She has been here before-- flat on her back and staring up at the blue bowl of heaven through tree limbs that keep blurring out of focus because she's crying, really crying, and all the while, she bleeds. Shizune feels the hot tears slipping down her temples and hot blood on both hands as she holds together the perfectly split edges of her skin so she can seal her insides back inside of her.
Kabuto's parting kiss is still warm in her hair, and she can't understand why he didn't look back when he left. She loved him more than she loved her country and her pride for two whole days and two nights. In the end, he gutted her like a fish.
The bitter touch of winter reaches into the hole that he made before he went. The cold, cold wind is incapable of sympathy. Her tears freeze in their tracks down her face.
Shizune decides that she has been stupid for long enough. She's too old to keep mistaking obsession for devotion. She's too smart to pretend that pain is a form of affection. Kabuto will love her, yes, but he will only love her down. She breaks her heart with the hammer of truth.
Meanwhile, her hands finish fusing flesh over the last of the laceration. When she touches her stomach, she can feel the smooth perfection of new skin and, beneath that, the flutter of her solitary heart.
It's as though he was never there at all.
Shizune shuts her eyes and rests in the cold comfort of a bed of snow.
The report that she hands to her mistress lacks no critical detail. It includes the modifications that Kabuto made to himself in order to obtain the ability to drop into stasis on command. Shizune diagrams the new strike pattern to shut down Kabuto's systems and personally trains all of the Hyuugas on the active rooster, just in case.
Although she never comes right out and says that she healed Kabuto just to fuck him, Shizune offers no excuse for her missing days.
Tsunade mentions it only once. They are the only two people in the Tower one morning to witness those brilliant, still moments of sunrise. The new light pours in through the windows and anoints Tsunade's head when she swivels in her overstuffed armchair to look out over a motionless village.
"So, it's over now?" she asks.
"Yes," Shizune admits softly.
Tsunade nods, although worry furrows lines between her eyebrows. Her words sound fierce and low in her throat. "Find someone who can be with you. You deserve that much."
It is so ridiculous that Shizune wants to laugh. Such advice from Tsunade, the woman who stopped the ravages of time to stay as young as she was in the moment that her lover died. Tsunade, who clings to a ghost and lets the the living man who has loved her for the entirety of their lives drift further and further away, a white-haired man wandering alone into the mountains. This woman is telling Shizune to find move on.
How dare Tsunade tell her to let go when little Sakura still looks to the tree-line through every available window and sighs for a cold-hearted boy with inhuman eyes. Sakura, like Tsunade, has a golden opportunity to be loved, but she can't hear the hitch in Naruto's voice when he asks her to lunch. She never sees how his eyes light up when she comes into the room.
It's easy to move on when you have someone waiting to love you, and who does Shizune have? Why is it better to love a dream than an enemy?
On her way home some days later, Shizune sees a mother pause on the street to lift up her sleepy toddler and prop the child against her shoulder. Shizune follows the woman for five blocks, partly amazed by the quiet strength of this civilian who balances her grocery bags and her little boy so easily. The mother smiles when she turns into a building full of lit windows.
"Daddy home?" the child yawns.
"Yes, darling," the mother replies.
Across the way, Shizune's apartment is as dark and empty as a tomb. Inside, she makes a tea with honey and passionflower extract. She thinks that loneliness is the most lethal of poisons and that she is killing herself slowly. As long as she entertains the memory of Kabuto, she will come home to no one.
From her bed, Shizune thinks about what it would feel like to be loved all day, everyday. It's a sweeter dream than Kabuto, and she falls asleep in record time.
Genma sticks his head into her office late in the night and grins at her. "See you tomorrow."
She had thought that everyone else went home long ago.
"How's your grandmother?" Shizune blurts out too loudly.
Genma pauses to lean against the door frame and spin the senbon languidly at the edge of his mouth. "I'd say that she's about the same, which is to say gone more than she's here. I had to move her into a full-time care facility last week."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
He shakes his head. "It's okay. It was a long time coming. She seems to be adjusting well enough. They have good people taking care of her."
"That's good," Shizune agrees, painfully aware that she can't sustain small talk. She tries to find something else to say.
