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Tsundoku

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It had been a very long week.

There was so much that had come to the light that was rotten and awful and Tsunade knew that she hadn’t hit the bottom yet. That there were still more nightmares to dig up from the earth beneath their feet.

Walking through Konoha suddenly felt like unveiling a mass grave, gorge of fury and helpless grief welling up from within.

When she’d set Tsume and Shibi loose – via their spawn – on the populous to find out the scale of the rats she had in her hen house she hadn’t expected the sheer number. She hadn’t expected how many of the people she’d interacted with on a day to day basis to have been marked by that absolute bastard. Fucking Danzō, that shit stain, had been puppeting Konoha’s forces for a long time now, and Sensei had just been letting him.

She’d spoken to Hiruzen briefly, doing one of the routine checks on his still deteriorating health and she’d been appalled at what he’d admitted to. Again, she felt her faith in humanity, in the people she loved, shake and crack. There was a lot of good that her Sensei had done for Konoha, for its people, but it didn’t excuse the weight of the lives sacrificed. There was no balancing this scale.

Despite her resigned grief because he was going to slowly decline over the next year, and then likely pass, she couldn’t help the pain it caused. She loved that man, she did, but he’d always been a better teacher than a leader and the more she found out, the more she realized just how true that fact was. He may have shamed her great uncle as a leader, but at least he had managed to be a teacher, at least that.

Tsunade had always known that people were flawed. That sometimes that mental image wasn’t what was true and fact, but biased by the heart and… Well, she’d always had a too soft one. Had always been willing to look past the darkness in her loved ones that others had shied away from. There had always been disagreements with Hiruzen about many things, there had always been that edge of sociopathy in Orochimaru, that well of self-righteous selfishness in Jiraiya.

This wasn’t to say that Tsunade was any less selfish, any less vicious or misguided, but she had blinded herself to the sharp edges of her Team.

Always, she had tried for compassion and practicality, and while she hadn’t always managed it, she’d strived. When someone was a part of her, a piece of her heart, she couldn’t give them up, loved them wholeheartedly and would defend and heal them as best she could.

Orochimaru, she’d abandoned to a village that didn’t understand him, didn’t know how to steer him away from the dark. Jiraiya she had ignored his infatuation with the hope that someday it would fade if she didn’t acknowledge it as serious. Sensei, she had let change rules written by those who came before to fit his regime and she had just let him.

While it might not all have been her fault, situations beyond her control and people being individuals with potentially shitty moral compasses… she’d failed them.

If Dan were there, he’d know what to do.

But he wasn’t, and so it was only her and the handful of people who she could depend on to help her try and resuscitate their Village. Mass grave or not, she had to give her very best effort to make sure there were no living people being smothered under the corpses.

And if there were, she had to help them.

It… Jiraiya was out of the Village, but she would bet that he knew something about this, about the ROOT situation. About Danzō and the literal fucking army he had under their feet, out of sight and mixed in amongst their number. The slaves that had been branded with fealty and brainwashed into something that they never would have chosen to be. About… about the fucking slaughter that had taken place on their soil and had been condoned.

He was always closer to Sensei in these things, especially after Orochimaru had started to drift apart from the rest of them, more like minded with Hiruzen. ‘For the good of the Village’ was a phrase he’d always used as justification for some of the things he did, even if he hadn’t used it for those orphans of his.

This was a bet she feared winning, the depth of Jiraiya’s knowledge.

But she couldn’t forget the people who were being used, who were tools of one arrogant, ambitious old warhawk.

More than a third of her jounin, half the chuunin ranks and a quarter of the genin.

That wasn’t to mention the number of civilians he’d gotten his claws hooked into and the saturation into the ANBU ranks.

Whoever else had been stolen randomly off the streets to become a resource to be used in Danzō’s private army.

And Tenzō. Her family. Her boy.

He – he was...

When that beetle had alighted upon his shoulder she’d felt bile rise in her throat at the realization that really there was nothing sacred in this village. Her teacher, whom she had known for her entire life, had loved like another uncle, had used a member of her family shamelessly. He had abused his horrifically bestowed abilities and hurt him in ways that Tsunade wasn’t sure would ever heal. 

And worst of all?

He’d let Danzō use him at any point in his life, had practically gifted him to his old friend after what Orochimaru had done to him as a child.

That Kakashi had used what influence he had to remove Tenzō from Danzō’s direct influence, burning fragile bridges, just meant that she owed the Hatake more.

Tenzō had knelt before her, tensed with grief and fear and regret and she hadn’t been able to do more than knock him out in her shock. He’d been so resigned. As if he’d expected her to be betrayed by the fact that he’d been used in this way, trapped. Expecting punishment or death at her hands when he was a miracle she had no desire to send back to the Shinigami. She wasn’t upset with him anymore than she was upset with all of the others who had been enslaved in this way, just bodies in a shadow war for a nasty old man.

It could not be known that they were digging up ROOT, that she was more than suspicious of traitors amongst their ranks, however.

He was the only member of her ANBU guard who had knowledge of her plans, and she couldn’t risk it. Couldn’t risk him or the thousands of lives that depended on her.

Even if it broke her heart, it was best to keep him asleep until Tsumugi was able to peel apart the Seal that chained him. Already, Karin was designing a temporary stasis Seal to keep the one on them dormant, hoping to change the one used on Kurenai, and now the hundreds of souls kept enslaved.

Right here. In their own goddamn Village.

For the first time, she eschewed her liquor cabinet for sleep, weary and heartsick at figuring out just what the fuck she was going to do about this. As much as she’d like to, she couldn’t just go in and crush him like a bug without knowing more of his network, what he had his wicked hands into.

Shit, really, if there were a time to drink it would be now, but she had to fucking plan, not go about vaporizing half of Konoha.

Tempting as it was.

She was kind of wishing that she hadn’t sent Team Seven away, because although convenient, if she’d just pointed Kakashi in that direction it wouldn’t really be her problem anymore.

Even just a vague hint at the truth of the sabotage on their missions… Well, then it would be Hatake Kakashi, Copy-nin, who killed Danzō in defense of his team and she could protect him. Especially if she revealed the connection between herself and Asuka, solidifying the connection between Senju and Hatake.

Tsunade suddenly shuddered, acutely worried about what ninja on missions who might also bare the Seal and what could happen to them when she inevitably killed Danzo.

At any given point, a quarter to a third of their forces were outside the Village on missions and that was a terrifying thought to have.

There were so many missions that she had to look into, so many dead nin who had been on joint missions with ROOT plants. All good people who had been betrayed by one of their own because they had been deemed problematic. Secretly snuffed out because one man’s vision and desire for power from a painfully obvious inferiority complex.

At least her great grandfather had never hidden his body count. Hashirama had never hidden the number of people he’d killed before and after the founding of Konoha.

He’d just… never given her names.

What a fucking mess.

Sighing, she passed a hand over her face before she stilled.

Someone had been in her room.

There was not lingering chakra, no scent trace, no scuffed marks, or shiver of displaced air to mark this. Nothing so subtle as that.

They’d left her something.

Considering what she’d just learned, perhaps she should have been more wary of a random person making it into the Senju Clan Compound to leave her scrolls.

“Well,” her voice was rougher than usual with exhaustion and emotion. “If they explode at least I’ll get to do something.”

They didn’t explode.

Honestly, she’d much rather they had, because…

As she stared down at the files she’d found in a scroll sitting on her nightstand, Tsunade came to the dreadful realization that there was even more wrong in Konoha than she’d initially thought.

More than she’d ever hoped.

Kami why was the human species so fucking awful.

While her hands didn’t tremble as she flipped through paper after paper labeled DECEASED and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, her heart shuddered painfully. Her hands had only trembled for the sight of the blood of her loved ones, at her failure to save a life, why would they tremble for this, awful as it was?

She wished they did. She wished she shook apart from what she learned.

Hundreds of files all organized into individual Seals on the scroll, labeled clearly and concisely. There were so many familiar faces amongst these poor souls she’d thought needlessly crushed – they were, just for different reasons – and so many young ones. So many children.

All gone.

Eyes burned slightly as she remembered to blink, vision blurry. She ignored the tears that spilled hot against her cheeks like acid and instead absorbed as much of the information as she could.

These files were old. Years old. Partially smoke-stained and crusted with remnants of blood that likely couldn’t be identified.

Whoever had gifted them to her, they had gone through a lot of trouble, a lot of danger, to get these. To see that justice was done for the hundreds – at least, gods – of people who had fallen to the greed and paranoia of their military state.

