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Tsundoku

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When she woke, she was still curled around the Summon like he was a fuzzy, warm stuffed animal, and something that smelled really good was wafting beneath the blanket she’d pulled over her head at some point in the night, likely to cut out the light of dawn.

She… couldn’t remember the last time she’d had food brought to her in the morning.

Peeking out from beneath the blanket, she saw a plate with ham, eggs and toast sitting on it, as well as a tall glass of milk, causing her to blink and frown, before sneaking a hand out to snag a slice of ham, even as she wondered where they had gotten it.

“Zabuza went shopping at Gatou’s mansion early this morning,” the furry bundle in her arms informed her, and she looked at him with still heavy eyes, her fingers popping the meat into her mouth quickly before sneaking out for another piece, this one she bit most of it off before giving the small part to the Summon, who snagged it gently in his sharp little teeth and gobbled it down. “You used a lot of chakra yesterday, so you slept in. It’s almost ten now.”

“Oh?” she wondered softly, finally deciding to sit up and stretching her arms over her head, enjoying the pull of her muscles as she did so; she really did feel rather good. The extra sleep must have been just what she needed. “And everyone else?”

“Naruto was complaining about training, so Kakashi hassled Zabuza into helping him teach the pups water walking while they’re at the bridge, and Haku just went to give out some supplies that were salvaged to the townspeople until trade over the bridge starts again, after dropping off food for you.”

“Hmm,” was all she said as she really started in on the food, tearing up a bit to give to the pug every once in a while, something that she could tell he enjoyed.

Having him snuggled against her was nice, and she couldn’t help but run her hands over his soft fur, gratified when he didn’t seem to mind, even leaned into her fingers when she gently massaged his ears.

Once she’d finished with breakfast she stood up, giving a quick full body stretch before pulling off her sleeping attire and leaving it on her bed roll. Walking in her chest wrap and underwear over to her hip pouch and pulling out her clothing scroll and popping out a clean set of leggings – what she normally wore beneath her pants – and a skin tight under armor half shirt with long sleeves and a high collar that stopped just at her jaw line. She slid the shirt on over her head, pulling her slightly frizzy from sleep braids out from beneath the top, which conformed to her, the bottom of the top stopping two inches below her bust line ended on her ribs, and the sleeves trailed to her wrists, but the backs of her hands were covered by an extra length of cloth that was slightly thicker than the rest, with metal mesh sewn into it, a loop hooking over her middle and ring fingers. Pulling the leggings on after checking that the binding on her thigh were still secure, she pondered over whether or not to put on her pants over them and whether or not to put on her leather armor, still sealed into another scroll considering she wasn’t expecting to do much that day, and decided for half, and strapped the open legs of her pants down to her calves before putting her hip pouch on and turning back towards the Summon.

Her brows rose at the sight of her folded laundry and put aside bedroll and she smiled at the dog for it; it was messily done, but the thought was what mattered, when one didn’t have thumbs.

It was impressive in any case.

“Are you going to stick around today or are you going to Unsummon at some point?”

“Might stick around for a while,” the pug indicated, standing and trotting to the door and she followed, after grabbing the emptied tray and gulping down the last of the milk, before pulling open the door and heading downstairs behind the canine. “Could do with some time away from the guys.”

“The rest of Kakashi’s pack?”

“Mm,” the pug grunted at her, waddling down the staircase in front of her. “You haven’t met them yet.”

“You make it sound like I will, though,” she mused, a little startled by the contemplative look she received from canine features. “It doesn’t seem like he just Summons them like he does you, though.”

“You will.”

There was no explanation, but she left him to his obliqueness. Summons had their reasons, even if humans couldn’t understand things in the same way, and it was best not to try anything with them over the withholding of certain information. Chitose used to get his ass kicked by their sensei’s Summons when they were being vague about something, and though she doubted that the pug would attack her, she didn’t want to pry when it was clearly something that Pakkun didn’t wish to speak of.

Tsunami was in the kitchen, looking out the window with a very openly relieved, much more relaxed expression on her features as she held a dirty dish in hand, scrub brush clutched in the other.

“Ah, Tsunami-san?” she queried as she brought her things to the sink. “Would you like some assistance?”

It was only polite to offer, and the woman did still look rather tired. One good meal wouldn’t do much, even if it did seem to ease the lines of stress on attractive features.

“Oh!” the mother turned towards the kunoichi, eyes a little wider with her surprise. “Good morning, Asuka-san. Did you sleep well?”

“Oh, yes,” she nodded, placing her things in the sink and carefully nudging the other woman over with her hip and taking the brush and plate from her hands, which earned her a small smile. “Did you make breakfast? It was wonderful.”

“Ah,” wane cheeks pinked slightly, and Asuka took the time to admire the life it gave to lovely features, the civilian woman glancing away and rubbing her petite hands on her half apron. “Yes, thank you. I’m glad you liked it.”

There was companionable silence as the combat kunoichi finished the dishes and set them in the rack to dry, glancing out at the water towards where the other woman had been staring, and wondered what it was that had happened there that had drawn such fond sadness into those lovely dark brown eyes. It wasn’t the kind of worn age that happened in the midst of war, of someone who had seen the worst of humanity and lost all faith in it. The kind of weariness she saw in Tsunami’s eyes reminded her a bit of Juli, her sad little civilian friend who had the sweetest heart and a soft smile for those in need despite the cruelties that had been dealt to her.

It made Asuka want to help.

Damn, she really had an awful soft spot for damaged people with kindness somehow sequestered deep inside.

After she had done the chore, she turned to see the woman fiddling with her apron a little awkwardly, cheeks still flushed, eyes directed at the ground. This was the kind of nerves of a civilian faced with a nin when she’d never come in contact with them before; Asuka was well used to these kinds of situations, though they could still be baffling.

“Is there something the matter, Tsunami-san?” she questioned, a glance into the other room showed Pakkun passed out on the rug in the middle of the floor.

“Ah, well,” she glanced over at the slightly younger woman’s exposed midriff, and Asuka felt a light click on as those pale cheeks reddened further. “Do… do all kunoichi dress as you do?”

A lopsided grin found its way onto the green eyed woman’s features at the hesitant curiosity in the other woman’s stance rather than judging contempt and discomfort.

“If we’re going to talk about the intricacies of my wardrobe,” the words came slyly, teasing from her lips. “Why don’t we do so over tea?”

Once they sat down to wait for the water to come to a boil, Asuka grabbed her left braid and began to twist and fiddle with it until it had spun into a bun low on the back left of her skull with a slick of chakra. Her free hand pulled her hair senbon out of her hip pouch to secure it with before mirroring this action on the opposing side, allowing the civilian woman to complete her study of her kunoichi counterpart.

It was always odd, to think about how a civilian might see her. How they interpreted the way she held herself, dressed and looked.

They didn’t look at her like a weapon, but as an oddity, a woman doing something that women didn’t do.

Couldn’t do.

So what did this woman think of her? Of hardened, rough Asuka, who was not a traditional civilian beauty but a not so hidden blade that hid in the shadows as she was marked by them?

Asuka wondered a bit what the other woman thought of her light brown hair with golden and red tints, braided down the sides of her head and tipped with small kunai. What she thought of her straight cut across bangs that barely brushed thin, finely arched brows, golden brown eyelashes that framed large vibrant emerald green eyes – her favorite feature was her eyes, just like her mother’s – slightly bruised from sleep. Her nose was soft and small, having only been broken once with a spattering of golden freckles over her bridge and on her smooth, slightly rounded cheeks, a fading scar on one side and a bruise on the other. Her mouth was small with rounded lips, a fine dip in the top one, a small pale scar on the upper left corner, often stern and pinched with concentration. Her chin was a little thin, a little uneven from a broken jaw as a child when she’d tumbled off the Hokage monument, and she had a single significantly darker freckle on her jaw line on the right side.

Did she pause over the defined muscles of her arms and shoulders? Did she think her unattractive or unnatural, for a woman to have such a chiseled body, scarred as it was?

As opposed to most other kunoichi – whom had different specializations and classes – Asuka had visible definition in her abdomen and her back, waist not immediately evident in its thinner proportion due to muscle, the smooth beginning to a muscular V between her hips that was somewhat hidden by the pants that sat low on her hips. Over her abs were a smattering of scars from being stabbed or grazed and even burned, dotted in the center was her belly button ring, as if to draw the eye away from the battle scars with a plane simple bar of dark metal rather than an artistic ornament, though she had some at home that she rarely wore, and never when she was out of the village. Most gifts from Anko, who liked body jewelry.

The largest, angriest scar she had was a mostly faded burn that was suffused with the dull red of the bijuu’s chakra on her back from that night twelve years before when she’d held a burning support beam off of her baby sister as she bled out beneath her during the Kyuubi attack. It was the scar that saddened her the most, even if it could quite possibly be gone in another decade or so, even if the effects never faded, what with the chakra in her body renewing her cells at an extremely accelerated rate. It reminded her of what she had lost. One never knew when the tailed beasts were involved, however, so there was the distinct possibility that it would remain with her even if she lived to an age like that of the Sandaime; the chakra they had was too different from human chakra for any of them to really know.

There was a tattoo the size of her palm in a likeness of the Sharingan’s three tomoe in the middle of a circle between her shoulder blades, unseen, cradled by the fading scar in what had become remembrance of her grief at the passing of her twins rather than the drunken poor decision of her youth.

She’d been inconsolable for weeks when they’d died, feeling dead inside herself, like they’d taken a chunk of her with them into the afterlife. As if there was a hole shaped like them in her mind that had just… left with them.

She’d been just a machine after they’d passed, until the Sandaime had snapped her out of it.

Asuka had been alone, or at least, it had felt like it, until the Hokage had spoken to her after her psychological exam to reenter the field, reminding her that other people needed her and wanted her too. No matter how few.

“To answer your question regarding my state of dress,” she started, placing her hands on the table before her, watching the other woman examine the small scars that littered her callused fingers, nails short and unpainted. “In general, kunoichi wear clothes that you might consider risqué. A good portion of them wear a lot less than what I currently wear,” at the widening of Tsunami’s eyes she smiled again. “Part of that is to distract enemies, and another part is that a lot of kunoichi like to feel desirable, even though they are in a profession that is generally frowned upon by civilian woman as manly or uncouth,” those cheeks flushed once again, and she was oddly reminded of Umino Iruka. “Mostly, it deals with the fact, that if a man takes offense to our way of dress, we are physically able to overpower him or outsmart him if he decides to make an issue out of it,” those dark eyes flickered up to hers again, and she held her gaze. “Have you ever heard of a shinobi assaulting a woman, Tsunami-san? One that was associated with a village and not a missing-nin?”

“I… a claimed shinobi? I don’t think so. No,” dark brown, lightly wavy locks shifted as the woman shook her head negatively, surprise and thoughtfulness shifting over her features. “Never.”

“It’s unlikely that you ever will. A shinobi has a great respect for women instilled in him from the beginning of his training, both as someone with the ability to create life rather than end it, and especially so for the potential kunoichi that make up each generation,” this was also why her superior officer had been so upset by the lame threat of Gatou giving her to his subordinates, despite the fact that it never would have happened. Such disrespect and objectification was just not done amongst shinobi ranks.

At least not in the newer generations; sexism had been a problem that Senju Tsunade had fixed for them.

With her fists.

“A shinobi can’t think of one civilian woman one way and another kunoichi in a different way, because the lines will blur and classification like that can be messy, so he is taught to think of all women as equal. If he were to think of all women in terms of a civilian mindset, he’d likely find himself beaten to death by several kunoichi who took offense to his attitude, or possibly left behind in danger by his compatriots,” brown eyes were wide and a little shocked. “A woman seen from civilian standards is generally weaker than a man, yes? Easily overpowered and used,” a nod of reluctant acknowledgment. “In shinobi culture a woman who becomes a kunoichi is considered just as able bodied as a man, if not more so, depending on to which section they devote themselves, and a number of the highest ranking and most dangerous ninja have been women, which just cements this understanding.”

