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Bed of the Scorpion

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The next morning, Sasori got up before Azumi and sat down at his desk, ready to start the beginning stages of his next project. Chiyo walked in moments later and with no warning slapped her grandson hard across the face.

“You are a disgrace,” she shook.

“I told you—“ he started.

“No,” she cut him off. “ I told you not to start anything with Deidara. And that even if he started it, you needed to be the adult.”

Azumi woke up but did not open her eyes, listening to the conversation.

“He is old enough to start attending council meetings but he can’t handle not pressing patience!”

“Yes! Because you are still older! And a respected member of this society!”

"I will still maintain my respect," he almost spat. "The same cannot be said for the brat."

Chiyo sighed. "This is probably the last party we will be invited to for quite some time..."

“Good!” he growled. "It means nothing to me!" He stood up and walked over to Azumi. "Stop pretending to still be asleep and go run a bath." His hand came down hard on her hip.

"Sasori!" Chiyo said in a stern tone. "Leave the girl alone!" She gave Azumi a pitiful look the noticed the burn on her hip and thigh as well as the dressing on her chest. "You branded her!" Azumi gasped, looking quickly between Chiyo and Sasori.

"Branding is a primitive and lesser version of what I did to her and she is fine in my care. Now, if you don't mind, Grandmother, I have work to get done."

Azumi quickly got up from the bed and went to the bathroom. Chiyo let out another sigh. "You do not know how to properly care for anyone," she said. "If she dies, she will be your last one."

"Uh huh," Sasori said, waving her off as he started to drop his clothes. In the bathroom, Azumi started the bath, turning the faucets to the exact position he told her to and then putting in his required amount of oils and salts. He walked in and glanced at her handiwork. "I don't plan on letting this one go," he mumbled with a smirk. He sat down on a window ledge near the water and watched her move. "How is your chest?" he asked her suddenly.

She paused and looked at him. "It is fine," she lied. It hurt. It hurt a lot. She turned away and continued to set up his bath, just waiting for the moment he would get into it and dismiss her for a few moments. She just wanted to get away from him. He was not going to dismiss her anytime soon though.

"Lying to me will only wind up hurting you more," he said, walking over to his shelf and pouring something into the pool that was next to the tub. "Strip and soak yourself," he told her. "We need to clean that up and redress it." It sent a small thrill through him to watch her struggle to be near him and yet maintain such elegance.

She exhaled deeply before stripping down and removing the linen he dressed the wound in. Just like the last one, she refused to look at it and stepped into the pool, flinching a little at the temperature. She slowly lowered herself enough so the wound was in the water, trying to hold in the small grunt that wanted to come out from the pain on her chest.

"The pain should subside in a few moments," he told her. "The valerian root and Boswellia will calm the inflammation and then I'll apply more of that cooling ointment," he said with a sigh as he eased himself into his bath. He leaned against the edge of the tub and ran a hand through his hair. "Today won't be so busy. We have a few orders to work on and then we should probably go down to the shop to check on inventory," he said easily.

She sunk lower into the water and frowned, hating how right he was about the pain subsiding quickly. It took her a few moments to finally relax her body. "Very well, then," she said quietly.

He shifted in the tub and let his eyes fall on her. He said nothing at first, simply watching her with cool eyes. "Tell me," he said softly, reaching down to twirl a finger in her bath. "You mentioned being entertainment at parties," his voice was soft, "but you are a did that come about?"

She did not answer at first, keeping her sight on the water. "Most women where I am from can dance," she said. "Being the daughter of the village's head, people would ask me to come to their events so they could gain some sort of attention. I hate parties, too. I find them to be a waste of time. But it would not look right if I refused. So, I would agree to go and perform. It would give the party the attention that the host wanted, and then I would leave."

He hummed in thought. "Sounds like you've been in a form of slavery your whole life," he mused. "Do you enjoy the act of dancing?"

"I do enjoy it," she said. "I have taught a few girls from my village how to dance." She looked out at the river that ran by the mansion. "I did not have a mother to teach me...I learned from the snakes."

"The snakes," he laughed softly. "I think I'd like to see how well they have taught you then," he hummed. "For you to be so requested and coveted at parties you must be a sight to behold," he smirked.

