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Tsundoku

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~*~

He waSN’t okay.

Despite what he’d said, despite how often he lied to himself and was a ritual practitioner of self-deception; Kakashi was well aware of it. He was not okay.

He was anything but okay. The bits of himself that he’d managed to hide away in his mind palace from the genjutsu were bruised, battered and damaged. With the rest… well.

Not nearly as good of condition.

In that warped world, there had been much pain. So much pain he couldn’t truly comprehend it all, couldn’t call upon the memory of it, only getting himself thrown into mind numbing shock and the physical jittery signs of fear and trauma as the nonsensical ramblings of his own mind tried to cross signals to both block out his memories and recall them. It had also been confusing, distorted and out of place, time an unknown, fearful thing that could either ruin or save him. He knew that there had been nightmares and agony and blood, though only imagined and unreal. The technique had been so powerful that he’d barely been able to push the important bits of him self, the key parts of his spiritual chakra, into that mental defense he’d been building since childhood. That special place made for him. He knew that they had felt real, that he had been twisted while inside that world as well, a good portion of his training falling away amidst the chaotic disorder of the inverted monstrosity that he had been confined to. He didn’t know how long – how long was eternity and an instant? – he had been forced within the caprices and shattered edges of his own mind, didn’t know when sensation had shifted from ghosting surreal physicalpain to mental torture and trauma. To reliving the worst moments of his life.

Didn’t know.

Didn’t really want to.

It had been… bad.

Bad bad bad bad bad -

No, it... he needed to stop that.

A world of his worst nightmares come true, pain without flesh, and blood without veins. A world where he knew no hunger but starved, only to be fed his own intangible blood and steel and no no no nonono stop don’tthink –

There were certain fears and terrors that had been his reality once or twice, and he desired not to think of them.

He had become shinobi too young.

So young…

Much too young.

“You know, pup, if this is for me you don’t have to –“

No. Not him.

“I’m already proud of you –“

Stop.

His Sensei had been right about that, that he’d dived in too quickly, like he was about most everything else unless for some reason Kushina had been involved, in which case she was always right rather than the other way around – or somehow everything became her idea – something that he had never been able to understand.

The warped world had preyed on him, on his mind, on his shriveled, blackened and scarred heart.

It had… hurt.

It had hurt him.

Badly.

He didn’t want to remember.

To think.

Please, don’t make Him.

Alone and that was good couldn’t remember why but it was good

Only good if it was just him

No one else

The sky was red theclouds were black withlining was ironic silver color hisblood was white and he couldn’t quite remember if it was supposed to be that color-oh, pain pain pain pain

“Kakashi.”

Kakashi Kakashi Kakashi Kaka shi Kakashi

Such a nice voice the voicealways talking it kept talkingwouldn’t stop but he wouldnot speak back couldn’t talk hadswallowed his tongue already butcouldn’t die even though hewanted to because the voice kept talking and the sky was wrong andhe was wrong and theblood was wrong and but the voice was

Soothing

Wrong wrong wrong wrong no not this voice he didn’t want this voice it wasn’tright it didn’t belong it was wrong it wasn’t supposed to sound like that it was too old too tired to much like his own it had beensmall once why wasn’t it small why why why why

Hurts

Like the all of them pack his first packall gone ahead they’d left he wasalone because he was abad Beta who were that had beengold hair with soft eyes that looked at him saw him with sadness and affection and age something so tired why did he look at him like that what had he done wrong he didn’t want to disappoint he would make it better so please don’t looklike he was out of reach he wasright there so stop he wasthe last but whywasn’t of course he wasn’tenough had ruined everything he had broken them ruined made

Cool blue eyes darkened with sadness and pain andwhy was he so tired he hadjoined the masked people who couldprotect those he with the golden hair loved he would protect gold hair because he was faceless and of the nameless he wasn’t far away always there don’t please he had wanted his happiness bright ice blue glittering with laughter as he stood withcrimson hair who always had a wide grin always full of laughter and joy but fierce and strong thegolden hair had loved her and he had only ever wanted him to be happy didn’t deserve those who had been with him crimson hair who had always cared had fed him she had been so warm she had beensad too much too sad what had he done whenshe looked at him but had still touched ruffled his hair fed him often looked at the one with the golden hair just like his heart and had loved they werehappy she was happy and that made blue eyes light up so bright so bright but never embraced like crimson hair and violet eyes why had he didn’t he touch him never touched him was he bad he was wrong had done something

They were gone

No pack all alone gone not companions he was Omega distant cold so cold everyone was gone he was so lonely why did they leave him they had chosen to go away he had lost the crimson hair with so much love in herheart and the golden hair with the cool blue eyes filled with strength of will and heart that had beenpainful and beautiful to see everyone had loved them had loved them love him loved her they were gone packless he was packless alone

No

No

Not packless

He was

He had

There were

Young

Where were his young youths children pups who could not huntalone they were gone alone away from him where he needed to ProTeCT tHeM

With him he where was hewhere lost can’t find can’t think whatgreen eyes and laughter she hadwarmed and calmed and opened ah it hurt he couldn’t couldn’t couldn’t couldn’t couldn’t

Orange tinted goggles blood promises and boulderspain and shame and so much self-hate the words were gone worst present he had ever beengiven he was a curse everyone died he had killed him he was scum trash so sorry had failed golden hair and purple marked cheeks she no no no no

Purple marked cheeks his hand through achest tears and shock andpain shame so much hate he didn’t mean so sorry no no don’t know please stop the eye burned his heartburned why was this the gift was crying he could not breath please stop why why warm blood on his hands soaked in his glove sticky and congealed he couldn’t breathe no no please no not her not pack please stop no whywhywhy he had promised promised promised promised

Liar he was a liar he had lied

Filth scum it hurt he was sorry

Friend killer Ka KAshI

No one to forgive him but he didn’t deserve it even though cool blue eyes had neverblamed him and violet eyes had cried for him when he had lost the ability to because his eye was not his own and his curse had ruined him even more an eye he had never been taught to use taught taught taught

He needed to teach someone

He was a teacher

Sensei

-Kaka-sensei!-

That was him he was

No

He

His eye was needed he needed there were young

He had

There were young

Where he had there were he could not find thehis eye there he was confused anxious pups there were

Where were the pain pain pain

I t hurts why pain pain pain pain

Three crushed children the children his genin the pups the young they were by his hands before his face under his feet made ofwords everywhere blue eyes with a wide grin and whisker marks that he’d had even before the gold hair hadfollowed the crimson hair andleft died gone that would sitbeside him and leanagainst with heat toowarm so young and bright no please no he was so sorry he had failed him golden hair buthe had wanted to protect so very weak he should have taken care should have should should should he had failed next to the pink hair with the soft wide jade eyes and shy smile trailing after the one with green eyes hidden behind a boy losthe was losing had lost what had he done to them why did this happen with pale skin made paler bydark hair and eyes stained by blood and darkness with hunched shoulders so lonely likehim but better somuch better and before them like he should have been but couldn’t because he was weak and had broken them with his own failings and please noprotecting had stood thefire metal hair with green eyes and a soft smile she had those kind hands with sparkling water laughter she was the water he had watched the glitter of light she was Fire had it he had laughed because she was she was there was terror and confusion and dread they were his don’t touch they wereall his every one of them they were belong to him couldn’t no

He wanted to die

“Kakashi.”

He should be first should die first they could be no not please don’t blue eyes they were sad eyes and a fragile heart so guarded by happy grins and laughter to cover what had ones been quiet sobs in the dark alonehe had watched and guardedin the darkness as afaceless nameless didn’t existthat was Naruto how could he pink hair so quiet she thought she was forgotten thought she was less had been ignored never Sakura don’t he wouldn’t forget how could he have forgotten he shouldn’t have pale skin touched by death broken and young and cursed as he had been but could be stronger be better Sasuke don’t get drawn into the abyss that gapes before you he wanted to teach him how to keep feeling to remember to feel that it could be learned again green eyes that were guarded and sad and tired but she had welcomed him had opened to him they were friends pack mates she wasAsuka Asuka Asuka – “Kakashi, you stupid jounin” – he was lostwhere was she the kids what this were his can’t lose them like the gold hair and crimson hair and moonlight hair anddark eyes like his own no no not pack never pack don’t take them please please please no no no

“Kaka-sensei!”

Ah It HuRTs

Pain stabbed and burned and skinned and impaled and he was violated andwrong and he could see but couldn’t see could not taste but could and all he heard was the voice that wrongsoothingwrongstoptalking nomore voice why was there no smell smell scents were gone they hadwhere were they what had happened to them his bones felt like they were shattered and splintering out through muscle and tissue and organ he was falling apart and held together by strings he was a puppet of the voice that danced to the song of his own and agony couldn’t die couldn’t see but kept seeing wanted to stopblood and death andthey were all gone he couldn’t find them couldn’t smell what that was wrong why did it have to

S tOp It HuRts pLe AsE

Did he not did he what were he didn’t couldn’t remember did he have bones

What was where was here what where were they how where they where were they where was he what was here

He felt like he was choking on blood and vomit and tears, though he did not cry he wanted to but he couldn’t even with the gift curse eye so sorry he shouldn’t have

What was he supposed to remember he needed to remember but he couldn’t what was he but pain what was pain pain it was he was pain

Who

Who am I what am I why am I alone am I how am I please help I am please no more they needed him even though he was weak and he couldn’t can’t take can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t can’t

Kakashi.”

Was that him it sounded familiar he was trussed up held uptogether above below within the beside pain likehe as a field of blood surrounding him the crows in his eyes were fed on blood and there was an eye the color of the sky was wrong not seeing it rightbecause he couldn’t remember what couldn’t he remember

Kakashi.”