A few moments of silence.

“And a man who approaches a woman with a shinobi mindset?” the civilian woman asked quietly.

Tsunami sounded curious, thoughtful, and that pleased the chuunin, who had found recently that she liked enlightening others about the factors of what it meant to be a kunoichi. Who knew that getting dragged into training a genin by Hatake Kakashi would show her that she didn’t mind teaching? Well, one on one at least.

The Academy would be a massacre.

“That, my dear, is what we call a gentlemen,” she stated playfully changing the mood as the tea pot whistled its readiness. “The best kind of man is one you can lead him around by the nose and he likes it, will trip all over himself for you. I know several shinobi like this, and most of them will be gobbled up in a few years’ time.”

The civilian woman smiled as she gathered the tea makings and then set down the cups and pot before them on the table.

“Is it…” she bit her lip, cheeks reddening again as she glanced up a little shyly at the younger woman. “Is it true that ninja don’t care about gender?”

“Oh, well, most don’t give much thought to it other than if they are an interested party, but everyone has their preferences,” her expression was calm as she regarded the woman before her, noting something like relief passing over her features. “Why choose one when you can have both? What if you miss out and die on your next mission? Yes, most ninja don’t care at all about gender when it comes to sexual partners, and a number are even in open relationships with several others at once.”

Mostly, nin were just equal opportunist horny bastards who would take what they could get. There were also those who didn’t care for sex at all, preferring just platonic companionship when they sought company or comfort, and it wasn’t unheard of for there to be those who would request that a comrade sleep with them, as in actually sleep to keep nightmares at bay. Asuka’s own Chitose had preferred not to engage in sexual acts, but on occasion he would randomly desire to do so, and the timing was always, let’s just say… inconvenient or shocking.

“Oh,” her face was quite red, and she pressed the backs of her fingers to her cheeks trying to cool them. “And… what they say about shinobi? Is that true?”

The woman looked mortified as the words tumbled in a rush from her lips.

“What do they say?”

This really shouldn’t have been as amusing as it was, but the horror that was etching over the woman’s features was just too cute.

“They… they…” you could have fried an egg on her cheeks they were so red. “S-stamina…”

“Oh, Tsunami-san, you have no idea,” a devilish grin slid over her features and the kunoichi leaned on the table and snagged her tea to take a quick sip before continuing, tone mischievous. For conversations such as this she preferred sake, but tea would do fine. “Let me tell you about shinobi.

The mother’s eyes were wide, but interested, despite the embarrassment that was clear on her features. It was apparent that she didn’t get to gossip often, and while Asuka wasn’t known for it, she usually just let Anko roll out her own gossip monger ways whenever she blew in, she could certainly stand to indulge now and again. Girl talk wasn’t necessarily bad talk, either way. Sometimes it could be downright entertaining.

“Now, really, it depends on the shinobi but, let me say this now, stamina is such a weak word…”

~*~

After sitting for a nice chat with the other woman for a little over an hour, trading horror stories and a few more interesting tales – Kaiza had apparently been a very giving man, much more so than the Tsunami’s first husband had been – they had both gone to do their daily chores, one the laundry and the other her katas.

Slowly moving with each inhale and exhale, she slid her leg around in a pivot, her arms moving smoothly around her in her unarmed kata, and barely aware of the fact that time was passing, as she did so. Pakkun lay in the grass a few feet to her side, and every now and again he would snort and twitch, causing her to smile or chuckle at him as she continued on with her conditioning, carefully examining the burning in her thigh to make sure that she didn’t overdue anything before she had the chance to examine herself again that night. She was lucky that she didn’t use much in the way of aerial combat, since she wasn’t sure how much pressure her leg could deal with, and with the tentative analyses of nerve damage she’d made the night before, she didn’t want to make things horribly worse. Even though she wasn’t averse to hospital stays, she was averse to extended medical leave like what was required for rewiring nerve damage and the physical therapy that could be involved in such.

Bleh.

Downtime. It made all ninja shudder.

Once she’d gone through her unarmed katas for a while, she smoothly shifted into a handstand, feeling the kunai in her hair brush over the back of her neck before sliding further against her buns, and slowly breathed out. Very slowly, she removed one hand and pulled it in against her chest so that she was only balanced on the one arm, feeling the steady burn in her shoulder and elbow as she held herself carefully still, modulating her breathes and counting heartbeats. Several minutes later she switched arms again, careful to maintain her balance as she did so, so that she wouldn’t have to restart the exercise over again, and once she’d finished with her second side, she put both hands down again.

Lowering herself down in an action similar to that of a pushup, keeping her legs and torso in line above her as she did so, she ended up with the top of her skull brushing against her hands and her elbows supporting her on the ground, her deltoids beginning to strain at the position of holding her not insignificant weight up.

These exercises were done without chakra enhancements while she was on mission, because she wanted that ace in the whole if she was attacked, but it made them that much more uncomfortable.

Her sensei had never let them use chakra during basic exercises, the sadist, and it had become habit.

Only a few minutes later, she let her legs fall behind her with a breath and stretched her back until her feet touched down against the ground, slippers gripping at the dirt with patterned soles as she shifted up onto her hands again so that she was in a comfortable bridge position, before clenching her stomach and thigh muscles to pull herself upright once again, taking a breath once she was standing again against the sudden lightheadedness. She stretched her arms for a few moments, before slipping into her right sided splits and picking up her back foot and grabbing it with her arms stretched back, her spine arched, the pull in her uninjured thigh uncomfortable but instructional in how much more flexibility training that she needed.

The Summon snorted and woke whilst she was doing this, giving her a quick glance before looking off down the road with a frown on his doggy face.

Not moving from her position, but turning her head to look down the road as well, she saw something that caused her to make a face.

Ugh.”

“Probably used to work for Gatou,” the pug said drolly, putting his head back down and watching her with those large sad eyes. “They’re drunk and angry.”

“Yeah,” she sighed, letting go of her foot and shifting so that she was in her center splits and carefully cracking a stiff hip as she did so, and exhaling at the release of tension. “They probably know that the boys and the kids are at the bridge, and wanted to see if they could have a go for Tsunami.”

Again. It was lucky that Naruto had been able to do something that time, though.

Even if he’d slept in like a spoiled brat because he hadn’t listened to her and gone to bed when he should have, he’d been there to save Tsunami and Inari from the thugs that Gatou had set after them while he assumed every one of the Konoha squad was at the bridge.

The little imp.

She shifted again, only this time to her left splits, and grimaced at the pull in her injured thigh, not even contemplating pulling that leg up, this was enough until she was finished healing, and she arched her back in the manner of before, arms gracefully treading air to complete the backwards C curve. Once her back started to twinge, she straightened her spine, and then smoothly moved out of the splits to standing, stretching down pressed the backs of her hands to the ground to sooth the tightened muscles.

“Where’s Tsunami?” she asked idly as she stood straight again, rolling her shoulders as she did so.

“Out back behind the house,” Pakkun answered without lifting his head at all from where he lay, and she walked over to his spot and crouched down and rubbed at his side, making his back leg kick. “Hey.”

“That’s good then,” she remarked, continuing to scratch at him as he was giving a low rumble of indignation twined with bliss.

“Yeah.”

She smiled even as she looked up at the four idiots who were now only standing perhaps twenty feet away, eyeing her with familiar, disgusting looks on their faces.

Honestly. Civilians.

“Is there something you boys need?” she queried politely, standing up from where she’d been hassling the pug, who grumbled and went back to his nap effortlessly.

“Yeah,” one of snapped at her, cheeks artificially flushed from bad booze. Oh, gross, it was wafting. “You the bitch who owns this place?”

Brows raised, she decided to humor them; if they didn’t even know what Inari’s mother looked like, this would be pathetically easy.

“And if I were?”

All of their faces gave an ugly twist.

“Your old man ruined us, bitch!”

“Yeah, we had it good with Gatou!”

“We’re gonna fuck you up, then fuck you!”

“Ruin you like you ruined us!”

Her lips tightened as the thought that if she hadn’t slept in that day then it would be likely that Tsunami would have been home alone, and she would have been able to do little against the men who would have still appeared had she been there or not. Frowning, she started to calmly walk towards them, one thought in mind.

Eliminate the threat to her new friend.

One of them seemed a little uneasy the closer she got, and she thought it was because he was staring at the scars on her abdomen, and realizing that something just wasn’t right with the housewife that was supposed to live there. Asuka would have been right, but he was also a little uneasy about the fact that her abs were more defined than his own by several degrees.

She decided that he’d go first.

Stopping right in front of him, she gave them no warning as she turned to side face and snapped a kick straight up and caught him under the chin, snapping his head back and breaking his neck at the same time as she did so. As he fell, she turned to the three remaining, and lazily punched the next in line in the stomach and as he was doubled over retching and wheezing, she gave a sharp chop to the back of his neck, snapping his just as quickly as she had the first one, before jumping and spinning a kick at the thirds head, snapping it forward in a reversed parody of the first’s, breaking his neck next, and landing lightly on her feet as the two fell in simultaneous thuds of sound.

The fourth stared at her as if he couldn’t figure out what had just happened, eyes wide with shock, pupils blown.

“W-what…”

“I’m a ninja, you idiot,” she muttered, mashing her knuckles into his throat and crushing his larynx, and the agony she saw on his features gave her pause enough to kill him swiftly by twisting his head until his neck cracked audibly and his skull was pointed in an unnatural direction. “Hmm.”

She stood with her hands on her hips, pondering on what to do with the wastes of space that were littering the lawn; she was mildly glad that they’d yet to release their bowels, and hadn’t bled so there wouldn’t be much in the way of cleanup. Well, she’d just transport them elsewhere and burn them then, so as not to upset Tsunami by setting the men on fire in her front yard; the woman had been through enough, there was no reason to traumatize her any more than watching her Kaiza being ripped limb from limb had done.

“Guard the fort, will you?” she called idly to the pug and received a grunt of acknowledgment. “Well, then, let’s go boys.”

Bleh, bodies. Gross.

~*~

Haku and Asuka were helping Tsunami fold and put away laundry when the rest of the gang showed up, and the kunoichi was tickled to notice that both male genin were soaked through, but Sakura was primly dry, and seemingly gleeful about the fact. The girl automatically moved to help her kunoichi sensei with the pile of clothes and regaled the two amused women and the older boy with the tale of the ease at which she’d taken to water walking.

“It was harder than tree walking,” she admitted once the boys had moved upstairs to take a bath with scowls and mutters of discontent, Inari trailing behind them like a puppy and the jounin had sat themselves at the table with some tea and snacks, Pakkun having padded over to Kakashi from where he’d been laying at her feet. “But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”

“It’s better that you’ve learned it now,” Asuka put in, smoothing out a sheet that she and the Ice Release user were folding. “Before your chakra stores shoot up with your gained weight and muscle. The action will be more natural than if you learned it later. You’ll already know what to do, and the excess would have confused you, made it harder to gauge how much to use, since you’re used to lower reserves.”

“Hai, Asuka-sensei,” the girl singsonged, happy to have pleased her kunoichi-sensei.

They were almost finished with the laundry when the girl spoke again, her tone hesitant, deeply contemplative and serious.

“Neh, Asuka-sensei?”

“Yes, Sakura?”

“About what Gatou said the other day, on the bridge…” she trailed off after a moment, staring at the shirt in her hands. “Weren’t you scared?”

“Scared?”

