Actions

Work Header

Tsundoku

Chapter Text

She’d just returned from shopping, not two days after the beginning of the Exam break, when the boy had shown up at her door, knocking against the wood with rather uncharacteristic timidity as if he were unsure of his welcome at her apartment despite his having just barged right in several times before. Despite her recurring distraction, she stilled sensed his incandescent chakra from the base of her building. Huffing a bit, she shoved her heavy loose hair back over her shoulder and straightened from where she’d been bent over shoving rice into the bottom of her pantry, as well as flour and noodles. Asuka could honestly say that she was confounded as to how this kid could sneak so well as to outrun ANBU and career shinobi when he was literally a walking beacon of chakra and cheer, and she rolled her eyes as she huffed out a breath against her slightly too long bangs.

While she liked her long hair, an indulgence the normally utilitarian kunoichi let herself, she also felt the need to cut it soon. It was heavy, and she had enough headaches to deal with.

Including the one knocking on her door.

“Come on in, Naruto!” she called clearly, grabbing a box of snacks to put next to her fridge for easy access when she left in the mornings, or when she decided to fill her scroll again. “It’s unlocked.”

There was the click of the door opening, and then the shuffling of the boy removing his shoes at the door, as she preferred, before he made his way into her kitchen. Some ninja could be weird about keeping shoes on in the home, because it meant always being ready, but Asuka needed that assurance of safety in her own home. That she wasn’t going to need to be battle ready in an instant in the middle of Konoha proper.

If she didn’t have that security, well, she didn’t know what she’d do.

“Eeeeh,” he said softly, causing her to turn towards him and away from where she’d been sorting vegetable to go into the crisping drawer. “Nee-chan, you look really pretty today.”

“Oh?” she smiled, arching a brow as he flushed, rubbing the back of his golden head whilst scuffing a bare foot against the hardwood of her kitchen floor. “And I don’t normally?”

The look in his eyes was wild as his gaze shot up to her in shock, tan features blanching at the insinuation that he’d called her ugly. Hands flailed in front of him in denial, as he squinted his eyes shut and shook his head emphatically.

“No, no, no! I didn’t mean it like that at all!” he looked up at her soft amused hum, and scowled lightly, cheeks flushed, and brows furrowed. “You’re picking on me!” she just grinned at him, before turning to put her vegetables away. “No, but really, Nee-chan, you look really pretty today.”

Laughing softly as she put away the rest of her cold foods, she pulled a couple of packets of fruit snacks from her snack cupboard before taking a seat at the table, gesturing for the genin to do so as well before tossing him a snack packet.

“Yes, well,” she popped a light blue, kunai shaped snack into her mouth, watching the delight crossing the boy’s features with something like affection. “I do have most of the week off, and I was planning on just relaxing today, after I finished my shopping,” she gave a wry smile as she leaned over the table to pinch his lips closed as he chewed, causing him to flush, but eat more carefully and with better manners. “I like to wear my more civilian clothes once in a while, and this is easy enough to take off and put back on after spending some time at an onsen to finish out the day.”

As soon as the word onsen left her mouth, those glittery blue eyes widened, and he shook his head emphatically again, the little dramatic weirdo, struggling to swallow the gummies in his mouth.

“Nee-chan, you really don’t want to go to the onsen right now!”

Blinking, slightly taken aback, her features twisted with confusion.

“Really?” she frowned. “They aren’t under construction right now or anything, are they?”

She hadn’t heard anything… Asuka’s day off was not going the way she’d thought it would.

“No, no it’s not that, it’s that there’s a huge pervert camped out in front of them!” the boy scowled, glaring down at the handful of snacks before him. “He totally messed up Ebisu-hentai and so he should train me, but he says he won’t because I’m not a pretty girl with really big –” something like a light went off in the boy’s head, and then he looked up at the woman before him with a new light, even as she was coming to something of a conclusion herself about that pervert’s identity. “Neh, Nee-chan? Would you mind helping me with something?”

There was that hesitance again.

“That depends,” she returned drolly, already starting to understand where this was going. It was only the absolute innocence in that blue eyed gaze that had her exasperated rather than anything else. “On whether or not you want to be indebted to me.”

The boy just grinned at her, whiskered cheeks stretched wide, sky blue, earnest eyes big and glittering, and she knew she’d lost. They were all starting to learn ways of how to wheedle what they wanted from both her and their jounin-sensei – though the man to a lesser extent – and it was infinitely worse than she’d originally thought it would be.

Puppies, the lot of them.

She had a weakness.

A terrible, terrible weakness.

This one, however, Kakashi couldn’t use against her like he did with cute foods and Pakkun when she was irritated with him.

His own resistance was fading, after all.

~*~

“Hey, hey!” the genin called, a couple of paces ahead of her as she walked in exasperation behind him to the back of the onsen. “Hey, Ero-sennin!”

Covering her smiling lips, she held back a giggle at the epithet, shaking her head lightly, and hearing the soft whooshing of her loose – what a novelty – hair and tiny kunai earrings the size of her pinky nails with the movement. It was always surreal when she had enough downtime to dress like a civilian, her clothing and hair impractical, almost making her feel like a different person who couldn’t cut a platoon in half with a proper chakra conducting blade.

Civilian life wasn’t something she’d ever considered, but it was an amusing dichotomy.

“Eeeeh?” she heard a vaguely familiar man’s voice whine back at the kid. “You again, gaki?”

“Yeah! And it’s not ‘gaki’, it’s Uzumaki Naruto, dattebayo!” she could hear the scowl on his face. “You have to train me, since you beat up Ebisu-hentai!”

“I don’t gotta do nothin’,” the man snorted, turning away just before she came into view, squatted and peeking into a knothole on the bathing wall. “I have much more important work to be doing than playing with some brat,” at his words he released a high pitched, girlish, creepy man-giggle, shoulders shaking. “So shoo, kid. I’ve got, eheh, adult things to do.”

She was happy she’d pretty much smacked that out of Kakashi while the kids were around even if she hadn’t done anything about the man’s explicit porn reading in public because it seemed to be a version of both entertainment and stress relief for the jounin. Everyone had their coping mechanisms, and she wasn’t going to belittle his just because they were weird and a little socially unacceptable. The laugh, though… that was just disturbing. She didn’t want to be involved with the reason for any more of their already traumatic childhood nightmares though, so the creepy giggle had needed to go.

Honestly, the kids barely paid any mind to the literature that their jounin-sensei was interested in, seeing as whenever he was actually teaching them something, he either closed it or put it away in a signal that it was time to get to work. Still, Asuka was getting a bit curious about them, considering the fact that she knew that Anko practically lived and breathed the things, and if someone like Kakashi – who apparently had a surprising amount of interest in rather dry reading material as well, if some of his references were direct from text – was so obsessed with them, they couldn’t exactly be bad… however, she hadn’t quite reached that point just yet.

Gods help her when she gave in.

“Argh!” the boy spun around to face her, frustration clear on his features. “I did what you asked, Nee-chan, and tried to make him on my own, but he doesn’t listen!” the man paused where he was crouched but didn’t turn to look.

“Well, Naruto,” her voice was slightly huskier with her mirth and she chuckled a little as she came to a stop next to him and put her hand on his head. “That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but well… I don’t know why I expected anything different,” she mused, glancing at the sky in a way reminiscent of the boy’s jounin-sensei. “This is Naruto we’re talking about…”

“Nee-chan, are you picking on me again?!”

The boy sounded so aghast at the prospect, that she just sighed.

“Ooh? You brought a lady friend.”

Naruto found himself shoved to the side none too gently as Jiraiya of the Sannin smoothly grabbed up the chuunin’s hand that had been on the boy’s head, and bowed over it dramatically, free hand out strait to the side like a courtier in a silly civilian romance movie, and his lips stopping a hair’s breadth from her skin, expelling air warmly against her knuckles.

“I’m Jiraiya,” he sent a heated look up at her from beneath white brows with his dark gray eyes as he spoke, his thick dark lashes bringing fire to the gaze, causing her to bight back the immediate response to giggle and flush; boy, he really was a lady killer when he tried to be. “It’s so nice to see someone as lovely as you, especially if you are kind enough to give your company to miscreants like this rabble,” he stated before standing, still holding her hand, no doubt taking note of the calluses that covered the majority of her fingers and palm even as she smiled at him indulgently. “A truly gentile lady.”

She’d always gotten a bit of a kick out of the Toad Sage when she heard about his exploits.

There had been a time or two when he’d been spying some hot springs she’d been in, and Chitose and Haruka had freaked out about it, not letting her walk around alone or go to the public bathes for some time, dragging her to the Compound when she wanted to relax, despite the disapproval of their Clan. Although, there had been a few women amongst the Uchiha who had been amused and sympathetic to their woes, even though it had been more exasperating to her than anything else. Heck, if one of the most powerful shinobi in Fire Country just wanted to ogle naked women, women whom he made no motion to touch or actually approach, didn’t even seem to depersonalize at all, who was she to deny him his comforts?