Breath catching on a sob, she stared down at the too thin file older than the rest, that sat before her. Heartbreak was an old enemy at this point, and always seemed to strike right when she had found her equilibrium again. Her hands might not be shaking, but her heart quailed in her chest.

UCHIHA KAGAMI: DECEASED. MISSION FAILED. ORGANS UNSALVAGEABLE.

Pressing her hand to her lips, she turned her gaze away from the pile of deceased – murdered – Uchiha and towards the RETRIEVAL pile.

Tsunade hadn’t vomited in years, and she suddenly felt more ill than she could ever remember being. How could… how could Sensei let this happen? How could he just turn a blind eye to this?

More tears spilled down her cheeks and a harsh, coughing sob spilled out of her mouth as her hands lifted to cover her eyes. Scrolls and papers sat so very heavily in her lap, across her bed and Tsunade had rarely met a weight she couldn’t carry but this felt so heavy. Like she would be crushed beneath the weight of this new knowledge, of the monsters that lived within their walls.

She hadn’t thought that Konoha could hurt her any worse than it had. She hadn’t thought that the poison would burn like this.

There had been nearly one thousand people in the Uchiha Clan.

They had killed them. They had killed practically all of them. Done worse to the ones they hadn’t slaughtered.

It hurt. It hurt.

They had ruined what her family and the Uchiha had built together on the bones of their forefathers. They had stripped that desperate dream of her grandfather and the efforts of her grand uncle down to something unrecognizable. She knew they hadn’t been perfect, that they had been flawed and human but kami dammit all she had loved them.

All shinobi and kunoichi were their own kinds of monsters, and it didn’t surprise her as much as people might think to learn that the God of Shinobi had been a selfish person. Most people were, and while Hashirama had been kind, could be compassionate, he’d also had individual desires that didn’t meet the standards of the whole.

Her great grandparents had loved each other, but Mito’s had always been a quiet love. They had always been strained together, and the woman had become worse than a shadow when Uzu fell.

She couldn’t stand it. She couldn’t stand being here, breathing in the rot that had permeated that which she had loved so fiercely.

And yet…

Swallowing thickly, she marshaled herself, sniffling unattractively and gritting her teeth with determination as she reached for another file. Another ruined, too short life. Perhaps her vision was wobbly with tears, perhaps some words slurred with emotion and her teeth sunk into her lip. She could barely taste blood at this point in her life, what was the point of caring?

She healed.

She always healed.

Despite the poison in their roots, despite the fire that spread beneath the ground that held them up, Tsunade wouldn’t run. Not again.

She thought of Asuka, who regarded her with wary hope and just a little awe. She thought of Tenzō, who had been so very afraid and so very trapped; accepting and tired. She thought of Naruto, whose heart was in the right place and had been brutally wounded.

She thought of Kakashi, and how Sakumo would want her to stay. She thought of Nawaki, who had loved this place so dearly. Of Dan, who had only ever wanted her to be happy, and to share that happiness with all of Konoha.

She thought of Tsume, quietly loving her loyally for all these years and willing to fight a secret ANBU trained force on the drop of a kunai. She thought of Uchiha Itachi, who’s psych evals had never quite added up and now she had the entire equation to understand how fucking doctored they had been. She thought of the files labeled EXTRACTED or RETRIEVED rather than EXTERMINATED and she couldn’t let that stand.

Danzō should never have been allowed around children, and he should have never been allowed to break them the way that he had.

Kami above, her Tenzō.

She thought of the one name she hadn’t seen so far, one she’d thought for sure would be right next to Itachi’s, and she knew what she needed to do. Of the file that should have tipped off the beginning of the end for the Uchiha because that had Danzō’s cruelty written all over it in ways that she wished she didn’t comprehend.

Whoever had done this, gathered all this information, must have been completely emotionally attached to the people harmed. They had to have been entrenched in the organization in some way, had to have time – years – to gather the evidence which could be used to ruin Danzō.

They were involved.

And the only person she could think of was –

“Uchiha Shisui.”

“Yes, Godaime-sama?”

Her pulse didn’t jump because she was in control of her body at all times. Her breath didn’t catch because she wasn’t sure that she was quite breathing.

The voice was different from when last she’d heard it, of course it was. Last she’d heard it, the only time she had, he’d been a child. A child excited to meet her, tracking her down outside of the village, wanting to meet Senju Tsunade, who his grandfather had so loved.

This voice was hoarse with smoke and poison damage, and yet it still had that uptick of cheer that she had never been able to manage herself. When she turned her head just slightly to look towards him, she saw that he was taller than his medical file had last stated when she’d looked at it on a melancholic whim.

His hair was still curly, but longer and not held back by a hitai-ate. Which was nowhere in sight. Instead, it was lifted up into a puffy ponytail and with twin locks twined with ninja wire and red stones framing his face.

Ah.

Oh, that explained some things.

It explained more than a few things, really.

Like the Seal on Asuka’s back in the shape of Tomoe that she now realized more than likely held her dead teammates’ eyes. Or rather, half of each set, at least.

The scars around Shisui’s eye sockets were a startling shade different from his not quite as expectedly pale Uchiha skin. The eyelashes on his right eye grew patchily and there was a clear difference between how the two had been damaged. Based on the individual characteristics of the Sharingan looking at her, she was almost sure that the left and right belonged to individual twins.

One eye had been torn out forcefully, and Tsunade would bet that ugly too heavy fucking hat she was forced to wear that he’d pulled the other out himself, just from the angle of the scarring.

This… she, well. Tsunade almost wished that she had been wrong, that he had died, simply a suicide rather than another victim on Konoha. Why was it always the children that suffered? Why was it always the young who had to die so that the old could feel powerful?

“What else can you give me?”

Keeping her voice steady was painfully difficult when all she wanted to do was pull him into her arms and crush him. She didn’t know him, not in any way that mattered, but he’d been fighting for his family for a long, long time. She knew that grief, that desire for vengeance.

The silence of an empty Compound filled with ghosts that made you want to tear the world apart at the seams.

She’d just… never had a chance to enact that vengeance. For all her rage, she’d never desired the total annihilation of another Village. To watch it burn to the ground from her strength, crumble into dust and memory just like her Clan had, one lament at a time. She didn’t have that cruelty in her, though she’d wished for it from time to time.

It would have made her life easier, certainly, but she just wasn’t built that way.

She also hadn’t had to stay at a distance from her one living relative that had no defenses against the rest of the Village. How he’d managed not to just run off with Sasuke she didn’t know. Shizune wasn’t even blood but she’d still grabbed her and ran as far and as fast from Konoha as she could.

“I’ve got more files stashed away for missions that Danzo has been authorizing that have escalated various conflicts. Documentation that specifies interferences within the Daimyo’s court. I know the locations of most of the base entrances,” he told her, sliding forward like a wraith, unfelt by her senses in any way.

She had a feeling that if he hadn’t wanted to be seen, she wouldn’t even be able to tell he was there. It sent a phantom shiver up her spine.

“And I’ve got a few contacts within ROOT who don’t know who I am. They think I’m another ROOT Agent when we make contact, and that I’m simply dissatisfied with the status quo,” he paused for a moment, assessing, perhaps weighing his words against her expression. “Specific events that have instigated two wars which resulted in a significant loss of Konoha citizens, both ninja and civilian alike..”

It hurt to think about one of her grand uncles’ students going so far as to incite war, but she couldn’t exactly say she was surprised. Not after all she’d learned over the past few days and just within the past few hours. She wondered which failed missions had caused the progression of war that he’d arranged, and new that she could already picture it.

She thought of Sakumo, who had bungled a mission that should have been a cakewalk and how his teammates had shunned him for it. How an entire Village had turned against a man who had been a hero, a legend all of his own. Tsunade couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those castigating team members; she couldn’t even remember their names.

It was an awful thought, but she was pretty sure they had disappeared into the woodwork as well.

Another ache to her repertoire.

The information about the Daimyo would be useful, definitely, after she ripped Danzō’s nasty fucking skull from his body and then ground him into paste. Better in the hands of someone who knew the current state of the court, honestly, though. Someone else could plan that execution so that she could deal with internal issues…

Hmm.

“Can you verify the absence of outside influence on Sarutobi Asuma?”

“Kurenai did a good job,” he told her immediately, stepping closer again with a very slight easing of tension. “Because what she did was barely a nudge in his mind. The cobwebs have cleared and there are no lingering effects. I also took the liberty of cleaning out the childhood compulsions that were placed on him for obedience to his parents.”