The woman was a little confused, before she remembered that the man had told his men that they could have their way with her and Haku. Who, from the look on his face, didn’t know exactly what they were talking about, due to his being unconscious at the time, and she doubted that anyone had brought it up to him. Certainly not the overprotective Zabuza. “No, no, I wasn’t scared. Exasperated, more than anything. Perhaps a little irritated.”

“I-irritated?” the girl sounded dumbfounded. “But, he was telling them to – to do that stuff to you!”

The adult kunoichi sighed when Tsunami fumbled with her basket full of folded clothes and gave her a wide eyed stare, and even Haku seemed alarmed at the turn of events.

“Sakura,” she sighed out, shaking her head and kneeling down to the girl’s level. “No man can ever take from me what I don’t give.”

This was a conversation she hadn’t been expecting, at least, not so soon. Considering the events that had occurred so recently, she should have known that the bright young girl before her would remember the civilian fool’s words and ponder on them, over thinking and pulling up shaking and uncertain emotions from within herself. Asuka herself had been only a little older when she’d had her… encounter and needed to take a crash course in making that a part of her past that did not define her, weaken her, or hold her back. She’d use everything she had to get stronger, to empower herself, so all that pain and rage and anguish, that grief, would build her into a better kunoichi.

A better person.

“Eh?” she cocked her head, face pale and confused.

“He can hurt my body, he can even take pleasure in it, but he can never take away my body, can never take away what I do not give,” she reiterated. Unless he’s a puppet master or something, but that’s a story for another time . “If a man were to kill your friends and family, would he be taking them from you?”

“Um, yes?” she said it in that tone that said she knew she was wrong in some way but didn’t know how that Asuka had become use to.

“No,” she shook her head, senbon and kunai clinking together. “He could take their lives. Just because they are dead, does that mean that they are no longer your friends, no longer your family?”

“No...”

“So, with that kind of thought in mind, the only person I would ever give my body to would be whatever child I would have, should I find myself with one,” she smiled at the wonder in those jade green eyes, as if the concept were completely foreign to her, noting that Tsunami was smiling slightly out of the corner of her eye. The soft, familiar ache behind her breastbone was easily ignored with the swiftness of practice and time with the mentions of having children and what she would and would not give. “That child would own a piece of my body, because I would have given it to them.”

She stood again, aware that while the two jounin were conversing lowly, they were still listening to her words, and that Haku’s lovely brown eyes were wide as they regarded her.

“He can give me pain if he tries to take my body, but he won’t own it. The only thing he would take is his own pleasure,” her expression switched from calm and serious to a feral smile in a second. “That is, if he lives long enough to try, anyway.”

Few had.

~*~

He felt strangely comfortable.

When the Copy-nin had woken the morning after the healing, it was in response to the missing-nin waking up himself, and he’d sighed as he sat up, affixing his hitai-ate over his scarred eye before glancing over at the other occupants of the room.

Odd, that he’d managed to get to sleep at all, really. He’d blame that on Asuka too.

Zabuza was stretching his still weakened from injury arm – there was vague pride at how badly he’d managed to wound the man, even when they weren’t actually going at it – carefully while sitting in lotus, rotating it in its socket before popping his back and neck with a soft sigh. The first light of dawn was sliding slowly, gradually over his tanned skin and haloing him in burnished gold, dark hair mussed and glossy in the soft light, dark eyes relaxed and a little unfocused surrounded by sooty lashes that cast soft shadows over cheekbones. He enjoyed the aesthetics of it, the lengths of warm flesh covering powerful, sleek muscles, of the way he glowed in the morning light like caramel or honey, a lovely, dangerous slice of amber in the dawns light with the faintest scent of blood and metal polish trailing in his every movement.

Out of everything, he couldn’t deny that the missing nin was attractive and rather easy on the eyes.

Even if he was irritating.

He really wanted to give into the vague urge of half formed thought to shove his hand through the taller man’s chest, but he was sure that Asuka would be disappointed in him, or nitpick at him in some passive aggressive way for it until he regretted the decision. Make him clean up the blood and then explain to the genin, deal with a hysterical apprentice… all things he’d rather avoid.

The woman was a nightmare.

As the first few rays hit the chuunin, however, she pulled the covers over her head with a soft, rather pathetically hoarse groan so that only the braided ends of her hair were sticking out over her pillow and curled into a tight ball around the lump that was Pakkun. There was a heavy sleepiness in her countenance that came with greater chakra usage, but he hadn’t detected any form of chakra exhaustion in its many flavors, so he let her be to recharge her figurative battery, calmed from any great concern by the steady flow of her low, smooth chakra stores.

He’d mussed his hair even further than it already was and suppressed a yawn when the other man had stood and gave a full body stretch that made the Konoha jounin envious because it looked like it felt ridiculously good.

Well, whatever, he’d be standing soon enough, and then he could get his own kinks out.

Funnily enough, the past week had been partial to some of the best nights of sleep he’d had in quite some time, and he’d had a rather good few nights even with Zabuza in the area previous to his change in loyalty and status, something that was odd in and of itself. He definitely blamed Asuka for her strangely calming influence, since he hadn’t slept so well on a mission – with potential hostiles around – since he’d been leading his ANBU squadron, and even then he’d had periodic watch cycles that interrupted them. Considering the fact that the most dangerous part of the escort mission was on the other side of the room, it was amazing that he’d gotten any sleep at all, let alone two full nights worth and without watch rotations at that.

When his Kage Bunshin popped he got a rather dull report of his patrol watch as well as a rather candid scene from the Icha Icha volume it had read in his place while it stayed up. That was always a rather nice if abrupt wake up call. Contrary to popular belief it wasn’t excruciatingly painful to absorb the memories of a clone, just a little disconcerting if one wasn’t expecting the sudden onset for when the information hit, the chakra in the brain absorbing the impact of the information much like a genjutsu and the pathways interfaced the data with the rest of his mind. Naruto was a one of a kind thick skulled weirdo in that he hadn’t even noticed the download from his admittedly poorly constructed clones – or maybe he was just an idiot instead of a weirdo, it depended on the day, really – and he threw them around like candy at a festival.

He honestly despaired for his Sensei’s son.

The Copy Cat Ninja could rather easily manage the feeling of having all of his clones popped at once, perhaps because of his higher brain capacity, but the longer the clone was in existence the more memories it recorded and the harder it was to integrate them when he had his own to deal with for that timeframe. It was like being in two places at once. It was easier when he’d been asleep and basically his senses had been turned off, since there was no contradicting data to cause a havoc of confusion in his mind, but he was a little bemused by some of the memories he received from his latest Bunshin.

Apparently even the missing nin’s own clones were just as flirtatious as he was.

And the – admittedly somewhat intimidating – chuunin hadn’t been around to chaperone so the Bunshin had had to dodge several less than savory, some just downright ridiculous, come-ons from its dark counterpart. The Demon took an inordinate amount of pleasure from his discomfort, apparently, even when they were just shadows of themselves.

The exasperated glance he sent the taller man received a slightly amused huff and a quirked set of lips beneath bandages.

As Kakashi watched, the other man sighed and pulled on his own version of ANBU grade under armor before shrugging on a shirt and binding down his pants legs.

“Heading out,” the man grunted softly, dark eyes soft and still a little sleepy as he looked over at the Copy-nin. “Gonna go raid Gatou.”

“Aa,” he acknowledged just as quietly, his own dark gray-blue gaze a little fuzzy, pushing off his comforter and settling himself into a cross legged position to do a morning network check; it’d become a habit of his since the introduction of the Sharingan into his system. The few times he hadn’t done it had been the times he’d had problems with it. “Taking Haku?”

“Probably,” broad shoulders shrugged lightly as he hooked the Kubikiribōchō onto the harness catch on his back. “He’ll fuss if I don’t.”

“Hmm,” he chuckled softly, single eye half lidded as he internally meandered over his chakra system, noting the points where the chuunin’s chakra was still hanging about and had yet to disperse, apparently soothing his bruised, abused pathways. “He’s a good kid.”

“Mmph,” was all he got back with a slightly embarrassed hitch to the man’s gate as he quietly left the room.

Once the ex-Mist nin was gone and had picked up his apprentice from the room down the hall, the shinobi let himself fall into a light meditative state to conserve energy as he paid close attention to the raw ache of his ocular pathways. Someday he was going to get around to finding Tsunade and asking her to realign those with a Uchiha template, seeing as there were no Clan Elders to get on his case about it anymore, and he was sure that Sasuke wouldn’t mind helping him out in that regard… most likely. Well, he’d have Asuka bring that up with him. He’d take it better that way, he was sure.

Everyone seemed to like her more.

No, he wasn’t going to pout about it.

He wasn’t.

With properly aligned ocular pathways, the chakra drain wouldn’t be nearly so severe when he uncovered the Sharingan, though it would still be quite a bit more than it would be for a born Uchiha, and when it was covered, the drain would be negligible at best, only a bit more than his regular eye in that regard. Perhaps about the same as a full Uchiha with their eyes active.

After he’d finished his self-examination, he stood and did some of his own stretching, noting that it had been nearly an hour since he’d fallen into himself.

The lump that was his sleeping subordinate didn’t move except softly in signal of slow, deep breathes and he huffed a little in amusement at only being able to see the golden brown of her slightly messy braids sticking out from under the green and white comforter. He idly wondered what she’d done with the small kunai she kept woven in with wires like a fashion accessory.

Once he’d changed his clothes and limbered himself up for the day, he set about folding both his and Zabuza’s futon’s and putting them aside so that they wouldn’t get in the way when the woman awoke, and peeked under the chuunin’s blanket at his Summons, a little off kilter at the realization that the woman hadn’t even shifted at his close proximity. They were friends – he suspected… well, he was pretty sure – but did that mean that she should be this open and relaxed in potentially dangerous territory? Did she trust him that much?

He didn’t know what to think about it, though it was… pleasing, in an abstract way.

“You okay in there?” he murmured with amusement at the dog.

“Aa,” the little pug grunted out, grumbling and burrowing closer to the green eyed woman’s stomach, half tucked under her shirt against her skin like it was his personal blanket.

“Alright then,” Kakashi shook his head as he stood. “I’ll have someone send up breakfast later.”

A rough yet soft snort of acknowledgement was all he got in answer, and he rolled his eye good naturedly before making his way downstairs.

Once the missing-nin had returned with what could be considered a feast, he’d rounded up the genin and stuffed them with breakfast as they grumbled and stumbled around, ready to frog march them with Tazuna down to the bridge.

“Neh, neh, Kaka-sensei!”

His loudest one crowed with unnecessary volume, getting a droll look from the jounin in question and actually winced in reprimand – miracles never ceased – before continuing to speak at a lower tone. He was so glad that he and Asuka had sat them down to speak about those with enhanced senses, though he still didn’t understand how Naruto, with his own senses, could deal with his own volume on a daily basis. It was a wonder that the boy hadn’t deafened himself. Although, there was the Kyuubi’s healing to think about… hmm…

“Are we gonna learn any cool jutsu?!”

A pink head and a black head looked up at him simultaneously with wide, expectant jade and black eyes respectively and he sighed while scratching at a masked cheek, valiantly ignoring the caustically raised brow of his darker counterpart.

“Maa, well, you all did master Tree Walking, didn’t you?” he half asked half stated, and the kids all nodded in answer despite the rhetoric of it. “I guess Water Walking is next, then.”

“Ha!” the ex-Mist nin barked mockingly, causing Naruto to narrow his eyes at him. “Can’t even do that yet, brats?”

“So?! What of it?!” the orange wearing boy stood up in his seat, pulling a sigh from his sensei and a scowl from his female teammate, the Uchiha trying his best to pretend that there was no one else in the room. “I bet I could be Hokage without some stupid Walking on Water no jutsu!”