It was kind of flattering.

She’d also noticed that he never peeped when there were girls younger than fifteen, or women who had ever been sexually abused in there, as well.

That said something about the man. And how his intelligence network worked.

Asuka did, however, understand that she thought a little differently than most people did, so she didn’t dismiss their worries or discomfort at the thought of being peeped on by some man that they’d never met before. A powerful shinobi, at that. Personally, she didn’t care too much, but she didn’t begrudge others their feelings as long as they left her to her own and didn’t try to press their own onto her.

That was a pet peeve that she could never deny having. Someone trying to alter or belittle the way that she felt.

“Why, how kind of you to say so, Jiraiya-sama. If I may be so bold as to introduce myself to one of such graces as yourself, you may know that I am Nagisa Asuka,” she murmured back demurely, lips quirked in a smile that she struggled to hold back, not bothering with the amusement in her tone, seeing as it caused the genin still on the ground to sputter in wide eyed indignant horror. “But really, it’s no misfortune at all,” she grinned a little, giving up, flicking a glance to the gawping boy. “Except when he tries to finagle a meal out of me.”

“B-but Iruka-sensei doesn’t mind when I ask him to buy me meals!” the boy protested, standing, not bothering to dust himself off as he argued with the chuunin, brows furrowed in confusion and offense, hands on his hips combatively. “He likes it!”

“That’s because Iruka-san’s a saint, with deep pockets,” was her dry reply. She had the feeling that the Hokage actually reimbursed the other chuunin for spending so much money on his favorite genin, but she had no hard evidence. “As well as a bit better off than I am, since I have to spend most of my money on supplies that he doesn’t need as an Academy Instructor.”

“Tch.”

The pout caused her to roll her eyes before turning back to the Sennin, who was nonchalantly looking over her physique.

From the tips of her civilian sandaled feet, to the top of her golden brown head, he seemed to find no faults despite the many scars that dotted her skin, if his interested gaze was anything to go by, and she preened a bit internally, knowing that he was half looking at her from the standpoint of a legendary shinobi, and the other half as a practiced womanizer.

Hey, she wouldn’t say no to an ego boost from a man that likely assessed everyone’s threat level on sight.

The long, flowing dark blue skirt that tickled at her ankles and the tops of her feet showcased the black leather sandals she wore, a single ring of fabric around her big toe with a connecting line of leather stretching back over to meet up with a thicker band around the bridge of her foot, which was beaded with black, white, and amber beads the glittered softly in the light. Her toes were painted coral pink, for a dash of color; mostly, though, it was because Anko had appeared again the night before, just to hang out, and had wanted to paint nails.

It had been all she could do to opt out of garishly bright colors.

Lime green was just no.

There were some things she wouldn’t wear, no matter Anko’s whining.

She had a small black leather purse pack strapped around her waist with a small leather belt to hang at her hip, holding both her money and some emergency scrolls filled with weapons, the Konoha symbol was sewn on it in white thread in the center of the pack. The shirt she wore was a white, loose, tank with a secondary layer, stopping just before her skirt, leaving a line of skin visible on her chiseled abdomen, and when she shifted the light would occasionally glint off of her belly piercing. Her hair was cascading to just above her hips in waves and curls since she had forgone tying it back that day, enjoying the feel of it playing over her arms since she wasn’t wearing sleeves as she normally did.

“Now,” she brought dark gray eyes up to her face from where they’d been studying her cleavage appreciatively, where it could be seen above the shirt, her comfortable and cute dark blue bra keeping her breasts well in place. “I believe that you owe Naruto a teacher,” the man winced almost imperceptibly before giving her a wounded look, as if it weren’t his fault that Ebisu was such a sanctimonious prick – er, weakling. “Considering the fact that the only reason he isn’t being taught right now with his other teammate – the Uchiha – “ there was a flicker of understanding in those dark eyes, and the man scowled, releasing her hand to cross his arms imperiously, as if she were giving him personal insult by making him own up to his ex-teammates problem causing ways. “Is because of a certain Snake deciding he wanted to retake the Chuunin Exams via subterfuge and get his jollies on by biting a prepubescent boy.”

Even as a grimace crossed the white haired man’s handsome features, she saw the thoughtfulness enter those gray, red lined eyes as he studied her features before glancing down to study the mutinous expression on the blonde’s from where he’d wormed his way beneath her arm and against her side, grasping her hand where the man had released it, as if to keep it out of the Sennin’s grip. It was terribly cute, to her thinking, that he didn’t want to share her with an outsider, and she sent him an indulgent, affectionate glance that wasn’t missed by the Sennin before her, though she didn’t take notice of his momentary quirking of the lips on that thoughtful expression.

“Bah!” the man threw his hands up in the air, glaring skyward. “I’ll give the kid a chance to work with me,” he pointed a finger at her, eyes narrowed slightly. “But if he doesn’t cut it, then he’s on his own.”

“That’s fair,” she answered.

Nodding her head, she enjoyed the coolness of her tiny kunai pressing against her cheeks as she did so – she really had struggled against choosing the pandas that Imori had gotten her as a gag gift once, but she’d have never lived it down if Kakashi had seen her – even if they sent a small shiver down her spine at the temperature change.

“Woohoo! Yatta!” the boy cried, jumping up and down, flinging himself out from her hold and causing her to give him a look of fondness as the man gave a despondent sigh.

Well, at least he would get a tutor for the time he needed it and well, you couldn’t get much better than one of the Sannin.

Especially one who’d taught the Fourth… and she honestly tried not to consciously think about the similarities between her deceased Yondaime and the boy she’d taken a liking to, because she knew that it was something she shouldn’t think about, especially with Kakashi as the boy’s sensei. With the last name of a woman who had been an inspiration to many a kunoichi and a literal beast on the battlefield. It seemed a bit like fate that here she was, giving the Kyuubi jinchuuriki the chance to train with the shinobi who had taught the man who’d Sealed the bijuu within him, the man who was both the hero and tragedy of Konoha. That he was taught by that very man’s own student.

Still, it looked like she’d have to put off that visit to the onsen at least for Naruto’s sanity’s sake.

And she had been so looking forward to it, too.

Maybe Anko would be up to a girls’ night and they could do home treatments? Anything to break the monotony and perhaps keep that woman from going even more around the bend with stress.

~*~

“Retreat!” she called, launching herself backwards away from the explosion that suddenly took out a good portion of the tree she’d just been perched on. “Measure 3!”

As the medic of their party and another combatant like herself carried their two unconscious, wounded teammates away from the scene, she stood alone against the three remaining members of the group that had decided to ambush them on the border. They wore no hitai-ate that could be seen, nothing that signaled village allegiance, but she had the sinking suspicion that they were from Sound, that irritating little village that had decided to camp out on the border before the Chuunin Exams had even been thought about this year, or the decision for hosting had been made. They had similar techniques to the Sound ninja that had taken part in the Exam as well, using wind currents and pitch to their advantage, taking the name Oto to the extreme, and causing her to wish she could vomit safely. Her ears ached.

Even coating her ears in chakra didn't keep the sound out completely.

She had no idea who the Kage of Sound was, but she really hoped that they understood what they were doing.

Declaring War on one of the most powerful Hidden Villages was not a smart move, especially with such an infantile village as Sound was, and considering the allies that Konoha had, it wasn’t likely that Sound would be around for long if they kept up like this.

Mostly, though, her thoughts were on dodging, and covering her ears with protective chakra as air pressure shrieked at her from one of her assailants as they tried to pass her to go after the rest of her team, likely to destroy any evidence that they had perhaps found or carried with them. Pulling her katana out of its Seal, she leapt into the fray, careful to activate the Guard setting on her armor as she did so, and hearing the screech of metal scraping through leather and against the metal plating just after it had fused together to protect her as she battled the three combatants away from the tree line her comrades had disappeared into.

A kunai slid passed her face as she jerked to the side with little thought, reflex pulled her out of the way.

Well, she’d have to thank Kakashi when she got back, seeing as she wasn’t blinded thanks to his training methods. He was going to be so freaking smug…

Right, she thought, lips thinning, taking her stance, water beginning to solidify in the air around her as she readied herself. I have to buy them time to get to a transfer station.

The three before her were male, all of them had the lower half of their faces covered, and wore mostly black, with some white accents, mostly on the arms and legs. General shinobi gear. On the ground lay their two deceased shinobi compatriots, blood pooling beneath their cooling, shattered bodies from where her medic had used a jutsu on them when she was startled, using most of her chakra in doing so. Hopefully the woman had the right blend of chakra pill to be able to do emergency work on their two critical teammates, but at times such as these she always found that the odds were against her, especially of late when those from Sound were involved.

