So. Um, I promised this to at least two people among the reviewers of Lies.
This is Mira's story. It takes place about five years after the last chapter ("Only), not the epilogue ("Lies"). I promised to give her a happy ending.
This isn't the same style as Lies, in that there isn't much of a 'subtext' or 'unspoken knowledge'. Anywhere, really.
Anyway. Please read happily.
I went out to the village center on a clear, bright day. My home was only a few blocks away from the market, and I enjoyed the simply diversions of makeup and hair and clothes, finding the right combination. Like a puzzle, but without much thought – an absentminded quest for beauty. There was a sense of freedom, indulging myself for the simple choice of buying groceries.
I settled on my red sundress, light around the chest, but loose and billowy in the skirt to my knees. My hair was fine as it was; I always loved my hair, the feel of a breeze through it.
I frequently imagined myself in the third person, as if in a moving portrait; what expression I was making, how my hair fell. I was an artist; my masterpiece was myself.
I walked along the sidewalk, looking at the sky. In this part of the village, it was easy to pass through a crowd. Shinobi tended to be a bit insubstantial, letting a civilian through almost by instinct.
It was a curious thing. It had been five years since I lived with my husband, and about that long since I developed any lasting friendship. The shinobi knew that I was a civilian, and so disregarded me out of hand. Conversely, I absolutely couldn't tolerate the civilian pathos; it permeated the mind with a self-deprecating, good-natured inferiority complex. In any conversation, I was given the impression that this sort of thing – the killing and dying and pain – wasn't good, no, and the person didn't want to be ninja at all, no, but wouldn't it be a treat if they could jump to the rooftops like that?
It made me feel superior, this vague, unspoken wistfulness. And I resented them. I recognized myself in that attitude; I had had it up until the birth of my son.
I was such a stupid girl, then! Latching onto Shino because I was trained to do it, believing that I understood a shinobi's life.
But I pushed those thoughts away. I was enjoying this day. If I began a circle of blame that always began and ended with me, then the market-day would be ruined.
I picked up an apple from a vendor's stall. It was swollen stiff and red. I spent a few second turning it over in my white fingers, and then I remembered how many people must have done the same thing. I set it back down and chose a few from the back of the pile.
It was a slow process – select, compare, disregard or keep – and I reveled in it.
I stopped at an exotic foods vendor and spotted a food that I hadn't expected to run across. Of course, I knew that pineapples were brought to the market quite frequently, but I hadn't actually tasted since moving out of Bujitaihei. Narame had always kept some on hand.
She'd taught me how to tell if they were ripe. If the top leaf came off easily, that was good, but still buy it if it doesn't and stand it upside down…
I wanted one that was ripe. I intended to fix it for lunch, if I could find it.
The third one I tested passed, and I bought it with a smile.
I had accrued quite a bit of knowledge, over the years. I hadn't realized just how little I understood until an old woman felt compelled to lecture me on why the world was a much better place today that it was yesterday. Until then, I existed in a weepy kind of haze, mourning the 'good times' when there hadn't really been any to begin with.
I was inspecting a tomato when a braid of shockingly red hair sidled into my peripheral vision. It was a young girl of ten or eleven, pretty freckles dripped across pale cheeks. Her green eyes were riveted on the tomato I held, as though she would never want anything more.
I put down the necessary coins and offered it to her. "You'll get yourself killed, sneaking up on people around here."
She looked from my sunglasses to the treat, and I was amazed at the wariness and depth in the green. It reminded me of my Shiki, eight years old and very nearly a man already. She said, not without a child's conceit, "I'd like to see them try. I can beat anyone that challenges me."
I was searching for a diplomatic answer when a man jogged up. "Chiro," he started, as though they both knew he wouldn't really scold her, "What have I told you about bothering highly attractive women?" That last included a wink.
I was taken aback. No one had seriously tried to flirt with me for years. I had assumed that, after twenty-five, the point was moot.
The girl, Chiro, rolled her eyes. "Soro-jii-chan. Honestly."
"Honestly yourself. If you're such an adult that you can run off on your own, then run along home, you know?" He tugged gently on the base of her braid and clicked his tongue. "Go on."
She scowled and took a bite of the tomato at him defiantly. She sauntered away, taking her own sweet time.
Soro shook his head, the same red hair catching the light. "Kids these days, you know?" He flashed a smile at me.
I was still startled by all this. New personalities after so long were a shock to the system. "She didn't really do anything wrong."
He tilted his chin up, looked me over speculatively. "No-o. I suppose not. Very strong-willed, our Chiro. Just like her mother, you know?"
My tentative smile crashed to the ground. My voice was barbed. "If you're married, you should never call a woman 'attractive'. Or evenlook at other women."