Was he Kakashi he was he couldn’t who was this what was Kakashi but standing in a field felled by othershe was useless the crows had taken his crop the pupswhere were they his childrenpups the crop of children they werethey with the woman with thegreen eyes or had they followedplease no not againdon’t go with the golden hair andcrimson hair and orange goggles and purple marked cheeks waiting with the man with hair and dark eyes like his own laying in his own blood reflected in the moonlight

He could didn’t no more his mind he was lost can’t think couldn’t smell couldn’t remember the scents whose scents he couldn’t breathe couldn’t remember how didn’t

NO mORe

Oh pain pain pain

He… couldn’t quite seem to stop himself, though.

A drawback of having a mind that works so quickly, it’s hard for me to control it , he had reasoned to himself a little hysterically. Which is just so not fair.

But… there had also been a cool reprieve secreted away behind it, behind the anguish and madness that he had skirted and then fallen into headfirst only to emerge on the other side feeling much too old for the years he had spent trapped in his mind to fall away on his relative physical youth. But that relief had led him gently, tied a rope securely around his waist and tugged on it every so often to give him direction, to give him hope in the whirling havoc that had been his mind laid bare with his guilt and shame, all the memories and nightmares he would never voice. He hadn’t been sure that it was even real, had perhaps thought that he was hallucinating it, but every so once in a while, the burning agony of his mind and his body would be soothed by whatever or whoever had held the other end of that sanity transfixing tether. It was like a comforting scent, slight and unobtrusive in the most extraordinary way, the kind that you never got used to and never grew sick of – the only scent that had existed in the warped world – the kind that was so subtle that half the time you didn’t realize you were smelling it, or looking for it when it wasn’t there.

A nice scent to clean out the smell of blood and fear and pain.

A scent like home.

It made him think of Sensei and Kushina back when he’d still been a kid, of his father before that, who were all closer to the forefront of his thoughts than they had been before, his mind raw and open and perhaps a tad tattered because of it, the madness grating on his memories of them. The scent made him hope that it would fade though, that they would return to the sheen they had once bore in his mind, because a scent that could weasel its way through the clutches of Tsukuyomi could lead him back farther, to remember what peace had been like, what pure happiness of intent had been like. What it had been like…

Before Obito.

Before Rin.

Before… everything.

When he’d awoken at Tsunade’s hands, he’d almost convinced himself that it had been her until he had felt his favorite chuunin’s chakra signature, even though it was much smaller than usual. The several moments it had taken him to remember to think of her as Asuka rather than green eyes, and he’d had to pick on her because it was something normal, something he needed, something he wanted, despite how haggard she looked even from a distance. It wasn’t until she was staggering like a particularly graceful drunk through his window that he smelled her blood – he was so relieved to be able to smell again it was like he had been blinded and now there was a world again – and noted the slightly darker patch of cloth on her hip, though he was sure she’d sealed it with her unique water jutsu. Even as she was threatening him with bodily harm there was a sweet sort of warm, wobbly but affectionately stark relief that was so profound in her green eyes as she took in his awakened form, that he was glad for his mask covering his face, his cheeks heating up lightly as if he were some fresh cut genin and he didn’t know what to do with himself, Obito’s eye burning with the aching happiness of proof that he was appreciated more than his broken mind had convinced itself he was.

He wasn’t completely useless if someone could look at him like that.

After she’d sat and taken his hand in what he noted interestingly, almost cheerfully with his stubborn refusal to think on anything from that wrong place was a very smooth and practiced motion, her chakra reaching out automatically only for her to pull it back a second later. He couldn’t help his reaction, and it was rather gratifying to see her rare bout of embarrassment as she realized what she’d done, only to keep hold of him anyway with her brows furrowed as she sat beside him, cheeks flushed and warm only for a few moments as her eyes fell shut with exhaustion. Affection curled wearily in his chest.

That settled it, he knew.

It had been her.

In hindsight, really, it couldn’t have been anyone else, could it? Her scent saturated this hospital room, was all over the chairs, his sheets, and even him to an extent –sweet kami he had never been so embarrassed to breath before by how pleased this made him – telling of her extended time in his room, likely sitting just as she was then, only allowing her chakra to roll through him like a soothing balm. As they sat in his room in silence for several minutes, he let himself enjoy the feel of her smaller hand encased in his own, feeling the warmth of her skin and the calluses on her fingers, calluses that he had as well, only situated in different places. It was much different than when he’d cradled her smaller hand in his when she’d been hurt what felt like ages before, for some reason this felt much more comfortable, much more personal, than when he’d held her hand when she was unconscious.

Perhaps it was because they were both aware.

She was touching him, skin on skin, and that raw part of him that he couldn’t even pretend to keep carefully boxed away in his state wanted to weep for it.

His hands had softened slightly with inactivity though, just enough for him to have noticed, and it made him unhappy to think of the laborious duty of training, something that he’d not needed to do frequently in some time, even though he did daily calisthenics of varying levels. But it looked like it was going to make up a good portion of his future after this… incident.

Of course, he was also a little warmed by the fact that several of his jounin peers, their genin team – he missed them, had the burning need to see them and scent them and that was why he was staying where he was because he didn’t know if he could control himself yet with the sight of blue eyes pink hair pale skin they were his – and even some of his ANBU colleagues had stopped by several times to check on him – the fact that Tenzou came around the second most was a little cute of him, his silly little kouhai – while he was unconscious, but they hadn’t… hadn’t mingled their scent with his as much as she had. Even if it appeared that Sakura and Sasuke had spent a good portion of their time huddled up at his side or in the chair on the other side of the bed from where Asuka had apparently staked her claim, an action that had the feral part of himself terribly, viciously pleased in a way that soothed a part of him – the Alpha he was Alpha not Beta not Omega – that had been deprived of them in unconscious nightmare. Though the kids’ scents pervaded the room, Naruto’s was recent but not as ingrained, it was nothing like how his and Asuka’s had mixed on such a… personal level, one that alternatively stunned and pleased him in a way that before would have terrified him. It would have had him fleeing as her very presence had become one that both strengthened and eased the pale beast that was caged by his Hatake blood, restraining the dark vague emptiness that was the pain of what the inverted world of the Tsukuyomi had left inside of him. The hurt.

He also learned something new about her.

It was best to weasel your way into her good graces when she wasn’t all the way awake, and being pitiful and bedridden definitely helped.

She would be a fun training buddy, he was sure. Normally it was just him putting her through her paces, because she wasn’t up to his level, but while he was as weak as he was, doing a routine work out with her would be interesting.

He wondered how much speed training he could get her to do…

He was glad of her, though.

Her presence drowned out that soothing, calm voice just softly stating his name.

Over and over again.

Endlessly.

Ka kashi.

Closing his original eye, he leaned back into the slightly stiff and not quite comfortable bedding that the hospital housed, he took slow, deep breathes – carefully filtering the hospital smells – as he enjoyed the feeling of her smaller hand, with fingertips wrapped over the back of his own. The balm of her cool, soothing chakra easing the not-scent of blood in his throat. Every few minutes he felt like he was sinking away into that colorless place, but a deep breath and the shifting of skin against skin would pull him back from the precipice.

The woman said nothing about his riled-up chakra network, nor the way that his own fingers twitched under her hold, pressing back to affirm reality as he swallowed carefully. He couldn’t remember a time before she’d somehow made herself a fixture in his life, not since the night of the Kyuubi attack when he had been touched in such a way, without malice and with real, clear positive context. With – with pleasure and happiness. The sheer amount of – of everything that this ridiculous, incomprehensible woman made him feel, was… terrifying.

He very much wanted his ignorance back, thanks. He missed his compartmentalization and repression were both in complete shambles and he was feeling things he’d been very carefully trying not to since he’d buried the last pieces of his previous pack.

“… I’m glad you’re awake, Kakashi.”

Her voice was a little hoarse, a little wet in a way that made his throat tighten and chest ache with that uncomfortable, horribly pleasant warmth she seemed to bring to him. Despite the urge to babble out every moment of his growing affection for his pack, for her and the kids, Kakashi said nothing, just basked in her soothing presence, fingers twitching in her grip. His mouth didn’t taste like blood but when he swallowed he felt the phantom sensation of it.

“… Me too, Asuka. Me too.”

… It was enough.

Almost more than.

~*~

“Ooooi,” a hand on her shoulder shook her softly. “Aaaaasuuuuukaaaa. Wake up.”

“Mmmmph,” she grunted out, rolling onto her right side and pulling her blanket up over her head. “G’way.”

“Maa, Asuka,” the deep male voice spoke, a hand patting her lightly on the ribcage, chakra fizzling against her side comfortably. “That’s no way to speak to someone who’s providing you with breakfast.”

Furrowing her brows, she peeked out from beneath her blankets, eyes blurry as she looked into a familiar eye-smiling, mask covered face.

“K’kashi?” she mumbled in surprise.

A flash of elated joy flickered through her chest when she remembered that he was awake, and her tired chakra babbled at him softly, like a very weak and low brook in the high heat of summer.

How did he get in? Wait, no, that’s simple. He’s Kakashi.

She blinked and sat up, rubbing her eyes, her single thick braid a mess, tumbling over her shoulder, hair falling almost half out of it.

“What are you doing in my apartment?” she yawned, shaking her head and stretching her arms above her head, wincing slightly at the pull on stiff muscles. “And did you say breakfast?”

He gave her that infuriating eye smile and stood from where he’d been crouched next to her bed, throwing her blankets off of her as he did so like the absolute barbarian that he was. Shivering at the sudden temperature change she gave him a sleepy glare, rubbing her hands over her arms as she did so and then glancing at the wood flooring tentatively before touching her toes to the ground and jerking them back up with a grumble. Without thought, she tried to stretch a chakra string over to her drawer for socks, only to end up holding her pounding head and tentatively checking to make sure that her nose wasn’t gushing blood from the pressure in her empty feeling skull at her forgotten shortage of chakra. There was a reason that she avoided chakra exhaustion at all costs, because any normal person doesn’t enjoy that kind of bone deep, spirit deep pain.