As they moved against her as one, she grit her teeth, eyes narrowed in assessment. This wasn’t going to end well, she was sure.

She really didn’t want to wake up in the hospital.

~*~

Well, she didn’t wake up in the hospital, seeing as she never fell unconscious, despite the ache in her head making her wish she had. As she had many times, she considered going to a medic to ask for something for the pain in her head, but the thought slid away in exasperation.

“I’ve got you onee-san!”

Asuka had enough medical training that she could do it herself, anyway, if she needed to. No need to bother anyone this way with something so little even if it was chronic.

However, she had been ordered not to do any training for a week or more, or she might re-fracture the bone in her thigh if she did, as well as to make sure that she only did light exercises to keep her knew scar tissue malleable and supple. She had been impaled by some kind of strange new kind of metal fashioned into a spike, that had expanded slightly once it had come in contact with her chakra, causing some rather nasty tearing of her small intestine and kidney – which was fixed easily enough, thankfully – and had left a reddish purple nasty starburst on the lower half of her stomach. The scar sat right between her piercing and her hip bone, and out through her lower back as well, blending eerily into the previous damage from the angry red scar of a decade ago.

The fact that she’d been able to pull her chakra away from the affected area was a godsend, really.

Wow, if that had hit her piercing, which doubled as both cute – hey, it was, Asuka was well aware that she was physically fit, alright? And… Anko, as well as Mai, had assured her that it was indeed attractive – and functional as a storage Seal. It was full of emergency supplies that she might need someday if she was ever again in the middle of a warzone unprepared; having that activate would have been… bad. Like, potentially releasing all of her Sealed things inside of her if the piercing was shoving inside her guts while she had activated chakra, kind of bad. It… wasn’t likely to happen, but it could. Just like getting dropped in a warzone was something that could happen and that was the problem with ninja paranoia, it wasn’t if they were actually out to get you, and she’d been straight up sure that someone was trying to kill her since she was a genin. She wasn’t wrong, because someone was always gunning for Konoha, but how personal it was had always made her feel a bit awkward so that she overthought it and brought about another headache.

The most frustrating part was that they had ruined her Seal Network on the metal plating within her now useless leather armor. She should have known that she’d need a secondary set just in case, but, well, it was rather expensive to make, and she’d yet to have anything make it through her armor until that last fight.

Pouting about it did nothing, unfortunately, and even then it wasn’t in her nature, but she couldn’t do much for it that first day once she’d been released from her week-long stay anyway.

On the second day, however, she hunted down a metal worker to put in an order for the specialized chakra channeling metal sheets she would need – her bank account wept – before settling down by the waterfall she usually commandeered for training, with a notebook and pencil in hand to re sketch the Sealing Network that had been destroyed by the ‘unknown’ enemy nin. While the bodies had been recovered, the moment that someone had gone to examine them with chakra, they had immediately destroyed themselves with some sort of excreted toxic acid that melted the flesh from their bones, bones which had then crumbled with disintegration. Since she had no evidence except for their jutsu – which could be copied, all things considered – there was little that the Hokage could do about it, and that left a bad taste in her mouth, as well as a deep furrow of unhappiness in her brow.

“No, no,” she muttered, carefully erasing a slim curve on the paper before her. “That’s not right.”

Frowning down at the shattered and slightly bloodstained remains, of her old armor plating, she followed a line until it was bisected by sharp destruction. Which was not nearly as cool as it sounded, since it was going to cost her a fortune to get this remade since said destruction had made repair nigh on impossible, much to her displeasure. The whole Sealing Array had been mucked up by that chakra metal, whatever properties it had shattering the connectivity.

“Was it…” continuing muttering, she carefully curled a line widely at the very end, careful of thickness and eye balled it for a moment, pursing her lips. “Hmm… closer…”

“You should use the Sheltered Fountain here,” her whole body tensed painfully as a large hand pointed to, and followed her sketched lines with a blunt, tanned fingertip. “It’ll give you more mobility without ruining the density.”

Releasing the moisture that she hadn’t consciously gathered from the atmosphere back into it, she glanced over her shoulder to see the Toad Sage squatting behind her, eyeing her work with some interest, and a little bit of amusement that was no doubt taken from her surprise. She scowled at him reflexively, enormously relieved that it had been him – if there were a list of people that she was relieved not to have sensed, he was on it – and not whoever it was that could potentially be gunning for her as they had been for the team she’d been on with Akadō. Subconsciously, she was still leery due to her run-in on the border where she’d faced enemies without backup even though it had been her who sent her squad mates away, especially since she was still injured and substantially unable to perform a good portion of her physical defenses and taijutsu because of it.

Looking back at her paper, she let her eyes follow the path he’d traveled and cocked her head to the side a bit.

“But wouldn’t that mess with the Grinding Hoard’s locking of the joints?” she queried, studying her work, curious despite herself.

He was a Sealing Master, and she only dabbled where it interested her, like in Sealing Scrolls, her armor, and the wards on her apartment. Which were pretty basic, Asuka could freely admit.

Heck, she rarely used explosive tags, a common enough ninja tool. The wards on her apartment had been the same for years now, something that she, her jounin sensei and her boys had come up with when she moved into the place; her house having been destroyed in the Kyuubi attack, along with –

Well.

By no means did she feel the sudden urge to jump into the field of Sealing – way too much studying and calligraphy for her taste not including the danger – but she wouldn’t deny the urge to see something of what it meant to be a Master.

A little someone would have salivated had she had the chance to pick a Sealing Master’s brain.

She felt him shake his head behind her, long white hair brushing against the back of her large long sleeved standard Konoha shirt, his significantly larger body generating a lot of heat that wafted against her back and settled warmly in her bones, relaxing her muscles the rest of the way. The man exuded Positive Intent mixed in with all that body heat he generated and it was soothing over her tired, sluggish coils and unwinding the tension in her wounded areas so that she released a deep breath, her joints popping a little as she settled back more comfortably. He barely even seemed to notice the fact that he was using a high-level Intent skill as easily as breathing, but well, that was probably part of being a member of the Sannin. He didn’t even register on the scale of normal shinobi anymore.

Still, she was a little grateful for it and his presence, the unease she’d been feeling the whole day fading away with the Konoha nin of greater skill who could act as a defense against anything that might come at them.

Nothing short of a Kage could take down Jiraiya.

“No, not with the Trailing Vine you have here,” he tapped that same finger – there were a few pale scars on his blunt, hardened hands, and mild ink stains around his cuticles, though the nails were well trimmed and cared for – against the paper in another space. “Holding the Hoard in fluidity, but with linkage.”

“Hmm, that’s cool,” she murmured without thought, fingering a flaking, dried blood covered piece of metal thoughtfully. “It’d certainly help for next time. My mobility gets hampered with it activated, even if it’s only a bit.”

“Yeah, I always thought it was pretty neat,” the man admitted, standing and cracking his neck before hollering behind him. “You shouldn’t lose much flexibility with this, but I’d need to look at the rest to really streamline it.”

Without her notice, the corner of her lip crooked up at the sudden glint of interest in the man’s dark eyes as he’d studied the array. It was a little weird, to be around a legend like this so easily. Even Asuka knew that, lowly chuunin that she was, even if her time with Kakashi had desensitized her a bit. Jiraiya was human too, even if he was a ridiculously powerful shinobi.

“How much longer are you going to take, brat?”

“Don’t,” pant, pant. “Call me,” pant, pant wheeze. “Brat!”

Rolling her eyes, she turned enough to see a rather bedraggled Naruto running towards them with, takeout foodstuff in two large bags in either hand held as straight out from his body as he could get it – oh, his shoulders must have been burning – and another bag tied to his back. He was flushed and sweaty and downright unhappy. The kid had asked for it. Like, literally.

Well, she’d never been stupid enough to train under a Sannin, so…

As he reached them, he only had eyes for the older shinobi, apparently not noticing her at all as he set down his load, panting, hands on his knees as he wheezed a little bit.

“Not a brat!” a quick burst of breath. “Uzumaki Naruto!”

With a chuckle of good humor, the man took a seat beside her, idly lifting one of the takeout bags and opening it, hitting her nose with the scent of gyoza, causing her stomach to whine mournfully and the man handed her a box with an amused grin, getting her to smile back with a self-mocking roll of her eyes. Being injured really took it out of her, and even though her mission pay had already gone through, she was waiting until her rent cleared and her armor order was in to go shopping since it was more expensive to go out to eat with a healing appetite.

Man, she was such a mooch lately…

“Thanks,” she said gratefully, opening the box after setting aside her sketch. “Itadakimasu!”