Ah, the old Sarutobi Clan way of keeping the household peaceful. Simple chakra twists with sympathies and chakra bonds that kept the children from doing anything that could potentially harm the family. It wasn’t complete control and it wasn’t considered as barbaric as the Hyuuga Seals, but it still was frowned upon in this day and age. To keep a leash on your child into adulthood, however…

Well.

“Good,” she had a lot that she was going to be discussing with Hiruzen. “I need him to have the Daimyo shit so that can get sorted. Make sure he thinks to go after his other Guardian friends to do what they can to smooth the way. Kid’s shit at diplomacy but he can at least read a room and knows who to ask, and Hikaru is a bitch on a good day. Still, they can at least share correspondence without setting off any alarms.”

Hearing that Dad did a bad might make Hikaru cut open someone they needed, so just best to obfuscate the issue all towards Danzō.

“Hai, Hokage-sama.”

“Give all the layouts and blueprints you might have to Shikaku so he can start getting things together on his end,” the Yamanaka and Akimichi would follow, as always. “Do you have a list of all the Clan children that were stolen outside of the Uchiha?”

RETRIEVED still flashed like horror behind her eyes.

“I have a near complete list,” a brief twitch to lips that had once been free with a smile but were solemn and covered in pinpoint scars. Ripped stitches? “But the older document rooms used to be segregated by Clan and I can’t find the ones that had the Hatake or the Inuzuka.”

Oh. That… was unfortunate.

Hmm, actually, it might be a good thing. Inuzuka would be practically useless without a ninken companion, go insane from the chakra imbalance without a bonded. And there was no way to sneak out one of their partners, or even one of their children.

Plus, they could smell Seals after a certain amount of training.

“It’ll have to wait,” she waved a hand and pressed her lips tightly together. “So. Asuka knows about you.”

The tension which had released at the barebones of direction and planning returned with a vengeance Shisui slid back ever-so-slightly away from her, as if about to flee. His tomoe spun a little faster with adrenaline and Tsunade’s heart ached anew at the sight of it.

He was afraid.

Of her.

Of course he was! He’d been planning this for years since faking his own death and his family was slaughtered by someone he should have been able to trust! Tsunade didn’t blame him for not immediately falling to his knees before her in supplication when blind loyalty had burned him so completely.

Gods she hated loving this place.

“I need to know,” a twitch at the corner of a scarred eye. “If the technique you use to block those memories of you could hurt her. Her mental coils are very fragile right now and it’s only quick intervention that kept her alive at all.”

Vulnerability slithered in those famed red eyes, fear and desperation trying to corral loneliness away into a neat little box in a way that had never really worked for anyone. It wasn’t unlikely that Asuka had been his only contact within Konoha from his old life. Or maybe just his only contact at all outside of ROOT.

The length of Asuka’s missions was suddenly becoming a lot easier to understand. She was efficient to a fault, and yet. She generally finished with time to spare, but she still came back at the end of the time slot to receive a new mission.

And standing before her was why.

For a woman who didn’t use her iryō-jutsu in an actual medical setting, she had a lot of knowledge that couldn’t have come from anything other than study. The library didn’t have records of her in the medical wing and there had been no requests for tutelage sent into the hospital. Which meant that she’d taken the initiative to learn on her own, in secret, without ever thinking twice.

Because there was no one else to heal him.

It dawned on Tsunade that his eyes had likely been transplanted by a woman significantly less skilled than even the deceased Nohara Rin had been. Asuka at the age when Shisui would have needed it probably hadn’t had the experience needed to properly align all of his pathways.

Her hands ached to check his pathways, but she restrained herself.

Reaching towards a doujutsu user’s eyes was the stupidest thing one could do without permission and even a smidgen of trust.

“She… she does know,” he faltered for the first time. Kami, he was so young still. “I… it’s just a sympathy leaning. A product of my – these eyes having Chosen her. The genjutsu makes every interaction seem dreamlike, wispy. It doesn’t take the memories or seal them away, it just… puts them in the subconscious, where dreams go. They just become conscious memories again when she sees me again.”

Better than she’d hoped, honestly.

That tension, at least, left her chest and eased one fear.

“I thought,” he continued quietly, voice cutting off in breathy chunks that made her worry for damage to his vocal cords. “That when that Seal got messed up, it was because of the technique breaking down. That I might have killed her,” his hand lifted up towards his eyes and she noted that his fingers had been systematically broken at some point, the last joint of his middle finger missing. “That I’d been overwhelming her by meeting her too many times in a short period because…”

Because of Sasuke, of course.

Tsunade felt ancient, her heart heavy with age even if her body was still nimble and powerful. A temple, and inside the tapestries were all burnt.

“You didn’t,” she assured him evenly, relieved when the tension left him once again. “I didn’t notice anything of what you did, no lingering chakra or damage. Your control has been impeccable.”

“… Thank you, Godaime-sama.”

She wished that no one had to thank her for these things. That she didn’t have to tell people that it wasn’t their fault that people they loved got hurt. Especially when she struggled to set aside her own guilt even after decades.

One thing at a time.

“Now, Shisui, I need a rundown of what abilities we’re likely to see.”

Hai, Godaime-sama.”

~*~

When Kuromaru came barreling into the restaurant that they were all sitting in, Shino felt their stomach drop.

This was not to plan.

Even Inuzuka Tsume knew that they had to adhere to certain rules and…

After the end of their operation Cause a Ruckus, which had spanned the course of a week, their father was supposed to come and retrieve the Team for an overnight stay at the Aburame Compound. They and their little hive were supposed to be safely ensconced within the walls of their home so that they weren’t targets. If possible, they were to try and bring the other genin with them so that they too were out of the way for whatever plans that the parents had.

This was not what was expected, and Shino was afraid.

Fear wasn’t a stranger to them, but it was still entirely unpleasant.

The ninken stepped forward and his single eye met theirs with clear intensity and simply stated four words that made everything worse.

“It’s about your brother.”

Within them, their colony raged with sudden remembered fear and upset, the failure to save what had been theirs so long ago. When they had been weaker and less wary of the outside world, content with existence within the hive and with their family unit.

“Hey, whoa, Shino what the fuck –” pressing in against their side, Kiba was a solid build full of concern and protective wariness, and they could feel Shikamaru slithering through their shadows. “Kuromaru why are you upsetting Shino?!”

It was distantly warming, that their teammate would stand up for them before the canine that was practically his father, but Shino was too busy trying to breathe. They could take in oxygen through their skin if needed, and yet they couldn’t quite catch their breath. Chakra burned through their coils as they preemptively fed their kikaichu to be best able to do battle if necessary.

And it would be necessary.

If not now, then in the near future, it would definitely be necessary.

Shimura Danzō had taken away the most important person to them when they were a young child, he had stolen him away with threats against his Queen. Shino could never forget the loss of their first Sentinel, the one who had been their family and friend, vowed to join their hives. Their first friend, their best friend, the one who understood them the most out of anyone else in the world.

Torune.

Torune,” slid almost plaintively from their lips, so very quiet that only Kiba heard them. “They have found Torune?”

A strong little hand with more calluses and flexible joints wrapped around their own and they looked down into earnest, worried pearlescent eyes.

Their Team stood with them. Their little hive.

“Are you okay, Shino?” Ino stepped a little closer, clearly worried despite the few bruises that spotted across her face from scuffling with Kiba. “Is there something we can help with?”

Even as she asked, the chakra twitched so very subtly around Kuromaru and his single eye landed on the girl with thought.

“Your cousin as well, little Yamanaka,” freezing in place, the girl’s blue eyes went blank for a second even as her teammates leaped up to join her. “We must go.”

In something of a daze, Shino let themselves be pulled away from the restaurant, one hand firmly held in Hinata’s and their other arm crowded by an overprotective Inuzuka. At some point, Akamaru was shoved into Ino’s still shocked arms to be absently petted while Chouji stared at the girl worriedly and Shikamaru kept watch.

As always, the feel of his chakra sliding through their shadow was strange, getting a little stuck on each of their beetles. They were aware that the Nara tried not to step into the shadows of the Aburame when they were young because it could overwhelm them, but to their knowledge, Shikamaru had never particularly had this issue. Of course, they did not have a prodigious memory and –

And they were avoiding the issue. They knew that.

They knew that it was likely that something awful had happened to Torune and the only reason that they were being informed now was because they’d found his corpse. His remains. Or he had been tortured. Or he didn’t remember anything. Or perhaps he did, and he now hated Shino and and –

They did not know what they would do if this were the case. If they were hated by the one they had planned to join Hives with when mature.

