Many thanks to Giraffadon for notifying me of the copycat and helping me report that person.



Hello hello! Long time no update! I've been busy, what with finals and now summer school (bleghh)...

But HERE I AM!. . . . . yes.

I just leapt headfirst into the Avatar: The Last Airbender and Korra fandoms, so I'm going crazy with all this bending stuffs.

ANYWAY. This chapter probably will make no sense whatsoever! It popped out as I was planning for Emeralds, which I'm kind of stuck on.



there's lots of her on my dA ~

...that, and this will likely make no sense, but read on! I promise, more funnies will come later. (If you read Emeralds, you probably know some more characters and backgrounds...and you'll get some of the stuff, but even so... trolololol)

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, BECAUSE TOBIRAMA WHERE IS HE.


Chapter 45: Running Fox

Popsicles were sweet to the point where she thought she could paint some onto Danzo's face and make him smile. But as much as she tried, she could not even put the simplest smile onto her own face. It seemed pitiful that even Danzo's meager attempt to cheer her up — flowers for Tobirama-sama's beloved — would not even suffice. Her mood was one that constantly rolled up and down, and for the time being, it remained low, with a long, gloomy stride that heavily scraped against the ground.

Her sister had dropped by, if that was anything to be mentioned. Mariko supposed that it was the most important thing that should be mentioned, for around this time, Sumiko tended to wander towards Konoha. If her yearly migrations were anything to go by, cycles of travel that looped the mainland and the islands, then her arrival in Konoha was the source of Mariko's lack of a smile. Hiruzen, in fact, had described her as "Mariko turned upside down". Smile, and everything.

Yesterday, she'd walked around with Sumiko, and her sister had seemed genuinely happy. Or, as happy as had been in a long time. A few familiar faces followed her, and the ring on her finger was something Mariko chose not to mention, for by nightfall, Sumiko was frowning and stowing it away with some obviously concerning issue preoccupying her thoughts. It was hard to miss that ring; it was large, a large crystal that she slipped over her ring finger.

And then, within the course of a day and a morning, Sumiko had slipped on her cloak and packed her traveling bag. She was gone without much celebration, taking to the west along a wavering trail to Suna's border. Mariko knew that her sister tried to take a different route every year — she had yet to set foot on the same path to the west, her only matching points being the destinations she aimed for.

Holding the melting popsicle in her hand, sitting on the bench with only a half-wilted bouquet of flowers to keep her company, Mariko stared into the lamp's eerie pool of light. Konoha's dusk had pulled a curtain of waking stars into the oncoming night, and the streetlamps were flickering to life, one by one.

"Are you going to eat that?"

Hardly looking up, she handed the uneaten sweet to him, even though she knew he wasn't fond of sweets. But he took it anyway, despite the irritating stickiness melting down the side.

"I'll eat half if you eat half."

"I don't want it."

He bit off a piece of the popsicle, melting orange and sloshed ice. Neatly, he thumbed away a drip from his chin and held it back out to her.

"I don't want it."

"It'll make you feel better. Sugar never fails my Shorty," he replied, wiggling the popsicle as the orange sugar-water dripped down his hand and onto hers. Mariko lifted her hands, neatly folded in front of her, and took his wrist. If only to satisfy him, she took a bite of the popsicle. He smirked when the entire thing just gave up on itself and melted into a sorry glop of mush that plopped onto her skirt.

"See what you did?!" Mariko exclaimed, dismayed.

"You're the one that didn't eat it." He deftly whipped a tissue from his pocket and offered it. Mariko cleaned up the mess as best she could, but the lingering stickiness bothered her to no end.

"Tobirama, I just want to be left alone."

"I'm sure." The white-haired Senju lounged back on the bench, staring at the alley cat that slunk by the lamppost.

Knowing that he wouldn't be leaving any time soon, Mariko stood and stormed away, unsure of where she was going and why she was so angry. Was she angry?

No, I'm not angry. Then what am I? Sad?

She couldn't place the feeling; she paused.

"Shorty, if you can't decide where to go, sit back down." He was bored, watching her pace back and forth. Tobirama, who usually would have soured at the sugary mess, featured a blank face and a surprisingly well-controlled temper.

Mariko, at a loss, returned and plunked herself down unceremoniously.

"Do you want to visit him?"

"He's not here," she replied.

"My younger brothers aren't here either. Buried, I mean. But," Tobirama continued, standing and studying his sticky hand with distaste before looking back to the blunette, "we can still visit them anywhere, anytime."

Mariko shook her head.

"Shorty, look at me."

She didn't resist when his hand — though sticky with what used to be her sad popsicle — came up to cup her face, tilting her chin up.

"He will always be with us, even if he isn't here physically."

"I know that."

"Do you?"

Home was Konoha, but home was also Hurricane. Except sometimes, the metallic glaze over Sumiko's eyes at dinner proved to be too much — for everybody. Katsurou, who often just stood outside and stared at the moon, could be found on a secluded balcony, running a hand through the silky coat of one of the sharp-eyed hunting dogs. And Mariko's oldest brother, Ryouichi, simply briefly touched the crest of black eagle's feathers that were sewn to the shoulder of his jacket, deep in thought and closed from the world.

These reunions were quieter now, with weak attempts to liven the spirit by the royals themselves. To be honest, Mariko thought they were getting better recently. The Lady Yuuna was never one for boredom, and she could make anyone smile, even the gloomier subjects of the High Court. Mito herself graced Hurricane with her presence, once in a while tugging along Hashirama. To the village's terror, the Hokage, his brother, and practically his entire family would take a big vacation to the lovely island, leaving Konoha in the hands of a startled Sarutobi Sasuke.