Picking up one of the small steamed savory treats, she watched the orange wearing genin do a double take after looking at her with her initial thanks, blue eyes wide.

“Asuka-nee-chan!” he sounded completely bewildered and delighted at the same time. “What are you doing here?”

Raising her brows as she swallowed the heat of the morsel, she sighed in pleasure at the warmth suffusing her body. Ah, that was the stuff.

“Well, this is normally where I train when I don’t have an appointment with you brats,” she gestured carefully towards the great gouges missing from the earth, and the broken stumps and trees, her muscles twitching and cramping in protest of any larger or faster movements. “But since I’m on medical leave for the time being, I just came for the quiet,” a wry twist of her lips. “Not that I’ll get that now.”

“Medical leave?”

The boy looked so worried and earnest that she had to reach out and muss up his disgustingly sweaty hair with a grimace, wiping the moisture onto his dusty tracksuit, causing him to squawk at her with insult.

“Are you hurt, Nee-chan?”

“Are you going to eat or not?” the Sennin challenged, reaching for the other bags dramatically, causing the boy to jump and hiss like a startled cat, grabbing a bag to himself and sidling away from the adults, mumbling to himself as he did so, giving the white haired man the stink eye.

The shinobi turned and looked at her with a critical eye once the boy was far enough away, eyes lingering on her single straitened leg and her lower torso where she sat, back carefully propped up against a small rock, favoring her left side.

“You were on the border then?”

“Yeah.”

She crinkled her nose at her hand and pulled water out of the air to scrub at it before dismissing the liquid again. It was just unhygienic to touch food with your hands covered in boy sweat, no matter how used to it she was it was still gross.

“Unfortunately,” she searched around the bag that the box had come in with a frown. “Got any sauce in the other bags?”

“Ah, yes,” the man pulled a small cup out for her and she happily dug into the appetizer before her, the man pulling out some wontons for himself as she did so, and chowed down. “Sensei said you thought that it was Sound.”

“Yeah,” mumbling around her mouthful, she swallowed it down, glancing up to meet the older ninja’s eyes. “He tell you how long they’ve been humping the boarder like dogs in heat?”

A sharp bark of laughter rumbled out of his mouth in surprise at her words before he shook his head, amusement curving expressive features and dark eyes.

“Six months,” she scowled, staring at her food with a glare, completely missing the shocked narrowing of his eyes as he regarded her. “At least,” she continued. “Because I started up this rotation of border patrol just under seven ago, and they weren’t as obvious then, but they were there enough that I noticed when I started, but as soon as the rumors about the Chuunin Exam being in Konoha popped up, those little shits were everywhere,” munching on another fried gyoza, she carelessly took the juice bottle the man handed to her with a mumbled thanks. “I mean, first, they were only passing through, and then, the next thing you know, they’re fucking camping on the border, flirting with how much farther inside they can go before I kick them out because apparently no one else has the balls to do it.”

That wasn’t right, not then, but the members of her chuunin squad who would have, were dead or contemplating ending their shinobi careers.

In her frustration and uneasiness, she didn’t notice the darkening of the man’s eyes, nor the contemplation.

“Why wouldn’t he mention this?” was the soft mutter from the Toad Sage as he stared down at his food. “He told me everything about the situation he had but none of this…”

“Everything?” she frowned, putting aside the empty container and eyeing a meal Styrofoam hungrily until the man forked it over. Ooh, yakisoba! “Did he tell you about the mole that was playing as Akadō Yoroi?” a nod. “Did he tell you about how the last people who were on a mission with the real one – excluding me – on the border, have all had unfortunate accidents that are either career ending or rather final?” a shake of the man’s head, furrowed brows. “The fact that I’ve somehow become friends with that loudmouth’s –” she gestured at the silently choking little Naruto off to the side. What in the world…? She really shouldn’t think about what was wrong with that kid. “– Sensei is probably why they haven’t been able to pin me down. I’m pretty sure that all of this was in the reports I’ve been handing in, and while I’ve been expecting a summons from the Hokage, I haven’t yet received one for more than two of my border patrols that have gone south.”

“There’ve been more,” the man stated, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

“A lot more.”

~*~

After they’d finished eating, they’d put that topic aside, deciding instead to talk about the Sealing Network that she was apparently going to improve – “So archaic! How the hell did you work with these things?” “The usual way, I imagine.” “Ooh~, the lady has fangs!” “She also has knives.” “Ah, right, ahem, continuing on…” – with Jiraiya’s help as Naruto practiced Summoning – and boy had that surprised the heck out of her – of all things and she found herself almost reluctantly fascinated. Summoning, like Sealing, was a rather rare art to be used, and was generally only passed from one person to a single other, rather than spread out to the general populous. It was a bit of favoritism and classism that would likely never change, especially since ninja were paranoid, sneaky, guarded bastards, so she didn’t mind too terribly much.

“But with the Bowing Crane – “

“– no, no, the Collapsed River would – “

“– doesn’t that remove the – “

“– you see, the Market Swallow holds the fusion together – “

They continued on this track for perhaps an hour and a half, before the woman found herself nodding off in exhaustion, the chakra enforcement she kept on her wounds pulling her down in the darkness with one last small yawn. She half registered large, warm hands as they guided her to lie down comfortably on the ground rather than awkwardly propped up against a rock so that when she woke she wouldn’t have a crick in her neck or an ache in her back.

When she woke, the sun was threatening to settle behind the trees with dusk, the Uzumaki boy was passed out spread eagled on the ground snoring some feet away, and she herself was covered by the Sennin’s sleeveless red haori, with a traveling pillow placed beneath her head, her legs curled up to her chest comfortably. The scent of road dust, sap, sunshine and wet grass mixed with something almost similar to kerosene oil and ink was hovering around her, her nose buried in the collar of the red cloth that covered her as she sleepily blinked her eyes open, squinting at the hazily familiar garment before she woke fully. She sat up carefully and rubbed her eyes, pulling the warm coat off of her body and folding it, trying not to think about the huge whiff of stale chakra scent she had just taken in, setting it to the side where the man’s large scroll was leaning back against the rock she had been previously as she saw the shinobi start his way over from where he’d been doing something in the tree line.

It appeared that the man had little care for who got a whiff of his chakra scent, no matter how old or detached from his spirit it was, she realized with a soft flush as she worked her way to standing. It was unlikely that he wouldn’t have taken it into account when he’d placed the cloth over her, doubly so when he’d given her his own pillow to use, which was saturated in the scent as well.

“I finished that layout for you,” the man told her quietly.

As she stood, carefully stretching her stiff muscles, she looked at him in surprised pleasure as his hand outstretched with her notebook in his hold, the pencil she’d been using stuck in the metal spiral.

“Really? Thank you,” she acknowledged with a slightly sleepy smile, taking the proffered items from the shinobi. “You didn’t have to.”

“No, it was fun,” the man leered a little. “Plus, it’s not every day I get to do a favor for a pretty lady.”

She chuckled, her cheeks warming a little with the blatant, funny flirtation whilst she was still hazy, flipping through the notes he’d made haphazardly throughout, raising her brow at a couple diagrams she had no clue what they meant. He had really gone to town on this, hadn’t he? If she wasn’t mistaken, some of these outlines had absolutely nothing to do with her armor, and a couple of sections were actually written in offhand code that she wasn’t entirely sure he had realized he was using at the time but she said nothing and just held the notebook.

It’d give Anko something to do the next time her insomnia struck hard. She loved a good mystery, and definitely needed the distraction.

If she came home to that woman organizing her poisons on her kitchen table one more time

Well, she’d just have to apologize to the Sandaime for depriving him of one of his talented T&I specialists because that was a kind of torture that Asuka hadn’t been trained to resist, the constant paranoia that all of her personal food supply had been accidentally sabotaged.

“Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” she returned amusedly, scratching at her cheek in a manner reminiscent of the Copy-nin, a motion that the man before her noted with amusement and raised brow, but she didn’t catch. “I’m sure that this improved network will serve me well.”

“I should hope so!” the man grinned easily. “Let me see the mold when you get it made, won’t you?”

“Of course,” she glanced up and gauged the time with a sigh, rolled her shoulders and got a crack from her joints in response. “Well, I have to go, but thank you for all your help, Jiraiya-sama.”

The man stopped her as she was turning to leave with a large, warm hand on her shoulder, the restrained feel of his chakra even though he was still producing crazy amounts of Positive Intent had her hesitating and she looked up at him curiously.

“Those Seals,” he looked meaningfully at her hands, and she found herself gripping her notebook a little tighter, pulling them in towards her chest protectively. “They were done by him?”

“Ah,” she felt sadness and pain bloom in her heart, as it did for all of Konoha’s people. “Yes… yes, they were.”