He cringed away, shoulders rising defensively. "Okay! Jeez, calm down. I'm not her dad, you know? Not married at all!" He blinked open one green eye – he and Chiro looked exactly alike, even their eyes! – and then cautiously opened the other. He sighed, and ran one hand through his hair. "Look. Chiro's my niece. Her mom was my sister, you know? KIA when Chiro was in diapers, and her dad in the big Sixth assassination attempt. I kinda helped raise the little hellion."
I relaxed very slightly. "You're sure you're not married?"
"Definitely not. Someone would have told me." The smile came back, with a lightning-fast wink. "But, hey! Not I remember where I've seen you before, you know?"
I took a step back. "What?"
"Yeah. No. I was at your wedding, you know?"
"…Oh." Not I might have remembered him. Such red hair.
"You know Shino?"
"Yeah. Kinda. I guess. His group of friends adopted my entire cell, so I guess so, you know?"
I cocked my head to the side. "Are you always so frank?"
He tilted his head to match mine. It reminded me of Shino with our son. "How's that?"
"You've twice explained a situation beyond what you needed to," I said. I may have been teasing, but I was half-serious.
Soro shrugged, and his bright smile relaxed into something more philosophical. "If I don't, people might misunderstand or assume things. I mean, naturally, on missions I know how to lie, or else I'll get dead, you know? But folks mistaking my meaning – I hate it." He blinked at me owlishly, and tried to smile, more sheepishly. "I just – don't like it. You know?"
I breathed out whatever breath had sustained me through his speech. "I can imagine."
Soro looked at the bag I carried over my shoulder, half-full of food. "Oh. You were shopping. And, um, I have stuff to do, arcades to raid in search of errant nieces. You know?"
I nodded, and tucked some black hair behind my ear. "Well, I'm Mira. Aburame Mira."
He gave me a half-smile. "Yes. I know. And I'm Soro."
"I know." He put up his eyebrows, and I explained, "Chiro called you by name."
He nodded in understanding and amusement, winked again, stepped back, and melted into the crowd.
Of course. Another ninja.
I saw him again, a week later, as I was walking home from lunch with Hinata. Her twins were growing beautifully, Hime following Hideo from room to room and occasionally persuading him to practice a game with her – involving sharp, nonlethal variations of weapons – to improve accuracy.
I let my feet take me toward my home, and buried my nose in a novel I had borrowed from my friend.
And then Soro was walking in step with me, deliberately scuffing his feet on the ground so that I wouldn't be taken by surprise. He was dressed in standard jounin gear, hands deep in the pockets of his sweatpants. His red hair was flat and spiked with total irregularity, as though he had been sweating and then let it all just dry. Possibly while simultaneously rolling down a hill.
"Hello, Soro," I said, looking at him from the corner of my eyes, but not directly.
"Hi," he said, casually enough. "How are you?"
"Unmolested, so far." I raised my head. "You?" I meant, just as I asked Sakura or Itari, had he been hurt, had any mission gone awry?"
He seemed to understand, and shrugged. "Fine-ish. Pulled a muscle a couple days back, but it's loosening up fine.
I smiled. "How is Chiro?"
"Always busy. Attacks to practice, codes to decipher, tyrannical uncles to thwart."
"She sounds charming."
"She sounds like an ANBU captain at ten," Soro intoned gravely. "Too much time with Itari."
"It's very odd, watching a child turn into an adult. Especially so quickly." I put one finger up in the air, and pointed at nothing. "My Shiki is eight, and he's already so serious that I have to force him to enjoy ice cream with me."
"Right." He clasped his hands together behind his back. "Actually. Um. I wanted to talk to you about something, you know?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Want to go to dinner with me?" he asked, very quickly.
I stopped, and gaped at him, a few steps ahead. "What?"
"You know." He shrugged not-very-nonchalantly, and didn't look back at me. "A date. That sort of dinner. Where you try to dress at least – well, at least as beautiful as you look just now, casual, because I don't imagine there's that many more levels to go before the scale just explodes. And I'll do my damnedest to be charming." Now he glanced back, sheepishly. "I've been practicing that charming part. Not going so well, you know?"
I stared for a while longer, and then just laughed. "I don't know about that. The babbling is charming, in an adorable sort of way."
A smile dawned. "So is that a yes?"
"Why not?" I said, on an impulse. "When?"
"Tonight. I'll pick you up." He waved, started to leave, debated something with himself, and came back, eyebrows drawn up apologetically. "Sorry. Where do you live?"
I suppressed my laughter this time, and told him, and plans were made.
And I had a date, for the first time in eight years.
And I had absolutely nothing to wear.