She frowned, not exactly wanting to dance for him. She knew he was there when she danced on the stage at the auction. He already saw her dance. "I usually dance...with a snake," she said softly, thinking about how she met Naga.

"I do believe I allowed you to keep that snake," he said with a raised eyebrow. "Or did he slither away?" he smirked, looking at her fully.

"No...he is still here," she said. She looked out into the bedroom and Naga slithered into the bathroom, coiling up next to the pool as she moved to that side. He leaned his head closer to tap his nose against hers as she gently pet him. He hissed at her quietly.

"Then you should have everything you need to dance," Sasori said, watching her interact with the snake.

She and Naga shared a look before she finally looked at Sasori. "I suppose I do," she said. "When do you want this to happen?"

"Mmm," he hummed. "Tonight should be fine," he said, resting his head against the edge of the tub once more. "Before dinner, of course. We don't want you throwing up." He wrinkled his nose. He stood up, running his hands through his hair as he stepped out of the tub. "Will you require music as well?" he chuckled softly, picking up a towel and wrapping it around himself.

She looked back at Naga who hissed his answer and then back at Sasori. "Yes," she answered.

"Wonderful," he smirked, pulling a towel out for her. "Come, we have lots of work today and I need to dress that wound." She stepped out of the tub and grabbed the towel, wrapping it around her and making sure to be careful around the wound on her chest. She kneeled down to stroke Naga's head for a few seconds before he slithered out of the bathroom. "Dry off and then sit down," he said, walking into the workshop. "I've decided we'll be working mostly from the shop today since I have my younger cousin watching the front. I want you to become familiar with the tools there and there’s more space." She followed him into the workshop as she dried herself off and then sat down in the desk chair, lowering the towel just below the burn wound so he could apply the ointment. He gently applied the cream and smirked. "This is going to heal well," he said softly, his fingers lingering over the raised design. "Your clothes are in the cabinet over there," he told her, pointing behind her. He pulled away, grabbing a smaller dressing than the one he used the night before and wrapped it neatly. "This should hold you over until we return home tonight."

Once he was done wrapping her up, Azumi stood up and went to the cabinet to grab her clothes. The feeling of the wound on her chest was much more awkward than the one on her hip and leg area. She got dressed carefully, not wanting to ruin the dressing of the wound. Sasori strode out of the workshop and back into his room to get dressed.

As soon as she was dressed she went into the room, trying not to stare too hard at his body as he got dressed. She hated that such an attractive man could be such a monster. He knew she was staring at him, but he said nothing about it. He hid a smirk as he turned once he saw that she was dressed

"Carry these boxes," he told her, pointing to a stack of wooden boxes on the seat of the desk. "We're going to walk down to the shop. No point in asking the imbeciles to carry us there."

She looked at the stack of boxes and picked it up. Naga slithered up to her, sliding up her leg and wrapping around her waist. He hissed quietly at her as he rested his head on her shoulder. They walked out to the main part of the house and passed Chiyo as they left but Sasori wasted no time in saying goodbye to her. He walked out with Azumi in tow and down to the street.

Azumi looked around as she followed him. She had not really gotten a chance to familiarize herself with the surroundings. "You said your younger cousin is manning the shop?" she asked quietly. She wondered if Gaara was the younger cousin he meant. In fact, she hoped it was.

“Yes, my uncle’s son,” he clarified. “He studied under me for a few years but he has been broadening his field of study and now can only work at the shop on select days.” He turned down an alleyway. “You’ve met him,” he told her, walking up to a door carved into one of the building’s sides and pushed it to enter.

She followed him in and looked around. "Where do you want these boxes?" she asked him, just about ready to drop them where she was standing.

He turned on his foot and took the boxes from her. "We're going up there," he told her, pointing to a ladder. Every wall of the room was covered in drawers and shelves. Two more workbenches greeted them as they walked in. He started up to the second floor where a larger distillery was laid out. Sasori walked over to a boiling pot and frowned. "Tch," he sighed. "He's going to burn it," he said, turning the fire down and setting the boxes down. Connected by a small strip that took them over the entrance of the shop, a large library carried over to a desk covered in more papers.