“They’ll need to be reinforced soon,” Jiraiya said softly, his dark eyes soft with his own sadness and tired grief. “They might last a couple years yet, his work was pretty much flawless. Even so, I’d be generous to give them at the most three. I’ll do them then, even if you have to come to me to do it. The old man won’t begrudge me that if I ask for it.”

Swallowing at the thought of losing that tiny bit of chakra from the Yondaime that whispered like a ghost in the Seals, she nodded at him firmly. Sentimentality of that kind could get her killed and… there could be a way to preserve it, and when the time came, she’d ask the Sennin despite how embarrassed she knew that she would feel. It was such a small amount that no one else could feel it anymore, she’d checked, but she had been so proud when the man who had been their Hokage for such a short time had offered to give them to her when he’d come across her in a training field fretting about where she would keep her katana since it was almost as long as she was tall… that it ached to think she could lose the piece of him she had left.

It was selfish, but she didn’t want that.

“Of course, Jiraiya-sama,” she turned and started to walk away.

“Call me Jiraiya, Asuka!” he called after her and she waved behind her in response.

It looked like she was making interesting friends left and right, didn’t it?

Despite the ache in her chest, the thought was a good one.

~*~

Going through her old things was always something of a trial, a bit of heartache that brought tears to her eyes that never quite fell, but this time she had a purpose. As opposed to all those other times where she was panicked at the thought of forgetting what the faces of her parents and sister had looked like. Memories faded into time.

It wasn’t melancholy or a bit of grief that had driven Asuka to look through her family’s old things, and it wasn’t a fading memory that she desperately wanted to have back to the pristine visage it once had. There was no burning ache in her spine or the trembling of her hands that made her question herself and her choices, needing the reaffirmation of people long gone who had set the path that she still walked.

No desperation for comfort had her walking down memory lane this time.

All that talk about the Seals etched into her hands had gotten her thinking about the sword and sword breaker that were held within them, a twitch of chakra away from the surface to allow her deadly access to her weapons. They were of terminal use in the correct hands, and she freely admitted that she knew how to make the most of her blades; she had visceral memories of parting flesh and slicing through bone to great effect. Of limbs falling to the wayside. There was a safety in her blades that the chuunin would never take for granted, attached to her as they were through the generosity of a man over a decade gone, a part of her as much as her breath and eyes were, as intrinsic as the very beating of her heart.

Asuka hadn’t always used a katana.

It hadn’t been her passion as a child, either.

What she knew about her mother’s family was that they’d come from a coastal the water was in the blood the blood was in the water area and been invited in just like everyone else when the village was being founded, and they’d brought with them their techniques and abilities. Nothing too impressive really, no kekkai genkai or fancy Clan jutsu. No glorious minds that could outthink someone by twenty steps and still have room to spare, no talent towards a certain shinobi art over another.

Just the sword.

Something that in that time, was considered more of an eccentricity than anything, considering in the Warring Era few had used kenjutsu outside of the samurai, though Senju Tobirama was certainly known for it.

To be honest, when she was growing up, despite learning the katas at her mother’s and great grandmother’s knees Asuka hadn’t been particularly interested in kenjutsu, and the only people she’d really known in Konoha who used it were her family; which didn’t make it super cool. She’d loved her family, but like most children outside of a Clan, she hadn’t found them terribly interesting. Sure, it had seemed like a good skill to have, a tool that would keep her alive in times of war, but she’d still been a bit of a taijutsu snob at the time. There had been – and still was – something viscerally satisfying about the feel of someone’s face being bashed in by just a fist and relying solely on the power of your body to defend you.

Until her mother had died.

Nagisa Botan had been a slight woman with darker than average skin, pale white blonde hair and green eyes. She’d had a bit of a solemn air about her, seeming almost sad and always a little bit tense, but she’d been gentle with a mischievous streak that had entrapped her father. She’d been lovely in a near eerie way had earned her the name of Ghost Blade, though she’d never been more than a tokujo, never had a particularly high bounty. When Asuka looked into the mirror, she saw little of her mother other than the shape of her cheekbones, her eyes just slightly off in shade, and the way that her expression settled when she wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. Her features had always taken more after her father.

Her sister had always taken after their mother’s looks more, and Asuka had been glad for that.

When Botan had died out on the front lines of the war, it had lit a fire under her ten-year-old self to be better. To end this war with her own two hands if she had to, to keep her family and team safe and alive because losing someone hurt. She’d been out on the front lines too, knew that her mother had died in a way she’d seen her comrades go, despite being older, more powerful, more experienced. Knew that it couldn’t have been a peaceful end. There had been nightmares that her genin team had tried to sooth her through, of her mother bisected on the battlefield, or disemboweled just slowly waiting to die as other fought on around her.

It had been… a trying time.

So, she’d trained harder and taken up the katana.

Not that even as a child Asuka had thought that she could get strong enough to end a war, but… but it had helped with the grief, and now every time her palm gripped her sword she could almost hear her mother talking her through katas. Could almost feel that guiding hand so much larger than her own, and smell the sweet scent of oranges and ink that followed the woman everywhere, the comfort that would enfold her with safety and surety. She remembered the sight of her family seated on the back porch encouraging her while she desperately fended off her mother’s lackadaisical but painfully more skilled strikes as Asuka herself stumbled around like a drunk lemming.

While she dwarfed what her mother had once stood at, half a head taller than she had been and twice as thick besides, there would always be safety in the memory of her.

No, Asuka’s family hadn’t brought much to Konoha, but it’d brought enough.

The name of Nagisa was inherited, yes, but it was also the mark of one who studied the blade under their styles. If Asuka hadn’t learned from her mother, she would have taken her father’s name of Midorinako, as her younger sister had, uninterested in any sort of bladed weapon.

It was a way to adopt someone if not into the direct family, then into the family style.

“Ah, here you are,” she murmured, pulling out the thin scroll, eyes a little sad as she looked down at the battered thing. “It’s a wonder I haven’t tossed you yet.”

Not really, she’d kept everything she’d managed to salvage from the wreckage of her childhood home, viciously hoarding everything that reminded her of a family long gone and still missed; she only had fond memories of her kin. The only tragedy her family had had was that she was the only one left, and the rest had died too quickly.

Even if she didn’t wallow at the loss of her family, she’d never throw away their history.

Her thoughts slid to a little girl who, during her chuunin fight, had done a particularly familiar twisting, shoulder pivoting kickback combo that Asuka had never directly taught her, nearly perfectly, even if she hadn’t the strength needed to really pack a punch. Had only ever used when sparring against Kakashi that she could see, and sparingly at that.

Now, she thought with a twinge of nerves in her chest. Will she say yes?

~*~

Now that she had her here in front of her, Asuka felt something almost like nerves trying to curl uncomfortably in her chest.

When she’d met up with Sakura at the training grounds they liked to use when it was just the two of them, seeing as it was a little closer to the tea shop they liked to frequent, Asuka had given herself time to think by having the genin do her warm ups. It was no small thing, what Asuka was contemplating, no small thing to want to give this to someone outside of her family, outside of her blood – her stomach clenched with grief and wistfulness, making her new scar tissue ache – and she was well aware that the girl would understand that as well. Perhaps not as well as someone who had grown up in a secretive shinobi household, but enough to know that this was special; Sakura was intelligent and intuitive when it mattered.

“Sakura,” Asuka said quietly, feeling an uncharacteristic tension in her chest. “Come here.”

Easily and with a smile the recently short haired girl skipped over towards her kunoichi sensei, open affection and eagerness to learn on her pale face, a little smudge of dust on her cheek from her exercises. Warmth bloomed in the chuunin’s chest in turn and she felt her stiff features soften with her own smile for a moment as she looked down at her student, one of the genin that had been thrust upon her. And… couldn’t find any of the previous exasperation at the time used on these children. This girl.

I… Oh.

I love this girl.

It wasn’t particularly surprising, something in her had known since she’d come upon them in Wave and felt fear burst through her guts at the thought of them facing Zabuza, of what a powerful missing nin could do to fresh genin, and she knew that she would need to care for someone very much to pass on something so precious. It was still… it had been a long time, since she’d let someone new in, and all of them had been adults with the ability to care for themselves outside of her.

When she knelt down in front of her kunoichi genin and pulled out that little, battered scroll, emerald eyes met curious seafoam green and Asuka felt solemnity fall over her features. It felt heavy and too light, whispers of near forgotten chakra slithering through it, familiar and distant as all others who had touched it were in the Pure Lands.

“Sakura,” her voice was low and quiet. “I’m going to ask you something very serious, and I need you to answer me completely truthfully.”

A moment of silence as the girl took in the seriousness of her words before she swallowed and firmed her features, planting her feet as if to brace herself.

“Okay, Asuka-sensei.”

“Why did you become a kunoichi?”