Kakashi was a masochist, she was sure of it. Sadomasochism was hardcore, and she just wasn’t about that.

Ugh.”

A pair of her fuzzy bright blue socks were tossed into her lap and she squinted up at the jounin who was walking out of her bedroom, her pitiful expression lost on his departing back.

“Bastard,” she muttered.

She’d deny the smile on her face ‘til her dying day. At least out loud.

Grumbling under her breathe the entire time she put them on and tottered out into the main room and stumbled into one of the chairs at her table, yawning and rubbing at her face as she did so. A plate was set down before her and she blinked down at the large omelet, rice and steamed veggies sitting before her, a bottle of ketchup put in the middle of the table, before she smiled over at her jounin friend, because this suggested that he had made it after getting to her apartment, rather than having picked it up on the way. Now that she thought about it, he’d probably just used her ingredients as well; it wasn’t as if he didn’t know his way around her kitchen, just like all of Team Seven.

She couldn’t quite picture him shopping happily on the way to her apartment. For some reason, her mind filled the image with high pitched girlish man giggling and a bit of skipping while swinging the groceries, and possibly a genjutsu similar to Maito Gai’s in his Good Guy pose, only with pink hearts and flowers as a backdrop instead of a sunset and the ocean.

Although the thought was amusing, it was equally if not more disturbing.

The skillet sitting in her sink with a bowl for mixing told the true story though, really, and her rice cooker was probably empty on the counter. Kami knew how she lov- cared for the man, but she was running low on rice with how often she was feeding their tiny genin terrors and their growing appetites.

“I didn’t know you could cook,” she observed as she picked up her utensils, rubbing at her eyes drowsily. “Itadakimasu.”

A surprised blink of astonishment was directed down towards her food after the first slow – but not nearly as cautious as she felt she should have been, all things considered – bite.

“Oh,” she felt a sleepy, warm smile travel over tired features, quirking her lips and pinking her cheeks lightly with pleasure. “It’s good !”

The smug and pleased silence on the other side of the table was her only answer as the jounin echoed her thanks for the food and dug in at his own slightly faster pace.

As she ate, she kept her gaze on her plate, even as she heard the movements of the man across from her as he ate, his tempo falling into an echo of her own as she woke up more and more, her speed and coordination improving with awareness. Even though she only briefly pondered his apparent skill in cooking – the fending for himself thought smacked into her head, because hello bachelor here – it was enough to make her feel a little squirmy, so she shoved those thoughts off, but she did allow herself to think about what they would be doing that day. And not about potentially getting him to do the cooking for once because even though she didn’t mind it, could even enjoy it on the right occasions, and was passible at it, it would be nice not to be the only adult making sure that their silly kids were getting fed at home.

Thinking about what they were doing that day.

Well, she certainly wasn’t going to be doing any sort of chakra manipulation, that was for sure, and the Copy-nin needed to work on gaining back his physical abilities before anything else, so they would likely work on taijutsu after some basic strength and flexibility exercises. Considering that neither of them were in the best of shape, she was sure that there would be frequent breaks, and she decided to grab and refill her snack scroll after she was done eating, and she would probably treat them to lunch, because it was a little unfair to ask him to when he’d been unconscious for the better part of two months. She could stand to feed them this once, especially since she’d done a few A-ranks lately – and some B’s that had turned A, she was starting to think that Team Seven was contagious, whatever kind of hellishly bad luck they had – with the shortage of manpower, a contributing factor to her exhaustion of late.

How the pale haired man could do them all the time, she would never understand.

They were horrible.

She just felt lucky that hers had been spread out because of her border duties – they definitely weren’t going to slack in that regard, not so soon after the invasion – some chuunin hadn’t been so lucky, and most who had gone on A’s were stuck in the hospital because of it. That was why they shouldn’t slack off as much as they did. You never knew what was going to be thrown at you, when the village might need you to step up your game; the lives of their comrades hung in the balance and she didn’t want to be the reason for more flowerless graves.

Sitting back with a sigh, she rubbed her hand over her forehead against the dulled ache in her skull, pulling her shoulders back to pop her spine a little before regarding the jounin across from her.

He’d since finished eating and was studying her curiously with his single dark gray-blue eye in which she was carefully trying not to think about the bleak shadow that passed over it every once in a while, because there was nothing she could do about it, but it still hurt and because for him she –

“What?” she asked to pull her mind away from thoughts she’d been trying to suppress.

Her little corner of things not to think about was getting substantially bigger lately. As were her headaches.

Stupid Team Seven.

“… Pandas?” there was some amusement in his tone, and she looked down at the large short sleeved shirt she wore, with cartoonish wrestling pandas on the front, before she scowled at him. “Not that there’s anything wrong with pandas,” he was still horribly taken with this topic when he should by rights be silent. “But do you really buy them yourself?”

Sniffing a little at the subject, she answered a little spitefully, nose in the air.

“No,” her tone was petulant and low. “Imori has a horrible sense of humor.”

She loved it.

She’d also never tell him.

Well, he probably knew that already, anyway.

Silly old man was soft on her because he’d basically watched her grow up into the kunoichi she was, had known her from when she was a wee babe pre-graduation and everything. It was a comfort in a world where she didn’t have her parents anymore, but having their friend and teammate alive and well still, was… important.

The low chuckle he gave had her crossing her arms at him before standing to sate her thirst, pulling her jug of sweet tea out of her fridge since she’d dumped her milk before she’d gone on her mission, knowing that it would have gone bad by the time she got back. She ended up pouring two glasses and setting one down before him and then clearing their empty plates and setting them in the sink with the other dirty things to do later, since she really wasn’t in the mood. She did end up giving them a cursory rinse though, because she hated it when food got all crusty and hard to get off.

Sometimes you just didn’t have the energy to deal with it.

And sometimes you didn’t want to leave your friend alone for too long, wanted to fend off the darkness because there was nothing else that you could do when he was staring at you like you were the last line of hope in a sea of insanity.

If she didn’t have complete control over her limbs her hands would have been trembling.

As she stumbled around her apartment getting things together for training, the jounin just sat at her table comfortable as you please, looking like he was there all the time, and while some of her was a little pleased and warmed by it, most of her was irritated that he’d gotten her up before noon, and it was the most of her that had control over her expressions. The scowl that was plastered over her features seemed to amuse him to no end, and if it hadn’t had been for the fact that someday she was hoping to get her deposit back – a rarity for ninja – she would have either tried to soak him or attempted to stab him. The cheery bastard was ruining her attitude, and even as she was getting dressed in her room she found herself grumbling about how even if he’d made her breakfast it didn’t mean anything, if she saw the chance she was going to maim him.

It was especially irritating that since she couldn’t use chakra, he had to set her traps before they left, as well as lace up her armor, which he had seemed slightly uncomfortable doing but had made no mention of it despite the fact that his hands had paused every couple of laces as if he were taking a bracing breath.

Silly jounin.

Pointedly, she did not think about how her own breath seemed to be a little heavier than usual.

Of course, she hadn’t realized that Jiraiya had entered the Hatake’s chakra signature into the Sealing Network that he’d reworked – the sneaky bastard – so it was a little embarrassing to note that his ambient energy filled the engraved metal plates and he’d jolted a little at the sensation. The shivering prickles of static over her ribcage had had her jerking and swearing with a sudden, slightly hysterical and uncontrollable giggle, the man had blinked his single eye owlishly at her before staring down at his hands a little bemusedly as she tried to hold in her sheer humiliation.

Okay, she’d suspected but… she hadn’t known that lightning chakra would feel good.

It was… it was just really rare in Konoha, so she’d never really interacted with someone with a Lightning affinity outside of Kakashi, because the Sandaime didn’t count. Especially when it came to things like that.

Urgh. Gross.

Now she needed to clean out her brain with bleach. Why was she like this?

“What was that, Asuka?”

“That…” she struggled to flush the excess chakra from the metal plates, twitching and snorting out stilted laughter. Oh yeah, she was definitely attractive. “That was Jiraiya being an ass.”

“Oh?”

After she struggled for another few moments, her wane chakra sliding sourly in her coils in her agitation, the man reached out to pull his sparking, tickling chakra back out of the Network. She breathed a sigh of relief before looking up.

When her green eyes met his darkened eye, she paused for a moment. Was he…? Because she had…?

That was ridiculous. Kakashi might be a bit of an overprotective mother hen, but if he’d felt something like – like that for her then he’d definitely bury it far, far away where she wouldn’t be able to see it unless he deliberately showed her. Or, well… he wasn’t exactly at his best at the moment, so maybe he was just messed up in general, and not over her.

Yeah, yeah, that was probably it.

Nothing to do with her at all.

“He helped me rework the Seals, since I had what he called an ‘archaic setup’,” which, rude. “Naruto was training with him at the time, and both the brat and I passed out while he wrote it up for me, so I had no knowledge of the process. Even then, what do I know about Fuuinjutsu?”

Not even enough to really completely trust herself in making explosive notes.

“Hmm.”

She gave him a little push, playfully amused and a little concerned at the shadows hidden behind his stormy eye. He looked tired, but not as bruised and fragile as he had the day before, even if he was still jagged around the edges, standing on a knife’s edge and very precariously perched with just enough chakra to keep him from sliding over. For now, anyway.

It wasn’t anything she could do anything about, however, so she just gestured that they should head out towards whatever training grounds he had in mind for the ridiculous spar that day. Before noon and everything. Definitely in need of revenge.

Yes, she could be petty once in a while.

“You’re upgrading my security.”

This she stated as they left through the window, the man grabbing her wrist to shunshin them to a training ground because he was that lazy.