Azumi looked around the room, examining everything. "What do you need me to do?" she asked, glancing down at the papers of the desk.

"I think I can trust you to bottle what is in that pot and label it," he said, pointing to a cabinet. "It's concentrated dittany."

She nodded and went to the boiling pot, making sure none of it was burnt and turning the flame off to bottle it. She grabbed the bottles and carefully poured it into each one, filling them up to the correct amounts then sitting down to write the labels.

"Sasori?" Gaara's voice came from the lower floor. "You're here early," he said, walking up the ladder. He paused when he saw Azumi. He let out the breath he realized was suddenly caught in his throat when he heard his cousin in the workshop. He had honestly thought he had seen the last of Azumi the night before.

Azumi looked at him and gave him a small smile. "Hello," she said softly. She was glad to see him. Something about him eased her nerves.

"Yes, we had a lot of work to do that I just wanted to get out of the way," Sasori said, stepping closer to them. "Take her up front when she is done and show her how the front of the shop runs," Sasori said. "I need to refile some paperwork here. I'm also leaving any new orders and the back orders to you two," he said, sitting down at his desk and starting to organize the desk.

Gaara nodded and scooted closer to Azumi. "I'm glad you're still alive," he said softly to her.

"Me too," she hummed. "Though I did not come out of it unwounded." She shifted the dress a little bit to show him the bandaging around her chest.

Gaara stared at the bandage, assuming the worst. "He's butchering you?" he hissed, his lips pressing into a hard, grim line.

"He paints on me with acid," she hummed. "This is not the first time he has done it," she said as she finished labeling the last of the bottles.

Gaara's eyes widened then immediately narrowed into a rage. "Acid!" he growled lowly. He discreetly glared at Sasori's back, grinding his teeth. "Is he at least...helping to take care of what he's done to you." He ran a hand through his hair. "I'm so sor—”

"You two are whispering a lot," Sasori said warningly without looking back at them.

Gaara bit the inside of his cheek. "I'm just making sure she is familiar with your set up, Sasori," he called back. Sasori let out a quiet hum in response and went back to his work.

Azumi put all of the bottles onto a tray to move them easily to the cabinet they belonged in. "Show me the shop," she said quietly to Gaara. He nodded and they headed down to the ladder. They walked out behind the counter for the shop. It was not very large but it had nice displays of different cosmetic products they sold. All their more intense medicinal things were kept behind the counter. She found the section for the concentrated dittany and started putting the bottles on the tray there. “He does treat the wounds immediately after he makes them,” she assured him quietly.

"That's no justification to him causing you the pain in the first place," Gaara growled, doing his best to not slam the cabinet behind the counter. "He's a fully grown man who can't control his temper." He frowned, looking back at her. "I...can't watch him continue to treat people like they are toys!"

“It does not justify it, you are right,” she said. “But it seems most people are afraid of him. And those who do not know what he does respect him highly.”

Gaara sighed. "I wish I could help." He ran a hand through his hair then looked back at her. "He's got a lot of people fooled. Even his own parents."

“That is...very unfortunate,” she frowned as she finished putting away the bottles. “It does not seem like his grandmother is fooled...they got into an argument this morning.”

"No, Chiyo is very aware of her grandson's vile behavior," he sneered quietly. “He really has no morality as far as I'm concerned." Gaara frowned. "He's never been cruel to me and he's very loving to his mother but..." He trailed off. "I don't know...I hope he treats you differently. None of the people he's killed over the years deserved it."

"So far, it seems like I am not treated much different," she hummed. "Other than him telling me that he likes me and that I was a good purchase. If he still does this to me, then he cannot like me that much more, I suppose." She joined him behind the counter and looked around the rest of the shop.

"He's only branded two other slaves as far as I know and that didn't happen until much later into their service," Gaara said. "Let me show you some of the stuff we keep back here." He squatted, waving for her to follow. "And he definitely didn't use it as a way to take out his anger over Deidara. Usually, that resulted in some nasty bruising and cuts."