Without much thought, he reached out and whapped his student in a manner that his chuunin friend usually utilized, causing the boy to teeter back into his chair, blue eyes wide and shocked in the same way they always were whenever the woman did the same.

“Eat your food,” he stated absently, his dark gray-blue almost black eye sitting with consideration on the Demon of the Mist.

“…What?” the man in question asked, dark brows furrowing, half an eye on his apprentice who was puttering around the kitchen with Tsunami.

“Oh, nothing really,” his eye smile bloomed, and he was both amused by and curious of the slight apprehension that morphed onto the dark features of the taller, broader man who was leaning back in his chair a bit, away from his cleared plate. “Just wondering something.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Well, you are Haku’s teacher, aren’t you?” he felt a genuinely devious smile pull on his lips beneath his mask.

“… Yeah…”

The skepticism in that tone was like music to his ears, and he couldn’t help the low chuckle that left him, a soft rumble in his chest, a tone that his students no doubt couldn’t hear – well, perhaps Naruto, but he hadn’t gotten around to testing the kid’s senses fully just yet – and he didn’t notice the way that dark eyes regarded him with half lidded interest. Leaning back from his own emptied plate and throwing an arm over the back of his chair, right ankle catching on his left knee as he regarded the other man, he found himself thinking that his green eyed companion would no doubt be rolling her eyes at him and calling him lazy as she figured out what he was going for.

“There’s no doubt that your apprentice is very talented,” there was a slight start from the boy in the kitchen, and he could smell the embarrassment and pleasure that the boy exuded at his words, even as his own brats grumbled in affront, but didn’t deny it. “But half of a student’s accomplishments are thanks to the teacher, y’know?”

A moment of silence.

“No,” the dark haired man denied, shaking his head as he did so. “No way.”

“Aww, I have two students who need all the help they can get,” he gestured at his blonde and his dark haired boys where they were still eating, one who scowled at him, the Uchiha glowering at him as well, eyes narrowed. He thought it was hilarious that they knew exactly to whom he had been referring. “The last one practically teaches herself.”

Sakura blushed with pleasure, reaching for a second helping with a renewed vigor at the praise, and he couldn’t help but send her a fond look that she smiled at shyly. Really, she’d gotten much better since Asuka had been working with her to teach her kunoichi knowhow, so he could barely smell the soft flowery scent of her shampoo, and she was using naturally scented lotion when she needed it for chapped hands, elbows, feet and knees. The fact that he could smell her chakra enough to identify it – it was oddly minty, also kind of like damp earth – put him more at ease, though he still didn’t know if the reason he couldn’t smell it before was because of the horrid concoction she would wear or because she had been unhealthy. Likely it was a mixture of the two, and he tried not to dwell on how anxious it had made him.

“No,” was his insistent answer.

“C’mon,” he leaned forward, cajoling, putting his forearms on the table and bracing against them, gloveless fingers linked together loosely. “You know you want to~”

Black eyes were hooked on his hands, and he blinked in a little bit of confusion at the intensity of the dark eyed stare, his fingers shifting a little to rub against each other, thumbs pressing together until the pale half moons of his fingernails whitened out from pressure.

Suddenly, he felt terribly naked.

“… Alright.”

With the taller man’s grumbled reply, he found himself beaming beneath his mask.

Ah, his genius had struck again!

It surprised even him sometimes.

Still, before they left, he put his metal backed fingerless gloves back on, feeling much better for it despite the unnoticed disappointment hovering around the form his missing nin counterpart like a gloomy mist when he glanced at those once uncovered appendages.

When they reached the bridge, he gave a basic outline of the exercise and watched as his female student gingerly took to the water, after testing it for a moment, like she’d been born to it, feeling pride warm his chest as she looked over at him for approval, nodding and complimenting her the way that Asuka had told him that the children needed. Sometimes he forgot that even though he knew that he was pleased with something, his posture and outward appearance didn’t necessarily reflect what he was thinking within. Even though that was kind of the point of his posture and general actions as well as tone – being obscure what he was going for, after all – it wasn’t exactly practical when dealing with inexperienced and sensitive brats who were ridiculously emotionally needy. While this wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily, his chuunin friend had assured him as if she had somehow sensed how this had disturbed him – woman’s intuition? – before she had explained to him that for children it was better that they got verbal and physical cues of approval to build their confidence around, so that they would know when you weren’t happy with them.

It was apparently difficult for most kids to read small physical cues – who knew? He’d never had a problem with it when he was younger, though he’d also had little need for social niceties – as well as hear the whole list of things that weren’t said, and they instead blossomed with verbal praise under his and Asuka’s tutelage.

After that, Sakura spent her time with Tazuna, and he forked Naruto – and Inari who had followed them, trailing after the blonde for some reason or another – off on the taller man with an eye smile that sent the man’s left eye twitching something fierce while he dealt with the much quieter if no less problematic Sasuke.

Asuka would be so pleased with his ability to delegate.

When they returned to the house, it was with two disgruntled and rather wet twelve-year-old boys, an over excited eight-year-old with stars in his eyes, and one rather pleased with herself twelve year old girl who was happily running her fingers through her very dry pink hair.

Not long after they returned, the atmosphere got a tad serious again.

“She’s vicious,” the Mist jounin stated with a pleased air about him, and Kakashi resisted the urge to sigh. He’d basically just called her ‘smoking hot’ in slightly crazy missing nin speak. “Not bad for a Konoha hippy.”

“Yes,” he agreed, his tone amused, even as his Summon lay his warm body down over his left foot comfortably after having reported how the chuunin had dealt with the intruders while they were away. “Asuka is a very competent kunoichi.”

The fact that she had killed the mercenaries didn’t bother him, though he knew that it would still unsettle the genin if they heard, even with all of the death that had happened on the bridge, and he was sure that she would make no mention of it to the kids, especially not with Tsunami around, the woman having been the target in the first place. While it made him vaguely agitated at the idea that civilian men could act like animals towards women, the fact that even if it was because of mild overuse of chakra that had her sleeping in, he was glad that she had been there to defend the sweet, gentle civilian woman who had been delighted to make them breakfast that morning, embarrassed that she hadn’t had the proper ingredients for a fancy one beforehand. In fact, because she had been feeding them the entire time, he felt a bit guilty about having her make their meals at all after they’d gotten provisions from Gatou’s mansion.

He would be sure to leave some money in an inconspicuous place for her to find later, at least for having had to deal with Naruto’s appetite.

The kid was ridiculous.

“That girl’s got some good chakra control,” the missing-nin muttered, rolling and stretching his healing arm idly. “And the amount of chakra that the Uzumaki kid’s got…” Zabuza sighed despondently. “Man, I wish.

“Don’t we all,” he returned with a dry tone, giving a hapless shrug.

If he had chakra reserves like Naruto, he would have no problem whipping out the Sharingan all the time, and he’d be able to use some of the more dangerous jutsu that he knew without worrying about his chakra levels right afterwards. Screw having his pathways adjusted, he wouldn’t need it. He probably wouldn’t need to even keep it covered most of the time, because the draw on his reserves would be basically nothing in comparison to the deep well that he’d have access to. However, the drawback of having almost no money because of having to feed himself would have been terribly trying, since he wouldn’t always be able to buy his Icha Icha when a new one was released. The metabolic jutsu only did so much, after all.

He knew which one he’d choose over the other, besides.

Starving to death was not the way he wanted to go.

The sound of his female genin’s nervous voice had him directing his attention behind him.

“Neh, Asuka-sensei?” the tone was just a tad quailing.

“Yes, Sakura?” was the absent reply.

“About what Gatou said the other day, on the bridge…” Kakashi felt his eye darken in remembrance, and across from him Zabuza shifted agitatedly in his seat. “Weren’t you scared?”

“Scared?” the fact that the woman seemed confused at first, not knowing what her genin was talking about had the Copy-nin lifting a hand to massage at his temple because that woman honestly lacked some basic fears involving her gender in comparison to other kunoichi, and it was mildly disturbing in a way he disliked thinking about. “No, no, I wasn’t scared. Exasperated, more than anything. Perhaps a little irritated.”

“I-irritated? But, he was telling them to – to do that stuff to you!”

Across from him, the other jounin cast a glance at his apprentice and gave a grimace, one that Kakashi could easily discern beneath the bandages. Yes, there had been no mention of that to the gentle soul that was Haku, and he was sure that it was very deliberate on Zabuza’s front, since from what he’d heard the kid had been, well, living it rough was a way to describe it, before the missing nin had picked him up, and looks like those didn’t just pop up overnight. He was sure that the kid had been hassled for or had ended up using those good looks to survive and scrounge up money before he’d struck gold and been taken in by the surprisingly compassionate – amusingly so – coup leader.

“Is she for real?” the disbelief was palpable.

“She lacks in some basic self-awareness, yes,” he told the other man with a deep, weary exhalation of breath. “She probably took more insult at the insinuation that a civilian man thought he could take her on than anything else. Asuka can be a bit tetchy about people doubting her abilities.”

“She’s not even apprehensive,” Zabuza’s brows twisted as he looked back at the other man, a dark, intent thoughtfulness in his gaze.

Oh , the Konoha nin’s brow drew down in thought at what the other man was insinuating. Oh. Does Asuka have that kind of training? Or…

She was a ninja during war time, and even though she was young during that time there was certainly enough need for kunoichi at the time that they would throw whoever they could out to gather information from the enemy or to handle exploits, seducing competition. It wouldn’t be odd for a younger, less hardened and obviously a kunoichi Asuka to have been pulled into that kind of mission, not with the fact that she had a rather unique, pretty qualities to her features even if it wasn’t exactly traditional as one was rarely seen with her coloration, and the grace she moved with was something innate rather than learned, drawing the eye with liquid movement. The thought that perhaps she had, left an uncomfortable squirming in his gut, and he shifted in his seat, because this was his… sort of friend, and the fact that she could have those kinds of experiences was… discomfiting.

“Sakura,” the fond surety in the woman’s tone brought him out of his thoughts. “No man can ever take from me what I don’t give.”

“Eh?”

“He can hurt my body, he can even take pleasure in it, but he can never take away my body, can never take away what I do not give.”

It was a good sentiment for most times, he was sure, but the more experienced nin noted that she left something out. There were a number of jutsu and techniques that took away your physical control of your faculties, but it wouldn’t do to scare the poor girl when it wasn’t necessary. See, he was learning!

“If a man were to kill your friends and family, would he be taking them from you?”

“Um, yes?” there was a puzzled uncertainty in her tone.

For some reason he couldn’t quite identify besides the obvious point of contention Kakashi really wished that the boys were downstairs listening to this too, despite the fact that this was a speech oriented more towards females. In the future they were going to have to bring up assault for the boys as well, because just because they were male didn’t mean that they were safe from the perversions and interrogation of their enemies should they ever be caught. Sasuke especially would draw them in like flies with his pretty face, and considering Naruto’s pedigree, there was no way that he was going to end up with the short end of the stick, because if there was one thing that both Kushina and Minato had been, it was attractive.

Breathtaking, really.

“No,” the faint, soft tinkling sound of her hair ornaments clinking together made something in him relax, a learned reaction to her presence. “He could take their lives. Just because they are dead, does that mean that they are no longer your friends, no longer your family?”

No...”

“So, with that kind of thought in mind, the only person I would ever give my body to would be whatever child I would have, should I ever have one, that child will own a piece of my body, because I will have given it to them.”

“Perhaps it’s desensitization,” the dark haired jounin murmured, gaze deep as he locked with the Copy-nin’s eye, something like displeasure in those eyes. “Or an after the fact rationalization.”