By their Torune.

It had been the logical decision for two who were as attached as the two of them had always been, Torune’s offensive beetles pairing well with Shino’s defensive. As a Sentinel, his combat abilities were higher than most Workers, and Sentinels always protected Queens. The decision between them that Shino would be his One Queen had been a simple one between them.

There were other Queens in the Clan. Those closer to Torune’s age, those with stronger, more developed hives, but… they had matched, and they’d loved each other.

That had always been more important, their father had stressed. That the Symbiotic Bonds were created with emotion rather than pure logic. Temper the fires of the heart with the water of the mind, but never douse it completely.

A Queen was a sad thing, on their own.

A Queen alone was unsupported and unmoored, more likely to fall carelessly without Sentinels or Workers to defend.

Shino hadn’t chosen a new Sentinel yet, or even a Worker, despite the knowledge that Torune was probably dead. They’d… hoped. Without evidence, they could still hope for the miraculous return of their brother, their friend, their confidant.

Their Own.

Having their Team slowly grow closer, become more like hive, had soothed the loneliness of a Queen with only the little drones for company. Kiba’s pack instincts had helped to bridge the gap between them, and Hinata’s clear vision had kept them from tripping over each other too much. They had worked, and despite them not being Aburame, they had started to fill that niche of almost-Sentinel that had ached since the fledgling bond had snapped.

Now, though.

Now Shino was nearly certain that their Sentinel was dead, and this hope they had held for all these years would finally be snuffed out.

They knew that if Ino’s cousin had also been taken by Shimura, then they were likely gone as well. That they had been involved with the man who had stolen from a Queen when he could not steal a Queen themselves.

If Shino had been older, more mature, he would have built a nest in the marrow of his bones and let the maggots feast on him.

Passing through the gates to the Inuzuka Clan Compound, they noted that the guards weren’t the usual. They were the grizzled old jounin instead of the fresher chuunin who were normally stationed at the perimeter of the Compound.

Taking a deep breath, Shino let themselves sigh out once. Long, slow, quiet.

Either Torune was dead, or worse. There was nothing that they could do, and a Queen untasked in times of distress could become a liability. Their little hive, their almost-Sentinels, needed them to keep their wits about them; to defend, as a Queen was meant to.

So. The situation was this.

The Inuzuka, through the investigation with the Hokage into the people who had Seals upon them like those of Kurenai, were connected to Danzō. Torune and Ino’s cousin were also connected to Danzō. This meant that in the likely case of a Seal being placed on these two individuals, their actions could be controlled similarly to how their sensei had been.

Likely, Torune and the cousin had been too young and too unskilled – Sentinel aside, age and experience mattered – to be able to struggle underneath its power in the way that the fully grown and mastered jounin had.

Probably, they were dead because they had done something unforgivable. Or perhaps they had simply been killed as a consequence of whatever it was that Danzō had ordered them to do. With the numbers that had been reported at the end of the week it was likely that they had a base point somewhere within Konoha that was easily accessible from several points.

Something unassuming, and easily hidden.

Ground nests were often used by predatory insects. They would lure their prey within range and then snap them up, using them as fuel for larvae to strengthen the hive for future generations.

It would be best to treat Danzō like an invasive species and burn him out.

“Hmm.”

They caught sight of the sharp look that Shikamaru gave them and tipped their head slightly in acknowledgment that a discussion was needed. It had been something they had communicated during the ruse that had set up the initial marketplace fiasco, and now this needed to happen more than ever.

Closing the door of Kiba’s home behind them, Shino turned to face the room. While they wished to pull their hands into their sleeves for comfort, it was perhaps more comforting to have Hinata hold it again.

Kuromaru had left them at the gates, returning to wherever Tsume was for whatever plan was going to be enacted.

They had most of the Clan Heirs of prominent Clans hidden away in the least likely place, and there were nearly a thousand enemy – or at least controlled – nin in their village.

It was Civil War on the horizon.

Haku-senpai and they would certainly have more in common now than before, and that was so strange to think. Certainly, war within was not what Shino had assumed they would discuss next they met, rather than the intricacies of setting a room.

“There is an organization being run by the use of control Seals by the Councilman Shimura Danzō,” they started apropos of nothing. “And our team’s parents are working with the Hokage to dig them out of Konoha. I assume that your parents are also involved. Why? Because all hold high ranks within the Godaime’s esteem and the Command echelon and have been identified as safe. Also, because you are here, when before you were not meant to be.”

Ino stared at them intensely.

“This organization has Fu?” her voice was edged with the sharpness of a blade, all pretense of a childish girl gone. “They’re flushing them out.”

Well. It would seem that not everyone came to the conclusion that Shino had. Was it simply the difference between optimism and pessimism? Realism? It had been many years, and they had had plenty of time to think of the worst things happening to their Sentinel, fledgling bond gone and no pheromones to track down.

They had tried, for a time. Their father had always brought them back home and soothed their tears because the world was cruel, and Shino was loved.

It could be a terrible thing, to be loved.

Torune had loved them, and so had given himself over to Danzō’s whims.

“So it would seem.”

Perhaps it was kinder not to cut that thread of hope.

They would stay quiet on their own thoughts as to the present condition of their respective Clan member’s status. It would be cruel for them not to, for needlessly dashing that which Ino had likely not had in the face of her missing cousin in some time.

Perhaps years, as it had been for Shino.

While they didn’t know the particulars of the Yamanaka Clan hierarchy, they knew enough to know that the Clan had certain mental connections to each other. Not quite telepathy but close enough that it might count to anyone else who wasn’t a Sensor of some sort. They wondered if this had been severed in much the same way as their bond between Sentinel and Queen had been.

Shikamaru’s hands came together, fingertips touching as the chill chakra of his shadow slid around amongst them. Bright points of yin chakra tickled at thin fingertips which made their kikaichu rustle hungrily. Their ire and upset had riled the little drones within them enough that they took a moment more to soothe their beetles than they would have normally.

Whatever the Nara thought of, he perhaps came to a similar conclusion that Shino had come to.

“Well, shit.”

“Indeed.”

From beneath them, the predator had set a trap.

And soon, they would deliberately spring it to devour in turn.

~*~

Looking down at the long dagger that was akin to a short sword in her hand, Sakura felt downright giddy.

“Do not stab your teammates, even accidentally,” Asuka said wryly, patting pink hair. “This is a loan, and make sure not to use too much of your chakra despite the paths built into it. It’s meant for my system, so it usually takes a heavier load, but your precision should make up the difference. If you try and overload it, it might explode. Which is never fun, let me tell you!”

“Asuka-sensei,” Sakura spoke solemnly despite the brilliant grin on her face. Perhaps the grin looked more like a bearing of teeth, but that was fine. “This is so cool.”

The waved edge of the sword breaking dagger was killer sharp and the slit in the center from tip to halfway down the blade was a subtle contribution. Meant to trap any blade and twist to break it if possible and the whole thing was dense. Heavier than another blade this size would be because it was supposed to be able to take more impact damage than other weapons.

It resonated differently, with special minerals added, to sharpen the edges with the intent to shatter.

Oh, Sakura really wanted her own.

They’d talked about it, about getting the genin girl fitted for at least a tanto so that she could begin to run missions with the tools she was learning. Asuka was on the fence about it, since Sakura was due for another growth spurt here soon with her better diet, and that might mess with her reach.

Honestly, even if it wasn’t perfect to start with, she’d take what she could get because using a sword someday was going to be badass. Of course, she wasn’t only learning the sword, other bladed weapons counted, but Asuka was the most dangerous so obviously a sword was also the best choice.

Already, Naruto and Sasuke looked at her with trepidation without a blade in hand.

The pink-haired girl looked over at the horrified face of the present teammate and grinned wider at the green tinge to Sasuke’s face. Yes, Naruto might be the idiot who had gotten kidnapped with their surprise princess in an attempt to stage a rescue from the inside, but Sasuke deserved a little ribbing as well.

Their jounin-sensei was standing behind her teammate with an amused yet beleaguered expression and a hand comfortingly on a thin shoulder.

Yes, she definitely wanted a katana someday.

The press of Asuka’s chakra was a brilliant thing against her senses, endless from her time on the ocean. Blanketing them all on the ship in power and contentment and the kind of safety that she’d never really expected to feel. Sasuke had been practically drugged anytime he’d been pulled in for Fire Aligned cuddles so that the warmth could be shared. Naruto had giggled intermittently like he was being tickled, the Kyuubi flexing his pupils into slits that said they were sharing the experience.

