Sarada holds up a bright red picture frame in front of her father, scrunching up her face as she studies him behind the edge. He looks down at her blankly.
“What are you doing?” he asks, and she’s not sure how, but he manages to convey both intense curiosity and mild amusement even without much vocal inflection.
“I’m trying to look at what frames look best with our complexion,” she tells him, which appears to confuse him. She sighs and puts down the frame, starting to rummage around the display for another. “Inojin should really be here for this. He’s so good at this kind of thing,”
Not that she would actually trade away this alone time with her father. They haven’t really been alone together since they arrived home yesterday. Mama has been a convenient buffer between them, filling in silences and suggesting activities for them to take part in as a family.
Like she’s trying to cram as many memories into a few days as she can.
As if we could make up for all the time before, Sarada thinks sadly. Or the time to come.
She knows her father will be leaving the village again soon, but she’s been trying not to think about it too much.
Glancing up at Papa, she notices that he retains his blank look, clearly not knowing who she’s talking about. It occurs to her that maybe he has never met Inojin before.
“He’s one of my friends from the Academy,” she explains. “Mama says you know his parents, and that you went to school with his mom.” He still looks blank. “Auntie Ino?”
Recognition at last. “Ah. Yes. Sai’s boy.”
She thinks she sees his lips purse a bit at that, but she could be mistaken. Her eyes have been picking up on a lot of small things since her Sharingan manifested.
A silence stretches between them then, and Sarada shifts uncomfortably, trying to think of something else to say.
She’s saved when Papa stoops slightly and reaches for a frame at the back of the display. He holds it up for Sarada, and there’s an aura of uncertainty around him.
“I like this one,” he says, and despite the bluntness of the sentiment, she gets the sense he’s asking for her opinion.
Is it weird that I’m getting used to interpreting ‘Papa-Speak’ after only one day? Sarada wonders, taking the frame in her hand. She takes a close look at it, noting the large white, metal rim with curled edges. Well, at least this one won’t break so easily if Mama breaks the house again.
“I like it too,” she tells him, grinning.
She thinks he looks relieved, though she’s not sure if that’s because of her approval or because they don’t need to spend much more time lingering over the picture frame display.
He follows her to the cash, and she starts digging into her pocket for her little money purse, but Papa shakes his head. He is already placing several rumpled bills and dirty coins on the counter.
The cashier, a freckled teenaged girl with blond hair, is gazing up at him in awe, and almost forgets to put the money in her till until Sarada coughs a reminder.
That’s been happening a lot, she thinks, as the girl makes a nervous apology and goes to hand Papa the change. He shakes his head and glances at Sarada while she takes the plastic bag with the frame. I don’t know why. He doesn’t look as scary as he did when he was wearing his travelling cloak.
Mama had made him leave that at home for mending before they left for their errands today.
The staring trend continues as they step out into the busy mall and head back to the small photography studio where Mama is waiting for their pictures to develop. Sarada wonders at first if it’s because of his arm—there aren’t a lot of amputees in the villages these days. Most shinobi that lose limbs in the line of duty have replacements grown for them at the hospital. Mama talks all the time about advances that have been made in limb replacement, and even Boruto was talking the other day about a man with a mechanical arm
Though, he might have been talking about one of his and Shikadai’s stupid games, she muses. I wonder why Papa never got a new arm, the way Lord Hokage did?
There’s never been an opportunity to ask that, though, and things are awkward enough as it is without that line of conversation.
Her awareness of the continued staring increased, and Sarada frowns, nothing that in more than one instance she senses something like hostility. Papa either doesn’t notice it or doesn’t care.
Or maybe he’s used to it. The idea troubles her more than she would like, because why would people be hostile to her father? He’s a hero, isn’t he?
Papa may take no notice of other people’s expressions, but he does notice her suddenly subdued manner.
“What is it?” he asks.
“Nothing!” she says—too fast, because he continues to wait expectantly. She shrugs, uncomfortable and then says, “It’s just…people are staring. At you.”
She thinks that’s acknowledgement.
“I haven’t been here in a while,” he replies, which, yes, that could be true, but somehow she senses that’s not the reason.
“It feels like more than that.”
He is quiet a beat, takes a breath in hesitation, and then says, “You’re right.”
Sarada’s eyes widen in surprise, because she didn’t expect him to agree with her so easily. It took her forever to get information out of him when she first tracked him down, but now he seems to be making an effort to be open.
But Papa shakes his head. “Now is not the time.”
Sarada puffs her cheeks out in annoyance, deciding she spoke too soon about him being forthcoming.
“Because we don’t have enough of it,” he replies, and that halts her frustration, because that’s…deeper a response than she was expecting. Her stomach flips, sensing that they are broaching unsteady territory.
“Is it…” she begins, careful, and not quite knowing how to ask, “does it have to do with why there’s no information about our family in the village archives?”
His eyes close at this, like he’s recalling an old hurt. “Yes.”
She is frustrated and curious all at once, and she really wants to be annoyed with him, but there’s a sudden sadness that passes over his face, and she immediately feels bad.
“It’s okay, Papa,” she tells him quickly. “We can talk about it some other time. Maybe when you come back.” She reflects for a moment. “Unless…should I ask Mama? I mean, if you don’t want to talk about it.”
“No,” he says with a surprising firmness. “I would prefer to tell you myself.” Then, noting her astonished look, he adds, “If that’s alright with you.”
He’s asking her permission, and that makes her heart flutter happily.
“Okay,” she says. “I can wait—as long as you promise it won’t be for a long time again.”
He considers, and then nods. “It won’t be.”
It rings like a promise.
“Good.” Sarada nods her head decisively. Then, after a second of hesitation, she slips her free hand through her father’s. He blinks down at their connected hands in mild surprise. “Let’s go show Mama the frame we got.”
The corner of his mouth twitches upward a little.
“Alright,” he agrees.