Honestly, she didn’t know if she could have even jumped the roofs in those moments, tired and drained as she was, even if her muscles were still in the medium rare stage rather than the well done, but that was beside the point. The point was that Kakashi had just gotten out of the hospital, was a complete and utter mess in so many ways that she couldn’t entirely fathom them, and he was the most ridiculous jounin she ever had the misfortune to associate with.

Moron.

“Eeeh?”

When they landed in the clearing, she gave him a sulky look.

“It’s the least you can do,” she stated plainly, starting to stretch herself, careful of the newly sealed scar tissue on her hip, her companion doing something similar behind her. “For making me feel horribly incompetent by just waltzing in like you did this morning.”

“Maa,” he drawled and flapped a hand limply at her while she fell into the left splits easily and lifted her back foot. “I have had plenty of time to examine them. They aren’t particularly bad, especially for someone who doesn’t specialize.”

Was that supposed to be reassuring, or what?

‘Oh, not bad’. She wanted to drown him.

She grunted at him, her bad temper already waning with the waking of her muscles. Stretching always made her feel more like a human being in the morning, especially after a trying mission. The food he’d made definitely helped as well, because hunger was definitely a thing when one was chakra exhausted. It was why she was always shoving food down that silly man’s throat when he started to look peaky even when it strained her snack budget.

Chakra exhaustion shouldn’t be a chronic condition, and yet somehow Kakashi had made it one.

The worst kind of over achiever.

But…?” she asked back, sending a glance with her brow arched behind her to see him stretching his wrists and flexing his fingers, watching her with exasperation.

The man sighed and slouched a little in good natured defeat. She could almost see his lips twitching behind his mask, and she couldn’t help the smile that was spreading across her features in response, even before he answered her.

“But I’ll look them over.”

“Good.”

~*~

Ow.”

The chuunin was breathlessly snickering from where she had managed to crawl – more of a squirming roll, if she were to be honest – under the shade of a nearby tree, her cheek pillowed on her arm which was flopped unceremoniously straight up from the shoulder as she looked at her superior officer, who was leaning back against the shade giving tree and rubbing at his single raised knee idly.

Man, it was really freaking hot out.

It was hard to ignore her discomfort when she could feel the hot press of her armor sticking to the hollow of her spine, an awkward, gross sucking sensation audible to her and likely the jounin whenever it pulled off as she breathed. Her bangs were slightly dampened at the roots since she’d put them back with pins before they’d begun sparring and there was dust and dirt smudged like mud on her bared skin where it had kicked up into her face, sticking to her sweaty flesh. A few bruises scattered over her arms and upper back were throbbing in time with her still slightly elevated heart rate, and the humidity seemed determined to lick the inside of her lungs while also drying out her nose and mouth; which was cruel and flabbergasting. The fact that she couldn’t even pull any water out of the admittedly dry atmosphere was horrible, and she really hated chakra deprivation, it was official.

She’d never be blasé about it ever again, never shrug off getting treated in the hospital for it

And she certainly wasn’t going to let Kakashi drag her out to train again when she had it, or let him try to play it off in the future like she was sure he would because he was a huge pain the ass like that and she needed to do everything for him since he was a big man baby.

Deprivation might not be as bad as exhaustion, because she still had enough excess to mold it within her body without damaging her coils or organs, didn’t need transfusions the way that Kakashi did like candy – which he disliked, actually – but it was still extremely unpleasant. Especially since she rarely used chakra heavy jutsu the way that she’d needed to on these past few missions, making her remember somewhat forcefully why it was that she’d preferred the sword to ninjutsu, especially when it came to battles of attrition. While her chakra stores were larger than most women, it didn’t mean that they were higher than the average man’s were.

“You hit pretty hard,” his tone was approving, and she sent a dry, tired look at him.

He deserved whatever he got.

“When I can manage to hit you, sure,” she returned, and he chuckled at her gamely, and she felt her already flushed cheeks warm a little at the lazy affection in his single eye, gladdened that it was clear of shadows for the moment, even if she felt a little unnerved by the uncharacteristic show of emotion. “Slow down, will you?”

Oh, had he ever been this comfortable around her before, despite it all? She didn’t think so, and she surely would have noticed.

It was… nice.

Her heart still hurt for him, but it was nice.

She was glad that he could still do this. That she could give him this at least.

“Not on your life.”

“Hey!”

“To be so slow that you can catch me with ease,” he gave a theatrical shudder and she narrowed her eyes. “Terrifying. Disturbing. Unnatural.

“Kakashi…”

“You are getting faster, in all seriousness,” he assured her with a small crease to his eye, letting his skull make a soft noise as it fell back against the tree trunk, that single eye closing on the action. Why was that cute? What was wrong with her priorities? “You’re better than almost three quarters of Konoha nin, now.”

This startled her, and she blinked sleepily at him before narrowing her tired eyes in suspicion.

“Really?”

“Mhmm.”

He hummed as she took in the slight twitching of his overworked muscles, the trembling of his joints from exertion, and sighed, her own eyes falling shut, lids feeling heavy like lead weights. It wasn’t unlikely that they were both going to regret taking this break here instead in her apartment or even a restaurant of some kind, because the stiffness was going to be awful without the chakra to help wash it away. At least on her part, that was.

Asuka was not going to have him run his chakra through her system like that. It wouldn’t have been a problem with literally anyone else she’d sparred with, getting a helping hand like that so that she could go home and take care of herself, but with Kakashi, well… there were certain things that she just couldn’t withstand. And apparently his chakra in its more substantial forms was one of them, if earlier was anything to go by; she had no desire to embarrass herself or startle his fragile state of mind.

“Much better now.”

“That’s cool.”

Ooh, faster kenjutsu attacks… she’d have to go over some of those kata again. Before she hadn’t had the range for them, but if what Kakashi said was true – and he wasn’t one to exaggerate when it came to ninja skills – then there were so many more attacks that opened up in her repertoire.

“Mm.”

While she was physically tired, she had managed to regain some of her chakra thanks to frequent snack breaks and one time of sending Pakkun out with her money purse to buy a couple of nutritional bento. The little guy wouldn’t hang around though due to the heat, even though he’d sent her a sympathizing, sad look that told of his feelings towards her condition as well as her having to suffer the horrible weather in Fire Country. Well, it was either that or the fact that she had to endure both the heat and his Summoner’s more than a little sarcastic drollness and sometimes downright chipper attitude whilst still trying to scrounge up chakra to possibly drown him and really wanting to nail him in the face with her fist since getting up close and personal with his lungs and chakra enhanced water was a no-no at the moment.

Still, she needed to recuperate more if she was going to be worth anything.

Maybe a little nap wouldn’t be remiss…

Most likely, she would regret this.

~*~

Ugh, too hot… hard bed…

… Oh, she’d moved…? ‘S okay, familiar…

Hehe… prickly little sparks…

… That was much better… good pillow…

Ah, something smelled nice, if dusty… was really comfortable…

Mm, safe…

MY RIVAL!”

With a short shriek at the extremely close proximity of the shout – he had some lungs – she woke up from where she’d been snuggled against something and spun around to face the sudden appearance of Maito Gai in all his glory – SPANDEX, gods above her eyes, that angle – her head pounding like Sakura and Naruto were having a shouting match in a canyon and bringing it down on them as she automatically tried to yank a substantial amount of water out of the air. Oh, it hurt!

And then there was only Killing Intent.

The bridle of a snarling, savage thunderstorm so quick to embrace and cradle her in the eye that she almost missed it.

It took less than a quarter of a second for a familiar hand to wrap around her forearm and for a flutter of that crackling chakra to pull them away in a bout of shunshin, before she found herself heaving, trying not to vomit out her intestines even as that familiar presence slowly worked her into a cool reprieve.

Oh her head.

She tasted blood in the back of her throat but not on her face, meaning the vessels that had burst had been far enough back only to drip down her throat but not from her nose. The pressure she’d exerted on her abused chakra coils had backlashed on her only mildly, which, great, but also ow ow ow.

“Easy, easy,” that familiar presence soothed with that deep voice as the liquid that was surrounding her trickled over the fire in her veins, cooling and giving delightful reprieve. Oh, she was burning. Like fire and acid under her skin. “You’re okay. You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

Trying to run away from the pain of her coils she pressed tighter against the fizzling crackle that held her upright, trying to curl under the familiar chakra and wrap it around herself so that it could fend off the discomfort for her, so that it could be between her and the pain. She had had chakra exhaustion exactly twice in her life, and this feeling was almost as bad as that had been.

Almost.

“Nghfm…”

She groaned breathily out, voice choked on what wanted to be a sob, heavy fingers plucking at her leather armor to tell the man holding her in the water – oh thank the gods, water – to remove it.

Water, water water water!

NeED waTEr!

As he shifted her weight to hold her with one arm, her face pressed against his shoulder while his other hand trailed over the chakra responsive wires down her spine that held the leather metal plated bodice together, she rubbed her face against him with little thought as she wriggled with the tickles of his chakra across her ribcage, breathing softly against the familiar fabric of a standard long sleeved shirt. The jounin carefully maneuvered her until he was able to remove the leather armor – she felt infinitely lighter without the weighted garment pressing her down with heat and humidity, the little sparks vanishing with the armor – and she shivered lightly at the feel of cool moving water touching her bare stomach and back. Numb fingers clutched at the back of his shirt, and she had a moment of confusion until she realized that he must have removed his jounin vest at some point, which was why she could grasp onto his clothing and not harsh, thick fabric over thin metal plates, and why she could press her face against the warm firmness of his shoulder and chest comfortably, his collarbone a very convenient place for her to press her aching eyes against. So solid. A comfort. A shield.

Kakashi.

The chuunin swallowed against the hot metal in her throat dryly, disgusted by the sticky sensation, her esophagus feeling swollen and too small for the pulsing rake of discomfort and copper that lined every breath.

“’Kashi?” she murmured quietly, relaxing into the soothing feel of her element surrounding her, the strong arms cradling her and the firm, comfortable warmth beneath her face.