The only thing she had to compare it to was when they’d walked into the room when their sensei were curled around each other after scenting. Or cats with catnip, but that seemed unfair to the cats she would be comparing her team to.

That kind of encompassing feeling, the thick, syrupy cocoon that had held them in its depths though… yes, that fit.

It was freeing for their tokubetsu jounin teacher to be on the ocean, to breathe the sea air. Especially after the understanding that they’d gained of her culture, the culture that was practically extinct, but she was adopting them into.

Sakura was learning the Nagisa sword styles, what remained of them.

She was honestly considering changing her last name from Haruno to Nagisa. When she made Chuunin, anyway, because she really wanted to think about it. While she knew that her parents loved her, and that the name of their family could be important… Well, she thinks her father might understand.

It was sort of like an apprenticeship, really, and she was learning family secrets. Getting… getting adopted into the family she was learning from to continue the trade could be understood.

Her mother was always going to have problems with her being a kunoichi, but that didn’t mean that she’d shun Sakura if she chose to change her name. Mebuki hadn’t been a Haruno to begin with either, so it wasn’t as if she could begrudge her the change.

And… well, it was sort of like getting married to the style wasn’t it?

Yeah, okay, she needed to look up more law books when she got home to figure out just what it meant to take on the name of someone who was teaching you. Especially when it was a family style.

Maybe Tenten would help her. Since she had no surname of her own, it was likely she was more up to date on the whole name adoption thing.

“But I can stab the Snow nin, right?”

“Oh, stab away, dear.”

Yes, this was gonna be awesome. She couldn’t wait to scare the shit out of Naruto when she saw him again and gave him a piece of her mind for jumping the gun. If he thought he could go haring off on his own like some kind of stupid hero then she had another thing coming for him and it was called kenjutsu.

There was still adrenaline running through her veins from watching Asuka bisect a dirigible from a distance with a blade of chakra projected from her katana. From watching a wall of earth pop up in front of the samurai who had futilely tried to stand against the ninja who had been oppressing them. The way the sky had opened up and lighting had taken out a giant chunk of another of the air force that opposed them.

Leaving just one.

And they were about to go after it. Sasuke had the charges for blowing up the castle they were going to storm, and he’d looked at them with a similar glee to how Sakura had looked at this dagger.

A lot of the rumors she’d heard about the Uchiha growing now made a lot more sense. With her teammate not nearly as repressed and depressed as he had been, she was seeing those destructive, pyromaniac tendencies she’d always thought were an exaggeration.

“Alright kids,” Kakashi spoke easily and with utter confidence in them. “Remember, they are chakra sucking monsters. Go for the kill, no maiming. Oh, and that stupidly garish armor with the ideal target that powers the mechanisms. Go for that.”

Snorting, Asuka tilted her lips in a smile, the fur of her cold-weather grade leather armor – which was pale icy blue and white, oddly reminiscent of the Niidaime – ruffling in the wind. She wasn’t wearing a cloak, and her normal greaves were replaced by the leather and fur of her similarly colored tabby toed boots. Armguards of the same set, covering the back of her hand until her knuckles but not touching her palms or fingers at all; allowing for better grip. Pants that were normally black were a slate gray instead to blend in.

There was no scarf, but she had one of Kakashi’s white face masks pooled around her neck and the sight had made Sasuke turn red.

Stupid ninja born culture that she didn’t know about. Yet.

Pulling up her hood, face lined by soft pale fur, Asuka stepped away from them. The smile she sent them before pulling up the white mask was cutting, and the two genin returned it readily.

Time to kick some ass!

Sakura was so pumped it wasn’t even funny.

They were going to save a princess and Naruto and Ino was going to scream her head off. Tenten would definitely want to hear about this mission, no doubt about that! Especially since Asuka was letting her use her dagger.

So cool!

And no, that wasn’t a Snow Country pun.

~*~

Kakashi was man enough to admit it.

Watching Asuka cut an airship in half with a single swing of her sword was really fucking attractive. The noise he’d made was probably impossible with an entirely human throat, but he was a Hatake, so those things didn’t apply to him.

It had been a long time since he’d been able to even think something like that, and he was unashamedly glad no one had heard that whine.

Sure, the old samurai had given him alarmed looks at the following wheeze, but their opinions couldn’t matter less to him if he was being honest. It had certainly given him the oomph he’d needed to get that dusty jutsu he hadn’t used in nearly a decade back out of his repertoire. An old Kumo classic that was easier to use in this cold climate, especially considering the fact that Asuka’s chakra had saturated the air below.

Watching her pull up one of his cold grade face masks – snatched from his bag when he hadn’t been looking – was also horrifyingly delightful. The exchange of belongings was definitely a point that they were at, and every time he turned his head to feel the weight of his new Claimed prize he felt giddy.

This woman wasn’t perfect, but she was willing to be his, and that was perfect enough.

Kami he had it bad.

Watching Yukie flirt with Asuka with an amusing lack of success had settled something deep in his bones, and the comfort of her presence at his side could not be denied.

Going off to save their most chaotic genin, for the first time, Kakashi felt wholly unafraid of the kids dying on his watch. They were vicious little shits who had taken swimmingly to some of his dirtier tactics after the Orochimaru compromised mission.

Asuka had his back, she would protect them when he couldn’t, and they’d go back to Konoha, back home and…

And Kakashi would look into how the progress was coming on his Clan Compound’s restoration. He’d hired a couple of retired Nara to look into it for him, supervised by Genma. He’d given Genma temporary access to his wards so that he could let them in and lock them out when they were done. Initially, he’d considered Gai, but that had hurt too much to think about. Both the noise and the emotions attached.

When he’d first thought fixing it up, he had been hesitant, but…

After everything that had happened, all of the people that were after their kids, it was just safer to have them all put in somewhere defendable. Even if it was a Den long abandoned, it was still home to the hurting, aching pieces of him that could never unsee his father’s bloodstains on the tatami.

That house, he didn’t think he could live in again. Not and remain as sane as he somehow was, not and keep this semblance of peace he’d mustered up.

But in the Main House?

Yeah. They needed enough room for the kids and probably Zabuza, Iruka and Haku. Potentially Gaara.

He was not looking forward to having the shovel talk with the Ichibi container about the angstiest little Uchiha. The embarrassment alone was giving him heartburn, even though he was well aware it would likely only be on his part.

Ugh.

Emotionally repressed children.

This was karma, and Kakashi wanted to fistfight a kami for putting him through this and the sex talks with their genin.

Or, well, that was actually Asuka’s fault, so maybe he’d just fight her.

Mm, fighting Asuka…

Ah, shit.

Anyway, stepping calmly onto the premises after Asuka had busted through several walls, Kakashi got down to business. There were explosions going off in the distance and cackling Naruto clones swarming around.

Time to steal a princess, kill an asshole, and run down that cameraman who had taken to filming them and have him sign so many papers. Tsunade owed him like, a gallon of sake for this whole fiasco because they’d forgotten to write in the contract about not spoiling ninja secrets.

As he watched, Sakura hamstrung the big guy, before slicing through his heel tendons. Blood sprayed out across the stone and rubble, the man screaming.

Her little face was cold with concentration, braids and beads fierce framing for a child who had once been squeamish at the sight of minor kunai cuts. That short ponytail bobbed behind her head like a little brush and it was so adorable he felt himself beaming.

The woman tried to interfere but Asuka was suddenly in front of her, and then the entire upper half of her body was gone. Surprise twisted the Snow kunoichi’s face as she realized she’d been sliced in half and her halves were separated by a dozen meters. Gore splattered around them and blood bubbled out of her mouth as she tried to speak.

Her brain didn’t know she was dead yet.

Without even looking back at the woman she’d just brutally killed, the tokujo leaped forwards after the man who’d kidnapped their surprise princess. Naruto – the real one – scrambled after her, blood smeared over his lips and teeth a tad too sharp, and Sasuke burst onto the scene, flames licked behind them. Honestly, Sasuke almost looked like he was high considering the endorphins that the explosions were leaking into his brain, eyes shiny and wide.

Look at all these little killers.

He was so proud.

Their jittery firebug ran out after Asuka and Naruto, flames and sparks licking at his heels as he did so. Ah, they needed to have another fire safety sit down with Iruka, didn’t they.

Sakura was just slicing the man’s throat – he noted that the gem in his chest plate was broken – when she saw him.