Azumi frowned as she squatted with him. "He branded me on the second day," she said. "And it seems that even if I do obey him, I will still have to endure the pain he long as there are other people alive that can anger him." She sighed quietly and looked at Gaara. "He made me sleep in his bed last night immediately after he did this to me," she said, pointing to her chest. "I have never been so confused about a person in my life. He hurts me and then is nice to me."

"He is treating you rather differently," Gaara hummed. "But if he likes you so much...I wouldn't put it past him to personally want to oversee the effect of what he's done to you." He pulled the cabinet open. "We keep a lot of ready-made stuff down here," he told her. "Anything that we commonly get requests for and the like."

"Got it," she said, looking at the labels of the stuff in the cabinet. She took out one of the bottles and inspected its contents. "Interesting composition," she hummed. She let out a quiet scoff and rolled her eyes. "I bet he puts scorpion venom in this."

"And what is wrong with scorpion venom?" Sasori asked as he walked through the backroom's door. There was a trace of a challenging smirk on his lips.

"Nothing," she said as she stood up straight and inspected the bottle once again. "I am sure it works fine. Better than spider venom, at least."

"Mmhm," he smirked. "Snake venom would have destroyed that formula," he said easily, noting her avoid her preferred animal's secretion.

"If you had chosen the correct snake venom, it would not have," she hummed. "Unlike scorpion venom being the same composition among all scorpions, snake venom differs among different snakes." She shrugged and put the bottle back. "But if you do not have access to different snakes in this area, I suppose scorpion venom does the trick at least halfway."

Sasori’s smirk did not falter but Gaara quickly noted his cousin’s eye start to twitch. “Halfway, you say?” His eyes narrowed as he spoke to her. “I’ll have you know that it works to its fullest potential. I tried various snake venom and they either turned out too strong, were too rare to be viable or altered the effect altogether and ruined the tonic,” he countered. Gaara almost stumbled back at the tension building in the room.

"If it works then it works," she shrugged. "It is not my place to tell you how to make your tonics or how effective they are. As I said, the snakes that would probably work best for this particular tonic are probably just too rare in this area."

“Would you perhaps know a vendor or way to acquire more of this particular venom?” Sasori leaned on the counter. Gaara was not going to mention that scorpions were not all that common in the city they lived in. Sasori had people regularly go out and get him scorpions to breed and keep to get their secretions.

"A vendor?" Azumi almost laughed. "No. There was no need for vendors where I am from since we had an abundance of snakes." Naga poked his head out from the back of her dress and hissed. "But I know how to get them to come here."

Gaara blinked at the snake, a little shocked that Sasori had let her keep the serpent.

“Do share,” Sasori practically purred, eyeing Naga himself.

"I do recall mentioning that my family can communicate with snakes," she said. "It would not be hard to get a couple of them to come here. Then you can use their venom and breed them if you wish."

“So full of surprises and resources,” he hummed for a moment. “Do it then. While I still favor scorpion venom, variety is necessary to this line of work.”

"There are a few on their way here now," she hummed. Naga hissed again. "Actually, there is one that is here now." She moved around the counter and walked toward the front door, opening it slightly. A small desert horned viper slithered into the shop. "This one is only a juvenile," she said. "It will get a little bit bigger. But its venom is just as potent as an adult's."

Gaara blinked and took a step back in shock. Sasori smirked, pressing against the counter a little himself as he looked at her with cool eyes. "Then I suppose we should set up some sort of nursery or enclosure to keep them in." He walked over to Azumi and the animal who already looked more than comfortable twisting around Azumi's arm. "Gaara will work with you to make the enclosure. You must teach him how to extract and store the venom," he ordered.

Azumi nodded and bowed slightly. She gently stroked the snake’s rough head. “We should probably do that before the others come,” she told Gaara.

"Wha—” Gaara sighed, glaring at his cousin before rolling his eyes as Sasori smirked and shooed them to the back.

"Slither to it then," Sasori lifted his chin again. "There should be some material you can use in the back."

Azumi went into the back with Gaara and set the viper down on a flat surface. “I am sorry,” she said softly to Gaara with a bow. “I did not think he would rope you into it.”