“He can give me pain if he tries to take my body, but he won’t own it. The only thing he would take is his own pleasure,” he could hear the sharp, dark promise in her voice. “That is, if he lives long enough to try, anyway.”

He didn’t like the idea of her having none of the training and going through either, or being caught on a mission and...

It was worse.

Something like that was much, much worse.

He couldn’t… it just made him…

It made him…

Angry.

~*~

The day they were to leave came quicker than expected.

She wasn’t surprised that the boys were sulking at the thought of leaving their new sparring partner – Haku hadn’t been able to say no once they’d asked him for assistance in their training, the poor adorable sweetheart – and the girl was tugging at the end of her red dress, trying to put off saying goodbye to the fair faced teen as well. She had gotten into several discussions about plant life and their uses with the young ice user, as well as some about the boy’s fetching yukata and use of senbon, a weapon that was rather rarely used in Konoha except by a few. There had been some long and rather serious discussions between their dark haired boy and Zabuza’s, and she was sure that the Uchiha was going to be thinking on the older boy’s words for some time if his thoughtful silences were anything to go by. Naruto, the loudmouthed little darling had started to drag the boy whose face he’d bruised out of his shell, the Ice Release user wide eyed and shocked by the affection and honest pleasure in the younger boy whenever he got him to speak or laugh.

She was glad that Zabuza had picked up that boy, if only for the children’s sake.

Asuka, however, was saying goodbye to her newfound friend in the kitchen, because the woman was a little teary at the idea of the house becoming quiet again, without the loud noise that the genin brought with them wherever they went. She also didn’t like the idea of losing her new friend so soon after having gotten her, considering the fact that there were very few people that the older woman could call friend, but there was little that the kunoichi could do about that. It seemed, however, that she had a habit of making friends with civilian women, because outside of the village proper she had a few of them who would let her stay at their places when she was headed to a objective in their general direction.

She really did need to get a message to Juli-chan about missing out on their meeting as had been planned. That girl could fret with the best of them.

“Will you visit?” the woman asked softly, pushing her hair behind an ear with a pale finger.

“When I can,” the younger woman answered fondly, reaching out and taking the other woman’s hand for a moment, enjoying the light flush that moved over her pretty features. Tsunami had a wounded soul and that made her shy at times, but Asuka had seen glimpses of the wit and humor beneath that. “I’ll see about bringing one of the brats to terrorize you and Inari with, as well.”

“Oh, that’ll be fun,” the mother said dryly, her somewhat shaky lips twitching wryly. “Thank you so much.”

She laughed at this, her eyes crinkling a bit as she took in the pleased light in warm brown eyes, gaze moving over slowly filling out features, the lines of stress all but faded after the green eyed woman had given her a yin chakra facial, something that the civilian woman had marveled at in delight, commenting that now she saw the point in having a kunoichi friend.

“Um, Asuka-san?” the older woman’s voice had gone a bit funny, her brows slightly furrowed as she wet her lips and stared at the floor.

“San? Come now Tsunami, I’m sure we’re past that now,” the other said playfully, glad for the smile that took to her friend’s features.

“Ch-chan then?”

“Hmm, I don’t know…”

“Asuka,” she stated with a small smile tinged with amusement, before continuing. “I was wondering,” she started softly, hand gripping back onto the callused one of the kunoichi and trembling just a little. A fine shiver. “If… if you were one of… the ninja who didn’t care for gender?”

Oh. Oh.

Well then.

A warm smile moved over her features and Asuka brought her free hand up to cup the other woman’s cheek, her training roughened thumb smoothing over the soft skin there, before she leaned in for a sweet kiss, enjoying the slight start and widening of brown eyes before the older woman hesitantly returned the pressure, sighing softly. She worked her fingers from the civilian’s face back into thick dark brown hair, switching her angle and tickling chakra from her lips to swish through the other’s underdeveloped chakra system, causing her to gasp. Tangling her fingers with Tsunami’s, she tested touching her tongue to the slightly open seam of the other woman’s lips, getting a tentative return flicker, before slowly delving into the other’s warm mouth, carefully pulsing chakra through her tongue, clicking the small, subtle bar of metal pierced through it against the woman’s teeth.

The older woman’s free hand gripped the material of her shirt at her shoulder, fist tight as she gave a soft moan, body trembling slightly as the kunoichi pulled back to breath softly against the other woman’s face.

Brown eyes slowly opened from where they’d closed, showing blown pupils, irises a hot oaken color, features flushed, lips reddened, dazed as she stared somewhat awestruck at her ninja friend, whose cheeks were slightly pinked, and was running her tongue over her slightly swollen lips, flashing her tongue ring subtly, emerald green eyes dark like the forest at dusk.

“I’ll visit,” Asuka promised, features warm and affectionate as she removed her hand from where it was entangled with the other’s hair to caress over her flushed cheek, trailing callused fingertips over the civilian’s tingling lips.

“Ah, yes,” Tsunami’s breath caught, and she had to swallow against asking the kunoichi to maybe delay perhaps another hour before departing. “Please do.”

A quick grin as she pulled back, letting their connected hands hang between them.

“I’ll even so do alone, on occasion,” the teasing light in her expression caused the older woman to swat her shoulder softly, the kunoichi laughing at the action.

It didn’t stop her from agreeing with the statement, even if she flushed brightly.

“Please do.”

~*~

“Have a nice sendoff?” Zabuza asked slyly.

His dark eyes glanced at her slightly swollen lips from when she met up with the rest of the ninja outside meaningfully, causing her to roll her eyes.

“Better than you’ll get,” she remarked teasingly, licking her lips subtly enough that the bar of metal was unseen but still tauntingly – there was a lingering taste of the rose hip tea that Tsunami favored – making the dark haired man growl in offense, mocking hurt.

That the older woman was interested in a casual dalliance now and then had been a pleasant surprise, and she had no qualms with stopping by Wave when she had the chance to visit the slightly older woman; she would have done even without the extra incentive, but it didn’t hurt. This was a woman who hadn’t felt desirable in a long time, and she was comfortable enough with the chuunin that had befriended her to explore physical intimacies with her, and attracted enough to her for there to be real desire there, though Asuka wasn’t quite sure what it was about herself that seemed to draw women like this in.

While she preferred males, she didn’t mind laying with women – females seemed more inclined towards her in general, so it was easier to find a same gender partner – and it was nice to get the offer from someone who didn’t need some kind of comfort from her, and who found her attractive in spite of her scars, rather than because she was convenient; while nin didn’t particularly care about scarring, it got irritating having it ignored, to be disregarded. She had always wanted to be more to someone than a replacement comfort – just the very idea sent bile bubbling in the back of her throat and a cold chill down her spine – and she had perhaps been spoiled by her teammates in this regard.

Not that she minded being a lay of convenience with her comrades, since a good many of her own liaisons were of this sort but it was nice every once in a while to feel… desirable.

She missed that.

With Tsunami, it was a discovery, the woman tiptoeing outside of her shell into a whole new world.

It wasn’t like Asuka had never helped a woman learn herself the pleasure of another woman’s touch, and the teaching was fun for all involved if it was done the right way.

“Maa, maa,” the Copy-nin mediated, holding up his hands. “Let’s all play nice for now, we can fight the next time we run into each other,” he glanced at the taller man. “And it might be sooner rather than later, if your people agree to talk to Sandaime-sama.”

Zabuza grunted in agreement, but still swiped at her with a hand that she danced around with a laugh at his expense. The consideration in his gaze was nice, as well as the long suffering amusement as she used Kakashi as a body shield, like a child would in a game of tag to hide behind an adult like he was the safe zone. Which, really, that didn’t quite work out, as the man took a swipe at the smaller jounin petulantly as well, and the two Konoha nin dodged away into the trees as was the way of those from their village. Trees were their territory, after all, and the very best place for play. Especially tag. Oh, that was fun.

Hmm, they should play that when they got back…

Still, they didn’t exactly have any more leeway to hang around in Wave after the mission was completed and she was already looking forward to what her horrid workload would be when she returned to the village to make up for the diplomatic mission she’d missed.

Not.

When the dark haired nin tried to follow, he found that he couldn’t pick up his feet, and looked down to see two ropes of water sticking out of the ground, pulled from a nearby small underground water reservoir, and gaped at it for a moment before scowling behind his bandages up at the two other adults. The chuunin merely wiggled her fingers at him with a grin.

“C’mon kids!” she called, enjoying his irritation for the way it lit an attractive burning in his dark eyes and caused his muscled arms to ripple lightly with tension. “You can set up a play date later, it’s time to go!”

“Ah! Okay, Nee-chan!” Naruto hollered, seeing his sensei in the tree line and ready to go, causing him to throw a quick hug around the shocked Haku’s waist before turning to run to catch up. “See you, Haku!”

The other two genin trailed more sedately after giving their own farewells and following after their more excitable teammate.

Once the kids were in the trees with them – after having mastered Tree and Water Walking they had taught them how to travel amongst the former – Asuka turned to the silver haired man with a mischievously raised brow, and he gave a long suffering sigh before pointing a finger at Zabuza.

Even as the spark of electricity shimmered into existence they were off, but they could still hear the delightfully lovely high pitched yelp that the larger man gave as soon as the tiny bolt hit him, causing the kunoichi to break into a fit of giggles, and she could see the jounin’s shoulders shaking with his own mirth, even if she was on his ‘blind’ side, she knew that she’d have seen a genuine eye-smile on the other side. The thought was nice, and she let the smile on her face sit with warm contentment.

“KONOHAAAAAA!” was bellowed from behind them, causing birds to take off madly into the air before disturbed silence fell around them.

As she was releasing the water jutsu that had held him in place, she glanced over to see Naruto with an odd expression on his face.

“Naruto?” she queried with a touch of curiosity, expression still full of mirth. “Is something wrong?”

“Uh, no, not really,” he shook his head and frowned a bit. “It’s just that, whenever I hear someone shouting like that, it’s usually Jiji yelling at me about something.”

A beat of silence, before she was snickering again, her face beginning to hurt a little from the unusually wide grin on her features, and Kakashi was sighing in something like exasperation on the branch next to her before he let himself fall to the back, and she took point easily, since the back was the most likely place to be hit, and the front next. Either of them could cover the side in but a breath if someone decided that they really needed to be crushed in a pincer move.

“I’m sure that the feelings in it are about the same.”

~*~

Sadly, she wasn’t there when Zabuza’s representative from the Mist Rebellion was sent to Konoha, but on the border again where there were worrying numbers of nin from the new Sound village lurking about, trying to be stealthy. It was getting downright exasperating how much they weren’t even trying to hide themselves from the border patrols, as if they wouldn’t notice the several groups that passed in and out of the border frequently, no matter how often they chased them out. It was actually beginning to get insulting, especially when after they’d sent word in on a messenger bird there had been no return orders to address the issue from Konoha, and that left her in charge of the decision making in regards to dealing with them.

While she didn’t hate leading and she wasn’t particularly bad at it, it wasn’t something that she was very interested in, and definitely wasn’t her first choice in a mission.

She did, however, make it back to the village in time for the beginning of the Chuunin Exams and was able to meet the kids with Kakashi after they’d passed the genjutsu concealing the stairs before the opening of the First Exam, something that she had postponed going home to bathe for, even if she was itching to wash her hair and change her clothes, and possibly nap for a week. There had been a number of traps that had been lain on the border by the foreign nin who were running rampant around the patrols – both her group and others – and the mechanisms were similar to the one that she’d run into on the mission that had sent Imori into the hospital and had given her the slowly fading scar on her face. She was coming to the conclusion that perhaps that ‘old’ trap she’d run into those months ago on a three man team mission wasn’t actually an older trap, and had just been staged to look inconspicuous but well… with all of the experience she was getting with diffusing them or setting them off safely, she felt safe enough to assume they were the same.