“Kaka-sensei!”

Ah, the joy at the sight of him was definitely nice.

“Hop on, Sakura,” he used an easy hand to pull her up onto his back, uncaring of the blood it smeared on him. On their snow gear, it just made them more intimidating to the rabble. “Let’s go kill a man.”

The girl whooped like a common thug and he couldn’t help but smile helplessly as he followed after the rest of the Team. Of his family. His pack.

They were hunting together, and oh, how he had longed for this.

Pressing his fangs into a grin that stretched scarred lips, Kakashi barely swallowed the howl that wanted to climb out of his throat. Sound was muffled by the snow, and it would echo eerily amongst the trees and rock outcroppings, singing back to him when there was no one else to answer.

Not here. Not now.

When he caught up to them, it was to see Naruto getting kicked through the ice with a great echoing crack. In the next moment, Asuka was shouting in rage and slamming her katana into the ground point first before flat out just punching the man in the face.

Even from a distance, he could see teeth and blood fly across the ice as the man stumbled back.

Leaping into a quick shunshin, he landed next to Sasuke, who was looking at the hole in the ice with wide, wary eyes. Kakashi didn’t have to look down to know why, the bijuu chakra boiling angrily beneath them, but he looked anyway.

The red halo glowed eerily beneath them, tinting all the ice crimson as a phantom red hand reached up from the depths. Nine deep shadows flickered beneath them for a moment of endless horror before that red haze hooked into the ice and Naruto came speeding towards the surface.

The boy’s eyes were purple, and pupils slit as the bijuu chakra dissipated, taking away that unnerving glow from the ice and snow around them.

Sakura jumped from his back as their blonde coughed and gasped, the Uchiha already pulling him against his side to feed him Fire Aligned chakra to warm him. The girl shivered hard when she pressed against his other side, but she gamely wrapped her cloak around him as well, blood dripping blade easy in her hand.

There was a crack and a grunt behind them, and hostile chakra twisted.

Lifting his hitai-ate for the first time this confrontation, he caught a glimpse of the strange black dragon chakra construct and decided that the chakra drain wouldn’t be worth performing it. Besides, Asuka barely twitched and a water dragon was already grappling it into the ice, sending chunks flying into the air and ice shivered around unsteadily.

“You want chakra?” she snarled from a distance, tone making him glance up sharply. “I’ll give you some fucking chakra!”

Um.

Well, that didn’t sound good.

Without a thought, he was running towards them, and with his Sharingan watched as she gripped the cracked jewel on the man’s chest plate. Watched her fingers flex puncture into the material as it began to siphon chakra out of her until her chakra twitched sideways and she shoved it forward instead.

The man vomited blood up, where it poured down his front.

And then it was water.

Sudden intense terror flickered over the man’s bruised and bloody features, as more water spilled out of his wounds instead of blood. Instead of air, he exhaled blood and water, and Kakashi was suddenly intensely aware that her chakra reminded him of how it felt when she did –

Holy shit she was using her Natural Chakra.

The man made the motion of pleading for his life, but all that happened was that more water bubbled out of him. His hands scrambled for the thing attached to his chest, for her hand where she held it, still forcing chakra into it. Fingernails peeled away against the metal and the expected blood wasn’t and he desperately detached the clasps that held his armor in place.

Asuka let him fall the ground, and Kakashi was finally close enough to look at her face and for just a second, just a second, he thought he saw something. A dark mark between her brows, a glimpse of gold instead of green, but when she looked up at him there was nothing. Just her face, smeared with blood and dripping water, ice clinging to the ends of her hair and clumped in the fur lining of her armor.

There was color high in her cheeks, her eyes brilliant against the reflection of the snow as she smiled at him.

At her feet, the man slowly, agonizingly dissolved into water, the process of becoming the piece of Natural Chakra forced into his system not stopping once it had begun.

“Asuka,” he started slowly, stepping up next to her and staring disbelievingly down at their adversary. “What the actual fuck.”

“Y’know,” she shrugged, not in the least bit repentant or sheepish. “He tried to drain Naruto! It seemed like the thing to do at the time.”

“I suddenly know how Minato felt whenever Kushina did anything ever.”

At this, his partner beamed, entirely too pleased with being compared to her childhood hero and role model. To be perfectly honest, if the two women had ever met, Kakashi wasn’t entirely sure that Konoha would still be standing.

They both jerked in place as the chakra around them shifted, the two of them leaving the once sentient puddle freezing in the air as they leaped for the children.

Something was building! Something below the surface of everything around them and –

Nature Chakra surged around them and Kakashi suddenly felt encapsulated in Asuka’s, mist shining in the light. The ice and snow around them melted like steam, screaming angrily at the sudden temperature difference as heat swamped the world around them.

The two adults barreled into the children even as what had looked like an ice-covered, jagged rock exploded next to them. Sakura screamed while covering her face with her blade hand, leaning into the blonde at her side. Naruto snarled, Kyuubi chakra surging under his skin as he pulled his teammates towards himself.

Sasuke… Sasuke had made a strangled noise of agony and collapsed like a puppet without string, a desperate hand digging into the Seal on his neck.

Kakashi got to them first, curling bodily over them and flaring his chakra to push back against the world as it turned on them.

Fuck.

Kakashi had never dabbled in anything Nature Chakra related. Had never wanted to test it without the tutelage of his Sensei or under the guidance of the Wolf Summons that he’d never signed on with.

He hadn’t known that it could just rear up like this and try to consume the world.

The pressure suddenly lifted as water washed over them, soothing the ache in all of his joints and the stress on his secondary coils. Naruto was glowing a little red, crouched over Sasuke and Sakura as he was, just beneath Kakashi, fear tensing his feral features.

Looking over, he saw Asuka outside of their water barrier, on her knees with her hands pressed into the ground and her features twisted in a pained grimace.

As far as he knew, that was the first time she’d even consciously channeled only the Nature Chakra, without the iryō-jutsu to soften the blow. The untrained use of Nature Chakra was nearly one hundred percent likely to end in the death of the user and Kakashi didn’t know if she counted. It was a natural affinity but…

Rock exploded at the extreme temperature change and he tensed in the bubble of safety as a chunk slammed into the side of her head. The woman rocked with the blow but didn’t do more than press her lips together with determination, blood seeping down her temple slowly.

Behind her, at the podium he hadn’t noticed before, he could see Yukie.

She was encapsulated in water as well, and out past her on the ocean he could see the water rising in columns. Connecting the distant parts of what Kakashi honestly thought might be the entirety of the Land of Snow.

It was eerily silent inside the bubble of water, the world muffled and slow feeling, but he watched the color drain alarmingly out of Asuka’s face as her chakra waned.

Her head tipped forward a little, and he saw it again. What he’d thought was his imagination, Sharingan be damned.

A mark on her forehead. Three-pronged, like one of Minato’s old Hiraishin kunai or…

Or like the Sanbi’s tails.

Her breathing was labored, and there was a thin gold ring around her pupils as she leaned forward against her buried hands and vomited. Another wave seemed to hit moments later, the ground around them shaking, Asuka pressed to the side by some invisible, unfelt force.

Acting on instinct, he reached his chakra out towards her, linking to her as best he could without touching her hara to hara. White chakra arched off of him into the water and seemed to seep away into nothing, but he could feel it. Could feel her drawing it away to where it could do the most good for the one thing keeping their kids from getting pulverized by the weight of the Natural Chakra that supported an entire country.

Below him, Sasuke was curled into Sakura, both of them with their hands pressed over the writhing mark on his neck. Their little kunoichi had tears in her eyes and her face was the most serious he’d ever seen it. Naruto was pressed close to them, that sunshine bright Uzumaki chakra mixed with a deep, ancient other that was the Kyuubi.

The more the Kyuubi chakra leaked out of Naruto, the easier Asuka breathed, and Kakashi himself felt his white chakra copying the frequency of both. Which was really just another thing to think about later with all other manner of what the fuck that was going on.

With flowers blooming around her in the chaos as seasons were forced passed their time and into the present, the Last Nagisa threw back her head on what looked like a scream. Her expression was a mixture of agony and determination and he sunk his fangs into his lip to keep from reaching for her.

There was nothing more he could do in this situation.

Using chakra that she didn’t have to spare, despite the environment around them. It had to be excruciating, and Kakashi ached with her, his heart hammering in his chest.