Gaara shook his head. "Don't worry about it," he said softly. "I'm only a few steps above you in his eyes when it comes to working in the store," he sighed. "I am still technically his part-time apprentice." He squatted and reached under the counter top to pull out an old tank. "We used to keep a particular kind of fish," he said, placing the tank down on the workbench. "Would this work for snakes too?"

She looked at the tank and then at the viper who hissed quietly at her. “It will work perfectly,” she said. “Thank you. We just need to fill it with sand so it can burrow itself into it.”

“I’ll be right back then,” he nodded, stepping out the back door of the shop.

“Saaaasoriiii!” A woman’s voice flowed through the front door. “It’s so rare to see you in the front of the shop!”

“Good afternoon, Kurotsuchi,” Sasori said, a smirk evident in his voice.

"So, what are you doing here?" she asked.

"Well, it is my shop," Sasori answered.

'It is that child again,' Azumi thought, rolling her eyes. She looked at the viper who hissed quietly. "I only ask that you do not attack the younger man that was in here with us," she said quietly to the snake. "But I will not stop you if you attack the other older one." She looked around the back room a little more, trying to find something to put into the enclosure for the viper.

"What are you doing out here?" Sasori asked, glancing into the workshop at Azumi.

"Our old man is having fits again," Kurotsuchi said, leaning onto the counter. "But I also never want to miss a chance to see you. You left the party so early last night."

"Well, I got into a little...altercation with Deidara," he said.

'Little,' Azumi almost laughed, overhearing their conversation as she found a decent-sized rock to put into the tank.

"Pft!" Kurotsuchi scoffed through a laugh. "A little!" She echoed Azumi's thoughts. "You threw him through the entire house!" she laughed.

Sasori sighed lifting his chin. "He deserved it," he said stiffly.

"I'm not saying he didn't," she smirked. "But is that little slave girl that you were dragging behind you still on this mortal coil or was she used as yet another payment in my brother's stead?" Her tone was light and teasing despite the grim topic.

"No," he smirked, looking back into the workshop. "Azumi is very much alive."

Azumi rolled her eyes, picking up the viper. "Can you dance?" she whispered. The viper hissed and she started to move around the small space with it.

"Wow, I'm impressed," Kurotsuchi smirked.

"You're impudent is what you are," Sasori rolled his eyes. "I'll make the tonic for Oonoki. Just give me a minute. It's on the house." He turned to walk into the workshop and stopped short in the doorway, watching Azumi and the snake move together. It was just as mesmerizing as the first time he had seen her do it on stage with the cobra.

She moved for a couple of seconds more before she realized he was watching her. Her breath hitched quietly and she stopped immediately. "I apologize," she said, wrapping the viper around her body. "We were just getting to know each other."

He looked her over for a moment as a smirk pulled at his lips. "By all means, continue." He looked around the room. "I assume you are still waiting on Gaara to build the enclosure," he said. "I'd like to see more." He walked to the other workbench and pulled out a few ingredients as well as a mortar and pestle.

"He is getting sand to fill the tank," she answered as she started moving again. "If you choose to use this viper for breeding, then it will need to burrow itself to give birth."

“Good to know,” he said, sitting on the stool and mixing the ingredients. “What else do I need to know about keeping these snakes?” he asked her, watching with a keen eye as she moved. “You really do move just like them,” he nearly whispered, the fascination evident in his voice.

“It does not require much maintenance when it comes to feeding,” she said, spinning slowly and mimicking the snake’s movements with her hips. “This particular one prefers small rodents. But it also prefers to catch them leaving the enclosure with no lid would be ideal. It will return.”

“Then we will do that,” he smirked. “I will entrust most of their care to you. We’ll keep it here for now but eventually we’ll move them to the house,” he said, watching her hips move.

“Very well then,” she hummed as she kept moving. “The cobra will offer his venom as well.” Naga hissed quietly. “So long as he is not abused for it, he says.” She stopped moving to adjust how the snake sat on her body.

Sasori gave Naga a cool look and nodded. “Unexpected but appreciated.” He stood up and poured the mixture he was making into a bottle. He stood up just as Gaara walked back in with a large tub of sand. He was sweating heavily as he placed it down on the ground. “I’ll leave you two to this,” he said, turning to walk back out to the main room.