She could almost literally feel her reserves filling again, funnily enough. The Copy-nin would probably have had a field day if he had heard that, having already thought her affinity extremely interesting and strangely strong. He was like a kid in a candy store whenever he discovered something knew about her abilities with water. Hmm, perhaps more like he acted similar to Naruto at Ichiraku after an away mission was a better comparison of exuberance? No, she’d used that comparison before, hadn’t she?

No reason not to be original.

Too bad she couldn’t think.

“Yes, Asuka?” was the soft breath back as the man carefully pulled her senbon out of her hair, letting her braids fall down against her shoulders and to drag in the waist deep water.

Ah, that was nice, not so much pressure on her neck and skull.

“I’ma kill’im.”

A quiet chuckle that reverberated nicely through his chest had her headache easing slightly as she took in the slightest sparking of his coils – it was so hesitant – as he carefully pulsed his own chakra against her rather empty feeling chakra channels, tickling at the rather dry sensation of her stores. She was like a well in a desert, the very bottom of the barrel, a puddle in the middle of the road at high noon that was slipping through the slowly cracking ground. With the water around her though, she was starting to feel like she’d found an underwater reservoir, the tingling fizzing against her bringing forth the rate of fill to steady flow rather than a trickle, her breathes coming easier and her stomach settled from the painful jitters that had taken over it. With how boneless she suddenly felt, her head muzzy and stuffed feeling, she could almost say that she felt like she was melting like butter after going to the market on an especially warm day and forgetting to put it into the fridge as she leaned against him comfortably.

Did having sympathetic chakra help his system stimulate hers into chakra production since he was adapted to chakra exhaustion?

Did it matter right then? No, no it didn’t. Because higher brain function was currently beyond her.

Most of her was only thinking ‘OW’.

“We’ll have to train more before you can do that,” he continued gently, lifting her slightly so that her feet no longer were touching the bottom of the river – was it a river? It was moving water, but she didn’t know, she couldn’t make her eyes open, couldn’t understand all of the signals she was wearily receiving – and shifting towards the side of the body of water in which they stood in. “Definitely more speed training. Gai’s fast.”

She made a soft noise of affront both at the implication that she couldn’t take him – a fair estimate, really – and at the fact that he was moving into shallower waters, until he sat down on a rather tall protruding rock. His strong, lean limbs turning her around in his arms easily since she was so limp, like an overcooked noodle – a rather good comparison, she thought – so that her back was pressed against his chest, her head falling back into the cradle between shoulder and neck bonelessly. Ah, he was pleasantly warm with the cooling sensation of the water surrounding them, as opposed to the baking hot of direct sunlight and the dry rasp of dust over skin, and the firm press of his wiry, lean frame against her back had knotted muscles releasing tension she hadn’t even known she’d had.

Kakashi wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her when she was this out of it.

Safe.

It had been a long time since she’d been safe, hadn’t it?

“If he finds out you know…”

“If the truth comes out, Asuka. You know what will happen.”

And you aren’t allowed to die.

“Ow,” she whined quietly, voice thicker than she’d like, twining her fingers together with his thoughtlessly where they were holding her secure against him at her waist. “My head…”

He sighed, leaning back farther against what would seem to be the bank of the possible river they were sitting in.

Hadn’t they just been in a training ground? She was a little confused.

Guh, her head hurt. Thinking bad.

Her normal headaches weren’t like this at all. This was dumb. So dumb.

She was over it.

“Yeah,” he returned dryly, and she wondered if she’d said that out loud. “I know.”

Stupid jounin.

“This’s all your fault,” she muttered irritably, head dipping to the side so that her forehead tickled against his cloth covered throat.

“Oh?”

Oh, she could feel him talk through her fuzzy feeling face. It felt kind of good. He was all rumbly, like his chakra.

Safe.

“You wanted to train,” she continued, letting her legs float up and relaxing even further against her jounin headrest, trusting him to keep her from floating away. “You stupid jounin rival thing.”

“… Half of that made little to no sense.”

“Shut up.”

She carefully started to pry her eyes open and was relieved to note that despite the bright red she could distinguish from behind her closed lids they were in fact in the shade, so her eyes didn’t feel like senbon were being shoved into them. Just fingers.

“Stupid.”

“Hai, hai.”

“…Jus’ one’s ‘nough…”

“Hai…”

They sat like that for some time and she let her eyes stay open long enough to glance away from the pattern of leaves filtering light above them like stars in daylight to look up at the jounin who was acting as her impromptu nurse maid, seeing a masked jaw line and the length of a cloth covered neck stretched back to show his head was tilted against the bank. Looking around with a little more coherency, she found that they weren’t that far from her regular training grounds, meaning that that had to have traveled almost a third of the length of Konoha’s training grounds in one single shunshin, especially when they were literally physically unfit and had been laid up in a coma for months.

Oh, gods, Kakashi was so freaking awesome. Who could do that? Was that even physically possible?

Blinking as she suddenly realized something with remembering what it was they had been doing not too long before, some coherence returning to her, she felt her features flame and her heart sink into her stomach as surely as the last time she’d been impaled.

Why am I like this?

“Oh, no,” she muttered without thought, pulling her legs down from where they’d been floating before her and pointing her feet down towards the river bottom, staring at where her darker fingers were intermingled with moon pale digits. He… hands… what…? Oh. Oh whoa. Where are his gloves?! Holding his naked fingers like this was… was… “Oh why…

She almost felt like she was molesting him.

As if she hadn’t embarrassed herself enough with the hand holding the day before, she had to be literally sitting in the man’s lap and using him like a stone bench in a spa as if she had won a care package or a coupon, keeping his fingers trapped in her own. There was something terribly intimate about twining your fingers with those of someone else, instead of just grasping a hand, something about this situation that was so much worse than holding his hand in a hospital bed. She almost felt like she was assaulting him touching his bare skin like that without the pretext of medical care involved to keep her professional and detached. She could feel scarred ridges and the curve of calluses against her palms and joints, the sensation more tantalizing than silk against her flesh, caused heat to bloom in her stomach deeper and hotter than sliding into an onsen with someone she was attracted to across from her.

It was…

This was…

Holy sweet mother of the Sage of Six Paths, she could feel his thigh muscles shifting, bunching and coiling like rolling thunder beneath her rear and her own thighs, where she was precariously perched on his left leg, the other spread out in the water in a display of comfort and ease that had her features flaming and her shoulders lifting to her ears. It was similar to the display of relaxation that she’d seen before she had apparently fallen asleep, before the assault on her senses that was the taijutsu master of Konoha and while it made her feel happier than she would have otherwise expected, it was still awkward. This wasn’t happening, it wasn’t happening, nope, not happening

“Asuka?”

At hearing the low voice of the man she had humiliated herself in front of querying somewhat drowsily, she found herself pulling her head beneath the water, even as she couldn’t make herself release his hands, enjoying the popping fizzle of his chakra against her slowly growing to the clear, soft burbling of a brook chakra. Selfish but she just couldn’t…

Green eyes flickered over silvery scars on white lily flesh and she bit her lips lightly at the size difference between their hands, a signal in her mind of how easy it was for him to cradle her against his body as he had been, as he was, how his hands could encompass hers despite the numerous scars and cracked calluses on his palms and knuckles. It wasn’t odd for a ninjutsu specialist to have burn scars on their hands from Fire jutsu, but the fact that he mainly had little cuts spoke of great difficulty in mastering Wind natured techniques, which wasn’t strange considering his main affinity was the opposing force to Wind. Her twins had had Fire aligned affinities and so had had burn scars dotting their fingers and bodies like many of their Clan had from mastering their many Fire natured jutsu and all that entailed, and the difference she felt between having held one of their hands and the hands of this man was startling. It was more… intimate for some reason.

Perhaps Kakashi just did that to her.

Pulled her in like she had no chance against it and made the littlest things personal and dear.

The fact that he was larger than her, that his body was curved to her slightly, like a shield, caused her heart to thump in her chest helplessly, enjoying the firm muscles that bore within it the shielding, protective electricity that strained and towered over her like the walls of the village.

She… she had a weakness.

It seemed a timely action as well when the water closed over her head, because when she looked up from the complete embrace of her element after a few moments of contemplating the fingers weaved in her own, she found herself looking up at sandaled feet and a frightening amount of green spandex and orange leg warmers.

Oh, she felt her hot features cool a little with her irritation, lips twisting into a scowl. He found us.

Wait, were we hiding?

Argh, my brain…

She couldn’t hear what they were saying as she hadn’t chakra coated her ears – couldn’t at the moment – but she was definitely glad to be beneath the surface considering the fact that she could almost feel the Green Beast’s booming voice vibrating through the water, and the soft rumbling of the silver haired jounin’s mild reply did nothing to drown it out though she could feel it reverberating against her ribcage where it was pressed to his torso. It wasn’t long – she didn’t think so at least, but she’d always been able to hold her breath for ridiculous amounts of time according to her twins and Anko – before the die-hard taijutsu fanatic was running off crying about something and her jounin was pulling her back up into the warm air of the day. He was chuckling about something, and even through the heat of her cheeks she found herself scowling at him weakly out of reflex with her brows furrowed, the warm, tired amusement and affection the only thing in his gray-blue eye softening her embarrassed ire ever so slightly as he settled her across his lap with little effort.

Wasn’t… wasn’t he supposed to be the awkward one?

Despite it all, she was mostly just pleased – what was her awkwardness and discomfort in the face of it – with his lack of shadowy darkness in his gaze, the focus in his chakra and mind as he looked at her.

“Maa, Asuka,” she could see his features shifting beneath the mask as he eye-smiled at her, lips forming beneath black cloth what appeared to be a genuine smile. Oh. Oh. “You look a little flushed.”

Did he just…?

Oh no he didn’t.