If this had been but a matter of weeks ago, this girl would have stuttered about Sasuke and being a beautiful bride, would have flushed and stuttered about a boy who was a little too broken to be able to deal with the fawning of near practical strangers. Who couldn’t handle other peoples’ emotions being thrust upon him because he could barely manage his own most days and refused to acknowledge them others.

It wasn’t weeks ago, and Sakura took a few minutes to gather her thoughts, staring at her kunoichi-sensei as she considered.

“I wanted to protect my Tou-san,” the girl spoke just as quietly, and with just as much gravitas. “I remember being little and my mother crying because he’d been hurt on a business trip outside of the village, and if it hadn’t been for the ninja he’d hired to protect him, he would have died.”

Pale green eyes blinked rapidly and teeth bit into a pink bottom lip and worried it for a moment.

“One of the ninja was a kunoichi, and she lost an eye while her partner lost some fingers. When we went to thank them, she…” Sakura swallowed. “She laughed and said that it was worth it to know that he got to go home to his family.”

A deep breath.

“I wanted to be able to say that I could send someone home to their family.”

For several long, tense moments, Asuka examined her young charge, taking in the way that her muscles trembled slightly with the strength of her emotions, the way that her lips quivered; but most importantly, the way that her eyes burned with determination even if they looked shiny with emotion.

The Will of Fire.

The desire to protect.

“That’s a good reason,” the chuunin said softly, her lips twitching into an almost smile, ignoring the ache in her side. “Now, I’m going to ask you one more very important question.”

A quick pin of chakra at her fingertip had blood welling up and she slathered it over the Seal, a silk cloth wrapped thin bundle sliding out smoothly to sit in the callused palms of her hands. It felt heavier out of the scroll, emanating a near foreign chakra only millimeters from what was held within.

“Do you want to learn the blade from me?”

And that was how she’d ended up with a pink haired girl she’d come to love struggling against tears and sniffling as she tried to get ahold of herself and give that oh-so important answer that Asuka needed to hear.

Pale green eyes were wide as the girl stood stock still in front of Asuka.

They slowly filled with tears that the chuunin hadn’t quite expected, but they weren’t… altogether a surprise. Sakura was a girl who felt deeply, and her quick mind made it feasible for her to keep the majority of her emotions under control, though she was still young and inexperienced.

“Y-Yes!” the girl choked out, rubbing her fists against her eyes. “I want to learn from Asuka-sensei!”

“You need to be sure,” she cautioned, slowly unwrapping the broken blade in her hands, a remnant of her family’s legacy during the Warring Clan Era and before. “Because once you put your blood and chakra into this blade, you’re bound by oath to learn a bladed art from me. My family styles are important to me, and if you agree now rashly and without thought and do not strive to do your best even if you find it not a skill you can master or wish to use… it will hurt me greatly.”

Rubbing her hands over her face, Sakura took a fortifying breath that shook her whole body, circulating her chakra to help ease the symptoms of her strong reaction just as she’d been taught, before looking down at the broken remnants of the katana.

The hilt wrapped in frayed, near worn through leather, tattered cloth that had paled with age so much that the color couldn’t be guessed at, stains of blood that could never be removed held the strength of her forebears. It wasn’t particularly attractive, but it had survived countless generations of ninja before Hashirama had even been a dream in a Senju’s eye, and hopefully it would last a generation or two more, to pass into the hands of the future. The blade was broken several inches from the guard – which was cracked and made of some obscure stone and worn smooth by time, whatever details there had been gone to the ages – and a few shards of the rest of the blade remained. Most of it had been lost to time, pieces left behind when needs must.

The metal shown red in the light of day, reflecting eerily, no stain upon its surface but colored by the bloodline of those who had wielded it and learned its art.

Looking away from the broken blade of Asuka’s past, determined light green eyes met serious dark green.

That’s my girl, Sakura.

“I, Haruno Sakura, genin of Konohagakure, do truthfully desire the tutelage of Nagisa Asuka, High-combat chuunin of Konohagakure, to teach me the blade and will stand true by my word.”

Her voice shook just a little at the end of her pledge, but it was all that Asuka needed from her.

“Then step forward, and present both blood and chakra to the Shio no Zetsumetsu, pledging your oath to learning the path of the blade in the way of Nagisa.”

Without another moment of hesitation, Haruno Sakura, genin kunoichi of Konohagakure, did just that, sliding a finger along the broken blade in a motion that Asuka had done countless years before seated before her mother.

Asuka was proud and relieved, jittery affection stirring in her chest.

The girl smiled tremulously at her, and then promptly through herself into her teacher’s arms the moment that the woman had put the shattered blade back into its battered scroll, small body thin but growing, and warm, with a weight to it that Asuka was just coming to comprehend. The woman thought about a move copied that had been done near perfectly, thought of the few times she’d seen this girl twist her once long hair into a bun idly, or fall into stretches that weren’t Academy standard, mimicking Asuka.

She thought of her mother’s hands guiding her own… and smiled.

The Nagisa would not die with Asuka.

~*~

Once the tears had calmed down, Asuka had offered that maybe they should go cool down and take some time to equalize their emotions before doing anything like training. Doing physical work when it was unnecessary after some emotional upheaval wasn’t exactly the best course of action, despite what some ninja practiced, and it wasn’t like it was a chore to spend time with the genin girl.

Sakura wasn’t the only emotional one, anyway, even if the chuunin was just better used to waiting until she was alone to express it.

They went to their regular teahouse, waiving at the server familiarly to get their regular orders.

As she listened to Sakura chat away about how infuriating her friend Ino was, she wondered at how the time had seemed to fly by. This girl was already leaps and bounds more mature than she had been only a month prior, and she was still keeping up her training, despite not having someone around to teach her or supervise her without having to ask on her own. She’d apparently been spending time with the Yamanaka girl and sitting in on her practices with her team, as well as with her father, Inoichi, when it was allowed, so that she wasn’t unsupervised whilst doing physical training. Heck, she’d even gone up a training weight size since the last time she’d spoken to the girl, which she was inordinately proud of.

She was growing up.

The little civilian girl was slowly but surely becoming a kunoichi. One to be proud of.

Smiling at the pink haired girl, Asuka couldn’t keep the fondness from expression, absently running a hand over the chattering genin’s smooth, short locks. Sakura beamed at her, not stopping the flow of words sliding from her lips, hands moving dramatically to properly demonstrate her thoughts.

She was a good kid.

“– and then, Ino-buta said that now that I had short hair, Sasuke-kun would never like me,” she looked at the chuunin before her with something like incredulity. “I don’t really think that Sasuke-kun cares much about anyone’s hair, do you?”

With a dry laugh, she shook her head. No, the only hair that boy cared about was his own, she was sure.

“Um, Asuka-sensei?”

The girl queried some time later over dango and tea once they’d found a place to sit, pale green eyes almost hesitant under furrowed, delicate brows.

“Yes, Sakura?”

“You know some iryō-ninjutsu, don’t you?”

“Yes, some.”

The woman blinked and looked up, curious as to where this was leading. Would the genin ask to be taught, she wondered? Another thing to add to the list.

It wouldn’t surprise her, and she certainly had the chakra control for it…

“Well, there’s that boy in the hospital,” she murmured, brows twisted in concern. “Rock Lee, and while I don’t like his eyebrows or know him very well, they say that he may never be able to be a shinobi again and,” she bit her lips, staring down at the empty skewer in her hand. “And that’s horrible,” jade green eyes looked up at her imploringly. “Do you think there’s anything you could do?”

“Oh, Sakura,” she sighed sadly, reaching across the table to run her non-sticky hand through the girl’s short locks. “I’m afraid that if a fully trained iryō-nin could do nothing, there’s nothing that I could do, with only field training.”

“Oh.”

Her voice seemed so small as she stared down at her hands.

“If Tsunade-sama were here, she’d likely be able to do something,” the chuunin found herself continuing. “But without her, there’s little anyone could do.”

“Senju Tsunade?” the girl queried, blinking large eyes up at her kunoichi sensei again. “The woman who’s one of the Sannin, and created the No Flow jutsu?”

The No Flow jutsu was a jutsu that stopped a woman from dropping her eggs whilst she had the jutsu activated, and was only available to those who had had at least one uninterrupted menstrual cycle, before it was introduced to the system. The jutsu could only be removed by the person who had put it on, and generally, the recipient themselves put it on, but sometimes, if you felt you were at risk of torture or something similar that could cause you the mental stress that would make you release it, you would have a close friend or family member – some even used their iryō-nin – cast it for you. The jutsu itself ceased like all jutsu did, at the time of death, when all higher functions ceased. This jutsu also had the side effect of making kunoichi who used it hold eggs longer, giving them a longer time span in which they could potentially have children, and they lacked several of the risks of older women giving birth, considering their active chakra systems and hardier bodies.