Azumi looked at how much Gaara was sweating and frowned a little. “I would have helped you,” she said. “I should have helped you. I am sorry.” She picked up the tub of sand and set it on a table to pour it into the tank. She climbed onto the table to get better dexterity and poured the sand. The viper immediately slithered from her arm into the tank once all of the sand was in it.

“It’s fine,” Gaara chuckled, wiping his brow. “It would have looked odd if we both left anyway.” He looked at the snake as it made itself at home. “Is that all they need?” he asked her, wanting to make sure the enclosure was comfortable for the snake.

"It is," she said, leveling the sand. She got off the table and bowed. "Thank you, on behalf of the snakes and myself." Behind her, the snakes bowed as well. "We appreciate your help."

Gaara chuckled a little, seeing the snakes bow with her. “It was no problem. Hopefully, these two can give you some preferred company.”

“Hey, Sis, we’re leavin—“ They heard Deidara’s voice call to Kurotsuchi from the front of the shop. Deidara paused when he entered the shop, immediately seeing Sasori. "Well," he smirked, trying to hide the fear that coursed through his body. "Interesting seeing you here, un."

Gaara’s eyes snapped quickly to his cousin. Sasori was gripping the counter tightly. Azumi paused at the sound of Deidara's voice and slowly turned to look at Sasori. "Oh, no," she whispered.

"In my own shop?" Sasori practically growled.

“You’re practically a recluse,” Deidara scoffed, still trying to play off his fear. “I thought you sold this place off to Gaara honestly, un.”

Gaara pressed a hand to Azumi’s stomach, pushing her back gently. He pressed a finger to his lips and walked forward into the main shop. “Cousin, why don’t you—“ he started softly.

“Or maybe your eyes are as dim as you are,” Sasori countered Deidara. “I spend the better part of the week here!”

“Mm, I never see you here," Deidara hummed. "Maybe you're always hiding from me, un."

"Sasori, don't let him get to you," Gaara said quietly. "It's what he wants."

Sasori ground his teeth. “Take your brother and leave,” he snapped at Kurotsuchi. The girl nodded and quickly turned on her foot, grabbing Deidara’s wrist.

Deidara yanked his hand away from her. “You really think you’re all that, un,” he sneered.

“Deidara, you are risking someone’s life!” Gaara growled, looking at the blond. “Please leave!”

"Oh, please," Deidara scoffed. "She's just a slave, un."

"Brother..." Kurotsuchi sighed, taking Deidara's hand again.

"Maybe if someone here could be an adult and control his temper he wouldn't have gone through so many, un."

Gaara put his hand on Sasori’s shoulder and Sasori growled lowly. “Get off of me, Gaara.”

“Sasori, don’t,” Gaara urged again.

Kurotsuchi sighed. “Dei, you have a death wish!” she exclaimed, trying to drag her brother out of the store. It was a strangled silence for a moment where no one moved. A stalemate of sorts.

“Well,” Deidara finally said, “guess you are grown, un.” He scoffed, turning away finally. He started to walk out and muttered to Kurotsuchi. “His tonics barely worked anyway, un. I don’t know why the old man insists on coming here.”

Gaara’s eyes widened. If he caught that then Sasori sure as hell did too. And before he could do anything, Sasori vaulted over the counter, kicking Deidara out into the street. Gaara let out a pained sigh as he watched his cousin mercilessly beat a man in front of his own sister.

Azumi peeked out from the back room just as Sasori jumped over the counter and frowned. "That Deidara guy enjoys getting hurt," she mumbled. "No one would willingly provoke such a thing if they did not like it."

“I’m starting to think he has a thing for having his ass kicked,” Kurotsuchi sighed, walking back into the shop.

“You grandfather is never going to forgive him,” Gaara sighed.

“Don’t worry about him,” she waved him off. “He trusts my word about Sasori over Dei’s. I’ll tell him what happened.” She glanced at Azumi. “You, on the other hand,” she frowned. “I hope he spares you.” She frowned, watching a small crowd from around the brawling men.