With a hiss like a spitting cat she ducked under the water again, cheeks heating even further at his blatant flirtation – oh god how did she deal with that? Where was Zabuza when she needed a buffer between her and all of him? – and she tugged her hands out of his gently to press them shakily to her flaming features. This was so terribly confusing, she didn’t know how to deal with this from him. If it had been anyone else, she was sure that she would have been able to just brushed it off or played along, probably have flirted back – either that or been oblivious, completely disregarding it except this was… he just made her hyper aware – but this was Kakashi, her jounin, someone whom she… cared for… a lot, in a much different way than she did Anko who was easy to tease and play around with in this sort of fashion. Oh gods, what was she doing? She was going to ruin everything because she couldn’t control herself!

C’mon, just play along, just joke back the way you always do, Asuka! Don’t you dare ruin this!

Some small part of her was screaming too fast, too fast, too fast! He’s going to bolt, he’ll never speak to you again you idiot!

Mostly, her heart was beating with elated adrenaline and confused wonder.

It didn’t take more than a moment for him to place his gloveless hands over her smaller ones, where she was cradling flaming cheeks with her eyes squeezed shut, and he gently pressed her head against his chest, her ear just under his heart against his ribcage. Before he pulled her hands slowly away from her face, he gave her a steadying pulse of his chakra, this action much more confident than it had been previously, his grip tightening in reassurance as he entangled their fingers again over her bare waist, entwined hands settled over both sides to her new angry scar where it lay on her back and her front. She was hesitant to return the grip, but the reaching sensation of his chakra for her, as if asking for an embrace that he desperately needed had her gripping back against where he held her fingers gently, letting his desire for connection pull her in fully even as he relaxed his muscles against her.

Oh.

So, he wasn’t going to make a big deal out of it.

Relief hit her hard, and she found herself exhaling bubbles of air up to the surface, listening to the slightly faster than normal pace of his heartbeat with something like happiness and joy and affection and nervous panic burgeoning in her chest.

After a little while, he pulled her back to the surface again, and she curled her legs beneath her to settle herself carefully against him again, the side of her face in the cradled between neck and shoulder, her cheek resting against his collarbone and she found herself relaxing against firm muscle when he gave a soft sigh, fingers twitching against her own. Okay, she thought drowsily, cheeks still a little rosy, heart pounding hard in her chest with nerves, skin feeling tingly and electrified. Okay. This is nice.

As her chakra slowly returned to her, it slid and slipped over his staticy and fritzing self, bubbling and swirling in reaction to his popping and sparking as the man took a deep breath and relaxed even further back against the bank, cloth covered chin tilting to press against her dampened temple softly. Her braids drifted through the water around them, and the pleasant warmth of the water in contrast to the heavy and dry heat of the air outside of it which, although less so than the training grounds had been, felt both draining and nap worthy was soothing. The soft points of warmth that the sunshine slipping through the leaves had trailing over her skin were soothing, and she spared a soft look to see a soft spattering of light playing over the man’s clothed features and their entwined hands in the reflections beneath the water, like an aurora in Snow Country.

She spared a few thoughts for how uncomfortable he must feel wearing as many layers as he was, even without his jounin vest on, before she started to drowse to the sound of his calming, slowing heartbeat, the strength of it vibrating through her shoulder and into her chest, leading her own heart in a tempo of laziness and relaxation.

Yes.

This was nice.

~*~

As they walked through the village, they got several amused and confused looks at their dripping appearance, but she paid it little mind, since she was feeling quite refreshed and had a terrible pinging of happiness fluttering in her chest like a bouncy ball on chakra enhancers. Hmm, was she having a Naruto? Could that be a medical condition? If it wasn’t a coined term already she was going to start using it from then on.

So what if a couple of civilians were giving them the stink eye? It wasn’t like they weren’t always looking at her like that anyway. As soon as the Copy-nin lazily pulled out an Icha Icha – where did he keep them? – they would look away with both disgust and embarrassment.

It paid to walk with a billboard of perversion after all.

How did he keep that dry? Did he have a secret seal in a pocket somewhere? What?

Her fingers tingled with the still present desire to curl her hand in his and she pressed them into her pockets instead. What had happened before had been enough, and probably a one off, she knew, her heart was just being greedy for him in a way he wasn’t ready for yet.

Perhaps never would be.

Considering her mood, she didn’t doubt that there were few things that could remove the humming spark of warmth in her chest, or the soft curve of relaxed delight that smoothed over her features and gentled normally rather severe features. However, she didn’t notice how the change in expression from rather forbidding and unwelcoming to warm and soft had more than one person doing a double take, a few people eyeing her with consideration only to be confronted with the roiling disturbed darkness that would rise in a single gray-blue eye when her male companion noticed. They looked away quickly from her then, much in the same state as the jounin from the restaurant all that time ago had, and still she was completely unaware of the looks she was getting, her general good mood much too pleasing for her to worry about the eyes directed at her.

Such looks had never boded well in the past, so why look now?

“So, want to get some mochi or something?” she asked, stretching carefully to the side, breathing easier without her leather armor restricting her and with almost half of her chakra reserves returned to her. “To keep cool.”

“Mm,” he hummed softly, plucking at his damp long sleeved shirt idly, the disgruntled tilt to his visible eye telling her of his discomfort. “Nah.”

“Chafing?”

“Aa,” the miserable groan of his grumbled acknowledgement had her covering a smile with her hand.

“Well, you could go change and then we could meet at Ochi-Baa’s,” she suggested, perfectly at ease in her water-logged clothing. “I don’t think I have anything that would fit you amongst my things.”

She gave him a wry glance, taking in the several inches in height he had on her, his long arms and legs, his broader shoulders. The slimming black was waterlogged and clinging enough that – no, no, she wasn’t going to do that. Especially not here, as in right in front of him.

“Yeah, definitely not.”

“Maa, well –”

“Ah, Asuka-san!”

At her name in that familiar, slightly hesitant but warm tone she turned automatically to see her favorite Academy instructor heading towards her and the jounin with a pile of scrolls stacked precariously in his hands, features pleasant and rather relaxed, the slight curve to her lips almost inviting.

“Iruka-san,” she greeted with a small smile as she settled her hands easily on her hips, weight on one leg. “How are you?”

“Oh,” that light flush bloomed on his cheeks as his gaze flickered from her to the Copy-nin and back again curiously, as if he were waiting for a question to be answered. And trying not to ogle, which she couldn’t blame him for. Kakashi was pretty. “Busy, as usual. You?” he glanced over her slightly dripping form and eyed the silver haired man beside her. “Went for a dip, I see,” she scowled at him good naturedly, swiping at him with no intent to make contact, bringing forth an amused chuckle. “Anyway, Tsunade-sama is starting to settle in and, well,” he cast a wry glance at the number of what appeared to be mission documents in his arms. “She wants inventory. Apparently our buildup is ‘a pile of shit a mile high’.”

She winced in sympathy, a grimace of distaste crossing her features. When he said inventory, he meant that she wanted the backlog of missions that had high injury or casualty rates in the past five to ten years so that she could examine team assignments and the like to make sure things like that didn’t happen again. Just from the missions she had gone onpersonally she could tell that there were going to be hundreds of the things, and once again she was just glad that she wasn’t a desk riding nin so that she didn’t have to deal with all of the paperwork. All she had to do was complete the missions with as much caution as possible and then turn in reports and take another set of scrolls.

It was definitely not her calling to be a paperwork ninja.

Thank the gods for that.

Well, and Iruka, for being willing to take the fall for the rest of them.

“Gross,” she stated, commiserating.

“Yes, but what Tsunade-sama wants, Tsunade-sama gets,” the other chuunin muttered with good humor despite the quirk to his mouth and brow.

“Except for a winning roll at dice,” the jounin mused next to them, dark eye cast thoughtfully towards the sky, causing the dark-skinned man to start a little in surprise and flush a little deeper as he smiled.

“True,” he agreed before turning back to his fellow rank-mate a little apologetically. “Do you think you’ll have that report in by the end of the week, Asuka-san?”

Shoulders drooping at the reminder of her last mission, she sighed. It was like an epiphany as to why tokubetsu and regular jounin had such bad posture; the thought of turning in their mission reports after having to do stupid A-ranks all the time. That was it, she’d decided. Never taking the Jounin Trials.

Just, nope.

“Yeah,” she rubbed a hand over her features. “Should have it in the day after tomorrow at the latest.”

“Another A-rank wasn’t it?” he asked curiously, since he hadn’t been the one to hand out her mission parameters the week before, whereas he usually was. “The fourth this rotation?”

The man at her side blinked at her with one dark eye in surprise, though she took little notice of the action.

Groaning at the thought of it, she leaned to the side against the jounin-sensei who was still pathetically plucking at his uncomfortably wet garments but took her weight without question even though the expression beneath his mask was no doubt sullen if the pout she could just make out from the angle she glanced at him from was of any indication. His chakra fizzled against her side with whining dissatisfaction and she plucked at it in annoyance, causing him to roll in his shoulders from the scolding, shifting her position against him, before she let her chakra bubble and sooth again and he let out a beleaguered sigh. Honestly, if the man was so uncomfortable, why didn’t he just run back to his apartment really quick? It wasn’t like she needed supervision or anything.

Not anymore.

“I hate them,” she stated plainly, ignoring the way that her pale haired friend was tugging on one of her braids to try and get her attention. Gah, he was so immature. “They’re stupid. I’m glad it’s mostly jounin who do them,” she elbowed her friend lightly to try and get him to cut it out, but he only stopped tugging and held it instead. Well, something was better than nothing. “They deserve them.”

“Oi,” was her mild answer.

The chuunin-sensei chuckled a little before glancing up at the sky and heaving a slight but very descriptive sigh.

“Well, it looks like I have to go,” he shifted the stack in his arms. “It was nice to see you again, Asuka-san, and I look forward to your report,” he glanced over at the jounin and shuffled a little, light flush increasing slightly. “I’m glad to see you awake, Hatake-san.”

