at the thought. She wasn't like that. That creature, giving out little gifts that might mean something someday and fixing little problems because they were right in front of Shikako's eyes and that almost made the suffering she saw something to be dealt with rather than something that just was... It hadn't been evil. It didn't do anything Shikako considered wrong. It just didn't get it. Maybe it understood the universe better than her, but there were things that it simply couldn't grasp. Yes, perhaps it was reassuring to know that, even if they lost and were trapped in Madara's power until the end of the world, that wouldn't be the end. There was life out there in the universe, and after the end of the universe there would be more.

Life would go on, though every life would someday end.

But the lives of the people Shikako cared about - those mattered in ways that the Life Entity didn't understand. They were stars in the sky of the heart, and each had a flame whose warmth was vital to the people around them. Naruto, Sasuke, Kakashi, Shikamaru... all her friends, all her allies, and even all her foes, they mattered.

And Shikako mattered, too. She hadn't really been close to Shiho, Chiyako and Hanabi before. They were people she knew and cared about to an extent, yet... yet she'd been so important to them. And to the Justice League as well, though they hadn't known her at all. She'd just been a little girl who they thought needed their help, and they thought that was all there was to it. And maybe they were right.

She looked down on the blue planet below them. It was beautiful, and her world was beautiful too. Both the planet and the people. She hadn't really done anything more than be here, yet she'd helped save this world. Just being there, and trying her hardest, and the help of the people around her... Maybe it was enough to save her world, too.

"Thank you for helping Shiho," Shikako said with a slight bow.

Diana waved it off. "I did very little. She's a strong young lady, all of you are."

As Shikako politely replied, Diana took the opportunity to have a good look at her. She acted quite a lot like the Life Entity had, but there was a… genuineness was not quite right. The Life Entity had always meant what it said, it just hadn't paid any real heed to the feelings of the people it was interacting with. Shikako was different in that regard.

"So I understand you are a specialist of some form?" Diana queried, interested to learn more about the young ninja.

"Tokubetsu jounin," Shikako nodded. "I'm not well-rounded enough to be promoted to the full jounin rank, but my skills in my niche are of the appropriate level."

"At your age, it's quite impressive that you've managed to become so recognized," Diana noted. "I've been told your combat capabilities are quite good, but I would assume it is your sealing abilities that earned you the promotion? Your knowledge in that area seems to be exceptional with the progress you've made towards returning home."

Shikako giggled. "Oh, no. If I'd taken a promotion into a specialty that stuck me behind a desk permanently I would go crazy. I need to stay in the field. My specialization is actually tracking."

"Really?" Diana was honestly surprised. "Shiho never mentioned anything about that."

"It's not truly my strongest skill, though I'm quite good at it. But," Shikako admitted sheepishly, "it was actually a little bit of interdepartmental warfare that got me promoted so quickly. Research and Development wanted me, but I was more interested in staying in the field and Sensory Squad offered me a promotion… What about you? What got you involved with all of this?"

"As a champion of my goddesses, I seek to serve them and my people. However, Themyscira is a land of strong immortals, and beyond that a not insignificant number of them are demigods. It is a rare day when my homeland truly requires my strength," Diana explained. "As such, I act in the world outside our island home to defend the world and defeat evil. I am given to understand that the political situation is somewhat more complex for Konoha?"

"The Village system that is currently in place is very new in a lot of ways," Shikako said simply. "Things are tense. I can only hope that our safe return will prevent things from escalating further towards war." She bowed again. "Once more, thank you for our help."

"It was my pleasure," Diana demurred. A rather excellent deflection. Shikako was a lot more cautious about what information she shared than Shiho was. Yet, Shikako seemed even more comfortable around the Justice League than her companions did. A combination of knowledge gained during her possession and greater combat ability, most likely.

Still, a new, unstable political system, was it? She thought back over Earth's history. Such things often ended badly. Yet, sometimes it turned out well in the end. There was no way she could speculate with as little as she knew of Konoha.

It was a terrible thing when a society turned children that young into soldiers. But they were good kids, who protected each other and held dear many of the same values Diana did. And they weren't helpless victims thrust into the horrors of war. Konoha had treated them better than that at the very least. They hadn't even been tempted to stay on Earth.

It wasn't her place to change how their world worked. She could only be thankful that their home had its virtues as well as its flaws.

"You know," Shiho said very quietly to Shikako, late one night. "When you say that the entity stopped you from being hurt from a black light spear through your chest... when those ninja attacked us when all of this started... I could have sworn that I saw..."

Shikako's body cleaved apart by swords, yet unwounded. At ground zero of a terrible blast, yet remaining whole. Tired, yet completely unharmed. Not even her clothes had been torn.

"Was that the elemental or..."

Shikako blinked at her, her features might as well have been porcelain for all the hints they gave away.

Shiho shook her head. "Never mind. Forget I said anything."

Really, Shikako was strong, but... thinking she might have survived Nekron's strike because of some form of immortality or immunity to harm rather than the Life Entity's conceptual immunity to Nekron's death powers... Silly. She knew that Shikako had been in the hospital a lot, and surely that wouldn't be the case if her wild imaginings were right.

The next day, Shiho watched as Shikako drew a little blood for use in testing her ability to summon again (still no luck) and shook her head. Really, what had she been thinking?

The pole entered the small gateway, and returned. Unharmed, this time. She wasn't quite ready to test it with a living being, but...

"Come help me write a message home," she called to the others with a smile.

She didn't need the help, but it got them involved and felt like progress. Was progress. They were going home soon.

The air above the Nara kitchen table pulsed-

-and a scroll bounced down onto the table below.

They were ninja. Naturally, the entire area was soon swarming with more ninjas, and someone much more than disposable than the Jounin Commander and his family eventually rolled the scroll open with a ten foot pole, and read it with a pair of binoculars.

Then the intelligence division got to work.

Finally, most of a day later, it was concluded that it probably was Shikako and the other missing girls, and they hadn't left any obvious signs of duress or anything. She'd included time and coordinates for her first return attempts in a few days' time. And a 'request' for someone she trusted and recognized to be there with the welcoming party, because she'd had to kill a bunch of ANBU-lookalikes and would most definitely stab first and ask questions later if she felt the welcoming party was more of a 'welcoming' party. Tsunade had more of a problem trying to keep there from being too many people Shikako would trust and recognize in the welcoming party in case this was a trap.

The whole situation was one giant pain in the ass, Tsunade felt, and the gibbering from the idiots who were supposed to be working the desks in the mission room instead of being a bunch of nerveless wrecks wasn't helping.

"Thank you again for everything," Shikako said, bowing towards the Justice League. "I really appreciate everything you've done for us."

"Good luck back home," Diana smiled at them. "And... remember that coming back is always an option. You have plenty of friends here."

The little ninjas waved goodbye as Shikako reached down and activated the gate-

-and with a pulse, the clearing was only occupied by the superheroes.

"I hope things work out," Flash muttered.

"It will," Superman said with conviction. "Just... I don't know, call it a good feeling. They know what they're doing."

"Mah, mah. You're late."

"Sorry, sensei. Got lost on the road of life."