"I...hope so, too," Azumi sighed. She looked back at the fight and leaned on the counter, resting her head on her hand. "I am hoping that he will get it all out now and tire himself out," she hummed. "But I also am not getting my hopes up too high."

"You impertinent sack of shit," Sasori roared as he pushed off of the twitching blond. "Get off of my property!" He spat on the man, kicking him one more time for good measure. He turned around and walked gracefully back into the shop. "Go scrape that sorry excuse of a meat bag off of the fucking ground," he told Kurotsuchi as calmly as he could. Kurotsuchi nodded and quickly walked ran out of the shop to help Deidara get up. Azumi and Gaara watched from behind the counter then looked at Sasori who had grabbed a rag to wipe the sweat from his forehead. "Move it, you two. We still have work," he growled, giving them a sweeping sharp look at he stepped into the back room and climbed up the ladder. "Azumi," he called with a commanding tone. The sound of a heavy box slammed down on the desk above. "Here, now."

Azumi let out a quiet groan and made her way up the ladder. "What can I do for you?" she asked him quietly as she stepped close to him, but not too close.

"Disinfect my other hand," he said while he wrapped his other hand.

She nodded and took his hand gently in hers to look at the damage. She frowned a little, taking a rag with a little bit of disinfectant and wiping his hand. She unraveled the bandage and tied it neatly around his hand for him.

He flexed his fingers and sighed. "What a waste of time," he growled. "How much longer until the other snakes get here," he asked her, feeling mildly childish for asking the question.

"They will be here in the morning," she told him, taking a small step back. She frowned at his hands. "Is that...the only wound you have?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, drumming his fingers on his desk. “The morning,” he repeated. "Fine, I'm going to go take a walk." He walked back down the ladder. "Gaara, watch the shop. I'll be back in an hour," he said, whipping out the back door.

Azumi frowned again and went down the ladder, standing behind the counter with Gaara. "Is this...normal?" she asked Gaara. "I do not know him very well, but something seems off."

Gaara watched his cousin storm out of the shop. ", this isn't," he said with a frown. "I mean this in the best way but...usually, he would have thrown you down the ladder or at least been slamming things for an hour not...taking a walk."

"That is what I was expecting," she hummed. "I hate to say it, but I am a little worried about him. But I am also worried that this walk is a way for him to think about what he will do to me when we get back."

Gaara's eyes darkened. "I won't let him do anything to you in the shop," he frowned. "I can't protect you in his home but I can try at least to do something here." He drummed his fingers on the desk. "I'm tired of not doing anything." His words were brave but he was also terrified that he would make her life worse by trying anything. "Maybe he is actually trying to clear his head...Deidara is the only one who winds him up like that."

She gave him a small smile. "I...appreciate that," she said. "And I have noticed that whenever Deidara is even mentioned, he gets angry. I do hope this is just him clearing his head." She sighed and felt the cooling cream for the burn on her chest wearing off. "Does he keep anything for burns here?" she asked.

"Is it hurting?" he asked, looking at her chest. "Yeah, he's got some stuff we keep on hand over here." He moved back up the ladder and pulled down a bottle from one of the shelves with a familiar blue liquid. "Do you need help applying it?" he asked, looking down at her.

She gave him a slight nod. "I have not looked at it yet and I am actually quite afraid to," she hummed.

He nodded, biting the inner part of his mouth. "Okay." He looked at the shop door for a moment. "You'll need to take the top part of your dress off. I'll re-dress the whole thing once we're finished." He climbed back down and pulled a curtain, closing off the workshop from the front end. "Hopefully we can do this before Sasori returns."

“It should not take long,” she said as she began to take off the top part of her dress and then the wrapping that Sasori did earlier. “As I said, I have not seen it, but I do not think it is big.”

He opened the bottle while he waited for her to be fully disrobed before turning back to her. He blushed a little when he turned to her but he was quickly distracted by the burn his cousin had placed on her. He gasped, seeing it in its full glory. "He...made you sit through this?" Gaara was crossed between marveling at the beautiful design and wanting to murder his cousin. He could only imagine the pain she must have suffered through with each individual stroke and tiny, raised dot of the design. He shook his head, recentering himself as he started to very gently smear the cooling balm on her skin.