While not having been terribly injured on her most recent mission, it had been a bit nerve wracking having to keep an eye out for explosive traps whenever they went out to patrol from the border post lodging, and while no one on her team this time had been critically injured there had been a few mishaps that were being taken care of in the hospital. She was also technically supposed to be at the debriefing with the others and then checked over at the hospital as well, but her captain of the mission had let her go to greet her genin and send them off with her luck. Her back and ribs were a little bruised but she only had a handful of scrapes and cuts from debris that were already scabbed over. Besides, she’d already patched those up on the way back from the post after doing some treatment on her teammates so that they would stop whining.

Well, it was alright that they were being unprofessional on the way back, anticipating being home and all. They’d been perfectly fine during the actual mission, so she cut them some slack despite her own tiredness and irritation.

But if she had to hear about Inuzuka Ririka’s bruised ass one more time…

She would not be held accountable for her actions.

Asuka highly doubted even the woman’s canine companion would blame her.

“Yo,” the jounin said to her when she appeared in a hurried, slightly clumsy bout of shunshin, a little out of breath and with dirt and a little blood speckling the white of her leg wraps, a smudge of dust on her chin, the sign of a small bruise blooming beneath it from a dirt clod that had smacked her in the chin and nearly knocked her unconscious. “Just get in?”

“Yeah,” she answered, rubbing the back of her hand over her forehead, ignoring the way that he trailed his eye over her form looking for signs of injury. She slanted a look at him out of the corner of her eye when she saw the thin bridge of his nose scrunch a little behind his mask as he scented for blood that wasn’t immediately visible. “I’m fine, Kakashi, stop mothering me.”

He looked offended for a moment, before catching her small smile of amusement, and then he narrowed his eye at her only to look away huffily, his chakra roiling sulkily. She prodded him amusedly and got a dry look of longsuffering in return, and before she could bother him again she felt KI flicker through the assorted genin that had made it into the Exam, distracting her and causing her to look around. For some reason, it was strangely familiar, but when she spotted the Sand symbols on the hitai-ate that adorned the three at the epicenter of the oddly generic yet also strangely corrosive bursts of KI she had a moment of understanding. Whenever she was in Sand she usually felt like she was playing tag with the one who exuded that lovely, friendly blanket of Intent. Note the Sarcasm.

In fact, she had actually seen the blonde girl a few times before during her longer lasting meetings, observing or dropping off some document or another, and it wasn’t exactly hard to connect the dots with the other two.

“Oh, look, the Sandaime Kazekage’s children are participating,” she observed easily, and the jounin beside her flicked his dark eye towards the children in question lazily. “Such friendly little things, aren’t they?”

“Hmm, the red head in particular,” the man stated, shrugging a shoulder. “His tenant would appear to make him… cuddly.”

Oh, great.

Because of course they decided to send the kid out to Konoha’s Chuunin Exam instead of saving him for their own. It had to be this Exam, that just happened to host their very own jinchuuriki, who happened to be on a genin team that she was rather very attached to.

Politics were stupid.

She hated them.

“That’s just… awesome.”

“Mm.”

“I mean, really… what are the odds?”

“Severely skewed whatever they are, at the very least.”

“Freaking Team Seven…”

Before they could say anything else, three rather familiar chakra signatures reached the top of the staircase from the first floor.

“Kaka-sensei! Asuka-nee-chan!” Naruto cried running forward to meet them, breaking off from whatever he’d been saying to his teammates before, a large grin on his face. “Sasuke got his ass kicked by a guy with really huge eyebrows and then he confessed his love to Sakura-chan!”

Asuka’s brows rose.

That sounded… interesting?

“Wow Sasuke,” she stated drolly, placing a hand on the over eager blonde’s messy head, practically feeling him vibrating in place. “You’ve finally admitted your feeling for her.”

The boy in question flushed at her words before glowering at her, the paleness of his features a great contrast from the pink beneath onyx eyes, hunching when she ran her free hand gently through his soft dark hair, shoving his hands into his pockets sulkily but not moving away from it.

Ah, so cute.

Yeah, he was just like a feral puffed up kitten. He just needed to be cajoled but she almost had him.

It looked like her experience in wrangling Uchiha’s was actually coming in handy. Thank the gods that Haruka had been just as antisocial and crabby as Sasuke was – they both had a core sweetness that made her want to cuddle them – despite the fact that his twin had been rather loud and obnoxious when he wasn’t around people who would look down on him for not being Uchiha stoic. The taller of her twins had been a little like Naruto, now that she thought about it.

Huh.

“Asuka-sensei,” the pink haired girl in question flushed in embarrassment, her gaze flickering to and from the Uchiha boy like crazy. “It wasn’t Sasuke-kun, but some older genin named Rock Lee!” her expression was something of horror, fingers twisted together in front of her as she held them up like when in prayer imploringly. “He wore green spandex and had a bowl cut.”

The emphasis on the hairstyle was more than a little hilarious.

Was that… was that worse than body clinging spandex?

There was something wrong with this girl’s priorities, if she was going to be completely honest.

“Oh.”

Kakashi snickered next to her just low enough that the genin couldn’t hear him at the strangled voice she managed as she tried to keep a straight face, teeth only gritted a little.

Ooh, her jaw ached.

While it was horrendously amusing, she didn’t want to hurt the girl’s growing confidence or feelings by busting a gut in front of her. Plus, it would probably hurt her poor, tired and aching body at this point, muscles strained and bruised enough that a good hard laugh would mess her up.

Hmm… when had she last had a good laugh, anyway? Picking at Zabuza didn’t really count, did it?

“How awful.

The girl nodded miserably, her expression helpless, jade eyes wide and sincere.

“You poor thing,” she mangled out.

Turning her face away, hiding it behind the jounin’s shoulder and covering her face with her hands, trying not to laugh out loud, Asuka wondered about the thought processes of a young kunoichi who had started out as a fangirl. Was it something that came with obsessing over your looks as a child, or was it just something inherent to Sakura herself?

Perhaps she’d never know. But… a bowl cut and spandex…

Ah, she thought, muscles unclenching from the post mission tension that had remained. That was just what I needed.

“Well, good luck brats,” Kakashi took over for her, something she was grateful for. “It’s a good thing all of you came, because you need a three-man cell to enter the Exam.”

Eh?!” was echoed by three different genin as he grabbed her arm in an easy grip and used shunshin to get them out of the room as she broke down into laughter.

Once they were ensconced in the viewing area, she found herself leaning against the wall, carefully pulling in breathes to calm herself down some, rubbing at her eyes and shaking her head at the hilarity that was the youths of today. Jeez, they didn’t even know that they were supposed to enter in a three-man cell? It was common knowledge! Even civilians knew what was going on with the Chuunin Exams! Oh, honestly, those kids would send her to an early grave one way or another, no doubt about it. Wow, her face hurt from all the laughing, oh, ow. This was great. There was no better entertainment than torturing those three genin, she was sure.

Oh, that was a very Kakashi thing to think, wasn’t it?

Dear gods, he was rubbing off on her…

Who knew? Perhaps she’d start carrying around her own porn and being irrefutably an asshole that was late to everything with the worst excuse for excuses in the history of excuses. Well, it wasn’t impossible that she would end up going gray early, at least, not with the kids being the trouble magnets that they were. Not that his hair was gray at all, it was actually a very nice cloudy kind of silver, especially around dawn and dusk, that was much softer than it looked…

Ah, no.

Nevermind.

He had old man hair.

The jounin in question sent her a suspicious and slightly confused but still displeased glance as if hearing her thoughts and she shook her head as she continued to chuckle.

She was not going to think about his hair. Not like that.

… Well, not within the village with the man right next to her, anyway.

Her limited amount of sanity was strained enough as it was already.

“What has brought you such mirth, my good kunoichi?”

Oh, kami damn it all, it had to be him, didn’t it?

Looking up into the face of Maito Gai, shiny hair, large eyebrows, sparkling grin, tight uncomfortable to look upon spandex that made her stomach clench with distaste – there some parts of shinobi she didn’t need to see when she wasn’t going to be intimate with them, and the Green Beast bared them all – Asuka found herself sniggering anew, sides aching from it.

Bowl cut indeed.

“Oh, just Kakashi’s most youthful genin team,” she said offhand, enjoying the widening of the jounin in question’s visible eye, and the way he hunched slightly and hid his masked face behind the sudden reappearance of an Icha Icha.

Despite how silly it was, it was a good evasion tool she’d found out. It was mostly used against the general populous who didn’t want to associate with a pervert, both civilian and shinobi alike. She’d seen him fend off his own fans – sadly, Ayame was included in this, the poor misguided girl – and while she thought it was more than a little amusing that the Legendary Copy-nin needed to hold off the masses from stripping him down and having their way with him in the street, she’d also felt for him a little since he took his privacy very seriously. Too bad for him she didn’t particularly care what his reading material of choice was and he couldn’t make her uncomfortable enough to either flee in embarrassment or to storm off in disgust… though to be honest, to her knowledge she had never actually given him reason for that to be done with her so she likely hadn’t gotten the full brunt of his dislike.

Actually, she was getting extremely curious about exactly how many of those things were printed, since she’d rarely seen him with the same issue twice. Jiraiya was busy, wasn’t he?

She was… she really was turning into Kakashi, wasn’t she?

Curious about porn books… what was the world coming to?

She needed better friends…

“Ah, yes, I have recently met my rival’s fair young team,” he nodded knowledgably, grin terrifying in its intensity. “One was sparring with my most YOUTHFUL student Rock Lee.”

“Hmm,” she managed before shaking her head, throat tight with amusement. “Well, it was nice seeing you Kakashi,” she nodded at Gai as she waved at her antisocial friend halfheartedly, getting a narrow eyed insulted stare in turn. “Maito-san.”

“Good day kunoichi-san!”

~*~

It wasn’t two days later, when she was sitting doing maintenance on her weapons, that Anko appeared in her apartment and stared at her with empty eyes, limbs trembling in some unnamable emotion. Chakra jittery and almost cold feeling where it was coiled tight and almost afraid away from Asuka, hiding.

There was only one person that could do this to Anko.

Orochimaru.

Setting down her weapons without speaking, she stood and moved over to the other kunoichi, sliding her hands beneath the trench coat her friend wore and pushing it off her shoulders so that it fell to the floor to pool at her feet. Her hands then traveled up from her shoulders and into her hair, carefully removing her hair band and massaging her scalp as she did so, before dropping her forehead to meet the other woman’s, fluttering her chakra smoothly over her friend to try and sooth her. She’d had to pull Anko out of enough panic attacks, enough moments of shock to have this be just about routine now, ever since a clusterfuck of a mission when the snake summoner had been a chuunin and the jounin in charge had been a prick.

And she hadn’t been able to get rid of the woman since.

“He… he’s here Asuka,” she breathed harshly, light brown eyes wide as they looked up at her, breath fanning hotly over her features. “He’s here and I don’t know what to do.”

Despite the fact that those words sent a spike of fear through her, the chuunin slid one hand from her friend’s hair and pressed it to the side of her face, caressing her jawline with fingertips for a moment before pulling back and shifting just enough to pull off her shirt, gratified when those trembling eyes grew heated as she stood there in only shorts and a chest band. Hands cunning from interrogation touched her hips, before smoothing up her sides to tickle the edges of the material strapping down her breasts, and Asuka sighed at the contact, gaze never leaving her vulnerable friend’s face.

Anko didn’t respond well to words.

Empty platitudes, she called them. Orochimaru was cunning and his wit and way with words had twisted Anko up inside, so she just… couldn’t quite trust what people say without a coinciding action. It was why the woman was stumbling after Ibiki, a man who rarely spoke when he didn’t need to, why she’d fallen half in love with half the Aburame she’d ever met, had had an off again on again relationship with Hyuuga Misako.