Kakashi couldn’t hear it, not in the completely isolated protective place she’d built for them, but he felt her chakra surge dangerously outwards. Concussive force pressed out and something out in the ocean, something terrifyingly huge - and still so very far away - leaped up, throwing chakra forward against the blast that would have killed them. Neutralizing it near instantly.

Suddenly, the world was calm again.

With an abrupt splash, their shield fell apart and Asuka collapsed to the side, hands pulling out of the ground in a muddy mess.

Had she been using the underground water veins?

She called him the impossible one, and yet she was just as bad as the rest of them.

“Asuka,” it felt like his ears were popping as all the sound he’d been missing for the past minute rushed back in. “Asuka!”

She coughed roughly, face once again free of marking and her eyes back to normal as she opened them sluggishly. Bruises marred the flesh beneath them, fatigued and chakra drained.

Oh, Tsunade was going to murder both of them.

“I’m okay,” her voice was absolutely wrecked, and her breaths were coming in heavy pants, whole body trembling with adrenaline and exhaustion. “Oh my kami let’s never do this again.”

Gaze sharpening suddenly, she focused on the children hidden beneath him. He watched the horrified terror slid onto those bloodied pale features even as it twisted in his own chest.

“S-Sasuke?!”

~*~

She really hated chakra deprivation.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have chakra, it was that she didn’t have what she was learning was a store of Natural Chakra that she’d been keeping instinctively her entire life. Kakashi had been rather understanding considering the number of times he’d run himself dry, and that was with the knowledge of what it was like to have two separate chakra networks.

This had started out as a super cushy mission, and now Sasuke’s Seal was acting up and an entire chunk of the world had been suddenly terraformed.

Asuka hadn’t grabbed her dagger back from Sakura yet, but she could let the girl fawn over it for the trip back to Konoha. It seemed to be something of a comfort to her anyway, having a tangible weapon with which she could defend her teammates.

It was just until she could drag her to a smithy and get something made that suited her significantly better, anyway.

She lay flat on her back with Sasuke curled up at her side and with Naruto and Sakura fawning over the clothing they’d been given. For tonight’s celebration of the inauguration of a new Daimyo of the Land of Snow, they needed to look the part of a respectable entourage. Kimono had been set aside for them, picked out by the filming crew who thought this whole adventure was the best thing to ever happen to them.

Asuka was glad that at least somebody was having a good time. She felt thin and tired in a way that her regular chakra exhaustion didn’t give her. Pressing her hand to Sasuke’s Seal with her chakra took more effort than it should.

Although Yukie had given her the option of staying in the rooms they’d been given, Asuka had seen the looks people were giving her. It was probably the crew that had blabbed the fact that it had been her in control of the water around everyone within range of the stupid Natural Chakra machine.

It would be a show of force, a way to establish ties for Konoha – fucking politics – for her to stand at the side of the new Daimyo as she was inaugurated. There were Elders and representatives from foreign courts there, even ones from Fire Country, and Tsunade would punt her through a wall if she wasted this chance.

Fuck.

Naruto flopped down next to her, currently long blonde hair still tied with the ornamentation that the woman had put in, but not quite as suited to her female form. Not with the length of her hair.

Well, that was just another thing to put together then.

“Nee-chan,” her voice wasn’t much different as a girl than when she was a boy, still noticeably Naruto. “What color do you think I should wear?”

Practically the second that Naruto had seen the numerous lovely kimono available, he had decided that being she was better. Those kimono were prettier, after all. She was looking down at her with a glitteringly hopeful expression even as one little hand reached out to pet Sasuke’s hair absently.

What a lovely little family she had.

“Hmm,” reaching up a tired hand, she made a show of gripping that tan little chin gently and tilting the girl’s head this way and that. “Perhaps purple or blue. With gold or white accents.”

Delighted, the girl jumped up and returned to where Sakura was staring down at lovely mint green kimono with a considering eye. With a breathy chuckle, Asuka let her eyes slide shut as the door slipped open, letting in Kakashi from where he’d been speaking to one of the other guards.

The other foreign leaders also had ninja guards, generally, or Iron Samurai, which was nearly the same. One of the samurai had actually been eyeing Asuka as she’d walked down the hall, looking to be contemplating a spar. If only she had the energy to make sure that she didn’t kill the man she’d definitely take him up on it, but alas.

Best to not, at the moment.

“Kaka-sensei, Kaka-sensei!” the man grunted as a pink blur rocketed into his stomach. “Will you help us get ready so that Asuka-sensei can rest some more?”

“Sure, Sakura,” reaching down to steady her, he instead lifted her so that she was perched on his arm as he stepped around the pallet she and Sasuke were laid up on. “I don’t mind a little bit of dressing up for the cause now and again.”

Smiling at the cheers from the two girls, she gathered enough energy to roll to her side and curl around the Uchiha boy more firmly. He was colder than he should be when he had a Fire Nature, even if he was equally if not more Lightning. While she herself was no space heater, she was an adult and familiar hands pulled a blanket over them as she got settled.

Ah, yes. Best family.

When she woke, it was to giggling girls whispering to each other and the smell of powder drifting on the air. Sasuke was buried against her hara and she felt slightly less like she’d plucked all of her tendons like the strings on a koto.

The sight that greeted her was… actually rather lovely and she didn’t know what to do with that.

Kakashi was sitting calmly on a cushion in his undershirt and mask, a kimono outer layer that was likely meant for Asuka to choose from slung around him and fallen off his shoulders. Powder dusted his black clothing and likely the expensive deeply red and black fabric with silver borders. His hitai-ate was off and his hair flopped a little but was held to the side by that gifted moonstone hair piece she’d put in herself.

Leaning over his face, which was still covered, but now by a lovely misappropriated obi cover that looked like it went to the kimono he was wearing. Amusingly, Sakura and Naruto were painting his face. Because most of the canvas was covered, it was perhaps more startling than whatever a full makeover would be.

Red accents at his eyes and kohl lining the lids artfully, lashes fully coated and looking ridiculously longer than usual. The scar on his left eye had been carefully painted gold so that it looked like a deliberate mark, artistic arcs pulling off of the main line. It was silly, just a little paint and a pretty kimono outer layer that she’d seen a hundred of the like of before, and yet…

“Oh,” slid from her lips, and his eyes opened lazily to look at her.

There was a contentment to the chakra that was sliding around the room that they were in, her own a bit more replenished because of it. He thrummed at a frequency she’d never realized that her own chakra could hit, ripples in a glassy sea.

His storm cloud eye was soft when the red of the Sharingan was a sharp, startling relief against the color pallet on his skin. Normally unseen, the red light the doujutsu gave off refracted from the gold paint on his scar and slid sunset red along it like a shadow.

Oh.

“You look lovely, Kakashi,” her smile was warm as she memorized the sight, dragging her gaze over him. “Good job girls.”

The two beamed at her and gave each other a high five that had Naruto shaking out her hand slightly and setting aside the brush she’d been using.

“Kaka-sensei can turn into a girl, but he doesn’t really like it,” the blonde said easily, as if an explanation was needed. “So since Haku can be pretty as a boy, we decided it was okay for Kaka-sensei to be too.”

What an odd twist of logic.

Sharing an amused, fond look with her partner, Asuka wondered what she would have done without these silly children in her life. Sasuke breathed against her, a little less tense than he had been before, and she knew without really thinking about it where she would have been.

She’d have been dead.

And that would have been a damn shame, missing this. Missing out on a family again and regaining some of what had been lost, even if only just the tiniest bit.

“I was under the impression that you would be getting ready while I slept,” she teased, enjoying the way the two jolted in place and then glanced down at themselves in horror. The pleading looks they sent her had her snorting and rolling her eyes, relieved when the action didn’t send pain spiking through her skull. “Alright, Kakashi, switch with me.”

“Yes dear.”

Heat slid into her cheeks at the epithet and she smiled even as she slowly slid out of the pallet, the powdery smelling Kakashi shifting easily into place. He still had the outer layer on, too, that silly man, but when she twisted a bit to press a kiss to the side of his head his lovely lined eyes crinkled at the corners with a smile. Chakra pulsed together like a heartbeat and she tasted ozone on her tongue like a much beloved comfort that she hoped to never live without.

“Did you at least pick your furisode out?” she asked as she pulled a stool over.

Best not to risk not being able to get up off of a cushion just yet.

At this, the girls sputtered positive responses and ran around in a flurry of movement to show her their chosen outfits.