I settled on a knee-length, blue skirt and white blouse, in the end. I spent a longer time on my hair than usual, leaving it part-up, part-down, and rolling the outside sections up, pulling them together in the back, and braiding them in one long line.
And, by the time he came to my door, I was satisfied with my appearance.
He wore a green shirt that must have been tailored and black neat slacks. His posture was loose and leaning, and his hair was standing in all directions but in a more deliberate way.
He took a long moment to squint at me from toes to forehead, and then shrugged and grinned. "Guess I was wrong about the whole exploding-the-scale thing, you know?"
I smiled and stepped out into the twilight world with him. "You look handsome, Soro."
He stepped one foot back and performed an overly ornate bow. "Hwhy thank you, Your Highness. Shall we away?"
"Where were you thinking for dinner?" I asked, slipping my arm around his near elbow and letting him guide me about.
He hummed low in his throat, and said, "I know a place, you know? Just trust me."
So I did.
Dinner carried well, all about a small restaurant with spicy, exotic foods that we dared each other to eat. Under duress, Soro admitted that he'd wanted to use the nook-and-cranny place for a date since he'd first eaten there.
I asked, "You've used this before?"
He shook his head, took an extra moment to swallow a red thing that made my eyes water sympathetically, and said, "I haven't. This is the first time I've met a woman I thought might be up to it."
"With all the kunoichi you meet?"
"They sort of weird me out, you know? Kinda manly, for being girls. You, though, are strong and female. Lucky combination, you know?" He waved his hands and focused his green eyes on a suspicious-looking ball of goo. "Like a…a willow, or something similar."
And thus, we fell into an easy pattern of his off-the-beaten-path compliments and my trying to turn them to jokes.
After that, we fell back to the streets, laughing along the way.
"I didn't think they'd set the entire cake on fire," Soro mused thoughtfully, looking at the black sky.
I had to be careful, because the cobblestones in the village center were a hazard in high heels. "I can't believe they actually felt I had impugned their honor by suggesting they shouldn't!"
"It was perfectly serviceably without flames, you know?" he chimed in dutifully.
I was quiet for a moment, and then I asked, "Soro, can I request a bit of candor?"
"I try my best to keep you from needing to," he said, mildly concerned.
"Why me?" I asked, smiling at the middle distance. My glasses made me half-blind in the night. "I mean, you already know that I've been married and I have a son. You know that I'm a civilian."
Soro shifted his arm in mine. "You got my niece a tomato."
"A sixty-year-old grandmother would do the same for any child."
"Good point. I really need to reevaluate my criteria, you know?" He chuckled dryly. And then he sobered up. "I kinda had a thing for you a while back."
"'A while back'?" I echoed. "How long ago?"
"Um. Kinda." He broke off, embarrassed, and forced himself on. "Kinda your wedding."
I stopped laughing. "You're serious?"
"Would I lie to you?"
"I don't know," I said. "I supposed you wouldn't. But how did – I mean, why… at my wedding, of all places?"
"Well, I never really – you know – saw you before them. And I knew pretty much from the off that Shino wasn't the guy for you. The entire ceremony was so stiff and hard, too, completely didn't suit you, you know?"
I pressed my lips together and tasted the lipstick I had reapplied after dinner. "Yes. I know."
His free hand was waving and making grand gestures, and his voice was rising. "And then you cried! It takes a lot to make you cry, you know?" He caught himself, and I thought that he must be blushing, though I couldn't see it in the dark. "Erm. I guess you're that type, I mean."
"I didn't take you for a hopeless romantic," I teased weakly. I stopped walking, and he faced me with that half-amused grin and squared shoulders.
He said cleverly, "I can be, when the fancy strikes."
I peered up at him through my glasses, and asked, "Why didn't you approach me way back then? If you knew that I wouldn't be happy with Shino in the end."
He shrugged. "You were married. I can't really fight against that, you know? Sacred so-and-so, unique and blah. A lowly man like me can't mess with it."
"Oh," I said softly. The air was cold, and the heat coming off him made my skin tingle.
His hand came up and rested on my shoulder, and I set mine on his upper arm. We stood posed this way for a while, and then Soro said, "Can I? You know, do you mind if I…"
I leaned my head back and felt a little silly, torn between puckering my lips and just sort of waiting.
I didn't have to wait long, because then we were kissing. Both his arms settled more comfortably on my back, and held me flush against him.
He didn't try for tongue, which surprised me a little. He straightened back up, and beamed at me, and took my arm again to lead me toward my own home.
"I must admit," I said after a moment of thought. "I've never been kissed quite like that before."
"I sorta get overenthusiastic with crushes, you know?" he said bashfully. "Sorry."
"It wasn't unpleasant," I reassured him. "I enjoyed it, in fact."
He laughed, loud and long, and skipped down the street and rose onto a bench more gracefully than I ever could.