The older man started so slightly that if she hadn’t been touching him she wouldn’t have noticed, and as she gave her farewells, she mused that she was glad that he wasn’t suddenly strangely foreign and suave again, because she didn’t know what she would do with ‘Cool Kakashi’. It was like a nightmare.

A really flustering, attractively aware nightmare.

Oblivious Kakashi was much easier to deal with.

And better for her heart.

As soon as the other man had moved passed them, a familiar wiry arm snaked around her shoulders and she barely had to time to yelp at the slight shock he sent through her – which was even more irritating than usual because she was wet – before he was tugging them away in a burst of shunshin, and she found herself staggering in place in front of an apartment building. The temperature of the area they were suddenly in was slightly lower than it had been in the central part of the village, and she couldn’t suppress the need to shiver slightly, both gladdened and a little worried about the arm still around her shoulders even after their arrival. The taller frame of the silver haired man was warm and solid at her side – so different than it had been whilst he was unconscious in that hospital bed – his long-fingered hand gripping her shoulder opposite his body, and the digits creaked and clenched slightly with his tension in the meat of her muscle. The jagged edges of his chakra brushed uncomfortably against her system and she soothed them as best she could while he carefully released his hold on her, sparking energy still reaching towards her even as she slowly followed the jounin into a rather high-class building.

Wait…

Wasn’t this…

“No way.”

She felt her brows furrow as she stared up at the nondescript but no doubt high grade building of pleasant beige with nice Hashirama tree supports and ridges that gave an air of home to the place that was otherwise rather intimidating. Well, if you had any sort of chakra sense to speak of, that is. Gah, just looking at it gave her the shivers, like she was staring down a hill full of tiny bijuu just ready to pounce and devour her.

“Asuka?”

Blinking away her thoughts, she shook her head and hurried to catch up to the pale haired man, as she’d paused with her shock, keeping close behind him because this was not a building that she wanted to get lost in, or have someone mistake her for an intruder.

ANBU apartment housing – everyone knew they were the cover barracks, they just didn’t talk about it – was not the place she wanted to die, that was for sure.

Now that would put a damper on her good mood.

“I don’t know exactly why,” she stated as she heard his door close behind her after she had toed off her shoes and slipped into some house slippers he miraculously had in her size. “But I expected dust for some reason. It’s a little beyond me really.”

“Dust?” the man sounded equal parts amused and affronted. “Why dust?”

“It just…” she waved a hand in front of her face even as she set her shoes over to the side of the entryway next to his sandals, which dwarfed her flats not as much as she would have expected. He had dainty man feet. Pfft. Gods, why did this man maker her so – “I had this idea that you didn’t come home very often or something like that. Still, dust was what I imagined,” she stepped forward after him, not knowing if it was safe to go where he didn’t and hoping not to set off any of his traps accidently. “It seems silly now that I really think about it, considering your nose.”

“Hmm, yes, I don’t enjoy sneezing,” he stated absently, setting his hand against a nondescript part of the wall and pulsing his chakra through it, and she just barely caught the wave of ink that was illuminated in an elegant, rather beautiful scrawl across walls, floor and ceiling of everything in sight. “And the mask only does so much. I can tell you, colds wearing this thing, not fun. Or particularly hygienic.”

“That’s disgusting. You’re disgusting. I definitely didn’t need to know that.”

Ooh, Sealing Network.

Advanced.

“How rude. Friends share, don’t they, Asuka? That’s what you said before, when I picked up those pork cutlets. Are you contradicting yourself?”

“You’re also a dick, Kakashi.”

Pretty, too… his Sealing Network of course, just the network.

Yeah, he is definitely upgrading my security.

“That was the lethal stuff,” he said mildly, seemingly amused by her wide-eyed interest as it distracted her from her backtalk, before he tossed the scroll he’d Sealed the equipment he’d removed from both their persons into at her. “Want to hang the wet stuff on the line on the balcony?”

“… You have a balcony?”

“Aa.”

“… Cool.”

She didn’t have a balcony.

Despite his blasé attitude in giving her free rein of the place, she was careful in how she made her way towards the sliding glass door on the other side of his kitchen area, bare feet tentative where they touched down against clean, finished wood flooring. Reaching for the handle, she carefully studied the doorframe for a moment, touching fingers to metal quickly and then yanking them back suspiciously and waiting for a moment, before cautiously pulling the glass door to the side to open it. A mild, gentle breeze brushed over her features tenderly, warm and soft, and she breathed it in deeply on reflex, relaxing a little with the familiar scent of Konoha in the summer swimming in her senses. She could just detect the scent of someone cooking beef in one of the other apartments, the scent of it made her hungry, and also a tad bit disturbed that someone would consider cooking in this heat rather than eating a chilled dinner.

It didn’t seem dangerous, and she was sure that the Copy-nin wouldn’t maim her on purpose.

… On purpose.

He said that was ‘the lethal stuff’ so what else did he have hanging around?! Was she going to be painfully impaled – again – just not so badly that she would die from it?! That was not what she had signed up for! She just bet that he was cackling evilly to himself somewhere in his too large apartment, getting some sort of petty revenge for something she couldn’t remember by inviting psychological torture on her by making her jumpy and anxious. Was this for the lake incident? Was it? Because if so, that was so totally uncalled for! He’d basically been asking for it, really! ‘Do you even know any conventional water-jutsu?’ he had had the gall to ask, and well, she’d shown him her conventional fucking water jutsu hadn’t she? It was uncalled for to get petty revenge for something he’d brought on himself!

… Well, he was a bit petty. More than a bit petty, actually, because he’d been known to get revenge against the gods forsaken genin when they pulled a prank on him, even though he let himself get caught in them to entertain them.

Hoo boy, oh man

Stepping out onto the terrace she instantly spotted the line that was meant for clothing and popped out both her leather armor and his jounin vest, her senbon clinking on the ground, as well as both of their weapons pouches.

“Oh,” she stated in surprise, quickly putting her leather armor in the shady part of the line on the connected to the wire line clips and his jounin vest in the sunlight before bending to pick up the pouches and her hair senbon. “I’d wondered what he’d done with you.”

Sometimes she wished that she didn’t have to let rank vests and her armor dry naturally, but for some reason pulling the water out of the chakra weaved and treated material made it more frail and likely to fall apart or be torn, the same with putting it in direct sunlight to dry once it was soaked unless you were wearing it. Something about your chakra network being able to harmonize with your vest or something like that, dealing with the way that the materials were constructed personally for each ninja on an individual sense.

Not really her kind of thing, so she wasn’t too keen on the particulars.

Meandering back into the apartment she set them on the table, absently checking her chakra levels and deciding that she could stand to pull the now a little irritating remnants of river water out of her half-length under armor and was about to do so when she had dry fabric smacking her in the face. Fumbling to catch the sudden onslaught of cotton, she sputtered and pulled the large t-shirt off of her head, scowling over at the jounin as he walked into the room wearing a pair of basic issue pants and another short sleeved ANBU under armor with the possibly-attached mask, feet bare and his legs unbound. His feet were pale and elegantly narrow, like his hands, not at all bony like she was expecting, as most male feet were, and there were a few scars spattered across the backs, one that circled from the sole upwards. It even looked like someone had tried to cut off his left foot.

Like with sawing action from a civilian construction tool.

Ow.

His hitai-ate was nowhere to be seen and his damp silver hair looked like a growing storm cloud where it shadowed his closed, scarred left eye and dark blue-gray right eye as he regarded her with an amused arch to his pale brows and a soft almost two eyed smile. As she watched something dark and strange moved over that exposed eye and his pupil contracted as he stared at her, trapping her eyes with his own, her heart rate rising slightly as everything about him stilled and he kept looking at her inquisitively, uncomprehending, something yearning in his gaze even though she wasn’t entirely sure that he was looking at her and not some horror behind his eyes. The tired amusement that had been tinting his features had faded and right before her eyes she watched that storm cloud eye darken, pupil fluttering with a sudden onslaught of adrenaline and as his chakra bristled in something like fury mixed with abandonment and unease – almost fear but not quite – she flared her own at him, reaching out from her coils towards him.

It was dangerous, what she was doing, what he was doing, but she couldn’t react in any other way.

If things went even a breath off from the line that she was treading on instinct alone then she or both of them could end up in a bad way. With her most likely dead and him… well, she didn’t want to think about that.

Corrupted chakra networks were… it was an unfathomable miracle that Gaara had lasted so long, and Kakashi’s network was already stressed enough.

She flooded as much comfort and ease, affection and warmth as she could into her chakra as it settled over him like a gently cast but firmly knit net, her heart thudding hard but steady in her chest as she soothed him as best she could without hurry or urgency.

It took but a moment for him to blink at her, slightly elevated breathing evening out, and before her eyes he composed himself with an iron will, dark eye flickering down towards her bare feet with her pale pink nail polished toes for a moment before returning to her features. Regarding him calmly, only running a cursory gaze over his larger frame, she was pleased – relieved, oh kami, so damn glad – to note that he was not trembling as he had before when the darkness rose, and his chakra had eased, even though he was semi automatically reaching out towards her for stability.

After another moment, she pressed the oddity to the back of her mind and moved forward.

Always forward.

“Don’t stop, Asuka.”

“Never look back!”

His hair looked to be dampened anew, so she figured he’d rinsed off the river water before redressing himself.

Sniffing imperiously, snapping them back into that normalcy he seemed to crave, she carefully pulled the water from his hair and from her clothes, even as she examined the too large standard long-sleeved shirt and a pair of the man’s pants that he had oh-so graciously donated to her comfort.

“Bathroom?” she queried, dismissing the water out the window and over the balcony edge.