"Is it traditional," Hashirama once asked, "to have placeholders for…you know?"

He gestured to the empty seat, in front of which a full set of dinnerware was placed.

"I think so," replied Mito, nodding. "The Uzumaki do the same thing for the more recently deceased. If tradition has not changed, they will continue for the next ten years."

"Ten years is a long time," muttered Tobirama, sitting beside his sister-in-law. "Is it a grieving period?"

"I'm not sure, it's a little different here," murmured Mito, quickly peeking over at Mariko, who had been silent for the entire meal.

Then, suddenly, she blurted:

"Sumi, we should go on a hunt tomorrow."

The older woman turned and stared at her little sister. There was an awkward silence, a queasy pause, and then she responded, "Sure," before casting a wary glance at all of the Senju. She looked to Katsurou, but the Second Prince was rubbing his eyes, appearing fatigued. His wife rubbed his shoulder comfortingly, whispering something, a question. When Sumiko turned to their eldest brother, Ryouichi did not respond. It wasn't like he could make a face and shrug, or spit out some witty remark to make her smile. Even if he did, she probably wouldn't smile anyway.

"The ten years," said an elderly woman somewhat close to Hashirama, overhearing their conversation, "is for the Emerald Eagle to guide the soul up to the heavens, a path which takes ten years to cross. The family simply provides food and prayers to help him until he reaches that place."

Hashirama nodded in understanding, thinking it a very loyal, devoted practice.

"Even if he is not from Hurricane?" asked Mito softly.

"But he was," replied the woman. "He was family. He is family."

Tobirama looked from the woman, to Sumiko, to Mariko. Then, to his brother and to Mito, he observed the mood. He watched as Hashirama, in all his casual charm and goofiness, riled the mood of all the dinner guests and managed to provoke a sudden smile from the most melancholy princes and princesses.

Such was Hashirama's gift.

"Here?" Mariko gestured to the empty patch of grass encircled by a copse of trees, just outside of the cemetery.

"Here is fine," Tobirama answered. He set up a slab of simple, unmarked stone, and lit three small candles before it. "A placeholder."

She glanced up at him and offered a smile.

The girl was no longer a girl, and the boy no longer a boy. The girl had learned to control her temper and her stubbornness, and the boy had long since shed his child's behavior for he was now an adult. But still, they shared dinner with their mother, with their Uncle Saru and their Uncle Danzo, with Aunt Mito and even little Tsu. They went to dinner whenever their mother longed for their company, faithfully returning and never forgetting the two empty seats that they shooed the other guests from sitting in. One with a beautifully carved set of chopsticks from the finest wood, and the other with a glass cup blown the finest blue hue.

The wooden set disappeared early on, but for the next ten years, they grew up and watched until Takeshi's children were born, and then the placeholder disappeared.

Tobirama sat next to her in complete silence, watching her stare at the quivering candles.

"What are you thinking of?"

"I'm not sure," she answered, knees tucked to her chest. "I often wonder what would have happened if he hadn't come here. I wonder what would have happened if Sumi hadn't come here. Then—"

He cut her off before her train of thought could finish.

"It's not your fault, Mariko. Nothing is your fault."

"I think it was. I wonder—" This time, the little blunette couldn't finish on her own. She risked a glance at him; she hoped she had not hurt him in anyway.

"What would have happened if you'd never come?" He stated it simply, in understanding.

"He would be alive. They'd be happy."

"And would you? If you'd never met me."

"I'd never intended to marry, I was forced—" Abruptly cutting herself off, Mariko's expressionless mask turned into one of frustration. "Why are you asking me this?! Doesn't it hurt you?!"

He only leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushing a strand of hair away from her cheek.

"Think about it the other way around. I would have been fine, too. We would both have been perfectly content never meeting."

"But I'm glad we did."

"Of course Shorty, who wouldn't be glad to meet me?" He received a harsh elbow in the ribs, but at least a smile came with it. Tobirama reached for her hand, and Mariko willingly laced her fingers through his. "You're so cheesy," he snorted, squeezing her hand when she leaned against him.

"Are you sure I'm the cheesy one?" she taunted, rolling her eyes. Then, more softly, "He would have enjoyed spending more time with us. You two almost became good friends."

"I think, in the end," Tobirama sighed, "we were good friends. That's all I would ever need to know."

"Then why do I feel guilty?"

"That's not he would want us to feel."

"You're not really answering the question." Mariko straightened and stared at the Senju, waiting for his answer.

"Everyone," Tobirama said carefully, "wishes to be able to change what has happened. But he loved you, and Sumi, and Katsurou. You all were his family, and for you to go on happily would be his ultimate wish."

"Tobirama, you—"

"Shorty, we live in a world of warring shinobi. The true measure of a shinobi is not how he lives, but how he dies," Tobirama told her. "He was a great man."

"He was," agreed Mariko, gazing into the dancing flames again. She looked up at Tobirama again. "Do you think Sumiko will come back?"

"She will."

"How do you know?"

Tobirama nodded towards the flames, the little swirls of light dancing on their wax candles, illuminating the dull slab of stone in the darkening night.

"He will tell you."

Mysterious, much? Yes, this chapter was mostly me just spitting out random thoughts...

If you read Emeralds, you will know some more characters...

But you still won't know what's going on, lol.

YOU'LL SEE :'D (waitthatshouldbeafrownD:)