She flinched slightly at the initial contact but let out a relieved breath immediately after. “He tied me down while he did this,” she said, refusing to look down at it still. “He tied me down for both of them.”

Gaara pulled his hand back, looking at her with wide eyes. "That's not surprising," he growled softly, his eyes narrowing again. He continued to spread the balm agent on her skin when the bottle suddenly cracked in his other hand. He was letting his own anger get the best of him. He swore softly under his breath as the stuff started to leak out. "I'll get another bottle," he said without looking at her. He turned away to climb back up the ladder. He cleaned off his hand and wrapped it, noticing a trickle of blood.

Azumi waited for him to come back, risking a glance down at the first burn she was given. She sighed heavily, frowning at the scorpion and remembering that one of the first things Sasori told her was that he was going to trip her of her identity. The thought made her wonder why she even felt bad for him just a couple of minutes ago. Her thoughts were interrupted when Gaara returned. “You hurt yourself...” she mumbled, noticing he had wrapped his hand.

"It's nothing," Gaara said softly, opening the new bottle. He finished with the burn and then picked up a fresh roll of gauze. "Hold your arms out to the side," he instructed her. He waited for her to do as he asked and started to wind the bandage around her so it was snug and fit a little more comfortably on her chest. "He really needs to work on his wrapping skills," Gaara said, taking a step back to look at his handiwork. "Does it feel okay?" he asked her.

She nodded and gave him a small smile. "It does. Thank you," she said as she put her dress back on. "It is very much appreciated."

Gaara nodded. “I’ll try to help you whenever we are in the shop,” he said, turning to put the bottle away. “I know it’s not much but it’s all I can offer right now,” he said, climbing back up the ladder. He opened his mouth to say something more when he heard the slight sound of Sasori’s nearly silent footsteps enter the shop.

Sasori pushed back the curtain and glared at them both. “I leave for less than an hour and you two think it’s break time?” he asked, looking at them both with a raised eyebrow.

"I needed to numb my chest again," she said to him with a bow. "He was just giving me the cooling agent."

Sasori looked at her cooly, humming softly. He hooked his finger on the fabric of her dress and checked the dressing. “You’ve improved,” he said to Gaara who joined them on the ground floor.  

"Thank you," Gaara said with a nod.

"Did you enjoy your walk?" Azumi asked him, hoping he was actually able to clear his head.

Sasori huffed through his nose. “I did. That child has a death wish and he’s testing my societal graces,” he said with a lofty tone.

"He does it because he knows he can get a reaction out of you," she frowned. "Every time you act on your anger, you are giving him what he wants."

Sasori gave her a dangerous smirk. “You think I don’t know that, Snake?” He looked down at her. “How could I deny an imbecile the beating he so clearly deserves when no one else seems to bother? He is babied by his family.”

She furrowed her brow. "Is spite not enough of a motivator? He may deserve it, but if he wants it, why give it to him?"

Sasori turned to her fully, folding his arms over his chest. “Because if you haven’t noticed,” he smirked, leaning down to look her in the eyes getting very close. “I have rather violent tendencies that I like to entertain.” His voice was low, it was almost a whisper. “Now unless you want to take on Deidara’s punishments I suggest you get back to work.”

She held back a sigh and bit her tongue. "Yes," she said. She bowed and went back to the front of the shop.

"Gaara! Boil some marshmallow root," he said, returning to the second level.

"On it," Gaara nodded and did as he was told.

The three of them worked for the rest of the day without incident. An hour after sundown Sasori stood up from the books and walked out to the shop front. "We're leaving," he told her. "Gaara will close up the shop."

Azumi nodded and looked at Gaara. "Thank you for today," she said with a bow. "I look forward to working with you again."

"The pleasure is mine," he said softly. "And please remember what I said," he told her, making sure Sasori was out of earshot. "I am your friend."

She smiled at him. "I will remember that," she said quietly.

Sasori was already at the door. "Today," he said, tapping his fingers on the frame.

Azumi nodded. "Goodnight," she said to Gaara before joining Sasori at the door. Sasori wasted no time in leaving with her.

“Goodnight,” Gaara said softly once he was alone.