He hitched a thumb over his shoulder, gaze never leaving her even as he was entering his kitchen area, regarding her placidly, the heavy weight of his chakra enveloping hers at the edges had her carefully watching her breathing and restraining the urge to flood back into his coils.

This was… intense.

Not like the flirting at the water with the emotionally unstable Kakashi, this was…

He was trusting that she would be able to keep him in line, in his own strange way.

That darkness that his mental torment had brought to the forefront of his mind had him reaching out to her, that horrid injury to his psyche from Tsukuyomi had him relying on her own mental template and chakra saturation’s emotional output to keep himself in line and judge the safety of the situation while he was still shaky, still unsure. With this conclusion it certainly explained his earlier reaction when she’d been woken by the Green Beast, her chakra spiking in alarm and pain – in fear – and she was relieved that he still bore enough self-control even as off balance as he was to hold back from attacking his supposed rival, the implicated threat to her safety.

She may not be particularly fond of the spandex clad man – may have a bit of a grudge just for that afternoon – but she didn’t want to see him disemboweled.

In particular, that is.

If she treads at all incorrectly, reacted at all outside of parameters that she wasn’t even aware of, then this whole thing could backfire, and that oh so tenuous grip he had on the stability of his spiritual chakra would tip over and shatter, damaging his mental pathways in such a way that his personality could be irrevocably changed. In the same way that the brain couldn’t heal completely from being punctured but could still function, would lose some cognitive abilities, he would be… stunted, for lack of a better word, would be less than he was before, instead of the different that she was pretty much certain that he would be. Though she had no idea what she was doing, simply following instinct and cues that she wasn’t entirely sure that she was picking up in the first place, she was apparently doing something right if they’d managed to spend so many hours together – nearly half the day – and nothing had gone too terribly wrong.

No one had died. Yet.

“Down and first on the right.”

“Thanks.”

Part of her was wondering just how much space he had, trying not to focus on the fact that he was no doubt watching her until she passed out of sight, that single eyed gaze a heavy weight on the center of her back .

First on the right? How many rights did he have? She had two rooms in her apartment, the living room/kitchen area and her bedroom! The bathroom was attached to her room, so it didn’t count, not really.

But this!

So fancy!

Quickly shrugging off her clothes and changing, she was glad that they were about the same width in the hips, even if she was a bit thicker there and, inevitably, in the rear than he was due to genetics and a female anatomy, they fit rather well, but she cursed his overlong legs. She had to roll up the legs from where they’d completely covered her feet and ended up pushing them up above her calves in irritation so that they would stay up before slipping on the shirt with a sigh, holding her arms out in front of her with a scowl as the cuffs fell just at the ends of her fingertips. With little thought she trailed those same appendages over the cuffs, imagining the thicker wrists that were generally hidden by the surprisingly soft worn cloth, studying the careful, precise stitching on the left forearm that spoke of home repair, causing her to cast her gaze to other parts where the press against skin spoke of a seam that should not have been there.

There were several and she found herself running callused fingertips over them, wondering if he had scars to match them, especially a long thin clean slice straight across the stomach.

Pushing aside her thoughts, she strove for the casual that the jounin himself was struggling for, pulling it over the morose, worried emotions that kept popping up left and right.

“Stupid too large bastard,” she muttered before rolling up the sleeves to her elbows and pushing them over so that she wouldn’t play with the hems. “You are so gangly and weird you stupid jounin. No one’s limbs should be this long. No one.

It certainly explained the stride, though.

The infuriating fact was that no matter how lackadaisically he walked she still had to take another half step to keep up with him. The man wasn’t that much taller than she was! She was relatively tall for a woman of Konoha, to be honest, and a handful of centimeters wasn’t that much, really.

Still a pain, though.

When she was finished and reentering the main room, she found the Copy-nin seated on the floor in front of the couch he had sitting in his living room area – man, this was a real flat, he had so much room, ANBU certainly had it good, huh – with a couple of scrolls and books propped up on the table in front, as well some edamame and cold cut meats for snacking. A pitcher of cool mildly sweetened lemon tea was sweating slightly where it sat on the table, two cups already filled and sitting before him as he flipped through what appeared to be jutsu texts, and a couple of taijutsu scrolls.

Cold tea wasn’t popular in most places, considered weird and unnecessary, so it was really only a thing in Fire Country, Wind Country and the small island areas because they were the hottest climates where hot tea could end in a rather uncomfortable bout of heat stroke.

“No Ochi-baa’s?”

“Mm, nah, didn’t feel like crowds.”

Understatement.

This man… honestly…

She studied him for a moment, taking in the tired tilt to his features and the lack of shadow behind his gaze and nodded in agreement, not particularly minding that they wouldn’t go out for the icy sweet treat but pleased that she clearly hadn’t been dismissed as she had half been expecting and dreading. What with the odd way he was acting she wasn’t sure what to expect from him – not that different from usual, actually, if with a darker, harsher implication – since she imagined he wasn’t particularly comfortable with having to rely on someone else to remember how to be human, how to control himself. After the time she had spent watching him convalesce she freely admitted that just seeing him up and around brought immense relief to her chest even if it ached the same amount every time his eye darkened and drifted off away to a place she could not follow, nor could she do anything to ease the pain he was in. Though the torture he had gone through had been almost completely psychological, there were moments when he was paying less attention when his hands would tremble or his fingers twitch with suppressed reaction, his jaw clenching against whatever he was remembering.

There was nothing she could do but be there.

Even though she hoped that was enough, she knew that it couldn’t possibly be.

She never could be.

Never had been.

Except with her twins.

Setting her dry – she pulled the water out after a few moments of deliberating chakra levels – folded clothing on the kitchen table, she had her normal industrial strength leg wraps rolled up and placed them into her hip pouch on said table, before she hurried over and picked through his books without so much as a by your leave.

Normal, normal, normal.

She needed to act normal.

“Yes, please, go ahead,” he started dryly, eyeing her with something very similar to relief even if it had an odd glint to it. “Make yourself at home.”

Sticking her tongue out at him but still keeping her tongue piercing hidden behind her lips – it was a sort of secret, but not really… it was complicated – she nabbed a book on chakra constructs and flopped down behind him to lie on the couch, kicking off the house slippers as she did so, her face near his shoulder but still within comfortable glancing range. With her head propped up on the armrest she popped open the book to enjoy the comfort of silence, snacks, and the presence of a friend who understood the pleasant calm of quiet stillness instead of the cacophony of words and the energy of movement.

His chakra was buzzing pleasantly in a low hum beside her, lulling her and calling her at the same time, and she sighed, diverting a stream of herself to run through the mountainous vein of chaotic yet soothing electricity that was Kakashi. When he flickered in an acknowledgment as well as to pick at her in a way that she often did him she poked him in the back of the shoulder lightly with a cool metaphysical smack before snuggling back into the surprisingly comfortable couch cushions. The couch was so long that she could have stretched her arms over her head and her legs straight out and just barely have touched both armrests. Nice. She definitely had to look into getting a larger couch, especially since it wouldn’t take long for the kids to grow too big for all three of them to sit together on her small loveseat, and it wasn’t exactly something that she could comfortably lay on without getting a crick in her neck.

It was a relic of a time long passed, anyway. Maybe it was finally time for a change.

“Beef me,” she ordered imperiously sometime later.

Her mind was a dazzle of ideas and vague impressions with chakra equations flickering behind her eyes, sticking out a hand next to his face and the man huffed softly where he was examining a scroll and passed a couple slices to her before settling back against the couch front again.

“Of course, mistress,” was the droll reply. “I live to serve, mistress.”

“Hmph,” she bit into and tested the snack before she smiled in pleasure at the light salting to it. This would have made good jerky. “You’ll do.”

“Thank you. Really. I’m honored.”

She almost felt like he had packed the entirety of Wind Country into those words.

It was impressive.

Even as she found herself situated comfortably behind her friend, she couldn’t keep the small, sincere smile off of her face, her features warm and lax as she curiously began to study the text before her. She was comfortably warm, there was a nice breeze coming in through the door to the balcony, and she could faintly hear the sound of bamboo chimes clinking together from one of the neighboring apartments filtering in on that pleasant wind. The apartment smelt faintly of dog – there was a rather large dog bed in the corner, and she’d even noticed a smaller one in both the kitchen area and the bathroom – but it wasn’t the unpleasantness of wet dog that would make her nose wrinkle with distaste no matter how much she loved the animals in question. No, this was more like the dry scent of earth that the ninken that the Hatake Summoned had that she was getting used to, and she found herself vaguely curious about how often he brought them into his home just to have them there.

Quite often, she assumed.

Well, that’s what she would have done.

Beneath that, there was the muted, subtle tingling smell like the atmosphere right before it rained, or when it was signaling the start of a thunder storm, like lightning striking on the beach in the heat of a summer gale, the aroma of fresh lavender ground between the fingertips that lingered long after the leaves were gone… This lingering, ingrained scent had to be…

Cheeks heating just slightly, she turned onto her side and slid her head off of the armrest, being more careful of her breathing so as not to take a personal whiff of the actual thing – he was right there she could have just leaned forward and… – curling her right arm under her head and pressing her bent knees lightly into the jounin’s shoulder and back where he was sitting on the floor before her, feeling his at rest chakra humming gently with his calm. The fact that his cresting monster was molding and conforming to a mixture of their moods at the edges of her chakra gave her relief that he had no contradicting negative feelings, just a doubled sense of ease and tranquility. That surprisingly smooth yet razor sharp shield of energy arched over them, twining their auras together in an intimately comfortable way she wouldn’t have expected.

It was… soothing.

Yes , she decided. This was a good day, she mused as she smiled softly as she read, falling away into the text, unaware of the pleased, happy air about her and how it further relaxed and eased the jounin in front of her. Despite Gai’s attempt to blow out my eardrums and the strangeness that is a melancholic, tragically depressed and wounded Kakashi that apparently flirts with people.

Yes, a good day.