Genma beats her to it. "Hey, I know that you're probably really tired of me by now, but do you want to come out tonight? The usual suspects are taking me to a bar out of pity. Apparently, I'm not used to living alone," he explains.
Shizune sneaks a look at the thick file of reports that she had promised herself that she would do tonight. She isn't aware that she is frowning until Genma forces a laugh.
"Hey, it's no problem. I know that you're busy. Besides, I should learn to take a hint." He pushes away from the doorframe, straightens his vest, and gives her a crooked smile. "Have a good night."
The stacked papers nearly takes a tumble as she leaps to her feet and grabs her jacket from the back of the chair. She catches up to Genma before he gets to the end of the corridor.
"I don't really like to drink," she tells him, a little breathlessly.
This time, his grin is honest.
"No one said that you have to," he reassures her.
He holds the door and then waits while she locks up. Snow swirls around the darkened Hokage's Tower. Shizune does not regret leaving.
The bar is warm and dark. Music floats over the smoke and conversation. Genma casually takes her hand and leads the way to across the crowded room to his friends.
"Hey, guys," Genma greets the tableful of jounin.
Shizune can't suppress the blush that wells up when the others exchange smirking, knowing glances.
"Hi, Shizune. This is a...surprise," Raido drolls.
"Oh, shut up," Genma huffs.
Aoba snickers into his beer.
"Ignore these assholes. They are just bitter, bitter men, who all owe me a nice chunk of change," Anko says cheerfully and gestures to the open seat next to her on the bench. Shizune slides in, and Genma claims the last remaining spot beside her.
Aoba winces as Anko kicks him under the table. She swishes the last of her sake around in her near-empty glass while looking meaningfully at the man across from her. Aoba pretends to study his sleeve.
"A-hem," Anko prompts. "You owe me, bastard. Now make it happen."
"Damn it," Aoba complains. "Guess I'm buying. The usual?"
Heads nod around the table.
"And you?" Aoba asks Shizune.
"I really don't-- " she tries to explain before Anko interrupts.
"Get her a plum wine. A nice one. All girls like plum wine," Anko orders. Aoba drifts off towards the bar, and Anko turns to Shizune with a saucy wink. "Trust me. A few more minutes with these idiots, and you'll want that drink."
"Thanks a lot, Anko," Genma grumbles.
"Hey, guess what? I'm the only one here who bet that this pretty thing would ever deem you worthy to take her out, and now I'm buying her a drink for you. So how about showing me a little gratitude, mmkay?" Anko shoots back while poking Shizune in the arm.
Genma moans something about hating life into his hands while Raido laughs so hard that he nearly falls off the bench.
And the laughter doesn't end. The friends tease each other mercilessly. They drag out humiliating stories from the past to torment each other, and even though they have heard everything before, Shizune hasn't, so they have an excuse to tell it all over again. They linger at the bar for hours.
All the while, Genma is a familiar warmth by Shizune's side and a rich voice in her ear. It's so easy to be with him. Shizune doesn't have much to say, but she laughs often and sips her wine to be polite at first and later because it's sweet and she likes the funny easiness that it lends her. Her glass seems to refill magically because she never does reach the bottom. When she stands up at the end of the night, the world bobbles a little.
"Whoa," she comments in surprise.
"Yes! We got 'er drunk!" Anko whoops.
"Now the question is: can we trust Genma to take her home?" Aoba muses.
"I'm killing all of you. You know that, right? Ibiki-style. Slowly," Genma threatens, but he walks her home anyway.
Shizune manages to get her door unlocked on the second try while Genma waits on the stoop. Instead of ducking inside and throwing herself into the cool sheets of her bed, Shizune turns back to her informal escort.
"Thank you for taking care of me," she says. The street lamps all have halos of light, and staring at them makes her dizzy.
Genma takes her elbow to steady her. She likes that he is touching her and tries to focus on his face.
"Try to drink some water before you go to bed. I'll bring you tea tomorrow," he tells her.
"You're sweet," she slurs.
"And you're drunk," Genma sighs. "Go to bed, Shizune."
He gives her a little push towards her door and turns to leave, but her mouth just keeps talking.