It was however required that one month out of every year that it be deactivated, so that the hormones of the body could run their course, and the woman in question was taken off of the more dangerous active duty roster, just in case, because sometimes missions went south.

Really south. Especially for kunoichi.

Asuka herself had Anko in charge of her No Flow for the time being – she switched it up every now and then between the people who stayed within village parameters – and was contemplating asking Imori, no matter how uncomfortable it would make him, considering the fact that he was bedridden for the foreseeable future. Even afterwards, when he was released from constraints, she was sure that he was going to take a desk job so that he could spend time with his grandchildren more often. Hell, he could take a position at the Academy, he had the aptitude as well as the general knowhow, and she was sure that the kids would love him and his gruff growly self.

There were, of course, civilian versions – the civilian council would have thrown a fit if it were ninja specific – since they didn’t have the chakra networks to support the jutsu, but most used the hormonal injections that the Sennin had created, either that or they took herbal remedies which weren’t quite guaranteed to work but were actually cheaper.

Also, there was a male version, because it wasn’t just females who were in danger of things like line theft and the like, which made it so that the spiritual chakra that would give life to the sperm didn’t exit the body with the release. This was also something that was manipulated by the mental coils, regulating the minute amounts of spiritual chakra that men would have otherwise released with their semen when they ejaculated, and it was pretty much dealt with in the same manner as the No Flow jutsu, the female version – the male version was generally called No Go, as in no energy in the sperm of the shinobi – and someone else was the one who cast it and removed it.

They were actually slang, No Flow and No Go, but for the life of her if they had an official name Asuka couldn’t remember it anymore.

“The very one,” she confirmed. “She’s the most talented medical ninja to have ever spawned from any village. She’s created several medical techniques and basically wrote the Konoha medical textbooks, as well as being the reason we have such a large hospital in comparison to other villages, being a more medically involved village due to Tsunade-sama’s influence.”

“Really?” jade eyes looked up. “Do you think she’d do it?”

“Well,” she sidestepped a little. “If she found herself in Konoha,” which wasn’t likely to happen, given the woman’s rumored fear of blood and having disappeared from the village before Sakura was born. “Then she could definitely do it.”

Miracles were known to happen, after all.

“Now, it’s time for a workout, my dear.”

The dull thunk of the girl’s forehead meeting the tabletop was music to her ears, the tortured groan released pulled an amused laugh from her throat. Just because she’d said she’d teach her the blade didn’t mean they’d start before she thought that Sakura was physically able. There was still plenty of gear needed before that could happen, and certainly more strength training was required; as well as building up the girl’s chakra reserves.

Before anything happened, she wanted this girl at peak heath.

“Now, now, don’t be like that.”

“I hate you, Asuka-sensei…”

“Oh, no you don’t.”

She was so happy that Kakashi had asked for her help.

~*~

The girl’s question in regard to the other genin had, however, made the chuunin curious about the young, exuberant clone of the Green Beast and so she found herself making her way through the hospital towards the room she’d been directed to by a rather tired looking member of the hospital staff.

While she didn’t think that she could do anything more than the trained doctors themselves, she didn’t think that it would hurt to look in on him and give her well wishes, all things considered. Even if he couldn’t have visitors, she was sure the exuberant kid would appreciate the well wishes. The fact that they were encouraging him to not try to be a shinobi anymore, that it was unlikely that he would be able to, was really sad, the pink haired girl was right in that regard.

To be honest, Asuka didn't know what she would have done if their situations had been reversed, but she doubted it would have been good.

“Hey, Asuka-senpai!”

Blinking in surprise, she stopped and turned to see Mai running up to her.

Mai was an orphan from the second war of unknown heritage, no last name to indicate who her family had been, though her darker than honey skin tone was rather hinting at some islander in her. In contrast, she had Yamanaka bright blonde hair that framed her lovely brown eyes, but was kept in a short bob, her bangs pulled to the side and held with dark purple clips. She was a singularly pretty young woman, almost six years younger than the green eyed woman, and a Mid-chuunin medic with combat secondary. While most of the chuunin rank avoided the swordswoman because of her lack of social niceties, there was something brazenly friendly and sociable about the younger woman. Once she’d heard that the other was High-combat, she had approached her for help in improving her chances of field work, dogging her like Asuka couldn’t even believe. Field medics were in high demand, but the requirements for acceptance were rather steep for those who didn’t specialize in combat instead of medicine. Losing a fully trained medic was much more detrimental than losing a grunt frontline fighter.

There were few High chuunin in general, and as far as the green eyed woman knew, there were only two other High-combat, both of which were men who were usually out of the village for one reason or another.

Because she hadn’t minded aiding a comrade in bettering herself, she routinely began to beat the shit out of the blonde woman, who took it all with a smile that she would later learn – considering her personality – had to do with how her on again off again partner enjoyed taking care of her battered and bruised self.

Usually, it was the other woman’s partner who inflicted the damage, though she had never heard Mai complain, and generally not in situations that meant danger, either.

Quite the contrary, actually.

There were the rare few wounds that could be explained by training, but usually it was something of a more… intimate matter.

While it made the green-eyed woman a little disturbed on occasion, she was a firm believer in to each their own.

So… if the woman who was approaching her was sporting a rather nasty black bruise across the bridge of her nose and there were butterfly bandages holding cuts on her brow and lips, she had learned not to question it and just go with the flow. It was better than pondering on the rope burns on her wrists or the soft bruising in the shape of canine aligned teeth on her neck and shoulder. Yeah, it was none of her business.

“Run afoul of Hana again, Mai?” she quirked a smile at the shorter woman, taking in the dust and light blood spatters on her pale gray and purple dress over bandaged legs and regulation sandals. She carried her scrubs in a bag over her shoulder, looking as if she were getting ready to go onto shift before she’d called out. “Which dog did you offend this time?”

“Her brother,” she muttered wryly, grinning up at the older woman. “She’ll take me back in a few days and lick at my wounds, as you well know. Kicking my ass on the training field was enough to cool her temper. So what are you doing here?”

She half shrugged, waving a single hand in a habit she had unknowingly picked up.

“Sakura was worried about Rock Lee,” sympathy immediately bled into the younger woman’s playful brown eyes. “So, I thought I’d check in on the boy.”

“Yeah,” the other chuunin grimaced in unhappiness, thin, white blonde brows furrowing expressively as she glanced towards the ground. “That’s a messed-up case. I’m not on that one, but Fujimoto-sensei was really upset about it. They’re keeping him drugged up for now so that he doesn’t have to deal with the pain… well, that and the fact that he keeps trying to train whenever he’s fully coherent.”

“To be so young and lose what you’ve been working so hard for…” her grimace was unhappy. “I’d hate it.”

Probably wouldn't have survived it, at that age, either.

When the other woman opened her mouth to speak, Asuka felt a familiar chakra flare briefly, and her head whipped to the side in the direction it had come from. How had she missed the dazzling sun of that little nuisance for so long?

“Sorry, Mai, I’ll talk to you later!”

With that, she took off down the hall.

Moments later, she was standing in the hospital room she had been headed towards in the first place, her favorite loudmouthed genin and the disinterested Nara boy up for chuunin – if the rumors were to be believed – standing behind her while she calmly locked gazes with the redheaded boy she almost shared an eye color with, though his were more teal than forest. A lovely sea foam green, oddly ironic considering his supposed desert heritage. His short red hair was the kind of crimson she had only ever seen on one other person before, deep and bloody and bold, but his was chopped and messy, as if he had hacked at it with a kunai rather than let someone near enough to cut it properly with scissors.

He was also filtering his quicksilver, glittering and faintly copper scented sand over the broken, unconscious form of the Green Beast’s apprentice.

“That’s enough,” she stated calmly, brushing aside the mildly demonic Killing Intent that the unstable – oddly transfixed on her person foreign jinchuuriki – was releasing, sending out a soft wave of PI to chase away the vestiges, feeling the children behind her relax some, the Nara boy’s breathing carefully controlled but heavy. “Remove the sand or I will remove it for you.”

“N-Nee-chan,” Naruto stammered softly. “He says he’s got a demon in him.”

“Gaara,” she stated as she ignored the boy who had spoken from behind her, but still shifted a hand behind her palm out to signal quiet. “Do not make me repeat myself.”

Something odd reflected over too pale features and bruised, sleepless eyes and the boy from Sand lifted a hand towards his head as if struggling within himself to form coherent thought, the heavy blanket of bloodthirstiness twisting minutely to reveal a more human chakra underneath, writhing in confused agony and rage, the fragile purity of it like a breath of fresh air.

Oh, you poor thing.

“Stop…” she heard snarled softly, an undercurrent of fear and pain in his tone. “Stop looking at me…”

The sand writhed, twisting in almost-agony, and she felt the Nara boy tense as his shadow jutsu struggled to hold the chakra powerhouse across from him.