Sakura’s was a lovely pale green that matched with her eyes, a sweet spring with white flower patterns detailed in sandy brown on it. There was a pale pink shade in the center of every flower, and at the curled edges of the petals, just tasteful enough that it wouldn’t clash with her hair. The obi was that same sandy brown, embroidered with more of those pink and white flowers; it was honestly rather tasteful. The red she normally wore wouldn’t say she had much color coordination, but this at least let Asuka know that the kunoichi training had sunk in for formal dress.

As opposed to what Asuka had half been dreading – an orange abomination, she’d seen a few mixed in – Naruto had picked something pale blue instead. There were floating embroidered flowers of gold with little pinprick of red within them, pale pink and yellow flowers dotted around brightly. The obi was brilliantly golden and similarly colored with complicated designed sewn into it, certainly expertly made. Halfway down the thigh pale gradients of green and pink overtook the blue to lead down into gold at an angle, like the girl had been splashed with the colors.

 “Nice choices girls,” at her words, they beamed. “Have you looked at the accessories that Yukie provided yet?”

Naruto held up a pretty blue and white cloth kanzashi that Asuka could definitely work with, especially with the girl’s longer hair in this form.

“I picked this, Nee-chan! Does it work?”

“Perfect, Naruto.”

Turning towards Sakura, the girl held up two different kanzashi; one dark green and one bronze and white. Both were lovely enough, but Asuka was partial to the second one with Sakura’s coloring if she were being honest.

“Alright girls, let’s get a bit of makeup on you and then get you dressed.”

Dressing them was something of a practice in patience, but mostly because Asuka was so very tired while she did so.

Once they were dolled up, blonde hair up in a bun pinned with that kanzashi and pink half pulled back and curled lightly with a twist of chakra, Asuka sent them to Yukie. Kakashi had clones posted strategically around the building they were staying in until the sweep of the palace that Yukie was going to have control over again was done. The rest of their mission after the inauguration was going to be done from that building, the film crew tying up the loose ends of the movie.

And then they would be headed back to Konoha.

With a long sigh the woman leaned her elbows against her knees and bowed her head, taking a few careful breaths before she stood up to walk over to the kimono. Most of the ones provided for her were in various shades of blue and green, which made sense considering her coloring.

Considering how Kakashi looked in one of the red ones, she didn’t think she’d be able to wear one, unable to compare.

Callused fingertips slid over sleek dark purple silk that looked near black in the shadow of the other kimono. The sleeves were long and elegant, just like all furisode were, tipped in copper colored chrysanthemum, the bursts of flowers spilling over the bottom of the robe. It was extravagant and over the top; utterly too lovely for a kunoichi to risk ruining in the use of combat.

That was why she chose it.

Stepping towards the mirror and the makeup table beneath it, she looked over the proffered hair ornamentation, glanced at the kimono, and decided that she’d just make her own. As opposed to the amount of extravagance and paint that the girls had put on Kakashi, Asuka was going to pull away from the traditional red markings a bit. Green and red could be garish in some circumstances, and with the color of her kimono, it definitely wouldn’t match.

Well, a little step to the side of tradition had never hurt anyone.

That, and she did what she wanted, so there.

Sliding out of her clothing, careful not to tip over with fatigue, she pulled on the beginning layers of the furisode. Kakashi’s presence behind her was soothing, the sleeping chakra of Sasuke within her range a comfort against her bruised network.

He was the static in the air before a storm and she reached white capped waves up towards the brilliance of his light.

Pulling powder over her face, she disguised the bruises of exhaustion under her eyes, the paleness of her skin, her freckles. Lining her brows for a moment only because it was expected, she switched over to the eyeshadows and slid the purple pallet her way. She didn’t want to darken up too much, so she only smoothed on a bit of plumb color near her eyelashes before moving up the color spectrum. A dab of bronze at the corners of her eyes to match the kimono colors and she was done with that and sliding inky black over her eyelashes with two deft flicks.

Lip paint – Asuka thought wistfully of her few lipsticks back home – over powdered lips to keep it in place and then more red powder on to op to set it.

Taking down her hair from the braids she’d only starting using a few weeks before, Asuka set her ornamentation to the side. There was some sheer metallic fabric that could be used for what she wanted, and it only took a few twists of her hands and chakra to make it so. Hair waving even more fiercely from being braided for so long, brown and copper hair was tamed with a vengeance.

She left some carefully selected locks of hair to frame her face and pulled back the rest for a moment just to see, before releasing the bottom layer. With that decided, she began to twist and weave the shimmery fabric into her hair, grabbing a pearly white comb at the last minute to pin in as well.

Now, sitting on the back of her head was a fabric chrysanthemum to match the kimono, made out of hair and repurposed material.

It looked nice, and Asuka twisted her head from side to side to make sure that it was even, pleased with the familiar weight. The rest of her hair hung loosely, easily pulled aside and she slide the final layer of the furisode into place and started wrapping her waist tightly.

Just because she wasn’t normally selected for the ‘typical’ kunoichi honey-pot missions didn’t mean that Asuka didn’t know how to dress the part.

“Hmm,” absently, she brushed a hint of color over the curve of her cheekbone before deciding that she was as good as she was going to get. “Well, Kakashi, what do you think?”

As she faced him, she snapped out a fan playfully to coquettishly flutter in front of her face for a moment.

He looked vaguely dazed, and she couldn’t help but grin brightly, warmth in her chest as his painted eyes fluttered closed for a moment and he swallowed.

“You look lovely, Asuka,” slid warmly, softly from his lips, and her grin softened with fondness. “I don’t think I’ve ever wondered what you look like in kimono, but I’m glad I’ve seen it now. You’re beautiful.”

Her cheeks heated under her powders and she glanced away, fingers playing with the fan in her hands before she tucked it into her waist. Stepping towards him, she leaned down, fingers combing through the hair opposite his moonstone, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Her hair fell around them slightly, though being bound as it was, the curtain wasn’t as thick, light streaming through tinted the red gold of copper.

Sharingan spinning slowly, she traced the lines of color that adorned his normally pale features, and she loved him fiercely.

“You do too,” she told him, smiling as his hand lifted to alight briefly on her own. “Although can honestly say that if you show up like that someone will pop a blood vessel. Let’s try not to give the civilians gay panic, alright, Kakashi?”

The man laughed softly and shook his head in amusement.

“Go save everyone from the girls, Asuka. I’ll take care of Sasuke and myself.”

Sliding her fingers through his hair for a moment she released a breath and then stood straight once again, settling her long sleeves at her sides.

Well, time to go look good for the Village and a princess.

Kami damned Team Seven luck.

~*~

Admittedly still shaky, Asuka took her time to reach the room where Yukie was being prepared, her old samurai bruised and bandaged, but at her side.

The various ninja and samurai that lined the hallways as guards all bowed to her a little, and that was an intensely uncomfortable feeling. She could understand the respect in a way, but deference to a stranger was odd to her.

A civilian opened the door for her, and she stepped forward into the rather opulent room. They weren’t even directly in the palace and still it was this extravagant… well, there was no accounting for rich people, really.

The girls were bracketing Yukie where she was sitting getting the last of her makeup done by one of the film crew.

All of the actors and the whole crew had thought the entire experience was exciting, and they’d all been by to speak to them about keeping clips of the fights to remain in the movie. To be honest, Asuka didn’t particularly care, but Kakashi had said he’d like to review the footage beforehand. He had also bemoaned paperwork mournfully, which was of the norm, really.

Probably some sort of security thing that she wasn’t thinking of, tired as she was.

“Asuka-sensei!” Sakura noticed her first, the call more of a gasp than an exclamation. “Oh, you look beautiful.

Smiling slightly, she let them close the door behind her and took a seat on a nearby chair as Naruto exclaimed soon after.

“Thank you,” glancing over at Yukie, the woman was giving her an appreciative look. The makeup artists at least looked approving of her color choices even if it wasn’t professionally done. “I’m glad that it meets your exacting standards, dear.”

The princess snorted inelegantly even as Asuka’s children came to her side to run admiring hands over the chrysanthemum threads. To exclaim about the lovely tint to her makeup and the way she’d shaped her hair to match her kimono without being too ostentatious.

As well as not managing to upstage Yukie, who was an entirely different sort of woman, with a classic beauty to her that Asuka just didn’t have.

When they’d asked if she wanted to go by her birth name, she’d seemed relieved that they’d agreed to call her by her stage name. Apparently everyone had been calling her princess or Kazahana-hime, which she hadn’t been called in nearly a decade.

She’d also grinned a bit like a shark when they’d told her they’d enjoy watching her play her crowning role of Daimyo.

They were all actors, after all, and Fujikaze Yukie was the best.