"I'm sorry that I stood you up. Before. That was wrong of me."
"Yeah, me too," Genma says softly. He looks up at the snow coming down and exhales before turning back to her. "Okay, I'm pretty sure that my friends were about as subtle as Naruto tonight, so if you hadn't figured it out before, you probably know by now that I have a thing for you. If you're not into me, that's fine. No pressure. But could you work up some way to let me down easy? I'd really appreciate that."
Shizune steps forward and snatches the senbon from his lips. She is close enough to see Genma's eyes go a little wide, but he takes the hint well enough. His hand slips past her cheek and into her hair, he leans toward her, and his mouth covers hers in a warm kiss. She is trying to figure out a classy way to stick her tongue in his mouth and drag him into her apartment when he pulls away.
"...And you're still drunk, and I'm about to be that jerk that takes advantage of the drunk girl," he scolds himself. "Goodnight, Shizune. Remember to drink that water."
He walks away before she can tell him that she's not that drunk, that he smells wonderful, and that she likes the way he smiles when he looks at her.
The next day, Shizune puts the note into Genma's locker, just like a school girl with a crush because, despite everything that happened last night, she is too shy to ask him to dinner in person.
He knocks on her apartment door a little later than expected, which is just as well because she is terribly inept at cooking. The rice, which still looks crunchy, is somehow about to burn on the bottom when she answers the door with a wooden spoon in hand.
"Hey," she greets him and self-consciously wipes away the hair that sticks to the sweat on her neck.
"I'm so sorry that I'm so late. You know the Hokage. She had us..." Genma stops mid-sentence to sniff the air. "Did you cook me dinner?"
"Don't get your hopes up. I'm burning your dinner," Shizune says irritably over her shoulder as she rushes back to the kitchen before anything starts flaming. She only makes it mid-way through the living room before he snatches her hand and spins her around to face him. The spoon clatters to the floor.
"So let it burn," Genma whispers before kissing her until she is thoughtless and limp in his arms.
The rice is a lovely shade of black by the time she finally returns to turn off the stove. Shizune abandons her culinary plans, and they order take-out instead. They spend most of the evening curled up together on the couch, but Genma insists on helping her clean up the charred remains of her failed meal before he goes home.
She is handing him the dishes to wash, and Genma is elbow-deep in soapy water when he confesses.
"How much do remember about last night?" he asked.
"All of it," she smiles at him. "Why?"
"Because warning's fair. You may have missed your opportunity to let me down easy. I think I'm just going to go ahead and fall right in love with you."
Shizune almost spills the pot of concealed miso soup that she was dumping into the trash.
Genma drops his head to his chest. "Damn. Raido told me to keep my mouth shut. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Shizune chews on the inside of her lip and thinks for a moment.
Being with Genma is nothing like being with Kabuto. Kabuto made her heart feel like it was in free-fall. Kabuto made her reckless and left her gasping. Genma makes her feel like she wants to cook dinner, and he leaves her smiling. Better yet, she wouldn't hate herself if she woke up in the morning with Genma in her bed.
Shizune won't be like Tsunade and Sakura. She is too tired of being lonely.
"Genma, I like you," she decides.
"But?" he asks miserably.
"No 'but'. I like you, and I like being with you. I want to see where this goes," she finishes.
Genma extracts his hands from the sink and dries them on his pants on his way over to kiss her until she forgets why she was ever unhappy (again).
Months later, Shizune reads Hinata Hyuga's report and knows that Kabuto is gone. In a way, the news comes as a relief. It validates what she already knew: that Kabuto was always more Orochimaru than he was himself. She thinks that she made the smart choice by avoiding him and moving on.
Genma picks that moment to to drop by her office with a refill for her tea cup. No one is looking, so he leans across her desk and kisses her.
"Don't work too late," he chides when he pulls away. "I'd like to, you know, see you outside of the office for a change."
"Will you make me dinner?" she asks.
"For you? Anything," he teases. Genma cocks his side to one side when he sees whose file is open on her desk. "Any trouble that I should know about?"
His voice is tight, so Shizune knows that he is worried for her.
"No," she answers sincerely. "None at all."