Words were things that wouldn’t help her, not here and now.

Asuka wasn’t particularly good with them, anyway.

“If you don’t know what to do,” she murmured, callused hands trailing down towards her friend’s skirt and plucking at the buckle to undue it, letting it fall to the ground with the coat, slowly shifting her hands to remove the mesh shirt by pulling it over the receptive Anko’s head. “Then do me.”

Nothing that the chuunin said would get to the tokujo right now, and inaction would simply hype Anko up further and make her more likely to make mistakes when confronted with the legendary man who had once been her sensei. Asuka couldn’t use words, wasn’t good with them in the way other people could be.

She was, however, good with her body.

~*~

Anko had never been so speechless in her life.

“Asuka, you – you,” she raked her hand through her bangs, the only part of her hair down the morning after they’d had sex and she’d redressed in something of a daze after a quick shower. “You never told me you were a sex goddess!”

Copper brown brows rose in astonishment, the lightly freckled woman seated before her looking a little taken aback.

“I wasn’t aware that I was,” she commented wryly into her cup of tea, obviously a little confused at her friend’s continuous comments.

Of course, her chakra reserves were larger than Anko’s were by a bit, and more chakra meant more physical stamina, which lead to longer bouts of sex, but that was just par for the course, wasn’t it? As someone who had four or five times more active of a sex life than Asuka did, Anko should definitely not have been shocked by a tumble with her friend.

The tokujo made a noise of frustration as she stared at her half-dressed friend, taking in the rare, messy single braid that was flung over one shoulder, the loose short sleeved shirt and the black boy short underwear that she wore, her legs crossed at the knee. The bronze haired chuunin had a very pleased expression on her face, like one would have after a good massage or a trip to the onsen and Anko just didn’t understand it. They had kept at it for hours the night before, into the early morning, and the chuunin only looked like she’d rolled out of bed after a pleasant night’s sleep. She didn’t feel completely rung out and didn’t have to suppress groans or catches in her breath as her clothes brushed over sensitive nipples, ribs, or hips, didn’t have to stop herself from squirming when a step jarred her crotch. She wasn’t so aware of her skin that she could feel the air tingling over it, felt her heartbeat in hickies and the fine pink trails of dragged fingernails and callus against soft flesh.

She also, much to Anko’s embarrassment and frustration, hadn’t had almost a dozen mind blowing orgasms, either.

So, it was plain to see that the woman was a sexual fiend – which, technically she had known, considering what her relationship with those twins of hers when they’d been alive had been – and that she was clearly holding out on the rest of the ninja community.

“You need to have sex with more people!”

Anko spoke her say with an accusingly pointed finger, the expression on her face twitching and contorting when she said what she wasn’t planning on saying what she had said in quite that manner. But, whatever.

That hadn’t come out the way she wanted it to, but it got her point across.

It would be for the good of Konoha!

“…Uh huh.”

The chuunin wasn’t quite sure that Anko was sane, a good portion of the time, and this was one of those where she was rather more than certain that she wasn’t. She glanced at the clock with idle gaze, taking a sip of her drink calmly. Asuka was just going to ignore this whole thing as an unfortunate trauma induced thing and the stress of Orochimaru being around.

“Don’t you have to work today?”

Once the tokujo glanced at the clock, she paled and shrieked before disappearing in a quick shunshin, leaving leaves scattered across the floor that the green eye kunoichi sighed wearily at the thought of sweeping up. Honestly, couldn’t people at least remember not to leave foliage when disappearing from another person’s home?

At least Shisui had known not to leave a mess behind.

Ah, and now she had a headache.

~*~

That little bastard!

The next time she saw Kakashi, she whapped him hard enough on the back of the head that her palm smarted sharply before he could say anything, causing him to give her his single wide eye stare, the jounin surrounding them giving her equally if not more emphatic looks of shock as well. The hair that had sprung back up from her assault had been surprisingly soft and thick, tickling around her calluses where the softer skin crept, such as between her fingers and the underside of her knuckles, the warmth of his scalp transferring into her hand. It wasn’t every day you saw someone – successfully, that is, there were a number of times when the Green Beast had attempted – assault the Copy-nin, especially so brazenly, where there were a number of people to witness it, with the man giving no sign of retaliation, just standing staring at her in astonishment.

“You are such a dick,” she scowled at him, brows drawn down in displeasure, features slightly pinched with upset.

“Eh?” the Copy-nin looked bewildered, reaching up to rub at the back of his head carefully, never taking his wary eye off of her. “What did I do?”

“Why were you so rude to Iruka-san?” she smacked him in the arm not lifted towards his head, causing him to hunch his shoulders at her scolding. “There was no need for it!”

That dark eye looked wild with lack of social understanding and confusion, and she felt her chest pinch at the idea that perhaps he had never really thought about how his words might sound to someone who didn’t know how to translate asshole. That no one had ever taught him the difference between social courteousness and stating a blunt, perhaps harsh opinion.

It was something that they had in common, but she apparently had a better handle on her temper, as well as her mouth.

Which was ironic, considering which one of them literally covered their mouth all of the time.

“Honestly, did you really ask him what a chuunin would know about a jounin-sensei’s prerogative?”

Frankly, the man could be ridiculously troublesome.

When she’d heard the unhappy mutterings of her fellow chuunin on her way to the stadium to wait the last half hour until the genin were brought forth for the first round of one on one battles, she’d been disbelieving, until she’d seen the ever polite Umino Iruka walk up to the two unhappy gossips with pale clenched lips and unhappiness in his eyes and asked them civilly to stop speaking about him. That expression on the normally kind, warm, open faced chuunin-sensei had sealed the nail on the silver haired jounin’s coffin. When she’d greeted the darker skinned man, he hadn’t even given her his usual blush, only looked faintly mortified, a little devastated, something she was sure was because it was known that she was an acquaintance of Kakashi’s, and his expression had withdrawn at the fact that she’d heard the rumors from such people.

It was…

Okay, so, the steadiness of Umino Iruka was perhaps one of the most unspoken but widely appreciated facts of the Mission Office. He had the balls, heart, and skill to deal with pretty much any post mission nonsense, and he was always willing to lend an ear or shoulder when it was needed. Always a bit of kindness even for those who were rude to him. To those who felt that they didn’t deserve it but would take thankful advantage of his kindness either way, because otherwise it was just… just too difficult to keep going, with everything piling down on you and spilling up like bile from below.

The fact that Kakashi had damaged that certainty was… it was awful, because while Asuka had never taken that offered comfort and companionship, the fact that it was there at all was reassuring. Was soothing.

Iruka had confirmed that the two had had a verbal altercation, but wouldn’t really say more, seeming very tired and more than a little stressed, features unhappily drained. She could fill in the blanks though, and the way her expression had darkened had seemed to alarm the other High chuunin something awful, especially when she lashed out at the two gossiping nameless Low ranks with a very direct bout of Killing Intent – she’d been a little surprised at her precision, but had been ultimately pleased with the outcome – sending them skittering like frightened rats down the hallway. Vermin like that needed to be put in its proverbial place every once in a while. Taking pleasure out of another’s misfortune… despicable.

Even as something grateful had bloomed in large, doe eyed brown orbs where he stood, she was softly stating that she was going to have a very nice talk with the Copy-nin about manners and common decency.

The fact was, that she was a little saddened that she hadn’t gotten to see that amusing blush, and that just made her all the more unhappy, because she liked Iruka. He was cute and kind and intelligent. Someone that was necessary to Konoha.

She was also a little disappointed in her jounin friend.

And perhaps a little… worried.

It… she’d thought him above that kind of thing.

There was… she didn’t… he hadn’t seemed to care for rank, before.

Not with her or…

Was she wrong?

She really hoped not.

If he did she really had no idea what she would do.

Could do.

“Ah,” the man shifted guiltily, dark eye lowering to look at the floor for a moment.

His chakra shifted nervously beneath his skin and her proximity was the only reason she felt the shy awkwardness of his reach and then withdrawal as he sought comfort. She didn’t even think he was aware of it, and that niggled against her resolve.

“Sorry, I forgot.”

She made a sound of frustration and hit his arm again, this time harder, he didn’t seem to know what to do about the situation, so he just continued to stare at her wildly, hunching in on himself a little more in subconscious disquiet.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m a chuunin,” though it takes a weight I’m a little ashamed and embarrassed to have off my chest that he doesn’t think of me like I’m… less. “Though the fact that you forgot does hint as to the state of your brain, you ridiculous man.”

She felt lighter even as she noted the way that several pairs of jounin eyes widened at her, glazed with understanding and then they sent looks of incredulity towards the famous jounin. Argh, so what if he was talking to a chuunin? Gods, jounin could be so frustrating!

“It matters that you humiliated my friend and now no one will leave him alone about it. Do you know how many people are catcalling him in the street about how Sharingan no Kakashi, the famous Copy Cat Ninja, thinks that he’s inadequate? That he doesn’t know what he’s doing as a sensei? Do you have any idea how unruly his class has gotten because his kids are starting to lose respect for him, what with their parents’ gossip because you had a fit of ‘let’s be a huge jackass’?”

As she’d torn him a new one, he slowly hunched more and more in on himself, something dark swimming in his thunderstorm gray-blue eye as he looked back at her with a solemn unhappiness. She almost felt bad about saying things the way she was – she did, there was no almost about it – but she wouldn’t back down.

Not until she’d said her piece.

“Well,” his voice was oddly subdued. “I guess I should apologize.”

“Yes,” she confirmed, nodding once decisively, before settling in next to him to wait with a sigh, shoulders slumping. “You should. Publicly.

She side eyed his forlorn form and drooped a little more, her posture mimicking his without thought in her sudden onset of tiredness, her ire fading from her mind. While she had never relished causing someone emotional turmoil or enjoyed talking someone down when they needed a stern talking to, she felt doubly horrible for making her jounin friend so unhappy and introspective in the way that spoke of darkness and a past she really didn’t know anything about… especially considering the circumstances.

“But it can wait,” her brows furrowed with worry as she looked at his masked face, voice soft, almost inaudible even from the distance of the inch they stood apart, swallowing passed the thickness in her throat. “Do you know how Sasuke is?”

Hearing from Anko that Orochimaru had been after the youngest Uchiha had made her twitchy and angry, but mostly afraid and worried. The angriest little Uchiha was one of her kids, and she’d hate for anything to happen to him because of that pervert wanting a freaking doujustu. Or whatever other freaky weird jutsu he wanted to do that involved a prepubescent boy and a fifty something year old man with a snake fetish.

That single dark eye deepened, his expression turning serious behind his mask as he shook his head negatively even as he stood straighter, something of his usual confidence returning to his lazy slouch, and she found herself pressing her arm against his to feel his heat and to comfort herself. If there was one thing that she could say about the dark eyed man beside her, it was that there was something reassuring about him despite his complete lack of understanding when it came to both interpreting feelings and showing emotion at all. The tight coil of always ready muscle that she could feel radiating heat and a steady, controlled blanket of chakra that just reached passed his skin to where she could feel it, how very immovable he felt, how solid, brought to mind a defense that was truly unnecessary because there was nothing big enough that his offense couldn’t remove.

It gave sweet thoughts, because he didn’t even seem to notice.

The buzzing of his chakra against her own eased some of the tension she’d been carrying around with her since she’d spoken with her T & I friend, and her own bubbled back unconsciously to try and sooth, the whipcord tight muscle in his arm loosening against her own ever-so slightly as the burden halved at the subconscious reminder of not alone.

They waited together in silence for the genin to arrive.

~*~

The grim moment when Sasuke was called first to the floor shattered when Naruto shouted out.