I followed behind, more sedately, and chewed on my over-sensitive lips.
He flung his arms wide, and shouted, "Not a breath shall pass my lips what won't worship you and your softest kiss!"
I giggled shyly, felt like a teenager, and said, "I thought you weren't romantic?"
"Only when the fancy strikes," he repeated.
"The fancy struck," he admitted, grinning and hopping down to walk with me. "You're a fancy-striking kind of woman."
I blushed even darker and let him take me home.
This was the start of something.
Maybe something very, very good.
(A few months later.)
I didn't trust myself not to turn myself around in the forest that the Inuzuka clan called home, so I didn't go in past the gate. Instead, I found a little restaurant and settled for a while with a book, waiting.
Half an hour passed in quiet and warmth and lazily applying myself to the novel.
And then, "Oh, hi, Mira," he said with false casualness, directly behind me.
I started, set down my book, and tried not to give him a resentful glare for sneaking up. "Kiba."
He watched me for a few seconds, sucking on his sharp canine teeth and letting his eyebrows creep higher. Then, he squinted down the street and indicated an arbitrary direction with a jerk of his head.
I stood up and walked with him, careful to look at the book in my hand or the next patch of ground to put my foot.
He stayed quiet, chin high, hands linked behind his head. And he waited, while we wandered further away from his home and into neutral territory.
Eventually, I said, "You know the shinobi Soro."
Of all the things I could have said, this made him laugh. "Oh, hell, I remember him. Nearly killed me in our first few seconds of acquaintance."
I eyed him, surprised. "Why?"
He shook his head. "He was testing us. Weird guy."
He said 'us' and I remembered the way Shino relaxed around him and how he always knew what Shino was thinking and how that had so utterly crushed me.
But not that was only an old ache, and I exhaled hugely. "I'm in love with him."
Kiba stopped and gaped. I kept walking, half enjoying the reaction and half embarrassed by the admission.
"Just like that?" he asked, suddenly caught up with me again.
My cheeks were starting to color, in a good way. "I've been seeing him a few months."
"Sure. Okay." His tone loosened into blasé acceptance. "Why not."
I nodded, mostly to reassure myself.
We walked in silence a while longer, and then Kiba asked, "Why are you telling me about it?"
I sighed again, and lifted my chin up to match his, He hadn't grown taller since my wedding, but he was still taller than me. "What you said, so long ago. About who was to blame for what happened with Shino."
He frowned, and then looked at the sky. The sun illuminated his hazel eyes as a concerned green. "No one was."
"Yes," I agreed, and marveled at how easy it was to say it. "And I can see that, now."
He gave me a measuring, suspicious once-over, and then beamed. "I'm glad. Mira, that's great!"
I smiled back, and felt tired as a tight, buried knot of everything that had gone wrong melted out of me. It was so abrupt that I felt somewhat dizzy.
And then Kiba's arms – strong, gentle, confident, genuinely happy for the person who had tried to ruin so much of him – moved around my shoulders and his chin touched my ear.
I understood a fraction of what Shino had found in him, and nearly cried, but I was too far past crying.
"I'm really glad. For Soro, too. He kept trying to hit on Jata – you know, before she married Naruto and had that deadpan kid – and it wasn't really more that joking, right?" He squeezed, once, and let me go, and we started walking with our shoulders touching occasionally, companionably. "You'll do well with him."
"He's very straightforward," I offered, and remembered everything else about Soro. He took care of Chiro, scolded her and gave her room to mature into adulthood at the same time. He smiled at the world and smiled at me and didn't begrudge me my own faults.
And, best of all, he didn't treat me like an ignorant civilian.
Kiba was watching me. "Hey," he said, to get my attention. "I like that. The way you're smiling right now. That's how Hinata smiles at Naruto, and Sasuke at Itari."
I tried to suppress my smile, to arrange my face in a less silly, teenage-girl way, but it only grew into full laughter and he laughed with me.
And then he walked me to the street I lived on and nodded at my goodbye.
I felt so, so much better.
I was finally finished with the lies, and it was all because of the one person willing to give me only the truth.
Holy Jesus God, you guys.
I'm done with Lies.
For serious, and for good.
There isn't That One Last Thing hanging out on the horizon anymore. This IS that one thing. Now, I owe absolutely nothing to any of the characters, and nothing to the reviewers, and I'm done.
After a year and a half.
And I miss it already. I mean, I already missed the loose, amorphic thing with Shino and Kiba, stretching the universe taut with the Unresolved Sexual Tension and tearing a hole in subspace with all the freaking subtext.
But now the entire universe is gone from my control. Forever.
Aaaawww. I miss Jata...
Thank you for reading, everyone. It's been a blast... you know?