“I warned you,” she stated calmly. “I will now remove the sand.”

In a flash, every particle of sand that covered the unconscious and in pain genin was waterlogged as she yanked it off of his convalescent form and to the floor at the boy’s feet, those crazed teal eyes wide as they looked at her as his control was usurped of his automatic defense, and she felt just a little sorry for the confused shock, the unchained vulnerability there, but pushed it aside. If he had been a genin of Konoha she would have been much kinder, have tried to ease his discomfort and pain, but as it was, he was from a village that was only an ally, and she was the main ninja delegate between their villages.

She needed to be impartial.

A flash of similar if lighter green eyes filled with tears of joy slithered through her thoughts before she set it aside. This wasn’t one of her kids, and even if she felt sorry for the boy, she was in no position to help him.

“Leave the premises,” she continued in that same calm, even tone she’d been using. “Or I will remove you.”

After a long moment, the boy began to recall his sand, and she pulled the water from it as a courtesy, letting it dissipate before it could even be distinguished from the sand it had been restraining. To everyone in the room it appeared as though she had done nothing to the sand itself, although its darkened appearance at the time of removal was rather telling if one thought about it enough, even if her water manipulation had been subtle.

“What is your name?” the red headed boy asked his breathing slightly labored. “Tell it to me.”

So that I know who to kill, was the underlying statement.

She wasn’t afraid of this not yet trained child, even if he was a jinchuuriki. There were scarier things in the world, more terrifying fates than the simple death a bloodthirsty broken child could give to her.

Mostly, she pitied him.

Without a great deal of Sealing knowledge, even she could tell that whoever had performed the Sealing on the bijuu within him had no great skill in the art, that they had messed with the balance and likely given the boy a direct influential link to the tailed beast within. Linked their spiritual chakra in some mutated fashion that left his humanity frail and malleable to the negative influence of the unhappy prisoner he carried within him. She’d heard horror stories of such, had seen the impact that bad Sealing had during the wars. From his previous comments about his mother, it wasn’t unlikely that the creature was bending his fragile psyche to its whims.

It was a miracle that he wasn’t dead if this was that case, depending on the way that they had Sealed him, that he hadn’t already imploded.

“Nagisa Asuka.”

The boy hissed a little before his features blanked and he turned and left, as if there hadn’t just been a rather distinct confrontation.

When the foreigner had left the room and left her sensory range, she smoothly spun around with an exasperated tilt to her features before kneeling before the two trembling boys. Quite pale and nervous looking boys.

“You have the worst luck,” she muttered, running her eyes over her blonde genin. “Are you well, Nara-kun? How are your chakra stores?”

“Y-Yeah, Nagisa-san,” the pale, with a slight sheen of sweat and suddenly exhausted genin slumped in place. “I’m a little tapped, but I’ll be fine.”

“That’s good,” she sighed and stood, putting a hand on both boys’ shoulders, flushing her chakra through their systems to clear out the KI. “Let’s get you guys something to eat and then I’ll give you over to Asuma, yeah, Nara-kun?”

An hour later the dark haired boy had refilled about a quarter of his chakra stores after they had eaten some calorie rich bento, she had sent a quick report about the incident to the main office, and Naruto was chatting amicably with the boy about stunts that they had pulled in the Academy, having been pried off of her side to sit opposite her with his former classmate, something that the dark eyed, slouched boy was suffering good naturedly.

“There’s something familiar about you,” she mused, studying his features curiously.

He had the characteristic Nara kind of laziness that exuded from his thin, lithe and childish frame, his hair was held up in the almost traditional ponytail, and he had the almost pretty features of his fellows, who held the place as the most androgynous Clan without a bloodline limit.

Something about the eyes and the curve of his brow was…

“My dad’s Jounin Commander,” the boy mumbled into his hand where his chin was propped up on his palm, weight on his elbow on the table. “That’s probably it.”

“Oh,” she took a moment for that to sink in, before she started to chuckle. “Oh. That makes so much sense.”

The boy arched a brow at her seemingly not paying attention to her blathering genin, but she could tell he was by the way he hitched a shoulder every now and then as the boy excitedly kept speaking about something to do with spiders and the shrieking Yamanaka girl.

“If you’re Shikaku’s boy, it really explains a lot,” she stated lightly, a wry twist to her features as she leaned back against the wall behind her. “Especially how Asuma got handed a team when he had been refusing one since he was promoted to jounin years ago.”

“… What do you mean?” there was a slight frown on the corner of the boy’s lip where she could see it.

“Not that Asuma isn’t sensei material, he’s a rather gifted shinobi and he’s rather patient all things considered,” was her continuation. “But he’s a bit of a brat, really. I guess it comes with growing up as the son of the Hokage; he was used to getting what he wanted in-village. People treated him deferentially, and even if he complained about it, he was still used to it, had grown up expecting it.When he ran off to join those Guardians,” she paused. “You know about that, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, good,” she muttered in relief. “Some of the gaps in kids’ educations these days are ridiculous. Anyway, when he ran off in a tiff because daddy didn’t agree with him,” the boy had shifted so that he could sip water from a straw and choked at her words, looking at her with wide eyes. “He was an Adjutant to the Jounin Administration, directly below your father.”

The boy had just managed to clear his airways as she gave him an amused look.

“I’m sure you get the rest.”

“… Dad ended up getting all of his work when he skipped out, didn’t he.”

“Mhmm.”

He sighed, shoulders slumping further as he pressed his forehead to the tabletop as if to get rid of a headache.

“So this, getting Ino-Shika-Cho assigned to Asuma-sensei was a passive aggressive way to get back at him,” was the slightly muffled conclusion.

“Well, I’m sure it was more sending you after him than anything… though that Yamanaka girl likely drives him up the wall just as much, if not more. I have it on good authority that his kunoichi genin teammate was a shrieking harpy with cousins in both Inuzuka and Yamanaka, so the flashbacks must be marvelous. I’ve never met a disagreeable Akimichi, so I can’t say anything for your friend, likely a kindness in the long run, but that’s the gist, yes. It doesn’t make him any less effective or compatible with you three, but I dare say your father was a little bit too pleased with assisting in jounin-sensei assignments when he was called in, just for that reason. If anyone knows how irritating the Ino-Shika-Cho can be, it’s Shikaku.”

“What are you guys talking about?” came the curious query from the blue-eyed menace, his gaze jumping from one to the other with interest. “You have that look like Kaka-sensei, uh, fell into a lake again, Asuka-nee-chan.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Naruto,” she smiled at him fondly and the memory he had dredged up. Good times. The man should have known better than to spar with her on water, no matter his proficiency with water jutsu, especially after he’d stolen her candy right from her hands. “You should be getting back to that pervert hermit while I take Shikamaru here back to his sensei.”

“… Okay, but you’d tell me if you’d pranked Kaka-sensei again, wouldn’t you?”

“Of course, have to spread the humiliation, don’t I?”

A few minutes later he was heading off to find his wayward ero-sensei and the Nara boy was slung under her arm like a sack of rice, and looking extremely at ease with the situation, as if women toted him around in such a manner all the time.

Considering who his mother was – there was something about Yoshino that was daunting no matter her smaller stature and lower rank – as well as his female teammate, she didn’t put it past him.

It took her less than five minutes to come across the former member of the Twelve and toss the limp boy at the jounin, who was painfully watching his other two genin argue, though it was more the blonde girl rather than the boy who was worriedly eating apples with a hair color rather similar to Asuka’s own. The Akimichi looked a little disheveled, as if he’d rushed to find his sensei for something, but also like he was trying not to be; ah, he’d probably done something he shouldn’t’ve. He caught the boy after a moment of surprise, the Nara looking up at him with a rather put upon and bored expression. The shock on the jounin’s features was nice, especially since said feeling had him holding the boy in his arms like a civilian romance novel’s damsel, and said boy looked like he was settling down for a nap though his features were twisted slightly to say that this was all Asuma’s fault.

In a roundabout way, it was.

“I brought you a gift, Breezy-kun,” she stated amicably, amusement clear on her features as the other members of the genin team jumped in surprise at the sudden incoming of their third teammate. The Akimichi brightened, which was nice. Happy Akimichi were the best Akimichi. “Be sure to treasure it appropriately.”

“… Asuka, do you have to call me that?”

“Yes.”

“… Really? In front of the genin?”

“Yes.”

“Umm, Asu – I mean, Breezy-sensei, are we going to train now that Shikamaru is back?”

Godammit, Asuka...”

“Have fun, Breezy-kun.”

“No – don’t! Get back here, Nagisa!”

“Breezy-sensei, Shikamaru’s asleep!”

“… I’ll kill her.”