It was to be expected, but she couldn’t help the near silent groan she released and her taller friend merely patted her lightly on the arm in commiserating, encouraging, if amused consolation.

“Ah! Asuka-nee-chan! Kaka-sensei! You came!” there was obvious delight in his words as he ran over to her, throwing his arms around her waist and causing her to stumble slightly, only to be steadied by the form of the boy’s jounin-sensei behind her. Wide blue eyes crinkled a little as he beamed up at them. “Are you going to watch me fight? Are you, are you?!”

“No,” she stated dryly, ruffling his dirty hair with one hand and wrapping her other arm around his shoulders. Guh, she needed to bathe as soon as this was over; icky, icky boy sweat. That was not something she was nostalgic about from her childhood. “I just came to say hi because why in the world would I watch the Chuunin Exams? It’s not like I know anybody competing in them, after all. Such a waste of my time, really. Ridiculous.”

He stared at her in confusion for a moment, and she heard some other genin palm his face before the blonde finally comprehended her sarcasm.

“Hey! Were you picking on me?” he sounded incredulous, as if no one had ever done that to him before, but his expression was delighted and she despaired ever understanding this boy.

She sent over a slightly resigned look to his jounin-sensei over her shoulder, who returned it with a despondent sigh and a slight shrug that shifted her where she leaned against him just a little. Sarcasm was all but lost on this one.

And it was her main conversation tool, too…

“Of course she was!”

The dulcet tones of the angry kunoichi on the team came from behind him, and Asuka found herself automatically running her eyes over the pink haired girl, taking in her injuries with distaste and clear unhappiness. The girl had taken a beating and the chuunin was not happy with that fact, and was put out with the additional condition that she couldn’t even run any iryō-ninjutsu over her until after the genin had competed in this Task.

“Asuka-sensei would come to watch Sasuke-kun and me even if you weren’t here.”

Well, not that they could even compete at all without all three of them…

But well, semantics. Apparently.

It warmed the chuunin’s heart that the young kunoichi made no mention of her crushes involvement in that cutesy, devoted – rather awkward for everyone involved – tone that she had. She’d gotten much better at keeping it under wraps, and the Uchiha survivor had even started to speak to her civilly now that she wasn’t fangirling all over him. It didn’t mean that the horrifyingly exasperating crush of hers wasn’t obvious and constant in the way that breathing was to everyone and possibly venereal diseases were to medics, but it was certainly better.

After meeting her warmed green eyes to signal motion, the jounin who had been standing near her meandered over to his remaining student to speak quietly, the look in Sasuke’s eyes was slightly hunted, more than a little nervous, despite the way that he tried to hide it, and that tense form relaxed just slightly when the man placed his hand on the youth’s shoulder as he spoke, taking some form of comfort from it. Asuka felt her brows draw together in worry despite the fact that she knew the Cursed Seal would be mitigated somewhat after her pretty-boy genin finished with his round and she just hoped he remembered not to use chakra, because she didn’t want him to burn away his personality.

He was only just starting to come into his own…

“Eeeeeeh? Sakura-chan, that’s so mean!”

“Don’t be dumb, Naruto! Of course Asuka-sensei would come to see us! Who do you think she is?”

“Well, yeah, but –”

“And Kaka-sensei? Like he would forget or not come to see us either!”

“Maa, calm down, Sakura.”

“Hai, Asuka-sensei…”

Feeling the gazes of several genin, the green eyed woman looked up from the amusing display with a half lidded unconsciously sharpened by the whole Snake situation gaze, causing several of the kids present to straighten to something like attention as she examined them. After a moment she arched an unimpressed eyebrow without thought, before looking over the other three jounin sensei that she knew the names of, but only really knew the Hokage’s son on a slightly friendly level. She’d been on a couple of missions with the only Wind user with any real skill in Konoha since the terrible sacrifice of the Yondaime, and they got on well enough, since he was a rather laid back guy when it came to things other than the Sandaime and whatever argument they were in. Well, that and Kurenai. They’d been known to have a drink together on occasion after a mission or when they ran into each other, but their conversations never strayed from techniques or stratagem at all in the way it did with those they actually sought out to spend time with.

Asuma looked a little bit like he’d been mule kicked, actually, and that probably had something to do with the sulky, tired looking Nara that stood before him, shoulders hunched much like how Kakashi normally positioned himself, and lips drawn down at the corners, expression distinctly unimpressed or interested. There was Inoichi’s kid yammering on about something to the timid looking Akimichi who was snacking on potato chips like there was no tomorrow looking like he was both content and nervous at the same time. Something fond tickled in Asuka’s belly at the sight of the team made up of the children of some of Konoha’s most influential and powerful shinobi Clans.

While Yamanaka could be irritating when they got obsessive, she’d never really had any problems with any of their Clans people.

She liked Akimichi’s, they were polite and generally thoughtlessly kind. She’d never once seen an Akimichi be discourteous or cruel outside of battle, and even then it was a rare occurrence that depended on the viciousness of the opponent. They were the sweetest Clan she’d ever had the chance to meet, and she was glad that they were in charge of the majority of the restaurants and food related shops in Konoha. Sometimes a friendly face was more filling than even the best tasting foods after a long, tiring mission, and both at the same time? That, that was priceless.

Nara were hilarious, and oddly dense when it came to when someone expressed interest in them.

The other adult kunoichi was quietly conversing with her Hyuuga student, her features gentle and kind whilst the girl was nodding slightly and fiddling with her fingers nervously, shoulders tightly curved with nerves and defensiveness, causing the chuunin to sigh internally. Clan shit, huh. An Inuzuka seemed to be trying to get a rise out of his Aburame teammate, and the boy in question looked far too amused to her trained eye to actually be ignoring him as the other Clan boy seemed to think he was.

He was so playing that kid, and at least the puppy knew it.

She’d had a… liaison of a sorts with an Aburame a few years before and he had been delightfully shy about the whole thing, and terribly nervous about how she would react to his kikaichu and the entrances they had burrowed into his body in random places to reach his chakra network. She hadn’t particularly found them attractive but they hadn’t been repulsive or disturbing either. They were a part of him, a tool of his ninja trade and his family legacy; nothing about that was disgusting. It had been an interesting experience exploring the tiny holes and being greeted by little bugs that would wave tiny antennae at her, some of them crawling out almost as shy as their wielder in touching her skin. They had snacked on her chakra a little, the feeling like kittens licking at her fingertips, and despite the sputtering and red faced stilted apologies from Aki – the Aburame she’d been sleeping with – she wasn’t upset, rather she was more fascinated than anything else.

Hmm, perhaps she should visit him again sometime, just to check up on him. Last she’d seen him for drinks or something had been almost a year ago and he was always a pleasant person to be around, and he was generally good for a spar or two when he had the time when not on missions. He’d been promoted to jounin, hadn’t he? She couldn’t quite remember, but it wouldn’t be remiss to check in with him and see how he was doing.

With Inuzuka though, their loud personalities – the entire freaking Clan was too much – had put her off, no matter how much she loved canines in general she just couldn’t deal with that level of noise or rowdiness for any extended amount of time except for on a mission where she couldn’t avoid it. It wasn’t that she hated them or anything, it was just… she was an introverted person by nature, and all of the exuberance, well.

It was tiring.

The puppy wasn’t nearly as cute as Pakkun, but she found her fingers twitching a little anyway.

Of course, the Green Beast was crying joyously with his – oh, wow, Sakura had been right, he was just a little piece of Gai, wasn’t he? – likeminded student, while the other two strategically pretended that they had no idea who it was they were standing with. Another Hyuuga, and what looked the girl who worked at one of the weapon shops in town, but she couldn’t be sure, since she so rarely gave much attention to anyone but the owners themselves when she went in.

Perhaps rude, but if she tried to remember every face she ran into, she’d go nuts.

A light touch between her shoulder blades brought her out of her brief examination of the other adults and she glanced over and up at the silver haired jounin for a moment, her lips quirking reflexively, before looking to the arena, her lips compressing slightly as she examined the man from Konoha that her genin was supposed to be fighting against. She trailed her eyes across the vaguely familiar form of Akadō Yorui, and felt something niggling in the back of her mind as the combat started, her eyes slowly narrowing as she continued to do so throughout the fight. Without thought, she half leaned on the railing, pressing her shoulder into the man beside hers’ side comfortably as she did so, his elbow falling into the crook between shoulder and breast as he shifted to get more comfortable.

She’d met Yorui, had even led him on missions on occasion, and there was something… off, about him. Mostly, it was the fact that he was using an ability that she’d never seen him utilize in the past, one that he definitely would have taken advantage of before had he known it and would take some time to master to this extent. His taijutsu was also rather different than before, a strangely altered form of the Konoha Basic that she’d never previously seen, and she distinctly remembered there being a –

Yep.

So that was missing.

His shirt shifted just enough for her to catch a glimpse of his shoulder. His noticeably scar free shoulder. She had watched a rogue nin shove a kunai through the meat of that shoulder, and there had definitely been an ugly, angry red scar on his skin there. And even if she hadn’t really seen much of him in perhaps six months since that mission together, she was certain that the scar tissue wouldn’t have dissipated so quickly, seeing as she still had a scar from that same mission, and her own wound had caused a lot less damage.

Not unless he’d had the Slug Princess work on him, which ha.

Not happening.

Now that she thought about it, a number of the other’s who’d been on that mission had had accidents of late; some were forever immortalized on the Memorial Stone. Imori was still in rehabilitation, and Tatsu almost had to have his leg amputated recently from a border trap, causing him to contemplate retiring from the service to be with his family, or to be taken off of active duty. A tough decision all around, to be sure.

She was the only one left who hadn’t been critically injured, and she had the creeping feeling that this fact had something to do with her increasingly frequent companionship with the Copy-nin. It would be hard to cause her damage in his company, and it was becoming common knowledge that they worked with his genin together, something that only a while before had made her a little uncomfortable, but she took some comfort in that moment. If there was one thing she could count on the jounin for, it was if the shit hit the fan, he would help to defend her against whatever was thrown at her, because he was as loyal a Konoha shinobi as they came.

Plus, she liked to think that she was perhaps a little important to him.

Her features felt suddenly pale, skin clammy with realization as to what this could mean. Sasuke was waning, and his opponent – an enemy of Konoha – seemed to be draining his chakra, causing the force of the Cursed Seal to bear down on the poor boy’s mind and will. His body wouldn’t hold out for long, and she knew from Anko that the weaker you became physically the harder it was to resist the Seal’s draw, and that boy didn’t have nearly the willpower or experience that Anko had had, as she’d been older and nearly a chuunin when she’d received the mark. Even then, the woman had lost chunks of herself to the Seal, her personality warped beyond what it had once been by the burden.

Orochimaru had done this.

Infiltrated Konoha.

The prickling of terror that shimmered over her spine was quickly smothered with a deep, careful breath.

“Asuka?” Kakashi murmured softly, questioning, his dark gaze regarding her out of the corner of his eye, their other two genin off arguing with other genin about something. “Is something the matter?”

Yes. There were many things wrong.

“That,” she murmured softly, lips tight, expression grim, muscles tense. “Is not Akadō Yoroi.”

She felt the sudden, subtle sharpening of the attention of the numerous jounin-sensei with which she stood, and her pale haired friend slumped beside her just a bit more, gaze dark.

“It will keep,” she stated suddenly, straitening and rolling her shoulders, suddenly all business, not a sign of her previous tension in anything except for the way she absently reached out to press her hand against the railing, knuckles creaking enough so that she had to consciously relax them. A firm arm pressed against her side easily as the man beside her shifted lazily, a boost in her confidence and the feeling of safety giving her the room she needed to breathe. “For now, we watch.”

It would have to wait.