The Ghost of You

A dark-haired girl kneels by a headstone in a graveyard in Konoha. It's been six years, her companion thinks; six years since that last mission, that sunny day when three laughing ninja walked down the dirt track and only two came back. Six years since he last saw her smile for real.

It's raining in the graveyard. He shifts from one foot to another, watching as she carefully lays a rose at the foot of the gravestone; shakes his head a little, trying to dislodge the water already soaking into it. The phrase pathetic fallacy drifts up from the bottom of his mind, legacy of some long-forgotten lesson. Pathetic. Yeah. That's him alright.

"I miss you – I miss you so much. Sakura does too, but she couldn't make it today, so I guess it's just me and Kiba..." The brown-haired boy starts to tune out. He's heard it all before, not just on the anniversaries like today, when she meets him draped in black, with dark circles marring her perfect skin and red-rimmed eyes, but every time they meet. Every time, she finds some reason, some excuse to detour through this damn boneyard. He shivers a little at the twilight cold, wraps his jacket closer around him against the chill. There's always a reason, always an excuse, and what makes it worse is that he knows that even if he wasn't here, she'd still do it. Every fucking day, she comes here, to this graveyard, this headstone, and sits on the grass and talks to thin air.

He'd done it too – he suspected everyone had, in the blackest moments of their sorrow – but he'd never really thought that his friend was here. He didn't want to think so. No – if Kiba knew the stupid foxboy at all, he'd be hanging around, stalking Sakura, watching Ino in the showers and getting rat-arsed on ghostly sake. He'd be, for want of a better expression, living it up. And all the while, this girl, the one girl, the only girl Kiba had ever really liked, had ever – no, he wouldn't say it, because that'd be like admitting he could still remember how to hope – was slowly wasting away while his bones rotted deep beneath the ground.


She looks up. "Hmm?"

"Come on. It's getting dark. Let's go get something to eat."

She nods. "Yeah. Okay. Ramen. He liked ramen."

Kiba's fists clench. He knows it's stupid, pointless, to be angry with a corpse, and he knows it's not his fault, but still – it was so fucking unfair. He's dead, Hinata! he wants to scream. He can picture it in his head, he can see himself taking her by the shoulders and looking into those dark eyes and telling her that he's dead, Hinata, he's been dead for six years, he was a ninja, it was his job and he knew what might happen and he went out on that mission and his luck just ran out and I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I should have been there but I wasn't and now he's dead and he's never coming back, do you understand me? And wasting your life sitting talking to a fucking rock won't bring him back, nothing can bring him back because he's gone and I'm sorry and he's dead, Hinata, he's dead.

But he doesn't say it. He doesn't say anything, he just gently puts a brotherly arm around her shoulders and leads her to the gate without once looking back at the headstone with his best friends name on it. Christ, she's too thin. He can feel her bones, even through her thick black jumper.

And he knows that now, they're going to go to Ichiraku's. He'll have a bowl of ramen, and so will she, and she'll order the kind that he liked best, God knows why, she never even liked it before, but if maybe it makes her feel closer to him and if that makes her happy and puts some flesh on her bones, that's just fine by him.

And he knows that every time there's a flash of orange through the crowd, or a shock of spiky blond hair above a tanned face, or a happy voice yelling "teme" across the room, he'll see that look in her eyes, that flash of terrible, tearing, hopeless hope that he hates with all his heart, because every single time, it's followed by that other look which is a thousand, a hundred thousand times worse, when she remembers and realises that it's not him, it's never going to be him, because he – is – dead.

Kiba Inuzuka knows all this. And he knows that nothing he can do will change it. But – he looks surreptitiously at her as he wraps his jacket around her, catches a glimpse of a shadow of a smile, and his heart sings for her – he also knows that while talking to his headstone keeps her smiling, while taking her to his favourite ramen stand keeps her eating, while believing that he can hear her keeps her alive – well then, fuck but if Kiba Inuzuka won't stand there and hold her umbrella for her while she cries, and listen to her little half-whispered conversations with the air, and play along, and then make sure she gets something to eat and gets home all right and gets into bed. And when she's asleep, he'll allow himself one look, one lingering lovers look at the little mound she makes in the blankets, and then he'll carefully, quietly let himself out so as not to wake her, using the copy of her key he had cut when he first realised that she'd been sleeping in the graveyard, and walk home.

And when he's home, he'll punch the wall, and yell until his throat is raw, and smash things and kick the shit out of his punchbag, and fall asleep exhausted with bloody knuckles and his name on his lips like a curse and her face in his mind like a blessing. And the next time he sees her, he'll be all smiles for her, and he'll do it all again. Because –

Because –

No. He won't say it. He won't ever say it, especially not to her. He won't ever, ever say it out loud, because that'd be like admitting he could still remember how to hope. He'll never say it out loud. But in his head, in the safety of his mind, he can say it.

I won't.

You know what he's saying.

And in the meanwhile, in the rain, in the dark, a headstone stands in a graveyard in Konoha. There're always flowers there – orange ones, of course. Notes, in many different hands. And, if you were to look close enough, two little bare patches, just the size that a pair of small knees would make, almost as if someone kneels there every day and whispers broken words to the trees and the rain. And on the gravestone, an inscription.

Naruto Uzumaki. Beloved friend, sorely missed.

It says it all, doesn't it.